Saved—By Prayer

“Saved—By Prayer”

Dan 6 Daniel with lions

Daniel 6:22-23 – August 25, 2019

Have you ever prayed hard? I have heard from friends about people in their lives who prayed, and sincerely felt heard. Usually, it’s been someone’s grandma, or great-aunt, or perhaps their father. Or, perhaps you remember some respected person from a church where you attended as a child or young person. There was someone in that church who seemed to have a special connection to God; so much so that others in the church would notice and remark about it.

I suspect the prophet Daniel was just such a person. Daniel had a special connection to God, and he regularly prayed. Each and every day, several times a day.

Yes, Daniel was a prophet, in exile. A large number of young people—most probably from the nobility and well-to-do class—were taken captive to Babylon when the Babylonian army conquered Israel. He and his three friends were especially chosen to work in the king’s palace as civil servants. Long story short, all four were filled with integrity, honesty and an excellent work ethic. The king noticed their hard work, and promoted them.

This story about Daniel in the Lions’ Den is well-known, probably the best known among the stories of the Hebrew prophets. At this point, Daniel continues to be in great favor with the king for years, since he is always hard-working, honest and filled with integrity. Except—the homegrown Babylonian civil servants become so jealous and resentful that they hardly can see straight. We can just see them plotting and planning in their nefarious way.

Sometimes, that is the way it happens, when other people in your department or in your neighborhood see your integrity or honesty or hard work. These other vindictive people not only can grumble and engage in backbiting or smear campaigns against these honest, upright people, they may retaliate or even go one step further. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

We can find accounts of bad things happening to good people all over the place. Not only in the Bible, but throughout history. We see people of faith, people filled with integrity, prayerful people who are persecuted, maligned, abandoned, exiled, and even martyred. The story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den does not end that way. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

We are told in Daniel 6 that the king was so pleased with Daniel that he was going to promote him to a position of great authority over the whole kingdom, like being vice-chancellor, second-in-command over all government affairs. Here is where the plotting and planning comes in. We read: “the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

Yes, Daniel was a person of prayer, too. He had the daily habit of praying three times a day, in addition to being a man of integrity. It was this feature of prayer that the Babylonian administrators were going to attack. These bad guys from Babylon cook up a scheme to convince the king to pass a law that for thirty days would condemn anyone who had the audacity to pray and ask things of anyone except the king himself.

An aside here; an important aside. Kings in those days were absolute rulers, with the power of life and death over the people they ruled. Commentator John Walvoord thought “The probability is that Darius regarded this act as a pledge of loyalty to himself and a token of their desire to respect his authority to the utmost.” [1] This was a way of ensuring that the people of Babylon were completely subservient to the king and his authority. After the law was signed, Daniel continued to pray to the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, three times a day. He knew he would be liable to die for his actions. He not only was a man of prayer, he was also a man of deep convictions.

I suspect we all are in awe of Daniel and his strength of purpose. I do not think I would have the strength to go out on a limb, in the same way our favorite prophet did. It is a hard thing, to stand up for your faith, stand apart from the crowd, be honest, filled with integrity and prayer. The bad Babylonian administrators were delighted to find that Daniel was steadfastly praying, just as he had done before. Can you see them scurrying to tell King Darius about Daniel?

Reading from the Message:  “The conspirators came and found Daniel praying, asking God for help. They went straight to the king and reminded him of the royal decree that he had signed. “Did you not,” they said, “sign a decree forbidding anyone to pray to any god or man except you for the next thirty days? And anyone caught doing it would be thrown into the lions’ den?” “Absolutely,” said the king. “Written in stone, like all the laws of the Medes and Persians.”

13 Then they said, “Daniel, one of the Jewish exiles, ignores you, O king, and defies your decree. Three times a day he prays.” 14 At this, the king was very upset and tried his best to get Daniel out of the fix he’d put him in. He worked at it the whole day long. 15 But then the conspirators were back: “Remember, O king, it’s the law of the Medes and Persians that the king’s decree can never be changed.”

