One of the very first stories I shared with you all was about a college football coach by the name of Chan Gailey. One year his team advanced all the way to the championship game and as the story goes, the week before the big game, Gailey was headed to the practice field when his secretary called him and said that someone called wanting to talk to him. Somewhat irritated by the timing of it all, Gailey told her to take a message. But his secretary responded, "But Chan, it's Sports Illustrated." And hearing that he said, "Oh. Okay, tell him I'll be right there."
As he made his way to his secretary’s office, Chan began to wonder about a possible article and questions he hoped the interviewer would ask. As he got even closer, he started thinking that he might be on the cover. “Should I pose or go with an action shot?" he thought. It would be such great publicity for him and for a small college like his to be in Sports Illustrated.
When he finally picked up the phone and said hello, the person asked, "Is this Chan Gailey?"
"Yes, it is," he replied confidently.
"Great. Well, this is Sports Illustrated, and we're calling to let you know that your subscription is about to run out. Are you interested in renewing?"
So good, right!? Of course, part of the charm and humor of that story isn’t simply the element of surprise, but also in just how humanizing and relatable it is. After all, who hasn’t had a moment like that where we are reminded of just how unremarkable we really are? And how refreshing to know that here you have a man who’s achieved a great deal of success all his own and yet he too experiences a profound lesson in humility.
And that is, in many ways, what today’s story is all about – it’s a lesson in humility.
If you’ve been with us throughout this fall, then you know that we’re in the middle of a sermon series on the Old Testament Book of Daniel, and today as we come to chapter 4, we once again find King Nebuchadnezzar at center stage, this time with yet another baffling and disturbing dream, and where yet again Daniel interprets it for him.
Back in chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar had a similar dream, where he was represented by a magnificent statue, only to see it crumble into pieces. And that dream was God’s way of getting his attention, to communicate to him that though his Kingdom was thriving, his reign as King would one day end.
And as for the dream that Mel just read here in chapter 4, at first glance, it seems to be a carbon copy of the one we read about in chapter 2, only with a change in imagery, where here the central image is a tree rather than a statue, where just as the statue stood and then was crushed, this tree grew big and strong and then was chopped down and left as a stump.
However, as we look at some of the details and circumstances of this dream, we’ll notice a few differences. Because here in chapter 4, based on the sequence of events, it seems as though the dream was conditional and that the actual play by play details of the dream itself wasn’t some foregone conclusion but rather one that Nebuchadnezzar could render obsolete or at the very least delay if he simply responded in the right way.
You see, as Daniel explains to Nebuchadnezzar that should he atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed he’ll avoid the fate laid out for him in the second half of the dream, whereNebuchadnezzar is told that he’ll be taken away from his kingly throne and his royal palace, that he’ll be driven away from human society, where he’ll eat the grass of the field and that his dwelling shall be with the wild animals.
And so Nebuchadnezzar is essentially given a choice. It’s either humble yourself or be humbled. Either humble yourself before God, atone for your sins with righteousness, your iniquities with mercy, or be humbled by dwelling in the field with the wild animals. Humble or be humbled.
And unfortunately, for Nebuchadnezzar, he chooses the latter. One year after receiving this dream, Nebuchadnezzar is standing on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and truth be told, as he stood on the roof that day, he truly was looking at something spectacular. He saw ornate temples, hanging gardens (which I can’t fully begin to wrap my mind around what a hanging garden is, but it sure does sound impressive) – in short, he was overlooking what had become the greatest city in the world.
And here’s what he says as he surveys it all -
“Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?”
Oof. There are just so many problems with that sentence. First, he didn’t build it, slaves probably did, even more he inherited much of it from his ancestors, and so in a sense Nebuchadnezzar is boasting about hitting a triple when in reality he was born on third base. Even more, he says, it’s all for his glorious majesty. And almost immediately, Nebuchadnezzar was driven away from society and sent to live among the animals.
Which sounds so pompous and arrogant and self absorbed and I would hammer him more if it weren’t for the fact that his words remind me of me a little bit.
Not in the sense that I’ve said this kind of sentiments out loud, gosh I hope not, but I’ll admit thoughts like this have run through my head before, where I look around me and I think, “Wow, look at what I’ve done, at what I’ve created, at what I’ve accomplished.” And I am guessing I’m not alone in those thoughts sometimes, maybe you’ve had those too.
I’ll confess, I had my own prideful, Nebuchadnezzar like moment earlier this week. As you know, we’re on Facebook Live these days, and one of the cool features of Facebook Live is that the video is saved on our page so that people can go back and watch whenever they want if they like. And this week I looked and saw that last week’s video had 360 views or so. To which, I thought “Awesome!” And if I’m really honest, then thought to myself, “Huh, not bad.” “Is this not our magnificent Facebook Live Worship Service, which I have built?” But then I looked closer, Facebook actually collects and shares general data on how long the views were for and it turns out half of them were for 10 seconds or less. Ha! That was very humbling. To be clear, I’m still grateful for Facebook Live, and even more so for all of you watching at home. I simply share that with you to say I got knocked off my pedestal a little bit, and you know, that’s often times a very good thing.
For Nebuchadnezzar, pride got the best of him. And truth is, if we’re honest, sometimes our pride gets the best of us too. So how do you and I practice and grow in humility today? What lessons in humility are here in this story for us today? Well, here are three things I want you to see …
Embrace your smallness
It’s interesting when you step back and trace Nebuchadnezzar’s arc and overall storyline here in chapter 4. You see, Nebuchadnezzar was this mighty king who saw himself and was seen by others as this God like figure, the people even worship him in what is likely a golden statue of himself in chapter 3. And then we see how the consequences of his pride is by being cast out to live among the animals and even become animal like himself as the text says, “his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” He goes from god like to animal like in a matter of moments. So what is God doing here with Nebuchadnezzar? Pastor Scott Dudley, who is senior pastor of my previous church, sums it up well I think when he says this, “Nebuchadnezzar aspired to be more than human, so God made him less than human for a while so he could end up simply human.”
