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I want some help with my sermon this weekend. I want to build my words around your questions about the faith. Two weeks ago Jason’s sermon used ancient Christian terminology to talk about God. He said God is not an object for observation.
This weekend Hedy will present the idea that God’s feelings can’t be hurt by our questions. It should be an interesting sermon. Are you reluctant to doubt, or are you reluctant to believe?
Next week and I want to build a sermon around your questions. So what would you like to know? What causes you to doubt? Where do you think the church got it all wrong? Do you think there is a conflict between science and faith? Does your understanding of science and faith portraying one as the hero and one as the villain?
Thanks for the help.
I’m starting a blog this week. I’ll use it to offer my opinion about a variety of things, like the Allen – Kane debates or Penn State justice. When I’m telling you what I think I’ll usually disguise it in stories. The brilliant ones among us will discern my hidden agenda and will write to me with the appropriate conviction; and the rest of us will be at least entertained.
I’ll use stories because our species was made for stories. Humans merely being (my favorite ee cummings quote) need stories more than we need opposable thumbs. It is how we evolved. It is how we imagined a future different than our past. When our strike it rich ancestors returned from the west coast with stories of gold our east coast ancestors sold everything, bought covered wagons and went in search of becoming 49ers. Rich 49ers.
Stories let us imagine what it would be like if we lived someone else’s life. At least for a while. We can think – what if that were me? – and we can do it without leaving the comfort of our living rooms or pews. We get to try on someone else’s skin, move around in it and see if it fits us. We can change our lives by the stories we try on.
Our 1840’s relatives learned where to find gold and where to avoid wasting their time from stories they heard. Neuroscientist Antinio Damisio writes, “The problem of how to make wisdom understandable, transmissible, persuasive – how to make it stick” is solved by stories. Our brains crave stories. It is our favorite device to remember things.
That doesn’t mean that every story people tell us is true. Like ABC news telling us that the shooter outside the movie theater in Colorado was a member of the Tea Party.” What! Are we to run screaming into the streets when we discover our neighbors are members too? Or like Michele Bachmann claiming the Muslim Brotherhood was influencing US foreign policy because a staff member to the Secretary of State knows members of the Brotherhood. What! Craziness.
There are stories we trust. Like Aesop’s fables that tell us about the boy who cried wolf, our Biblical stories about David taking on Goliath, or todays passage about Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego. This gang of three teen age boys has infiltrated our culture, showing up in our songs and novels. Listen to Christian hip hop group PID and their song “Don’t Bow”, or tunes by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Sly and the Family Stone or Beastie Boys. Read Herman Melville in Moby Dick; Harper Lee in To Kill a Mocking Bird; or Thomas Hardy in Far from the Maddening Crowd. Or read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. King defends his civil disobedience by saying he learned how from the Bible’s teenage gang of Three. He wrote, “It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego to obey the law of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake.”
I want to listen to two ways to tell the story of Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego.
The first way people tell this story can be called a “two step scout salute.” I don’t mean to offend any scouts among us. It is a fine way to tell the story; it’s just not the only way. The “two step scout salute” way is, “Do good and good will be done to ya.” It is born from the womb of “Everything happens for a reason, what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, play the game the right way, you get what you deserve, it is the basis of the craze around the book The Secret. Just as Bruce Hornsby sings, “That’s just the way it is.”
The two step scout salute tells the story of Daniel’s teenage heroes this way. King Nebuchadnezzar created a statue and placed it in the center of the territory. The king decreed that all must bow down to the 90 foot tall by 9 foot wide gold idol. He orchestrated the communities moment of worship. When all had assembled around the statue and the band hit the beginning note, like they were playing the sounds of the national anthem, all of the thousands of citizens would in one shared act, bow. And all did – all the citizens, all the foreigners and all the exiled Jews. All did except for MSA. They refused. Their disobedience, their act of civil disobedience was met with a hellish consequence – death by fire. Nebuchadnezzar called them into his office and ordered their bow or their death – their choice. They said their God would save them. And even if they did not survive the flames they would never say that his idol was God.
