Below is a draft of my sermon for December 3, the First Sunday of Advent, on the lesson from Daniel 3 in the Narrative Lectionary. The lesson is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
As I mention in my message, the inspiration and most of the message that I gave came from a sermon that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on November 5, 1967. A transcript of that powerful message was done by Austin Smith and is here. A recording of Rev. Dr. King's sermon is on YouTube and is embedded below.
Two of my attempts, which pale next to the message of Rev. Dr. King, are at the bottom of this post.
This lesson is a Sunday School classic. It has repetitions, strange and fun to say names, and comes to a conclusion with a moral.
But there is so much more to this, especially right in the middle of this story.
The leaders and prominent people from Jerusalem had been taken into exile in Babylon, and put to work in the Babylonian Empire. Among those are the three stars of this story: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar built a statue that everyone in Babylon was to worship when they heard the music play. Rivals reported to the king that these Israelites were refusing the bow and kneel to the king’s golden statue. When Nebuchadnezzar confronted them, they admitted to their crime, and were willing to pay the penalty.
When I started looking at this lesson and materials about it, I found a sermon delivered by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King in 1967. That sermon helped to shape my understanding of this lesson, and of what I have taken from it. I am going to read from part of that sermon now, and at other points in my message.
Rev. Dr. King said, “I want you to notice first, here, that these young men practiced civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the refusal to abide by an order of the government or of the state or even of the court that your conscience tells you is unjust. Civil disobedience is based on a commitment to conscience. In other words, one who practices civil disobedience is obedient to what he considers a higher law. And there comes a time when a moral man can not obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And I tell you this morning, my friends, that history has moved on, and great moments have often come forth because there were those individuals, in every age and in every generation, who were willing to say ‘I will be obedient to a higher law.’”
We lift up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as examples of people who literally stand up for the First Commandment. They will NOT worship another god. They refused to fall down. They refused to lie down. They refused to kneel.
Civil disobedience is a reaction to when you find the rules or laws or norms of society to be unacceptable. It is protesting and saying that I won’t do what you want me to. But realizing that rebellion comes with a cost. It may be taking an unpopular position and losing friends. It may separate or isolate you from your family. It may cost you job or livelihood. It may inflict physical violence against you. It may have you face criminal charges and jail time. It may cost you your very life.
It is a decision that people don’t enter into lightly. But it is one that when it is made, you don’t back down from. It is a statement of “Here I stand.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to die, being burned to death in a fiery furnace rather than worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. Yes, they were saved. But they were willing to die.
Rev. Dr. King said, “These men never doubted God and his power. As they did what they did, they made it very clear that they knew that God had the power to spare them; they said that to the king: ‘Now we know that the God that we worship is able to deliver us.’ And that grew out of their experience. They had known God, … And then they had seen God, I'm sure, in their personal lives. They never doubted God's power to deliver them.”
We say we trust God, but are we willing to bet our lives on God protecting us? Would you be willing to suffer a painful, agonizing death rather than falling to the ground at the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had faith. But they had something else.
Rev. Dr. King said, ”But let me move now to the basic point of the message. Know this morning, if we forget everything I've said, I hope you won't forget this. It came to the point after saying ‘If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’
‘But if not’ -- do you get that? That these men were saying that ‘Our faith is so deep and that we've found something so dear and so precious that nothing can turn us away from it. Our God is able to deliver us, but if not...’ This simply means, my friends, that the ultimate test of one's faith is his ability to say ‘But if not.’ You see there is what you may call an 'if' faith, and there is a 'though' faith. And the permanent faith, the lasting, the powerful faith is the 'though' faith. Now the 'if' faith says, "If all goes well; if life is … prosperous …; if I don't have to go to jail; if I don't have to face the agonies and burdens of life; if I'm not ever called bad names because of taking a stand that I feel that I must take; if none of these things happen, then I'll have faith in God, then I'll be alright." That's the 'if' faith. …
There is a 'though' faith, though. And the 'though' faith says ‘Though things go wrong; though evil is temporarily triumphant; though sickness comes and the cross looms, neverthless! I'm gonna believe anyway and I'm gonna have faith anyway.’ …
Think of friendship, think of love, and think of marriage. These things are not based on 'if,' they're based on 'though.' These great experiences are not based on a bargaining relationship, not an 'if' faith, but a 'though' faith.
Somewhere along the way you should discover something that's so dear, so precious to you, that is so eternally worthwhile, that you will never give it up. You ought to discover some principle, you ought to have some great faith that grips you so much that you will never give it up. Somehow you go on and say ‘I know that the God that I worship is able to deliver me, but if not, I'm going on anyhow, I'm going to stand up for it anyway.’
What does this mean? … If you're doing right merely to keep from going to … hell then you aren't doing right. If you do right merely to go to … heaven, you aren't doing right. … Ultimately you must do right because it's right to do right. And you got to say "But if not."
You must love ultimately because it's lovely to love. You must be just because it's right to be just. You must be honest because it's right to be honest. This is what this text is saying more than anything else.
And finally, you must do it because it has gripped you so much that you are willing to die for it if necessary. And I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren't fit to live.
You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause--and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you're afraid that you will lose your job, or you're afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you're afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! … You died when you refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you died when you refused to stand up for justice. …
Because they had faith enough to say "But if not," God was with them as an eternal companion. …
Somebody looked in there and said ‘We put three in here, but now we see four.’ Don't ever think you're by yourself. Go on to jail if necessary but you'll never go alone. Take a stand for that which is right, and the world may misunderstand you and criticize you, but you never go alone. …
The world will look at you and they won't understand you, for your fiery furnace will be around you, but you'll go on anyhow. But if not, I will not bow, and God grant that we will never bow before the gods of evil.”
The worlds of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King exactly five months before he was murdered for his stands are as true now as they were then. What cause, what wrong, what issue, what stand are you willing to fight on behalf of? Where will your faith take you where you are willing to say, "But if not"?
What greater good calls you to trust a greater God, willingly saying, "But if not"? For what will you take up your cross as did Our Lord, Jesus Christ? For what are you willing to lay down your life as did Our Lord, Jesus Christ?
May God give you the strength of your faith. AMEN.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
ONE in Christ
on Social Media
Our Savior's Facebook
Our Savior's / Emmanuel: 715-267-6142
Nazareth's Office: 715-229-2051
is at 8:00 a.m.
is at 9:30 a.m.
is at 11:00 a.m.