Coming Home: Standing in the Gap

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Sermon Notes

Sept. 2, 2018  

Acts 3:1-8 & John 17:1-10

One of the saddest stories I ever heard was from a man who was a dentist. On the outside, it would seem that he had everything he would want. He had a loving family and a very successful practice. His practice had put him in an economic bracket where he could afford pretty much everything he wanted in life. He certainly didn’t lack for the finer things in life.  Yet, for some reason he was filled with dissatisfaction and anger.

  Now, anger is one of those things we think we can contain and manage much better than we do.  But the truth is, when we have anger, even when we put a lid on it, it’s eventually going to come out somewhere. It may come out against another person who just happened to be there when the pot boiled over. Or it might manifest itself in depression, or ulcers, or high blood pressure.  But it’s going to come out somewhere.

  And this man simply couldn’t figure out why he was so angry. He had everything. He was at the pinnacle of his career. Why wasn’t he happy, why was he so angry? It got to the point where it began to affect his marriage, his relationship with his children, and his health. He knew he had to do something.

  Finally, he began to talk to his pastor. And the pastor said, let’s assume something. Let’s assume there is no anger for angers’ sake. Let assume something. Or even better, somebody has caused his anger. Who are you angry at?  And the man thought about it for a long time. Days, in fact.  Finally, he came back to his minister and said I think I have it figured out.  I know who has caused all this anger.

  He said I am mad at me. Well, I am mad at the 18 year old version of me.  The pastor was surprised and said, ‘well why are you angry at the younger you?’ He said ‘who was the 18 year old to decide what I wanted to do with my life?  Who was he, at 18, to decide that I would be a dentist for the rest of my life. Or that I even wanted to be or ought to be a dentist?’  He said ‘I finally realized I hate being dentist.  It’s not that I’m not good at it, I have the skills and experience. But I hate it.  Every day, I hate doing this for a living. And the only reason I am doing it is because some 18 year old punk decided he could dictate what I would do with my life.’

  Isn’t that sad? Angry at the 18 year old version of his life whose decisions put him on the path he was on, he thought, for the rest of his life.  Feeling imprisoned by decisions that put him on a path that he simply didn’t want to be on.

     This is Labor Day weekend.  Tomorrow, many will celebrate Labor Day, will celebrate their vocation by not going to work. Although Labor Day is a federal holiday, it’s also one that ought, I believe, to be celebrated in the church.  Vocation is important. When we work, we are touching a part of the image of God in us. God creates, he works, and when we do the same, we are doing a good thing. We were made to do so. What we do ought not be something we do simply to get paid.  How sad is it when we see it only as a way to make money and not a way to make the world around us better, to do something important.  Of course, like that dentist showed us, while having a vocation is important, choosing the right one is important, as well.

  I thought about that looking at those who wore today what you wear at work. And I thought about it for all of these children who wore what they want to be when they grow up. I hope you get to be all of those things.  And I hope you have chosen well because what you do matters.

  If it’s true that what we do matters, should that also not be true for us as Christians?  What we do matters, what we labor at as the body of Christ matters.  And what we choose to do can be the course for our lives.  What have you chosen to do, what is your vocation?

  Jesus, at the end of the book of Matthew, gives us the Great Commission. Jesus says our vocation is to make disciples of Jesus Christ going into all the world to redeem the world.  Now hear that. Our vocation is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Not grow larger churches, which is great. Or sway everyone to our way of thinking. But, everyone’s role is to help those who don’t know Jesus to give their lives to Christ and to help others grow deeper in their faith. Not just my vocation, but yours, as well.  What are you doing to fulfill your vocation? Have you chosen well?

  Again, that seems to be a pretty daunting task. How do I make disciples of Jesus when I’m trying to fit everything else in my life in?  What can I do at my age, with my issues, schedule, how am I supposed to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

  Knowing this series, it ought to come as no surprise to you, that the place to begin to fulfill your vocation is to pray.  Look at Jesus, the very first thing Jesus does, every time, to fulfil his vocation, to redeem the world, is what? What does Jesus do? He prays every time, He prays for others. Jesus intercedes for them, He lifts them up in prayer. Sick, a disease, sorrow, whatever it is, Jesus prays for them. Look at our Gospel lesson today.  Jesus interceding for His disciples. I love this prayer solely because it’s so un-miraculous.  I mean nothing happens at first here. It’s just Jesus saying ‘Father, I love these guys.  I know they aren’t perfect. But I love them. Watch over them.’ He intercedes for them.

 Peter and John with this man in Acts? They say ‘let us stand in the gap between you and what you need,’ and they pray for him, and he is healed.

  There is a reason why, as we have spent this summer together, we have had such a big emphasis on prayer. It’s because, I believe, as we look to the Bible, there is no greater foundation for our vocation as making disciples of Jesus Christ than prayer.  Praying for others may do more to bring about the redemption of the world than we can ever realize. Prayer has brought more people to Christ than any sermon ever written. More people have given their lives to Jesus because their parents faithfully prayed for them every night than all the eloquence of every preacher combined, even mine. 

  More people have experienced healing through the simple faithful prayers of the people around them than through all the experience and intellect of every person in the medical field. More people have experienced healing and the mending of broken hearts because someone somewhere was praying for them than the combined wisdom every counselor could provide. More people have been freed from the chains of addiction, rescued from their own bad decisions by the simplest prayer of a child than any 12 step program has ever done.

  Now, does that mean that preachers and doctors and counselors and programs aren’t necessary or important? No, of course they are. God works through them.  But often they are the answer to the prayer that someone has prayed.  So often, lives are changed in ways we can never understand because someone was willing to stand in the gap and pray for another person.

  I’ve read recently, especially in the light of a tragedy, that when people ask for prayers, they really aren’t accomplishing anything.  If all we are doing is equating prayers with good thoughts, or, God help us sending you good vibes, then I would agree.

  But that is not the Christians’ understanding of prayer. Prayer isn’t sending someone good thoughts. It’s the vocation of standing in the gap between people and pain, it’s inviting God to unleash the power of the Holy Spirit into people’s lives, into people’s hearts, into the world. It is our first step in walking alongside God in the ultimate redemption of the world.

  Now, what we need is not less prayer, but more. We need a church that, from beginning to end, are people of prayer asking God to move, heal, help, and redeem. Will you be those people? Every day, will you fulfill your vocation, be a person of prayer, and live with no regrets? Amen.