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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Here We Stand (Daniel 3)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - October 27, 2013
Text:Daniel 3

:: Sermon Audio (LINK) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "A Mighty Fortress" (Jonathan Reuss)

Hymn of Praise: "A Mighty Fortress" (EIN FESTE BURG)
Song of Praise: "Let It Be Said of Us" (Steve Fry)

The Word in Music: "If I Stand" (Rich Mullins)
Song of Commitment: "Today" (Brian Doerksen and Sandra Gage)
Postlude: "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow" (Fred Bock)

:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we are going to talk about taking a stand. You can take a stand for any number of reasons, but specifically we are going to talk about taking a stand for God. Or, more accurately, standing on God’s Word and promises in the face of evil or something wrong. I want to share two stories from history and then return to the question of our own times, our own faithfulness, and our own witness.

When the Heat is On

In today’s text we heard one of the more familiar stories from the Old Testament. It’s the story of the “fiery furnace” and the three young men of faith: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. These events took place during the Exile of God’s people, specifically the time period when the southern tribe of Judah was in captivity in Babylon. In Daniel 3, we read that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, makes a HUGE image of gold and requires all the people of the land to bow down and worship it.

As a young man, Daniel had already faced the challenge of sticking to the Jewish food laws, but this requirement was of far greater proportions. If you recall the Ten Commandments, the first two command God’s people to have no other gods other than Yahwah and to not make or bow down to graven images or idols. The new Babylonian law directly conflicted with this most basic of God’s Law for His people. And the penalty for disobeying the edict of King Nebuchadnezzar was death by fire.

The three young Jewish men are reported by political rivals and brought before King Nebuchadnezzar, where they are given one more chance to bow down and worship the golden image under penalty of fiery death. Nebuchadnezzar asks them: “If you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:13)

I want you to listen again to their response:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not (!), let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
What a response! What faith! It would be astounding faith to trust God for deliverance, but this is an even more mature faith that is committed to obeying and serving God even if He does not. Wow; I know that I often am proud of myself when I make a grand gesture toward God, but so often it is conditional: “God, if you get me out of this, I will do great things for you!” But this is outright faithful obedience, whatever the outcome. They trusted God and would obey Him.

This makes Nebuchadnezzar crazy with rage and he commands that the fire be stoked seven times hotter than before. The flames were so hot that the soldiers that threw the three men into the fire died from the heat. But the three, tied up when thrown in, were walking around inside the flames and there was a fourth person with them with the appearance of “a son of the gods.” This fourth figure is either an early appearance of Christ or is the Angel of the Lord. In either case, God does indeed deliver these faithful men who stood in faith and in obedience to the Word of the Lord.

And Nebuchadnezzar, who was the greatest power in the known world at that time – understanding himself to be a kind of “god on earth” – declared, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.” Then in typically Nebuchadnezzar-like fashion, he made a decree that anyone who spoke against the God of these three young men shall be torn limb from limb and their houses destroyed, also declaring, “There is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” And Nebuchadnezzar favored the three men from that point on.

Convinced by Scripture and Sound Reason

Today is known, informally, as Reformation Day. It commemorates the Protestant Reformation, when a young monk named Martin Luther took on the Catholic Church for abuses during his time. Luther’s great conviction and legacy was to look to Scripture to confront and correct those abuses. He named the errors in belief and practice in a 95-point list called the “95 Theses.” And he later was put on trial for his writings and teachings that continued to confront the powers of his day, which happened to be the established church.

I want to show you a short clip from a wonderful movie made of his life (which I commend to you). In this clip you will hear him defend his writings, stand upon the authority of Scripture, and finally declare that even if the consequences are grave, he can do no other. He reminds me of the three young me facing Nebuchadnezzar. He is committed to faith and obedience, even if God does not “deliver” him or provide a way of escape.

In this clip he faces both the representative of the Catholic church and the state authority of the region.

Let me lift out a few things…

First, he is willing to be corrected and repent, but under this condition: “Let my errors be proven by Scripture and I will revoke my work….”

Second, let me repeat to you his famous final statement, which is also on your bulletin cover: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason… my conscience is captive to the Word of God… I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

Let me say a word about the Catholic church. I talk about this often in new member classes because so many folks have a Catholic background of some kind. There are still some significant differences between the Catholic and the Presbyterian church, but the significant problems of Martin Luther’s day, especially around faith and works and the selling of indulgences have been corrected, in no small part to the witness of Martin Luther. And, in fact, the Catholic and Lutheran church have had some significant dialogues around core theological issues raised by Martin Luther and have found much to agree on. All of this is a legacy of Martin Luther’s bold stand.

Much as King Nebuchadnezzar was changed by the strong witness of the three young men, so the world – both the church world and the rest of the world – has been changed by the strong witness of Martin Luther, standing on the Word of God.

Here We Stand

So with those two historical stories going before us, I am challenged by the question, “Where will we stand for God and on God’s Word?” And it is a particular kind of standing that we’ve seen this morning. It’s not taking a stand on just anything. You can take a stand on who is the best college football team in the country. You can take a stand on which political party is better or worse. Those kinds of stands can be emotional or well-researched and backed up with data.  And, to be sure, Scripture can offer some guidance in matters from recreation to politics to relationships and more.

But the kind of stand we’ve heard about this morning is more basic than any of that. It’s the kind that comes about when you come up against real power and real injustice, wrong, or ungodly requirement. And when there is real power behind those kinds of demands, the stakes can be very, very high indeed. But that’s also when faith is tested for real. Both the young men in Babylon and Martin Luther in Germany found direction and strength to stand in Scripture – God’s Word to us. And surely they were also strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit for a confrontation that was beyond human strength.

When you are tested, confronted, challenged, or directed away from God, where and how will you stand? Will it be on scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit and spoken into the conscience and conviction of a faith-filled heart and mind? How can that happen if we don’t read and study and treasure God’s Word to us? How can that happen if we don’t continue to grow in faith and obedience and lives of worship?

Whether it is an increasingly secular culture or the mounting peer pressures of moving from elementary to middle to high school or the huge step of moving from a college campus into the world as a 20-something or the complexities of work, family, and relationships, our faith will be challenged. And we will have the opportunity to stand.

Will we be able to say with Martin Luther: “Here I stand; I can do not other. God help me.”?

Will we be able to say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: “My God whom I serve is able to deliver me… but even if He does not, I will serve and worship Him.”

With God’s help, may it be so! Amen.

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