The Journey: Hidden Glory

January 14, 2018
John 2:1-11
Nate Schipper

Last week for those of you that were here, JB preached a great sermon in which he invited us to “come and see”.  It was the same words that Jesus used when he invited his disciples to “come and see” what Jesus was up to.  The disciples also used the same word “come and see” when they were inviting the other disciples to “come and see” what Jesus was up to in their midst.  “Come and see” was Jesus’ invitation.  It was his encouragement for us to invite those who have yet to come to know and experience the love and grace of Jesus to come and see what church is all about, see what Jesus is all about here at Fellowship Church.

I find it really interesting and maybe a little ironic then that immediately following those verses at the end of chapter 1 we go to chapter 2 and the scene takes place at a wedding party.  Not just any old party.  It’s a party with tons and tons of wine.  Let me just say that if God was up to something similar here at Fellowship Church, I think our invitation to come and see might have gotten just a little bit easier, don’t you think?  We might need a little bit of that this week.  But to reduce this story to an endorsement to drink wine and have a party - that might be somewhat missing the point.  I will say; however, that a party, a wedding banquet, a feast with friends, an experience of joy and laughter, I believe will be a part of the kingdom of God same day in its fullness.  That there will come a day when the blessings that we experience on this earth will be made full and complete and we will be in the presence of God with all the people of God and it will be beautiful and it will be similar to a party, maybe. 

But that’s not today’s sermon.  This morning’s sermon I want to focus on the last verse that Aubrey read so beautifully this morning.  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believe in him.

What do you think of when you think of glory?  I think of the athletes that thrust the championship trophy in the air after they’ve won their final game.  I think of the politician’s image on the front page of the newspaper after they’ve won an election race.  I think of the standing ovation that is given after a great performance.  I think of the praise that one gets by their boss at a staff meeting. 

Glory is BIG.  Glory is LOUD.  Glory is NOTICEABLE.  You don’t miss glory if glory is in the neighborhood.  This was certainly true in the Old Testament.  The glory of God was radiant.  The glory of God was powerful.  It was big.  It was noticeable.  In fact, if you saw it there are some verses that say you would even perish from seeing the glory of God.  My high school friends who made confession of faith this morning know about this.  Our schools today are filled with grasps for glory.  There’s enormous pressure in high school to distinguish you, to separate yourself, to receive some kind of glory, to be noticed in some ways.  How I wish this weekend especially that you didn’t have to deal with all that pressure that you didn’t have to seek after glory for yourself. 

My hunch is that we all have some understanding of what glory is.  We all have a preconceived notion of glory.  Verse 11 says that Jesus revealed his GLORY at a wedding in Cana.   It certainly seems like his glory was revealed there doesn’t it?  I mean 6 jars, 20-30 gallon jars of water, were turned into wine.  This is amazing!  This is miraculous.   This is something out of this world!  A miracle you might say, but John calls it a sign – a sign of the coming kingdom of God.  I want to tease out the difference between what I think is a miracle and a sign.  I think a miracle points towards the divinity of Jesus.  A miracle says that Jesus is the son of God and that Jesus is who he says he was.  Whereas a sign points towards the coming reality, the kingdom of God that is being ushered in through Jesus.  It is a foretaste of what we will experience in eternity, a visible representation of God’s glory on Earth as it already is in heaven.  So Jesus is doing something more here than just the miracle of turning water into wine.  In this his first sign in the gospel of John, Jesus is giving us a window into what will come… a visible representation of God’s glory on Earth as it already is in heaven.

The first century readers wouldn’t have missed the ways in which Jesus is revealing his glory.  They wouldn’t have missed this sign, because it’s hard to underestimate for us twenty-first century readers what a wedding was like in first century Palestine.  These were the ultimate feasts, the banquet of the year you might say, the Golden Globes of Palestine or the Heisman Trophy award of Cana.  Everybody went and everybody dressed to the nines.  People observed what other people were wearing.  People observed who was there and who wasn’t there.  It was an incredible opportunity to bring honor to you as a guest, but more importantly honor to the host and honor to the couple that was to be betrothed.  Equally so, it was an opportunity to bring shame upon your family as the host, and not just shame to the host, but shame to the family that was being married and shame to the next generation and the next generation and the next.  Wedding stories were told and remembered for generations to come.  Weddings were enormously significant in the first century so much so that husbands when they were preparing to get married or on their wedding week would walk all the way to their bride’s home.  After they got to their bride’s home, they would pick up their wife and they would walk arm in arm in a procession with their wedding party all the way back to the groom’s home.  Think parade, people on the side of the street celebrating love that this couple is experiencing.  For you parents of females did you notice whose house they went to?  It was the groom’s house.  The groom’s family had to pay for the wedding. 

