“Standing in the Gap”
(From John 17: 1-7, 14-17, 20-26)
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Tammy loved to play “Hide and Seek.” The big tree in the back yard was the safe “Home Free” zone. It had rained earlier that day, and the grass and leaves on the ground were wet. As Tammy ran to the tree, nudging her body forward to touch it and be safe, her feet slipped on the wet ground beneath them. Tammy fell head-first into the tree. She went down like a shot, and she was unconscious for some time after. A prayer request alert quickly went out to the family and church friends of Tammy. She was unconscious and unable to do anything on her own behalf, so others were standing in the gap, praying for her to return to consciousness.
Maggie had terminal cancer. She was in the hospital and under Hospice care, essentially unresponsive under the sedation of her pain medications. I was called by her family to Maggie’s bedside, I came to offer words of comfort and prayer on Maggie’s behalf as she was going home to be with our Lord. I was standing in the gap for Maggie.
Ben was an alcoholic by everyone’s standards but his own. Ben had gotten into another bar fight and was placed in prison. Ben had never given much thought to church or prayer, but Ben’s Grandmother was a woman of strong faith. Hearing the news about Ben’s most recent issues, she dropped to her knees and began to ask God to help Ben in his time of need—she was standing in the gap for him.
By now, I suspect that you are catching on about what it means to stand in the gap for someone. The $5 term for standing in the gap for another person is intercessory prayer. Wikipedia, our favorite on-line encyclopedia, states that intercessory prayer is an act of intervention or of stepping in on somebody’ behalf through prayer. When we pray an intercessory prayer, we are standing in the gap between the needy person and God, praying on their behalf regarding their personal need. That kind of prayer often characterized the prayer-life of Jesus, as we will learn from our Gospel lesson for today.
In our lesson from John Chapter 17 this morning, we find Jesus looking up toward the heavens and praying. Jesus knew that his time among his Disciples was growing short, and there was still much work to be done. Jesus knew the coming days would bring spiritual trials upon the Disciples the likes of which they had not known. And so, in our lesson, Jesus was praying to God on their behalf—he was standing in the gap for them. His prayer had two important components for us to explore today. First, Jesus offered a prayer that was specific to the need of the Disciples. They needed protection from the Devil and all of his evil activities in the world. Jesus prayed these words, “I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Jesus stood in the gap, praying that God would protect the Disciples in the difficult days of their lives. Secondly, it is important for us to note that Jesus prayed for protection and strength for his Disciples in the midst of their circumstances, not apart from them. Jesus prayed, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” Jesus prayed, not for the Disciples to be removed from the time of trials, but for their protection in the midst of them. Jesus knew the work of mission and ministry that would be needed from the Disciples, and so he prayed for them to abide through their difficult circumstances, and experience growth in the Spirit as a result of enduring them under God’s protection. Growth through life’s difficulty and pain is an important theme and lesson we gain from Jesus’ ministry among his Disciples as shared in the Holy Scriptures. In John Chapter 16 verse 23, Jesus said to his Disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Life in this world is not without its times of difficulty and trial. But, Jesus is always there standing in the gap for us, and praying on our behalf—praying us through these and all of the times in our lives.
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who gave their lives in the cause of our country’s freedom. We stand in the gap praying for those we have lost and their loved ones. Freedom, brothers and sisters in Christ, we painfully acknowledge, is not free. Neither is peace with justice and equality of opportunity for all of God’s people. I stand before you today bearing the sorrow and shame of yet another mass shooting in our homeland, and in the midst of ongoing international war and strife; not to mention the ravages of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We may be tempted to shrink from these trials that are plaguing our world today. But, friends, that is not the way of Jesus, and not the way of his victory over sin and death through the cross. In this world, we do have trouble, but fear not—Christ has overcome the world. He lives to stand in the gap for us in all our times of need. Therefore, on this 7th Sunday of Easter, Easter people, I leave you with these words of comfort from Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ Jesus is alive and with us, standing in the gap praying for us. Therefore, Church, we are more than conquerors, through the one who loves us and gave himself for us, as we journey in faith each and every day of our lives. Amen—let it be so.