"The holy ones of the Most High"-Sermon for All Saints', Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Falling so closely on the heels of Halloween, our great cultural celebration of all things spooky, I couldn’t help but be drawn this week to our Old Testament lesson assigned for All Saint’s Day. In it, Daniel has a dream, which includes a tumultuous and monster filled sea…much like a scene fit for any “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie…especially the more spectacular and supernatural story lines that followed the original. Or, perhaps a scene reminiscent of the Kraken and Perseus engaged in battle above the raging Aegean Sea…Perseus flying on the back of Pegasus with Medusa’s severed head in hand…hoping to turn the Kraken to stone. I can’t remember if that is the version from the actual Greek myth or just the Clash of the Titans, that Claymation masterpiece, that I watched like a thousand times on cable as a child. Whichever, my point is Daniel has a Halloween themed dream…a raging sea out of which come four monsters…whose intent is nothing less than to devour the earth and everyone in it in darkness…a story-line worthy of any classic monster movie, indeed.
But Daniel was no movie script writer…and this dream no idle entertainment. Daniel spent his professional career, if you will, as a prophet…first and foremost…as God’s own prophet…that is receiving, primarily in dreams, God’s love-filled words, hopes, and plans for God’s world and for God’s people. And Daniel served as God’s prophet…not in Israel…but in Babylon…for he lived as an exile, with many other of his Jewish sisters and brothers, during the time of the Babylonian Captivity…some 2600 years ago. And in addition to being God’s own prophet among the Jewish people living in captivity, Daniel also served as a royal advisor to the king. And, living in exile, Daniel served not the king of Israel or Judah, but the king of Babylon…first Nebuchadnezzar…and when we find him today, which is basically in retirement, he is serving King Belshazzar…who ascended to the Babylonian throne after Nebuchadnezzar. And Daniel’s service to the king as a royal advisor is, also, in a sense in the role of a prophet…for God’s work and words and life among us humans is not limited to the Jewish people or their spiritual progeny, like us Christian’s, alone…for God is Lord of all creation…from the beginning of time to its end…the universe’s alpha and omega…its beginning and end…and all that exists and everyone who exists in the in-between.
And we are told that this particular dream, much like our own nightmares, left Daniel utterly terrified…and its meaning was apparently not immediately clear to him. So, Daniel went to another advisor of the king to help with the dream’s interpretation. And that interpretation is that the four monster, or great beasts, emerging from the turbulent waters…are four great earthly powers…four kingdoms or empires…that are, historically speaking, yet to come each of which will replace Babylon as the world’s great power…four empires who will rule the known world in their own time for better or worse…and really a whole lot of both. But that does not end the interpretation of the God given dream…for the interpreter says, "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever."
So, indeed, as history has shown, even to our own day, empires rise and fall…kings and queens come to power until they are toppled by death or destroyed by their enemies…but in the fullness of time…after the last empire finally fails and falls…including all the ones we are enmeshed in today and that are still yet to come…it is God’s beloved, God’s holy ones, who will inherit the earth. Those blessed ones that Jesus describes in today’s Gospel lesson that accompanies this Old Testament reading…the poor in body and spirit, those who are now hungry, and those who now weep…those crushed…those pushed to the margins…by those who sit in positions of power and privilege…the empire…who will go to any length, cross any boundary to hold on to a power that they ironically can never really possess. For, again, everything that was, is and shall be…has always belonged to and always shall belong to God alone…the alpha and the omega…the beginning and the end…the God who is love…whose words and works, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, will be all that stands at the end of all things. Not a self-serving human empire…but a divinely oriented community that finds its meaning, purpose, and existence in a connected family of sisters and brothers in which mutual love alone rules in all human affairs. A community that includes all sorts and conditions of people, and a community in which hunger and pain and grief and poverty are no more…only life…only love…that are everlasting…beyond time and forever.
This is the revelation contained within Daniel’s dream…fulfilled historically in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And we are the holy one’s…those saints of God…by virtue of God’s grace…who shall, in the fullness of time beyond the grave and gate of death, inherit the very kingdom of life and love…God’s own kingdom…to which Daniel’s dream points. This is the good news that Jesus promises with his words and, more wonderfully, provides with his work on the cross.
And here on All Saints’ Sunday, in this community of saints, among these holy ones, what I want to say most of all is that we must keep the dream alive. We must, like our spiritual ancestor Daniel before us, continue to be the prophets, the dreamers, and the interpreters of those dreams of what life can and will be…the promise and possibility that love can and will rule in all things and reign in all places…even as the darkness still abounds…even as the terrifying monsters still loom…even as the self-serving empires still stand. For hope…born from our faith…the faith entrusted to us as saints…a faith that God’s life and love will rule and reign in the fullness of time…the hope that flows from that reality…is the seed bed for change…for love to break in…to just begin to see light in the darkness…to dare to believe that we can transcend our instinct to self-protect and, instead, live and love like Jesus…to dare to believe that our birth and death are just a part of our journey through eternity…to find the energy to put one foot in front of the other when our grief and loss seek to consume us…to find the energy to risk a sort of self-sacrifice on behalf of those whose lives are deemed superfluous and unimportant by that powers that be. All of that good and Godly work entrusted to us, the saints of God, finds its genesis in hope…hope that God’s love is and always will be…all in all…both now and even more so in the fullness of time. The world needs that hope and all the good that flows from it now more than ever.
In good Halloween fashion, I will share a quote from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven”, in which, he writes, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” As God’s holy ones, as God’s saints, as the inheritors of God’s kingdom, we get to be the dreamers, the prophetic witnesses, the story-tellers, in our own time, those who empower the world’s hope for an altogether different more wonderful sort of shared future…a hope seen in the prophets dreams and in the life Jesus lived among us…as we courageously shout into the darkness….you shall not have the last word…for the God of love has already spoken…and those words ring through eternity…they are life and love alone…and they are for ever…for ever and ever. Amen.