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Homily preached by Sue McWhinney

Homily for Sunday September 29th 2013, 4pm Choral Evensong.

Readings: Daniel 10: 4-end, and Revelation ch 5  

An experience of the living God

I was reading in the BMJ recently that for many in our society today, the aspiration of perfection is be tall, slim, bright, sporty, polite, musical, socially polished, good looking, sensible….. to have straight white teeth! Oh, and to get a first class medical degree!

Well, Daniel was one of those perfect people in his day, around 600 years BC. Jerusalem had been destroyed, and many Jews had been taken into captivity in Babylon. He was one of the Israelite young men of royal descent, “without any physical defect, handsome, well educated, wise, knowledgeable, and competent”, the perfection of his day, who was brought into the king’s palace. They were to be educated in Babylonian ways, and trained to serve in court. Maybe this was a way of bringing the best from Jewish culture into the king’s realm, or a way of subverting these fine young men.

Daniel had an exciting life. Despite being immersed in Babylonian culture, he remained loyal and faithful to God. He had a gift of dream interpretation, and was one of the 4 men who were miraculously kept safe in the lion’s den, though that story will have to wait for another time!

By today’s reading, he was receiving visions himself. For 3 weeks he had been in mourning: living and eating simply, praying, and humbling himself before God (v12). It was the time of Passover, and he may have been conscious that his privileges made it especially hard for him to remain faithful to God. Maybe he was longing for a closer walk with God? Or grieving for his persecuted fellow Jews back in Jerusalem at that time.

He was given an experience that was overwhelming. His companions ran away in terror and hid, but he stayed and engaged with the vision, though he did nearly pass out. Daniel saw a man radiating light and beauty, with “a face like lightening, eyes like flaming torches, limbs like burnished bronze”……dressed like a priest in linen, with a fine gold belt. Interestingly his vision was not unlike that of Christ seen by John in Revelation chapter one (1:12-16). When the man spoke, with a sound “like the roar of a multitude” (imagine a Bradford City crowd), Daniel fell to the ground in shock, as did John.

Angels were sent to revive him, and help him to pay attention. Daniel was encouraged by their touch and reassuring words: not to fear, that God had heard his prayers right from the start, and that he was greatly loved. When he was ready to listen, the messenger explained the amazing story of being sent in response to Daniel’s prayers, and being delayed on the way by a fierce struggle in the heavenly realms. Even this glorious figure had needed the archangel Michael, the traditional strong defender of God’s people, to come to his aid. You may have seen our stained glass of St Michael in the north transept, complete with armour and sword.

Not surprisingly, when he heard this, Daniel was overwhelmed again, and speechless. This time an angel in human form appeared and touched his lips, reminiscent of the call of Jeremiah (Jer 1:9), and Isaiah (Is 6:7), enabling him to speak. He felt quite unequal to the task; how could he, a mere man, a servant, speak to the Lord? Daniel was enabled to respond, without fear, to receive the message of encouragement, which would strengthen him and all the people of God. It was a message confirming the sovereignty of God, that heavenly forces were fighting on their behalf, and that he Daniel would be shown the contents of the precious “book of truth”.

He was overwhelmed physically and emotionally by the experience of this vision, but he came out of it revived, strong, and at peace. Reluctance and a feeling of inadequacy was his initial response, which is a common response to the call of God (think of Moses at the burning bush….), but with nurturing and encouragement he was able to listen, be strong, and take action.

John too must have felt overwhelmed by his experiences in Revelation, including that of today’s reading, describing God’s precious and sealed scroll, and the search for one worthy to open it. Revelation is full of deep symbolism and theology that probably none of us will understand this side of eternity. But what chapter 5 tells us clearly is that Christ is the only one worthy to open that scroll, to reveal God’s plan for the universe. Christ was seen as looking like a lamb who had been slain, yet very much alive, and worthy because of his sacrificial work for all peoples on the cross. The juxtaposition of two names for Christ (v5,6), as both the “lion of the tribe of Judah,” and the “Lamb,” images of strength and self-sacrifice, hold the key to why he is worthy. He has overpowered the effect of sin, because of his sacrifice. Near me, on the bishops stall, is a lion, and a lamb, beautifully carved in wood, which capture these images for me.

The angels, elders, and creatures in the Revelation vision go on to sing “a new song. A mighty chorus of praise from all in heaven and earth, and even under the earth (the dead) is released here to the worthiness, honour and glory of Christ. The prayers of the saints, that is all who have ever believed, symbolised as bowls of incense, are presented to Christ, and thousands upon thousands of angels join in with these praises. We join them all every time we worship God, especially in the words of the Sanctus and Benedictus, which we are privileged to hear sung beautifully by our choir each Sunday morning. What an amazing thought…..

So the message of both Daniel and Revelation is that God the redeemer is actively involved in his world, that he has a plan for his people. They spent a lifetime being faithful to God, but if we too spend regular times in prayer and worship, we will be more able to appreciate this. An encounter with the living God will have a life changing impact on us for sure, and we should emerge from it revived and strengthened in faith. As we reflect on our worship tonight, that we are joining with believers throughout history and all those heavenly beings in praise for the saving work of Jesus Christ, let us take heart, and expect to meet with the living God.

Amen.


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