Your Only Comfort
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well--since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
When you are a seminary or a university professor, you can get away with giving homework assignments to the ones listening to you. I did that every day I taught. When you are in the pulpit, however, preaching a sermon, giving a homework assignment is trickier. Many people in the pew may fear the preacher is giving a test after worship in fellowship hall.
However, this morning I am going to break with tradition slightly, and give you something simple, but very important for you to do. I’m giving you five words to remember, words that can be life changing. The five words are: “I belong to Jesus Christ.”
These words come from a creed, which Presbyterians have in our Book of Confessions, entitled, The Heidelberg Catechism. This creed asks the simple, yet poignant question, “What is your only comfort?” The answer: My only comfort is “that I belong – body and soul – in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful savior Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins, that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for salvation. Therefore, he assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Wow! What power. What comfort, what words. Especially when it says - “without the will of my Father in heaven, not a hair can fall from my head.” I needed to hear these words. I just knew the bald were blessed.
“I belong to Jesus Christ.” I hope you carry these five words with you wherever you go.
These words are also what in essence, what Paul is saying in our Scripture lesson this morning. They are a summary of all he has learned through his life and sufferings, and what he is trying to tell the Philippians. “I belong to Jesus Christ.” You belong to Jesus Christ.
What is the significance of these words for Paul and the Philippians, and especially for you and me today?
The significance lies in that it tells you who, what, and where. That is, to say “I belong to Jesus Christ,” it tells you - who you are, what you need to do, and where you are going.
Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” once told a story about a clock who was constantly running around anxiously crying out – “I’m waiting for someone to unlock me; I’m waiting for someone to unlock me.”
People so often look for things or someone to tell them who they are. Who tells you who you are? For many people, money is the constant in their lives; money tells them who they are. Their drive for security, for influence, for greed – makes money the one constant in their lives, by which they judge themselves, and they think other people judge them.
The problem with money telling you who you are is that money is limited. After you make so much money, then what? After it give you the necessities and gives you and your family some sense of security, what do you do after you make your first billion? Or, even your first million? To say you are a millionaire or billionaire or that you finally have so much in your checking account, what does that really say in depth about who you are? Your material goods are limited to here and now. As one comedian said – “You never see and armored car following a hearse.”
Other people say power and success tells them who they are. The drive for power, success, and fame is never ending. Fame cannot really tell you who you are. It only tells you how many people know your name. Power cannot tell you who you are because it distorts the truth. Usually, the further away one is from the seats of power, the closer one is to the truth. Jesus went to the lowly and outcasts they were able to hear the truth.
Still others let people tell them who they are. Constantly measuring ourselves against other – how much we weigh, how we look, where we are in our career – is being the clock running around saying – “I’m waiting for someone to unlock me.”
For Paul, Christ told him who he was. Paul wrote – “For to me, living is Christ….” Who does Christ say I am? He tells all of us, we all belong to God. We are God’s.
In your Hubble Telescope in just one tiny section of the sky you see literally trillions of galaxies, within which are billions of solar systems and planets. God says to us, “You may feel insignificant in all this vastness; instead, you should feel how important you are to me. For among this vast cosmos, out of the billions of galaxies, out of the billions of people, you – the one sitting in the pew, you the one in the choir, you the pianist, you the choir director, you the pastor, you the one in grief, you the depressed, you the one who feels a failure – are important to me.”
“God loves each of us as if we are the only ones to love.” For on each one of you, is stamped the words – “Made in heaven.” Both statements may be trite, but true.
Secondly, to say – “I belong to Jesus Christ” – not only tells you who you are, but also what you need to do. Paul says – “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,…”
Belonging to Christ gives us something to do. What are we to do? Simple to say, harder to do – be humble, be brave, be loving.
Be humble. Since you know all you have belongs to God, and since the gift of life is itself a gift, then we can only be humble.
Be brave. Since you belong to God, you can face all that life has to throw at you. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul could face life or death equally, and tell the Philippians and us – “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. .. I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two”
In the short three months I have been here serving you gladly as your temporary pastor, I have seen many of you go through some very difficult times – things that tear the heart. I can see the pain in your eyes - in worship, or when I visit you. I cannot take your pain away, but I can offer you honest and profound words of comfort and hope. “I belong to Jesus Christ” are those words. They will not shield you from pain and loss, but they will help you get through.
For the only way you can handle life’s hardships, is to go through them; and the only way you can conquer death is by dying.
And be loving. Since we know of our acceptance by God, let us help others to know they are accepted by God too.
Besides telling you who you are, and what you are to do, it tell you where you are going. “I belong to Jesus Christ” means not only does our life have meaning today, you have hope for life and for death.
Death has been conquered. We can have hope for ourselves and our loved ones.
Listen again to what the Catechism teaches us - “that I belong – body and soul – in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful savior Jesus Christ, …. Therefore, he assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
If the only way you can handle life’s hardships, is to go through them; then the only way you can conquer death is by dying. But be not afraid, for death is more friend than foe. Death may take us and the ones we love, it does not take away our greatest comfort of all – that “I belong to Jesus Christ.”
What is your only comfort?” My only comfort is “that I belong – body and soul – in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful savior Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins, that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for salvation. Therefore, he assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
That is the fulfillment of all our hopes and all our dreams. Amen!