Standing in the Gap – Lois Kieffaber

The story of the good Samaritan seems reckless and scary in its demands on the human heart; especially when we think about the recent uproar in New York regarding the building of a mosque.   It seems clear that there will always be some in this world who want their holy wars, who will discriminate, vilify, and even kill in the name of God.  They have narrowed down the concept of neighbor to include only those like themselves in terms of creed, caste, race, sex, or sexual orientation. 

 

But there is also evidence that there are many people of good will who have recognized the need for interfaith dialogue. 

 

 

Standing in the Gap

Lois Kieffaber

29 August 2010

Spokane Friends Church

 

Ezekiel  22:30  “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”     

 

The Lord was unable to find anyone who would stand defensively, through spiritual leadership and intercession, for the nation against the impending judgement. 

 

The metaphor “to stand in the gap” or “to stand in the breach” comes from military language.   It refers to defending the place where the lines are the weakest.  It signifies the bravery of a soldier who stands in the breach of the wall, willing to give his life to ward off the enemy.   Being Quakers , we may not be much taken with military analogies, so we might prefer a picture of the legendary Dutch boy who put his hand into the hole in the dam and prevented the town from flooding. 

 

It’s a powerful image which is exploited in a number of Biblical stories.

 

For example, the story Sarah read to us this morning about how Abraham bargained with God to save the city of Sodom from destruction.   This last weekend at Twin Lakes camp, Judy Maurer showed us a Russian ikon which she liked very much. and we have put a similar one on the front of our bulletin today, so you might want to look at it.  [To see this icon in color , go to   http://holytrinity.flagsolution.com/holytrinityicon/   It’s the third one down.]

 

The background of the icon comes from the Old Testament story in which God appears to Abraham and Sarah by the oaks of Mamre in the image of three angels.   They were three but they spoke as if by one voice.     In Russian tradition, the three represent the Holy Trinity.  They are all of equal size, and they are eating at the table together, a portrait of a homely family sharing food and talking.  It is symbolic of the fellowship of love that exists in the Trinity.  And here are Abraham and Sarah offering them hospitality..

 

But to return to the rest of the story, Abraham knew that his nephew Lot was living in Sodom.   God was prepared to destroy the city, but Abraham said, “what if there are fifty God-fearing persons in the city, would you spare the city for the sake of fifty?  God said, for the sake of fifty righteous people, I would spare the whole city.  Abraham:  Suppose the number fell short by 5 , would you destroy the city because of a shortfall of just 5?  God: for the sake of 45, I will not destroy it.    Abraham, quaking in his boots, continues to bargain God down – to 40. Then 30, then 20.  Finally Abraham says, May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more.  What if only ten can be found there.  And God answered, For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.    

 

Now the story does not exactly have a happy ending, either for the city (because not even ten could be found)  or for Lot’s wife, or for his daughters as a matter of fact – but think about Abraham, standing in the gap for Lot.

 

Moses stood in the gap for Israel.  When he left his people in the wilderness to go to the mountaintop and speak with God, he was gone so long, the people decided they needed a more concrete god, one made of gold.   Moses returned to the mountain to plead their case – he stood in the gap for them.

 

Psalm 106:23 says  “Therefore he said he would destroy them – had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.”

 

Moses stood bravely in the presence of Almighty God on behalf of Israel.  The Lord responded to Moses’ intercession by not destroying the people.

 

In the New Testament, Gamaliel stands in the gap for the apostles.  They are on trial before the Sanhedrin because the apostles were told by them to stop preaching about Jesus, and here they were preaching in the temple again after a miraculous release from prison.  Now the Sanhedrin is enraged and wants the death penalty. 

 

But Gamaliel says to them,  Don’t do this.  Remember all the other leaders who rose up, but when they died, their followers scattered and dispersed.  If this preaching is of human origin, the same thing will happen to these followers, they’ll die out.  But if it of God, you won’t be able to stop it anyway — and do you really want to fight against God?” 

 

Gamaliel was a very respected person, and so the apostles got off with a flogging rather than being killed.  Gamaliel stood in the gap for them.

 

The “good Samaritan” story is about a man who stood in the gap for someone of a different faith.  It was told by Jesus in answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” 

 

Kathleen Norris in her book “Amazing Grace” tells the story of a Croatian of Serbian descent.  He was a Christian who was in charge of managing refugee resettlement for a part of Croatia.  While working on plans to rebuild a Muslim village that had been totally destroyed, the man found, to his surprise that no mosque had been included.  When he inquired about it, the mayor told him he had assumed that Christian organizations would not be willing to help fund the rebuilding of a mosque.  The relief worker replied that it was because they were followers of Jesus, that they would help rebuild it.  “Jesus told a story about a good Samaritan,” he said, “who helped his neighbor without asking him about his theology.” 

 

The story of the good Samaritan seems reckless and scary in its demands on the human heart; especially when we think about the recent uproar in New York regarding the building of a mosque.   It seems clear that there will always be some in this world who want their holy wars, who will discriminate, vilify, and even kill in the name of God.  They have narrowed down the concept of neighbor to include only those like themselves in terms of creed, caste, race, sex, or sexual orientation. 