Nebuchadnezzar face contorted in anger. You could see the steam rising from the top of his head. He had them bound with ropes and thrown into the fire – after soldiers heated the furnace to 7 times its normal heat. When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace – possibly with a perverse fascination to see them burned alive by his anger and his furnace – he saw four characters, walking like there was a cool mist whistling through their hair during a garden stroll. He called the fourth godlike. He summoned them – come out! They should have said –“it is fine in here – come join us.’ Instead, they walked out of the furnace leaving behind the flames and the angel and the ropes that bound them. The thing meant to destroy them God used to set them free. Upon seeing these free men Nebuchadnezzar declared his awe for the God who saved them. He spared their lives. The two step scout salute says, they were faithful to God and God was faithful to them.
We know the same God who walks with us through fire; a God who delivers us from the anger of our enemies, whose mercies heal our sicknesses, restores our marriages, unites our families and frees our consciences through forgiveness. The hotter the heat, the more difficult the problem, the greater the mercy we experience. The thing we thought would kill us God uses to burn up the ropes that bind us and sets us free.
Have you worn their skin? How does it fit you? Can I get a witness? Maybe you will try on their story as you walk out this morning and find it is true. Amen.
That is the two step scout salute way of telling the story of Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego. There is another way to tell their story. We will call it the rebel’s protest. To help understand the Rebel’s protest I’ll remind you that we were made for stories. Our stories are our maps of the world. And maps shrink and delete things so the drawing will fit on a single piece of paper.
You can get a big, fold out map of DC from AAA and it will give you a lot of detail. Or you can get a simpler, smaller map for tourist – it will leave a lot of things out – but it will highlight the things you really want to find. Or, if you work for the cities maintenance department you probably use a map that shows you the pipes and sewers that run underground. Or if you work for the press corps you better find someone who can show you the locations of the gyms and restaurants where the most important decisions in the world are being made right now. It’s essential to have the right map. Just ask the rich 49ers.
I heard a story about Pablo Picasso talking with a gentleman at one of Picasso’s exhibits. As I remember the story, the gentleman asked Picasso why he couldn’t draw a woman who looked like a human being. Picasso asked him, “What do you mean?” He said, “I have a photograph of my wife and when you look at it looks like my wife.” Do you have it with you? Picasso asked. The gentleman opened his wallet in an age before cell phones held all our pictures and held it up. “Does this look like your wife?” Picasso asked. “Yes, she looks exactly like this. ”Oh my,” Picasso said. “She is terribly small.”
Maps and stories leave out information so they can focus our attention on what they want us to know.
The book of Daniel is a map for us. Let’s take the Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego story as told by the two step scout salute and step back. Let’s move the perspective out to take in more of the biblical story Daniel includes. Let’s use a map with more information rather than less.
My motive is to counter the down-side of the two step scout salute. If the only thing we know to be true is the “Do Good and good will be done to ya, you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around,” then when evil comes around it must be our fault. And sometimes we are our own worst enemy. But not all the time.
I’m thinking of the 12 people murdered and the 50 injured by the gunman in the movie theater in Colorado. The people arrived at midnight to see the opening of The Dark Knight Rising. What they found was a twenty four year old playing the part of the Joker. With guns, without mercy, he fired. He arrived at the theater after leaving his apartment booby-trapped to maim and kill. I won’t say to his victims and their families, “You reap what you sow. What goes around comes around. That you got what you deserved.” Would you? No!
Let’s return to our heroes, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego. And let’s begin the story a few verses before the gauntlet is thrown and the fire heats up. Let’s listen to Nebuchadnezzar winning a battle against Judah and their people. Judah is forced in to exile into Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. The Jews departure means the loss of their temple, their capital, their leaders, their home towns their houses their families. They suffer terribly. The same teenage boys portrayed as faithful in the furnace suffer terribly. Nothing they have done deserves their pain. Nothing these three teenage boys have done deserves their pain.
Everything is stripped away from them. And now Nebuchadnezzar is removing the last sign of their Jewish heritage. For Nebuchadnezzar it is just citizenship, a pledge of allegiance. For Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego it is a violation of the most important commandment. They say to Nebuchadnezzar, “Our God will save us.” And he must be thinking, “Your God? The one who couldn’t save the temple, who couldn’t save your home who didn’t save your families? That God?” The god who didn’t stop your exile or your servitude? That God is going to save you? I’m your God now!”
