A Faith Like Fire . . . to Live in a World on Fire
Sermon, Pastor’s Appreciation Sunday, Silliman University Church, February 16, 2020
Ben S. Malayang III
TEXT: Daniel 3: 17-18; 25-27
Our worship today focuses on celebrating God’s blessings of men and women who are dedicated to nurturing our faith. It is through them – and because of their ministries of caring, and their dedication, and their leading – that we grow into becoming spiritually strong and competent to show to others the face . . . and the love . . . and justice . . . and joy . . . of God, in Christ.
LET US PLEASE PRAY: Be with us at this time, O Lord, that we may say only what you want said, and hear only what you want heared. Protect us from ourselves, from creating shadows in our worship that would darken your presence among us. Lead us, Lord, and lead us to rightly divide and handle your Word of Truth (II Tim 2:15) and make it like a two-edged sword that would pierce the joints and marrows of our souls and spirits, and judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). Let this be so at this time, Lord, for we pray in Christ’s name, Amen.
About two weeks ago, I listened to a deeply compassionate meditation by Pastor Mark Augusto. It was on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Pastor Mark reminded us gathered then, that even when confronted with a very real threat of being thrown into a burning furnace because they refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s molten god, these three did not renounce, but instead proclaimed, their faith on their Living God. Despite the threat of death, they held on to the God of Abraham and David, rather than be coerced to worship the idol of a king.
What happened at that time of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, continues to happen today. We still face the threat of being thrown into burning flames if we refuse to bow down to the many idols around us.
The angry flames come in many forms: loss of jobs, loss of opportunities, loss of friends, loss of loved ones, or the loss of our own life. When we refuse to yield and capitulate to the culture of corruption, we could lose our job and all that we have. When we refuse to kneel before the powerful and the influential, we could lose opportunities for advancement. When we hold on to integrity and do what we believe is good for many, we could lose friends and get maligned with falsehoods. When we refuse to betray our trusts and to compromise on what is right . . . we could lose even more.
And there are the blazing furnaces of nerve-wracking events that seem to burn down our expectations of an otherwise good and secure life. Congestions that choke our living spaces and dehumanize people. Contagions that we can’t seem to control and hold at bay. Conflagrations across continents. Soaring Celsius levels across the planet. A carbon culture that is blackening the lungs of the earth. These, too, are wicked flames that could burn down human civilization as we know it.
And these are only the familiar ones. There is the less familiar yet more pernicious blaze that burn down our faith. When we succumb to compromising what we believe in order to have more of what others have, our faith goes up into flames of sham and hypocrisy. When we’d rather please people and not God, we throw our faith into a fiery heap of pretension. When we’d rather betray our baptism to look good to others, we burn our faith into ashes of platitudinal piety.
And the consequences of all these would be terrible. We begin to make our lives messy. We begin living in spiritually draining conradictions. Our lives begin to drift without direction, and without meaning. Family life gets shallow and tumultuous. Friendships get superficial and troubling. Our souls are constantly being torn apart by the conscience-wracking knowledge that we really are not who we want others to believe we are. Our world explodes in fire and begins to burn down in front of us.
Everyday, the threat is real that we could get thrown into an ugly fire. But should this be a cause for despair?
Not to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They had faith that was itself aglow with with the gentle yet firm flames of hope and trust in God, that no angry furnace in the world, however big and blazing, could incinerate their conviction that God would be always with them and would never abandon them.
And so it was. Inside the flaming furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego remained unscathed and unburnt. And, yes, they were not alone. There was another one standing there with them, who, witnesses described, was “looking like God.”
This is the heart of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This is what God wants to tell us about it: we could survive any hellish heaps of burning malice, nastiness, venom, cruelty, and viciousness because Christ – the God with us – would be with us in the blaze.
Last Sunday, Pastor Wella said that when we find ourselves in the midst of trouble and despair, we struggle with the question: Why God? Where are you in this moment of pain? Pastor Wella was right. When our world seems to burst into a blazing inferno, we ask: “Why God, why do you cast us into these cruel flames?” “Why do you consign us into burning furnaces of pain and suffering?”
Shadrach, Meschach, and Abdenego had the answer: so that God could show to all and sundry that with the faith we have, even when small as a mustard seed, we would stand tall and unburnt in the fire, and, moreso, people would see God there with us in the fiery flames. And kings and emperors could be changed to worshipping the one and only true God.
This is where we could truly appreciate what our Pastors do, and all those who pastor us one way or another: our choir, worship leaders, elders, Sunday School teachers, Bible Study leaders, and all who instruct and inspire us to remain faithful to God. They are the ones who amid our daily preoccupations with the details of life, would take our hands . . . and lead us . . . into seeing the reality of Christ always with us in all and any circumstance. They are the ones who despite their own struggles in their personal lives, who also face many kinds of angry and cruel flames in their ministries, take the time, exert the patience, to help us see Christ standing with us when thrown into a scorching furnace of suffering and tests of our faith. They are the ones who nurture our personal and collective relationship with Christ to be always strong and steady like warm and soft flames of fireplaces in deep winter, so that – like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – we would stand confident that when cast to a fire, our God will be there with us, and so we shall never burn.
We appreciate what our Pastors do. And as we thank God for our Pastors, I invite you to please seek God’s guidance that in the spirit of constant worship, we, too, would be good pastors to our Pastors. It would be our highest form of gratuitude to God . . for our Pastors.
In Christ’s Name, I say, Amen.