Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day
May 16, 2021
July 2, 1863. The second day of fighting at the pitched Battle of Gettysburg. Maybe you’ve been there, maybe you’ve heard the names: the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top. On the afternoon of the 2nd, Union troops held a precarious position on Cemetery Ridge. Suddenly, General Hancock of the Union army saw a gaping hole in his line and a Confederate force of 1,200 men marching toward it. The situation was dire. If the Confederates broke through, the battle would be lost. As President Lincoln would later note, the fate of the country was hanging in the balance there at Gettysburg.
Then came the First Minnesota regiment. Worn down to a paltry 262 men, Hancock ordered them to plug the hole. Outnumbered five to one, those Minnesotans charged bravely into that gap. In five minutes, they bought enough time for the Union army to call up reinforcements. The day was saved for the North. You know the rest of the story. Ultimate Union victory. A changed American landscape. Freedom and liberation for the slaves. And the cost of it all? In those short five minutes on July 2, 1863, 215 of those 262 Minnesotans paid with their blood. President Calvin Coolidge called those brave Minnesotans, “the saviors of the country.” The saviors of the country.
All because of a hole. All because something was missing. All because, in a dire moment, somebody just had to do something even at great personal cost. The parallels to this day are striking. All too often, we are happy to point out the gaps but not do anything about them. We all see a problem, but rather than plugging the hole, we gripe and complain, “somebody really ought to do something about that.” Look around at this broken world – there are children in Spring, Texas that do not have enough food to eat. Women have been held as slaves for pleasure, not one mile from this very church. Full-time employees, right here in our community, still can’t make enough to cover rent, student loans, food, and medicine. Thousands have not heard the liberating, life-giving, affirming love of God in Jesus Christ. Thousands more have turned their back on the God of love because our hardened hearts have turned them away. All this is happening in our idyllic little suburb. The gaps are all around us.
And so who is being sent in to plug these hole? To advance against the forces of sin? Well, Jesus has made it pretty clear. It’s us. On the night before he died, gathered with his disciples, Jesus prayed that his followers would do this very work. Jesus prayed to the Father, “as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). The Church is called into the gap.
See, the point of Christianity is not to leave the world. Or, to just make it to heaven unscathed. That’s not why Jesus sends us into the world. While the hope of a better resurrection is ahead of us, that doesn’t mean that we can avoid these worldly issues. Hear again how Jesus prays for his disciples: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus himself is praying that we would be sent into the world, not away from it. To turn our backs on the problems of this world, to think only of life after death, is the palest form of Christianity. Even when everything seems to be stacked against us, we are called to plug the gaps, we are sent to do something greater, even at great personal cost.
And this has to go beyond the identity games we play as Christians. Consider how God is most glorified, consider how you might plug the gaps you see in the lives of those around you. I believe that God is more glorified when we tip our waiters generously at Sunday lunch than by loudly saying a prayer at the restaurant so that others can hear you. I believe that God is more glorified when we drive to serve at the homeless center than by just putting a fish decal on our cars. I believe that God is more glorified when we gladly suffer shame for the cross instead of clutching our pearls when we realize that the culture is no longer predominantly Christian. Be consumed by the love of God and neighbor, and not by the inane flash points of our society. We are sent into this world not to play the identity games, but because the Holy Spirit is sending us to plug the gaps.
Just as the Lord Jesus went into the gap for us. With evil, sin, and death on the loose, Jesus Christ stepped in for us. We celebrate him as our Lord and Savior, not because he taught some nice lessons, not because he did some good things, not because he played the identity games of his day. No, he is our Lord and Savior because he stepped into the gap.
In that way, Jesus is both our Savior and our example. But let’s be clear – we are not the saviors of the world, even if we do great things for the Lord Jesus. People of good intentions bravely charging in to solve society’s problems is probably one of society’s problems. There is a great temptation in the Savior psychological complex.
So first I would ask that you use your God-given gift of discernment. Discern, pray, judge what you can do before you do anything in the name of God. You cannot do everything, but you can do something. If you’re a student, you can stop the gaps by showing kindness to the kid who is always picked on, not just by going to a student bible study. If you’re in business, you can plug the gaps by dealing honestly and fairly with your employees and clients, not just by calling yourself a Christian business. If you’re a parent, you can plug the gaps by showing and telling your children how to live as a Christian, not just how to look like a Christian.
I am not asking you to quit your job or stop being who you are to do this. You don’t have to sign up for a Civil War regiment. No, taking what we do now, even our most mundane jobs and tasks, we offer them to the Lord God. And in that way, the Lord God will accept even our feeblest deeds and make them good and righteous and holy (Kathryn Tanner, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, 99). Regardless of who you are or what you are – Jesus is sending you into the world.
And in a way, that’s the other gap. Jesus has ascended into heaven. He is no longer here on earth to feed the hungry and cure the sick and give hope to the hopeless. Filling that gap is now our duty. To go in where the Lord is commanding us, even at great personal cost, because it is the good and right thing to do.
While this may sound like a sobering sermon, I ask you to take great joy from it. We celebrate “the saviors of our country” precisely because they offered themselves, because they filled in what was missing in an hour of need. This is the joy of self-offering. We take joy in the cross, in Jesus’ offering himself for our sins. We take joy in eating his body and drinking his blood. We take joy in giving our money, our time, our whole selves for the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not sending you to begrudgingly tell everybody how they’re doing it wrong; Jesus is not sending you to shame others for their sins; Jesus is not sending you to put on the Christian charade. If you’re not doing it joyfully for the Lord Jesus, then why are you doing it? Jesus prays that we would have his joy made complete in us (John 17:13). This is the fruit we bear when we are sent – to advance with joy against the forces of evil, sin, and death.
Can you hear the bugle call? Can you hear the drumbeat? Can you hear the divine command? As the Father sent Jesus into the world, our Lord now sends you.