A wedding in the ancient world was incredibly significant, so when Jesus’ mother notices that there is no wine, this is incredibly problematic.  Just as an aside, Jesus’ response to his mother “Woman, why do you bother me with these things?  My time has not yet come.”  I just want to point out just because I think it gets a bad rap that the word “woman” is not a derogatory term.  You’ll see that in the footnote.  It’s not like “woman fetch me the newspaper”.  This is the same Greek word “woman” that Jesus uses when he encounters the woman at the well.  It’s the same Greek word that he uses with the woman who was caught in adultery.  In both instances Jesus is trying to give respect and honor to the woman that the culture might have disrespected or brought about shame upon.  It’s clearly a sign of honor that Jesus was giving his mother and she deserves it.  Mary was looking to Jesus because she knew the significance of the problem at hand and she knew that Jesus was someone different.  There was something unique about Jesus.  Jesus was the solution to the problem. 

It’s happened to me and maybe it’s happened to you.  Imagine a beautiful summer night.  It’s kind of hard to imagine in the middle of the winter.  You’ve invited your closest family and friends over for a barbecue.  They bring the side dishes and you volunteer- I’ll take care of the burgers and the hot dogs.  Light the grill.  Get it warmed up and as people are arriving you realize it’s time to put the burgers on.  You open up the grill hood and what do you see but a lack of flame.  Your propane tank has just run out.  Who’s been there?  The embarrassment and the frustration that you felt in that moment is just a small minute portion of the shame and embarrassment this family would have felt if they would have run out of wine at the wedding party.  In an HONOR/ SHAME culture running out of wine is hugely problematic, so when Jesus turns water into wine he is not just doing some miracle so that everybody could have their fill of wine.  Jesus is actually reversing the shame that was due to this family and giving them honor instead.  For a family that didn’t have enough to provide for all the guests at the party he was providing more than enough.  For a family that was maybe even struggling with poverty or having enough Jesus gave them more than they could ever have imagined.  Jesus not only saved this family from shame and provided for them when they couldn’t provide enough for those that were around them, Jesus provided abundantly more and better wine than they could ever need.  Text says there were six jars 20-30 gallons each.  That’s between 120-180 gallons of wine which is the equivalent of 600-900 bottles of wine.  It’s not just an abundance of wine in quantity but also abundance in quality.  As the chief steward said, “This is the choice wine.  Why did you save this for last?”  Jesus gave them a gift greater than they could ever have imagined.  It’s like asking for a $50 gift card from Target and instead you get Target Stores Corporation.  It’s like asking for a bottle of water and instead you get Lake Michigan.  Instead of asking for a couple bottles of 2 buck chuck, you get six hundred to nine hundred bottles of choice wine.  In the midst of their shame and in the midst of their confusion about what will happen next, Jesus provides abundantly more than they could ever have asked for.

The miracle of turning water into wine created a scene that was a SIGN of the kingdom, an ABUNDANT feast in which all are fed and experience the fullness of joy AND where those who were once put to shame are made right before others.  IT WAS A FEAST, a taste of the kingdom in its abundance…

 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  It’s a scene that deserves much glory, but in so many ways God’s glory was hidden from those who were at that first wedding.  We may think of glory as big, as loud, as noticeable, as huge even.  But who is privy of the miraculous changing of water into wine?  Who knew about that? Two servants, the lowest on the social ladder of success, the disciples who were most close to Jesus and that’s it.  The wedding party didn’t notice that Jesus was the one that turned the water into wine.  Jesus’ glory was hidden from the majority of people. 

I don’t go to fancy restaurants all that often, but what I understand about fancy restaurants is that they have good chefs.  What I understand about good chefs is that they prefer to kind of work in the background.  They’re artists if you will.  They love to create something beautiful to the senses, something pleasing to the eye and tastefully delicious to the mouth, maybe even something that has a fine aroma.  But more often than not, they’re stuck in the back of the kitchen.  Maybe every once in a while you’ll see a face peering from the kitchen window into the dining room.  More often than not we have no idea who cooked our food at a restaurant, or who made the delicious food that we enjoy and their work determines our experience at that place, at that restaurant. 

