Reading Ramblings – October 26, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #16 — Daniel in the Lion’s Den: October 26, 2014

Texts: Daniel 6; Psalm 121; Luke 12:4-12

Context:  We live in an age of fear.  Fear and worry and concern, mostly about things that do not directly affect us and we will never have to deal with firsthand.  Worry formed by a constant barrage of bad news from around the globe that leaves us worried and uncertain.  We fear persecution while enjoying some of the greatest religious liberty in history.  We fear suffering while we enjoy unprecedented health and longevity.  Daniel reminds us that fear should not rule our lives. 

This is particularly appropriate for this Sunday (and why I chose this story), when our congregation will observe Reformation Sunday, which commemorates Martin Luther’s refusal to allow fear to silence him or deter him from worshiping his God in the fullness of truth as he had been given to understand it.  We celebrate one man’s boldness, by which we are inspired again to our own boldness in the face of those powers that would cow us into silence. 

Daniel 6 — We need to be careful not to mistake Daniel for some superhero of faith.  Daniel has suffered the loss of his home, he has been taken in exile to a foreign land.  He serves in a position of responsibility to a king that does not worship Daniel’s Lord.  Daniel’s abilities have served him well in exile, but he is not an alien.  When the king decrees that all must bow to the idol, Daniel is not out demonstrating in the streets, or flaunting his rebellion to earn himself a name.  Instead, he does what he has always done—faithfully and quietly lived out his faith.  It is too tempting for us to say that could never be me, I could never have Daniel’s faith.   We do have Daniel’s faith, faith in the God of Scripture who acts in space and time and human lives.  We profess our faithfulness both when it is convenient and when it is not.  If it is necessary to remain faithful when the law demands otherwise, we will trust that God the Holy Spirit will continue to be with us, keeping us faithful quietly not because we seek suffering or martyrdom, but because we cannot deny the God who created, redeemed and sanctifies us.

Psalm 121  — We would prefer that God protect us from suffering and uncertainty.  We would prefer to avoid the sufferings that come in a world of sin, but God does not promise to exempt us from the ramifications of worldly and personal sin.  Rather, He promises to be with us in the midst of it.  He promises us that we will never suffer alone, never be forgotten.  He remains our strength and our hope in all situations.  And He will keep our life, as the psalmist insists in verse 7.  Not just for the time being, but forevermore as the psalmist insists in verse 8.  We too often would settle for a small god, the god of comfort, the god of the smooth ride and the god of the path of least resistance.  But ours is no small god!  Our God reigns, and intends to keep us through all situations until we are gathered into his presence forevermore.

What more could we want?  How can we let the fears and uncertainties of our world bring us low for very long?  Victory is ours!  The empty tomb remains as God’s tangible proof that evil does not have the last word, suffering will not be our final experience, death will not be our last sight.  We are promised righteousness, peace, and life in our God, the God who made heaven and earth.

 

Luke 12:4-12 — The greatest act of faith in an age of fear is refusing to be afraid.  Our sources of fear vary—ebola, ISIS and Islamic jihadists, the continued curtailing of personal liberty and religious freedom.   But Jesus points out the ramifications of faith in a loving God who promises life—we don’t have to be afraid.

Certainly there will be moments of fear, but fear is something that we have power over.  We can choose to give in to our fear and allow it to rule us and dominate our lives and our courses of action, or we can deny it that power.  As Christians we are explicitly called to deny it that power, because the power that rules over us is the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.  This does not mean that we are exempt from the threats and tribulations and persecutions and sufferings of the world.  It doesn’t mean we don’t dread death.  But it means that when faced with death, we have an option—to rest in the waters of our baptism in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or to cave in to whatever the demands of the moment are in order to extend our lives a few more days or years.

We don’t need to fear the threats that face us.  There is someone to be feared, and that is the God of heaven and earth.  But Jesus is not suggesting that in faith we need to fear God the Father.  Rather, this God will be feared by those who reject him.  This God who will restore righteousness to creation is only to be feared by those who will not know him.  It is these, who threaten his children with death, who need to fear.  They believe that they have the power over life and death, but they will one day see that this is not the case at all!

We are not to be afraid, but to remain faithful.  We are not to let our fear get the best of us.  We are to resolve ourselves to remain faithful to the one who always has, is, and will be faithful to us.  Verse 10 should not be assumed to be talking about renouncing God with our lips in a moment of fear, but rather the actual renouncing of God in our hearts that separates us from his love and forgiveness.  Peter denied his Lord three times, and yet was restored through his repentance and the forgiveness found in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  While we aim for faithfulness under pressure, we trust in the grace and forgiveness of God that knows our heart.

Will we have the opportunity to give an account for our hope to worldly authorities.  Perhaps.  That may sound intimidating, but we trust that the Holy Spirit will be with us to guide our words.  It may well be that we don’t know whether or not they will be our last words.  Whether we find words to speak or are prompted to be silent, we don’t need to worry.  We don’t need to fear.  Our fear is no longer our master.

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