They tell him, “And even if God doesn’t save us from the fire we will not say with our lips that another is God.” Their faith isn’t about getting something – their faith is about being someone. It isn’t about knowing the truth; it is about having something to be true to. Their faith is woven into their very being so that it is in their breath. “You shall have no other gods before me.” “God Is God.” They would be no one else.
This world isn’t God and the world doesn’t organize itself as if this were heaven. Sometimes the world and God are at peace and sometimes at war. And faith can’t go along with the demands of the world when the world is organized for evil. Because God is God, not the world.
On April 12, 1963 eight white clergymen wrote an open letter to Birmingham Alabama titled, “A Call to Unity.” They wrote to protest the protest in their streets. Martin Luther King used street preaching and nonviolent protests to challenge the state of Alabama’s institutionally sanctioned racism. His efforts led to his arrest. “A Call to Unity” was met with an open letter from the Birmingham Jail composed by King.
I already told you that King tried on the story of Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego and their ordeal with Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. King found Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego a good fit for himself. I imagine a jail in Alabama can be hot too.
Among the points made in “A Call to Unity” I offer you three responses by King.
To the charge that that social justice is best pursued in the courts and not in the streets by an outsider King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.”
To the charge that the protesters needed to simply wait, King knew the word “wait” meant never. He said they had waited for these God given rights long enough and that justice too long delayed is justice denied.
To the charge that the protests were illegal King argued that not only was his civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws but “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Such faith isn’t based on evidence or ease. It is in the very words we speak, our own breathe, being true to the God who is God, refusing to be anybody else no matter who the world wants us to be. This is the gold that makes us rich. You know the rest of the story. What would it be like for you to wear their life for a while?
I’m starting a blog this week. I’ll talk about the two step scout salute and the rebels protest. Let me know what you think.
Welcome to this weeks writings. I hope to post my sermons here after I each weekends sermon. I promised last Sunday that I would load this weekend’s sermon here. I’ll do that Friday. This weekend I’ll preach about Daniel and the lion’s den. I was wondering if you would share your insights or questions as I put things together. What do think?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, then by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
Sharon Heggie shared this quote at the beginning of a blog she wrote last week. I love the quote. Truth though, I use such quotes to inspire me while I keep my life exactly like it was before reading the inspirational words. Sharon used the words to creat her next adventure. She is sailing the world. Here is how she tells it.
“Everyone wants to know why I decided to embark on a six month voyage from Martinique to Norway on a 52-foot sailboat, leaving behind a perfectly serviceable family and a house that rarely if ever continues to move when I leave it for short periods of time. Well, the answer to that is one that has set my sails, so to speak, for my entire life. My mother gave me many gifts before her untimely death when I was only 19. The best was this advice: to always, ALWAYS seek out adventure, to follow my heart, to continue to learn anything and everything I wanted, and to never ever allow anyone to force me into a rut, because the only difference between a rut and a grave was the dimensions. My life was changed from that day forward, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
You can follow Sharon on her blog at Boomer magazine. Sharon is a friend who is over 50 and came into my life 15 years ago and she is a delight in every way. She now ups the anti – what’s my next adventure going to be that can match the high seas?
I’m looking for something that lets me be myself while challenging me all the time. Like the perfect fit between what I have and what I want. Like learning a great piece of music more challenging than anything I’ve played so far. Like practicing to graduate from a brown to a black belt. How about you? More to come.
The meal was glorious. Fitting for Easter. At 1:30 we sat down to a feast. Sharon prepared crab baked in individual baking dishes, asparagus and for dessert to celebrate the resurrection and my daughter Jessica’s birthday as well as my own we had home-made German chocolate cake. The talking and laughter rolled us on the floor and we would still be on the ground, but it stopped about 7:00 when people headed home. Ben left us something to remember the day.
Ben brought us a new painting, 3 feet by 4, in pastels with a striking design. It is a digital manipulation of a photograph of one of his original paintings. It is majestic, graphic and moving. I’ve hung it already in the hall next to the kitchen. I stare every time I pass it. And I recreate the whole day.
One of the my most moving parts day came early at 7:00 am during a Sunrise service. 400 people from Northern Virginia assembled in the church front lawn with coffee cups, blankets and lawn chairs. They came to hear the Big Hillbilly Bluegrass Band and the story of the resurrection. It was a blast with parents dancing with their children as the music played, then sitting enraptured by the biblical story. Infectious.
I wanted to relish the day. What a gift.