Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Boy Who Provided Loaves and Fishes

The Boy Who Provided the Loaves and Fishes

I know you have heard the phrase, “Good things come in small packages”. Often used when at Christmas one child has received a present in a great big box and another child has received a present in a very small box and the second child somehow feels like their gift is much less important than the bigger gift. Often the small gift costs much more than the larger one but there is just this perception that the bigger something is the better.
Often people of smaller stature feel the same way - they aren’t as good as those people who are taller. But you know just because you may be a shorter person and you can’t play basketball, shorter people make much better soccer players. We could think of whole bunches of examples of short things or small things or things of lesser number which are far better than their larger counterparts. And when you read the Bible, it is pretty common that the smaller, shorter, less than, younger ones are the ones who are the Superheroes in a given situation.
We continue to look at superheroes of the Bible - and we are concentrating now on those superheroes who remind us that being small, or young, or less than, doesn’t mean that you can’t do great great superhero feats for God!
Today we are going to talk about the little boy who brought his loaves and fishes to Jesus who then took what the boy had offered and was able to feed well over 5000 people. This little boy is one of the superheroes our VBS will be looking at to help show our children that children can be great contributors to the work of God regardless of their age or their size.
But before we talk about the boy and his lunch, I want us to think about another little boy who did a great work. David was a young boy between 12 and 15 when his father asked him to take food to his brothers who were serving in the army. Kind of made me think about our soldier care packages! David went to where his brothers were stationed and delivered the package of goodies from his father.
While he was there, he learned about Goliath. Seemed that the soldiers had been stationed on top of a mountain and perched on the other mountain was the army of the Philistines. Now the Philistines had challenged the army of Israel to a one on one contest. One soldier from each army would meet on the plain between the two armies and would fight it out and the one who survived would be the winning army. The two armies agreed and the Philistine army sent out their one soldier who happened to be the 9 ft tall and very mean Goliath.
When the Israeli army saw Goliath, they could not find any soldier who was willing to go and fight Goliath even though they were the army of God and God had guaranteed he would help whoever when to fight the giant. So every day Goliath would come out onto the plain and taunt the army of God and wait for someone to come and fight him and no one would. That is until David shows up to deliver food to his brothers.
Now, not only was David very young, but David was also small in stature. He was truly a little boy. He’s up there on the mountain when Goliath comes out for his daily challenge and David is amazed that no one will go fight. So he says to the King, if none of these grown men, professional soldiers, are willing to go fight this giant, I will. Of course everyone thought he was joking or crazy or both, but he was serious and David follows up on his offer even though everyone thought he was being suicidal. He prayed, he got 5 small stones and he went out and killed Goliath. This little boy, the small one that no one thought could do

anything, accomplished what the older and bigger and more skilled people were not able to do.
Let’s jump up several thousand years. Jesus is traveling around Galilee teaching and preaching and healing. Great huge crowds are following him as he goes from place to place. Traveling with Jesus are his disciples. A group of young men whom Jesus is trying to train to take over for him when he ascends to heaven. He has shown them great miracles and told them over and over again that they were capable of doing great things. In fact at one point Jesus sent them out on their own to teach and heal and they came back all excited because they were able to do what Jesus knew they could do. They had great success in teaching the things of Jesus and even being able to heal people.
As today’s story opens, we have Jesus and his disciples - who remember know what they are capable of doing - being followed by a large crowd of people when Jesus goes to a hillside and begins to teach and the people are so enthralled by what Jesus is saying they don’t realize how late it has become and Jesus and his disciples know that these people have been here all day and they need to eat. Jesus looks at the disciples and says, “You feed them”. And the disciples get hysterical. How can we feed all these people, we have no money, there are no stores nearby, we can’t do it Jesus. Lets just send them home! Jesus is pretty disappointed in his disciples because Jesus knows what they are capable of and the disciples never even consider the idea of God helping them provide for these people.
Meanwhile the disciple Andrew is wandering around the crowds perhaps asking if anyone has any food to share when a small young boy offers his food. I don’t know any of the particulars, but what I do know is that this young boy is willing to give this small pittance to Jesus with the confidence that Jesus will be able to do something with these small loaves and fish. Now historians agree that since it was the food of a small boy we are talking small loaves like the size of a dinner roll and fish about the size of anchovies. Everything about this story is small - the boy is small, the food is small, and the disciples faith is small. Jesus takes this small offering, blesses it and begins to break off pieces of the bread and the fish and give it to the disciples who distributed it to the crowds who all ate their fill and then when the disciples went back to clean up there were 12 basketfuls of bread and fish left over.
Good things come in small packages and in these stories it is good things come in the form of small children. There is David, a small child who was willing to do what grown, professional men were not willing to do. There is the boy with the loaves and fishes who was willing to trust that Jesus could do something with this food when the older, more experienced, supposedly trained by Jesus men didn’t even think of trying anything.
We have to remember that everyone is valuable to God. It doesn’t matter the age or the size. As an older person - you are capable of doing much more than you think you can. Young ones, you are capable of doing much more than you think you can. And to the rest of us, we can’t ever assume that someone is not capable of doing something because of their age or their size.
In Acts we read: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young will see visions, your old will dream dreams. In other words, God’s work will be done by old and young alike and all will be a useful, helpful, important part of the Kingdom of God.
We need to remember in God’s eyes, it is not the size or the age or even the ability, it is the willingness to step out in faith and do what God is calling us to do. Amen!

