Courageous Faith

Daniel 1-6 (Children’s Everyday Bible)
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Sometimes preserving your faith requires you to take an unpopular stand. Whether we are Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, sometimes our faith does not square with the prevailing culture around us. That was the case for the Hebrew youth Daniel and his three comrades. They were away from home and could have accommodated to the culture. They could have fit in with the crowd. But instead they set themselves apart by their faithfulness. They had courageous faith.

I was talking to one of you this week who said, “In my workplace, colleagues had relatives die, even young ones in tragic deaths, and everybody went on with business as usual.” She said, “I couldn’t do that. It was not right. I went to the service. I thought we should provide extra love and support.”

A college student that I happen to know very well said last spring, “Everybody drinks in excess and then hooks up with anybody, whomever they were dancing with last. People don’t even know what they did the next day. I just can’t do that. I have to say to my friends, ‘No, I really don’t want to go to the frat party. I’d rather stay here in the dorm, watch a movie, maybe drink a glass of wine.”

Some of the violent movies and video games are not okay at my house. They don’t breed Christian values. They are the opposite of Christian values. Some of the talk shoes on television, where people are screaming at each other, trying to win points in a argument, are no good. We change channels. The opposite of the scripture we read last Sunday about how we speak gracefully to each other.

Spending too much time in shopping centers, reading some of the magazines which obsess over the lives of celebrities. These detract from Christian faith. Four-letter words don’t bother me too much, but throwing God’s name around does. But mostly living our faith is about how we respect God and treat one another.

In our day, tolerance of others is highly valued. But when does tolerance for others’ beliefs become indifference about our own. Are we afraid to pray in public because of offending others? Does it really offend people that you bow your head in a restaurant or does it just make you uncomfortable? I’m not advocating for prayer in public schools led by school officials because we’re all coming from different positions on faith. I’m only saying that we need to speak up about our faith when it matters.

We should be speaking up, carefully and respectfully, when we think people are mistreated because we worship a God who cares about such things. We cannot be indifferent. The worst lesson we can teach our kids is that it doesn’t matter what you believe. It matters a great deal. To be respectful of others who do not share your faith, is not to deny or hide your own faith, but to live and speak it forthrightly, making plenty of room for them to live and speak theirs.

Usually here at Peace we read short passages (15-20 verses) of scripture and focus on the details. But today, instead of reading a short passage from the book of Daniel, we’re going to read the first half of the book of Daniel from a children’s Bible. That’s so we can get on board with these narratives because most of us are not deeply acquainted with this narrative and apocalypse from the Old Testament. By the way, children’s Bibles are wonderful for people of all ages. Some of my best theological training came after seminary when I started reading Bible stories to my children. I haven’t done enough of that, but what I do know about Daniel comes mostly from that.

The children’s Bible from which we are reading deals with the six stories from the first six chapters of Daniel. The second half of Daniel tells four visions or revelations for the future, the apocalyptic part. Those are not in the children’s Bible and we will not read those. The six vignettes which we will read are set in the 6th century BCE, but the author is writing sometime around 200 years before Jesus was born. He’s writing to encourage their faith. Hear the word of the Lord:

Daniel 1 – Daniel and his friends

The king of Babylon told his servant to pick some young men who had been taken prisoners from Jerusalem. “Take them to my palace to be trained as advisers,” he ordered. A man named Daniel and three of his friends were among the chosen few. When they arrived at the palace, they were given the best royal food. But they refused it, asking instead for simple food that would not conflict with their worship of God. Their master agreed to give them the diet of plain food for ten days. When he saw how healthy they looked, he agreed they could eat as they wished.

Daniel 2 – The king’s dream

One day, the king summoned his advisors. “I have had a strange dream,” he said. “Tell me what I dreamed, then explain it to me or you will die.” That night, God told Daniel about the king’s dream. The next morning, Daniel spoke to the king. “You dreamed of a statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of clay,” said Daniel. “Then a great stone fell on the statue and smashed it.”

The king was amazed. “That’s right!” he said. “Your empire is the statue’s golden head,” said Daniel. “After you, other empires will rise, inferior to yours. But one day God will send a king whose kingdom will last forever. This king is the stone you saw in your dream.”

Daniel 3 – The golden statue

The king could not forget the big statue in his dream. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make a real statue, just like the one I dreamed about?” he thought. “But this statue would be the image of me, and I would make it in gold from head to toe.” The king ordered the work to start on his statue right away. When it was finished, it was an incredible sight. The gleaming figure stood fifteen times taller than the tallest man. “Now people must bow down to my statue,” commanded the king. “Anyone who refuses will be burned alive!” Everybody knew the king always meant what he said.

Daniel 3 – Thrown into the furnace

Daniel’s three friends refused the king’s command. “We will not worship a statue,” they said. “We must be true to our God.” The king was furious. “Throw them into the fire,” he shouted. So, Daniel’s friends were put into a blazing furnace. It was heated seven times hotter than usual. As the king watched, he saw another person among the flames. The fourth man looked like an angel. The king ordered Daniel’s friends to come out of the furnace. They emerged, unharmed by the fire. Mysteriously, the fourth man had disappeared. “Your God has saved you!” the king said. “Your God is great and must be praised.”

