Summary: When you feel you are the only one who's wrong in the crowd of acceptable people, see how faith teaches us to find a shred of dignity in reaching out for help, and how complete faith gives us wholeness despite our past.
This message is dedicated to the memory of my deceased great-aunt, Adelia Miller. Aunt Dedie loved to tell how, when she was a little girl going to the Sunday School at the Cloverport Baptist Church in Breckenridge County, Kentucky, the pastor had all the children in Sunday School one day. He threw out a Bible question to see which of the children was alert: “Who swallowed the whale?” There was no answer. Again, “Who swallowed the whale?” The children giggled, all of them, that is, except young Dedie. She looked around, and did not understand why nobody was answering. Again the pastor tried his question, “Who swallowed the whale?” My Aunt Dedie could contain herself no longer, and shouted out, “Jonah did it! Jonah swallowed the whale!“ As the room erupted with laughter, Dedie realized that she was the only one there who hadn’t caught the pastor’s little joke. The only one there who got her Bible stories backwards.
And I’ll bet some of you, right now, who are saying, “So what’s wrong with the answer? It’s right, isn’t it? Isn’t it Jonah that swallowed the whale?” Did I get you on that?
In memory of my irrepressible Aunt Dedie, I bring you a message with the Bible story turned around. A lion in a den of Daniels. Not going to preach about Daniel, the fine righteous man, perfect in behavior, standing for God in the den of ravenous lions. That’s another sermon. But I want to think today about a lion in a den of Daniels – about what it is to be the only one who’s off the mark, the only one who doesn’t fit, the only one who gets it wrong, the only one whose life is a mess. I want to think with you today about being an outcast, an alien, and just plain wrong, when it feels like everybody else is right. That’s a lion in a den of Daniels.
In the time of Jesus, nobody was more wrong than people with leprosy. Leprosy was a dreadful disease that not only tore at your flesh; it tore at your very soul. They made you leave polite society. They were so afraid of leprosy that they sent you off to live in caves, and if you came out on the street, you had to go around shouting, “unclean, unclean”. Imagine if that were the defining pattern of your life! Whatever else you were didn’t matter. When people saw you, all they saw was a leper – sick, unclean, despised. Imagine how that would feel. Like a lion in a den of Daniels! The only one unclean in the midst of people who were oh so proper and oh so right.
One day Jesus encountered not one of these people, but ten of them. Ten lepers limping. All lions in a den of Daniels. Jesus healed them; and when He healed, He not only healed their physical hurt. He healed their spiritual hurt. Maybe you feel like you are the only one off the mark, that you are a lion in a den of Daniels. But faith in Christ and the love of His people can change all of that.
Our world has a way of labeling people and making them feel all wrong. I’ve told this before, but it’s worth retelling, how author James Baldwin describes his own feelings when, as a child, hungry for learning, he wanted to go to the main branch of the New York City Public Library. But he says that whenever he would approach this building, to read from its riches, he would see its huge doors, he would feel the immensity of its classical columns, he would be overwhelmed with its greatness, and he would lose his courage. Time after time, he would slink on back to Harlem and read again the few little books at his neighborhood library. He felt like a lion in a den of Daniels. He felt like a nobody, not worthy, unclean. A leper.