“Stand in the Breach for One Another” – 10/15/17

Psalm 106, Ezekiel 22:30, Exodus 32:1-14, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

In Psalm 106 there are these vivid words “Therefore [God] 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.”

That’s what you call being in a hot spot. How would you feel standing before a power that has decided to destroy an entire nation? Would you run and hide? Would you just cave in to the power? Look, you are caught between a slow-witted, sinful people and one angry God. It is hard for us to imagine because we don’t really take God that seriously any more. Remember when Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place“ and I did not know it.” “And he was afraid.” God is frightening. And I think we are in denial that God can be scary, not in the Halloween sense or in the “I’m going to get you for that,” but in the sense that God is God and we are not; God is almighty and we are not.

We have a hard time understanding God’s anger in the Bible. What the Bible gives us is not a record of a God who is always getting his way by punishing people  even though there are a lot of stories that imply punishment, but we get a God who gets his way by patiently struggling to make himself clear to human beings, to make his love real to them. The Bible tells this story from the human point of view, as if God needed to be calmed down by Moses. God is not going to blast his people into oblivion, but the tension of God’s anger and God’s love must be held firm or it becomes mere sentimentalism. The writers of the Bible show us this extreme tension as a way of getting us to not be so casual with God.

The argument flares back and forth until at last Moses cries, “If you won’t forgive them, then blot my name out of your book as well.” One of my primary convictions is that I am going to always stand in the breach for those without support, help, power, or influence in the world. It is this kind of empathy that we must produce in the churches: “If you won’t forgive them, then blot my name out of your book as well.”

Let’s pile up images of standing in the breach.

When the people of the Lord were coming out of Egypt and going through the wilderness and into the Promised Land, Amalek, the Amalekites, met them, and stopped them in the way. And there was a war; there was a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites. And do you remember the story? Moses stood on the mount with the rod in his hand, and as long as Moses could raise his hands, Joshua, who was leading the army of the Lord, Joshua prevailed; but when Moses lowered his hands, Amalek prevailed. Well, Moses’ hands grew tired: so Aaron stood on one side of him, and Hur stood on the other side of him, and held up the hands of Moses in prayer and intercession. And God blessed, and gave victory to Joshua and the people of the Lord [Exodus 17:8-13]. Is there not some vital connection between the holding up of the hands of intercession of Moses on the mountain and the victory of Joshua in the valley? Is there not some connection?

You stand in the breach for your pastor and your pastor stands in the breach for you. Charles Spurgeon was asked the secret of his ministry: “My people pray for me. My people pray for me.”

Listen to these words from Ezekiel: “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress. 30And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.”

When a land languishes in spiritual bankruptcy, what does God seek? Anyone among us who will stand in the breach on behalf of the land. Are you one of those special people? God is asking you to stand in the breach on behalf of those who can’t stand.

The year was 1965 and the town was Bogalusa, Louisiana. Jesse Cutrer, the mayor of Bogalusa, Louisiana, faced the potential of a violent race riot. Two large groups, one made up of KKK, White Citizens Council and rabid segregationists and the other made up of CORE workers and African Americans. Both sides were carrying guns and bats and other weapons of destruction. When those two groups came head-to-head on Main Street there was bound to be bloodshed. As they came within 20 yards of one another, Mr. Cutrer stepped onto Main Street and stood between the two hostile groups of protestors. He managed to defuse the situation and avoid bloodshed. That’s what it means to stand in the breach.

In the last verses of Psalm 106 we read that Phinehas stood up and interceded to stop a plague. “And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever.” Imagine an action taken by you that will be counted as righteousness forever.

In the Philippians reading we learn that this is not easy for a church. Paul pleads: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” Paul asks the whole church to help these women for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.” If you knew that standing in the breach for First Baptist meant being a tither next year, would you do it? If you knew that standing in the breach for First Baptist meant telling others about our church, would you do it?

In Matthew’s story there’s a man at the wedding and he doesn’t have a robe. I’m not trying to rewrite Matthew’s story but I have always thought how wonderful it would be if the friend without a wedding robe would have a different experience. We may never have or even be able to stand a direct encounter with God, but we can encounter God in the way we treat other human beings. Would one of you offer your robe to the man? Who will step up and say to the Lord, “If you will not allow me to provide this poor man with a robe, then take mine and blot my name out of your book.”

One last image matters more than all the others: Jesus hanging on his cross, suspended between heaven and hell for all human beings. All human beings. In this one man Jesus all shall be saved, says St. Paul in Romans. If your idea of standing in the breach doesn’t include all human beings, you need to think again. If you are not prepared to go the distance of behalf of all human beings, think again. Here stands Jesus in the breach for all people because God has made of one blood all the nations of the world.

Well, let’ss take this sermon to the house with a baseball story. When Skip Bertman became the head coach at LSU, he called each player into his office and showed him a piece of rope hanging over the edge of his desk. “If you were on one end of the rope with nothing between you and a thousand foot fall to certain death, who would you want holding the other end of the rope?”

Well, the players named different teammates. Skip told them, “Fellas, when you tell me, “It doesn’t matter who holds on to the other end of the rope, as long as he’s a teammate of mine, then we’ll be one. We’ll be free to trust one another, make mistakes, and still feel good about our decisions.”

In the last weekend of SEC play that year LSU was playing Auburn, and the winner of the Sunday game would be the champion. LSU took the lead in the 14th inning. Stan Loewer came in to pitch. He got two outs with a runner on third. That’s when everything changed. Robbie Smith stood up on the edge of the dugout and called, “Stan, hold on to the rope, hold on!”  Marty Lanoux at third base turned to shortstop Jeff Reboulet and said, “Jeff, hold on to the rope!” Jeff shouted across the diamond to first baseman John Dixon, “John, hold on” Rob Leary, with his fist in the air, shouted, “Hold on to the rope!” 

Bertman says, “Stan delivered a good pitch, and the batter swung, and as the ball hit the ground, our dugout emptied, transferring a positive trust message. With that kind of trust and belief in his teammates, Jeff Reboulet fielded the ground ball, threw to first base, and we were the champs.”

So when you tell me, it doesn’t matter who holds on to the other end of the rope, as long as he or she is a member of our church,” then we’ll be one. Here and now let us resolve to stand in the breach for one another. Amen.