At the wedding at Cana, Jesus is the master chef creating something beautiful that all might enjoy.  His restaurant, the wedding party, is a visible sign of the kingdom, a picture of the glory of God at work in the world even if the majority of people know nothing of it.  You see, John chapter 2, redefines our understanding of glory.  We think of it as big, as bright, as loud, but God’s glory often times slips through the cracks of our broken world and illuminates us with the light of Jesus Christ.  The disciples had the eyes to see it, and maybe we too catch glimpses of God’s glory shining into the darkness of our world.  We catch a glimpse of it when we see twelve high school students in the midst of a secular society stand up on a platform and say “Yes! I believe in Jesus.”  We see it when a teacher comforts a mourning child or a mourning student.  We see it when a church provides shoes for underprivileged students in their area.  We see it when we welcome a visitor into our home.  We see it when those who mourn are comforted with a word of hope, or a word of encouragement.  These faithful acts are the kinds of things that can easily be missed by our society or even go unnoticed, but they shine with the glory of God. 

I was toiling all day yesterday with how to conclude this sermon, because on the one hand, this is a glorious day, a day in which we celebrate the glory of God.  You even got a standing ovation today.  You received much glory today confirmands.  It’s a day that we hope that you’ll remember.  It’s a day that we hope that you’ll cling to.  It’s a sign of God’s glory that’s shining through in your life.  When your faith is tested and you’re going through your troubles, we hope that you cling to the glory of God and that you look to Jesus and cling to the faith that you profess today. 

And for those of us that might be mourning this morning, how can we imagine the glory of God shining in a world that is so dark for us this weekend?  How can we imagine God at work in this world and God’s glory shining when we feel nothing but pain and darkness?  And for you, I want to remind you, that while  I alluded to Jesus as a master chef this morning who creates something beautiful for us to enjoy, I also want to remind you that God is near to those whose hearts are broken. Jesus promises to walk besides us and maybe even especially near to us when we mourn. 

And for the rest of us who might have come here with little expectation of what church will be like this morning, we are Jesus’ disciples.  We have an opportunity like those first century disciples to notice the glory of God shining in our world and to notice the glory of God at work in each and every person that bears God’s image which is everyone.  The glory of God is most visible in a human being fully alive.  How might we steward that kind of light in other people?  How might we look for God’s glory in the eyes and in the bodies of those who are most close to us? 

I can think of no better way to experience the glory of God than here at this table.  For it is here at this table that we have a visible representation of God’s glory coming to us.  It is here at this table that all those who are mourning and all those who are living in joy come.  It is here that the whole community of God comes and remembers who we are as children of God.  It is here at this table that we have a sign, a taste, of the kingdom of God as it will one day be experienced fully.  It is here at this table that we meet Jesus Christ. 

Renee Krueger
The Journey: Bones

December 10, 2017
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Jordan Clegg

I love science fiction. It is easily my favorite genre of both literature and film. Some of my best and oldest friendships are rooted in a mutual love of Star Wars and other nerdy things like that. I believe that the best science fiction has a way of being prophetic showing us possible futures or revealing hidden real-world truths, fears, or injustices. More often than not, the futures look bleak and the revelations are less than flattering for humanity.

One of the most popular science fiction franchises ever and one that gives us a rare, optimistic view of the future is Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek. What started out as a 1960’s television series has become a legitimate subculture phenomenon with conventions, spinoffs, movies, toys, games, and even a Star Trek themed Christian church where priests, musicians, and congregants show up to worship in their Sunday best: their official Starfleet uniforms.

In 2009 the Star Trek movie franchise was rebooted with a new cast and a new timeline. In the new series we are reintroduced to Captain James T. Kirk the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Among Kirk’s closest friends is the ship’s medical officer. Dr. Leonard McCoy.

[Some of you may see where I’m going with this now. What was Captain Kirk’s nickname for McCoy?] Bones.

In the film we find out how McCoy gets the name “Bones”. When we first meet Dr. McCoy he’s making a huge scene as he boards a shuttle to the Enterprise. True to his grumpy, pessimistic persona, McCoy is listing in graphic detail the many ways one might meet their end while traveling through space. As he reluctantly straps in next to Kirk we get a clear picture of McCoy as a man who knows the pain, loss, and fear of exile.

