The Worst of Times or the Best of Times

The Worst of Times or the Best of Times

Daniel 7:9-149“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. 10A 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. 11“Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire.12 The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time. 13“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.14He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.14 {{more}}The Interpretation of the Dream One of the things that I most appreciate about the book of Psalms in the Old Testament is its honesty. The people who wrote those hymns and poems and songs were utterly and completely open and sincere with God. If they were happy, everyone knew it. If they were sad, everyone knew. If they were hurting, everyone knew. If they were afraid, angry, annoyed, lonely, or mad at God, everyone knew. They pulled no punches and hid no emotions. I would like to read you the 137th Psalm. This was written after the nation of Judah had been attacked and completely destroyed. The nation’s people had been carted off to Babylon; cut off from their land, their Temple, and their way of life. They didn’t know if they would ever return to their homeland again. And so a poet sat down and wrote these words. I would invite you to hear the anguish that he is expressing in Psalm 137:1-9 By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, and “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!” O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us. Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! We all know that there are certain events that define every generation. For the Hebrew people of the 6th century BCE, it was the Babylonian exile. For our generation, the defining event was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. By the twin towers we sit and weep. We have seen the joy ripped from our souls and piled on mounds of death and rubble. Our enemies are demanding things of us which we are not willing to give; They want us to be afraid, lonely, desperate. They desire to hear our cries of anguish and see the places where our tears have flowed. We desire peace and freedom. We long for answers for our pain. More than anything we seek a renewal of faith. But how can we have peace and freedom; how can we find relief; how can we rekindle faith in the midst of evil and death?Please visit our website at www.westtexastribune.com to read the rest of Mr. Nelson’s Sermon How do we make sense of the present? Five years after September 11, 2001, we still wonder. It is a question we all have; a question shared by our ancient Hebrew brothers and sisters. 600 years before the birth of Christ, they were living in exile in Babylon. Interestingly, this land that was the source of their troubles is also the land that haunts us in the 21st century. They had been beaten by the Babylonian army. Those who were left alive and were of possible use to the Babylonian economy were deported in chains across the desert. Those who somehow managed to stay alive, but who could be of no use to Babylon, were left to fend for themselves: the sick, the infirm, and the poor. As the survivors sat over in Babylon, they wondered what all of this meant. They wondered how they could stay true to God. They wondered if they could ever find their faith again. They wondered, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Daniel was among the exiles and he discovered that there is hope for the present when he and his people focused on the future. Daniel has a terrifying dream one night about four huge animals. One looked like a lion with wings like and eagle. Another looked like a bear. A third looked like a panther with four wings on its back, and four heads. The final animal was a real monster with ten horns and huge iron teeth. The animals were representative of four different kingdoms: the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks. As Daniel’s dream progressed, he witnessed a court scene presided over by God, the purpose of which was to respond to the oppression of these four beasts. This is the Scripture lesson for this week. The judgment of the Heavenly Council was that the rule of the beasts was going to end, and be given to “a son of man.” He was given the power to rule forever. His kingdom would never be replaced. Christians have always understood this divine person to be Jesus Christ, the One who is coming at the end of time to rule as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Here is the point. In the midst of all of the chaos, God was working on behalf of the Hebrews to bring victory out of defeat, restoration out of the rubble of destruction, and salvation out of separation. I get the feeling that there are times when we just don’t identify with people in the Bible. Their lives are, after all, so very different from ours. They had to contend with different issues than we do. They had different pressures. They had different goals and aspirations. But I think that, in this case, we can indeed understand them. We know what it is like to weep at the devastation brought to our great cities. We know what it is like to have our young men and woman killed in a foreign war. We know fear and trembling. We know the uncertainty of tomorrow. We know that there are people, right now, plotting to kill as many of us as possible. We know that there are times when our government seems impotent and unable to take away our basic fears. The message that comes clearly through the ages from Daniel to us is that the forces of chaos and cruelty may win the occasional battle, but they cannot and will not win the war. We are Christians who have read the end of the book. We know how all of this ends. We know that there is no evil on earth that can withstand the power of God in Jesus Christ. Let me remind you of the story of some little girls in Pennsylvania. They were reared in loving, extended families. They were taught the Holy Scriptures from the moments they were able to sit and listen. Sometimes people looked at them and their parents with a little bit of skepticism. Outsiders didn’t understand the long dresses and bonnets. Outsiders did not understand the beards on their fathers and the buggies in which they rode. Outsiders could not for their life of them, understand how people can get along in this day and age without a cell phone or IPod or automobile or computer or even electricity. They did not understand how people could live in the world but not be of the world. And then the world crashed in on them with all of its fury and ugliness. A gunman entered their school, holding the girls hostage. Nothing could be done to turn aside the wrath of this terribly disturbed young man, as he shot and killed these little girls. Our attention was turned to this small community of Old Order Amish in wonderment as we watched them in their grief. We remember how they embraced the killer’s wife and child. We remember how they offered forgiveness. And we remember how they said that if any little girls had to die, they were glad that it was their little girls. If any little girls had to die, it was good that it was these precious little ones because they had been taught from the cradle to love Jesus. They had been taught to love Jesus and to be prepared to meet him at any time because there are no guarantees in life. Amen! We face terror from our own neighborhoods as well as from half-a-world away. There are people and forces out there that will everything in their power to destroy. Death seems to stalk us all, just as it stalked the ancient Hebrew people. That is why we can understand the Babylonian exiles. We can understand people in any generation who have faced ugliness, terror, hatred, and destruction. But we also know, as Daniel knew, that God is working to bring victory out of defeat and order out of chaos. God is working in our generation just as surely as he was working with Daniel’s generation to ensure that God’s work is being done on earth as it is in heaven. We are people who know that God is working to wipe the tears from our eyes and establish a new heaven and a new earth that will not be disrupted by mourning or crying or pain. We know that tough times will come and go. Turbulent days will continue to afflict us. The unknown is still very much with us. But we also know that Christ is King. We know that we do not have to know all the answers, because we worship the One who does. We know, just as surely as those little Amish girls knew that there is nothing on earth that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us live in that hope today and for the rest of our lives.