In our Old Testament reading this morning, three young men face up to one of the most powerful Kings the world had yet seen – Nebuchadnezzar. They offer no defence. If God wishes to save us from the fiery furnace, they say, then God will save us from the fiery furnace. If not, well then it is as God wills. But we will not, we will not, worship a golden statue, even if our refusal costs us our lives.
The willingness of these three – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – to die rather than renounce their faith stands in stark contrast to the general attitude to Christian faith that we see around us. We find ourselves living in a world in which pet shops, newsagents and off-licenses are viewed as providing essential services, but churches, or at least what happens in churches, are not. We find ourselves lumped together with restaurants, cinemas, bars, and theatres, as if we were a branch of the entertainment industry, albeit one for those with niche interests and unusual tastes. I know that’s not how we, as Christians, perceive it. We accept the current restrictions because we want to do our bit to protect the health of the nation. Of course we do, and that’s fine. That’s good.
But we must never forget that the worship of the living God is not a form of entertainment. It is, as some of our most important Christian prayers say, our duty and our joy. Our duty first, I would argue, and then our joy because it is our duty. And failure to worship God, or worse yet, worshipping other gods or things that are not gods, is a dreadful sin, the sin of idolatry.
The three young men in this ancient story chose to risk death rather than omit to do that duty. They chose to face death rather than commit that sin. Our choices are not so stark, but the challenge for us this Passiontide is not so very different. The church is closed, the churches are closed, but the worship of the living God must continue.
May God bless you all,