The Festival of the Reformation
Text: Daniel 6:10-12, 16-23
It smelled like a combination of a zoo and a butcher shop. It was dark, damp, and downright eerie. As he shuffled to the corner, he stumbled over several stray ribs and a jawbone. Then came the blast—a deafening cacophony of primal roars that nearly shattered his old eardrums and almost blew the last few gray hairs off his head. The beastly pride circled closer. Featherlike whiskers gently brushed against his arms, temporarily masking the dagger-like, fang-filled jaws. Cowering in the corner, there was nowhere to go and nothing to do . . . except one of the things he did best. Pray.
That’s how Daniel got there in the first place. Persian king Darius was duped by his administrators to publish a decree that for 30 days no person could pray to any god or man except to him. Sure! Why not make the decree? He was the king and he thought of himself as a god anyways. Sounded like a fun decree to make for a month! Unfortunately Darius forgot about one of his righthand men—Daniel. Daniel was that faithful, noble Jew that had served the Babylonian kingdom and now his Persian kingdom for more than 60 years. He was the one man who always seemed to help and never seemed to fail. Daniel was the one man he could always count on. But he was also one of the men that would not stop praying to the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no changing a law of the Medes and Persians, so Daniel had to go in the lions’ den. Darius hoped Daniel’s God whom he served could rescue him.
2,059 years later another man is confined in close quarters. Theis room smells like a combination of medieval must and boys locker room. Knees were knocking. Sweat was dripping off his brow. You could nearly see the path he paced into the floor. No felines affronted him, but a different, invisible lion circled round him and roared with all his demonic forces. As the weight of the world seemingly teetered on his shoulders, there was nowhere to go and nothing to do . . . except one of the things he did best. Pray.
That’s one of the reasons Martin Luther got there in the first place. Pope Leo X and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and their cronies had summoned Luther to this Diet (meeting) in the German city of Worms. You see, Luther had been teaching that forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation come to people by grace alone through faith alone, and not by works. Luther taught that by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, all believers have direct access to God in prayer and need no monk, nun, priest, or pope to go to God for them. They didn’t like that so much. It certainly gouged the profits from indulgence sales (little pieces of paper said to pay off sin or time in purgatory). So they summoned Luther to this Diet of Worms in 1521 and demanded that he recant his teachings—or else. Luther had no choice but to face the world superpowers and either shrink back and recant or take a stand. Hopefully his God whom he served could rescue him.
493 years later. It smells a little like . . . like an old office . . . like a cubicle . . . like a hospital . . . like a classroom . . . like your house. The tension is thicker than an awkward family reunion. Your muscles are more taught than a tight rope. Your stomach is in a knot. Your fingers are fidgeting. You look around and don’t see any ferocious animals, but you know that devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone like you to devour.
What do you do? Do you stand firm in your faith? Will be like Daniel and refuse to back down? Will be like Luther and refuse to recant? Will you tell those who are wrong that they are wrong? Will you call a sin a sin? Will you share Jesus unafraid and unashamed? Will you work with honesty and integrity? Will you treat others with dignity and respect? Will you let your light shine? Will you be salt that seasons this world? Will you stand firm in the faith? What do you do?
That prowling lion Satan is roaring so loudly you can barely hear yourself think. You venture a step in the right direction, but your knocking knees nearly buckle. You stutter out a few words but your stammering reveals a clouded mind and a butterfly-filled stomach. It’s too much! It’s too scary! It’s too difficult! So you back down . . .
You look the other way as your coworker cheats and changes numbers. You look for the quick and easy out to end the conversation so you don’t have to have that uncomfortable faith talk. You join in the laughs over the raunchy jokes in the lunchroom. You add a couple of your own bombs to those cursing like sailors (so you don’t stick out). You snap back at the customer who was slightly snippy to you first. You take your hand off the remote or the mouse, giving in to the urge to stay on that channel or web page.
Ah! I’ve done it again! I failed again! I missed another opportunity to stand firm! Jesus said today that on his account we will be brought as witnesses before governors and kings. Daniel did. Luther did. They stood firm. But I find it hard enough to testify to my neighbor who doesn’t care for church. I’m at a loss for words with my family member who is straying. And I can’t keep myself from joining in the day to day sins of the world. Jesus tells us to be ready to testify before governors and kings but I can’t even find the strength to testify before bosses, coworkers, and customers or neighbors, friends, and family!
Jesus also says that whoever does not take up their cross and follow him is not worthy of him. And here I am, having laid aside the cross of Christ and the cross of serving him so often in my life—tossing it aside like a toddler sick of an old toy! I feel exactly like the spade Jesus calls me—unworthy. I’m unworthy of God. I’m unworthy of his love. I’m unworthy of his heaven.
So I retreat to my corner. Cowering, quivering, and covered in guilt I hear the deafening blast of my old evil foe erupting in a cackling roar of triumph. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do . . . except one thing I’m learning to do better. Pray.
I pray, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.” That’s about all I can muster in my guilt-ridden shame as I fall before the feet of my master.
