Sunday, November 19, 2006

Daniel 7:9-10 - “Where is the Sunday School Daniel?”

2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year (Year B - Lutheran Worship Readings)
Saturday, November 18, and Sunday, November 19, 2006

“As I looked,
thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened.”

Where is the Sunday School Daniel? This is too tough to understand—thrones, wheels with fire, river of fire. What court? What books? No, give me the Sunday School Daniel. You know, the stories from the book of Daniel that maybe we remember from Sunday School or books or children’s movies or VeggieTales. Give me Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Give me Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. (place Sunday School lesson on stand)

Give me stories of adventure. Give me stories where I can see what’s happening. Give me the stuff I already know. These verses from Daniel chapter 7 are too difficult. I can already hear some of you saying to me, “Pastor, who can understand this? The common people back then didn’t understand this, did they?”

Thankfully God’s people didn’t have this attitude. Otherwise we would’ve just had a few Bible stories (hold up Sunday school lesson) instead of the entire Bible, the entire Word of God (place Bible on stand). Thankfully, God’s people were good stewards of God’s Word. God gave the people His Word, His Bible, and the people were good stewards, good caretakers of the gift. They kept the stories that they could understand; they kept the clear verses that tell us things like “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”; but they also kept difficult passages, things that are tough to understand, things like the vision in today’s verses from Daniel.

Take a look again at those verses from today’s Old Testament reading. They’re difficult to understand, because Daniel is trying to put into words something that’s hard to describe. Chapter 7 of Daniel is a vision from God. This vision came to Daniel during the time when God’s people were living in exile, living in Babylon, living far away from the land that God had given them. This vision speaks about a future hope, a future day when God would destroy the Babylonians and send His people back to Jerusalem. But it’s a vision of the future, something we call apocalyptic, which means it doesn’t just come right out and say what will happen. It doesn’t tell us a specific time, place, or even how it will happen. The vision works with images and symbols, because the detail aren’t as important as knowing that God has a plan, God will come, God will rescue.

So we look at those two verses from today’s Old Testament reading, and we realize that even though they’re not one of the Sunday School stories we’re familiar with, they do give us a glimpse into something very important about God.

It’s a description of God the Father on the throne; He is the Ancient of Days, the One who is older than anything else, and truly, the One who is eternal, who has always been. So God the Father, the Ancient of Days, is sitting on His throne in the center of all the thrones, and what He looks like can’t really be described. His hair is white, showing again His age and wisdom. His throne has fiery wheels on it, kind of symbolizing that from His throne He can still be everywhere. Thousands attend Him, surround Him, worship Him, perhaps these are the angels and those who have died in the faith.

This is a description of God the Father whom Daniel saw in the vision, but really, there’s no way to describe what God the Father looks like. It’s tough to put into words, and so Daniel tries, using a few descriptions, Daniel tries to explain what God the Father is like.

But again, more than details, the important message coming out of this vision is that here is God the Father in all of His glory, and God the Father is coming to destroy His enemies, coming to rescue His people. When Daniel first shared the vision with the people, it gave them hope that God would rescue them from the Babylonians. For us, it gives us hope that God will come and rescue us from the final enemies: sin, death, and the devil. God is on His throne, He rules over everything, and He will send His Son, Jesus, to bring an end to this fallen world. Jesus will bring a final end to Satan’s hold on us, and then Jesus will take us to be with Him forever.

Thankfully, then, God’s people were good stewards of God’s Word and they kept these difficult verses, because these verses give us a glimpse into the future hope that we have in Jesus Christ. At the end of the church year, this is the Second Last Sunday of the Church Year, next week is the Last Sunday, at the end of the church year, we focus on the End Times, looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ, and certainly, it is good to find these verses from Daniel that tell us about God the Father in His glory coming to save us from sin, death, and the devil.

So I am so glad that God’s people were good stewards, good caretakers of God’s Word. They didn’t just keep what they liked or what they found easy to understand; they kept His entire Word.

Of course, someone will ask me, “How did you figure out what those verses mean?” And I’ll happily admit: that’s why there’s so many books in my office. I studied probably at least 10 different books and articles trying to understand these verses from Daniel chapter 7. Besides being thankful that God’s people long ago kept all of the words of the Bible, I’m also thankful for all of the good stewards of God’s Word over the years. Many people have used their skills, time, and lives to study God’s Word, to write about God’s Word, to help teach others about God’s Word. Those people that wrote those books on my shelves are good stewards of God’s Word. They’re good stewards of the abilities that God gave them. They use their lives to serve God and others by helping me, you, and a lot of others understand the Bible.

Perhaps that’s why I’m always surprised when an adult tells me they don’t come to Bible study because they learned it all when they were in Sunday School. Sunday School teaches us a lot, we learn a lot about the Bible and the Christian faith, but you probably didn’t study these verses from Daniel chapter 7. You got the Sunday School Daniel (hold up the Sunday School lesson), but that doesn’t mean you were done studying the Bible (hold up the Bible). If you really decided you were done studying the Bible when you were done with Sunday School or when you were confirmed, you have to ask yourself: are you being a good steward of God’s Word? Are you being a good caretaker of the Word of God that He gave you? Are you using your time for God? Are you seeing how much God has to teach us in His Word, and that that teaching is meant to keep going every day of our lives?

It’s no mistake that I’m talking about being good stewards of God’s Word, because as you can see on the back of the bulletin, we’ve been thinking about stewardship a lot around here. The back of the bulletin shows that we’re around $7000 behind for the year. Frankly, we’re not sure if that means that you’re trying to tell us through your offerings that you’re unhappy with how things are going, you’re not giving as much because you don’t like how we’re doing things. Or is the problem that you’re not being good stewards, not using what God has given you to make sure His Word is taught and proclaimed and shared and shown and used in this place?