Mary, Mother of Jesus

Mary, Mother of Jesus

The story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is pretty familiar to us. At least the story of Mary before Jesus’ birth is familiar. We know that Mary is a young girl living in her city of Nazareth where she is preparing to be married to a man named Joseph. However before she is married, an angel comes to her and declares she is going to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit and the father of this child will be God. Her son, the angel tells her, will be the Messiah, the savior of the world. Mary is concerned by this news because it is going to bring her hardship and hard decisions but she agrees to do what God asks of her.
She gets pregnant as foretold which puts Joseph in an awkward position but an angel visits him as well and tells him what is going on and he decides to do the right thing and marry the pregnant Mary.
At some point in her pregnancy Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth who is also carrying a miracle baby because Elizabeth is past child bearing age. Elizabeth’s baby is to be the one who announces to the world that Jesus is going to be the coming Messiah. When the two women meet, Elizabeth cries out:
 “In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Luke 1:42
This is the passage I want you to think about today -
Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed are you among women. I bet when you think of someone being ‘blessed’ you think about a soft, easy life where all is good and there are no problems. We use that phrase a lot when we think of the good things that happen to someone and your response is “You are blessed.” But when we think about the life of Mary, we would not think of her as living a blessed life because after she says ‘yes’ to God, her life is never easy or calm or peaceful.
As we continue our summer with Superheroes. Mary the Mother of Jesus wasn’t on any of your lists! When we are asked to think of superheroes, pictures of meek and mild Mary just doesn’t come to mind. But how much more of a superhero can you be than agreeing to carry the child of God in the midst of the oncoming trials and tribulations that come along with this task. Mary will be one of the superheroes our children will be studying during Bible School to show that you don’t have to be a big bombastic larger than life person in order to be a real superhero.
Mary as we know travels to Bethlehem with Joseph when she is almost due to deliver Jesus. One of several difficult journeys she is going to have to make. She delivers Jesus in a barn with no one to help her except Joseph before the days when we could google ‘how to deliver a baby’. A couple years later in the middle of the night Joseph wakes her up and says ‘God has told me to get out of Bethlehem and to travel to Egypt” and so rapidly she packs up and begins another difficult journey to a country she knows nothing; about to live with people she doesn’t know who speak a language she doesn’t understand; to learn a new way of doing things in a culture she is unfamiliar with.
And then after being there for a while, Joseph once again tells Mary to get packed and they begin the long journey back to Nazareth. Mary and Joseph had left so quickly from Nazareth that Mary was probably a little unsure of the reception she would get when she returned home.
We don’t know much about that time period between the return to Nazareth and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We assume it was a pretty normal time but we do know that Joseph died sometime during these years.
Then Jesus leaves on his ministry but returns to Nazareth a couple times to see his family and to preach and teach and heal as he did around other parts of Galilee. It is a disturbing story when we read in the Gospel of Mark that his mother Mary and Jesus’ brothers were embarrassed by Jesus’ behavior; by his claim that he had the power to heal; that he was the one who fulfilled scripture.



