Monday, September 30, 2013


Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; St. Michael and All Angels C, Sept. 29, 2013

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Daniel is a beloved prophet from the Old Testament. We fondly remember when he watched his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survive the fiery furnace. He interpreted visions and survived being thrown into the lion’s den. We have heard the stories from the beginning of the book of Daniel, but we rarely hear of the intense visions and prophesies that Daniel received later in life.
These are harder to hear because they are not light, comical stories with obvious messages. Instead, these visions of Daniel are deeply complicated, describing the intense political atmosphere in which the Israelites lived. Ever since Israel fell from power in the fifth century BCE, they had been handed between the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Persians, and the Greeks.
The first two empires took the Israelites from their land and made them practice new customs. Then, under Persian rule, the Israelites were able to return. They were able to rebuild their country and their religious customs. Then, when the Greeks took over, the Israelites were punished again. It is in this context that Daniel prophesies to the people of Israel.
This is Daniel’s story: In the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel, the archangel Gabriel appears to Daniel and gives him a grim prophecy, describing the future desolation of the Israelites. In despair, Daniel goes into mourning. For three weeks, he does not eat any rich food prepared for him. He does not eat meat or drink any wine. He only eats the simple fare of peasants. Daniel also covers himself in sackcloth and ashes. As he grieves for what might become the Israelites, he wanders around. When he comes to the Tigris River, he sees a vision. (Daniel 9:20-10:4)
Daniel could see a man wearing a linen tunic and a gold belt. This man, although human in appearance, is clearly not human. This man’s skin is like a precious stone, his face brighter than lightning, and fire shines in his eyes. His arms and legs gleam like polished bronze. When he speaks, this man’s voice sounds like a multitude speaking at once. Clearly, this man is a messenger from God, an angel from the Lord’s host. This is not the archangel Michael but one sent to tell Daniel about Michael. (Daniel 10:5-7)
The people near this angel cannot see him, yet they can sense an ominous presence. They leave in fear even though they know not what they flee from. Only Daniel can see God’s messenger. Weakened by seeing this creature of God, Daniel’s legs buckle and he falls to the ground. When this angel begins to speak, Daniel falls into a trance, his face toward the ground. (Daniel 10:8-9)

Here is where our lesson starts. This angel touches Daniel on his shoulder and helps him get onto his hands and knees. Then the angel tells Daniel to pay attention because he has something really important to say. Then he tells Daniel to rise to his feet. Although still shaky and scared, Daniel does get up and stand before this messenger of God. (Daniel 10:10-11)
Then the angel says, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. The Lord has heard your many prayers and watched you humble yourself. Because of your diligence, the Lord has sent me to you. My journey was delayed because of a heavenly battle, yet I put Michael the angelic prince of Israel in charge for me. I am here now to tell you what is to come.” (Daniel 10:12-14)
Daniel is speechless after hearing these words. He bows his head, unable to respond. Then the angel touches Daniel’s lips, giving him the strength that he needed to talk to this angel. Daniel says, “Sir, I am weak from the stress of my visions. How can I talk to you? I cannot control my shaking. My body is so weak I can barely stand. I am worn out emotionally from the intensity of my visions.” (Daniel 10:15-17)
Then the angel touches Daniel again and gives him the physical and emotional strength that he so desperately needs. The angel says, “Do not fear, beloved, for you are safe. Be strong and courageous! I must now return to the battle above, but you must know what is inscribed in the book of truth.” Then this messenger of God continues his prophecy, describing how the nations on this earth will rise and fall, triumphing over one just to be conquered by another. (Daniel 10:18-11:45)

Nearing the end of these ages of conquest, Michael, the great prince and protector of Israel, will arise. The peoples of the world will suffer bitterly unlike anything they have experienced before. Yet, Israel will be delivered from this mess of life, indeed all of Israel including those who are already dead. The Lord will raise everyone for a time of judgment, some to everlasting life and others to everlasting disgrace. “But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those bringing many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever. [Dan. 12:3, NET]” (Daniel 12:1-3)
            Daniel then looks away from this angel to see two other angels, one on each side of the Tigris River. One angel asks another, “How long until this entire prophecy is completed?” The first angel replies with a few different predictions. Speaking to Daniel one last time, God’s messenger tells him, “But you, go on to the end; you shall rest, and arise to your destiny at the end of the days. [Dan. 12:13, TNK]" (Daniel 12:4-13)
This is Daniel’s story. This is how he heard about the end of the world and how the archangel Michael will play a part in it. In these prophesies, we hear the deepest words of hope. Here, we listen to a messenger of God talk of the resurrection of the dead for the first time in the Hebrew Scriptures. This angel tells us that those who fall asleep and die will awake at the time of judgment. At that time, the people of Israel will be granted salvation. Then, we will finally fully enjoy the presence of God. The people of Israel will be restored to their glory found in God, and we will join them.
The angel tells us that at the time of judgment, all will be well. We will be restored to life with God. That is not the only reason why this passage gives us hope. Yes, someday we will be reunited with all who have died, and we will live eternally with God. But the greatest hope that we hear in Daniel is that no matter which country is ruling over us, God’s reign is eternal. No matter who is our ruler on earth, God is our king in heaven.
We are not alone in our fight against evil because the battle against Satan rages on in heaven. Michael is the prince of Israel and the leader of the war. No matter how helpless we might feel against systems of oppression, God is at work fighting alongside us and for us.

So, what can we do in the face of cosmic battles over which we have no control? We can trust God. We trust that God is doing the work necessary to bring us to everlasting life. We trust that when we are at our weakest, God will give us the courage to keep on the path of faith. Someday, we will hear God say to us, “But you, go on to the end; you shall rest, and arise to your destiny at the end of the days. [Dan. 12:13, TNK]" May it indeed be so. Amen.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall Conference

Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon, I was at the Tri-Synodicial Fall Conference where clergy from all three Iowa synods, Southeastern, Northeastern, and Western, gathered together to worship, fellowship, and study. The theme for our gathering was “GOSPEL ETHICS ROOTED IN THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS.” The event was held in West Des Moines.


            The first evening was all about fellowship. We ate dinner at Faith Lutheran in Clive.  Then we had some fun with our bishops during a hilarious round of Jeopardy. Of course, Bishop Burk had the best sense of humor! (Even though Bishop Preus won with 0 points.) After our laughs subsided, then we joined for evening prayer. This reflective time of candlelit prayer guided our time with God. Finally, we split into our synods. Bishop Burk told us about the prayer concerns in our synod. The entire evening was a great mix of old friends and new friends, of good laughs and peaceful contemplation.


            The second day of the conference was another full day. After a brief devotional, we listened to Dr. Per Anderson. His main emphasis was on forming a “community of moral deliberation,” a fancy way of saying that congregations need to discuss important ethical questions. Dr. Anderson also shared a study about the millennial generation. This study had very negative results, and the young pastors in the room, including me, were offended by his remarks. I won’t go into that here.

            The second lecture was by Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda. She talked about different perspectives on neighbor love, including references from Martin Luther and the Bible. Clearly, our love for our neighbors is rooted in God’s love for us and expressed in many levels of society. Christ has freed us from death which also frees us to love our neighbors. Dr. Moe-Lobeda showed us how we have suffered and benefited from injustice in our own society. We all became a bit uncomfortable as we thought about all of the injustices that we benefit from. For example, many of the pastors attending the conference have mutual funds that benefit from companies that offer undervalued wages.

            After Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s lecture, we had a three-course lunch in the hotel. I sat with a variety of pastors from all three synods. We shared many of our greatest joys and challenges in ministry.

            Then Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson spoke. He was refreshingly honest and real with us. As he talked about his joyful opportunities as presiding bishop, his eyes filled with tears. He clearly was honored to give twelve years of his life to the ELCA as presiding bishop, and we were honored to have him among us. We gave him standing ovations when he was introduced and when he was finished with his message, which was a small way of us sharing our gratitude for his ministry. 

            We had quite a bit of free time in the afternoon, followed by worship. This Eucharist service was quite special, full of special music, a powerful sermon by Bishop Hanson, and communion. We could truly feel the Holy Spirit moving among us.



            In the morning, we shared devotions before Dr. Anderson lectured again. This time, he refrained from talking at length about young adults, for which I was grateful. Instead, he talked about contextual ethics and how we can help change the world through big and small actions. Even if we can’t make a big difference among institutions or the corporate world, how we interact at home and in church can influence those around us. By being careful about what we purchase, how we speak, and what we do, we can be counter-cultural.

            Then Dr. Moe-Lobeda lectured about systemic sin and what we can do about it. As always, whatever we do is deeply rooted in our relationship with God. Faith in God in Christ Jesus gives us the hope to make a difference. And through the Holy Spirit, we might find the courage to show God’s love to our neighbors.

            Finally, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Moe-Lobeda answered any last questions from the gathered clergy. We closed with one last time of worship, and we grabbed our lunches and left.

            All in all, I had a wonderful time at this conference. I had great conversations with pastors that I knew and those I didn’t. I heard some wonderful speakers that challenged my way of thinking of the church. I tatted two crosses and reflected on my time at Zion. Most important, I worshipped the Lord with my colleagues in ministry.