The reading for Sunday, May 29, 2016:
Daniel 3: 1-30
This story may be familiar to us from childhood--do you remember the song? I remember a chorus that ended with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but I don't remember verses.
I haven't read this passage since childhood, and even then, I probably read a child's book, so it was interesting to return to it as an adult.
Reading the story, I am struck by how the similarities we find in these tests of faith that the Bible depicts. God has given a command, there's an earthly ruler who compels behavior that is contrary to God's law, and the follower(s) of God must make a decision--and usually the stakes are high. We see this trajectory in this story too.
I was struck by this passage: "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, 'King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.'”
It's the last sentence that leapt out at me. Even if God doesn't deliver them, they will still follow God's command. How often do we see that commitment?
We might then ask ourselves about our levels of commitment. We are no different from these Old Testament men--do we follow God's law or the laws of the world?
We might protest: "I have not fallen down to worship any idol!" And sure, there's no king who comes along to build an image of gold, a literal object that we must fall down and worship. But there are plenty of other types of gold that command our attention--and it's awfully easy to spend our lives trying to get more of those things (money, power, security), which leaves us very little time to spend on our relationship with God.
In past weeks, Pastor Keith has been encouraging us to examine the messages that our culture sends us. He has reminded us that our God is a God of love, and that cultural messages that encourage hatred and exclusion are not messages coming from God. The cultural messages beamed at us that encourage us to hate the Other (and there are so many others that we are encouraged to oppress)--perhaps those messages are modern idols. We certainly see many people worshipping at the altars of hate and exclusion.
An outsider to our culture might see our phones as idols. We might argue that they make us more connected. But as we check our e-mails and post our updates, these phones often keep us detached from the humans who are right there with us. And I'm guessing that there aren't many apps that transform our phones into ways to connect with God.
Most modern idols are much more subtle than the ancient idol that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were ordered to worship. They are so subtle that we don't recognize them as idols. Just as a national budget tells us about the priorities of the nation, our household budgets tell us what we worship. The way we spend our time, what little of it may belong to us, tells us what we worship.
How can we reconfigure our lives so that we're worshipping God and not idols? How will we resist the cultural pressure to worship at the altars of all that is not God?