“I’ve got nowhere else to go,” says McCoy, “the ex-wife took the whole ____ planet in the divorce. All I’ve got left is my bones.”

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like all that is life-giving, joyful, and meaningful has been stripped away?

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones…like the loss, the pain, the doubt, and confusion have set in?

Has it ever been hard to remember the “good times,” if those times ever really existed?

Have you ever felt like just…bones?

Maybe it’s a destructive habit or addiction that you just can’t seem to kick.

You’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do…

You’ve sought help.
You’ve paid for therapy.
You’ve gone to the meetings.
You’ve tried accountability.

But you just can’t seem to shake the fixation that dominates your life at so great a cost.

The desire for one more fix,
one more drink,
one more bet,
one more click,
one more purchase,
or one more glance at the smartphone, at Facebook , or the news

has stripped away all the truly good things that should be at the center of your life. It feels like this behavior defines you. It is starting to feel that freedom is out of reach…or maybe hope was lost a long time ago… all that’s left is your bones.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Maybe it’s a long season of doubt. Maybe it feels like it is God is distant, uncaring, unfair, or just plain mean. What do you do with these feelings, especially if you’ve grown up in the church (like me)? It is scary to be in a season of like this. If this gospel is not true then my life has been a waste. If this gospel isn’t true then I’m not sure I even know who I am anymore. For some this doubt may be fleeting, but for others it has been a painful nagging for months or years…like a bone out of place in your foot as you stumble through life.

          Have you ever felt like bones?

          Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Maybe it’s illness; chronic disease that strips away all but symptom management. I’ve experienced this in my own life. In 2012 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease when cells that are supposed to fight infection and illness, attack the myelin sheathe, the outer coating of nerves in the brain and spine. When this happens, lesions form causing a sort of short circuit in the nervous system.

The symptoms vary slightly from person to person, but most commonly they include relapsing periods of numbness, weakness, and muscle spasms that escalate over a period of a week or so followed by a time of plateau and tapering recovery. For me, it started as a strange loss of hot/cold sensations in my feet and legs. After a time I experienced an intense headache at the base of my skull. Following that there was tingling and numbness that started in my left hand and worked its way up my arm. Once the weakness set in and the numbness had moved to my chest and abdomen I started to suspect that something was wrong.

An MRI scan of my brain and neck showed three lesions: one on each side of my brain and on in the upper part of my spine. But the worst had not yet come. Over the next week or so after my diagnosis symptoms had spread across my chest and into my other arm and hand. Eventually my dominant arm was so weak I couldn’t do things like hold a fork, turn a doorknob, or type on a keyboard and I certainly couldn’t play a guitar. Eventually I had trouble walking. Muscle spasms wouldn’t let me sleep for more than two hours at a time and fatigue began to set in like a fog hanging over every thought.

As bad as all that might sound, my symptoms are actually considered mild compared to many others who struggle with the same disease. I’m lucky to be living in a time when MS no longer guarantees that you’ll be wheelchair bound in a matter of years. I’m happy to say that due to good doctors and good medicine that I have been relapse free for going on 4 years now. But anyone who has experienced this kind of life-altering diagnosis be it MS or something far more serious and life threatening, will tell you that it feels like your whole life falls apart, and everything become centered on managing new circumstances. Life as you know it has been stripped away. All that’s left is your bones.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Israel knew what this was like…to feel like bones. They were a people in exile; refugees in a foreign land. Cut off from their home. Cut off from Jerusalem, and the temple, which for them pointed to the presence of God among them. To make things worse, news has reached Babylon that the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed. Not only are they separated from their home against their will, Israel now finds out that there is no longer a home to return to. Even more disturbing, there may not be a God to return to either. It’s not just a loss of material; it’s a loss of dignity, identity, and hope. Babylon had taken everything. All they’ve got left is their bones…and even those are all dried up.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Enter Ezekiel, the sci-fi prophet with his visions of alien-like cherubim with wings and multiple animal-like faces, a strange spaceship-like vehicle with wheels within wheels that God’s glory flies around in, and this vision we heard and saw today of a valley full of bones coming back to life that can only be described as a scene from a zombie movie.

