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Safe with God

“Safe with God” (Daniel 6:10-23)
by Pastor Katherine Goerzen
September 15, 2013, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

When we were in Phoenix for the MCUSA Convention this past July, one of the speakers began her sermon by expressing her fear of flying. With one flight in particular, she remembers that the plane was shaking quite violently. And as she looked around her, she realized that she seemed be the only one to notice the shaking, and that she was really the only one paying any mind to it. And she was getting more and more anxious because of it, hoping it would stop soon. But the shaking kept going, and kept going, and finally, after 45 minutes of this, she stood up and screamed, “You’re all in denial! This plane is going down!” And after she sat down, the person next to her turned towards her and said gently, “You don’t fly very often, do you, dear?”

And after we heard her speak, I told the youth, that even though I wasn’t going to embarrass them with any outbursts like that on the flight back, that’s pretty much how I feel every time I get on a plane. I hate flying. First of all, I have terrible motion sickness, so flying often really does a number on my stomach and leaves me feeling sick for the rest of the day. But secondly, even though I know intellectually that flying is statistically much safer than driving, and that you’re more likely to be killed by a donkey than a plane crash, I still don’t get how something that heavy can stay up in the air with so few complications. So not only do I usually have to focus to keep the contents of my breakfast safely within my stomach while on a plane, I’m also usually worrying about whether the plane is going to crash or not.

 

As we flew across the Atlantic Ocean on our way to the Holy Land, I remember thinking, “Hmm, if something goes wrong and we need to land somewhere, there isn’t even anywhere to land amidst all of this water!” So when I noticed that our plane was shaking violently, I pulled the steward aside and asked him if it was normal. He simply laughed and continued on his way.

I also was panicking while I was flying out to Ohio to speak at Bluffton University’s chapel service during a snow storm. The plane jumped what felt like to me to be about 20 feet in the air and back down in a matter of a couple of seconds. And I remember thinking, “This is it. I’m done for.” All while the two boys in across the aisle started shouting, “Cool! Let’s do it again!”

And of course it certainly didn’t help that our last flight on the way home from Convention this summer was grounded for 2 hours before taking off because they were “fixing some mechanical problems” on the plane we were about to take off in.

But every time I’m flying somewhere, the same song is going through my head over and over as a form of prayer: “God our protector, keep us in mind, always remember your people. We could be with you one day in time, it is better than a thousand without you.” In a way, it’s my way of praying for safety as I fly. But more importantly, it’s just a way of continually reminding me, that no matter what happens, God is present with me. It doesn’t always take my fears away entirely, especially if there’s a lot of turbulence, but it calms me down immensely and it comforts me greatly to remind myself to simply trust that God is, in fact, there with me.

I suppose that one of the reasons that I thought of this in conjunction with the text is because it really frightens me to fly and it seems natural to me that Daniel would have been terrified as he was being led to the lions den and placed into the pit. But as I continually read the text over and over this week, I realized that the text seems to give very little indication that he was frightened at all. But he was certainly always aware of and trusted God’s presence with him in his life.

Perhaps God’s presence with him was one reason that Daniel had risen so high in Darius’ esteem and good graces in the first place. For when Darius was setting up his kingdom, he appointed 120 different men to act as satraps, or governors, over the different regions of the kingdom. And Darius chose 3 men to act as administrators to rule over these 120 governors, to hold them accountable and to make sure that everything was in order for the king. But Daniel had distinguished himself so much from all of these governors and administrators that Darius decided to appoint Daniel over the whole kingdom.

Well, you can imagine how well this went over with the 120 governors and the 3 administrators. They began to conspire amongst themselves so that they could find some scandal or skeleton in Daniel’s closet so that hopefully Darius would reconsider appointing him, a foreigner, over the entire kingdom. But after looking for anything that they might use against Daniel, they found nothing, because Daniel was faithful, a hard worker, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him.

So since they couldn’t find anything against him, they decided to try a different tactic. They knew that Daniel followed God in his life, and they began to concoct a way to use this against him. After conspiring together, all of the administrators and governors crowded before the king and said, “King Darius, may you live forever! All of your administrators and governors and all of your leading officials have agreed that you should issue the following decree: For the next 30 days, no one shall pray to any god or mortal except to you, O king. Anyone who disobeys will be thrown into a den of lions!”

O King, establish this decree and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persions, which cannot be revoked.” And King Darius agreed and signed the document and made the decree official.

Now Darius doesn’t come off looking too good in this story, he is so easily manipulated by the hollow flattery of his leading officials. He must have known that Daniel followed God and would not have obeyed this decree. Yet he did not even pause to think how this decree might affect those around him, including his right hand man! He simply signed it without question after his ego was appealed to.

But those governors and administrators certainly knew what they were doing. They had used Darius as a tool to achieve their sinister purposes. And they assumed that they had finally trapped Daniel and would get rid of him once and for all.

Now Daniel knew that this decree had been signed and made into law. But even the threat of death was not going to prevent him from worshiping the God whom he followed. If he had been afraid, he certainly didn’t act like it, for he continued to pray with his windows thrown wide open, where everyone who walked by could see him. If he had been afraid, he certainly didn’t pray about it, for when he knelt down three times a day, he continued to praise God, just as he had done before. For he knew when to obey God before the laws of the kingdoms of this world.

Last month saw the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech.” Here was a man who wholeheartedly chose to obey God before the laws of the kingdoms of this world, and who practiced nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the unjust laws of segregation so that each person might truly experience freedom and equality. And King spent much time praying that God’s will might be done and for God’s mercy to be shown.