We know that Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den overnight. The king was worried to death, and went back in the morning, afraid to peep into the enclosure. However, Daniel was sitting there unharmed. God had shut the lions’ mouths and kept Daniel safe. And the prophet was a mighty witness to God in that place and in that time. Even the king acknowledged God.

We can name countless others who were not saved from the lions’ den, who were hurt, maligned, tortured, and even killed for the faith they so stubbornly held. Yet, we also hear of occasional people for whom God did do a miracle. We do not know why some were saved, and others were not. I think we can leave that question to God. Something more to ask when we all get to heaven.

I would like to lift up Daniel as an example of faithful prayer. Jesus reminds us several times in the Gospels that prayer is like children coming to their parents. We know that children come with all kinds of things. Crazy requests as well as expressions of love that make our hearts melt. It is the same way with us and God. Just as Daniel did, we are encouraged to have regular, intimate, ongoing interaction with our Heavenly Parent.

Yes, things can be difficult in this life. Yes, life can have twists and turns, yet we can be encouraged by the witness and example of Daniel. Even though our journey through life can go through valleys, up hills, and down winding roads, we have a faithful Friend and loving Companion. We have the opportunity to have regular, intimate, ongoing interaction with our God. Just like Daniel.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/6-daniel-lions-den

https://walvoord.com/article/247  John F. Walvoord, Theologian, Educator, Author

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Believe and Obey!

“Believe and Obey!”

Gen 8 Noah's Ark 5

Genesis 7:5, 23, 8:1 – June 23, 2019

Who remembers Sunday school? If not your own experience in Sunday school, perhaps your children’s time there? Or even your experiences teaching Sunday school? Children’s bible stories play a big part in Sunday school. We are going to look at ten children’s Sunday school stories for our summer sermon series, starting with Noah and the ark from Genesis.

I have memories of Sunday school and Vacation Bible School where the children sang songs about Noah and his ark, including “Rise and Shine!” complete with hand motions and hand claps. I suspect many of us have memories about Noah, Mrs. Noah, the ark, the animals coming two by two, the rain falling for forty days and forty nights, and finally the rainbow at the end of the story. We can learn some things as adults from this narrative in Genesis, too.

First, imagine yourself—ourselves—back in Noah’s time, in Genesis. According to the Bible, the world was different, in a lot of ways. People had a huge tendency to do things and say things that were contrary to God’s will and God’s ways. (Some things have not changed.) People were so downright disobedient to the Lord’s manner of living and the ways God had instructed people to act that God got extremely angry with all the people. Except, for Noah and his family.

This is not the version of Noah and the ark that is found in Sunday school stories for children. That warm, fuzzy, sanitized version tells children about Noah and his sons building the ark, the animals coming two by two (carnivorous beasts, too!), and everyone living in harmony on the ark while it rained. Which is one version of the events.

Are you familiar with what some other groups say about the God of the Old Testament? About how God is a mean, angry, vengeful God, ready to smite anyone who steps even a toe out of line? These groups emphasize narratives like this one from Genesis, “a story that is most definitely not for children. In this interpretation, God is so angered by human rebellion that God floods the whole earth, wiping out nearly everything in a fit of divine rage. This is a story about a God whom you’d be crazy to want to have anything to do with, a God of wrath who is ready and willing to strike down sinners.” [1]

This second interpretation does not quite hit the mark either. We have two ends of a pendulum swing—the first version warm and fuzzy and happily-ever-after, and the second version mean and vengeful and smiting and wiping out everything on the face of the earth.

What does the book of Genesis say? As Eileen read from Genesis earlier in the service, “The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.” And, “Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”

This is in contrast with the whole rest of humanity that God had created. In Genesis chapter 6, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

Or as Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message” says so poignantly, “People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.” And, “As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core.”

It is difficult for me even to contemplate such extreme evil and wickedness as Genesis describes—until I think of murder, slaughter, concentration camps, internment camps, gas chambers, razor-wire fences, genocide, people “disappearing” and abducted in plain sight, carpet bombing of civilians, and napalm raids. There have been so many people approving of these horrible activities throughout history, in hatred and fear of other people-groups, or in the name of their country’s security. Even today.