Daniel 4 – Another strange dream

The king of Babylon had another strange dream, this time of a very tall tree. “Cut down this tree,” ordered an angel. The tree stump turned into a man. “This man must live like a wild animal,” said the angel. “He has to learn that God rules the world.” Daniel explained the dream to the king. “You are the tree,” he said. “If you don’t obey God, you will lose your power.”

But the king did not obey God, and everything happened as Daniel said. A madness came over the king, and he lived like an animal for many years. When he finally returned to his palace, He never disobeyed God again.

Daniel 4 – Belshazzar’s banquet

Belshazzar, the new king of Babylon, held a big banquet for his friends. “Get the golden cups,” Belshazzar ordered. He made everyone drink from the holy cups that his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Suddenly, Belshazzar went pale with terror. “I can see a hand, writing on the wall over there!” he cried.

The king asked Daniel to tell him what the words meant. “You have disobeyed God, and your empire is about to end,” said Daniel. That night, Darius, the king of Persia, attacked Babylon and killed King Belshazzar.

Daniel 6 – Daniel refuses to obey

King Darius was very impressed with Daniel’s wisdom, so he made him his chief adviser. But this made some of the palace officials jealous, and they plotted to get rid of Daniel. Soon they had a plan and went to see the new king. “We think that there should be a law against people praying to any god but you,” they said. “If they do , they should be thrown to the lions.” The king liked the idea so much, he passed a new law to put it into practice. The jealous officials knew that Daniel prayed to God three times a day. Daniel heard about the new law, but he refused to obey it. He carried on praying three times a day, as usual.

Daniel 6 – Daniel and the lions

Daniel’s enemies were delighted when they caught him breaking the law. They arrested him and took him to the king. Reluctantly, the king had to admit that Daniel had disobeyed him. “Throw him to the lions!” cried the palace officials. King Darius had no choice but to send Daniel to his death.

At dawn, the king ran to the lion’s den. “Did your God save you?” the king called out. “God sent an angel to protect me, because I have done nothing wrong!” replied Daniel. King Darius was overjoyed that Daniel was safe. Then he ordered Daniel’s accusers to be thrown into the den.

This first piece of art on the screen is from the Christian catacombs of Priscilla, Rome, Italy, late 3rd century – The Hebrew youth in the Fiery Furnace. Second is Peter Paul Rubens, 17th Century – Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The last two are more modern pieces of art. These stories – the story of the fiery furnace and the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den – have empowered the faith of many persecuted Jews and Christians through the centuries.

We are not persecuted. We have the freedom to say what we believe and we are not going to be thrown in jail or into a fiery furnace because of it, but think about what being Jewish meant during the Third Reich. In 1947 a group of Hasidic Jews, all of them Holocaust survivors, gathered to enact the fiery furnace scene from Daniel as a way of re-constructing what happened in the concentration camps. They re-lived it through the drama. This has been a powerful part of their healing process. Standing up in front of their own people dressed as SS Officers and declaring their own faith with courage, they said, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God. The Lord alone. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

That’s courage, if you’re still saying that, when you’re being put in the fiery furnace. It’s courageous to be a Christian in Iraq or in Pakistan.

Courage for us may mean something very different. We are not going to the fiery furnace or to the lion’s den. We’re not likely to die from a religiously motivated car bomber. But maybe we are going to lose a friend or two because we don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car. Maybe we are going to approach Christmas celebrations or retirement lifestyle much more simply than our parents did because we believe that we should tithe, really give sacrificially to make a difference for others. Maybe we are going to support a healthcare system that means the wealthy, insured people receive fewer excessive scans and testing, so that all people can receive basic healthcare.

Peace, you are a courageous church. Did you know that our new church development is giving more to mission through the presbytery than 2/3 of the other churches in presbytery. In this terrible economy, many churches are not giving and as a result, Mission Beth-El is suffering. The church camp, Cedarkirk is struggling too. We may well lose our ministry to farmworkers in Immokalee, where the poorest of the poor live, because there not enough courageous faith in the churches of presbytery.

Courageous faith could be like the first story we read from Daniel. The four guys had the opportunity to eat more meat and richer food, but in the spirit of their faith, they continued to eat simply and they turned out healthier. The very same could be true for us, if we would just simplify our eating habits for the sake of faith, for the sake of others who are hungry.

Courageous faith may be doing what you think is right in your workplace, even if you suspect you might lose your job by following your Christian ethics. I’ve known someone who did just that. Courageous faith requires a strong belief in the sovereignty of God. For if you think down in the depths of your soul that God is powerless to help you, then why would you take a chance with powerful human beings by defying them? Why not just bow down and worship them? Give them what they want. But Paul said to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” No fires or lions can ultimately harm us. No kings or cultures can pull us away from the God in whom we trust.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the King, “O Nebuchadnezzar, if the God we serve will deliver us from the fiery furnace, then we will be delivered. If not, then let it be known to you, O King, that will not serve your gods nor worship the golden statue you have set up.”
And when the three young men stepped out of the flames, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. How great are his signs. How mighty are his wonders. And everlasting is this God’s sovereignty.” Amen.