Ezekiel is prophesying at the same time as Jeremiah who we heard from a few weeks ago, but unlike Jeremiah who was initially left behind, Ezekiel is among the first wave of exiles to Babylon. Ezekiel knows what is like to feel like bones. He knows the pain and loss of exile intimately. He also knows that this exile is an exile of Israel’s own making.

Ezekiel has warned Israel that Jerusalem was going down. He warned them the temple was going down too. And it was because of Israel’s disobedience; primarily their idol worship. Ezekiel’s message for the first half of his book is, “this is your own doing!” It is not a very comforting message. It is easy to understand why Israel would assume that God had cut them off; that God no longer wanted to have anything to do with them. It had to have been a hopeless feeling. They had ruined everything. All they’ve got left is their bones…and even those are all dried up.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

As important as it is to see Ezekiel’s vision through the lenses of our personal lives, Ezekiel is speaking to an entire community of people.

“These bones are the whole house of Israel,” God says.

This begs the question: What are the dry bone valleys we’ve created as a church, as a city, as a country? What causing the body count to rise, the bones to pile up and dry out?

Could it be political tribalism; sounding off in our echo chambers that never challenge our perceptions of the world and declare that those who see differently are either ignorant or ill-intentioned?

Could it be our treatment of the refugee and the immigrant?

Could it be our complicity in systems that keep the poor stuck in poverty and the hungry in need of food?

Could it be our smartphones or tablets with constant stream of status updates, streaming television, and news.

Could it be our refusal to acknowledge our privilege and our reluctance to use it for good of those with less?

Could it be our unwillingness to look weak, to give up power?

Are these communal sins; these mass graves of our own making; cutting us off from God and one another.

          Are we beginning to look like bones?

          Are we beginning to look like dry bones?

Ezekiel’s message at the beginning of his career is one of judgment, but once Israel receives the devastating news that the temple is destroyed his message turns to one of hope. In earlier chapters Ezekiel writes that he has seen the glory of God leave the temple and Jerusalem. This might sound distressing at first. After all, remember, the temple was the symbol of God’s presence with Israel. The departure of God’s glory from the holy place may have felt like God abandoning them. But Ezekiel’s vision of God mounting a chariot led by angels may not be a vision of abandonment, but that of pursuit. Ezekiel’s earliest vision of God on the move is before Jerusalem is sieged and the temple destroyed. God leaves God’s dwelling place, mounts God’s chariot, and goes…to…Babylon.

This exile may be an exile of Israel’s own making.
God may not be willing to keep it from happening,
but God will remain faithful in the midst of their trauma.
God will go with them into exile
and God will lead them back.

In this season of Advent, we acknowledge that we are a people waiting for God to come and save us,

To ransom us from our captivity and from our lonely exiles, our valleys of dry bones.

We are waiting for Jesus Christ who was born just like we were born, lived as we live, died like we die, but was raised to life again so that we might live and creation be restored.

O dry bones…hear the Word of the Lord:

          I will put on muscles and tendons.
          I will put on flesh and cover myself with skin.
          I will breathe the air you breathe…and you shall live.
          I will cause breath to enter you
          I will lay muscles and tendons on you
          I will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin…and you shall live.
          I will heal the divisions among you,
          I will bring justice to all people,
          I will break your destructive habits and addictions,
          I will stay with you even in your doubt,
          I will heal you of your illnesses,
          I will restore your myelin sheath,
          I will heal your loneliness, your heartbreak, your despair
          I will make a path home for you…and you shall live.

The promise of this text is not that we will never face exile, or pain, or loss, or injustice. God’s promise to us is that he will enter the exiles and the dry bone valleys of our lives in order to restore that which has been long dead and lead us into new life.

This restoration is not a nostalgic return to the way things once were, it is a transformative sort of restoration. We know that Israel did eventually return from exile, but they were never the same again, and that return home did not last. There were more exiles to come…some were self-made and some were not. God’s promises held true for Israel and they hold true for us in Jesus Christ.

O dry bones, as you wait to be restored, hear the Word of the Lord:

9 … you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,[c] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
 but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
 but now you have received mercy.
(1 Peter 2:9-10)

Once you were dry bones, now you are being restored and transformed.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Renee Krueger
The Journey: But If Not...

