Fighting Besides Angels and Archangels


Biblical Text: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3 Revelation 12:7-12, Luke 20:17-20 (Appointed texts for St. Michael and All Angels
Full Sermon Draft

The texts are apocalyptic. The day is a rarely celebrated Festival of the church. The last time it might have crossed out consciousness is 2002 – the last time September 29th was on a Sunday. What do these things have to say to us?

I’ve got three points:
1) “Worlds” rise and fall, are born and die. We can mark the time, and toward the dying phase that is what we do because we are avoiding the all too apparent appointed time. The apocalyptic is give to God’s people to capture that sense of a world ending and at the same time remind us that the new creation is just as much God’s as the old. The apocalyptic is solely meant to comfort God’s people. He’s got it all in his hands.

2) The instanced of dying and rising, from our personal experiences all the way to the death of civilizations (and the feelings of exile), are portents of the final rising. On that final day all will rise one last time. A people confident of such can celebrate in the midst of death, and can fast or just mark time when the world is decadently feasting.

3) Sometimes seduced by the utilitarian and material world that has flattened everything we forget where our real strength comes from. We can pound our heads against material walls when the true war is spiritual. Our only true spiritual weapon is prayer. The angels of God, as they tell Daniel, are dispatched by the word through prayer.

A Picture of the Kingdom – Psalm 128

Psalms BonhoefferWe’ve been studying the Psalms. Originally following Bonhoeffer’s little book, but breaking off toward the end to look at a couple of Psalms of the day or those incorporated into the introit. But I’ve been casting around for a way to wrap up the study. For the one group I settled on the Songs of Ascent.

The Songs of Ascent were sung as you went up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage feasts. You have one scriptural picture of such a pilgrimage in the story of the 12 year old Jesus in the temple in Luke 2:41-52. There are a bunch of psalms so labeled right around number 128. And we imagined their catechetical use in the vein of Deuteronomy 6:7. Instead of answering “are we there yet?” and “how much further?” questions (although I sure those came up as well), as you walked by the way Dad might say Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD. And there are all kinds of questions that could be asked or suggested. We happened to look at what does ‘to fear’ mean in class, but what does blessed mean or who is included in everyone are just two others off the top of my head. Son, what do you think the blessing of the LORD looks like? Then sing the rest of the psalm and it answers the question.

Psalm 128:1-6
A Song of Ascents.
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.

The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!

The blessing of the Lord is: 1) peace, 2) useful and profitable labor, 3) Fruitful family life, 4) Good times for the people of God. Son, if you want to walk in the way of the Lord and live a good life, seek these things.

One of the things that I brought up was to what extent does that describe now and to what extent is the psalmist calling for the coming kingdom? Bonhoeffer’s key thought remember is that the psalms are OT prayers that reflect the Lord’s Prayer. And one of the points, taken by the class to greater or lessor degrees, was eating the fruit of the labor of your hands. My grandfather did this explicitly. He was so blessed. But this is something that at least from my perspective has been disappearing from our society. It is not even the goal often anymore. The goal is more to find a place to erect a toll booth or game the system by taking pieces of the labor of others. This is not a criticism of real capitalism. The trader buying for x and selling for y performs labor of either transport, discovery or just taste. It is a criticism of taking from x to give to y. If y is poor and needy, x should be moved to Christian charity. But to have z take from x, while taking a slice for himself ever bigger, in the name of y is not a blessing. And it eventually erodes that first blessing of peace as x, y and z all queue up to argue instead of doing useful and profitable labor. This can be fulfilled here to a greater or a lessor extent, but its true fulfillment is in the New Jerusalem. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Pastor Wilson looks at the effects of this in a “News this morning” way by way of Cyprus. A perfect example of not eating the fruit of your labor but losing peace arguing over other people’s labor.

Then the Cyprus debacle happened. The European Union demanded that bank accounts in Cyprus take “a haircut” in exchange for the next bailout, though they are now signaling “flexibility” on the issue because their stealing appeared to be stealing to too many people. We shall see what happens. I suspect that flexibility simply means slippery. Now bank accounts used to be private property, pure and simple, but not any more — whatever happens.

And you probably don’t need to be reminded that the money that was going to be used to bail out Cyprus was money that was stolen from somebody else, oh, weeks ago, and so we will not let that detain us. So the Cypriots wanted this bailout, see, paid for by some German sap or other, and they had a bunch of plump bank accounts of their own just sitting there. What did you expect?

When you attempt to govern a society of thieves with an elite corps of thieves trying to manage the whole affair, sooner or later a fight is going to break out over the swag. We are probably past the point of no return, and Europe most certainly is.

Ethical Subroutines

The picture nearby is the old Philosophy of Ethics standby. Do you pull the switch? What right do you have to pull/not-pull the switch?

