Enduring Change

Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more Vegetarians?

There’s plenty of science that’s proven that we’re healthiest when we’re active, and when we eat lots of fruits and vegetables, right?

Ever since I can remember, teachers have been telling me that I should eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and get plenty of exercise if I want to be healthy.

We’ve even just heard a good, biblical basis for eating only vegetables and water.

So why aren’t there more Vegetarians?

It’s better for you, you’ll lose weight, and according to Daniel, you’ll be healthier, better looking, and more fit!  Who wouldn’t want these benefits?

Me, apparently!

When I go to the doctor, one of the things he usually says is that I should probably lose some weight.

It’s not that we don’t know what we need to know about things like diet and exercise to be healthier people.

It’s that change is hard.

We like meat, and most of us are comfortable eating the kind of food we’ve always eaten.

Most of us won’t change something as basic as ‘how we eat’ until we’re forced to.

So there are two types of change I’d like to talk about this morning, and both are summed up in my sermon title “Enduring Change”.

…(I love words that end in “ing”, because for the most part, they can be used as either verbs or adjectives.  And this time I meant both when I chose my sermon title.)

The first kind of change I wanted to talk about is the kind of change you endure.

It’s the kind of change you ‘grin and bear’…you’d rather not go through with something, but it’s really not up to you, so you endure it.  And often it will lead to the second kind, which is “enduring change” as in the kind of change that lasts…that endures.

And Daniel is a really good place to start with this, because it’s a book about exile.

And if anything symbolizes change that is both endured and enduring…it’s exile.

…The first two verses of this chapter set the scene…only they don’t give a whole lot of detail.

Basically, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem.
This was back in the day when cities had walls around them for protection.

Jerusalem had this wall that went around the city, and there would have been gates here and there so people could come and go during peaceful times, and they could be closed during an attack to protect the inhabitants.

So what happened during a seige, was that an army like Babylon could come against a city, and they would attack the city, and then they would just camp out all around the city, and wait.
There was more to it than that…obviously…but when a city was under seige, you were a lot better off being outside the wall than inside.

You were a lot better off laying seige…rather than being seiged.
Because while you were inside the city walls, food would eventually start to run out, disease might start to spread, and there was literally nowhere to run.

The wall that had been meant to protect you, it could be used against you just as easily.

Meanwhile, the army that was beseiging your city; they were healthy and strong.  They could hunt for food, they could train, and they could rest.

They could build seigeworks…there are stories about these earthen ramps being built outside a city…instead of breaking down a wall, they would just mound dirt up to the top of the wall until they could walk right over it.  A seige could last for months or even years.

When the Bible talks about being surrounded by your enemies…it was a very literal thing; a very scary thing.

And what Nebuchadnezzar did after the seige, was carry off the population.

Not all of them, but definitely the best and the brightest, he carried off to Babylon in a couple of waves.

Daniel was among these captive people who had witnessed their wall being used against them.

He was forced to accept this change of events, and he was carried off to Babylon.

Jerusalem; the city that defined these people…was laid waste.
The religion that sustained them; that had given them hope to lean on throughout so much of their history…it had vanished when it seemed they needed it most.

Nebuchadnezzar defiled not only their land; but also their religion.

He took the temple vessels…the instruments that guided their very worship…and put them in his palace, in the treasury devoted to his gods.

Other gods.

More powerful gods.

Surely if there was a God to be mocked, it was the God of Israel…the God of Daniel.

For he couldn’t turn away the seige.

He did not provide for his people.

He did not protect them.

Babylon was stronger than this cult and its God.

Can you start to see what an unwelcome change this marked in the life of Israel?

Land and Religion…in most of the world today, just like in ancient times, those two things are all that really matter in life.
The land sustains the body.  The religion sustains the rest.
Land and Religion are the two most important things any community could ever possess.

Identity, livelihood, protection, motivation…culture, art, you name it.

Chances are, land and religion have influenced it.

And in one fell swoop, the people…Israel…had lost it all.

They were no longer in the promised land.  They no longer had a temple.

All they had was their memories and their songs.

So it comes as no surprise to hear the Psalmist say “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

So…that covers the first two verses!

But I haven’t gotten to the good stuff yet!  

See, we’ve all got these walls that we build.  We can call them ‘boundaries’ if that makes it feel better.

We’ve all got clearly defined edges…who’s in and who’s out.  How we know friend and foe.

We have walls as individuals and we have them as a community of faith, too.

And these walls, or boundaries…they’re not bad!

If there’s one thing they teach you when you study social work like I did…it’s that you need clear boundaries when you’re working with people.  It’s a lesson that’s been helpful for pastoring, too.

Being clear about who gets into your life and who doesn’t is a good thing.  Being clear about our boundaries as a church; what’s acceptable behavior, what’s expected from people, and all that kind of stuff…these are boundaries that we set.

Some of them are formal, some aren’t…but every group of people has boundaries, and every individual has boundaries as well.

They’re like lines that define who you are, and who you are not.
But as good and useful as walls are…they can also trap us, both as individuals and as a community.

See, when we care more about maintaining our walls than we do about the God who led us out of captivity in the first place…when we care more about a last name than a first name when we greet someone new…when our sense of comfort and convenience and security outweigh our sense of God’s will in a given situation…these are signs that maintaining our wall has become too important.

When that happens, it has to come down.

And often, the only way a wall like that comes down is when it’s attacked.

You or I…we’re never going to dismantle the walls we’ve spent our whole lives building and maintaining.

We have too much invested.

So…if they need to come down, they need to be attacked.

Daniel was one of many who were carried off to Babylon in one of the darkest moments in Israel’s history.  They lost everything that was important to them.

But the amazing thing is, that God was in Babylon.  He is not tied to the land like we are.

I think that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians, saying “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:  everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  For God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us!

For wherever we are; we are ambassadors of Christ!  God is making his appeal through us…even in Babylon…even to us THROUGH Babylon!

Sometimes it takes the stranger, the alien…the enemy…in order for us to encounter our own monstrosity.  We wish exile upon no-one…but at the same time, we know we are in it.

For this is not our home.

Seek the peace of this city…this world…for we are citizens of the New Jerusalem; the Heavenly city of God, we are ambassadors for change in this foreign land, and we have the message of the Love of God, expressed through Christ, and these fragile jars of clay in which to carry it.

May you receive this benediction as I close;

May your walls come down…as peaceably as possible.

May the Loving, Merciful, and Compassionate God emerge victorious as He lays seige to the defenses you have erected.

And may you surrender to the enduring change that comes
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Amen.  

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