December 3, 2017
Daniel 3:1, 8-30
Tanner Smith

In 1940, in the early part of World War II, the German forces were inflicting heavy casualties on the Allied Forces of Britain and France. As the powerful Nazi troops swept across Europe, the 350,000 soldiers of the Allied Army were forced to retreat.

BUT as they were making their escape, they got trapped on a beach across from the English Channel at Dunkirk, France. The sea on one side, the invading Nazi army on the other.

The Nazi’s had the Allied Army completely surrounded. The Nazi Air Force actually dropped leaflets on the British Forces telling them to surrender --- there was no hope of escape.

All of England knew of the situation that their soldiers were in … and were waiting on the news of the annihilation of the 350,000 brave men.

Late one night…May 25th, a simple three-word message was transmitted across the airwaves of England from the commander of the British Army. The message read: “But … If … Not.”

And then something amazing happened.

In a matter of hours, without any formal organization, thousands of English citizens got in their private boats and began heading across the English Channel towards their trapped soldiers at Dunkirk.

Small fishing boats, trawlers, large private boats, even an Olympic racing yacht. At the risk of their own lives from the dangerous waters and certain enemy fire, they raced to the beaches of Dunkirk and began evacuating their sons, brothers, fathers, and friends.

By the next day, all the troops had been rescued in what historians now call the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”

But … if … not …

What did these three words mean, and how did the Brits all know to act so collectively and decisively.

The answer, of course, is in the 3rd chapter of Daniel.

The story of three men, about to be thrown into a fiery furnace because they refuse to worship a false god.

They trust that God will save them …

and they tell the king Nebuchadnezzar as much …

and then they say these words …

from the King James version … the version the Brits would have been familiar with in 1940:

“But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” – Daniel 3:18, KJV

Death appeared imminent …

they trusted God for rescue …

But if not …

they still wouldn’t bend their knees,

they still wouldn’t surrender.

The Brits knew about BUT IF NOT … and it moved them to action.

BACKDROP – BABYLONIAN EXILE

The story of the fiery furnace is set during the time of the Babylonian Exile.

It’s an event recorded in 2 Kings 25, and written about in many of the Psalms, the book of Lamentations, and is the backdrop to many of the prophets’ writings.

The Israelites had rebelled against the Babylonians.

Babylon was the major superpower of the day.

And so the Babylonians, and their King Nebuchadnezzar, paid retribution on the Israelites for their rebellion.

First, they took the King, the Priests, the Prophets, the Army, and all the wisest leaders of Israel to Babylon.

And then, the Babylonians decimated the city of Jerusalem.

They destroyed the temple.

The crushed the synagogues.

And they left the people there to starve to death.

The OT book of Lamentations is about the people who were left in Jerusalem during that time.

CHAPTER 1

So with that history in mind, the only way to understand Daniel 3 is by explaining what happens in Daniel 1 and 2.

In Daniel CHAPTER 1: We learn that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief of the court officials to bring some Israelites from the royal family to him …

He wanted to put them through three years of intense training where they would learn the language, the literature, the history, and the culture of the Babylonians. Basically, three years of brainwashing into the Babylonian way of life.

Among those chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah

And, as part of the brainwashing, the Babylonians gave them new names.

Daniel becomes Belteshazzar.

Hananiah became Shadrach.

Mishael, became Meshach.

And Azariah became Abednego.

But unlike the other Jewish men who were chosen, these men had a strong faith in God … and they refused certain aspects of the king’s court that went against their convictions.

Changing their names didn’t change their character.

CHAPTER 2

Chapter 2 begins with King Nebuchadnezzar consulting his magicians, and astrologers, and smartest guys in the empire about a dream he wanted to have interpreted. None of them could do it.

Which made Nebuchadnezzar really angry. So angry that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.

Well, Daniel prayed, asking God to spare his life and give him an interpretation of the dream.

And, God answered his prayer.

Now, the King is so captivated by Daniel’s ability that he places Daniel as a ruler of the entire province of Babylon and places him in charge of all the wise men….

and appoints Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon.

So … by the end of the second chapter…Daniel and his three friends are …

men of great faith.

men of great passion.

And now men of great position.

They’ve found favor not just with God …

but also with their enemies!

And that brings us to chapter 3 – the fiery furnace …

 DANIEL 3:1, 8-30

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.

9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You have issued a decree, O king, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 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. 17 If 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, …or in the King James Version: “But if 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. 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.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, O king.”

