January 21 lesson: A Prayer for Obedient Faith

1/8/2018

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A Prayer for Obedient Faith

Winter Quarter: Faith in Action
Unit 2: A Living Faith in God

Sunday school lesson for the week of January 21, 2018
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers

Scripture Lesson: Daniel 9: 4-18; 15-19
Background Scripture:  Daniel 9: 1-19

Our next lesson in Daniel moves several chapters and years ahead. The ruler in the Middle East is now Cyrus of Persia, who came to power in 538 BC when the Persians defeated the Babylonians. Since Daniel was taken to Babylon from Jerusalem in 605 BC, he has spent nearly 70 years in exile in a foreign land.

The prophet Jeremiah had written to the exiles years before, when they had first been taken to Babylon:

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed
for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to
bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,”
declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29: 10-11)


That promise now prompts Daniel to pray one of the most fervent prayers recorded in scripture—and Daniel has become an old man! His prayer can guide us today.

He prepares to pray by fasting, dressing in sackcloth and ashes, and identifying his relationship to God by calling the Holy One—my God! For Daniel, the covenant relationship with the Holy One is personal and intimate—a balance hard to achieve. His life experiences had informed his prayer life. Think about how you prepare to pray and your life as preparation for such intimacy with the Divine.

Daniel begins by acknowledging the awesome nature of God and his stance of humility in confession—not his wrongdoing but the character of God. One does not approach God flippantly, but with awe and reverence. Daniel identifies God as the One “who keeps his covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Up front, we see the reciprocal nature of the covenant relationship—God is our God and we are his people!

Daniel is very explicit in his recitation of what precipitated the exile. He lists four actions compounding the guilt of the people: “we have sinned and done wrong,” “we have been wicked and rebelled,” “we have turned away from your commands and laws,” and “we have not listened to your servants the prophets.”

The refusal to listen to the prophets involves not only the people generally, but specifically the leaders of the nation. Ungodly leaders who rule without values based upon godly ways will always bring defeat and shame upon a nation and its people. Jeremiah had noted how the people had lost their ability to blush in shame at sin and wrongdoing. We feel much the same way about current American culture and mores! Have your class list some language, attitudes, actions, and decisions that should cause Christians to blush in shame.

The distress Daniel addresses was brought on by these ungodly leaders. Idolatry of pagan gods and the worship of power and economic gain had dominated the life of the people. Complacency about matters of the spirit had been the norm for so very long. Judgement came!

Many Christians do not like to speak of, or hear sermons about, God’s judgment, but we must not forget that a holy God cannot long ignore such behavior. God’s love and compassion can easily be taken for granted, while we conveniently go along with the prevailing mood of “anything goes.” The prophets had repeatedly warned of the coming judgement, and nobody listened or took them seriously. II Chronicles 36:15-16 tells the sad story:

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through
His messengers, again and again because He had pity on His
people and His dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of
the Lord was aroused against his people, and there was no remedy.


The passionate cry of Daniel speaks of the shame and scorn covering the nation these 70 years, not only in Jerusalem, Judah, Israel, Babylon, but wherever the Jewish people have been scattered—the Diaspora. He particularly emphasizes what has happened in Jerusalem when he says: “Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.”  (vs. 12)

His confession of the sins and wickedness of the people is thorough and complete. Now he comes to his impassioned petition. He calls upon God to “turn away your anger and wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill.”

As you read/pray his prayer, please note the tone of the prayer. He is asking God to act, not because of anything the people have done or deserve, but because of WHO God is, and the people of Israel identified with this God—Yahweh. The entire world knows of that relationship, and if these folk continue to be punished and live in exile, the witness to the world of the One and Only true God will be in jeopardy. 

God’s merciful nature will be seen by all as the ultimate testimony to the wonder and power of God. Again and again, the strongest witness to the reality of God is how people live and act as the very representatives of God on earth. We are God’s people, not because of anything we have done, but because God so loved us, the Holy One made us children of the Almighty. When Paul calls us “ambassadors for Christ” he meant just that—we are sent to represent Christ and the very love of God in all we say and do.

The last verse of the lesson encapsulates everything Daniel has prayed:  

“Lord, listen!  Lord, forgive!  Lord, hear and act!  For your sake, my
God, do not delay, because your city, and your people bear your
Name.”

In effect, Daniel is praying for a second exodus that will reverse the disaster of bondage in Babylon! The world will know only God could do that!

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.