31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 6, 2023
1 Corinthians 12:27-13:8
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Twelve years ago today, I walked down this aisle, not in my clergy robe, instead in a wedding dress. And before our families, friends, church family and God, Stu and I faithfully committed to love one another for the rest of our lives.
Hundreds of other couples have stood right where we stood twelve years ago and made those same vows. And in this place, thousands of other people have made different vows of faithful commitment – to love God and to faithfully follow Christ’s way of love. They have made these vows for their children; they have made these vows for themselves.
Every single person who has made a vow of love and faithfulness, in this church and beyond, every single person said those words with utter confidence that they would be indeed be truly faithful.
It is easy to be faithful to a partner, to God, to the way of Jesus Christ when life is going well, when our faithfulness is nurtured by others, and supported by our society and culture. It is not as easy when the opposite is true – when our family and friends nurture our disagreements and doubts instead of our promises. Or when our society and culture undermines those promises, telling us in so many ways that when the going gets tough, the smart get going and the intelligent move on – move on to a new relationship, move on to a new church, move on to no church or relationship with God.
It is really, really hard to be faithful when society calls our dedication foolishness, and it is almost impossible when society outright persecutes us for our devotion – as was the case with Daniel.
The story of Daniel and the lion’s den is the subject of many a children’s book. Daniel’s story is not just for children though. Daniel’s story of love and faithfulness is a story for everyone who has ever made a vow of commitment.
As we might expect Daniel was an Israelite; however Daniel did not live in Israel. When the Babylonian Empire conquered Israel and Judah, Daniel was taken, along with others, to live in Babylon. A few times in Israel’s history, the Israelites were conquered, and their people were taken into exile, taken back to the conquering empire’s country; however not all of the people, just the best and brightest. Just the best and brightest so the conquering country could use their talents to make their empire better.
Some of these best and brightest were also deeply faithful to God. In addition to Daniel, there was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. If you don’t know their story, there is a great Veggie Tale cartoon called “Rack, Shack, and Benny” that you can watch. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s story is very similar to Daniel’s.
As Jewish exiles living in Babylon, they could have chosen two different paths. They could have tried to maintain their separateness, staying to their own people and faith, and not using their gifts and talents to help Babylon in anyway. They could have chosen the opposite and totally acclimated to Babylonian culture, forgoing their vows of commitment to God.
Daniel made his own path – faithfulness to God in all things. When he discovered that an ability God had blessed him with could save the lives of Babylonians, Daniel shared his talent to interpret dreams. Daniel did this for three different Babylonian kings. Each and every time, he was faithful and true to the word God gave him, and each and every time, Daniel was rewarded with more and more authority in the Babylonian king’s administration.
Daniel did not share his wisdom and ability to interpret dreams for earthly or financial gain though. He did it to be faithful and true to God, always God, only God. Even when it must have been difficult to worship God in a foreign land among a foreign people, Daniel was faithful. Even when a law was enacted in Babylon that all people were to worship the king and only the king, Daniel continued to worship God and God alone. Even when his dedication to God put his life in jeopardy, Daniel continued to pray and faithfully serve God.
Daniel’s life of prayer seems heroic, super human even. To faithfully pray three times a day? To faithfully love God even when the culture around you doesn’t support you, when it actually puts up roadblocks to this faithfulness? To be faithful to God even when it puts your life at risk?
Daniel’s faithful love of God is incredible, and yet it is a faithful love that we are all capable of because faithful love is circular. It’s self-perpetuating.
When we feel loving and faithful, we act loving and faithful. When our hearts are filled with love for God and love for each other, we spend more time in prayer, more time being kind, more time giving to others. And those acts of loving faithfulness in turn fill us with more love and faithfulness, which inspires us to bear the fruits of love and faithfulness in the world and on and on.
I experience this in my own life. When I am constant in prayer, even my fairly simple prayer practice of sitting in quiet and holding each person on my prayer cards in God’s light, when I am faithful in my prayer practice, in my love of God, I find my life changed.
I feel grounded. I feel peaceful. I feel centered. This time set aside for prayer helps me hear God’s still speaking voice. It helps my heart know where God is leading me.
And this time for prayer also strengthens me, strengthens me with the Holy Spirit, strengthens me to be ever more faithful and loving, strengthens me so I can faithfully follow where God is leading me.
And that peace, that strength, that connection with God that helps me be my best self in the world, doing God’s will and using my gifts and abilities the way God intends for me to use them, the blessings I receive from being faithful and loving inspire me to spend more time in prayer, to spend more time loving God and loving others.
Faithful love is circular. Sometimes that circle gets broken though. The time we set aside to be in prayerful connection with God keeps getting postponed as we deal with “urgent” issues. Time for praise and worship of God gets skipped to catch up on rest, to catch up on chores, to do a loving thing for others – like take our kids to sports or to go out to breakfast with family.
Sometimes, that circle of loving faithfulness is broken by anger or feelings of betrayal – toward God or toward a loved one, and we aren’t so sure we feel like keeping our vows of loving faithfulness anymore. We aren’t sure we want to love God or love others anymore.
Sometimes, the circle of loving faithfulness gets broken. The good news is that it can always be mended. We love because God first loves us. We love because God calls us to a life of loving faithfulness.
Loving faithfulness begins with God and whether you have been distracted or you have been hurt and aren’t feeling inclined toward love of God and love of others, regardless of the reason, the circle of healing, the circle of wholeness, the circle of peace and strength, the circle of loving faithfulness begins with just a thought, just a word, just a moment. Just a moment of prayer, just the slightest moment of connection with God, just a moment of kindness, just the slightest moment of gentleness toward another.
Loving faithfulness, a life of loving faithfulness, one to rival even Daniel’s faithfulness to God, that kind of life begins with just one step, just one moment, just one word of prayer, just one act of kindness, and it grows. It grows and grows and grows, bearing fruit in our lives, bearing fruit in the world.