I think one of the most basic ways we can practice and grow in humility, to embrace our smallness and to feel simply human is to simply go outside, get out in God’s creation, whether towards the mountain or on a river or a walk around town and feel just how small you are and how vast and majestic God’s creation is.
Teddy Roosevelt, our US president some 120 years ago, had a deep love of the outdoors and in many ways responsible for many of the national parks that you and I enjoy today.
Legend has it that when President Roosevelt entertained guests at the White House he would take his guests out to the back lawn to go star gazing, and of course this was way back when city lights wouldn’t get in the way. And so they would star gaze for a long while, be awed by the great constellation of stars and after a long while, Mr. Roosevelt would eventually say, "Gentlemen, I believe we are small enough now. Let's go to bed."
What a wonderful line. “I believe we are small enough now.” Going outside in the vastness of God’s creation will do that for you, but above all, the point is this, whether it be indoors or outdoors, daytime or nighttime, you and I need regular opportunities to remember our smallness in a way that helps us put everything in perspective.
One of the best ways we can practice and grow in humility is through prayer. After all, think about some of the reasons we go to God in prayer. Sometimes we go to God to praise Him and give him thanks for who He his, and we reflect on all the wonderful ways in which he is different and greater than us, how he knows more than us, is more powerful than we are, or even loves us more than we do, This is what Nebuchadnezzar did after his time with the animals, it’s a part of chapter 4 that we didn’t read this morning, where he says, I blessed the Most High,and praised and honored the one who lives forever.For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty,and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. As we rightly see how we are just mortals, as the text says, and rightly see who He is is comparison, it in a wonderful way puts us into place and humbles us.
Or consider when we go to God in prayer with a need or request. This kind of prayer is one of the ways that we acknowledge that God has power over and control of things that we simply don’t – whether it be the weather, or to some extent our health, the actions of others, or events taking place halfway across the country or globe. This lack of power and control and our neediness for God to intervene humbles us as well – in fact, one of the truths that God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to learn in the wilderness was that God is sovereign – that is God is in charge of human history and in control. In fact, that was one of the truths that Nebuchadnezzar needed to learn in the wilderness, “that the Most High has sovereignty (is in charge, control) over the kingdom of mortals.”
Last week four of us got together over the phone to pray together. We visited for a few minutes, shared personal prayer requests with one another, and then prayed together for personal needs, our church, town, nation, you name it. We’re going to get together over the phone every Wednesday for 30min at 8:30am going forward, and we’d love to have any and all of you join. You don’t even have to pray out loud yourself, you could simply just listen in if you want. Give me a shout if you’d ever like to join us.
Show mercy to the oppressed
When Daniel shares the interpretation of the dream with Nebuchadnezzar, he gives him counsel on how he should respond to this dream. And in it is advice that doesn’t seem all that related to the situation at hand, where he says, “atone for… your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed.”
On one hand, I guess this makes sense, after all, showing mercy and kindness towards those who are oppressed or the caring for the needs of the poor, widow or orphan is a consistent command that runs throughout scripture and all the more a priority for kings and rules and those in positions of power.
But yet, even more, consider the way in which showing mercy (or not showing mercy) is tied to pride and humility?
After all, pride’s three favorite words are me, mine and I. And it sounds a lot like Nebuchadnezzar, when he says, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” And if we see what we have as mine, as something that I worked for, that I earned, that belongs to me, then we’re likely going to have a very hard time sharing it those in need, those who are, as the scripture says, “oppressed.” After all, it’s mine.
But humility looks at what we have and says everything’s a gift, nothing truly belongs to me, and that everything I have is through the generosity of God and one another, then gosh, then I’ll be all the more likely to share out of that abundance with one another.
First Pres, I can’t say this with 100% certainty, but I think it’s safe to say that, in general, as you look at the whole of things, we as a church are a relatively affluent congregation when compared to the town of Dillon at large, and we are in a tremendous position to be a blessing to those around us, and in such a time of need as well. You all as a church are already so wonderfully generous with what you have, and I want to say a big thank you to all of you who helped fund and put together care packages for college students who are currently in quarantine. Friends, what might it look like to humbly, joyfully, and generously share what we have with those in need in the weeks and months ahead? No doubt about it, there are sure to be lots of opportunities to come.
I’ll finish with this.
Though it may be hard, uncomfortable and sometimes painful, truth is, there is often good news about being humbled. Where God will sometimes humble us, he’ll bring us low in order to draw us closer to Him.
Believe it or not, that’s what happened for Nebuchadnezzar. The most powerful king of his era was humbled, was brought low, all of which brought him to a place of awe and worship of the one true God.
I think it’s safe to say that in many ways these last seven months or so have been a lesson in humility, where as our lives have been disrupted, I confess that I’m sometimes more fragile than I’d like to admit. Maybe you’ve experienced that too. Truth is, that’s okay. God wants to use these humbling moments to draw us closer to him.
After all, it’s part of the way our God works, as God ultimately drew us closer to Him through the humbling of Jesus himself. Jesus, who had it all, all power and authority, was brought low, humbled himself, and was obedient to death, even death on a cross, all to draw us closer to Him.
So you all, are you experiencing a moment of humbling right now, where God has brought you low? Maybe just maybe he wants to use your very circumstances to draw you closer to Him.