On this particular All Saints Sunday I find myself strangely drawn to the Old Testament lesson today, this story of Daniel and his “troubled sleep” and dreaming.
Maybe it’s a bit of envy.
As we light our candles today and bring to mind those loved ones who join in the great feast, we are both saddened that they are no longer with us and feel a hint of thankfulness too.
Thankful that they did not live to see such times as these.
I don’t know what my father or grandparents would make of these times and our current state of affairs as a world or as a nation.
I don’t know if they would have wisdom to share with me that would help me put things in perspective, or whether they would weep tears over what we have become and exclaim, “I never thought I’d see the day…”
So, I am at the same time thankful that they rest in the Church Triumphant and am saddened that I cannot seek their advice and wisdom.
Instead I live in my own world of troubled sleep and dreams, some of which are waking and some are sleeping. I would like some interpretation concerning what I’ve seen and that is my point of contact with Daniel today.
I’d like to ask someone what it all means, the current events unfolding, the political struggles and gymnastics, the world turned upside down in terms of climate, truth, and trust. I would like to ask someone who knows how we got here and how it will all play out.
I wish I had someone to ask about my “troubled sleep.”
The book of Daniel is apocalyptic literature, so these dreams that Daniel experiences are a kind of stylized commentary on the events of his world, the times in which he lives.
Daniel is living in exile to Babylon as the book unfolds. He is attached to the court of Nebuchadnezzer but holds no position of authority or power there.
He is tossed about by forces much larger than he is and the truth of which he cannot clearly make out.
It’s not partisan politics that disturbs Daniel’s sleep but rather trying to discern how to live in the world of competing world views and values, and that’s really at the root of our restlessness too.
From of old, the narrative that formed Daniel was the biblical narrative. It told the story of how God had moved across the face of the chaos waters, called all things into being, and calmed those waters. It was the story of a faithful God giving the commandments as the guide for life, and establishing Jerusalem as God’s dwelling place, and the Temple as the place of stability and rhythm of seasons.
It was the story that above all else promised that a descendant of David would always occupy the throne of Israel in Jerusalem.
That world seemed settled, predictable, and most of all, progressing as anticipated under God’s direction and plan.
And then came the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and the exile.
Daniel now lives far from where the psalms were once sung. The splendid temple where God’s throne once stood in the “Holy of Holies” is nothing but a shattered pile of rubble.
Where Daniel’s life was once ordered by a single narrative, (that of being a part of God’s holy and chosen people, promised a nation, a land, and a heritage,) he now lives in Babylon, his people are scattered, his homeland is occupied, and the promised nation and inheritance is gone.
Daniel’s world is a noisy, busy place influenced by many narratives and many cultures. The dream muses on the influences of the other great nations that surround and the cultures that have risen only to fallen. The Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks. Each culture in turn symbolized by a ghostly apparition of a beast rising out of those storm-tossed water of Chaos.
What can I believe anymore?
Are all kingdoms doomed to crumble and fall?
Can nothing be trusted as reliable, be found to last, or clung to as hopeful?
This is the question Daniel raises to the attendant of the Ancient of Days.
And this is the answer he gets:
“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 forever—forever and ever.”
Which is to say, “Don’t confuse your kingdoms!”
As big and terrible and scary as the political machinations of this world might be for Daniel, (and, quite frankly, to us,) the Kingdom of God promised does not come through any of those political movements.
The Kingdom of God comes from the Most High, it does not come from the strivings of humans.
The Kingdom of God comes as a gift from God, the Ancient of Days, and one day when it comes in full, it will last forever – forever and ever!
This is also what Jesus points to in the Beatitudes. The first of the beatitudes is (after all) the promise of the Kingdom – and it comes to the poor.
The Kingdom is not bought.
The Kingdom is not traded, and it is not a commodity to be stored, owned, banked or controlled by any human agency.
The Kingdom does not come when we’ve stacked enough judges on the courts to get an agenda passed or to stop or inhibit cultural change.
The Kingdom of God does not come when we’ve gotten health care for all.
