How Much More?
2nd Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 420:1-4, 435, 790
Text – Romans 5:10
For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!
HOW MUCH MORE?
One bright & beautiful Sunday morning, as usual everyone in the little town of Resch got up early & went to the local church. Before the services started, the townspeople were sitting in their pews & talking about their lives, their families, & so on.
Suddenly, Satan appeared at the front of the church. Everyone began screaming & running for the entrance, trampling each other in the frantic effort to get away from the incarnation of evil.
Soon, everyone was evacuated except for an elderly gentleman who sat calmly in his pew. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was in the presence of God’s enemy.
Now this confused Lucifer, so he walked up to the man & said, “Don’t you know who I am?” The man replied, “Yep, sure do.” Satan asked, “Aren’t you afraid of me?” “Nope, sure ain’t.” That perturbed the Devil even more & he said, “Why aren’t you afraid of me?” The man calmly replied, “Been married to your sister for over 48 years.”
This is the question we will consider this morning, “Why aren’t you afraid?” Is it because you also have married the devil’s sister? Have your sins become such close & intimate companions, that they no longer frighten you?
Have greed, immorality, self-centeredness or pride become so commonplace in your lives, that you no longer notice them? If so, then it’s easy to understand why you’ve so little use for God in your daily routine. When looking into the mirror of the law, some people do not see the Wicked Queen, but Sleeping Beauty instead. So they go away thinking, “All is well.” It’s said that love is blind & that’s never truer than in reference to self-love. It’s so easy to ignore the log in our own eyes, while noticing every single speck in the eye of our neighbor. Sin blinds us to our very own sin, & in that manner we become comfortable with it. We become complacent with it, & no longer fearful of it.
Yet, in spite of our lack of fear over our own sin, instinctively we still know that we need to cover it up. In my visits with members, it’s uncanny how often I hear words that are spoken because the host feels a need to tell me what they think I want to hear. For example, “Pastor, I’ll see you in church this Sunday.”
Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I do like to see you here for worship. But if you’re only telling me that because you think it’s what I want to hear, what spiritual benefit is in it for you? If you’re just telling me stories, you really are wasting your breath. God knows the truth anyway. God knows the truth far better than you care to realize.
Your Creator is fully aware that your sinful nature is His enemy. You don’t have to cover it up or hide it. Adam & Eve tried that in the Garden of Eden & their attempt was pitiful. God found them anyway, & He Himself made them suitable clothing to cover their nakedness.
We are naked in God’s sight. He sees everything that we are. He knows who & what we are. There’s no reason to hide, no reason to lay, no reason to play games. For if when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life? (Romans 5:10 NIV)
There truly is no reason to be afraid of God. Instead, we should be afraid of ourselves. For our sinful nature will lie to us & deceive us at every turn. We cannot be trusted. Our Gospel lesson warns of seeking to save our own lives, & still that’s just what we would do. But in our attempt to do so, we will lose our life, & then, what can we give in exchange for our soul? As enemies of God, we were dead in our sins. A dead man can’t decide for Christ. A dead man can’t do anything but rot. That’s how powerless we were to save ourselves. We were rotting in our sins, & in that condition is when Jesus gave up His life for ours. If you understand, if you believe that, then you know what it is that God has done for us.
So how can you be afraid in this life? You’ve already been brought back from the dead once. What a joy it is to have been resurrected from the grave of our sinful & lost condition. That’s why we celebrate at a Baptism. That’s why we celebrate at a confirmation. We are celebrating life brought back from death.
As children of God our life can be one of celebration. Whether you celebrate that new life on a mission trip, building houses & conducting a Bible school, whether you celebrate it through your offerings, or by teaching Sunday School, through your prayers or any one of hundreds of means. Anything that we do out of love for God is a celebration of that gift.
Through our use of the means of grace, our faith grows. And as it grows, God uses us as His instruments. He uses us to bring words of comfort to someone who is grieving. He uses us to bring words of hope to someone who is lost. Through the experiences of our suffering, we are enabled to understand and to share in the pain of someone else who is struggling.
When those people we help, come out the other side of their trial, they’ll be stronger for it & we’ll be able to celebrate with them that God delivered them. When we commune, we are participating along with all those who have gone before us in the faith.
