A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Who’s Story? Daniel 3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego September 8, 2016

I invite you to turn to page 916 in your pew Bibles, Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. It’s more than about being rescued from earthly death.
We are exposed to more media in the 21st century than any other time in history and are sent more messages, both subtle and overt of how we ought to think, dress, eat, shop, live, drive and the list goes on and on. We are bombarded by commercial decrees that want us to bow down at their altars of consumerism, immediate self-gratification, egoism, every time we hear their blaring jingles, tag lines or see their logos. By worshiping their goods, services and lifestyles that the corporations offer, their claim is that we will be safe, secure, and right where we should be in relationship to all of our neighbors-you know the ones with the nicest stuff, newest car, and so higher status. All we have to do is remember that money makes the world go around, being comfortable is what life is all about and going along with the masses will make us happy. We are sold the lie that those things will be our foundation, our security, our roots.
This might even kinda work for a while, until it doesn’t. Until we lose our dream job, until we buy more and more and still feel empty, until our spouse leaves us and we’re alone in a culture that supports couplehood, until we don’t have 2.2 children and a dog, until we get sick, until we don’t measure up to the social standards of beauty, until, until, until… Then what? The corporations will tell you that the answer will lie in more things, a new house, a new spouse, just replace your health with something that makes you happy. But then we’re caught in the cycle of measuring up to others, fear, scarcity, and loneliness. We wonder what is wrong with us that we can’t seem to keep it together by the standards of the world. We wonder if God is listening at all, if God is really with us because we don’t seem to be saved from the disasters, maladies and disappointments of life. We want God to do what we want God to do. We begin to wonder if our faith is enough, if we believe or if God’s promises are true. What we are asking is: what is it that really roots us?
The prophetic book of Daniel tells of hope rooted in God. When the southern kingdom of Judah fell in about 587/6, the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and took many of the Israelites away to captivity. In the ancient near east, to have your nation captured meant that your god was not as powerful as the other gods and had lost. The Israelites were influenced by this thinking and so when Jerusalem fell, it might have shaken their faith. So it stands to reason that when a Babylonian king says, “worship this statue,” it would be easy to get distracted away from God and towards the golden image-after all, everyone else was doing it. But there were three men refused King Nebuchadnezzar’s decree-Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Now, I’m sure that they had doubts about their wisdom in refusing king Neb, as they had already lost their homeland, their connections to family and friends and a whole way of life, but for S, M, A to lose their sense of identity as God’s people would have been far worse than everything else they had already lost. Grounded in their trust of God, they stayed focused to the primary roots of their faith, despite siren songs and frightening decrees to find rootedness in golden images.
But you see, they didn’t do this alone, as individuals, but as a community. S, M and A had another friend struggling to stay rooted, Daniel. I imagine that they would have told each other the stories, the same stories we have heard all summer: of God’s word creating the heaven and earth, God’s breath creating humans, God saving Noah and his family through the flood, God’s presence with the Israelites in the wilderness, God providing manna, quail and water, God bringing them into the promise land. Daniel, S, M, A knew these stories from childhood and that these stories all pointed to God’s actions and love from the very beginning. God over and over claiming the Israelites as God’s own, caring for and staying with them. These stories were alive in these men and so when king Neb commanded that they denounce their faith or be burned alive, S, M, A had the words, the courage, the foundation to proclaim that no matter what, whether God saved them from this earthly peril or not, they were rooted in something bigger, something beyond what the world considered being saved. They knew that whether they lived through the fire, or died in the fire, they were God’s own beloved and God would be there. Their rootedness wasn’t dependent on what they thought God should or should not do.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did indeed go into the fire, naively, or foolishly proclaiming the trust that even if they were about to die, God was with them. Into the incinerating furnace they went, dressed in their finest clothes, hats, tunics, trousers and other very flammable garment. Three went in. Neb couldn’t resist peeking in on them…would they denounce their faith now? Were they dead already? Three went in…and four were seen in the blaze. God had sent an angel or a messenger not only to be with S, M, and A in the fire but also to send a message to the king and all of the king’s courtiers that God indeed is there, is here, is in the world, with God’s people, offering life with God, whether they are in a fire, or in historic floods in LA, or in disease, or in pain, or even caught in the lonely cycle of consumerism and materialism.
The promise isn’t that believing or faith saves us from the scary realities of the world or that God will be like a cosmic magic 8 ball giving us all of the answers. No, God promise is to love us at all times and in all places. God’s promise is to be present when it’s the most bleak. God sent Jesus to proclaim the love song that drowns out the jingles and siren songs that distract us-the love song of good news that the kingdom of God is not just near but here but here for all people. The good news that we can step out of the cycles that proclaim only death, pain, fear and scarcity in which we are all too easily entrapped. We can step away from the golden images, and step into the love, life, abundance and hope rooted in God. We may walk through fire, we might get singed but we walk confident that God walks with us and we walk together, in community, telling each other the stories of God’s promise of life, the story of the empty tomb-God refusing to let death be the last word for us. In the celebration of baptism, we pour water and profess like S, M, and A, that no matter what we experience in this life, we trust in God’s promise to name us, claim us and to never leave us. This morning Kayla and Kyle will profess this faith and we will promise to be part of their community to tell them the stories over and over in order to drown out the stories the world will try and tell them. Ron Swanson claimed this promise this week and his witness to telling the story of God’s love, will live on in each of us.
Like S, M, and A, together as God’s people we witness to this good news and help keep each other from being distracted. I invite the children, and anyone who has a bag to bless this morning. You may have noticed or heard that we will have a Bible Verse of the Month. Beginning today, every four weeks or so we will all together learn a new Bible verse that we will allow to dwell in us, grow, ruminate and live with us in our daily lives. We will experience the verse in worship, meetings, bible studies, the Beacon, our Facebook page, in our Friday email, through music, all kinds of practices. Our first verse you will find on the front of your bulletin, Romans 10: 15b, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.” We take the good news of Christ with us into our daily lives no matter where we go. We come to church to hear the story of God so that we can learn it really well and can tell our friends, neighbors, teachers, anyone about God. How many of you are beginning school and fall activities? It’s good to remember that our feet that God created, take the love of God everywhere we go. We are giving cross keychains to go on your bags so that other people in your schools, soccer teams, grocery store, dentist or dr offices, work places, will know that your feet bring something special. The cross will remind you to tell people about God’s love and that God is always with them. If someone is sad, or worried, or sick, you can say to them: you may not know it, but God loves you and is with you right now! Just like God was with S, M, A in the fire, (and don’t you think that they were scared?), God is everywhere with you. Even scary places, especially scary places. Really. How many of you think you can tell two people about God this week? (Hand out the keychains)
Prayer: God, we tell your story so that everyone will hear it. Thank you for sending us out with our beautiful feet to be your love in the world. Amen.