Sermon prepared by Rev. George G. Vink, Visalia, California
Dear Congregation and Friends in Christ Jesus, Our Risen Lord;
Let me begin today as preachers often do, with a question: "Of what are you afraid? I mean, really afraid?" Or, maybe another way to ask it: "What is it that you fear? What is it that puts a knot in your stomach as you think about it?"
Some among us might answer, "Honestly? You really want to know? I'm afraid of the results of the tests my doctor took. I know that there's something wrong. I'm sure of it. Probably...cancer!"
Or, if you're like a lot of men, you fear what a doctor might say, and don't even go to one unless absolutely necessary. But, again, "What strikes fear in your heart? What makes you desire some comforting?" All of us need this at some time. We fear the unknown and need comfort. And, the fact is, often enough, we don't even realize what it is that we fear. We know that something's wrong, but we're not sure what. We need something to assure us, something or someone to comfort us.
Comfort is that which takes care of a bad situation. It may not remove the situation, but helps us deal with it. Comfort comes with the assuring words of a parent stilling a nightmare awakened child. Comfort comes when a friend looks deep into your eye, sees your hurt and shares a hug. Comfort comes and dries your tears or encourages you to keep going when what the doctor said shattered your dreams and hopes.
Comfort comes to young parents presenting their children for baptism even when they are not sure of what is ahead for them and their children. They hear the familiar and loving words of their Lord and Savior, " Lo, I am with you to the very end of the age." These comforting words are followed by the challenge to go wherever he leads and to trust him fully, taking up our cross. The cross is the call designed uniquely for us — a challenging, life-embracing, and yet comforting call.
Comfort comes to all of us when we participate in the Lord's Supper and hear the familiar words of Jesus saying, "Do this in remembrance of me," followed by those assuring words, "Take, eat, drink, and remember that ALL of yours sins are forgiven." That's assurance.
We live in a world, whether pre 9-11 or post 9-11, where many realize that life is out of sync. Folks feel incomplete. Things just aren't right. And, whether they realize it or not, it has everything to do with their relationship to God. God is divinely warning them that all the achievements, all the success, whether position or prosperity, fame or family, cannot fill the void. Their deep-felt insecurity is not caused by terrorists nor by any test results. Their anxiety reflects a lack of a solid assurance, a needed comfort, that only God can provide. Alienation is not caused by being in a foreign land, but by being a stranger to God's unconditional love and his acceptance, his ownership.
Let's remember that nothing much has changed since that drama-filled day in the Garden when a couple, bereft of their innocence, began living a nightmare of alienation. God came calling with that question that has haunted all of us ever since. "Adam, where are you?" "Eve, why are you hiding from me?"
Whatever label you want to give it, whether anxiety, nervousness, incompleteness, sense of inadequacy or simply a sense of guilt, we have it. And, we'll continue to have it until we can confess with heart, mind and mouth, with every bit of our being, with who I am and who you are: "My comfort is that I belong to Jesus."
The first footnote of this confession refers to I Corinthians 6. These words: "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."
The next footnote refers to what we read from Romans 14. We're not in it alone, we are meant to be in right relationship to the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. God had a right to come calling, and he still has that right, asking, "Where are you?" and "Who are you?" Inherent is something that we must realize is true: We are his property.
So, when, or IF, in response to the question, "What is your ONLY comfort in life and in death?" you have the assuring knowledge that you belong to Jesus Christ. And if this is not just some confession you learned by memory in your Catechism class, but has truly entered your deep level of consciousness, then you'll endure every battle, face every foe, conquer even cancer, confident of the outcome. Then you will say, "Thank you, Lord, for giving me the comfort that I need. You are mine and I am yours." What a summary.
The Christians who confessed these words at the time of the Reformation in the newly-found faith of the scriptures were enduring uncertainties, struggles, persecution and required true comfort. Even when they faced martyrdom, they held on to, "I belong to Jesus." Their confession reflected a certainty that their previous religion couldn't give them. Had they done enough? Had they paid enough? Had they prayed enough? Did all their works ever suffice? Or was something lacking as they struggled to be right with God?