When we study God’s Word, He gives us a stronger conviction of His will, His love & the message that we’re to share with the people God brings into our lives. The view we take of religion often has such a heavenly focus, that we end up having no earthly value. We act as if practicing our religion is something that only blesses us in eternity. We forget, or never understood in the 1st place, that in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 5 through 8 deal entirely with our lives here on earth. Jesus Christ became man in order that we might have life to the full, not just in heaven, but here on earth as well. Now granted, life on earth is much different than it will be in heaven, but that doesn’t mean our only purpose on earth is to struggle.
God has given all our brothers & sisters in Christ to us as blessings. He’s given His entire creation for us to manage & enjoy. He’s given life to experience, & to grow, in our relationship with Him. That began already at our Baptism, & our relationship with God being completely restored to perfection is what our heavenly existence will be about. It will be perfect communion with our Savior & Creator.
How much more would our Heavenly Father bless us here on earth if we followed His will & guidance for our lives already today? Jesus, our Brother, has given you His peace. And in that peace we’re able to view all things through a different frame of reference. Paul mentions that we rejoice in our sufferings because they produce perseverance, character & hope.
When we view our lives in that way, we’re able to stand back from the pain of the moment & take a look at our lives in a much broader perspective. That perspective, of eternity, helps us see the good that our Lord brings even out of the evil in this world. And if our Lord is able to bring good out of evil, how much more then, will He bring good out of life.
During Lent we’re preparing ourselves for Easter. The season is meant to remind us to consider our lives in the bigger picture, to let go of our material concerns in this world & to focus on the preparation of our hearts for the coming message of the Resurrection of the Lord. That Resurrection has a lot to say to us, if we’re listening.
Where Adam brought sin, death & condemnation; Christ brings reconciliation. Where men harbor false, self-made hope & security, Christ brings true hope & true security. The Resurrection proves that Jesus did not fail with His death on the cross. How much more then will He not fail to give us life? PAUSE
Last week we read of Abraham & Isaac hiking together up Mt. Moriah, where Abraham was to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering. It’s difficult to imagine such faith. Yet, how much more, having already been reconciled to God, shall we be saved through Christ’s resurrection?
The same God that created such tremendous faith in Abraham & Isaac is working to create the same kind of faith in you. For Jesus died to save us who were powerless to save ourselves, who were ungodly, who were His enemies, who had no chance at all without Him.
That is what we consider this Lenten Season & St. Paul put it beautifully in these words: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You & I cannot help but be comfortable with many of our sins because they come from the heart. In a certain respect, we truly are married to the Devil’s sister.
Our Savior knows that & it is for that reason He came to rescue us. If He’s willing to do that, how much more will Jesus do for you? If you place your trust in Him you’ll find out. Amen.
Come in sorrow & contrition, wounded, impotent & blind; here the guilty free remission, here the troubled peace may find. Health this fountain will restore; they that drink shall thirst no more. Amen. LSB 435:3.
The Good and Perfect Gift
1st Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 525, 420, 696
Text – James 1:17
Every good gift & every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
THE GOOD & PERFECT GIFT
Little Joey came into the kitchen where his mother was making dinner. His birthday was coming up & he thought it was a good time to tell her what gift he wanted: “Mom, I’d like a bicycle for my birthday.”
Now, Joey was a bit of a troublemaker. He’d caused problems at school & at home, so his mother asked if he deserved to get a gift for his birthday. Of course Joey thought he did, but his mother wanted him to reflect on his behavior over the past year.
“Go to your room & think about how you have behaved since your last birthday. Then write a letter to God & tell Him why you deserve a bike for your birthday.” Joey shuffled up the stairs to his room & sat down to reflect & to write.
Dear God, I have been a very good boy this year & I would like a bicycle for my birthday gift. I want a red one.
Joey knew this wasn’t true. He had not been a very good boy this year, so he tore up the letter & started over.
Dear God, This is your friend Joey. I’ve been an “OK” boy this year & I still would really like a red bicycle for my birthday present. Thank you.
Sadly, he knew this was not true either. So, he tore up the 2nd letter & started a 3rd.
God, I know I have not been a good boy this year. I’m very sorry. I will be a good boy if you just send me a bicycle as a gift for my birthday. Please!
But Joey realized, even if it were true, this letter wasn’t going to get him a bicycle. He went downstairs & told his mom that he wanted to go to church. Joey’s mother thought her plan had worked, so she said to him, “Just be home in time for dinner.”
