Sentness – Standing in the Gap
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Over the past six weeks of our Sentness series, Pastor Mark and I have focused on the idea that what each one of us is up to outside the church walls is what matters most. Our calling is to understand our communities’ needs, partner with God’s work (which began long before we arrived on the scene), and bring truth and transformation through our Spirit-inspired thoughts, words, and deeds among people in need.
Today we conclude the Sentness series by exploring what it means to “Stand in the Gap” for others.
Rather than provide a textbook-style definition of the meaning of “Standing in the Gap,” I’d like to tell a couple stories of people who have stood in the gap for others. I hope you will resonate with these stories. I hope the stories will help you identify times in your life where people stood in the gap for you. And, I hope that you would use your own memories and experiences as fuel to go and stand in the gap for others.
I recently came across a story on a website titled, “To the Mom or Dad who Told Their Child Not to Stare at Mine.” In it, a mother addresses what happens when she goes out in public with her daughter and recognizes peoples’ complete discomfort around her.
The daughter, Sarah, has Apert syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in physical differences including a larger-than-average head size, fingers and toes fuzed together, a need for a tracheotomy, and muscular weakness which has left her in an adaptive wheelchair.
The mom writes:
“You’re embarrassed by your child because they’re pointing or staring [at my daughter]. You shush your child and pull them away quickly, and I know you’re doing it to save my feelings, but my feelings are not so fragile and your action is doing real damage. You’re teaching your child to be afraid of what they don’t understand…
“Here’s the thing: kids categorize. They need your help — and maybe mine — to make sure Sarah gets into the right category. They ask questions to figure out how things fit in their world. When you don’t let them ask their “rude” questions, you confirm my daughter as “other.” Believe it or not, every kid I’ve met who was allowed to ask as many “rude” questions as they liked, learned in just minutes to see my daughter as I see her. She is just a kid…a potential friend.”
This mother is standing in the gap that threatens to separate her daughter from others as a result of the stares, questions, and finger-pointing that will likely accompany her daughter throughout her life. By standing in the gap, advocating for her child, and educating us, she is creating opportunities for relationship that will benefit not only people who appear “different” but also people who would otherwise be inclined to think that by ignoring such people they are being compassionate.
The same day I read that story I saw a post from a friend regarding her son’s experience in kindergarten. A brief backstory. Katie, the mom, is white; her husband is Latino; and their son, Abiyu, was born in Ethiopia and adopted three years ago. They all live in Texas.
Turn out that someone from Abiyu’s kindergarten class, probably in the context of a Valentine’s Day discussion about love, told him that when he grew up he would never be able to marry a white woman because he is black. Apparently Abiyu literally brushed off the comment with a flick of his wrist and a “speak to the hand” gesture.
Here’s what Katie said about the incident:
If you’re more of a visual person, perhaps her picture can sum up her thoughts and words just as powerfully:
This is another example of a mother standing in the gap that threatens to separate her child from others due to his physical appearance. By standing in the gap, advocating for her child, and educating us, she is creating opportunities for relationship that will benefit not only people who appear “different” but also people who would otherwise be inclined to make racially-charged assumptions and comments about people of color.
This is not an issue to political correctness; it’s not even an issue of basic respect. Standing in the gap is a religious calling of the highest magnitude, modeled by God through Jesus Christ. Surely the bravery modeled by these children and their parents can be traced back to the love and security received by Jesus – the one who stands in the gap for us.
Luke’s version of the gospel tells the story of Jesus sharing the last supper with his disciples before he would be betrayed, tortured, and executed. Immediately after this holy experience, the disciples eat the bread and share the cup, they get into a fight about which one of them is greatest.
Jesus corrects them with a curious statement, “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”
Who is the greatest? I think these children and their parents answer this question clearly. The greatest is anyone who rises up against fear, hatred, injustice, and intolerance and instead seeks relationship, understanding, and peace. The greatest is the one who bears the weight of our sins and displays them for all the world to see.
True leadership is always from a place of vulnerability, not power. True leadership is both standing in the gap for others while at the same time allowing others to stand in the gap for us. True leadership is modeling the behavior we hope others will emulate. True leadership is recognizing that Christ has redeemed us despite our unworthiness; and seeking to respond in kind.
We have so much to learn from one another, especially those who we think are so different from ourselves. We have so many gaps in our lives that can only be filled by people filled with the presence of Christ. May we recognize that Jesus has stood in the gap for us and that Jesus sends us into the world to stand in the gap for those who need our voice, our welcoming presence, and our healing touch.