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Homily: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Homily preached at the Washington National Cathedral on March 21, 2018.
Wednesday in the 5th Week of Lent: Canticle 13; Daniel 3:14-20, 24-28; John 8: 31-42

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

We have two contrasting pictures of humanity in today’s scripture and we see God’s response clearly. In the first reading from the prophet Daniel, we find Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego confronted with a horrible death by being burned alive in a furnace if they do not renounce their faith, reject their God, and offer worship to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol.

These three companions of Daniel, they remain faithful, and even though the men who cast them into the furnace are killed by the heat in the act of throwing them into the flames, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego remain unharmed. Not just unharmed, but scripture tells us they are walking around in the blazing fire on the white-hot coals, in the company of a fourth who is apparently an angel (“…the fourth looks like a son of God”). Their reward for faithfulness was salvation by divine intervention.

We then shift to Jesus, still embroiled in the discussion begun earlier in St. John’s Gospel. It says he is speaking to Jews who believe in him, but we note that later in the passage, on a couple of different occasions, the Lord mentions they are trying to kill him – not something that “Jews who believe in him” would be doing.

St. John’s Gospel is full of ironic statements, and there are a couple of good ones in this passage. But rather than focusing on the language, let’s look at the message. The example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being saved because they were faithful in the face of death is taken to a new level in Christ Jesus who, being one with the Father, asks for that same level of faithfulness to save us from an even worse fate.

And not to be lost is Canticle 13, its verses found in the apocryphal book, The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews (v. 29-34), that speaks of a hymn of praise of God even during a time of persecution. It gives glory and honor to the God of their ancestors – the God who is to be exalted above all forever.

When we take this message in the context of our Lenten journey, we see that scripture calls us to refine and sharpen our sense of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. Our Lord calls to us and tells us by example that, if we believe in him, our actions will reveal our faith. If we are truly people who believe in him, others will see us and how we love one another, and they will know of our belief in the Only Begotten Son of God.
Those who speak Truth which comes from God and those who are in a close relationship with God often find themselves in opposition to those who are in authority over them, particularly if those in authority are not open to the Truth and to God’s revelation.

Reflecting on these readings today, I think about my relationship with God. Am I a true and faithful disciple who seeks to deepen my relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ? I may say the right words, but do I live my life in a way which shows I am in a loving relationship with God the Father, Jesus, God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit? Sometimes I wonder if I am more like those whom Jesus addresses in this Gospel – people who have not let the word of Christ find a hearing among them. And as I reflect on my own story, I realize that sin still influences my life. I fail, at times, to see my relationship with God, and therefore my relationship with others. If I stop and ask myself, “If I feel apart from my Lord, who moved?” Then I must acknowledge that I have sought my own selfish ways instead of ways which praise the God who has always been there for me in Love.

The example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego inspires me. They were rising in status in their service of the king of Babylon. Because of the jealousy of others, they were forced to stand up for their relationship with God. They were willing to remain faithful to God as their number one priority in life, even if that meant a painful, bodily death. They trusted in the loving relationship with God rather than in the power of mortals. If God would save them, then praised be to God. If God chose not to save them, then praised be to God anyway. They would not change their allegiance, because they had developed such an intimate relationship with their God; they knew that that relationship with God was something for which they would be willing to die.

Their song of praise of God as they walked in the white-hot furnace should be our prayer, especially when we face opposition: “Blessed are You, O Lord, the GOD of our ancestors, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever; and blessed is Your holy and glorious name, praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.”

In the name of One God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.