By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture Passages: Portions of Daniel 6
The first six chapters of the Book of Daniel tell the story of four young Jewish men who are hauled away into captivity in Babylon. One of them, named Daniel, has the gift of divination. He is able to interpret dreams, omens and even mysterious writings. In chapter 5 of Daniel, the Babylonian king has hosted a feast. During the feast, in a state of drunkenness, he sends his servants to retrieve the gold and silver vessels his army had confiscated from the Temple in Jerusalem and the king and his guests drink from the vessels demonstrating contempt for the sacred furnishings of the Temple. Immediately a disembodied hand appears and writes on the wall. The king is seized with fear. He sends for wise men and diviners to interpret the mysterious writing, but none can interpret it. Then his queen reminds him of Daniel, the Jew, who has the gift of divination. Daniel is sent for and interprets the dream which is a judgment and condemnation of the king… who dies later that very night. But, before his death, the king promotes Daniel, who now ranks third in the kingdom. Following his death, the king’s throne is subsequently taken over by Darius, the Mede. So, there is a shift in power.
This morning’s message will be based on chapter six of the Book of Daniel; a chapter which makes abundantly clear the deep commitment Daniel has to God. The name Daniel means “God is my judge” and we shall see through this story that – put to the test – Daniel remains consistently committed and loyal to God. Even under threat of death, Daniel’s commitment to God remains steadfast. Daniel is not concerned with how others may judge him. Daniel wants to be sure that he is blameless before God and that God will determine him to be faithful.
Because this is a lengthy chapter, I’m going to alternate between summarizing and reading from the biblical text. But I hope that you will take time to read through Daniel, chapter 6, this week at home.
Under King Darius the Mede, Daniel remains in a position of leadership and, in time, pleases the king so much that the king is about to make him second in command over the whole kingdom. But, the natives in the court don’t appreciate this foreigner’s success and they don’t want him taking charge of things. They resent him and work together to plot his demise. But Daniel’s character is above reproach. So the men say, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel… unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” So, they come before the king and say, “O King Darius, live forever! We are all agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for 30 days, except to you, O King, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O King, establish this injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.”
Now, that appeal to the king’s ego works and he signs the injunction. Although Daniel knows about this injunction, he continues to worship Yahweh, the God of Israel. Each day, three times a day, he returns to his home, opens the windows in the direction of Jerusalem, gets down on his knees and prays and praises his God. This has been his long-established spiritual practice and so, easily and quickly, his enemies catch him practicing his faith and report back to the king. They remind the king of the law he signed, saying…
“Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O King, or to the injunction you have signed, but he is saying his prayers [to his God] three times a day.”
The king is distressed and seeks a way to save Daniel because he knows he is honorable. But, at the setting of the sun, the courtiers return and remind him, “Know, O king that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
So, the king gives the command and Daniel is brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you.” Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and he could not sleep.
Daniel 6:19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. 20 When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?" 21 Daniel then said to the king, "O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong." 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 [Then] The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions-- they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. 25 Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: "May you have abundant prosperity! 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. 27 He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions."
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
This week we are concluding this current sermon series on the six C’s of leadership as we look at what is, I think, the most important C: Commitment. No matter how many skills, talents and abilities we have, we can’t achieve much without commitment. When I was in Pittsburgh in music school, a fellow student, Ken, was a remarkably gifted keyboard player. He became the youngest organist ever for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But Ken seemed completely unimpressed with this honor. Although he had enormous talent, he would go to work late, play inappropriate music, and let his friends into the organ booth to drink beer after hours. At such a young age, if Ken had been committed to his position, I can’t imagine how many doors would have opened for him. But Ken had no commitment or loyalty to the franchise and it wasn’t long before he was fired.
If you were in worship last Sunday, you might have noticed there are many similarities between the story of Daniel and the story of Esther and her Uncle Mordecai. In both stories, the Jews are living in a foreign land and yet, despite their outsider status, they rise to power and prominence because of their impeccable character and their commitment.
The books of Daniel and Esther are examples of the many stories – biblical and extra-biblical – that circulated as a way of encouraging the Jews to remain committed and loyal to God even under the worst of circumstances. In both of these stories, the Jews in prominent positions are favored by a foreign king. But, let’s make no mistake; none of those foreign kings were saints. Historical documents and these stories reveal their brutality. They thought nothing of hanging people or throwing them to the lions, even children. These stories, like the biblical book of Revelation, are not intended to be historical records or fortune-telling. They are intended to provide an inspiring witness for ancient Jews – and for modern Christians – that commitment to our God will, ultimately – whether in this life or the next – be vindicated. Commitment to our God is the only way to insure our ultimate security. Worldly leaders, worldly power, and worldly stuff are fleeting. They do not last. Kings, presidents, executives and celebrities come and go; but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. At the end of time, there will be only one kingdom remaining: the kingdom of God.
So, what do these stories teach us about being leaders in this world: in our families, our communities, at work, at school, and here at church?