Little Joey walked down the street to the church on the corner. He went in & up to the altar. There, he looked around to see if anyone was watching. Then he picked up a statue of the Virgin Mary, slipped it under his shirt, ran out of the church, down the street, into the house, & up to his room. He shut the door & sat down with pen & paper.
I’VE GOT YOUR MAMA! IF YOU WANT TO SEE HER AGAIN, SEND THE BIKE!
Signed, YOU KNOW WHO.
Apparently Joey felt that he needed that red bicycle really bad!
Humorous stories are excellent tools for teaching because they allow us to recognize the truth in somewhat of a disguise. It’s less threatening that way, so we’re more open to hearing the truth. Joey’s kidnapping of the Virgin Mary makes for a funny story, because it strikes so close to the truth; a truth that we would rather not examine too closely out in public.
It’s obvious to each of us that we can’t be kidnapping something & demanding a ransom from God. Yet we also realize that the story has as much to do with our own sins, as it does with little Joey’s. At least I hope you realize that. I mean, to be honest, I couldn’t care less about Joey’s sins, but God has made me accountable for yours.
So what does the story of Joey’s ransom demand have to do with our sins? After all, there aren’t many of us here demanding a red bicycle for our birthday. And I expect that none of you has ever written a ransom note. But I do know that some of you have endured the breakup of very special relationships. Having gone through that myself, I know the sort of tricks the sinful mind will play at times like that, “God, if you don’t let this relationship work out, I’m not going to waste my time in church anymore.”
Or maybe you’ve urgently prayed for someone’s health, but the diagnosis came back & the doctors said, “there’s nothing more they can do.” Someone you cared about very dearly ended up dying. Then it occurred to you, “What’s the use in praying? God never answers my prayers anyway.”
Sometimes your parents are upset because nothing seems to be going right for them. As their child a misunderstanding gets you punished unfairly. You did nothing wrong. In fact you tried to do what was right, but still end up grounded & missing your best friend’s party that you’d been looking forward to for months.
As you slam the door to your room, you tell them, “I hate you,” as you’re wondering if God loves you anymore.
In each circumstance, we have questioned God’s love & been tempted to give up on His promises. Like Joey, trusting in God’s love often isn’t good enough for us. Somehow we want more leverage with God than that. Trusting His goodness leaves us helpless & at His mercy.
But taking God hostage to our prayers – to our love – to our church attendance, those are an attempt to gain the gifts from our heavenly Father through extortion. Those are attempts to put yourself into the driver’s seat. As Joey did, we want control – not mercy. We want to be in charge – not forgiven.
To accept forgiveness means to admit that I was wrong. It means to blame no one but myself. It’s a good laugh when others try to take God hostage, because then we easily see the foolishness involved. But our own sin involves a certain blindness to common sense. What’s
clear to you in Joey’s case is normally anything but clear when you have your mind set on something particular & are longing for it. How frustrating religion can be when we grow uncertain of God’s love.
When plans for a baby end in miscarriage, or the joy of marriage becomes the worry of finances, people look for a response from God. When we’re tempted to uncertainty, concerning His love, every event in life is looked to as a possible sign from heaven.
And such a life of doubt, fear & uncertainty kills the soul. That’s not the life our Savior came to give. The 18th verse of the Epistle reading says, “Of His own will [our Father] brought us forth by the Word of Truth...” James desires that his hearers see things clearly so their conversation with God will not be tedious & frustrating, but eternal & one of freedom.
We are not to feel chained down by the changes in life. We are not to feel burdened by the adversity, suffering & struggle. We are not to surrender hope because of our sins. After writing letter # 3, the story says Joey realized, even if it were true, this letter wasn’t going to get him a bicycle. But those are the lies of the Devil, “Did God really say?”
The truth is that our heavenly Father longs to give precious gifts to His children. He sent His Son to give light & life. Too often we give the curse of darkness & even death! The Devil would have everyone believe that in religion only darkness & death can be found. But when faced with feelings of doubt & uncertainty, God’s children turn to the Word of Truth.
That Word is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the ultimate good & perfect gift. His death released us from the stranglehold of sin. Our Lord is so powerful, & so loving, that in Christ even adversity & suffering are opportunities to grow, & thus they are gifts from God. They’re not meant to end in doubt & hostage taking.
