Yesterday I preached on Daniel in the lions' den. It was the first of a planned series on prayers of the Old Testament. The first half of the sermon was a running commentary on the text, the second half some reflections on what it means for secular power and prayer to God to be on a collision course. Here's the first half in note form; the second half I'll post tomorrow :
6.1-5 Daniel was a politician, and a bureaucrat. He was a cog in the gearbox of the empire. When the big problems became huge, gigantic, terrifying, Daniel was the one who fixed them. Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and now Darius all relied on Daniel to interpret dreams and run the country. How do you bring down a powerful rival who is a good person? “They could find no corruption in him because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” “unless it has something to do with the law of his God” So a collision course between the real cynical, manipulative power games of court and Government, and a person's integrity, faith and trustworthiness.
6-9 The greatest threat to genuine faith for Daniel, in exile in an alien culture, is idolatry, to worship what is not God. To give total allegiance of heart, mind, conscience and body is to sell our soul. Politicians and power players know that, they’ve always known that. Daniel is a man of faith, public faith. He prays – every day, they know that. The connection between prayer and his trustworthiness, integrity, compassion, mercy, wisdom - they either don;t get it, or get it too well. Never say politics and prayer don’t mix; or that being a Chrstian isn’t political. Prayer is to lift holy hands against the disorder of the world.
10-12 When there’s a law against praying, you pray against it! When someone demands your worship you say no by worshipping God. Sometimes faith is defiant, an act of uprising, a conscience in rebellion. Daniel was in the habit of praying, 3 times – facing Jerusalem. Prayer was the daily orientation of the heart, guiding of conscience, his values and ethics grew out of a heart and mind given to God. Christian response to power is prayer; to political oppression is prayer; to corruption and injustice is prayer. Revolution tries to replace one power with another; prayer is more than revolution, it bypasses empire to the higher power of almighty God, creator and Lord.
13-16 Policies and laws are instruments of power, so must be shaped and considered, and consequences measured. Darius had issued an executive order. Now caught in his own trap, bound by his own law, he is victim of own policies. His pride, trusting the wrong advisers, habits of power, results in edicts and decrees once written which can’t be rescinded. Prayer has become a political crime; allegiance to God breaks the totalitarian claims of the state. Tyrranny cannot survive unpunished defiance, or self-determining freedom.
17-24 Lions are the symbol of strength, ferocity. the have big appetites and teeth to match.The miracle is that Daniel “ had no wound because he trusted in God”. While Darius had a bad night, Daniel was safe with the lions. Collision of power between God of Israel and the Emperor who is to be worshipped. Daniel’s vindication as trustworthy and one who trusts God; in the right order he serves God, then the Emperor, and is faultless in both. Prayer is place where we learn trust, and are shaped towards trustworthiness; it is also the place where secular power is critiqued, and rendered penultimate.
25-28 – This is a conversion story. Pagan emperor bows before God of Israel; the God of the exiles is made the God of the people; the God of the captives is made the God of the conquerors. The empire wide decree “God rescues and he saves”. This story makes connection between secular power, trusting prayer, the God who saves, and human powerlessness. Prayer is an act of defiance and trust; an unravelling of the structures of power; an act of defiant faith that questions the totality of all other claims. This is a story for our time. Who is God? Who has the final claim on our conscience, minds and souls? When choices must be made to what, or to whom, do we give obedience and trust?
I'll post the second half of this sermon later - for now the passage (Daniel ch 6) is worth reading as a telling critique of Executive Orders, imagining of unforeseen consequences, manipulative malevolence in the places of power, and the sense throughout this strange book of Daniel that, God is at work, unseen except by outcomes.
The painting is by Rubens, as is the detail of the lion's head.