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Season of Lent: February 13–March 30, 2013 - The African ...

Season of Lent: February 13–March 30, 2013 - The African ...

While [self-denial and

While [self-denial and intense consecration] are worthy pursuits, the notion ofredemptive service tied to self-denial has not been sufficiently presented from themodern pulpit nor embraced in Christian culture. I believe it is important that Lentbecomes a season, particularly in the African American church, of sacrifice andself-denial tied to the purpose of redemptive societal engagement.Rev. Guns makes a crucial point worth reiterating during the current Lenten Season.Being tied to the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ in which he reclaimed the world as in factGod’s world that has not been abandoned by God, the Lenten Season invites us into a setof spiritual practices meant to sustain us in following Jesus in the work he did. This is thework of “redemptive societal engagement” and social care for the wounded, the scarred,the oppressed, and the hurting. I’ll reference the Rev. Gun one more time, seeing that heso aptly makes the point I would like to make: “The Lenten season within the AfricanAmerican church context should not only be a time of self-denial but also a season ofsacrifice where one is inspired to embrace the spirit of modesty and service.” This truth isembedded in Daniel 1:8-20, which in the history of biblical interpretation has been a kindof go-to text for thinking and grappling with the significance of the Lenten Season.II. Sermonic OutlineA. Sermon Focus Text(s): Daniel 1:8-21 (New Revised Standard Version)(v. 8) But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of foodand wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. (v. 9) NowGod allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. (v. 10) Thepalace master said to Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your foodand your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of yourown age, you would endanger my head with the king.’ (v. 11) Then Daniel asked theguard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, andAzariah: (v. 12) ‘Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eatand water to drink. (v. 13) You can then compare our appearance with the appearance ofthe young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to whatyou observe.’ (v. 14) So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. (v. 15)At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all theyoung men who had been eating the royal rations. (v. 16) So the guard continued towithdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.(v. 17) To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect ofliterature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.(v. 18) At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palacemaster brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, (v. 19) and the king spokewith them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah,Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. (v. 20) In everymatter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, hefound them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

(v. 21) And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.B. Possible Titlesi. The Meaning of Lentii. Trial by Dietiii. Practicing Lent in Exileiv. Serving God in BabylonC. Point of Exegetical InquiryDaniel chapter 1, which sets the scene for the book of Daniel as a whole and for chapters1–6 in particular, makes two crucial points that press upon our imaginations during theLenten season. In the story, the youthful Daniel and his three young companions findthemselves in a condition of diaspora or dispersion from their homeland. They are inexile and find themselves in Babylon under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Removed fromPalestine and chosen by the imperial ruler himself to be reeducated to be servants of theBabylonian world to serve within the Empire, Daniel and his comrades were beingpositioned both where they could help their people, those suffering under imperialoppression, but also where they ran the risk of succumbing to the gods of imperial powerall around them. Abutting the possibility of being positioned in the king’s palace wherethey might be used of God to work for redemptive societal engagement is the very reallure, temptation, and seduction of idolatry.Given this, Daniel 1:8-20 presses a series of exegetically rooted questions: What kind ofdiscipline or cultivation of the self, what kind of discipleship is needed to resist idolatryor to bear witness through a way of living against the false gods worshipped of ourworld? How do we live into the fact that with God we are not helpless in the condition ofexile? What kind of spirituality or holiness must we develop to sustain the work ofredemptive societal engagement within our broken world?We discover in this story of Daniel and his friends answers to these questions. Andcentral to the answers provided in the story is what might be called “self-sacrifice.” Hereself-sacrifice is not about exploitation or religiously sanctioned abuse, which often makesuse of the language of sacrifice. Womanist biblical scholars and theologians such asDelores Williams and M. Shawn Copeland have warned us against this. Rather, as borneout in this story of Daniel and his friends’ aims at the imperial king’s court, self-denialand self-sacrifice aim at cultivating a witness in the midst of Empire to the true God, theGod beyond power, and against the false imperial gods of materialism and spiritualidolatry. And on the other hand, sacrifice and self-denial speak to developing the spiritualfortitude and practices—what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the strength tolove”—needed to work for societal redemption and “not get weary in well-doing” (cf.Gal. 6:9) in the midst of oppression and exile.

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