And that’s how Daniel was found by those who had conspired against him: praying and seeking for God’s mercy. And this is the only time that the text hints that he might have been afraid, for in his prayers, he was “seeking mercy before his God.” He must have known that his civil disobedience would catch up with him at some point, that those who were jealous of his power would one day come seeking his life. And he very well may have been asking that, in God’s mercy, God would spare his life. I’m sure that if I would have been in his place, that’s exactly what I would have been doing. But I also wonder if he was asking for God to be merciful towards those who would condemn him and seek to end his life through an unjust conspiracy. Perhaps either way would be true to the text.

But regardless, the conspirators came and caught Daniel in the act of disobeying the king. And they went to Darius and told him what they had found, and that according to the decree that he himself had established, Daniel should be put to death.

Darius, who had not thought how his law might affect Daniel, was distraught and tried everything that he could to save this man who had earned his favor from being executed. But his administrators and governors told him that his decree was irrevocable and that there was nothing he could do.

So Daniel was led to the lions’ den and thrown into the pit. And before they rolled the stone over the mouth of the den to seal him in, the king said, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” Perhaps he said this out of hope. Or perhaps he simply wanted to encourage someone he assumed had gone to his death, for he knew that neither he nor any other person could do anything else to change Daniel’s fate.

Darius had tried everything that he could to save Daniel, but ultimately, he had no power to save; he felt bound by the laws of this world, laws he and those around him believed could not be revoked. But even the most irrevocable and permanent-seeming decrees of this world’s kingdoms cannot prevent God and God’s saving power.

And God’s presence was with Daniel as they led him to the lions’ den and sealed the stone over the mouth of the pit. And God’s presence was with Daniel and kept the mouths of the lions closed so that they could not harm him.

And, when Darius ran to the den, after a long, and sleepless night, he found Daniel unscathed and unharmed for God had kept him safe, even in the den of the lions.

And those who had conspired against Daniel met the same fate that they had tried to pin on Daniel.

And Darius revoked his decree and instead wrote to all people and nations that all should worship and revere the God of Daniel, who is the living God who endures forever, whose reign will have no end, who delivers and rescues and works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, and who had saved Daniel from the power of the lions.

Darius began to catch a glimpse that even the rulers and powers of this world do not have the ultimate power and that it is God who is ultimately in charge and who has the final victory. Even the laws and decrees of this world cannot prevent God from working God’s will. It is God who ultimately has the power to save and to answer the prayers of the faithful.

Yet you and I know of times when prayers have not been answered as Daniel’s was. And my guess is that there were those who, as they stepped on the plane 12 years ago on September 11, were also praying that God would keep them safe as they traveled. You and I know of times when people who have trusted God and who have sought to obey God over the laws of this world have died long before they should have. Martin Luther King trusted and followed God rather than the laws of this world, and yet he was cruelly assassinated.

Was God any less present with King than with Daniel? Or with the victims of September 11 and all the men, women, and children who have died in its wake?

I had a professor at CMU who told our class that God will always save those whose lives God has a plan for. But I cringed when I heard it then and I still cannot believe that those who have died in terrible and tragic situations died because God didn’t have a plan for their lives. And I have continued to wrestle with why some who do not trust in God have lived comfortably to a ripe old age and why some who have trusted God throughout their lives, die young.

But when one continues reading in the book of Daniel, one will come across something that has been immensely helpful to me when I am struggling with these questions. In chapter 9, when Daniel is praying, God immediately sends an angel to speak with him and answer his prayer, even before Daniel has finished praying. And it is my hope that all of us can think of times in our lives or in the lives of those we love, that prayers have been answered immediately and sometimes even in miraculous ways. But in chapter 10, Daniel had been praying, and fasting, and mourning for a long time, and still God did not answer his prayer. But finally, after 3 full weeks, the angel came again and told Daniel how he tried to come to Daniel to answer his prayer, and yet had been prevented from coming because the prince of Persia had opposed him for 21 days. And it is my guess that all of us can think of times in our lives or in the lives of those we love, that prayers have not been answered, and it seems as though God’s good intentions for our lives have not come to pass.

The world we live in is “fallen.” And there are powers in this world that are opposed to God and are working against God. And even though God is working to accomplish God’s will and purposes within creation, and though I believe that God is seeking to save all of God’s beloved children, sometimes the powers of this world still are able to triumph for a time and can sometimes delay our prayers from being answered.

Because of the fallen state of the world we live in, there is no guarantee that even if we trust God with all of our heart, that we will always be kept safe, as Daniel was. But like Daniel, we will choose to serve and obey God regardless of what may happen to us. For we trust that regardless of what comes our way, God’s presence is with us. And we do trust, that regardless of what happens to us in this life, God will save us, whether it comes in ways we would expect or not. For we have a hope that the world does not; we trust and hope that we will experience God’s salvation in the kingdom that is to come. And because we are already citizens and members of God’s kingdom, we choose to follow God in life, regardless of what will happen.

For even God’s own Son was not kept “safe” as everyone had hoped and expected. And as he hung dying, those from the crowd mocked him, asking why he could not save himself when he had saved others. And God’s own Son died, crucified upon a cross by those who had conspired against him and wished to get rid of him once and for all. But God saved him from the power of death, and raised him on the third day.

And this is why we hope and trust in God’s sure salvation, for because Christ was raised, we know that we too shall be raised and experience God’s salvation on the last day.

For ours is the living God, who endures forever and ever, whose reign shall never be destroyed and whose dominion has no end. God delivers and rescues and works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth. God saved Daniel from the power of the lions. God resurrected Jesus on the third day. And God has saved us, and is saving us, and will save us even from the very power of death itself when the final victory is won. And we trust that it is, indeed, God who has the final victory. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

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Safe with God by Katherine Goerzen, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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