Helpless and Satisfied

Download or listen to The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, “Helpless and Satisfied” (Isaiah 66:10-14)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Babies need only a few things: when they’re hungry, they need to be fed; when they’re cold, they need to be clothed; when they’re dirty, they need to be cleaned; and when they’re tired, they need to sleep. That’s about it. And that’s what mothers give their children; they feed them, clothe them, clean them, and put them to bed. And, as helpless as they are, babies are satisfied with those few things. But if the mother dies, and the child is left alone, abandoned, forsaken, then the child will die also. That’s how the people of Israel felt, that’s what they experienced, in 586 BC, when Babylon came and killed their mother, Jerusalem. Babylon tore down her walls, burned down her temple, and took the people, dying, into exile, far away from their mother. And they mourned for her, because they loved her. But the people had made Jerusalem into an idol. They made her an end, rather than a means. God had graciously given them a land, with a city, and a temple where He had graciously put His Name, so that whoever prayed toward that place where His Name was, He would hear them and forgive them. But they forgot their Father, who had cleaned them in the water of the Red Sea, who had given them water from the rock, who had fed them with manna from heaven in the wilderness; they forgot their Father and so they made their mother into an idol. They thought that as long as the walls were standing, as long as the temple was there, as long as they could bring their sacrifices, it didn’t matter that they let themselves be seduced by the surrounding culture; it didn’t matter that they went and worshiped all the gods of the nations; it didn’t matter that they made their own idols, gods they could control. As long as their mother was there, everything would be okay. They thought God was bound to the temple. But they found out that He was not bound; He is free. He does whatever He wants. And He had to destroy their idol; He had to smash her with the hammer of Babylon. That’s a terrifying thing: to have a God you can’t control. A God who might do anything, like tear the idols from your heart, even burn them to the ground in front of your eyes.

And don’t we, like Israel, love to make idols out of the best of God’s gifts in this creation? Don’t we pursue with all our energy our jobs, our families, our money, our food, clothing, shelter, and entertainment? And maybe the biggest idol of them all is our time: you can infringe on anything else you want, but don’t infringe on my time! It’s mine, and I’ll spend it how I choose. We pursue all these things as if God did not freely give them to us, as if we could get them for ourselves if God did not give them to us! But our God is the destroyer of idols. He did it in 586 BC and He does it today. It’s not a matter of worshiping idols for a little while, and then we’ll have a little time to get things right before the day of judgment. The judgment on idols has already come into this world. All idols are condemned to destruction. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 6 that whoever sows to the flesh—whoever sows to the things of this world, to my sinful nature, to my own sinful desires—whoever sows to the flesh will reap from the flesh corruption. Idols always and only end in death, for the idol and for those who worship it.

But notice that Isaiah speaks this prophecy before Israel experiences the judgment of God. None of the people who heard Isaiah actually experienced the Babylonian exile. Not only that, but into the midst of a prophecy about Israel’s judgment, God says this: “Rejoice.” Three times in verse ten: Rejoice. Rejoice, you who mourn over Jerusalem; rejoice, you who love her. Rejoice, because the God who brings down to the grave is the same God who raises from the dead. We have a picture of the fulfillment of this prophecy in Revelation 21, when the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. This city has no temple, because her temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. Israel may have forgotten their Father; we may forget our Father; but your Father never forgets you. And before you had constructed any idols in your heart or with your hands, God sent His Son. He clothed Him in flesh, gave Him a mother to nurse and raise Him, and washed Him in the Jordan River. And it is from His wounds, from hands pierced by nails, from a side pierced by a spear, from a head pierced by thorns, that blood and water flow to raise your mother from the dead. With Jesus’ blood, God creates a Church to give birth to saints. In the midst of judgment on sinners, God says, “Rejoice.” Here, from the wounds of My Son, you can be washed and cleaned; here, you can eat and be satisfied; here, you can be clothed in His holiness and purity; here, you can rest from your sin. Rejoice! Nurse and be satisfied from the Church’s consoling breast; drink deeply, and delight in her glorious abundance! The more you drink, the more she has to give, because she has everything from your Father in heaven. Like any nursing mother, she can only feed her children if she herself has been fed. She can only nourish her children if she has been nourished. But she has: she has Jesus to give to sinners. And He is enough. Though she looks poor and malnourished and weak, she has the only thing that matters, the only One who can satisfy. But you have to be helpless to know it. Isn’t it ironic that as long as we are helpless infants, we are completely satisfied with the things of our mother? It’s only when we start to grow up, like a two-year-old, that we say, “No! I can do it myself!” But the fact is that as long as we think we can do it ourselves, as long as we think we can satisfy ourselves, we will never be satisfied. As one of Job’s friends said to him, “Are the comforts of God too small for you? The word that speaks gently to you?” As long as we think that Baptism, and the Absolution, and the Body and Blood of Christ are optional, or additional to some other, “real” thing, we will never be satisfied with our mother, the Church. The Rolling Stones had it right: “I try, and I try, and I try, and I try/but I can’t get no satisfaction.”

So stop trying. Be helpless. Unless you become like one of these little children, you will never enter the Reign of God. But today the Reign of God has come near you. The river flowing from the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem flows through this place, and it is overflowing with the peace of Christ. There is more than enough for you. As one whom his mother comforts, so God will comfort you. You will see and rejoice, and your dry, weary, dying bones will flourish like the grass. Your name is written in Christ’s blood in heaven, in the New Jerusalem, in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Drink deeply from the wells of salvation, and be satisfied forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/6/13

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