So how do we deal with those gifts? Do we focus on what is not fair about them? Yes,
we do! Should we? NO!!! But that can be like prying a dog’s jaws off a bone, because frequently we do not want to let go of, “But it’s not fair!!!” Like Joey, our sinful nature doesn’t believe that God is fair, so we try to get our gifts through our own cunning or deception. The only gifts those bring are darkness & death, certainly not good & perfect gifts.
Earlier in his book, James wrote, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature & complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4 NIV) In Christ, adversity & suffering develop perseverance & character. Joey came close several times.
He wrote the 3rd letter apologizing for his behavior. Then he failed to believe that God would accept it. He went into the church & approached the altar, but only to steal; not to seek forgiveness. Either he did not understand God’s love, or felt he could not trust in it.
The assurance of God’s love & the focus of our faith is not the absence of disease or divorce. It’s not the presence of birthday gifts. The assurance of God’s love & the focus of our faith is the cross. There, God demonstrated His love very clearly. There, God assures us that even in the midst of great pain & suffering, He is at work bringing good & perfect gifts.
Our feelings change like the shifting shadows, but God’s love, shown in the sacrifice of His Son, is the same yesterday, & today & forever. Let us all as one person say, “Lord, we have sinned & done evil before You; we have wantonly despised Your mercy & love; we have fallen short of Your glory – again today.”
But let us not fear our guilt, like Joey feared his. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “Say to those who are afraid, ‘Be strong, & do not fear, for your God is coming… to save you.’” (35:4 NLT) He will save us from having caused trouble & from having sinned. He will save us from having given gifts of darkness & death instead of light & life.
At Bethel, Jacob wrestled with God until he received Yahweh’s blessing. In a sense,
what Jacob said was this, “God, I have Your promises, & You have to keep them. Send me forgiveness & send me new life!” As a result we emphasize clinging to the Body & Blood of Jesus, clinging to the waters of Baptism, because God’s promises do not change. They are not shifting shadows like our emotions are.
And God’s promises are granted through His Sacraments & through His Word. Yahweh has remained & will remain constant in His desire that all be saved.
What a joy then, as we encounter the changes in our lives, to know that this remains the same: whether having recently married or recently divorced, whether standing over a crib, or walking away from a grave, when we are gathered here, Sunday after Sunday, we come before the One who does not change in His love for us.
That love is expressed most fully in the Good & Perfect gift, His only begotten Son. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” PAUSE
The Gospel of Mark tells us, “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear & the mute speak.’” (7:37 ESV) But God’s gift does not end there. His gift even makes the guilty – innocent! That is a truth all of us can enjoy reflecting upon. Amen.
Christ the life of all the living, Christ the death of death our foe; who Thyself for us once giving to the darkest depths of woe, through Thy sufferings, death & merit, we eternal life inherit; thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus unto Thee. Amen. LSB 420:1.
What's Holding You Back?
Transfiguration Sunday – B LSB #’s 414, 396, 924
Text – 2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is the Spirit, & where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Powerful words from a momentous time in the history of the world, they helped to inspire men & women to strive for more than most of them would ever have expected was their right & due. In the minds of its authors the declaration of independence put forth the causes which impelled them to seek the freedom of our nation.
They believed that the King of Great Britain was holding them back through an unjust tyranny over the citizens of the American colonies. They had patiently suffered through years of oppression & now the times called for throwing off the shackles of despotism.
“…that all men are created equal…” It does not say all men are equal. Look around you. It’s obvious that we aren’t. Sin has twisted & corrupted what our heavenly Father created such that inequality exists everywhere. Yet the founding fathers of our nation knew that all men are created equal. In God’s design, all people are equally free.
“…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” Not only did our forefathers acknowledge that human beings were created & equal, but they stated there was a Creator instead of a haphazard process of chance mutation supposedly producing life over billions of years. A random process of chaos does not assign unalienable rights to anything.
“…that among these are Life, Liberty & the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s the desire of our Creator that we enjoy the blessing of life, even here on earth. Sin has definitely made a mess of things, but God’s Word from Genesis 1 still applies, if we live by faith:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male & female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it, & have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (1:27-28 ESV) Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness are not only the rights of the 1%, or of the Hollywood elite. Our forefathers, & God Himself, intended them for all mankind.
