GUEST POST – A Sermon Preached at the ACK St. James Buruburu during Baptism in the Kiswahili Service (11:30am) on Sunday 29th April, 2018
Lectionary Readings (5th Sunday of Easter):
- Psalm 44:15-26
- Daniel 3:16-28
- Hebrews 11:32-12:2
The setting of both Psalm 44 and the Daniel 3 readings is the Babylonian exile period. The readings are against the backdrop of the Babylonian captivity. In both the readings, the Faithful Ones are being called upon to choose between the living God / YAHWEH and the idols. The Israelites, the worshippers of YAHWEH, the Faithful Ones found themselves in the midst of idol worship in Babylon. This raised a conflict between their allegiance to YAHWEH on one side against the demands for their allegiance by the king and his idols on the other hand.
The questions that confronted them were:
- To whom will they pay their allegiance?
- And if they choose YAHWEH and disobey the king and the Babylonian idols, will YAHWEH defend them?
Worshipers of God have often found themselves in a precarious situation, in which they have to either stand for their faith or succumb to the worship of ‘idols’. The Faithful Ones, who believe in God and are totally sold out to God’s cause, are often driven to the edge where they are expected either to deny their faith in God in order to survive or remain faithfully and ‘loose all’. Those are often dreadful / frightening moments. The Faithful Ones are called to make a choice; they are called to a ‘blind faith’ that God will intervene even if the reality shows otherwise:
Daniel 3:19-23 “19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.”
The readings today calls upon us to a celebration of a God who defends the Faithful Ones and the lessons from the Faithful Ones’ commitment to their faith in God.
The three lessons from the Faithful Ones’ Commitment:
The Faithful Ones, knowing that God is their defender, they anchor their faith in God. They have unwavering faith in God despite the intensity of the challenges against their faith. Because of their belief in God’s defence, the Faithful Ones holds fast on to their faith in God.
This is what the three passages tells befell the Faithful Ones yet, they had their faith anchored in God:
Psalm 44:15-22 “15My disgrace is before me all day long, and my face is covered with shame 16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge. 17 All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. 18 Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. 19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness. 20 If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, 21 would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? 22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Daniel 3:15-16 “15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.”
Hebrews 11:32-35a “32And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again.”
Indeed, for the Faithful Ones, their faith was over stretched;
- Emotionally – they were disgraced and covered with shame for what had happened
- Socially – they were taunted by their enemies, the world was not worthy of them,
- Physically – they were crushed and faced physical death
- Spiritually – they faced a battle between YAHWEH their God and the gods of Babylon.
The Faithful Ones, despite the challenges against them, they anchor their faith in God.
- They Suffer for their Faith in God
Christians go through sufferings because of who they are; because they have chosen to be faithful to God; and because of their faith in God. Suffering comes as a testing of the Faithful Ones’ faith in God. It is their faith in God that sets the Faithful Ones apart from the rest. The hard question which a Christian grapples with in the face is suffering is:
- Is this faith worth suffering for?
The answer to the question depends on the spiritual conviction and the relationship a Christian has with God.
For the writers of today’s passages, the Faithful Ones, were convicted of their faith in God and suffered for their faith in God. They could not exchange their faith in God for anything but to suffer for it:
Psalm 44:22 “Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Suffering for their faith in God is a daily lifestyle for the Faithful Ones; it is a higher calling for the Faithful Ones.
Daniel 3:17-20 “17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.
For the Faithful Ones, suffering for their faith in God is a welcome duty; it is not something they shy away from but gladly and blindly (so to speak) walk into if need be. For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they had committed themselves to something that surpasses their physical deliverance from the fiery fire. Therefore, whether God delivers them from the burning furnace or not, it will not change their faith in God!
Hebrews 11:35b-38 “35… Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”
For the Faithful Ones, suffering for their faith in God is the other life they live daily, it follows them, it pursues them to every place they are; yet they are less concerned about their sufferings as much as their faith in God.
