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