What is holding you back? Certainly that question can be answered in a general way with the word – sin. Yet, the Word of God makes clear that our Savior has conquered sin & removed the grip it had on our heart & soul. Jesus Himself told us:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) Then, St. John wrote, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” (1 John 5:4a ESV) To believe in Jesus means that we put our faith in those words & promises.
The world cannot hold us back because Jesus has overcome sin, & death & the Devil. They have no power over you or me. As the Apostle James wrote, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, & he will flee from you.” (4:7 ESV) If Lucifer is not fleeing, what do you think is holding us back? Are we not submitting to God as we should?
In any case, it should be clear that the only thing which can hold us back is we ourselves. Our weakness & our fear, our wants & our desires, our refusal to surrender control of life to the heavenly Father, those are the temptations through which Satan lures us away from the freedom that Jesus won for us on the cross of Golgotha.
Yes, there is forgiveness for our sin, for our weakness, for our wanton desires, but there is also a great danger in refusing to acknowledge & submit to our Creator. St. Peter wrote about it in 2 Peter 2: “And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ & then get tangled up & enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before.” (2:20 NLT) God’s desire & design is not simply to rescue us from our sinful choices in an outward way. He wants true freedom for us, so He doesn’t just slap a new coat of paint on us to make us look good. Our Lord desires to change your heart in the process. If you remember, Jesus criticized the ones who were only concerned with outward appearance:
“Woe to you, scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones & all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27 ESV) That, through Baptism, we are a new creation in Christ occurs from the inside out. In this life, the freedom given to us by our Lord is primarily an inward one.
In the context of suffering the effects of sin, St. Paul stated: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18 ESV)
The freedom Christ gives is eternal, yet, much of the time we allow the things that are seen, & are transient, to hold us back. Our home, our possessions, our time & money, even our relationships, all of them are at times valued above following Jesus. We’re afraid that if we allow Jesus to command our attention, then we’ll miss out on things we believe we deserve.
With that attitude, we quickly become slaves to what otherwise is intended by God to be a blessing. We end up serving the blessing, rather than the giver, our gracious heavenly Father. Behind that fear of missing out is none other than the Devil himself, but it is you & I who choose in allowing fear to guide & direct our actions.
The dictator in North Korea rules by fear & intimidation. Jesus does not exercise dominion over those who belong to Him by the promulgation of laws & the pronouncement of judgment. Rather He does so by fellowship with sinners & by forgiveness. His lordship is not intended as a burden but as a help. He did not come to earth to be served, but to serve. You will be more useful as an instrument of God if you recognize what it is that’s holding you back. Why is it that you aren’t living life boldly for Christ?
The transfiguration is meant to encourage us so we live the freedom Christ has won for us through sacrificing His life in our place. Jesus was transfigured so His disciples could see a more complete picture of reality to encourage them once Jesus had risen from the dead. They had been living by sight, & would continue to do so until after the resurrection.
Living by sight, instead of by faith, was holding them back. They were so sure Jesus was going to take over as an earthly ruler; they were so looking forward to the day when He ascended an earthly throne that they forgot to keep on living in the present.
We do that too, looking forward to a wedding, or a graduation, or finally landing a job or buying a home. We can so look forward to our future that we forget to live in the here & now. It’s a blessing that our Lord is patient. He revealed His glory to three of the disciples & then told them not to tell anyone, until He had risen from the dead. That is being patient.
When Pentecost arrived the Disciples would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then the Disciples would understand what the Transfiguration was about. St. Paul defends his boldness, in this reading from 2 Corinthians, in the face of criticism about, “Who does he think he is?” He used to imprison & oversee the murder of God’s children. Now he’s telling us to live boldly?
However, Paul bases that boldness not on himself as his opponents suggest. He bases it upon the new covenant set up by Christ. Faith is not simply trust in God in general. It is a specific trust that accepts the cross & has its foundation in the saving work of Jesus. Out of that trust grows boldness that has no fear of being ‘put to shame.’ It is a trust that fully grasps hold of the freedom we have in the cross. If we refuse to serve boldly in the name of Jesus, then we lapse back into slavery, because our will is no longer attuned to His. We either live according to the flesh because we believe we’re just going to die anyway. Or, we believe & live according to the Spirit because we know we will never die! We throw off the shackles holding us back.
God’s Word is a precious gift which leads & feeds its hearers unto everlasting life. People of God depend on that Word, & the Spirit of God working through it, for salvation, instruction, direction & preservation in the one true faith. That Word is true, & powerful, & it does what it says. Sometimes it is a Word that tests our strength of character, & our resolve.
