Summary: Faith and God’s power work together for our benefit and God’s purposes.
THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
October 14, 2007
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
St. Andrewâ€™s Anglican Church
On a windy day in July 1994 on the appropriately named Storm Mountain in Colorado, smokejumpers parachuted in to fight a forest fire that was racing up the side of a small canyon. Smokejumpers are elite squads of firefighters who are the first responders to remote out-of-control wildfires. They go in at the most dangerous stage of defense against fires in isolated forest and grassland areas.
What had started on Storm Mountain as a typical forest fire was suddenly whipped by a strong wind into an explosion of heat and flame. Unlike almost everything else in nature, fire travels faster uphill than down. The smokejumpers stationed along a ridge were engulfed in a firestorm so unexpected and intense that escape was nearly impossible. Fourteen died on that ridge.
In a last effort at survival, many of them pulled their shiny, foil-like, fire-resistant emergency shelters over themselves and hugged the ground. Those flimsy barriers were no match for the fury of the Storm Mountain fire. [Homiletics, 1/8/1995]
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didnâ€™t even have that level of fire protection working for them when they were thrown into a fiery furnace because of their refusal to worship an idol. Their unwillingness threw King Nebuchadnezzer into a rage and pushed him to order them to be exterminated by fire. But he gave them one last chance to change their minds and behavior.
Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king.
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" Daniel 3:13-15
As seen in an earlier episode, Nebuchadnezzer is emotional and violent. He gives Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego a last opportunity to change their ways - if not, they will be cast into a fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzer states that no god can save them from this punishment.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.
But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." 3:16-18
The three didnâ€™t feel there was any need to respond to the king because they were
without doubt guilty according to Nebuchadnezzerâ€™s decree; they can offer no defense that
will change that. But the God they serve is more powerful than the king of Babylon. He can
save them, they believe he will save them, but if not, they will still not bow down to
Nebuchadnezzerâ€™s golden statue.
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated.
And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 3:19-21
The fiery furnace was a large smelting furnace constructed out of thick adobe. It had
a large opening for ore, a smaller opening for wood or charcoal and even smaller holes
for pipes connected to bellows to raise the temperature of the fire. It would also include a flue
or chimney. Nebuchadnezzer ordered that the furnace be made seven times hotter. This is a
way of saying that the king wanted the fire to be as hot as possible.
Today, the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management employ over 280 smokejumpers who are strategically placed around the U.S. including Alaska. They are flown in to fire sites and dropped by parachute with fire fighting tools and enough food and water for 48 hours. They are required to be in top physical condition, and to "possess a high degree of emotional stability and mental alertness" (www.fs.fed.us\fire\people\smokejumpers).
Last year (2006), they made nearly 2500 fire jumps (2497) with the most happening from their base in Missoula, Montana. The 63 smokejumpers assigned to Missoula made 310 fire jumps battling fires in the Northern Rockies and 191 other fires in the U.S. outside their region. On one mission, Missoula smokejumpers suppressed a fire that threatened 3500 acres near the Missouri River. It was a day that sported 100 degree temperatures apart from the fire.