 

But there is also evidence that there are many people of good will who have recognized the need for interfaith dialogue. 

 

The people who are successful at interfaith dialogue, or even dialogue with “those other Quakers,” will probably not have much of an agenda other than listening to one another’s stories.  They will not be looking for agreement but will attempt to keep an open ear so they can appreciate similarities when they find them.  They will be searching for a means to define real theological differences in ways that are non-judgmental but conducive to mutual respect.

 

But coming even closer to home, how is it that we are to stand in the gap?

 

Standing in the gap means being faithful in our prayers and steadfast in our obedience to God and our love for each other.  It means being willing to do whatever God asks us to do.

 

I think some of you stand in the gap for Johan and Judy Maurer when you support their work in Russia by your prayers and your hospitality and your emails and your encouragement and your contributions.

 

I think we stand in the gap for another person when we refuse to give up on them, when we continue to care for them and pray for them.

 

Its does not mean fighting their battles for them

It does not mean taking on their issues

It does not mean trying to make them change

 

It’s more about loving than about preaching. 

It’s about praying for them.

Sometimes it means letting go, letting someone follow their own desires.

It might mean letting them go to a far country, just like the prodigal son.

 

In the story of the prodigal son, the father “watched him walk away.”

He let him sow his wild oats, he let him make his own mistakes.

 

That’s a reckless kind of love, to let a person go.

But . .  he was also out there watching for him to come back – waiting, trusting, hoping against hope that the rift would be mended.

And when the son did come back, the father chose not to scold.  He didn’t even say “I told you so.”   There was never a lecture, only a hug.

 

I’d like to encourage us here at Spokane Friends to stand in the gap for each other, to refuse to give up loving and caring for each other.  When rifts occur – and they do occur – we all experience them from time to time, some large some small.

 

Could we be like the brave soldier, placing ourselves in the gap?  Refusing to give up on each other, continuing to love and care for each other?

 

We will have some difficult issues to deal with this next year, just like we always do.  We will lose some members, and we will get new members to care well for.  We will worry about whether we are too Quaker or not Quaker enough, and how to integrate our two worship communities into one united body.  There will be terminal illnesses, financial difficulties, theological arguments, continuing discussion about social problems like immigration  and global change, and even some minor things such as chairs and pews and music.  It will be easy for sincere disagreements to lead to polarizations, for us to sign up with one army or another, to draw the battle lines and fire salvos from behind them. 

 

Much harder will be to remember that the persons with whom we are worshiping are at least as important as the ideas we are defending.  Much harder will be to create spaces where we can listen as well as speak, where we can learn as well as teach.  Much harder will be to transform the battlefields into round-tables of discussion and discernment.   It is hard because it means we admit to ourselves that as strongly as we may believe something, we cannot be sure that we have the final and absolute right answer.  Spiritual conviction must be joined with compassion and respect for each other as co-creatures, loved equally by our Creator.   If  we can convey to each other that the issues which we are passionate about are surrounded by God’s grace, we will be standing in the gap for each other.

 

Sometimes we stand in the gap for people outside our Meeting.  I’ve seen some remarkable situations and heard some remarkable stories about your extended families, and homeless families in Interfaith, and your friends and neighbors, who are in trouble or sick or having other difficulties, who have made it through very tough situations because one of you (or a group of you) stood in the gap for them.  You refused to stop caring about them and held off disaster until they came to their senses or were able to stand on their own two feet again.

 

To return once more to the icon representing the Holy Trinity.  The center figure’s [head is tilted and] leads your eye to the figure on the left and on around in a circle of love.  [But the central figure is also looking out at the viewer as if including us in the circle.] 

 

The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen says this about the ikon: “The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that is painted not as a lovely decoration for a church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in an intimate table conversation that is taking place between the three divine angels and to join them at the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father become a movement in which the one who prays is included, is lifted up and held secure. Through the contemplation of this icon we come to see with our own inner eyes that all the engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within the divine circle. We can be involved in struggles for justice and actions for peace. We can be part of the ambiguities of family and community life. We can study, teach, write, and hold a regular job. We can do all of this without ever having to leave the house of love.”

 

There is one who has stood in the gap for us.  Jesus, by his life, his death, and his resurrection, stands in the gap for us.  We have made a mess of a fair number of things in our lives, we are damaged goods, we could easily be swept away by the flood and be lost forever, but there is one who stands in the gap on our behalf, who is our advocate before the Father, who makes peace and reconciles us to God.   He stands between gloom and doom on one hand and health and life on the other. 

 

Let us be obedient to his call in our lives.  Let it not be said of us, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land, but I found none.”   What if people could say of us, “ I never saw so many discussions and attempts at discernment in my life, they really go at it when they are exploring issues, it gets pretty hot and heavy sometimes and it takes them forever to make a decision, but can’t you sense that, underneath it all, they really love and respect each other? 

 

In the words of Paul to the Romans, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

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