God’s heart, in striking contrast to the evil inclination of the human heart, is grieved by their betrayal. God is pained by the brokenness of creation. God sends the flood, then, not as an act of revenge, but out of grief over the rending of right human relationship with God.” [2] Perhaps I can see why the Lord was sorry God had made the human race in the first place. Perhaps all of this horror and human-made devastation can break our hearts, too.

But—Noah alone believed God. Noah was a righteous man, and was obedient to the words and ways of the Lord. As The Message says in Genesis 6, “Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God.”

How many of us can say that about ourselves? How many of us are good people, and people of integrity? For that matter, can we point to anyone, any single person we know and say, “That person walks with God!” Yet, the Bible says that about Noah.

So, Noah and his sons (and perhaps their wives, too) built the ark, believed God and were obedient. The Lord sent the rain upon the earth to wipe away every living creature, for forty days and forty nights. Only Noah and those with him on the ark were saved. And finally, “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

After Noah and his family finally left the ark, the Lord made a covenant with Noah. Perhaps we remember this covenant of the rainbow. “At the heart of that covenant with Noah and his descendants is God’s promise that “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (11b).  In other words, God seems to promise that God will never again use a natural catastrophe to destroy all earthly life. Yet while God says “never again,” God doesn’t add, as we might expect, “but in order for me to spare creation, you must do this and that.”  God’s post-Flood covenant is unconditional.” [3] In other words, no strings attached.

As commentator Doug Bratt reminds us, perhaps the Lord knows if we try to keep up our end of the bargain by acting in a manner pleasing to God, we will just fail completely. Again. “People after the Flood, after all, aren’t much different than they were before it.” [4]

Just as the rainbow covenant (or promise) was unconditional—no strings attached, so is the promise of Resurrection we have in the risen Lord Jesus. God promises through Christ Jesus and His death on the cross to forgive us our sins; just as the Lord promises through the rainbow to never flood the earth again.

Can we believe God, today? Can we obey God, instead of going our own way?

We have the opportunity to believe and be obedient to God, just like Noah. We can strive to be people of integrity, walking before the Lord in righteous living, and treating each other as God would have us do. We can thank the Lord for the Resurrection promise we grasp hold of, the blessed truth that the risen Lord Jesus has provided salvation for us, just as the ark provided salvation for Noah and his family.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1222

Commentary, Genesis 9:8-17, Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-1b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary

Sermon Starter of the Week, illustrations, text commentary, etc, Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble

“Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble”

Micah 6-8 word cloud

Micah 6:6-8 – August 27, 2017

Familiar things, familiar words. Even familiar bible verses. When we see or hear familiar things—like a familiar family member, a familiar couch or chair, a familiar saying or expression our best friend says—what goes through our minds? Do we take it in? Do we pay attention? Do we understand that what we are seeing or hearing is important? Or, do we just dismiss it?

Do we dismiss a loved one who just happens to live with us because she or he is always underfoot? Do we even hear an expression from a friend because he or she says it all the time? Or, does familiarity encourage us to ignore the loved one, the sayings, or expressions?

Can this happen to familiar bible verses, too? I am thinking now of John 3:16. Can that beloved verse become so familiar, so same-old, same-old, that it has absolutely no power in our lives or hearts? What about some other super-familiar Scripture verses, too? What about them? What happens to our sensibilities now, now that I have highlighted this important point?

Let’s take a closer look. When we hear the same old thing (even in a bible verse) repeated over and over, week after week, our ears can stop hearing it. It might make some people sick and tired, or bored to tears. We can say, “yeah, yeah,” and ignore it. Go on our merry way. As bible commentator Tyler Mayfield said, “There is a danger to familiarity. The familiar can be overlooked or neglected.” [1]

We have for our Scripture passage today one of the most familiar commands from the Lord, ever. Micah 6:6-8. I will read it in the straight-forward modern translation for all ages provided for us by the Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Starting at verse 6: “How can I even begin to approach God? How can I honor who God is? What gift could I bring, what sacrifice could I make? Would God like it if I made offerings like those made in the past—rams, oil, or whatever is most precious? Does God want me to give up what means the world to me?”

That translation puts a new, different twist on things, doesn’t it?