What that shows us is that Mary may have been a superhero in her obedience to God, but she was human and filled with all those human frailties of wanting everything to fall into the right boxes and Jesus certainly did not do that.
But this is the picture I really want you to think about. The next time we see Mary, it is at the foot of the cross. We talk a lot about the suffering of Jesus, but through all the hardships Mary has been through, there can be none harder for her than this.
In the movie The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson does a very clever thing in showing these flashbacks about Mary and Jesus. You see Jesus as a toddler running and falling down and Mary running to pick him up and soothing his tears. You see in another flashback Jesus and his mother just having a friendly conversation. They were a typical mother and son.
So now, picture the tragedy of Mary as she sits at the foot of the cross and watches the mutilated body of her son hang on that cross in agony. Imagine how Mary felt as she heard her son cry out the words of Psalm 22
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” The same Mary who was called blessed by God, the same Mary who picked up her toddler and kissed away his skinned knee, is now watching her son cry out in anguish hanging on a cross and there isn’t a thing she can do.
Think about the suffering this mother is going through at this moment. Can we even imagine what this moment is like for her? And what about Jesus’ father, God, how much he is suffering as well over the pain and torment of his son?
Suffering is a subject we talk about a lot. Why do we have to suffer? Shouldn’t being obedient to God give us some kind of insurance policy against the hurt and pain of this life? What is the point of giving our lives to God if we can’t even get relieve from suffering out of it?
So God teaches us several things about suffering as we learn about the lives of the people he records for us in the Bible. First thing we learn is that there is no insurance policy from terrible things happening in our lives. Mary, and many others, teach us that. Mary, the mother of God, suffers horribly. Yet she is blessed of all women. It doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t seem fair.
But then we hear from the cross Jesus’ words to his disciple John who is also present. “John, take care of my mother.” In his own agony, Jesus makes sure his mother is taken care of. In her suffering, Jesus sends her help and comfort.
While we may not understand suffering or why it affects some and not others or how come we as God’s children are afflicted with suffering just as much as those who aren’t part of God’s family.
One thing we do know - that in our suffering Jesus is right there suffering with us; that in our suffering he really does understand our pain and agony. It must have added to Jesus’ pain on the cross knowing that his mother was having to watch what was happening. Yet Jesus’ was concerned about his mother; Jesus made sure she was taken care of. We are told that John the disciple took Mary home with him and he cared for her.
Don’t make your suffering worse by trying to rationalize why you are suffering. God doesn’t produce suffering because of something you did. Suffering is not the result of God punishing you. Don’t agonize over why because it just makes the suffering harder. If we learn anything from the stories of the people in the bible, it is that suffering happens. Bad things happen. There is no rhyme or reason, there is no pat “why” answer, life is what it is and things happen. That is all the explanation there is.
But what we do know; what we are assured of is that in the midst of this suffering God is with us. God will provide us help. What kind of help? We don’t know - but it will come. Sometimes it is that supernatural feeling of God’s peace just washing over you. Sometimes it is a person God sends to bring his love and care for you - but it doesn’t come. God will never forsake you or leave you….
Mary is one of our best examples of a superhero because she was obedient to God and because through the awful suffering of her son, she never lost relationship with God.
Hall Mary, mother of grace, blessed are you among women. And you are all blessed of God.
Amen.

