The Christ Who Names Us             Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12     October 4, 2009
 
Today, we're going to talk about cows: yes, cows. Have you all seen the "happy California cows" commercial? I'm here to tell you there is scientific proof that happy cows are better cows. But first, here are a few things some happy cows wanted me to pass on to you:
 
• What do you get from a pampered cow? Spoiled milk.
• What do you call a cow that doesn’t give milk? A milk dud.
• What do you call a cow that just recently had its baby? Decaffeinated.
 
All I Need to Know About Life I Learned from a Cow:

1. Don’t cry over spilled milk.
2. When chewing your cud, remember: There’s no fat, no calories, no cholesterol and no taste!
3. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
4. Seize every opportunity and milk it for all it’s worth!
5. Never take any bull from anybody.
6. Black and white is always an appropriate fashion statement.
 
 
As the CA cows will tell you, Cows with names are happy and productive, while anonymous cattle tend to be stressed and unproductive. If you call a cow by name, she’ll give you more milk. Show a little kindness and a personal touch, and she’ll be more productive. (Perhaps the same is true for us.)

A new study out of England, reported in USA TodayCatherine Douglas of Newcastle University says farmers have always believed that naming cows has a positive effect. But until now, there has never been any scientific evidence. , [i]reveals that affectionate treatment of cattle — including the giving of names to cows — can increase the amount of milk they give. The average cow produces about 2,000 gallons of milk a year, but if you know her by name, she’ll give you an extra 68 gallons.

Researcher
Her study shows that if a cow isn’t given individual attention, then it’s likely to be uncomfortable around humans and become stressed. A stressed cow releases a hormone called cortisol, which inhibits milk production.

But cow-friendly farmers name their cows and make contact with them from an early age. “They chat to them in passing,” Douglas observes. “They walk among the cows and speak with them.”

As the words to the old hymn “In the Garden” go:

And he walks with me
And he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
 
Jon Bansen, the owner and operator of an organic dairy farm in Oregon, knows each of his 165 cows by a personal name — his favorites being Cinder, Ajax and Hawk. His grandfather started this practice, making the rule that you couldn’t be head milker until you could identify every cow by name.

“A cow that’s happy and calm is going to produce more milk,” says Bansen. He’s convinced that naming a cow, combined with really understanding the animals and their behavior, is going to increase milk production.

So cows that are known by name will be happy, calm and productive. Anonymous cattle are going to be stressed and unproductive.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? And God knows that the same applies to us. In Scripture, perhaps the most frequent metaphor for God’s children is sheep. But a metaphor is a metaphor. Today, we’re talking about cows.

Jesus, you could say, is a cow-friendly Christ. And, like it or not, we are the cows.
Here’s what we mean:The letter to the Hebrews says that “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (1:1-2).
 
God sent Jesus to walk among us and speak to us, to show us God’s will and God’s way by being in relationship with us. Jesus “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (v. 3).

That sounds a great deal like the first chapter of the gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:1, 14).

God has spoken to us by a Son. He sustains all things by his powerful word. The Word became flesh and lived among us.Jesus — “and those who are sanctified” — each of us — “all have one Father.” For this reason, Jesus isn’t ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (2:12).

Jesus the Dairy Farmer: Jesus loved to use images from rural life when he was teaching the public about the nature of the God kingdom. Just picture this down-to-earth and highly human Jesus, out in a field with us.
God is . . .
• Not distant, but with us.
• Not silent, but speaking to us.
• Not harsh, but full of grace and truth.

Hebrews goes on to say that “the one who sanctifies” —
 
He’s a dairy farmer, walking among his cows, calling us brother and sister, and praising God in the middle of the endless herd of humanity. He’s addressing us by name, showing us a little kindness and a human touch, and taking the time to get to know us and our odd and unpredictable behavior.