In this chapter of Micah, the people of Israel pose several questions, and this one is a biggie. How can we even begin to approach the awesome God who made heaven and earth? Isn’t God huger than huge, more righteous and holy than anything else in the entire universe? How can you or I possibly bring anything to God that would please this Holy One?

As Dr. Mayfield says, the central issue with all of these questions concerns the gift, the sacrifice. “What is it, O God, that you want from us? What do you require? Just tell us your favorite offering, and we will surely sacrifice it—even if it is a rather extreme request.” [2]

This is a rhetorical question, of sorts. Micah follows it up with God’s response, in this very familiar verse, Micah 6:8. Is it “same old, same old,” or do you think we ought to sit up and pay attention? After all, this is a verse that lets us know God’s own requirements of how to come to God, this Holy One who made heaven and earth. Listen to this very familiar verse.

The prophet says: “No, listen, people, we already know the answer to this one.  God has told us, this is what counts; this is the compassionate life God wants for us: that we would do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly, together with God.

Let’s turn to the playground and the schoolroom. What do you think children value? What are ways they like to be treated when they are together? Do you think children want things to be fair and equal in the classroom? Do they want people to be kind to them when they are in line at the store, or at the restaurant, or at home? And what about showing respect to other people? Do children want others to show them respect and courtesy on the playground, school, in the mall, or on the sidewalk? What about at home, too? These are important questions, since they not only apply to children, these questions apply to each of us. Every day.

“That’s not fair! He got more! She cut in line! They shoved me! That’s not fair!” Sound familiar? Does it sound like children bickering at home? This is exactly what the prophet Micah mentions, right off the bat. He tells us that God wants us—all of us—to act justly. And, to remind all of us, justice means fairness. Making things right. Got integrity? Do you act in an upright manner? That is exactly what God wants us—all of us—to do.

But, wait a moment! I know we have been through this before, but I thought the people of Israel were eager to know what kinds of stuff they could offer to God.

I can hear the conversations now: “Just tell me, I’m ready to bring the special animal offerings! I’ll bring really expensive stuff, Lord. Just tell me what it is that You want me to bring!” The problem is, the Lord may not give the answer the people expect. In fact, it is not the answer they seek. They have focused on expensive animals and special oils and fine wine offerings—small and large. The people of Israel have over-emphasized super-special sacrifices, and showy gifts in worship; they have ignored justice and kindness to others. [3]

Do you think children want other people to be kind to them? What about us? Do we want others to show care and consideration toward us? Let’s go even further. Being humble is a difficult concept for children to understand. (Gee, sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand!) However, being respectful is simpler to understand. Do I want others to be respectful to me? Just as important, am I—are you—respectful and courteous to others, no matter what? No matter who they are, and no matter where they come from, which side of the tracks they live on, or what they smell like, or who they vote for?

As we can see, Micah “turns the questions asked in verses 6-7 away from their focus on the types of offerings and toward a focus on the type of person. God does not want a specific type of offering. God wants a specific type of person.” [4]

Are you that type of person, the type God wants? Someone who regularly does just things with integrity? Someone who loves kindness and mercy and does kind and merciful things for others, regularly? What about someone who walks humbly, and is respectful and courteous to others, no matter what?

I think the prophet Micah would say that this is a truly compassionate life.

I wonder what this kind of life looks like, in our setting, here in the Chicago suburbs? How do you imagine this kind of life looks in our world today?

The prophet says our life is a journey, and we walk with the Lord, each day. We walk with integrity, in kindness, and we walk humbly. Imagine God is asking you to do one thing this week that would bring more compassion to those around you.

What would our lives look like if we lived like this? Would other people stop short in their tracks and say, “That person definitely is kind!” “That person goes out of her way to help people!” “That person certainly values the newcomer.” “That person displays genuine integrity, for sure!” I challenge all of us: choose one (or more) of these attributes each day for a week, and live it out.

Act justly—with integrity. Do kindness and mercy. Walk humbly with our God, showing compassion to all we meet. And, guess what? This is the way to truly please God.

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152 ; Dr. Tyler Mayfield, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)