The very, very colourful story of Daniel is the ancient equivalent of a melodrama.
Daniel, the hero is brave, he is fearless, he stands up for what is right and God is clearly on his side!
Perhaps our world leaders like to dream they are Daniels, perhaps we do too sometimes, and perhaps that can be a good thing?
Nebuchadnezzar though, he is an evil king; he is so evil that from one chapter to the next he forgets his promises to Daniel, who always helps him. And he listens to his evil henchmen who plot the Hebrews downfall.
They are jealous, they are scheming, they are twisted and nasty!
Daniel in fact is such a hero, that he doesnt bother to turn up in this story, he leaves a bit space for his friends!
Like batman leaving this episode to Robin.
Or Ted leaving this round to Jeff and Peter.
We might wonder why, but it doesnt help to ask!
So what can we ask of this story?
We know its written about the Hebrews experience of exile in Babylon. And we are fairly sure from the writing that its actually written later, a story book to remind and encourage later Hebrews under Greek domination that faith is important to hold onto, even in risky times.
The melodrama of the story gives that away, without needing to be an ancient Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek scholar.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniels friends, stand up for their faith when it was a personally risky thing to do.
Three friends, men of faith, show significant spine in the face of powerful opposition. They refuse to go along with everyone else. They will not just go with the flow.
In the schoolyard they would be the ones going to the chess club when all the others were trying out for the football team. In the work place they would be the ones blowing the whistle on a boss who bullied subordinates. On the sports field, they are the ones who wouldnt tamper with the ball or question the umpire. Their faith is a faith that helps people speak up against racist jokes or sexist smirks, that holds to values and makes a solid benchmark stance.
But Daniel is not a text for revolutionaries.
He and his friends take numerous stands for what is right and faithful and they accept the consequences.
There is no fighting, no guerrilla campaign of subversion no violence, no threats, no political leverage.
When we look carefully at the gospels, this is clearly a book that Jesus read. Daniel and his friends example finds many echoes; in scripture and beyond.
Ghandi read it, the crusaders didnt.
Jesus and Paul are shaped by it, Tutu and Ramos Horta.
It may be that we are living in times where faith is again a risky thing to exercise. Paul knew all about living faith in dangerous places and he advises using faith as a shield and of being armoured with truth and right living. These are all great encouragements, but lets not forget that all faith is about taking risks.
Life does not come with a makers money back guarantee and faith is the exercise of our hope.
We have faith in God we do not see, faith in the way our friends and family will treat us, faith that good can be recognised and chosen over evil.
What Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do is to remind us that we need to put our faith to work.
It might be in refusing to worship another God, or by helping refugees or the homeless. Simply faith must be matched with actions or it is merely abstract piety.
Mother Teresa gave a pithy summary of putting faith into action:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway."
May God help us to have faith and put it to work anyway, in any place we find ourselves. Amen.