Good stewardship starts with the kind of stewardship we’ve been talking about today—stewardship of God’s Word. We work very hard as a congregation to make sure that our focus is on Jesus Christ, the salvation through the cross, the salvation that we learn about through the Bible. Our worship, our choirs, our Bible studies, our Sunday School, our youth, our Confirmation, our Preschool, everything we do is focused on being good stewards of God’s Word.

Yet, that’s got to affect our personal lives as well; it’s got to affect how you use your money. I’ll be honest with you: I don’t know why we’re behind in giving. I don’t know what the cause is, but let me take one guess: you’re only thinking about the Sunday School Daniel and not the entire Bible; you’re only thinking about Sunday morning (Saturday evening) and not about the rest of the week.

You’ve probably heard someone joke to a pastor, “Well, you’ve got a pretty easy job, Pastor. You just work on Sunday.” (With a couple of hours on Saturday thrown in—they must’ve given you a raise for that, right?). Most of the time I know that people don’t really mean it, but somewhere in there it does seem like many people don’t realize what’s really going on around this church building during the week.

I’m not so concerned about whether you think I only work 3 hours on Sunday when really I work 40-50 hours during the week. That’s a small concern compared to realizing that sometimes we’re just not aware that this building isn’t quiet during the week. Sure, there are some hours of the evenings that the building lays quiet, but everyday there’s something going on here between worship services, preschool, Bible studies, Hmong services, Hmong classes, confirmation, office work, pastors at work, parish nurse office hours, choir practices, youth activities, meetings, and counseling.

I’m not sure if this is related to your giving to the church or not, but if you’re only thinking that these lights and heat need to be on for a few hours a week, if you’re only thinking that this church is doing stuff on Sunday (or Saturday), then maybe you’re thinking that the church doesn’t need much of your money. Like only wanting the Sunday School Daniel instead of the entire Bible, if you only want the Sunday morning Redeemer Lutheran Church instead of the entire week’s worth of Redeemer Lutheran Church, then you’re not being a good steward of the ministry God has given us.

That’s kind of a negative way of putting it, so let’s turn it around: instead of just celebrating the things we do together on the weekend in worship, let’s celebrate everything we’re doing in this ministry of Jesus Christ. We can see the church at work when we’re here in worship, but let’s be good stewards of all of the things God has given us to do in this place, let’s be good stewards of this ministry at Redeemer Lutheran Church which happens everyday in many different ways. There are beautiful, exciting things happening here, so that many people are finding out about Jesus or being built up in their Christian faith. There are amazing things happening as we meet together, as we go out into the community with God’s Word, as we show others the love of God.

So I’ll be as plain as I dare: I’m asking you to consider again how much you are giving to the church, because I want us to keep doing these amazing, beautiful, exciting things for God. The more we as pastors, staff, and leaders worry about money, about cutting back on spending our budgets so that we don’t end up with a deficit, the more we worry about that, the less we’re focused on doing what we’re supposed to be doing—studying God’s Word, teaching God’s Word, sharing God’s Word, supporting people with God’s Word. In other words, we could go bare bones and still give you the Sunday School Daniel, but then I don’t think we’d be good stewards of God’s Word.

God’s people long ago were good stewards of God’s Word—and we get the benefits. For instance, if they had just kept the Sunday School Daniel, we wouldn’t have had a hymn to sing today before the sermon. Today’s sermon hymn, number 458 in the “old hymnal,” “Oh, Worship the King,” is loosely based on our Old Testament reading. Take a look at the front of the bulletin where you have two of the stanzas printed, the ones you were looking at for today’s pre-service meditation.

God’s people were good stewards of God’s Word, and so they kept those difficult to understand verses from Daniel’s vision, those verses that try to describe God in all of His glory in His throne room. Then along came the hymn writer, Robert Grant, who took that image to be part of his hymn. The hymn talks about the King, God the Father, in His throne room above. Grant uses that title, Ancient of Days, and also calls Him “shield and defender,” the idea of coming to rescue us. Let’s sing these two stanzas again, remembering that they bring us this beautiful image of God from a rather difficult passage of Scripture.

Oh, worship the King, all-glorious above.
Oh, gratefully sing His pow’r and His love;
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

Oh, tell of His might; oh, sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space;
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Thankfully, by God’s Holy Spirit, God’s people were good stewards of His Word and kept the vision of Daniel in chapter 7. Thankfully, by God’s Holy Spirit, Robert Grant wrote this beautiful hymn to help us through music get a glimpse of God in His throne room. Thankfully, by God’s Holy Spirit, we have these words today to help us to see God the Father in all of His glory, to see that God the Father will come and rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. And now prayerfully, by God’s Holy Spirit, God will help us to be good stewards of His Word—sharing this word of a future hope through our ministry here.

Because even though sometimes God’s Word is difficult to understand, the truth that we find is good, true, and the hope that we need. We find that Jesus will return, He will take us out of this place of sin and death, trouble and despair, He will bring an end to Satan’s grip on our lives, He will rescue us and take us to eternal life. God the Father is in His throne room, and that means He is ready to save us. Oh, worship the King, indeed!

“Oh, Worship the King”
Text: Robert Grant, 1779–1838, alt. HANOVER
Tune: William Croft, 1678–1727 10 10 11 11
Text and tune: Public domain