Readings:Daniel 3:1-18, 1 Peter 2:11-25, John 15:17-27, 1 John 4:1-11
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, June 26th, 2016
Today we are going to be thinking about the biblical book of Daniel. In terms of the chronology of Scripture, the book of Daniel belongs to a time when the nation of Judah has collapsed and the people have been exiled to Babylon. As a teenager, maybe 16 or 17 years old, Daniel and his friends find themselves strangers in a strange land.
Moving from one culture to another, be it forcibly or voluntarily, is never an easy process. There is a lot to unlearn and a lot to learn. The greater the difference in the culture, the harder the process. It is easy to lose your identity. Such was the case for Daniel, as an ardent believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, there was the temptation to abandon his beliefs and adopt those of Babylon, particularly when holding onto them threatened his very existence.
As disciples of Jesus Christ the New Testament pictures us as immigrants and strangers in the world. 1 Peter 2:11 in the Message bible “Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” Christians are encouraged to find their identity through being citizens of the Kingdom, of God rather than any earthly nation. In John's gospel Jesus encourages His followers to regard themselves as being “In” the world but not “Of” the world.
Daniel and his friends, known by the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, are in this strange new world. Together they seek to find ways of living faithfully with their convictions. As they do so they discover that God is with them.
From out of their exile experience I would offer three strategies for staying faithful when we feel we are a stranger in a strange land. Firstly, we can be careful what we consume.
Secondly, we can be careful what we bow down to. Thirdly, we can be careful in regard to what habits we develop.
Be Careful What You Consume
I remember that when we first moved over here, without really trying, and thinking that we were blessed to have so many cheap and cheerful fast food outlets all around us, as a family we started to put on the pounds. We thought it that it was awesome when we went out to a restaurant, that the plates would be piled so high. Coming from a culture where we were raised, for the sake of politeness, to eat everything on the plate, it took us a while to realize there was a difference between “Eat as much as you like” and “Eat as much as you possibly can.” After a few years our over consumption started to create some health concerns. So we made some changes and are doing better than we used to.
For Daniel and his pals, when they arrived in Babylon their food concerns were not to do with obesity, but their religion. They were known for having an aptitude for learning and well qualified to serve in the Kings court, a job they happily took on. But one of the conditions of their royal appointment was that they were expected to live on the King's provisions of wine and meat that had been offered to idols. Eating 'idol-offered' food went against their religion.
The chief official responsible for feeding them is scared that he will get into big trouble for not doing the Kings bidding. Daniel suggests to him that they should be given just vegetables and water and that if, after ten days, they looked unwell, then fair enough, they'd accept the kings diet. We read “At the end of ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.”
I'm not sure that this is meant as an ad promoting a vegan diet, but you can take it that way if you like. The theological point is that they were blessed by obeying God's commands. Yet it also offers us the message that we need to take care what we consume.
The old computer expression was that “Garbage in” resulted in “Garbage out”. Whatever we fill our lives with impacts the kind of life we lead. That does not only apply to food, but to lifestyle as a whole. What activities we involve ourselves in, what sorts of advice we take, even what TV and movies we watch and music we listen to, can impact the way we act.
If we feed constantly on negativity, on sources that offer a world view that is inaccurate or anti-christian, then it will shape the person that we become. If we feed our lives on a diet of prayer and spiritual reading and worship and service, it helps define the person we are and puts flesh on the words of faith that we declare. Be careful what you consume.
Be careful what you bow down to.
Nebuchadnezzar builds this enormous gold statue of himself. He orders that every time his special band of musicians played, everybody had to bow down and worship the statue. Bowing down to idolatrous statues was not a thing that Daniel and his buddies were prepared to embrace.
There were those in the royal court who had become jealous of Daniel, partly on account of Daniels ability to be able to interpret some dreams that that been troubling the King. Even though by interpreting the dreams Daniel had saved the lives of all the soothsayers in the nation, those whom he had saved felt he was being treated better than them, so he had to go.
Daniels opponents are quick to point out to King Nebuchadnezzar that were are a small handful of folk not doing as he had ordered. They turn out to be Shardrach, Mischach and Abednego, Daniels buddies. Nebuchadnezzar threatens to throw them into a fiery furnace if they don't do as he commands.
They reply, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18 )
I love the 'get-out' clause in that statement. “Even if we do get burnt alive, it proves nothing. You are still not God”. I like the fact that they have this bold faith, but still say, “Then again...”. Some times we get the impression that biblical characters have it all figured out with out a shred of doubt in their minds. Their statement reminds us that real faith doesn't function like that.
Thrown into the furnace they are. Something miraculous takes place. The King looks into the furnace and sees, not only are they not being burnt up, but there is another figure, one like a 'son-of-man' in the furnace with them. Christian tradition interprets that figure as being an appearance of Christ to them, per-figuring His birth in Bethlehem.
Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego receive a promotion while those that betrayed them end up in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar is impressed. “Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way." (Dan 3:28-29 NIV)
There are times in our lives when because of what we believe we take a stand. We speak out. We refuse to go along with something. If we do that, we are not going to win any popularity contests. We may be called narrow minded or killjoy and we may lose friends. In other lands, such bold stands may cause the lives of ourselves and families to be under threat.
The assurance in this passage is that when we refuse to bow down in the face of what we know is wrong then God stands with us. In the midst of the flames, God's presence was seen. The outcome was not certain... it never is.... but by their integrity a tremendous witness to God's power takes place. Be careful what you consume. Be careful what you bow down to.
Be careful what habits you develop.
Daniel is a pray-er. No, I didn't say player, I said pray-er. He has a regular discipline and routine of prayer, of sharing his life with God and allowing God to set his agenda. His habit leads him into conflict with a later Babylon King, King Darius.
As he is in an influential position in Darius's court, there are, again, folk who are jealous of his standing and want to bring him down. They go to he King and suggest a crazy ordinance that if anybody should offer prayer for a period of thirty days, to anybody other than the king, they should be thrown to the lions.
Of course Daniel doesn't go along with it, but sticks with his personal prayer habit. His enemies report him to the King, and, reluctantly, because the King likes Daniel, to save face he has to stick to his original ruling and have Daniel thrown into the lions den.
I'm sure you remember the story. The den is sealed. The King goes home and returns in the morning. “Daniel, you OK?” “Yes. No problem God shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me anymore than I have ever hurt you, your majesty.” Darius is suitably impressed and Daniel is released. His accusers become the next item on the menu at the lions den.
Daniels confidence is entirely a result of his active prayer life. He has developed an awesome prayer habit. It would be good for us to follow his example. We are after all, creatures of habit. And many of us develop bad habits and patterns of living. It is also possible to develop good habits. It has been said that if we make good our habits, then our habits make us good”.
Daniel, Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego. Strangers in a strange land who develop strategies for faithful living. They teach us that wherever we are God will be there for us just as long as we seek to be there for God. After all, all the world is God's own field. There is no part of it that God was not initially involved in creating.
The exile in Babylon turned out to be a temporary situation. God promised to bring God's children home. Is it any different for us? In the light of eternity our life on earth is just a temporary dwelling. Again, 1 Peter 2:11 in the Message bible “Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.”
So take these simple lessons to heart.
- Be careful what you consume.
- Be careful what you bow down to.
- Be careful what habits you develop.
May we all dare to be a Daniel!
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.