Uncertainty was replaced with confidence, with the powerful assurance of the words: "I belong to Jesus. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood."
Knowing that, believing that, I can now know that nothing can separate me from his love. Nothing. That's comfort. That's the comfort you need to have also in a world where the next terrorist strike may take your life or that of your loved ones. That's the comfort you need if your family fails you and your friends forsake you.
Who of us knows when something similar may happen to us? Who knows when we will hear those dreaded words from our doctor or loved one's doctor: "That's all that can be done." Or as so many have already heard, "I'm sorry to inform you, but...."
The power of the comfort confessed in Lord's Day 1 is based on the confidence we have that Jesus Christ is the only one. His is THE way to the Father, and when we baptize in obedience to his command, we do so in the assurance that it is meaningful and not some nice ritual. When we celebrate the Supper, we do so because it has meaning for us.
This confession, learned and memorized by generations of believers, is basic to what follows. It's basic to life, and not just comfort in death. It's not just a cheer-me-up for the dying and those mourning. It's a comfort for facing the struggles of the day. It's a power for entering into the battlefield of the classroom, making sure all taught and learned is in subjection to Christ. It's the basis for keeping the promises made in the boardroom as well as the bedroom. It provides the comfort for living as well as dying — the living that we're called to do again tomorrow, the cross we pick up as we go about out daily endeavors.
That's why we say, "Because I belong to him, Christ...assures me and the Holy Spirit makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready to live for him." Those who belong to Jesus know they do and it affects their lives. If your living does not reflect to whom you belong, then I ask with some fear and trembling, but ask it I must, "Do you belong? Do you belong, body and soul to your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?"
Sometimes, we spend hours looking at our children and grandchildren to see whom they resemble. Well, isn't it about time we spend some time looking at ourselves to see if in any way we resemble him, to whom we belong? Him who bought us at a price, the precious price of his own life. Doing so, gets us involved in looking at how we can live in the joy of the comfort that God provides his children. What's involved then also is the constant interaction of knowing my sin and misery, knowing how I am to be freed from them and finally how I am to thank God when he delivers me from myself. Sound familiar?
I need God's comfort and so do you. When that penetrating, very personal question, "What is your only comfort..." comes your way, can you answer, "I belong...." Not "I've heard of Jesus" but "I belong...." And, having that assurance, that comfort, do you live for him? Do you?
Then, and only then, even with tears, can you sing, "It is well...with my soul, that is — me. It is well with me." Is it? Is it well with you? Can you say, "Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control. Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul...." (Quote more of the song, if you like.)
Can you face whatever fears may come your way? Will you live in confidence having this comfort that God gives?
Will you stand up for this Jesus tomorrow?
Proposed Order of Service
Call to worship: Psalm 113:1-4
"The Name of the Lord" or Psalter Hymnal #146
God's Greeting: "Greetings in the Name of the Lord, Who made you.
His grace, mercy and peace be with you, now and always. Amen."
Words of Welcome
Call to Confession: "I Corinthians 13 sets the standard of love. Let's hear it and confess that we've not lived up to that love."
Singing while seated: "God Be Merciful to Me" PH #255
God's Word For His People: The Decalogue — Ten Commandments
Song Seeking God's Power: PH #424 "Spirit of the Living God"
Prayer of the Congregation
Hymn of Preparation: "To the Hills I lift My Eyes" PH#121
Prayer for God's Spirit
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 & Romans 14:1-9
Sermon: "My Only Comfort in Life and Death"
Reading of Lord's Day One by the Congregation
Prayer of Commitment
Song of Commitment: "When Peace Like a River" PH #489
Parting Song of Praise: "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus" PH#559:1, 4
Meditation and Music as We Leave to Serve
(Note: The reading of the teaching as reflected in Lord's Day One is deliberately done after the message is brought. The message is to be read with conviction and a sense of challenging the congregation while comforting them with the assurance that is found in this wonderful teaching document that's been with us as a Reformed people since 1563.)