You’ve no doubt preached any number of sermons about sheep and how we Christians so often behave like sheep. But consider this new metaphor: Like cows, we have a wide range of personalities, from those who want to be first in line to those who insist on being last. Some fuss and fidget, while others are always calm. Within any given herd there’s going to be a well-defined hierarchy, with one cow usually acting as the leader.

Jesus understands this about us and grasps our distinctive identities. We don’t often take the time to paint this picture of Jesus. More often, we think of him as our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Or, we see Jesus as the Rabbi, the Cosmic Christ, the Universal Man, the benign moral teachert, or the Liberator. Never the Dairy Farmer.

There’s something to be said for an image of Jesus as a farmer in the pasture with us. It’s close to the biblical image of the shepherd, the one who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” He goes ahead of them, says Jesus, “and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).
 
This is the Christ who “for a little while was made lower than the angels,” says the letter to the Hebrews (2:9), and who walked among us, making us happy and calm. This is all for our benefit, says Hebrews, “For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham” (v. 16).

Jesus comes to help us, like a farmer who cares for us and calls us by name, to make us more productive. Clearly, Jesus wants good milk. And he wants lots of it. “My Father is glorified by this,” says Jesus, using a slightly different agricultural metaphor, “that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:8).

The question is: Are we giving it to him? Are we bearing fruit?
 
God provided all we need to be "happy cows." Jesus demonstrated the Father's love for us. Christ assured us for this life and the next. We’re going to be most productive for God when we are happy and calm, instead of stressed and uncomfortable. Jesus knows this. He knows that we are …

• not going to bear much fruit if we are stressed about our salvation.
• not going to give good milk if we feel guilty about not volunteering enough.
• not going to do good work if we are uncomfortable about our theological knowledge.
• not going to be very productive if we feel badly about not being green enough … or holy enough … or prophetic enough … or spiritual enough.


 
It’s better to be blessed than stressed. And Jesus came to bless us, not stress us. Or, as John puts it, Jesus came to save us, not to condemn us. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). People who believe in Jesus aren’t condemned, and this assurance of salvation should be enough to help us become happy, calm and productive disciples of Christ.

What a difference it makes to know that Jesus loves us and cares for us. He isn’t ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, and to walk with us, talk with us and tell us we are his ownJesus by really working at it, day after day after day.

Jesus loves us exactly as we are — that’s the good news. But he loves us too much to let us stay that way, and he wants us to grow in our relationship with him and become more productive. Like any good friendship, marriage or long-term relationship, we have to give it priority in our lives and really work at it, if it’s going to be healthy, life-giving and fruitful.
. But this leaves us with a challenge: to grow in our relationship with

We have been placed under the care of Jesus the Christ, who, according to the writer of Hebrews, in these “last days” is the expression of God. The relationship of the dairy farmer and his or her herd is mindful of Jesus’ words in his “Good Shepherd” discourse: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

 
Mike Nelson, from Triune Lutheran Parish in Cokato, Minnesota gives us an intimate look at dairy farming. "Because I grew up on a 200-acre dairy farm, one of my early memories was of waking up early on summer mornings to the sound of my dad’s voice calling down toward the pasture from the steps of our farmhouse: “Come, Boss! Come, Boss!”"
 
After no more than two such calls, I would hear from the distance the moo of one or more of the cattle answering him. Soon you could hear the sound of a cowbell clanging around the neck of one of the cows leading the herd up the path into the cow yard at a deliberate but not hurried gait to be let into the barn.
 
Rarely did my dad need to walk down into the pasture and round up the cattle. They knew that his call meant that at the barn there would be grain to eat and the comfort of having their full udders milked of their heavy loads.


 
Whether Shepherd or Dairy Farmer, it's easy to recognize the intimate, individual care God gives his flock, or herd. We can be comforted knowing we are in his good and capable hands. Let's conclude this sermon by singing, "He walks with me, and He talks with me…
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
First Presbyterian Church
Bastrop, Louisiana
 


 


 


[i] Der Bedrosian, Jeanette. “Naming cows isn’t udder nonsense.” USA Today, February 5, 2009, 6D.
 
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