HEROES: More than a feeling
First in a series of three on our Annual Theme
HEROES: HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint
Daniel 1:1-21 // Luke 22:39-46
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text to begin this sermons series, well, I have two texts: First from Daniel chapter 1, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand.” And from Daniel chapter 7 our theme verse “But the saints of the most high shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.” Our texts thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
This is the first of three in a series of sermons on our Annual Theme, HEROES, Heaven Reaching Out through Every Saint, and to that end, we are looking at the book of Daniel, looking at the way that God is working through these saints in a time of exile, as they go into forced service in a land far, far away, as they go...
Into the (unknown.) September 11, 2001. The rescue workers, the emergency techs, seeing buildings on fire and collapsing, not knowing what they will be up against, and still going into the unknown. September 11, 2010. Me, on my first date with a gal named Laura Anna Elizabeth Smith, wondering if this is the start of something more, wondering how it will be, wondering what will happen, nervous, and yet still going into the unknown. September 15, 2013. Ordained five years ago, wondering what church work would be like, wondering what it would be like to have a toilet in my downstairs closet, looking at the start of a great unknown... Daniel 1. Let’s read these verses for what they say. These young men, in their late teens or early twenties, their whole rhythm of life stripped away, made eunuchs (a painful process), forced away from any family they knew, unable to worship their God (Jerusalem was the center of their worship life).
Into the unknown. Can you imagine what they would feel like in this first chapter? Can you imagine what it would be like to be Jehoiakim, king of Judah, the one who lost the city of David? Can you imagine what it would be like to read the Scriptures of Isaiah and to know that you would have seventy years of exile under this Babylonian empire?
What would go through your mind?
I suspect, if you’re anything like me, you would do a lot of feeling. You would be anxious, anxious because of a life that will be unrecognizable from the life you lived. You could be despondent, doing everything you can not to face reality but to live n the past that you won’t admit is already gone. You might despair, despair over the
It’s the feeling, I suspect, that any widow has when she thinks about life after the funeral.
It’s the feeling, I would think, that any teenager has when he thinks about another day in a place he doesn’t want to be, waiting for it to be over.
Here’s the thing. You don't have to go to Babylon to feel like Daniel and the others would have felt. You don’t have to have your city destroyed to know how it feels. You don’t have to get your name changed to know the fear of the unknown.
So, we circle back to our sermon theme, HEROES, When heaven reaches out through every saint, the faith God gives us as a gift is more than just a feeling. Feelings are like flowers. They bloom and grow in season; they wither and fade. And the key to enjoying flowers isn’t to be disappointed when they fade away; the key is to cultivate the soil in a way that makes them come back.
Two thoughts as we meditate on this journey into the unknown. Two thoughts on cultivating our hearts and our minds so that our faith is more than a feeling. Two thoughts on what it means to rest in the grace of God.
Thought number one is to notice what Daniel does. Thought number two is to notice what God does. First, I want you to notice what Daniel does. Daniel (resolved). Daniel and his friends are shipped over to Babylon to be indoctrinated into the Babylonian way of life – to know their literature, to eat their food, to become one of them and serve them for his whole life, and one of the things he was supposed to do was to eat the king’s meat and drink his wine. You need to know that this meet would have been unacceptable to a Jew. The wine would have been blessed before the idols of that land. And so, what did Daniel do?
Daniel (resolved.) He resolved to stick his neck out. He resolved to remember the traditions of his faith and he resolved to stay faithful to his faith. He did NOT so much live in the fiction that life was as it had always been; he DID live in the real,, present world. He did NOT so much cling to every single tradition of years gone past; he DID hold onto those things that got to the heart of his faith.
In his case, it was the diet that made them distinctive.
What expressions of our faith and life together do we regularly resolve to do together? What expressions of our faith get to the heart of God’s gifts to us in this place?
Thought number two. As Daniel is resolving, before and after Daniel does anything, I want us to notice the Lord’s (will). Did you notice that here and there in our reading? It was the Lord giving Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. It was the Lord who gave wisdom and knowledge to Daniel and his friends. It was the Lord who made them healthier and stronger.
I want to begin with a quote from Shakespeare’s play, “All’s well that ends well”: All the world’s a stage, // And all the men and women merely players; // They have their exits and their entrances.
I’m going to say that I am indebted at this point to a pastor named Pete Briscoe for these insights. In the theater world, front of stage, back of stage. Things happen front of stage, people move around, but there is all kinds of work that goes on back of stage. For all the movement in the front there is ten times that in the back to make sure that everything happens as it needs to, and yet, when it is done right you don’t see any of that at all.
Here we get these little front of stage moments of God, moments when we can see clearly what he is doing, moments when he is out there acting powerfully.... and yet, it is the Christian hope and promise that he is working even when we don’t see him. It is the Christian hope and promise that from the beginning, from the very first promise of the Gospel in the Garden of Eden, in Genesis 3, buried within the curse that he pronounces over Adam and Eve, God had begun the work that he was continuing in the slavery of Israel to Egypt, that he showed front of stage in the plagues and the Red Sea, that he continues even as his people go into exile, that he ratchets up to the greatest tension as the Son of God himself comes front of Stage to do the will of God as God himself, and yet the greatest moment of Christianity is this curious set of three days, when God himself dies, when the quietness of death settles over his disciples, and when the tomb door cracks open to reveal... nothing. The place where our Lord should have lay.
The greatest event of this life happens back of stage, in the place where we cannot see but just the littlest glimmer of the power of our God.
The quiet splashing of water, the ordinary eating and drinking, the chosen words of absolution, they all point toward the God who works when we know it and when we don't. They all point to the God who loves us when we feel like we are loveable and when we don’t. They all point to the God who is saving us when we feel like we are being saved, and even when we know we won’t be saved from cancer, from death, from exile.
To be a HERO, then, is to receive our Savior’s words at the Mount of Olives – Not my will but yours be done – as the resolve of our Savior to accomplish our salvation for us, and then to speak those words ourselves. Not my will but yours be done.
To be a HERO, to see HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint, is to know two, or maybe three things at once.
First, that your God is not so much concerned with your life’s plans. He doesn’t have a lot to say about which college you should go to, or which house you should buy, with your five-year plans, with your ten-year plans.
Second, that your God is utterly concerned with your eternal calling. He has spent everything that only God himself can spend so that you might be secure in his promises for the rest of eternity.
Third, that your God is utterly concerned with your immediate calling – the way you treat your neighbor, with the person right next to you, the person in line next to you, the person driving next to you. He has much to say about what it means to be Christian right where you are.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who might not be as young anymore. He has spent much of his life wondering where God will take him, wondering what the world will look like in 10 years, what his family might look like, where his job might take him, until he started noticing that wherever he went, there his neighbor was. Wherever he went, there his calling was, wherever he went, his eternal significance was still secure.
Amen and amen.
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