Moses

Moses and the Commandments

There is no way to spend a summer talking about superheroes without mentioning Moses! For the people of God, Moses is the Superhero. They may call Abraham their father, but Moses is their savior. And Jesus recognizes his role as the New Moses. What Moses did for the people of God, Jesus does for us. Moses saved his people from slavery of the Egyptians and Jesus saves us from the slavery of our sin. Moses freed his people through the waters of the Red Sea, as Jesus frees us through the waters of baptism. And Moses delivers us the Law of God which Jesus upholds as we here him say - The Law is summed up by remembering we are to love God and we are to love one another.
Moses is another of the superheroes requested by you and it was requested to take specifically about Moses as he relates to the 10 Commandments. We will summarize Moses’ life as we look to Moses delivering the Commandments to God’s people.
Moses was born at a time in Egypt when the Pharaoh had decreed that all boy babies would be killed upon their birth. The Pharaoh felt threatened by the growing numbers of the Hebrews and decided he needed to reduce the population and riding the country of the baby boys seemed to be a good plan. When Moses is born, his mother knows that as soon as it is known that she has delivered a baby boy, the soldiers will come. So she makes a water proof basket and places it in the river and into the hands of God. Through God’s great work, Moses is rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up in the palace of the Pharaoh.
When he is 40, he witnesses an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew and goes to the defense of the Hebrew, one of his own people. Moses ends up killing the Egyptian and fearing for his own life if anyone finds out, runs away.
He runs to the area of Mt Sinai where he finds a job as a shepherd, finds a wife and makes a life for himself. One day he is chasing a sheep and sees a bush that is on fire, but not burning up. He goes to check out what is happening, and hear’s the voice of God who tells Moses he is going to send Moses back to Egypt where Moses is going to save God’s people from slavery and take them to the promised land - a land of their own where God will live with them forever.
And Moses reluctantly does what God asks. He rescues God’s peoples, takes them through the waters of the Red Sea and into the wilderness.
Now it is Moses’ responsibility to lead thousands of people, who have never been in a desert before, have never seen a desert before, have no idea what it means to travel and live in a desert - these are the people Moses has to lead and care for. And it is not easy.
God’s people turn out to be a group of whiners. We’r in a element of tier owne thirsty, we’re hungry, are we there yet? we want to go home. And each step of the way, God, through Moses, provided for the people. No matter what, God provided whatever the people needed.
In the eyes of the people, Moses fluctuated between the great provider, the savior of the people and then other days, Moses was the villain, the one who had ripped them from Egypt where they had all they wanted or desired and brought them into this forsaken desert where they were suffering and hungry and thirsty and hot and tired and just uncertain about the way ahead.
Of course the people had forgotten about the hardships they faced in Egypt; they forgot about the beatings from the Egyptian overlords, about the amount of work they had to do just to survive. The past problems were put aside as they struggled with this new way of life. And Moses was there with them every step of the way - Moses was the one who was leading them into a relationship with God.
There were days when Moses wasn’t so fond of what God had called him to do. And there were days when God wasn’t so happy he saved these people. But together, God and Moses worked together to patiently try and teach these people what it meant to have a relationship with the one who had gathered them, freed them and now called them his people.
God felt that the people were ready for the next step in tier relationship. God tells Moses that Moses is to meet God on top of Mt. Sinai. But before he goes to meet God, Moses goes and spends 40 days to prepare himself for this awesome responsibility. Brings to mind the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness to prepare himself for the ministry God has called him to.
After the 40 days of preparation, Moses gathers God’s people at the base of the mountain and tells them to wait as he goes and gets instructions from God as to how God’s people are to live.
40 days Moses is up on top of the mountain with God. God gives Moses not only the list of what we know as the 10 Commandments, but also a whole bunch of other ‘rules’ and guidelines. He gives Moses the plans to build the tabernacle, a place where the people can worship and a place where God can live with his people so they can understand better how much desires to be with them.
The purpose of the 10 Commandments, the purpose of the dietary laws and the daily living laws and all the other instructions was to help the people as they learn to live with one another. What happens to a group of people who try to live together with no rules, no right or wrong, to parameters on how to live together? God’s giving them these rules was a gift. A gift to to give them direction and a means in order to live together in peace.
Think about a bowling alley. The new bowling alleys have these rails that you can put up so that your bowling ball doesn’t go into the gutter. When the rails are up, the ball may not go straight or fast, but the only place it can go is straight towards the pins and you are pretty much guaranteed to knock at least one of them down! Without the rails, bowling balls thrown by people like myself go into the gutter a lot.
These commandments, these ‘rules’, Moses is delivering to the people are just like the rails on a bowling alley. For them and for us, they are ways of living that keep us on the right tract in order to live lives of peace and harmony with those around us. The laws are a gift from God who helps us understand there is a way we can live which will help us live with each other in a way where we can all get along.
Remember Rodney King from the LA Riots in 1992 who said, “Can’t we just all get along?” And the answer God gives us is, “Yes you can if you just live following my design for living”.
And here it is - if you just follow these guidelines you will be amazed at what a difference in makes - imagine a world where everyone lives by these guidelines…… what would that be like?
What these rules, these commandments, were never meant to be was a list of how to earn God’s love. God does not sit on his throne on heaven and watch each of us like a hawk and write down each time we break a commandment and then wave his finger and say ‘Shame on you’ or erase us from the book of life because we have broken too many of the commandments too many times.
The commandments are truly God’s way of help us live together. John Calvin adds to that the law also helps us realize we need a savior because we can’t follow all the rules on our own. If God’s love depended on our following the law, we would all be sunk. The law is not a measuring stick to see how we measure up but it does help us see that on our own, we can’t follow these laws as we should.
Jesus tells us that these laws may have come from the Old Testament; they may come from an ancient leader of God’s people - but they are still valuable in helping us live as God’s people. All Jesus did was sum up the law into 2 sentences - love God and love each other. Short and sweet. Easy….
Well we all know it isn’t easy. But at least we have something that helps us as we try and figure life out. We have something that says in any decision think, does it honor God? Does it show love and respect for the people around us?
Moses was a superhero - he had to put up with a lot - but he stuck with it. He led God’s people; he brought them the 10 Commandments from God and then tried to help God’s people live into those laws.
Jesus does the same for us. He reminds us of the law and then sends us his spirit to help us live into those laws.
We will never be perfect at trying, but we can never stop for we are God’s people and we are here to show the world there is a better way to live.