- They Entrust their Faith in God’s Saving Power
What has taken a greater hold on the Faithful Ones beyond any shadow of a doubt is their belief God’s saving power. They believe that God is able to save by all means and through all means. Even when their flesh seems to tell them the contrary, the Faithful Ones entrust their faith in God’s saving power; even when all indicators are against their faith, the Faithful Ones still entrust their faith in God’s saving power.
Despite the terrible and the destructive nature of the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the subsequent horrible conditions of the exile life, the Psalmist and the Israelites had this to pray to God:
Psalm 44:23-26 “23 Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. 24 Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? 25 We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. 26 Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”
The Israelites entrusted their faith in God’s saving power.
When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego defied the king’s command to bow down and worship his gods, they were thrown into the burning furnace. However, since they entrusted their faith in God’s saving power, God saved them from death. By entrusting their faith in God’s saving power, they were not only saved alone but the king acknowledged their faith:
Daniel 3:28 “Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
Faith entrusted in God’s saving power triumphs over any adversity.
God – the Defender of the Faithful Ones is an assurance that God is able to defend those who are faithful to Him through faith. The Faithful Ones anchors their faith in God, suffers for their faith in God and entrusts their faith in God’s saving power.
Example of ten Christians
A story is told about ten Christians facing execution in the then Communist county because of their faith in God:
Ten Christians were arrested and taken to the football stadium where a huge crowd had been invited to witness how the Christians’ God cannot save them from their death in the hands of the communist power. Each Christian was tied to a pole. A soldier with a gun would go to each Christian and ask them to deny that he doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ anymore and he would be allowed to live. The first Christian told the soldier, “I cannot deny Christ…” So he was shot and died, while the whole stadium cheered. The soldier went to the second Christian and ask him the same trying to convince him that God has not saved his brother from death. But the Christian answered, “If Christ was willing to die for me, I am also ready to die for Him’. He was also shot. The soldier went on until the ninth Christian. The soldier told him, “You, see, look at all your brothers, your God has no saved your eight brothers. Just say you don’t believe in Jesus anymore and you will live”. But the Christian replied, “You are wasting my time, just send me to where they are. I wanted to be reunited with them!” and he too was shot dead. When the soldier reached the tenth Christian, he took his time to convince him “Look at the ten bodies lying on the poles. He asked him to be wise; don’t be foolish, if your God could not save your nine brothers how sure that He will save you?” The Christian began to think and was convinced. He told the soldier to spare his life that he doesn’t believe in Jesus anymore. However, there was a soldier standing by who noticed that whenever a Christian was shot dead, there was an angel who came a laid a crown of gold on their heads. He could even see an angel standing next to the tenth Christian with a crown ready to place on his head. But, when the Christian denied Christ, the soldier rushed to him and shouted “you fool! This Jesus whom you have denied, I now accept Him as my Lord and Saviour.” The soldier too was shot dead in place of the Christian who had denied Christ. Therefore, the crown which was meant for the Christian was taken over by the Communist soldier who accepted Christ. Finally, the soldiers asked themselves, if this Christian man could deny his own God and because of him, we have killed our own comrade for accepting the God of the Christians, how sure are we that this Christian will not deny communism? So, they called him a traitor and shot him.
Those who are being baptised today, God – the Defender of the Faithful Ones is with you to defend you as you hold on to the faith. The Baptismal Vows you are going to take today are very serious. Today you are going to demonstrate with an outward sign of water, that inwardly, you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Today you are becoming one of the Faithful Ones. I beseech you by the mercies of God to remain faithful to God. At the end of your baptism, we, who have been baptised will join in praying for you this prayer of welcome to the Body of Christ as a congregation:
We welcome you into the Body of Christ: you are a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come. Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Fight bravely under his banner against sin, the world and the devil, and continue his faithful soldiers and servant to the end of your lives. Amen.
Hold fast to the faith you have received from God for God Himself is the defender of the Faithful Ones.
5th Sunday of Easter, 2018
The Rev. Simon J. Oriedo
P.O. Box 14814 – 00100, Nairobi Kenya
Mobile: +254 – 722 838 023 / 772 838 023 / 735 62 11 72 / 752660620