25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

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. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

BUT IF NOT…

But if not…

Three words … spoken in the midst of tragedy

Three words … spoken with great faith….

Three words … spoken as an act of courage

Three words … spoken as an act of submission,

not to the temporary pressure of the moment, but to the eternal presence of God.

Three words … spoken in the flames of a furnace.

BUT IF NOT … those three words still have something to teach us today about living in the flames.

We all encounter flames of some kind at some point …

loneliness.

singleness.

childlessness.

marriage troubles.

family conflicts.

rebellious children.

Abuse.

A diagnosis.

Depression.

Anxiety.

Poverty.

Sickness.

Grief.

Doubt.

Flames.

THE QUESTION IS: How do we live in the midst of the flames? When we feel as though we’ve been carried off to a foreign land,

or asked to do something that goes against our convictions,

When we face dire circumstances and we don’t see a way out … how do we live?

But if not …

These three words, and what they represent become a powerful way to live in the midst of struggle and suffering.

THERE ARE THINGS BEYOND OUR CONTROL

First, BUT IF NOT reminds us that there will always be things beyond our control …

but the things beyond our control don’t have to control us.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

had no control over the flames of the fire,

no control over the response of the king,

no control of the land they were living in …

They weren’t in control of their circumstances,

But notice:

Their circumstances weren’t in control of them, either.

Sometimes, in the midst of the furnace, all we can say is

“God I trust you … I believe you love me … I believe you will make a way out of this … but if not … I will still not bow down. I will not give myself over to the false gods

of despair,

or hatred,

or bitterness,

or greed,

or convenience,

or fear,

or scarcity,

or entitlement.”

You know, I’ve done a lot of damage to my soul and to the welfare of others because I’ve felt entitled. You probably have, too.

BUT IF NOT refuses to bend a knee to all of these false gods who continually whisper “follow me to happiness, to independence, follow me because you deserve it.”

You see … BUT IF NOT is declaration of trust without conditions.

YOUR TRUE NAME!

Now, the question is, How do you muster the courage,

how do you find the audacity to face the flames of life with that kind of unrestricted, unconditional trust …

like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego avowing “BUT IF NOT …”

Well, You Remember Your true name.

We know this as the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But those are not their real names.

Those are the names given to them by the Babylonians.

  • Did you know that Shadrach, is a name that means … “Commander of Aku [the moon god].” But his real name, wasn’t Shadrach, but Hananiah, a name that means: “God has been gracious.”
  • And, did you know that Meshach is a name that means “Who is like Aku?” But, his real name wasn’t Meshach, it was Misha’el … which means: “Who is like God [Yahweh]!”
  • And did you know that Abednego is a name that means, “Servant of Nebo [god of wisdom].” But his real name is Azariah, which means: “Yahweh has helped.”

It’s a shame that we know them by their false names…the names that the Babylonians gave them.

Because they lived their lives, not by those names,

but by their true names.

Lives of devotion, reliance, and trust in God.

Of course, we have the same choice.

This world will try to give you all kinds of names.

It may be a name that others covet – a name that implies wealth, power, and influence.

Or it may be a name that stinks of a curse – like reject, loser, or failure.

But…those names … are … not … your true … names!

The bible says that in Christ you are a New Creation.

It says that we are Saints.

Predestined for good things.

Chosen before the creation of the world.

Adopted.

… like stars shining in the heavens.

Children of the living God.

That is your true name!

And when you live in the flames of the furnace,

you have to remember your real name.

Because the names that the world gives us just don’t cut it.

Today, your Heavenly Father, your King, invites you to trust …

  • To trust that even though you aren’t in control, God still is.
  • To trust that your true name is the name that your Heavenly Father has given you, and none other.
  • To live a life of trust marked by three little words, “But if not …”

JESUS

You know … it strikes me that on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he prayed a BUT IF NOT prayer … In the garden before he was arrested, you remember? He prayed, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me … but if not … but if not … I will trust you anyway.”

Do you want to know what’s on the other side of “But if not …”? What “But if not” leads to?

The Resurrection.

This morning, God invites you to allow the broken bread,

and poured out wine to lead you to trust

To trust that your sins are forgiven in Christ

That the old is gone and the new has come

That death has been defeated

That the flames have already been extinguished

through the broken body and the poured-out blood of the Risen Christ who prayed, “But if not …”

Renee Krueger