Amen.

David

DAVID

We continue to look at our “Superheroes” of the Bible as we work our way towards Vacation Bible School. One of the superheroes that you suggested was David. It is difficult to lock David down into one message. So much happened in his life. As I read and prayed one event kept coming to mind so that is where we will concentrate our time this morning.
Very quickly, we will do a condensed version of David’s life. David was the son of Jesse and lived in Bethlehem. He was the youngest son in the family with several older brothers. Samuel came to anoint the new king from one of Jesse’s sons and after reviewing all the older boys, realized that none of them were the one God had chosen as the next king. “Do you have another son” Samuel asked Jesse. “Yea, but that is just little David and he’s out tending the sheep” in a ‘he’s not worth much’ kind of statement. Samuel sent for him and of course this was the one who was to be the King - the one anyone thought the least possible. David was probably 12 years old at this point.
Saul was still the reigning king and David was not to take over as king until Saul’s death. In the meantime David got a job as the court musician and would sit and play his lyre for Saul. Appears that King Saul had these fits of rage and David’s music would calm him down.
It is while David is working in King Saul’s court that David goes home for a visit and finds out his older brothers are in the army and at war with the Philistines. David’s father asked David to go to the battle field and take some food to his brothers and see how they are doing. David does but his brother’s are not to receptive to him. They accuse David of spying on them. Not a real happy family visit. But it is while he is there, that David learns of the threat of Goliath and we all know that David kills the giant and becomes a national hero.
Because of this King Saul makes David the commander of the army and David is a very successful military leader. As a result David is given King Saul’s daughter in marriage and David meets King Saul’s son - Jonathan and they become best friends.
When King Saul sees how popular David has become with the people of the kingdom, he goes into jealous rage and vows to kill David so David is forced to run away.
And this is where today’s story picks up. David is on the run afraid for his life. He first goes to a priest named Ahimelech where he gets some food and also is given the sword of Goliath which had been put in storage. However, one of King Saul’s men happened to be at the tabernacle in Nob and overheard what was going on so David knew that he needed to be on his way and continue running from the King.
He next went to hide in a town called Gath where Achish was the ruler. He was quickly recognized because David had become very famous because of his military victories. So David decides if he acts crazy everyone will be afraid of him and they won’t arrest him. Finally he scared the people of Gath so much with his crazy act, they ran him out of town.
He goes to the town of Adullam where he hid in a cave. Consider what David is thinking about in this cave. He has lost everything. He was famous and well loved and had a high position in the government and that was gone. He lost his work as a military leader. He lost his wife because his wife had been embarrassed when David had won a military battle and had danced in the streets in celebration and she thought this action was beneath a man of his stature. He had to leave his best friend Jonathan because his presence put Jonathan at risk since it was Jonathan’s father who was trying to seek and kill David.
And if we want to know what David thinks, he tells us in the words of Psalm 142. (Read) This just shows us how low David feels. Alone in a dark cave away from everything and everyone he held dear. And he really doesn’t think he has much to look forward to. In this Psalm David is saying, “Woe is me!” But do you really blame him? He didn’t ask for any of this. None of this was because of David’s misdeeds. This is all happening to him and he is understandably distressed by all that he is lost.
But look at Verse 5 - all David has left is God and he acknowledges that. “You are my place of refuge” David declares. When all is gone, there is still God.
Sometimes don’t you feel like your life is like David’s cave. Your life seems cold and dark and you are alone and you don’t see any options or any help. And you cry out to God, “Woe is me”. And there is nothing wrong with that. You shouldn’t feel bad by taking a moment and saying, “How did I get here in my life? My life was good. And here I find myself in a cave with nothing. God what gives?” That is what David did. He just laid it all out there. So don’t feel bad when you just lay it all out there to God.
But then like David, you have to go that extra step and say - “God I’m in this dark cave, I’m mad, I’m frustrated, I’m confused…… but God. I know that you are here. I don’t understand it, but I know you are here.”
Now God works in mysterious ways and the help God sends us often comes in even more mysterious ways. David’s help came from his family. We don’t really know how David’s family knew that David was hiding in this cave, but we read in the story recorded in I Samuel where we are told that David’s family shows up to help him. This is the same family that didn’t think David was worthy to be anointed the next king. This is the same family that accused David of spying on them when David came to the army camp where they were stationed. This is the family who really didn’t think much of this scrawny little pretty boy. And now they are all gathered at the cave to help him.
And who else comes to David’s aid? Those who are in anguish themselves, those who are in trouble because they are in debt and those who have been wronged or mistreated. These people who clearly needed help themselves didn’t come to get help, but to help.
We are the church. We have been called by God to be his. Not only to be loved and cared for by God, not only to worship and work for God’s kingdom, but to be the ‘family’ of God. To be family for one another. To be there for one another and to put our own needs aside when there is another in our midst who need us. We are God’s and our work for God’s kingdom is to show up at the cave when someone in our church family is there - alone and afraid and at need.
There is also another lesson - When you are running for your life and all you have left is a cave to live in and God to cry out to, one of the last things on earth that you want is a bunch of church family members coming to hang around with you. Those people that you have heard groan and complain and cry out to God themselves. But those are God’s people - just like you. They are the family God gave you.
Don’t let yourselves suffer in that cave alone. Let God help you and he will - but he normally helps you not by sending angels but by sending members of his family - your church family.
Together with his family and the troubled, debt ridden, mistreated who showed up to help, David got out of the cave, formed these people into his followers, and they were able to move on. David still continued to run from King Saul who was still on a mission to kill David, but now he had help. He had people with him who were there for him and would continue to be there for him.
David reminds us that we are here as God’s people, that together we can escape the caves of our lives, and keep going - together.
Amen!

