I saw a story in the paper a couple of years ago
about a man from Buenos Aires who had jumped into lion enclosure at the zoo.
Initially the lions (well used to zoo keepers) had ignored him.
So he goaded them with a stick until they attacked him.
Luckily for him, the authorities arrived in time to save him.
When asked why he did this, he said it was because God had told him to.
Of course God does not
arbitrarily and for no reason tell us to jump into a lion’s den.
But as the story of Daniel makes clear,
there are occasions when loyalty and faithfulness to God
may mean that we do indeed risk death.
The point of the story of
Daniel is that God remembers Daniel,
and he is kept safe by God’s power.
Every generation faces the lion
prowling around – metaphorically if not literally
As 1 Peter puts it,
“The devil is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”
But does God remember those
facing the beast?
Does he stop the mouth of the lion?
This week is the 65th Anniversary of the Exeter blitz –
how many people prayed for deliverance that night, and where was God?
Why did he not stop the mouth of the lion, why did he not turn back the bombers?
Next week is Christian Aid Week –
Hunger stalks the developing world like a ravening lion.
Where is God when the cold and the hungry refugee looks death in the face?
Daniel of course is thrown to
the lions specifically because of his faith,
and his unwillingness to bow to other gods.
And the history of the Church
is absolutely full of people
who trusted God in the face of persecution – and who died as a result.
Where was God then?
At the beginning of June we have a Sunday evening
reflecting on the persecuted Church.
I don’t want to pre-empt that service –
but I would ask you to hold the persecuted Church in your prayers,
and study the press during the coming month as a preparation for that service.
One of the many books on the persecuted Church is by Nina Shea
and I mention it especially because it is entitled “In the Lion’s Den”
It chronicles contemporary men and women
“persecuted and martyred before an unknowing, indifferent world,
and a largely silent Christian community.”
The atrocities they suffer
“include torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment,
forcible separation of children from parents, killings, and massacres.”
So how do we reconcile the hope
and confidence of the Book of Daniel
with the history of those who (like Daniel)
went into the lion’s den rather than compromise their faith,
but for whom God did not shut the Lion’s mouth?
¨ Martin Luther King gunned down in the USA
¨ Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Maximilian Kolbe, and Edith Stein murdered by the Nazis,
¨ Janani Luwum murdered by Idi Amin,
¨ Oscar Romero shot at the altar by the El Salvador death squads.
Of course these are the well known, the archbishops and the theologians
what of the thousands who have died often squalid and forgotten deaths for their faith….?
Why did God not shut the mouth of the lion for them?
Let me briefly offer two answers –
1. God has chosen to work through his people – that is you and
How often has it been said that all that is needed for evil to triumph
is for good men to stand by and do nothing.
Why does the lions’ den threaten us?
Because somewhere someone has built and stocked the cage and fed the lions –
We blame God, but God works through us.
2. But there is another answer,
which is really more profound and far reaching in its nature.
To understand this, you need to
see the common point
between our Old and New Testament readings –
the story of Daniel and the story of the Resurrection.
When the King orders Daniel to
be thrown to the Lions,
he has the cave firmly secured – a great stone is rolled across the entrance.
We recall how Christ too knew the stone rolled across the tomb after the resurrection.
But of course we know that
Christ’s victory was not about avoiding dying,
but it was about coming through death victorious.
Some may indeed find that their path
takes them to the grave –
but our Easter resurrection faith tells us that the grave is not the end –
that God’s victory is there even for those who die –
that when the grave is opened and the lions have indeed done their worst,
and those within are dead, then are they not defeated
but sharing with Christ who was dead and is alive….
21:18-22 the risen Lord tells Peter that one day
he will be bound and taken where he does not want to go -
in other words, Peter will be crucified like his Lord before him
and in this manner glorify God.
Then Jesus says to Peter, "Follow me."
Peter sees another disciple following too.
So Peter says to Jesus – if I am going to be crucified,
what about my brother here, what is going to happen to him?
"If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?"
The point is this – we all have our path to walk.
¨ For some that may mean walking in
where lions have been locked safe away from harm
¨ For some that mean walking through the lion’s den unharmed
¨ For others it may mean being thrown to the lions and killed
We may be like Peter killed for our
or like John dying at a great age in our bed –
The truth is, regardless of the
circumstances under which we die,
ultimately Christ brings us safe home –
So the story of Daniel does not
promise us security from harm in this world -
but it does prefigure the ultimate victory -
that sin and death may think they have the victory
but ultimately the stone will be rolled away.
Christ is risen, and because of that
no lion, no devil, no earthly power,
can defeat those who walk with him.
ORDER OF SERVICE
Sunday 6th May 5th Sunday of Easter
6.30 p.m. Holy Communion led by Rev Andrew Sails
Hymn HAP 744 “O for a thousand tongues”
Prayers (MWB pp.160-161)
Readings: Daniel 6:6-23 (p.891)
Mark 15:46 – 16:8 (p.1023)
Hymn SOF 27 “As the deer”
Sermon: “The Lion’s Den”
Hymn 212 “Thine be the glory”
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer (MWB p.165)
Holy Communion (MWB pp.169-172)