Bell and the dragon Part 2 vrs 23-42
You can find this reading here
Over the last few weeks we have been looking at Books that are in some Bibles and not in others. These are called Apocryphal books.
These are old stories or old books, written between the Old and New Testament that some denominations, like ours, felt that they shouldn't be in the Bible.
Over the last three weeks we have been looking at additions to the book of Daniel.
Two weeks ago we were looking at the story of Susanna, a girl that was being blackmailed but stayed faithful and Daniel worked out what the blackmailers were up to and thwarted their plans.
Last week we looked at the story of Bel, a god who was worshiped by the Babylonians and how the emperor believed that this god was real because every day huge amounts of food were put in the temple and at night it all disappeared. Daniel had worked out that the priests had a secret passage into the temple and proved that it was the priests that were eating the food and not the god.
This week we look at Daniel destroying the dragon.
What is happening here is that the Babylonians believed in a pantheon of gods; there wasn’t one god, but a hierarchy or gods.
Now Bel was the father-god. If faith in him was under threat then that might mean that the faith of all the other gods was under threat as well. That made Daniel a target. So the priests of all the other gods would have been influencing the emperor to get rid of Daniel.
And one of those gods was a dragon god, probably this was a temple with a spectacular statue of a dragon that was rigged in such a way, that under careful conditions and at specific times, fire would occasionally spout from its mouth.
You can imagine that after the priests of the god Bel are killed by the emperor that all the other priests of the pantheon are summoned to the emperor. There the emperor tells them that he has killed the priests of Bel because they had deceived him by telling him that their god was alive when he really wasn’t.
Then all the other priests would assure the emperor that their god was real. And the priests of the dragon god remind the emperor that their statue isn’t just a statue, it is alive, and shows that it is alive by spouting forth fire from its mouth.
The emperor, goaded by the priests of the dragon god, challenges Daniel again.
This time when Daniel appears with the emperor the priests have rigged the statue to breath fire. But Daniel has brought with him a primitive Molotov cocktail that he flings this bomb in the mouth of the dragon and it prematurely sets off the fire-breathing mechanism and destroys the statue.
Well the priests go crazy. This time they remind the emperor that his power is given by the gods. If the people don’t believe in the gods then the people won’t believe in the emperor and when the people don’t believe in their leaders the leaders tend to be replaced. So it is either Daniel of the emperor. And the emperor chooses to get rid of Daniel.
That’s the background.
And it is all very spectacular. But the problem with all that spectacular stuff is that it hides the true message, the important message that we need to hear.
You see over the last few weeks we have seen Daniel, faithful Daniel, portrayed as the hero of the hour.
Daniel is the one smart enough to separate Susanna’s accusers when they are giving testimony against Susanna so that everyone can see that they are lying because their stories don’t match up.
Daniel is the one smart enough to realise that the priests of Bel have a secret passage into the temple and that is how they eat the sacrifices to the god, so he puts ashes on the ground of the temple and seals the temple so when Daniel and the emperor go into the temple the next day they see the footprints of the priest in the ashes on the temple floor.
It does give the impression that it is all about Daniel.
Daniel is this super hero, Daniel is amazing.
But we could never be Daniel.
It’s OK for Daniel to have faith in God.
But if we needed that faith then we wouldn't be smart enough or clever enough to do the right thing. That feeling that we are not good enough, or smart enough, or faithful enough, is not new.
The very first time I started training people to do worship, the most common phrase that I heard again and again and again from those being trained was...’I could never do that. I am not like you Jim.’
So we trained people up and they started doing services.
And then when we were looking again to train new people up the most common phrase I heard was...’I could never do that. I am not like Elaine, or Jim, or Caroline or...’ or any of the others who had been trained the first time.
Now here is my message of hope.
And it is not the message you think it is going to be.
Because I suspect you think my message is...’YOU CAN BE LIKE THEM...IF YOU HAVE FAITH.’
That’s not my message, because that is not the message of this passage.
The message of this passage is ‘Even when you don’t have faith, even when you don't have hope, God gives you someone.’
And the reason I say that is because of this guy Habakkuk.
Of all the unbelievable parts of the story, and remember this is a story with a fire-breathing dragon, the most unbelievable part of the story, is that an angel grabs this guy Habakkuk by the hair and takes him to Babylon to help Daniel.
