Sunday, January 21, 2018
Between Two Worlds Sermon Series, Week 3
Scripture: Daniel 4:9-18, 28-33
Rev. Jill VanderWal
At 5’2, what Napoleon lacked in stature- he made up for in determination, pride and vision. His goal was to cross the Alps and conquer Europe. In 1815, after 20 years of war, on the morning of the battle of Waterloo he described to his head commander his strategy and said, “at the end of the day, England will be at the feet of France, and Wellington will be the prisoner of Napoleon.” The officer responded- “We must not forget that man proposes and God disposes.”
“No,” Napoleon responded, “I want you to understand, Napoleon proposes and Napoleon disposes.” At that moment – Waterloo was lost- God sent rain and hail…so his troops could not maneuver as planned…and by that night Napoleon was a prisoner of Wellington and France was at the feet of England.
It’s easy to point out the sin of pride in others, especially politicians or infamous leaders. It is simply an exaggerated and dishonest self-evaluation that creeps in when we continually make choices that put our desires first. In these past few months we have seen the supposed “greats/icons/giants” in film, entertainments, arts and politics fall when their abusive behaviors have finally been brought to light. I see how often pride and over self-estimation has made many of these people feel powerful beyond accountability. It makes me think of the saying, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
But God hates pride (yes, that’s a strong word). It’s the sin that began all sin when Satan said, “I will be like the Most High” and left the presence of God. The Lord detests the proud of heart. (Proverbs 16) Psalm 73 “Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment.” It’s easy to identify the sin of pride in others. In the Bible the prophets accuse Israel of pride. They’re stubborn. They do not listen, obey or turn back to God. In this story of God in the Bible, and in our passage we are invited us to examine where unhealthy pride has moved into our lives.
In Daniel chapter 4 we encounter a cycle of a dream… with a warning…no repentance…and consequence. This is the theme of the prophets and we see this pattern in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams.
In the dream there is the tree of life which is discussed throughout the Bible – In the Garden of Eden there is the Tree of Knowledge, in Proverbs there is the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Life in Revelation. The leaves of the tree in Revelation are for the healing of the nations. But in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the tree is HIM, the king. Why? well, he aspired to be….what God is. Thus comes a warning.
One day 12 months later the king stands looking over his great kingdom. Think of the hanging gardens of Babylon. This city had walls 387 feet tall, (⅓ height of the empire state building), and was in the shape of a quadrilateral 15 miles long on each side. They could race 4 chariots abreast on top of the walls (think of Ben Hur chariot races) As he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?”
Immediately, the words still on his lips, he is driven from human society to live like the animals, eating grass, bathed in the dew of heaven. This is the great lumberjack of Heaven coming to cut him down, to live like an animal which is certainly a great antidote to pride…to live humbly in dependence on God.
It is ironic, that Daniel, our humble hero in chapter one, chooses a diet of veggies, and now the king is given a “veggie” diet of grass.
This is a story that reminds of us the eventual fall or humbling of the proud. CS Lewis wrote, “Pride – is a spiritual cancer, it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment or even common sense…” Pride is a wall…like those of Babylon that will isolate our lives from God and others.
One primary tactic the devil uses to deceive us pride. The enemy will attempt to convince us that we are really important, mature, and better than most. A superior attitude, the belief that we really know what is right and best, may keep us from readily seeking God for guidance or listening to the voice of God in others. This ultimately sets us up for major mistakes and alienates us from other Christians who we may blame for the situation. So what happens? The king’s sanity is restored when “I lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.” Lift your eyes to God.
Let’s close by going back to the beginning. The King, we are told, “saw a dream.” Some think this wording signifies a daydream. I wonder if he was daydreaming about his own greatness and then the story line went sideways. Our dreams, daydreams, hopes and visions live in our heart. They reveal where our heart is, or what lives in our heart. Our hearts are connected to God’s heart through our imagination and our dreams.
Throughout the Bible normal, imperfect people are shown a dream and vision for God’s kingdom and are invited to be a part of it. Abraham, for example, is shown the night sky and is told by God that his offspring will multiply like the stars of heaven. But… “you will be blessed to be a blessing to all nations.” Do you want to live for this dream?
Let God’s dreams and visions live in you. And be a people who lean in and do the work to live out the dreams in our part of this world. This is the power of Martin Luther King’s dream imagery. In his dream, it as if the truth and justice of heaven draw near to kiss the earth, inviting healing and hope in a future.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” Isaiah 40.
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. He concludes by saying that when we allow freedom to ring we will, “speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
The power of this dream is that the dream is a vision from the very heart of God.