Perhaps you have heard the story of the chicken, the cow and the pig. Traveling down the road one morning, they passed a church with a sign out front that read “Bacon, Egg and Biscuit Breakfast: Fundraiser for Missions.” “How nice,” said the chicken, suggesting they stop and check it out. The cow nodded in agreement. “That’s easy for you both to recommend,” said the pig. “From you, they simply want a contribution. From me, they want a commitment.”
Friends: commitment is the difference between a leader and a volunteer. A volunteer is ready to contribute a little time and a little money. Often in the church, we ask for volunteers. I must confess: I’ve asked for volunteers. But in truth, we should be asking for leaders because leaders are willing to do more than contribute. Christian leaders are ready to fully commit to Christ and his work. As a volunteer, I might only do what I want to do when I don’t have anything else to do. I put a little something in the offering plate. I help out here and there from time to time when it suits me. I can make a small contribution and go on my way. But Jesus doesn’t ask his followers to make a contribution. Jesus asks for our total commitment. Daniel and Esther risked their lives. Jesus gave his life… for us. That’s commitment. That’s leadership.
Perhaps you recall my previous definition for leadership: one who enlists the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task or purpose. When one is a leader, purpose is more important than ego or self-preservation. In the stories we’ve been examining, it is ego and fearful self-preservation that are the downfall of characters like King Saul and the Median and Persian kings. When we are driven by ego or fearful self-preservation, it is impossible to be courageous and compassionate. Our fears prevent us from collaborating with others or seeing the big picture. But when we are able to believe the truth within these stories, within our scriptures, that it is not the powers of this world, but the power of God that will ultimately prevail, then we can live with purpose, fully committed to God and that kind of lifestyle cannot help but inspire others. It makes us natural leaders. Did you notice that last week’s story, like this morning’s, pokes fun at the so-called “enduring” quality of the laws of the Medes and the Persians. The seriousness with which they take their edicts and injunctions only screws up the works. Their words don’t endure; they can’t endure because they are based on ego and fearful self-preservation. But the words of our Lord Jesus endure forever because they are wonderful words of life.
Some of you are aware that Trinity recently formed a Stewardship team to focus on our ministry funding and giving here at Trinity.
Now, two books I’ve recently read have stated that it’s important for people to talk about their giving and that it’s especially important for the pastor to talk about their giving. So that’s what I’m going to do this morning. Now, let me say, I know this is going to seem pretty weird for a United Methodist Church where, historically, talking about
giving is secret and taboo. It feels weird to me too, I assure you, and I’ve never done this before. But don’t worry: this isn’t going to become some kind of membership requirement. Take a deep breath and relax. Let me also say that giving money is certainly not the only way we demonstrate our commitment to the Lord’s work. The giving of our time and our talents are every bit as important and valuable.
But here is what the books I’ve been reading have emphasized: as long as everyone keeps their giving a secret and it’s never talked about, we aren’t able to cultivate a culture that encourages and challenges one another to grow in our giving. And let me also say this. I don’t believe that some people make more money because they’re better people or smarter people or God does them some favor. I don’t believe in the prosperity gospel. The life and teaching of Jesus shoots it out of the water. And, I know plenty of smart, hard-working people who are struggling financially despite their best efforts. So I ask for your grace that you not hear what I say this morning as bragging. God and all of you have been generous with Britt and me and so we are only able to give because of the generosity we’ve received. But as I share this morning, I hope that you will hear this as my witness and my challenge for all of us to be as committed as we can be to God’s work here at Trinity.
This year, 2021, Britt and I are on track to give $9,700 to Trinity which represents more than 10% of our combined gross (before taxes) income. Now, why are we doing that? Well, I can tell you it’s not because we can’t think of anything to spend our money on. I love to eat out at high-end restaurants and Britt loves streaming services. We could easily spend a lot more money than we do on those things. Also, while we do set money aside for retirement, we could certainly be setting more aside than our current level of savings. Finally, we’re not giving because we think God will reward us with prosperity if we do or punish us if we don’t. That’s not how God works. But, we give what we do to Trinity because of our commitment to Christ and the work of Jesus we see happening in this place. I confess: I am in a privileged position because I get to see and hear every week how people’s lives are changed – and in the words of some of them – saved, through the ministries of this church. I believe that what Trinity does reflects God’s purposes in the way that we don’t value people judged on how much money they have, or how influential they are in our community, or how smart or even hard-working they are. We value everyone because all of us are created in the image of God. And I know that some of our members live well-below poverty level. We have members who have gone for months without any income at all waiting for their disability or social security to be processed. So that’s why Britt and I give more than the “recommended” 10%; because I know some of you aren’t able to give 10% and that’s OK. We’re in this together. Friends: my financial advisor tells me I should be setting more aside for retirement. And that’s OK; that’s her job. But I’m doing fine and I want to commit and invest in what I know will endure forever. And I hope and pray that you will do the same and that this leadership series has inspired you to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of our common task of growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.
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