But then as my tears continue to pool on the pavement I remember something Jesus himself once said, “Yes, it is as you say.” Actually, he said it twice—once before Caiaphas and once before Pontius Pilate. Jesus told us we would testify before governors and kings, but he also stood before governors and kings. Caiaphas demanded: “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Pilate asked: “Are you the king of the Jews?” With his life literally on the line, both times Jesus responded simply, honestly, and boldly: “Yes, it is as you say.”
Just two little moments and two little sentences, but all the more evidence of a perfect life that was without fail. He never missed a moment or an opportunity to stand on the truth or to shine as the Light of the wold. He never caved in to the pressures or shrank back from the terrifying roars of the devil.
In fact, not only did he stand firm against every attack from that roaring lion, but he also went to war against him. It might seem like an unfair fight—a Lamb waging war against a lion. The lion even seemed to have a victory when the Lamb died. Oh, but it wasn’t. That death was just a little strike at the heel of the Lamb. Meanwhile that heel was crashing down and crushing the head of that lion, that serpent called Satan, forever and ever. The Lamb that was slain is the who rose victorious and triumphant over sin and death, and yes, Satan too.
This Lamb is the Jesus whose feet I fall before. This is the Jesus whose feet I soak with tears, knowing that I am not worthy to be his. But this is also the Jesus who stands me back onto my feet. He shows me the holes in his hands, feet, and side that are now healed—holes that were wounds that once bled for me and my sins. He reminds me of his life, his testimony, his preaching, his teaching—his everything that stands in my stead and covers my failures. There he stands next to me—alive—consoling me as he once did his disciples: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
So he sends me back into this world—this world where I have failed before, this world filled with devil and demons, this world filled with sin and suffering. But once more I walk out into the harvest fields strengthened by my God. I’m reassured by my Savior. I’m restored to the status of dearly loved child entrusted with service.
Here we are then. In that office, that cubicle, that hospital, that classroom, our homes, our neighborhoods. Our old evil foe is still prowling around like a roaring lion. Those who hate Christ are barreling down, bent on destroying us. Our shoulders ache from the seeming weight of the world.
But like Daniel and like Luther, we know just what to do—pray. We pray to the God who forgives our sins and gives us free access to speak with him as freely as dear children speak with their dear father. We pray prayers of thanks for grace and mercy. We pray prayers of thanks for faith that trusts and for opportunities to show that faith. Then we pray prayers for strength. We pray that his mighty strength that once crushed Satan might fill us strength to stand firm on this cornerstone called Christ.
Refreshed with forgiveness and invigorated by his strength, we then join the people of faith who have gone before us—people who have known the Lord, his salvation, and his mighty strength.
We join people like Daniel in serving God in everything and anything we do, whether that’s as pastor or teacher or nurse or mechanic or stay at home mom (or yes, like Daniel, even in government work). We join Daniel in praying continually. We join Daniel in trusting. And we join Daniel in refusing to stop.
Then we join people like Luther in everything and anything we do to echo his bold testimony the next morning at the Diet of Worms: “Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders, Gott helfe mir. Amen. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Whether it’s working with honesty and integrity or serving others with kindness and love or actually finding opportunities to share faith and Scripture—those are stands that I too can take with God’s strength.
On a grand day like this, we might look at men like Daniel and Luther and be intimidated by these “giants” of faith. How could we do that? Could we ever face a den of lions? Could we stand before the leader of the free world? Could we stare down the barrel of an Isis rifle? Can we even face the pressure and persecution of regular life?
But today we remember that Daniel and Luther were but frail and fragile sinners too. What made them strong was not their superhuman faith. What made them strong was the one they had faith in.
Daniel reported it this way in the last verse: “And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”
Luther wrote it this way in his famous hymn inspired by Psalm 46 and that night alone in his room:
With might of ours can naught be done; Soon were our loss effected.
But for us fights the valiant one Whom God himself elected.
You ask, “Who is this?” Jesus Christ it is, The almighty Lord.
And there’s no other God; He holds the field forever.
It’s not our might or strength that helps us to stand firm. It’s divine strength shown throughout creation. It’s strength seen at a bloody cross and in an empty tomb. It’s strength heard in the victory refrain of “It is finished.” That strength is our strength. Who’s strength is it? Jesus Christ, the almighty Lord.
The devil will continue to roar with deafening blasts today. But the almighty Lord is the one who is victorious. And he’s the one who stood by and delivered Daniel. He’s the one who stood by and delivered Luther. He’s the one who will stand by and deliver us—whether that’s deliverance from danger or deliverance to life eternal.
So do what they will—Hate, steal, hurt, or kill—Though all may be gone, Our victory is won; The kingdom’s ours forever!
Dear friends, by God’s grace and with God’s strength, Stand Firm!
Posted on November 3, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged Daniel, Daniel 6, Daniel in the Lions' Den, Darius, Diet of Worms, Fail, Luther, Martin Luther, Persia, Persian, Reformation, Stand Firm, Strength, Weakness. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.