God’s Word is not just sweetness & light. It is a fire, the Psalmist says. It melts the earth if it must; it abides forever; it creates weal & woe; it is what will never fail. Against it, who can stand? That Word can be very unpopular inside & outside the church, & too often, we do not speak or live its truth in love, as we ought.
There is something inside of us, some selfish beast of a subtle thing, that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, & if we actually believe these things we have to do something about them. But we do not stand alone. Whenever & wherever the Word of the Lord is spoken & lived out, there the Word made flesh is also present & active.
The Son of God came to earth in mercy & humility to fulfill the Word of God, precisely because we are not capable of doing so. And because of that singular reason you have nothing to be afraid of in following Jesus. You can live boldly. You can die boldly, because the power of Yahweh is at work through you.
No more lies or half-truths to hold you back. All your sins are forgiven. There is nothing to fear, not even fear itself. In Christ you are already holy in the sight of God. In Christ you know the truth & the truth has set you free. Amen.
Lift up your eyes in wonder – see, nations gather yonder from sin to be set free. The world has heard Your story; her sons come to Your glory; her daughters haste Your light to see. Your heart will leap for gladness when from the realms of sadness they come from near & far. Your eyes will wake from slumber as people without number rejoice to see the Morning Star. Amen. LSB 396:4-5.
5th Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #500
Text – Isaiah 40:21
Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
FROM THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH
You’ve probably heard the term ‘sacred cow.’ It’s a figure of speech for something regarded as immune from question or criticism. This idiom is based on a popular understanding of the elevated place of cows in Hinduism. It appears to have emerged in America in the late 1800’s.
That something is considered a sacred cow does not, of itself, make it good or bad. The figure of speech refers to the attitudes of the people who are thinking about it. To have a sacred cow is to hold on to an outlook that is unreasonable in its unwillingness to question or criticize whatever the issue or object may be.
The right to have an abortion is a sacred cow to many of the Baby Boomer generation. The right to own guns tends to be a sacred cow to people on the other side of the political realm. Ironically, in our last presidential election, both Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton became sacred cows to many very different groups of Americans.
Heading into the debates on the recent tax reform, the deduction for interest on a home mortgage was considered a sacred cow, & it’s been entrenched as such for years. To build the wall, or to help the Dreamers, have more recently become sacred cows to differing groups of human beings.
One problem with an attitude that turns something into a sacred cow is this – our attitudes guide & direct our actions. If my attitude is out of balance what generally happens to my actions? They become unbalanced as well. One thing the Navy taught, in the world of nuclear power, is that we need to always critically evaluate & question our every action. The wrong action, at the wrong time, could easily kill everyone on board the submarine. No one is correct 100% of the time. So the practice of always questioning our own actions was one method of discovering our mistakes before they would cause harm.
In the world of climate change, scientists who claim it’s happening were caught manipulating the data to ‘prove’ their point. The sacred cow had become so important to them that they lowered themselves to unethical reporting of the facts in order to “protect” their god. What that demonstrates is that people actually worship gods they can manipulate.
Another example is the name they employ for their god. It used to be ‘global warming,’ but to the public, that became an obvious joke every time the polar vortex blew in. So the politicians & scientists who worship it have changed the name to one that isn’t so obviously a farce. Have you heard any reporting on where the phrase ‘global warming’ disappeared to?
The God who actually did bring the entire universe into being didn’t give us an opening to make up names for Him. At the burning bush it was spoken directly to Moses – I Am Who I Am. At the root of that name is the fact that Yahweh has always been, He is now & He will always be. His very name implies that God is the foundation of all that exists.
In Hebrews 13:8 we hear of the true God that is the same yesterday & today & forever. It reveals that He can’t actually be manipulated like the gods that human beings create for themselves. Listen to how people in the OT had to help out one of their ‘gods.’
“After the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they took it from the battleground at Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. They carried the Ark of God into the temple of Dagon & placed it beside an idol of Dagon. But when the citizens of Ashdod went to see it the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground in front of the Ark of the Lord! So they took Dagon & put him in his place again. But the next morning the same thing happened – Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the Lord again. This time his head & hands had broken off & were lying in the doorway. Only the trunk of his body was left intact.”
