Gods of Babylon
46 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
2 They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.
3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Let’s go on a journey for a moment. Our destination is none other than Fort Wadsworth, New York, on Stanton Island. Fort Wadsworth is an army post. The chapel of this army post is named for the Medal of Honor recipient Father Vincent Capodanno. Father Capodanno was a navy chaplain attached to a marine infantry unit in Vietnam. Known as the “Grunt Padre,” Father Capodanno accompanied his regiment on its combat operations, often risking his life for the life of his men. During one such mission, Capodanno ran 75 yards through heavy fire to reach a fallen marine and carried him to safety. During these battles, Father Capodanno would often run to the wounded to say a quick prayer and offer words of consolation. Although he said mass at least once a day for the troops, it was not just the words he spoke in his sermons, but it was his very presence on the battlefield which drew the men to him and ultimately to Christ.
On the morning of September 4, 1967, Father Capodanno volunteered to go with the marine units fighting in the Que Son Valley. Immediately upon arriving, his unit was attacked by a force of nearly 2,000 North Vietnamese. Capodanno like before jumped into action. He brought in wounded men and performed last rites to the dying. Even though he was hit twice, once in the face and once in the right hand, he continued to look for the wounded. He would tell them, “have faith. Jesus is the truth and the life.” He reassured an injured young man that “God is with us all this day,” and he then blessed them with his still-intact left hand. Attending to another wounded marine, Father Capodanno shielded the man with his body. Sadly … this was his last earthly effort. Father Capodanno died after being shot about 50 times under withering machine-gun fire.
The narthex, the entry way of the chapel at Fort Wadsworth hosts a little makeshift museum about Father Capodanno’s life. One of the island’s major thoroughfares bears his name, as does a naval ship. An effort is underway in the Catholic church to have him canonized as a saint.
Father Capodanno brought to life his dedication and love for God in his service for others. He reflected that love in his willingness to carry fallen comrades to safety, even in the most dangerous of circumstances. This kind of selfless love is ultimately what cost him his life.
There is a different kind of war taking place in our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 46. Instead of people being carried off and out of danger to safety, Isaiah tells us about Bel and Nebo. Now who on earth are they? Well, in order to know who they are we need to look at the context, the story behind what Isaiah is writing. We need to remember that the Israelites, that God’s people were exiled from their land and forced to live under Babylonian rule. When you are exiled and living under somebody else’s rule, you are required to worship their gods. Bel and Nebo are Babylonian gods. Bel is believed to be the high god and Nebo is the god of learning and writing. The ironic thing here in our reading from Isaiah is this … these gods were now the ones who were being carried off into exile instead of the Israelites because the Babylonians had been defeated in battle. They were defeated and were now headed to Persia in humiliation. Everything had to go, everything the Babylonians owned had to go. This included their furniture, their possessions, and even the idols they worshipped.
Now why bring up these strange Babylonian gods? Because in this scene, Isaiah makes a clear comparison between these Babylonian idols and the true God of Israel. He says, “Look at the idols of Bel and Nebo … they are carried by beasts of burden, even though they themselves cannot carry anyone!”
Isaiah explains that the God of Israel is totally different. He isn’t carried by animals or people, instead, it is HE who carries us!!! You see, that is what the true God does! He carries the remnant of the House of Israel, HE carries all those who have faith in Jesus Christ, He carries you, and He carries you and all the faithful throughout their entire lives! God creates us in our mother’s wombs, He sustains us as we grow, and even in our old age He holds us in His loving arms. On top of all of that, God has given to you and me the most precious gift of all … salvation, salvation through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.
When looking at the idols of Babylon … they are nothing. They are made from gold and silver by human hands. The Babylonians carried these idols on their shoulders, they put them in their temples. But these idols they worshiped are ultimately lifeless. They can’t answer our prayers! They can’t save us from any kind of trouble! They can’t even move! And then those who created them bow down and worship them. It’s crazy to think about.
It’s easy to write all of this off as just history and think that it can never happen today. If that is what we are doing, we need to think again. How many times have we made things that we have fashioned with our own hands into idols? I’m talking about things like money, our cars, our homes, our TVs, our phones, or the internet? There is always the temptation to rely on these present-day idols. There is that temptation because we believe they provide things like pleasure, comfort, peace, or security. Or how about this one … how many times has it been forgotten that it is God who is in charge of our lives from conception to our natural death?
Our own life plans can easily become idols. Instead of letting God lead our lives, we create, we develop these arbitrary timelines. We say, “I won’t get married until I have graduated college, have a secure job, and I’m at least 30 years old. I’m also not going to have my child until I’m 35.” And so, to obtain these goals, we fall into premarital sex or even abortion to make sure our timelines are met. And when childbirth is delayed until after the age of normal fertility, people sometimes resort to medicine or technologies which endanger embryonic lives. Do you see where I’m going with this? When we refuse to let God be God, when we refuse to live on His timeline … we inevitably fall into sin. We simply can’t always have it my way. As Christians, we need to be open to God’s way. We need to let Him carry us … not the other way around.
Friends, the true God we worship is like none other. He created the world, He rules it, He sustains it, and ultimately His purposes will be fulfilled. But God also has a love for you that is like none other. He has a love for you where He tells you to come to Him with all of your burdens, pain, and sorrow … and He will give you rest. The pagans of old and the unbelievers of today carry their own idols … but we have a God who is more than willing to comfort, carry, and care for us.
Isaiah in his book gives us three examples of this kind of “carrying love.” In Isaiah 49 a father is seen carrying his son; in Isaiah 40, a shepherd is seen carrying a lost sheep; also in Isaiah 40 an eagle is seen carryings its young. Let’s add two more to the list … Father Capodanno carrying those fallen marines to safety and then ultimately, there is Jesus who carries our burdens while sacrificing His own life. What do all these examples have in common? One word … love. Like I said, God’s love is like none other. His love nurtures us from the very moment we are conceived until the moment He decides to bring us into His everlasting arms in heaven.
Two thousand years ago Jesus died for each of us on a lonely cross on Calvary’s hill. He not only carried his cross up the hill to die upon but he also carried you. He carried all of your sin and sorrow. Jesus died to forgive you of every single sin, to carry and take away every single burden, and to wipe away every single tear. Today, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the Gospel of His love … we too, just like Father Capodanno, we can begin and continue to carry each other’s burdens.
Through faith in Jesus, we have been given LIFE and we continue to be given LIFE! He will replace our self-centeredness with His righteousness. He will take you and me to an eternal Zion, an eternal home, to an absolutely awesome new heavens and new earth where we can live eternally and enjoy our Savior forever! Amen.