The service this week is led by Pauline Weibye.
Call to worship (from Psalm 90)
Lord, you have been a refuge
from one generation to another.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born,
from age to age, you are God.
Satisfy us by your loving kindness in the morning:
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
Glory to the Father and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and shall be for ever.
Hymn 159 Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided
God of presence
You invite us your people to listen, to read, to look and to question. Meet with us now through our worship. Challenge our thinking and deepen our understanding that we may be ready to follow You wherever your work needs to be done.
God of mercy
We thank you that you always listen even when our voices are hushed, when we fail to pray. We thank you that you still wait for us even when we dawdle or drag our feet. We thank you that your generosity always overflows even when we are less than generous to others.
God of grace
The stories from your word show us how great the gap can sometimes be between the divine and the human. Forgive us when we have let attachment to our own comfort and convenience deter us from committing to your way.
If we can remember a time when we loved more than we currently do, restore.
If we have become good friends with some favourite sin, rebuke.
If the flame of our commitment to the world’s immense needs is flickering instead of burning brightly, rekindle.
If, along the way, our relationships to our brothers and sisters in the faith are endangered through some wrong, real or imagined, reunite.
Show us the relevance of Christ for the life we live within and the world we make for others, that we may no longer live to ourselves, but in the light of him whom we call Saviour, Lord, and Friend,
in whose name we ask it and in whose name we further pray:
Who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come
They will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
Daniel 22, 1-13
Daniel in the den of lions
It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three chief ministers over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the chief ministers and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the chief ministers and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’
So these chief ministers and satraps went as a group to the king and said: ‘May King Darius live for ever! The royal ministers, prefects, satraps, advisors and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing.
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: ‘Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?’
The king answered, ‘The decree stands – in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’
Then they said to the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.’
Luke 22, 39-46
Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
Hymn 493 Standing in the need of prayer
Daniel – before the lions’ den
The Minister asked me to lead worship today and didn’t tell me I had to stick to the lectionary reading – so I didn’t. We’ve been following Matthew’s Gospel but today I’m departing from that to look at a passage from the book of Daniel that you, like me, may not have read or thought about for many years. The second part of this chapter, not included in the readings today, has long been a beloved Bible story – and no wonder. It’s a very dramatic story and, if you went to Sunday School when you were little, you will almost certainly have acted out the lions in the den. But the first part of the chapter, that we are reading today, is less well-known, though here too there are dramatic features aplenty – the jealousy of political subordinates, the vanity of a king and the courage of a faithful man. It also explains how Daniel overcame the challenge of the lions’ den, with God’s help.
Let’s think about the characters first. We’re not actually sure who this King Darius was. Secular history of this period has no record of a ruler named Darius and the chapter comes in the middle of stories about a ruler called Belshazzar – he of the feast with the writing on the wall, if you remember another story from Sunday School. Nor, actually, do we know who Daniel was. Does that matter?
It is clear that Daniel, whoever he was, was a Jew in exile in Babylon but had managed to rise to the dizzy heights of the civil service and he had won the trust of the king, whoever it was at the time. He was able, hard-working and honest, a man of conspicuous integrity, but this made him an object of scorn and fear to his rivals for power at the court. They planned to trap him by using what we would nowadays call ‘fake news’ since they could find no skeletons in his closet (the Sun newspaper would have despaired).
We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God. These men knew Daniel well. They knew he could not be trapped into evil, but they also knew that he would be faithful to his God in all circumstances. Every Christian should consider if others could say the same about them. If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you, or me? It is said that former American President, Jimmy Carter, a devout man, used that question to guide his life and to place his faith at the centre of his being. Do we do the same?
And what about Darius the king? Daniel’s enemies clearly knew the king well too. They knew they could exploit Darius’ pride and his desire for a unified kingdom. They decided to persuade Darius to forbid prayer to any god – and that in a polytheistic world – or to any person but himself for 30 days. Darius, perhaps flattered by the proposal, agreed. He either did not think about the implications for Daniel and his people, with their strong faith in the one true God, or he did not care. For him, this was a way of showing his power and strength and he clearly gave little thought to the likely reactions of his subject peoples.
So King Darius put the decree in writing. If that law were to be introduced in Scotland, how many of us would continue to pray? Or would we give up? After all, it’s just for a month… and no-one wants to be torn in pieces by wild beasts. Would we look for excuses to postpone public worship too for a few weeks?
Daniel did not react this way. We assume, given his high position, that he was a faithful servant to Darius the king but he clearly placed his loyalty to God above that, whatever the consequences for himself. What did Daniel do? He went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. He kept up his prayers and he did not even try to keep them private but opened his windows so that he could be seen. Not for show, although he was obviously spotted, but because he was not ashamed of his faith. He had made a lifetime commitment to God and he held to that commitment whatever the cost to himself. Daniel didn’t let the decree change his actions one way or another. He didn’t do more praying or less; he simply continued his excellent prayer life. He was duly cast to the lions but emerged unscathed, saved by God precisely because of his faith and his courageous public profession of that faith.
We too have made a commitment to God and Daniel’s story reminds us that God comes first. Do we put enough emphasis on our prayer life and on other private devotions? Do we bend with the weight of public opinion and perhaps try not to offend others by outward signs of our faith? Do we give ill-wishers like Daniel’s colleagues the power to control our behaviour?
Daniel prayed just as Jesus did, in the hours before his arrest, as he too faced torture and death. And both prayers were answered though in different ways.
Our prayers too will be answered. But we are required to be faithful, to admit to what God means to us and to show others where our loyalties lie. We are not generally asked to enter a lion’s den so how much easier is it for us to remain constant in prayer and personal devotions? Let’s set ourselves that challenge in the coming weeks; let the world see the evidence that would convict us of being faithful servants of God and his Son.
Prayer of the people
God of the harvest
Bless the gifts we have brought to you today or in other ways.
We give you what we can afford because we delight in your service
and in freely offering to you and your world
the products of our hard work and our good fortune.
Hold us to account for what we do with the riches
with which we are blessed;
grant us wisdom; make us generous;
and continue to work out your purpose in and through us.
God of all mercies
hear our prayer
God of compassion,
we remember before you
the poor and the hungry,
the sick and the dying,
prisoners and all who are lonely,
the victims of war, injustice and inhumanity,
and those who face persecution because of their colour, their faith or their nationality.
God of all mercies.
hear our prayer
Lord of all providence
holding the destiny of nations in your hand,
we pray for our country.
Inspire the hearts and minds of our leaders
that they, together with all nations,
may seek your kingdom and righteousness
and not their own glory,
so that order, liberty and peace may dwell with all your people.
God of all mercies
hear our prayer
God the Creator,
we pray for all nations and peoples.
Take away the mistrust and lack of understanding that divide your creatures;
help us understand that we are all your children.
God of all mercies
hear our prayer
Hymn 510 Jesus calls us here to meet him
May God, who is the ground of hope,
fill us with all joy and peace
as we lead a life of faith and prayer
until, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
we overflow with hope.
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers based on material from the Church of Scotland and from the World Council of Churches