And here is my message of hope...that is the most realistic part of the story. Because in my experience I have been Habakkuk and others have been Habakkuk to me.
Habakkuk is the guy who appears out of nowhere, appears when we expected no help, didn't see where help could come from, and yet they just appear, and give timely help.
I told the story last week of how I wandered round Alva and couldn't get anyone in so gave up trying to visit anyone and headed home and bumped into someone that just needed help at that moment.
And how I was open to that moment and that person needing help.
And the reason I was open to the idea that maybe God wanted me there at that moment for that person is because that type of incident has happened so many times before.
The first time I can remember it clearly happening was as a young minister in Castlemilk visiting the Victoria infirmary.
The first three people I tried to visit had been sent home. The last person was moved to another ward at the other end of the hospital.
When I got to the ward I asked if I could visit the woman and the nurse said she was sorry but I couldn’t. And I was expecting her to say because she had been sent home as well, but instead she said that it was because the consultant was talking to her. So I said I would wait and a woman in a neighbouring bed overheard this and asked if I was a chaplain, I said I wasn’t but I was a minister and I could talk to her while I was waiting. That was the visit that God wanted me to do that day, that was the person who needed help.
To that woman I had appeared out of nowhere, just when she needed it.
She hadn’t planned for God to help her, she had maybe hoped that God would help her but didn't expect God to help her...and yet there I was...Habakkuk, shoved by an angel to be in the right place at the right time.
But I have had Habakkuk happen to me.
Just before the holidays started I knew that I was going to lose my locum at Clackmannan, that would be an awful lot more work for me over there as I had to cover the pastoral care over there as well as Alva. What was worse I had to work out what to do with the Sunday services. I checked with a few retired ministers I know and they couldn't help and didn't know anyone who could.
Then someone happens to be passing Andrew’s garden and tells Andrew that he could help out my problem in Clackmannan.
That is how amazing God is. God knew there was no point in the guy passing by my garden because I would never be working in my garden. So God made sure that the guy passed by Andrew's garden so that he could pass the message on to me.
Here is what I believe...
I believe that when we are really struggling, God never leaves us alone.
But sometimes we are so struggling that we don't go to God for help, we are too caught up in the trouble to think straight. But God still doesn't leave us alone, and if he can’t work with us directly then he will work with us indirectly, God will put someone in our life to help.
We need to be aware of that and be open to that help.
Here is Daniel the hero, Daniel the smart one, Daniel the leader, and he can't help himself. And I imagine that with seven lions threatening to eat him he is a bit distracted. But God supplies his needs. God puts the people in his life that can help him.
Here is what I also believe...
God can use us as Habakkuk’s for others.
We need to be open to the possibility that occasionally we will find ourselves in a place with someone that needs our help. And we are the ones to help them.
It doesn’t need to be anything spectacular.
Habakkuk wasn’t expected to fight off lions, just give food.
We could do that, some of you already do that with the food-bank.
Supposedly child starvation is highest during the summer holidays because the children can’t get free school meals.
Some of you are making sure that doesn't happen here.
Often what God asks of us as Habakkuk’s isn't the spectacular stuff. He doesn't ask us to work out how to stop the bad guys, or disprove theologies of other religions, or even fight off dragons or giants. What God asks of us as Habakkuk’s is to be there, giving the basic help that people need; maybe a visit to the hospital, maybe a visit to a neighbour, maybe phoning a friend we haven't heard from for a whole, maybe giving someone a meal, maybe having a coffee with someone and listening to their problems.
It may not be much, but it may be what is needed.
Can you imagine what Daniel would have felt if Habakkuk had appeared and shouted to Daniel, ’Don’t worry I will carry on your work. I will blow up other dragon statues.’
Or Habakkuk had shouted down, ’Don’t worry. I will prove once and for all that Bel doesn't exist and have all their temples destroyed.’
Spectacular as that would have been, it wouldn’t have helped Daniel. Daniel needed practical, simple help.
This stranger appears and says, ‘Here is some food to sustain you.’
A simple act, yet one that brought true hope to Daniel.
Be open to the Habakkuk’s of the world.
Be open to the idea that God may want you to be a Habakkuk to someone else.
It may be one of the most important messages we need to hear.