In college I used my talents and knowledge of computer hardware and software to get a job working in the Computer Lab. It was a pretty lackluster job that involved mostly sitting down at a computer playing games, waiting for someone to come ask me for help. It was pretty uneventful most of the time. Then one day I was witness to something that really made me stop what I was doing and listen. At one of the terminals closest to the door, where everyone in the lab could see and hear them, a couple began to argue.
I said argue.. But in reality, she was apologizing as he consistently berated her and put her down. “You’re always doing this!” “I’m sorry.” “Why can’t you learn, you’re so stupid!” “I said I was sorry.” “I’ve had dogs smarter than you!” Followed by silent sobs. After about five minutes of this I scooted my chair back and began to stand up. I had heard enough. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do, I just knew that the blood was thumping in my ears and I was seeing red. He heard my chair moving and he stood up and waved his hands around the room, “We are with the psychology department and this is a performance designed to see how people would react to emotional abuse in a public setting.” She then stood up and began to pass out flyers asking us to fill them out. “How did you feel?” “Were you going to do something about it?” “If not, why?” “If so, why?” Etc.
Five minutes. I often wonder why it took me five minutes to even begin to respond. Was I scared I might get hurt? Did I not truly believe what I professed to believe? Was I just embarrassed that they were doing this in public? In the old testament reading for tomorrow Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were put to the ultimate test. King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they worship the image he had created. He wanted them to worship like everyone else. The other people were jealous of them and pointed out that they weren’t doing it. So the king had them brought before him and demanded that they follow suit, be like everyone else. They refused. In his rage he threw them into the fire. Then he was astonished to see not, 1.. Not 2.. Not even just 3… but 4 people dancing the in the fire unharmed. The fire was as hot as it could be, and yet they lived. The king was converted by their example.
Unlike me, and the many other students in that room, when push came to shove they stood up for their faith. They scooted back their chairs. Immediately. We in America have been waiting for our five minutes, our breaking point. Our nation has consistently eroded down the values, ethics, and moral stances until we are beginning to look like the sinful nations of old. While studying the Wisdom literature yesterday I came across this line: “[...]a nation ruthless[...] that has neither reverence for age nor tenderness for childhood.” (Baruch 4:15) Doesn’t that sound familiar? We see more and more of this in our own society. The devaluation of life, the encouragement for euthanasia and abortion, the constant ‘humor’ that laughs at the elderly and reduces parental figures to nothing more than punch lines.
How do we find the courage to stand up? The courage to push back our chairs and move toward the other? To use our words to bring back Lady Wisdom into our midst? Courage to walk into the burning furnace and trust in God’s provision.
Notice that about their prayer before being cast into the flames? “We have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” How much faith these three men had. “Thy will be done.” Just like Jesus in Gethsemane they prayed for deliverance, but trusted in God’s will. Even if it meant their death, even if it meant going into danger, they were not turning their back on their faith.
2473 Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus reminds us of that simple truth in the Gospel for the day. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were free, because they knew the truth. We can be free too. Not necessarily free from suffering. Not free from death. But free from an attachment to our own wants, free from the need to worry so much about our actions, free to choose good because of the nature of who we have become. That’s why we pray in the Our Father “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are asking God to help us let loose of those attachments that keep us bound here, and instead to trust in his provision.. Come what may.
We as Christians can and should be praying for things, for health, for provision. But God is not an ATM that we might enter the right code and get whatever we want. Suffering is a difficult thing. It’s not something we accept easily. It is though, something that can be used for the good of God. What would I do today if I heard this same interaction? I’d hope my chair would go back much faster… that others might see the God whom I serve in my actions, and in my words. How about you? Are you pushing your chair back and walking into the furnace? Are you ready for whatever God sends your way? Or are you still hunkering down in your chair hoping that it ends soon?
Today is March 15th, the Ides of March... we have the ability to stand up in our chair and head to the voting stands to make a difference... to vote for that candidate that best represents our faith, that has the best chance of bringing about the justice that we as Christians should crave. I'm not going to tell you who to vote.. but I encourage you get out of the chair and cast your ballot. Every time we go forward for the Eucharist, we are filled with the same power, the same deliverance that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced in that furnace. Are we willing to take that Eucharist power out into the world and let them see it? To dance in the fire with the creator of the universe and say "It doesn't matter what the outcome, I will do Your will Father!"? That's what living a Sacramental life is all about...
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”