Our culture is too ‘sophisticated’ to bow down to hand carved idols, yet that in no way proves we are immune to idolatry. The idol Dagon had fallen & could not get up. He needed the help of his human subjects to put him back in place. The sacred cows of our culture eventually fall as well, & when they do, they need our ‘help’ to be put back in their place.
An idol like that is in no shape to tell us anything we might refuse to hear. If it did, we’d simply make another one – like manipulating the climate data so the report tells the world what ‘believers’ want us to hear. The climate change ‘god’ needs human help, & such control over the idol shows who truly is in charge. It is the one who creates & manipulates the idol.
Yahweh created the universe & is constantly about the manipulation of it in order to rescue us from our ignorance, from our idols, & from our sins. The thrust of the message in Isaiah 6 is Israel’s inability to see & hear, to know & perceive. By chapter 40, God implies that this ignorance has been lifted & He has once again enabled the people to embrace His plan.
The people of Judah were despondent & had given up on Yahweh as their God. They thought He was defeated by the Babylonian gods so their future was hopeless. The judgment of God had done its proper work & convicted them of their sins. To restore them, Isaiah wrote:
“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, …who brings princes to nothing, & makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when He blows on them, & they wither, & the tempest carries them off like stubble.”
People who worship false gods understand that the purpose of worshipping such a god is
to gain his favor. Idolatry is all about pleasing the sacred cow so that it will do your bidding. You just have to figure out the formula. Sadly, even when we believe in the true God, sometimes we look at prayer as nothing more than the formula to gain our heart’s desire.
The essence of idolatry is putting our desires before those of our Creator. And when our attitude gets out of balance so do our actions. There are plenty of opportunities in this broken world to give up on our heavenly Father. As an answer to the brokenness of despair in the lives of his people, Isaiah points to Yahweh as the Foundation & the Creator of all things.
He rules over all things. In the Gospel reading from St. Mark, Jesus instantly cures the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. Then He heals many others & casts out many demons. Jesus demonstrates that He is God & He does desire to save His people & His creation. “Even… young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength...”
Which of your attitudes are holding you back? What counterproductive actions are arising from any of the out of balance attitudes in your heart? Is there a sacred cow, or two, that need to be cut loose from your mind & soul? Are you worshipping a god that needs to be manipulated or fixed every now & then? Maybe you’re wondering if God will still save you.
Here’s another detail from the OT reading to encourage you. The Babylonians captured God’s people because Yahweh had turned His over people over to them for judgment upon their sins. However, the Babylonians & the Jews thought it might be that the Babylonian gods were stronger. Babylon was the home & center of star worship. Most of their gods were star gods.
So Isaiah wrote to God’s people, “Lift up your eyes on high & see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, & because He is strong in power not one is missing.” (Isaiah 40:26 ESV) All of these so-called gods were created & named & put in their place by I Am Who I Am. The Lord’s people needed to be humbled. Because of all the blessings they’d received, they had gotten full of themselves & sought independence from their Creator. God emptied them through their suffering, & He used Isaiah to call them back to Himself, beginning with chapter 40 which famously implores of the prophet, “Comfort, comfort, ye my people…”
Yahweh acted on a national scaled to deliver His people from slavery in Babylon. Now, He is acting on a universal scale, since the death & resurrection of Jesus, to deliver all people from captivity to sin & death. He still uses the brokenness of our world to empty us of ourselves, to rid us of our sacred cows, but only so we can be filled with the power of His Spirit.
When you are despondent & have been cast down low, these words of Isaiah call out to you: “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
The prophet & messenger of God assumes that you know who created the heavens & the earth, who is the foundation of all that exists. Then, Isaiah calls you to trust in your Creator’s love for you. “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, …who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, & spreads them like a tent to dwell in.” (Isaiah 40:22 ESV)
The apostle John picked up this very theme in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation, as he paints a picture of heaven: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God.’” (21:3 ESV) Amen.
Creator Spirit, by whose aid the world’s foundations first were laid, come, visit every humble mind; come, pour Your joys on humankind; from sin & sorrow set us free; may we Your living temples be. Immortal honor, endless fame attend the almighty Father’s name; the Savior Son be glorified, Who for all humankind has died; to You, O Paraclete, we raise unending songs of thanks & praise. Amen. LSB 500:1 & 4.
 1 Samuel 5:1-4 NLT
 Isaiah 40:21-24 ESV
 Isaiah 40:30-31 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet