Weekly Sermons

Weekly Reflections for Sunday Morning Worship Sharing
at the Meetinghouse and via Zoom

SUNDAY, February 4, 2024

Sermon on the Mount Series #3 

(Links to #1, #2 at end of reflection) 

 
In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.        Psalm 118:5
 
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourningand a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.          Isaiah 61:1-3
 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.     Matthew 5:4
 
Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.   
II Corinthians 4:16,17
 
Blessed are Those Who Mourn….
 
When I was younger, I was often intrigued by the number of senior citizens in the churches of which we were a part who would tell us they subscribed to the local newspaper primarily to be able to read the obituary section in each edition.  Some of them would joke that “I do it to make sure I wasn’t in there.”  Now that I’m told I am one of those senior citizens, I guess I understand them a bit better.  Many of the people whose deaths were reported in those obituary columns were their peers, acquaintances of their generation.  The routine of scouring those obituaries and remembering those people was an act of mourning the loss of something valuable – friends, neighbors, life itself.
 
When Pam and I arrived in southern Sudan in 1985 to work in a United Nations refugee project, we were housed in a compound that had been built for a European road construction company on the outskirts of a small city.  That city had no electrical grid, no water or sewer system, no phone system, and (obviously) no newspaper.  We soon learned, however, that there was a communications network in place to alert residents that someone had died.  In such a remote place with little medical care available, lots of tropical illnesses, and a rebel insurgency underway, death was a frequent visitor.  Between our house and the city center was a half-mile wide shallow valley filled with family clusters of small grass-roofed, mud-walled huts.  When a death occurred in one of those families, that evening a bonfire would be lit, some big drums would be pounded on, and women and girls would ululate – vocalizing a high-pitched warbling wail that carried all through that valley – seemingly for hours.  It was a cultural act of mourning, of expressing the grief and sorrow that accompanies loss.  On many evenings there, we sat around a campfire in our yard watching the glow of the bonfires across the valley and listening to the drumming and ululating.  It was a good reminder to us of why we were there, to stand with people in their sorrow and struggle, and to work for the peace and human wholeness that could prevent needless suffering and premature death. 
 
In a spiritual sense, we too were mourning, even though we did not know the person who had died.  It was spiritual mourning that had motivated us in the first place to leave home and family to spend those years there.  As we learned about the world and the great big picture of life, we had become convinced of the truth of the biblical principle Jesus taught about shepherds and sheep in John 10.  He emphasized that the shepherd’s focus was on protecting and providing abundant life for his sheep, while his enemy the thief sought only to “steal, kill, and destroy.”  When Paul explained the Gospel to the church at Rome, he wrote (5:12-15) that it was due to that thief that sin had entered the human race via Adam, and death as the result of sin, but the redeeming grace of the Shepherd was offered to forgive sin and restore life.  We were learning that the work of Christ’s enemy, the thief – all the damage and harm and sorrow caused by selfish rejection of the Shepherd – was something to be deeply mourned.  We were learning to allow our hearts to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.  In the midst of that mourning, the Spirit led us to people and circumstances which taught us that genuine, redemptive mourning of sin’s damage initiates the release of Christ’s promised blessing, of comfort in the form of forgiveness, transformation, and opportunities to repair or prevent such harm.  We were learning the upside-down meaning of the second Beatitude. 
 
The Kingdom Journey’s Second Step        In Clarence Jordan’s Sermon on the Mount image of a Beatitudes “stairway to spiritual life,” the journey begins when a person heeds the Spirit’s invitation to turn around (repent) and face the Light of the world instead of avoiding him.  In that light of eternal Truth, people can see themselves as their Creator sees them. True seekers then will take the first step up that stairway by acknowledging their spiritual poverty, their inability to save themselves and their need for God’s rescue.  Taking that first step closer to the Light illuminates even more clearly the harm done by failure to resist Christ’s enemy and sinful selfishness.  It shows the damage done to a person’s soul, their outward life, their relationships with others, and to the world around them.  Upon seeing that harm, the wisest and most appropriate response one can make is to take the second step towards spiritual life and the kingdom of heaven — the step of redemptive mourning. 
 
Blessed are Those Who Mourn        Many scholars of the Sermon on the Mount stress the point that while grief and sorrow are human feelings or emotions, mourning is an action.  When in the light of Truth we realize that we have defied the love, guidance, and intentions of our Creator who only desires to give us the most abundant life possible, it should fill us with sorrow.  When we have falsely presumed that we are smarter than God, that we know better than the Lord does what will satisfy and fulfill us, and then our choice ends up harming us or others, it often rightly produces tears of grief.  The spiritual mourning of Jesus’ Beatitude, however, goes beyond mere emotions.  Redemptive mourning requires a clear-eyed honest assessment of what disobeys or dishonors God, and what corrective action must be taken to stop causing him sorrow.  The blessedness of spiritual mourning derives from the fact that it is the Holy Spirit’s presence, conviction, and grace which lets us know that we have gotten off track, and which also helps us find our way back.  Paul told the Corinth church that worldly sorrow doesn’t do that, but godly mourning brings repentance and salvation and leaves no regret (II Cor. 7:10).  Without spiritual mourning in such situations, we’re on our own.
 
They Will be Comforted      When King David was caught in his adultery with Bathsheba and his conspiracy to have her husband killed, his genuine mourning over his sin enabled him to write in Psalm 51:11-12,17, “Do not cast me from your presence, or take your Holy Spirit from me; Restore to me the joy of your salvation…; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  In our personal relationship with the Lord, his comfort for our mourning comes first in the form of forgiveness for whatever has harmed our fellowship with him.  For Peter in John 21:15ff, after he had falsely denied Jesus three times, comfort took the form of both the Lord’s forgiveness and his restoration of Peter to his calling to a life of sacrificial ministry in establishing the Church.  In these and many other cases throughout scripture, it is clear that God always longs to pardon people who have strayed from him, to restore them to friendship with himself, and to give them meaningful work in revealing his kingdom.  All he needs is their cry for his help, and their sincere mourning. 
 
Mourning as Daily Prophetic Witness and Ministry      It has long been my conviction that Jesus intends this kind of spiritual mourning to be part of our daily discipleship, not just a step in our initial acceptance of Christ.  When we have begun living in poverty of spirit, always aware of our need for God, and as we move closer each day to his searching, guiding Light, we will certainly see plenty of things wrong in the world, many things to be unhappy about.  It seems that most people just see them and complain, hoping, I suppose, that someone else will correct them.  Rather than just griping about such problems, Christ’s disciples are called and equipped for mourning them redemptively as a prophetic witness. 
             In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that spiritual mourners are called to refrain from glorifying the things the world glorifies and from living by the world’s values and standards of success.  He wrote that in Christ’s Light, disciples must be visionaries who see “that despite all the jolliness on board, the ship is starting to sink.”  Bonhoeffer points to Jesus praying in Gethsemane (on the night before his death when he told his disciples in Mark 14:34 that his “soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”) as our example of mourning for the spiritual needs of others. 
             Writing in Following the Call, Nicholas Walterstorff states that disciples who have embraced Christ’s Light and glimpsed the beauty of life lived in it must surely mourn that that experience is not true or shared by all humankind as God desires and intends.  He echoes Bonhoeffer that Jesus’ followers must be “aching visionaries,” mourners who see sadly that God’s lifegiving desires and intentions are not a reality everywhere, all the time.  Such disciples welcome the Lord’s equipping and empowering for ministry to correct that shortfall .
             Also in Following the Call, Frederica Mathewes-Green writes that our mourning “is not only for ourselves, but for all people and all the Creation” that has been damaged by sin’s destructive fight against the Creator.  Spiritual mourning means that we groan along with all the Creation (Romans 8:22) for God’s healing mercy.  In this time of climate crisis, disappearing species, destructive storms, and other disasters, spiritual mourners are dearly needed.
 
Jesus is the Standard      Jesus practiced what he preached.  As God in human flesh, he surely must have had at least an inkling of what the future held and what God could do to set things right in response to the destructive activity of his enemy.  Still, Jesus went to the grave of his friend Lazarus and wept (John 11:35), then turned his mourning into action and raised Lazarus back to life.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he approached the city on Palm Sunday, pointing out its failures to observe the signs and heed the prophets’ warnings.  A few days later, he prayed in agonized sorrow in Gethsemane over the lostness of humankind that had refused his message and his loving offer of redemption. That mourning turned to effective action as well – a few hours later he lovingly sacrificed his life to give all his rejecters a new chance at eternal life.  His example is the one we are to follow.   Pam’s and my mourning over what we learned about Sudan ended up prompting us to go there to express Christ’s love by standing with people who were suffering in sorrow, and by working for peace and human wholeness.  Looking at the world around us in 2024, it’s my contention that we all are called and needed for ministry much like that, right here at home.  Something of great value is being lost.   Faithfully mourning sin’s damage in a redemptive spirit still has the capacity to release Christ’s promise of comfort in the form of forgiveness, transformation, and meaningful lives of purpose and ministry.  Let’s all take him up on that promise.
 
–Ron Ferguson, 4 February 2024
 
 
 Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection
 
1)  When you look at the world around you in Christ’s Light nowadays, what things cause you to spiritually mourn?
2)  What are some redemptive actions you/we have taken, or could take, regarding the things that cause us to mourn?
3)  In your experience, in what ways can spiritual mourning be a blessed experience, beyond the pain of sorrow and grief?
4)  How can we be certain that we are mourning the things that actually break the heart of God?
 
 Sermon on the Mount Series Links
 
Sermon on the Mount Series #1 – Diamonds Aren’t Forever 
 
Sermon on the Mount Series #2 –  Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
 
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May 7, 2023
150th Celebration
 
 
April 30, 2023 150th Celebration with Jay Marshall, speaker
 
 
Winchester Friends Meeting, est. 1873
Celebrating 150 Years of Ministry
Meeting for Worship      April 30, 2023

____________________________
 
With Guest Speaker Jay Marshall
Friends Minister, Author, Seminary Dean (ret.)
___________________________
 
When the Spirit Calls
I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost.  There I will wait to see what the LORD says and how he will answer my complaint.
Then the LORD said to me, “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
This vision is for a future time.  It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.  It will not be delayed.
Look at the proud!  They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.  But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.”
Habakkuk 2:1-4, New Living Translation
 
 
 
 
Queries for Reflection and Response
 
1. What is the call or sense of mission that motivates you personally? What motivates the Meeting?
 
2. What are some of the ways you have learned to discern what is from God and what is simply chatter?
 
3. What made the memorable occasions that have shaped your understanding of faith and ministry?
 
4.  If you are a reflection of the five closest people in your life, what are you reflecting?
 
5. Imagine for a moment that you have climbed a watchtower in downtown Winchester.  Where could the Meeting’s gifts bring hope and healing to the community?
 
 
 
 
If You Could See What I See
 
All of my life I have dreamed that somehow love would find me
Now I can’t believe you’re standing here
If beauty is all in the eye of the beholder
then I wish you could see the love for you that lives in me
 
And you would know you have my heart, if you could see, what I see
That a treasure’s what you are, if you could see, what I see
Created to be the perfect one for me, if you could see, what I see
 
I know there are days when you feel so much less than ideal
Wondering what I see in you
It’s all of the light and the grace your belief in me drives me to say
That I promise you a faithful love, forever true
 
If you could see then you’d understand why I fall down to my knees
And I pray my love will be worthy of the One who gave his life
so our love could be, if you could see what I see
 
You’re created to be the perfect one for me, if you could see what I see
If beauty is all in the eye of the beholder,
then I am beholding… true beauty
 
–Geoff Moore (CCLI 649965), sung by Judi Marshall
 
 
We Are Called
Come, live in the light!  Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!  We are called to be light for the Kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God. 
 
We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly.  We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
 
Come, open your heart!  Show your mercy to all those in fear.  We are called to be hope for the hopeless so hatred and violence will be no more….. 
 
Sing!  Sing a new song.  Sing of that great day when all will be one.  God will reign, and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love….  We’ll walk humbly with God…..
 
–David Haas, based on Micah 6:8; arr. Mark Hayes  (CCLI 649965)
 
 
 
 
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Winchester Friends Ministry & Oversight
State of Society Report – Annual Report for 2020-2021
June 2021/ October 3, 2021
 
Lives That Speak
Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your  carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone….       –Friends founder George Fox
 
As the Ministry & Oversight began discussing the state of spiritual life at Winchester Friends at the close of the 2020-2021 church year, it was nearly impossible to think about the past twelve months in any framing other than that of the changes caused and necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Each M&O member offered reflections on what they have observed and sensed about our life together in the past year, and their hopes for the days yet to come.  The following is a summary of their thoughts.
 
Trials of 2020-2021    For all of us, the past year was one of significant losses and profound sorrow.  At least fifteen participants in our faith community tested positive for coronavirus infection and experienced various degrees of illness.  A number of our Friends lost close or extended family members to COVID or other causes during the year and often did not have the comfort of gathering to mourn together.  Added to that was the sadness of watching the number of pandemic deaths in the US steadily climb past half a million.  It was a year of lost chances for close fellowship, handshakes and hugs, a long period of isolation and loneliness.  One M&O member compared it to the pupae stage of a butterfly’s life when the caterpillar “shelters in place” inside the chrysalis to await favorable conditions outside.  It was a year without the encouragement of singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together” (Colossians 3:16).  Many ministry activities had to be suspended, meaning lost inertia and momentum.  In some cases, people who may have had only minimal interest in participating in the Meeting simply withdrew and have not reappeared.  Because the pandemic changed so many things in our lives, we all were required to expend large amounts of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy to accomplish in different ways what used to be fairly simple, routine tasks.  Work, school, social, travel, and meeting schedules were disrupted, with resumption in many cases still uncertain, making planning very difficult.  In the community and society beyond the Meeting (and potentially within as well), economic stress and civil unrest have led to fraying of the social fabric in ways that make many relationships tenuous.
 
Encouraging Surprises of 2020-2021     The M&O clerk pointed out that none of us should be surprised that the pandemic has not changed God.  For those who have remained engaged and have continued seeking the Lord, the pandemic has provided a new or renewed sense of God’s identity and character.  Technology was adopted and adapted to our Meeting’s unique needs in a way that has allowed us to maintain relationships and a surprisingly deepened sense of community.  In the butterfly analogy, meeting by Zoom has helped break open the isolation of the chrysalis stage to make new life possible. The shift to a worship-sharing format on Sunday mornings has found encouraging success in nudging Friends to be participators rather than spectators, and it has taught us to listen more carefully for “that of God in others.”  Meeting via Zoom has made it possible to welcome local newcomers, distant former Friends and family members, and other faraway friends into our fellowship in meaningful, delightful ways that none of us had imagined before the pandemic necessitated these changes.  Despite the financial uncertainties and hardships that the pandemic has imposed on so many people and organizations, the Meeting’s finances have remained healthy due to the faithful generosity of so many of our Friends.  That consistent support has given us confidence to continue sharing resources from the Best Trust to help “make Christ’s love tangible and visible” in the community and world around us.
 
Outcomes of 2020-2021      The past year has given us – and all in the Meeting, we hope – a deepened sense of Christ’s faithful presence with us and care for us, no matter how dire our circumstances might get.  Worship in a more semi-programmed manner than before has shown many Friends the importance of giving verbal witness of God’s love and Truth within our fellowship when the Spirit prompts them.  That hopefully has strengthened and improved their ability to do the same in their relationships beyond the Meeting.  Our meetings for worship online have shown the importance of engaged participation by everyone, whether verbal or not – the things said by many Friends on Sunday mornings are most meaningful when heard and absorbed by everyone.  Hopefully we will move into 2021-2022 with a new realization of the importance of showing up consistently, whether we end up sharing what we have learned, or we listen deeply to the helpful words of other Friends.  Each of us has learned many things about ourselves and our calling to daily ministry during the “inactivity” of the pandemic months.  If we’ll let it, that knowledge should equip us for effectiveness in the new environment of the upcoming church year.  Returning to the butterfly analogy, the caterpillar-transformed-into-a-butterfly hangs in the opened chrysalis, gaining final form and strength to prepare for flight.  That is the hopeful picture of Friends being readied to begin “walking cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone” – letting Christ’s light shine through us, letting our lives and our living speak (Luke 8:16) in the world that the pandemic has left for us to inhabit.
 
Hope for 2021-2022      The Ministry & Oversight members are determined to learn and grow from the hard lessons of 2020-2021, and not to squander the unexpected blessings and opportunities that have come out of the unprecedented church year just completed.  We desire to remain highly attentive to the Lord’s constant, consistent presence.  We acknowledge that although we do not yet know everything we will need to understand for effective ministry in the post-pandemic world, we know we cannot just go back to what was “normal” before.  We acknowledge that it will require the input and participation of every Friend in the Meeting if we are to successfully fulfill the Lord’s desires for our faith community.  We gratefully recognize that the blessings we have enjoyed during the difficult past year are due in large part to a core of Friends who have remained committed to the Meeting and its ministries.  They have done so because of their love for the Lord who has saved us, their love for one another in this community of believers, and their dedication to our shared spiritual life.  Moving forward, we hope to find relevant new ways of letting Christ’s timeless light of love and Truth shine through us.  We long to help the minimally involved to renew their seeking.  We desire to welcome the uninvolved to discover the benefits of living by faith – especially young adults and families in this overly secular era for whom the pandemic has been a rude awakening to human frailties and mortality.  Like the butterfly that has been protected and nurtured inside the chrysalis, we know we must in faith release our grip on the refuge of “what has been” and fly into the unknown future in order to fulfill God’s calling and purpose for us.
 
We invite every Friend in the church to join us in that journey.  Like Paul appealing to the Corinthians (I Cor. 2:1), we cannot depend on eloquent words or superior human knowledge (or slicker technology and flashy entertainment).  We welcome you just to let your daily lives speak, both in words and actions, of God’s love, Truth, and presence.  As George Fox discovered, it’s the way God enables us to “walk cheerfully” throughout our lives, and to forge rich connections with others who desire to know and live for the Lord.  In the world’s present turmoil, he needs every one of us to get involved.  Thank you for letting your lives speak in ministry through Winchester Friends.
Winchester Friends Ministry & Oversight, June 2021:  Cleo McFarland, clerk;  Sharon Reynard; Dave Longnecker; Linda Groth;  Doug Baker;  Ellen Craig;  Marsha Kritsch, ex officio;  Pam Ferguson, ex officio;  Ron Ferguson, ex officio
 
 
 
 
 Lives That Speak — Lives of Resilience and Hope
 
The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery (of the king’s dream).”       –Daniel 2:47
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!  They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”           –Daniel 3:28  
 
Let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. 
–Jesus, Matthew 5:16        
 
Today is World Quaker Day, an initiative of the Friends World Committee for Consultation to remind Friends that in every time zone around the world on the first Sunday of October, Quakers will gather in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.  We meet to worship the Lord who unites us in a global community of faith, and to pray for one another’s effective witness in the challenges and opportunities we face.  Clearly with the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises in mind, FWCC selected “Resilience and Hope:  Drawing Strength from our Faith” as the theme for World Quaker Day 2021.  As in the past several years, Winchester Friends’ Ministry & Oversight has chosen to present their State of Society Report for the recently-completed church year during worship on World Quaker Day.  The theme of their report (“Lives That Speak”) turned out to dovetail almost seamlessly with FWCC’s focus, and with the past week’s Through the Bible chapters centered in the Book of Daniel.
 
Daniel was one of Judah’s young “best and brightest.”  He and hundreds of other skilled and educated Hebrews were exiled to Babylon in 605 BC after the Babylonian army forced the surrender of Jerusalem, helped themselves to Judah’s treasures, and turned Judea into a client state.  Part of Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy for keeping conquered nations weak was to deplete their human capital as well as their treasury.  Daniel and three other young Hebrews featured in the first half of the Book of Daniel – Hananiah (Babylonian name Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) – were chosen to undergo three years of language and other training to become servants in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace (Dan. 1:3,4).  As part of that assignment, they were fed rich food and wine from the king’s own table, food that had been offered to idols and included things that violated the dietary instructions of Moses’ Law.  Rather than follow orders and spiritually defile himself, Daniel resolved to obey God and requested permission from their Babylonian boss to eat only vegetables and drink only water.  The Babylonian feared he would be blamed for underfeeding the Hebrews, but he reluctantly agreed to a test.  After ten days, the Judeans looked and performed better than their counterparts who ate the rich food.  Their diet was switched, and at the end of their training years the king found them superior to all his other wise men and advisors.  Their lives spoke.
 
When I was around five years old, I watched “Popeye the Sailor Man” cartoons on TV each Saturday morning.  My brother and I became convinced that if we ate enough canned spinach, we too could get strong enough to rip the top off a can and eat the contents like a beverage.  We got our mother to fix us some spinach.  After I had choked down a couple of spoonsful, I went outdoors to play and saw our neighbor Mr. Carmichael working on his lawn mower in his driveway.  I ran over and told him I had eaten some spinach and was now as strong as Popeye.  I asked him if he wanted to see.  He didn’t reply right away, so I flexed my skinny biceps for him, then slugged him on the shoulder.  I was only five, but I’d bet it hurt a little.  I am horrified every time I remember that incident.  It makes me wonder how many parents persuaded little kids to eat canned spinach by telling them they’d be strong like Popeye.  They probably should have told us more about the virtues of Olive Oil.  I’m pretty sure that my siblings and I were told the Bible story of Daniel and his friends a few times, too, to persuade us to eat our vegetables and stay away from wine.
 
Daniel 2 tells the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream, and his demand that his advisors tell him both what he had dreamed and what it meant.  When the advisors had no idea what the dream had been, the king ordered them all killed (including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).  Daniel was given a chance to plead his case with the king and was allowed time to seek the Lord.  After the Hebrews prayed, the Lord revealed the complicated dream and its meaning to Daniel.  When he laid that all out to Nebuchadnezzar, the king acknowledged the sovereignty of Yahweh (Dan. 2:47, above) and spared the lives of his wise men.  Daniel 3 tells us of Daniel’s three friends’ courageous refusal to bow in worship to a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, even on the threat of death.  After the Lord miraculously accompanied them through the fiery furnace and enabled them to emerge unscathed, the king again praised Yahweh’s omnipotence (3:28, above).  Several years later, following the Medo-Persian conquest of Babylon, their ruler Darius made Daniel one of the most powerful administrators in his kingdom (Daniel 6).  Other officials, jealous of Daniel’s power and friendship with Darius, fooled the king into signing a decree sentencing to death in a lions’ den anyone who prayed to any deity other than Darius.  Daniel’s life had spoken.  They knew he prayed three times daily towards Jerusalem — the City of Zion where the presence of Yahweh dwelt — and would not cease doing so.  He was arrested and thrown into the lion’s den, but God “sent his angel and shut the mouths of the lions.”  Darius witnessed Daniel’s miraculous survival and issued a decree praising Yahweh as the one true God (6:26,27).
 
In young adulthood, Daniel and his three friends were forced into a horrible situation they never would have chosen.  Rather than giving in to Babylonian cultural religion and surrendering their deepest identity as children of the Living God, they held tenaciously to their faith and made the best of their difficult circumstances.  They were resilient.  In faith, they never gave up hope that God would allow the Hebrews to return to Jerusalem and Judea, and would help them live more faithfully than the people had whose disobedience and idolatry led to Israel’s captivity.  Their determination to obey the Lord in all things first, then deal with whatever consequences resulted, spoke volumes about God and about themselves to anyone who was paying attention. 
 
We in 2021 face a combination of challenges – pandemic, climate crisis, economic upheaval and disparity, armed conflict, social and racial injustice — that may add up to nearly equal those which faced the Hebrew exiles.  And due to modern communications technology, a lot more people are now paying attention.  The Lord’s message to us today through Daniel’s examples is that the resilience, hope, and resolve to “seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness” which they displayed 2600 years ago are still available to all who wish to live lives that speak to others of God’s holiness, loving compassion, and eternal promise.  All he needs is our invitation to allow his Spirit to live fully in us.  Let’s help one another to let our lives speak for God in all we are, in everything we do.
 
–Ron Ferguson   3 October 2021
 
 
Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection
 
1)  What have been your greatest trials or discouragements of the past 18 months?  How has God helped you with them?
2)  What do you think “spiritual resilience” and “spiritual hope” will look like in 2021 and beyond?
3)  What encouraging surprises or positive changes have you experienced in the last 18 difficult months?
4)  Why is it important to consider what others will conclude about God and faithful living when they watch how I live?
5)  What are your most fervent hopes as the world and our community slowly emerge from these months of pandemic?
 
 
 
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Winchester Friends Church           765-584-8276
124 E. Washington St.      Winchester, IN  47394
www.winchesterfriendschurch.org
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