This article from the New Yorker takes a look at a modern twist on that story. I think I’ve linked to the Google driver-less car before. Its a neat project and further along than we might think. Driver-less cars will become standard within my lifetime most likely. What ethical subroutine do you program in? A cat jumps out in front of the car. Does the robot driver swerve at risk to the passengers or just go bump? What do you do? Make it harder. A child runs out in the street. There is no way to stop the car. Does the robot driver crash the car injuring the passenger? What if there are three passengers? Remember that the robot driver’s decision making is much faster than a human. The human might not have time to react. The robot does. What kind of ethical subroutine do you program? Who gets to choose? GM? Toyota? IPAB?

And those might be easy compared to the real end game. All those drones that the US is using to kill foreigners and create all kinds of collateral damage…just the first wave. The drones have humans controlling them at all times. We can argue about the ethics of drones, but if we don’t like how they are used we can vote in new administrations. What happens when the US replaces the big red one with the droid army? Robot soldier in an insurgent environment like say Afghanistan. What are the ethics to be programmed in a situation where jihadist and child could both be coming around the corner?

How do you teach ethics to a machine? How do we teach them to our kids? How were they taught in the past? Right now the default switch on all of that stuff is Utilitarianism. And machines can be strict utilitarians unlike most humans who are only so in the abstract. Religion doesn’t boil down to ethics, but ethics has until the enlightenment project been seen as a subset of religion. We are entering a world where religion-less ethics are being encoded. Are you hopeful about that?

The Handwriting on the Wall – Chrysler and GM and Us

Daniel 5:1-12 (The setup)
Daniel 5:13-30 (The reveal)

The title of this post is a phrase you hear in English, often shortened to the writing’s on the wall as in the writing’s on the wall for Chrysler and GM. The implication is that the end is near and that it is obvious for everyone but those very close to the party.

The source is Daniel. The new Neo-Babylonian King is having a party and commanded that all the stuff from Solomon’s temple be brought to it. They proceed to use it for debauchery. A ghostly hand appears and writes on the wall. This is obviously not a good sign, but nobody in the court can read the message.

The queen, who for some reason wasn’t at the debauchery, reminds the new king that Nebuchanezzer had someone who was good at this stuff – Daniel. Daniel appears and tells the King: 1) Your days are numbered, 2) You have personally been found wanting and 3) Your kingdom is going to fall. Daniel reaps the reward as “3rd ruler in the kingdom”, but the kingdom falls that night as the king was was slain.

As sinful humans we have an amazing capacity to not read the handwriting. I’d bet old Daniel wouldn’t have even needed the words on the wall to deliver that message. God drops us notes all the time in our lives. Coincidences might be one of those notes. If there is a personal God who cares about his people and the world, don’t you think he’d send a warning or a wake-up call every now and then? Now if he just sent an angel, or the hand appeared every time, it wouldn’t exactly be our actions. But the next time you hear a sermon that you think is aimed at you, or your mother calls at just the right time, or you find yourself talking with an old friend you haven’t contacted in years, ask yourself – is the handwriting on the wall for something? What might God be trying to say?

Catching Up with Daniel

Daniel 2:31-49 (Image of Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron, Clay)
Daniel 3:1-18 (Image of God – Fiery Furnace 1)
Daniel 3:19-30 (Fiery Furnace 2)
Daniel 4:1-18 (The King’s new dream)
Daniel 4:19-27 (Daniel’s Interpretation & Plea for repentance)
Daniel 4:28-37 (Fulfillment of the dream)

Those were the readings in Daniel since I last posted (Sorry, Ethan Isaiah is too cute). I have to be truthful, I am absolutely stuck as to what the heck Daniel 4 is doing in the book. But, Dan 2 and 3 are staples. If you have read any of the popular end of the world books Daniel 2 or the image usually appears in them. And this image is also at the center of scholarly debate. Ask any scholar what the legs of iron represent and you have a pretty good litmus test for that person’s view of scripture. The person with a high view of scripture will probably answer Rome. That person assumes that the Book was written in the late 500s BC and has no problem with predictive prophecy. Others would probably answer Greece. They deny predictive prophecy and so the last empire/section of the image has to the one in power at the supposed time of writing. They would answer Daniel was written in 164 BC, becuase Daniel describes events up until that time, and so the empire must be Greece.

But all of that is to miss the real important piece. A rock, not made from human hands, destroys the image and covers the entire world. God sets up His kingdom that will not be overcome but will overcome the kingdoms and empires of the world. Deep in the OT we hear the proclamation of the Gospel. The kingdom of God is coming and all before it will be swept away. Those ancient empires are long gone. Even the empires of the east have fallen. And the gospel message of Christ has been growing and has been proclaimed around the globe. Empires have risen and empires have fallen – empires of gold (excuse my bias but the British Empire was pretty golden) to Empires of mixed Iron and Clay (WW2 Germany, Italy, Japan). The message of the church still stands and grows. Don’t worship the empire (the image), but worship Christ the Rock on which the church stands.