Daniel

Daniel

This morning you heard a passage from the book of Revelation. We are fascinated with the book of Revelation because of bizarre accounts such as this one. We have a dragon whose body parts are made up of parts of other animals. This dragon has great power and great words and because of its size and ‘proud’ words people decide that the dragon is worthy of worship and loyalty. And what else we learn about this dragon is that it has it out for God’s people and wants to destroy them so it takes the people into captivity hoping this will be the end for them - but we read that God will be with is people and God’s people are called to ‘patient endurance and faithfulness’ during this season of the dragon.
Now this is not a story of a real dragon who has body parts of other animals, but is a picture of an evil empire that is made up many nations who war against God’s people. This evil empire will capture God’s people and keep them captive. But through this devastation, God will be with them and God will free them - and all they need do is trust in God and remain faithful.
This is what happened in the life of Daniel.
God’s people in Judah had sinned greatly against God so God allowed the evil nation of Babylon to come and capture God’s people and take them into captivity to Babylon. Once the Babylonians had God’s people in Babylon, they selected several young boys who were the best and the brightest and put them into a training program to become government officials.
Daniel was one of those chosen for this great honor along with his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego whom you have heard of because they were the ones thrown into the furnace of fire and survived.
So the four young men go into the kings training program where they are to learn the language, the history and the culture of the nation of Babylon. Included in this training program was the privilege of eating at the Kings table. Now this was a real honor and very few people were ever afforded that opportunity and the young men were expected to be grateful for this entitlement.
But Daniel had a very strong faith and followed all of the strict Jewish dietary laws and the foods at the King’s table were not foods allowed by Jewish law. Daniel went to the food steward and told him that he was not going to eat the King’s food because it was against his beliefs. Now the King’s steward was very perplexed by this. Why would anyone jeopardize the honor of eating at the King’s table. Surely Daniel could make an exception.
But Daniel held fast. The Steward continued to argue with Daniel and suggested that if Daniel didn’t eat the King’s food, they he would start to look unhealthy and then further displease the King. So Daniel makes a deal with the Steward - let’s have a contest. Let everyone else eat the King’s food and I’ll follow God’s diet and we will see who is the healthiest.
The steward agreed to this. The contest was to last for 10 days. At the end of the 10 days - who do you think was the healthiest? Of course, Daniel, who had been willing to jeopardize his future in the King’s service to be faithful to the ways of God!
The King actually admired Daniel for his steadfast faith and Daniel went to the head of the class.
Not only was Daniel one of the best of the brightest of Israel’s youth, but Daniel had also been given the gift of being able to interpret dreams. The King, Nebuchadnezzar, was plagued with bizarre dreams - not unlike our reading from Revelation - and he was not able to carry out his duties because of worrying about these dreams. Daniel was brought to him and Daniel was able to tell the King what the dream meant. So Daniel gets another promotion.
This happened more than once and each time Daniel told the king the meaning of the dream and each time Daniel received more accolades and another promotion.


