Event Name Sermon given at Evensong on the Second Sunday before Advent 2016
Start Date 13th Nov 2016 3:00pm
Description

The Reverend Christopher Pullin, Canon Chancellor, Hereford Cathedral

Daniel walked into the lions’ den and wasn’t afraid. Plenty of other people were afraid it seems, but he wasn’t one of them. King Darius was afraid. He respected Daniel, but was trapped by a maliciously-manipulated system into having to condemn him to the lions. So afraid was he that Daniel would be killed, that he couldn’t sleep and then rushed to the lions’ den in the early morning to find out what had happened. The king’s advisers were afraid; afraid of the power and influence of Daniel the outsider; afraid of losing their own power because of him. People of minority faiths were afraid; unless they obeyed the command to stop worshipping their own gods and worshipped king Darius instead, they would be thrown to the lions. Plenty of people were afraid, but Daniel wasn’t one of them.

Why wasn’t Daniel afraid? It seems to me – and the story bears it out – that he had a positive, visionary, and courageous spirit in his heart; and one name for that spirit is ‘the fear of the Lord’. So while others were consumed with negative fears, Daniel was inspired by a positive fear, the fear of the Lord, which Scripture calls ‘the beginning of wisdom,’ a gift that fills us with a supreme respect for God, and makes us dread turning from him. ;The fear of the Lord is the honouring of God in everything, seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness, loving his ways above all else.

The second reading we heard, the Parable of the Sower, helps us see clearly how Daniel, or anyone who sincerely fears the Lord, should be. Those who fear the Lord in a visionary spirit of love become the good, fertile soil in which the Word of the Lord takes root and grows well and bears a rich harvest. They’re not complacent about life so that they think the Word of the Lord is for the birds; neither are they people who, like the rocky soil, can’t sustain commitment, with the Word of the Lord simply withering in their presence; nor are they people whose busyness and projects and self-absorption never allow space for that Word to grow and bear any fruit.

Daniel is a person who shows us what good soil is about. While all those around him were driven by fears of different sorts, Daniel was motivated by something completely different: the fear of the Lord; that desire to set God ;to set the love of God ;at the centre of life.

Now the readings we’ve heard may seem strange ones for Remembrance Sunday. But it seems to me that  there’s a lot of fear around today; fear that the world is changing uncertainly, and fear that the  alliances, structures and understandings that have been the foundation for peace among European nations and their allies for the last seventy years are being broken down. We who weren’t born at the time honour the dead of the World Wars ever more ostentatiously and emotionally while at the same time sleepwalking away from what the people who survived those wars created to secure a lasting peace. These are troubling times, divided times. Yes, there’s a whole range of complex issues and agendas being fought over, and it would be amazing if we all agreed on everything; but the sense of polarization, of societies dividing, of hurt, of bitterness, of an unwillingness to listen to or to respect other points of view, to undermine the reputation of experts and belittle the rule of law, is something that makes many fearful ;even, more fearful because others don’t see that there’s anything to be fearful about.

What can a Christian person do in the midst of this lions’ den?

A friend of mine was chaplain in a high security prison; it could be a dangerous and frightening place. There was a group of high-profile prisoners there who maintained that they were innocent, and he supported them and their appeals for justice. They were innocent people living in a lions’ den. In the end – after sixteen years – they were acquitted and released. I asked him how he was so sure all along that they really were innocent. “Because they had an unshakeable integrity about them,” he said, “that’s how you know in prison.”

To live in the fear of the Lord, like Daniel, is to live with integrity; and in a frightened and divided world people of integrity need to bring forth a harvest of justice, mercy, peace and love in their lives.

With the Parable of the Sower in our minds we can ask of ourselves whether we are people of spiritual integrity. Are we, for instance, people who simply follow the well-trodden path in our day and age and ask no questions? If we’re happy simply to go on beating that path with millions of others who just follow the way of the world and never ask where it’s going, then the Word of the Lord – the good news of a liberating Gospel – will simply bounce off us like seeds on the hard ground, to be eaten by the birds. We have to examine our lives. Do I just go along with the way of the world? Do I take the line of least resistance in my thoughts and words and deeds? -- Or are we people who like the idea of Christ’s Gospel, but never do anything about it in practice? Stony ground in which nothing ever lives long. So if they came to arrest me for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me? I have to ask myself this. -- And then, what about my priorities, because these can simply stifle and choke faith: do I make projecting my own image more important than cultivating the image of God within me? Do I try to make the world revolve around me instead of myself being centred upon God?

We have to be honest with ourselves about questions like these – they’re all questions about whether, like Daniel, we live with the fear of the Lord as our wisdom, having such integrity that we can be true to God and true to ourselves in the midst of a den of lions; such integrity as can be the soil in which justice, mercy, peace and love are able to bear fruit in a fearful and divided world.

© 2017 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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