The Impossible Request

Text: Daniel 2:1-30

When I was working in corporate America one of our major activities was fielding the impossible request. When I worked the impossible request was always a balancing of three items: usually increase unit revenue, increase unit gross profit and do that without impacting cross unit sales. All sales were cross unit, so there was always another internal group involved. Getting two out of three was easy. We could always increase our revenue by raising price and the %GP would go up also, but that would hurt ancillary sales. We could raise revenue (by selling more widgets) and leave the other units untouched by taking a hit to our %GP (The revenue per widget was less). We could even leave the other units untouched and raise our %GP by raising price accoss the board (the demand curve was not that elastic), but then our total revenue would decline. We always eventually ended up in “come to Jesus” meetings where the total deal was skinned and the cross unit executives stopped being parochial and had a heart warming kum-bah-yah moment each giving up what they could at the moment. But until that moment, the internal fighting was brutal. We would spend 80 hour weeks making up arguments for why we should get the bigger portion. Just scheduling the meeting was “giving up your side” and no deal could be made until the end of the quarter anyway.

The King of Babylon has a dream and he tells his advisors tell me and interpret my dream. What? How can we know what you dreamed? An impossible request. And this guy is serious as heads were on the line. Daniel and his friends pray, and God reveals the dream. Notice who Daniel gives the credit too and what he tells the king. Nobody here can grant your request. But there is a God who can and has given us the revelation. Daniel confronts the King and tells him this is from God. This guy is fearless. That is not how humans work. But Daniel is not ultimately serving humans. He is a minister to the King, but he serves God first.

In many ways that is God’s impossible request. He says live in the world, but don’t be of it. And we botch that all the time. But, Jesus Christ lived in this world. God lived among us, but he did the will of his Father. Jesus didn’t grab for the glory first. That is what Satan offered him at the start of the Gospels. Jesus lived in this world to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will. Daniel is an OT shadow of that service. Jesus is the fulfillment to for our benefit.


Text: Daniel 1:1-21

The old testament readings in the daily reading series just started to take us through the book of Daniel. Since it is now after Easter, I hope to get back on track with these posts and a new book seems like a good place to start. Daniel is also one of the names if it is a boy we might use for our expected baby. Daniel as a book is also one of the most critically challenged books, at the same time having some of the highest homage paid to it by Jesus himself. Jesus quotes from it in Matt 24:15. Jesus also takes the name he calls himself – The Son of Man – from Daniel 7:13-14. All those seem to be good reasons to take a devotional look at Daniel.

Daniel is a book of opposites. It has the sunday school staples of the firey-furnace, the lion’s den and the infamous source of the phrase “the writing on the wall”. Daniel also has apocalypic visions that are opaque and not used in Sunday School. The book itself is composed in two languages – Hebrew and Aramaic. The stidently Jewish Daniel is the star of the Babylonian court. The typical jewish attitude toward gentile rulers is absent and instead these Easter Emperors are the servants of God. Those gulfs in the book stradle to today. Critical scholars want to date the book to the 2nd century BC. Traditional dating is the 6th century BC. That 400 year gap is larger than even the gap between a traditional dating of the exodus and the alternative timeline. A book of opposites.

The opening is of four children of Jewish nobility being instructed out of their tradition while in exile. They get new names. They learn new languages and alphabets, and they are expected to eat the finest the court has to offer (probably pork.) But instead of swallowing it all, the four are graced by God. They adapt to the profitable and reject the dangerous. They maintain their idenity in the face of what surely looks like the better and wiser path. And they maintain that identity while not rejecting or scorning the good of the gentile kingdom. This is something God has ordained. They will not worship the kingdom, or follow its ways, but they will support it with the best they have been blessed with. In Jeremiah’s words they pray for the wellbeing of the place they have be exiled to.

Is that not the same situation of many Christian children today? After being brought up in the faith, they are exiled away from parents and supporting people to a university – a place surrounded by all the wonderful good things that this kingdom has to offer. New knowledge, new languages, new foods and the opportunity to put on a new identity. I’m at a loss to pull a solution from the passage as it just says that Daniel resolved not to assimilate. Daniel asked those is charge to eat the Jewish diet. And God graced Daniel with understanding teachers and gave him learning and skill and wisdom. Maybe the idea is prayer and preparation. Preparation in that it is a parents job to teach a child and form in them a sense of identity. Prayer in that once that formation is finished, you pray for God’s grace to sustain them. No magic bullet. Just years of work followed by years of prayer.