So unlike Samson last week who trivialized his gifts, Daniel used his gifts where and when God led him.
Time passes and all is going well for Daniel as he worked in the Babylonian government for the King. Nebuchadnezzar passed away and King Belshazzar began to reign. Now, Belshazzar liked to host parties and he would have huge parties for a thousand people where there would be much wine, women and song! At one of these parties, after everyone had plenty to drink, Belshazzar began to see this giant hand, floating all by itself, writing words on the wall and he was so terrified he passed out.
When he came to he called in all his advisors and none of them could figure out what this was all about - and then they remembered Daniel. If he could interpret dreams then perhaps he could figure this out as well. And of course Daniel was able to tell the king what this was all about - a warning from God that Belshazzar had angered God and God was going to end his kingdom…. which of course happened that very night.
And now there was a new King - King Darius. Darius was easily influenced by the people around him and the people around him convinced him he was a god and as a god he should have a huge statue of himself built - big enough that everyone in the whole country could see it. And Darius did it.
Now, the king’s advisors said, you need to make a law that everyone who comes near the statue must bow down and pray to it. Not only that, but it is now illegal to pray to any god other than Darius. Daniel hears about this and immediately goes to his room and publicly before his open window, bows down and prays to God. Daniel thanks God for being faithful to him and asks God to give him strength to not abandon God during this dangerous time for Daniel. Because Daniel was not going to bow down to the Darius statue and Daniel was not going to pray to Darius and Daniel was not going to stop praying to God - no matter what the penalty may be.
Daniel is then drug before the king and accused of not praying to the statue and praying to his own God. And Daniel is unapologetic and therefore thrown into a den of lions. Well, we all know how the turned out. The next day the King himself went to check on the lions, and Daniel was still there. Sitting among the lions, with not a scratch on him.
“How is this?” the King exclaimed. And Daniel told the King about the wonders of his God and how his God had protected him because Daniel had been faithful. Darius, then, became a believer in the one and only God and declared that all of Babylon must fear and reverence the one and only God - the God of Daniel. And the King gave this great testimony: (Read Daniel 6:26-27)
As I worked on this story of Daniel, I couldn’t help but notice that the message of Daniel was much the same message as we heard last week from Samson - while Samson was a negative example and Daniel a positive example and both remind us of the same bible passage we started with last week and won’t hurt us to read again. (Read Romans 12:1-2).
While Samson succumbed to the culture around him, Daniel shows us that it is possible to not give in to the pressures of fitting in. Daniel is a perfect example of someone who took his ordinary life and placed it before God as an offering. Daniel stood fast to God regardless of what he was threatened with. Daniel stayed steadfast to God regardless of all the people around him who were doing the exact opposite - who were participating in whatever was popular at the moment no matter if it was Godly or not.
And what is also important to us is that every step of the way, Daniel prayed. Daniel prayed. Every time he was confronted with a problem, Daniel prayed. Every time Daniel was confronted with a decision, Daniel prayed.
The message for us - the way to avoid the temptations of the culture around us; the way to stay faithful to God despite the problems and decisions - is prayer.
The Apostle Paul tells us - “Pray without ceasing” and Daniel is the example for us of how a life of prayer can make a huge impact on our life.

Amen.