The Kingdom does not come when the economy grows perpetually and the stock market rises, and it does not come when college debt is erased, or the wealthy are more heavily taxed.
These are all just “beasts” rising out the waters of chaos.
These things will vie for power and influence for a time and span in this world, and then each in turn will recede and be devoured by the next great power or thing to come along.
You will live in such times.
You will watch them rise and rear their ugly head.
You will endure the resurgence of ideologies you thought long dead and gone.
Your sleep will be troubled by it all, yes, but do not confuse your Kingdoms!
Do not presume to think that heaven can be set up on earth by any political party or scheme.
Do not fall prey to the illusion that one form of government, one King, one President, one Dictator or Tyrant can lead you into a world of your own creation that will be the “best of all possible worlds.”
Others have tried, and each has met their dusty fate.
The Kingdom of God is comprised of the poor and the hungry, the weeping and the hated, the excluded, the reviled and the defamed. All those things we would want to exclude, those are the very things, the very people that God opens God’s arms wide to include and welcome in.
That’s what the beatitudes remind us, what Jesus tells us about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God does not take its cue from the standards of success in this world.
The Kingdom of God is also, (by the way,) comprised of those who hear a word of warning, a word of woe.
The rich and the full are part of the Kingdom of God, the laughing and those who are spoken well of now are part of it. To these Jesus issues a warning not to take their position for granted. Just because you are not currently suffering now does not mean that you never will or that you are better than those who do!
Your being on top of the world right now is not a manifestation of the Kingdom of God!
You may have it pretty good, but the Ancient of Days keeps this Kingdom and woe to you or “yikes!” to you if you ever forget that! For, if you do, you might just find yourself in the position of Daniel, having to come to terms with your own troubled sleep, how you got here, and what the collapse of your own self-constructed world means now!
Instead of thinking you have arrived in the Kingdom or trying desperately to hold on to what you’ve got lest someone take it away from you, consider LIVING as if this Kingdom of God that is promised is already here, for it is!
You can this day, choose to love your enemies instead of fighting them, and would that bring in the Kingdom of God?
No, it would not.
The Kingdom comes of its own accord when God gives it, but we can make the choice to live as if it were already here, and in doing so taste and glimpse it. We can make this world begin to look a little bit more like God’s intended Kingdom should!
You can this day “do good to those who hate you,” and if you did that, would that bring in God’s Kingdom?
No, but doing so would make this world begin to feel just a little bit more like God’s intended Kingdom.
This is the choice that Daniel will make if you read on. Even as Daniel watches the great nations rise and fall and as he wonders what it all means, the book of Daniel tells us that his choice will be to continue to live as if the covenant made by God was still there and active, and in doing so, discovers that it is!
Daniel will serve the Babylonians well as a scribe. He will be a good citizen of his new in-exile home. He will also choose to observe the dietary laws prescribed by his faith. He will continue to recite the Torah, keep the commandments, and will not bend the knee to the Babylonian gods.
Such actions will not bring back the “good ol’ days” of Jerusalem.
Indeed, his choices and actions will result in a night in a lion’s den and seeing his friends thrown into a fiery furnace.
But, choosing to live as if the covenant were still in force does keep God close, and wherever God is kept close, the Kingdom of God is sure to come near and you are sure to be sustained through any sleepless nights or troubling dreams.
In the end, this is the witness of all those who have gone before us and who we remember this day.
I cannot ask my ancestors what wise advice they might give to my troubled dreams, but if I were to listen close as I light my candle, I might just hear them whisper to me, “Don’t confuse your Kingdoms, Merle.”
None of us will bring in the Kingdom of God no matter how good we are at what we do or how hard we work at things, and the restlessness that drives us in this life is not the final word.
We can live as if the Kingdom of God is already here in our midst, for such a Kingdom always comes near whenever we choose to live as Christ instructs.
Maybe that’s the best All Saints Day message, the one we can hear from those who sit now at the great table and who wait for us.
“Don’t confuse your kingdoms!” They seem to say. “Taste and see in bread and wine, and rest in the knowledge that God’s Kingdom is very near indeed.”