Belonging to God – Br. David Vryhof
Know that the Lord is God; it is he that has made us and we are his.
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100:2
I have many memories of the Dutch Calvinist home in western Michigan in which I grew up. One of those memories is of a framed piece of calligraphy which still hangs in the family room. Written there was a quotation from the Heidelberg Catechism, an explanation of Reformed faith that is organized into 52 sections, conveniently called “Lord’s Days,” so that the preacher could preach on one section each week throughout the year. And he did – every Sunday morning!
This quotation was of the first question and answer from the Catechism. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” the catechism asks. It then goes on to offer an answer: “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Our only comfort in life and in death, the catechism maintains, is that we belong to Christ. We are God’s own creation, and we belong to the One who has created us. “It is he that has made us and we are his,” maintains the psalmist, “We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” We belong to God.
Is this a comforting thought for you? Have you known comfort in belonging to the Savior? And has the fact that you belong to God made any difference in how you experience your life?
We know what it is like for a child who is secure in her belonging to her parents. She knows a freedom from care and worry. She trusts that every need she has will be provided for her. She knows her parents will do everything they can to protect her from harm and to nurture and love her. She believes in their love. Her sense of belonging to her family gives her the added comfort of a secure identity. Because she belongs to them, she knows who she is in the world, and this security enables her to grow appropriately into a mature interdependence.
And we know how carefully a good shepherd watches over his sheep, always alert to their needs. He feeds and waters them, guards and protects them, watches for any sign of danger or disease, loves and cherishes them. They come to know and trust him, and recognize his voice when he comes to them. They belong to him, and they live in the security of that care and protection.
We too can know this kind of security and freedom. We too can live free from care and worry, knowing that not a hair can fall from our heads apart from the will of our Father, and that we can cast all our cares on him, knowing that he cares for us. Knowing that God loves us with a love from which we can never be separated gives us comfort and joy. We need not fear, for God is with us; he has promised never to leave or forsake us. We belong to him for all time. “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God,” exclaims the author of I John, “and that is what we are!” Children of God, and free to live in the complete security and freedom of little ones who are loved, protected and cared for. He is the Good Shepherd, and “we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” At the moment of our baptism, God claimed us for his own. We were “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. ”
Whether you are a success in the world’s eyes or a failure, you belong to God. Whether you achieve all you hope for in life or few of your dreams come true, you belong to God. Whether you were born into a happy home or a troubled one, whether you’ve had a comfortable life or you’ve struggled all the way, whether you’ve been much loved or largely ignored, you belong to GOD. And God has said to you that you are precious in his eyes and he loves you, that nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth can ever separate you from the love with which he now holds you
You need not regret the past or fear the future. You belong to God. You need not conform yourself to the opinions of others or struggle to win their approval. You belong to God. You need not grasp for riches or fame or success or power in order to find meaning and purpose for your life. You belong to God. You need not be afraid of failing or falling or fumbling in life. You belong to God. Your name is carved in the palm of his hand. God will never forget you, never abandon you, never leave you. You belong to God.
“What is your only comfort in life and in death?” “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
Now this belonging is a great gift to us, but it carries with it a measure of responsibility on our part. The sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd and they follow him. A child recognizes the voice of his loving parent and runs to her. The voice of the One who has made us and redeemed us calls to us in love, and waits for our hearts to awaken and respond with a corresponding love. When we know that we are loved, we will quite naturally love in return; our hearts will respond to the call of love with gratitude and affection, with devotion and with an eagerness to please and to serve the One who has so loved us. “What shall I render to the Lord,” asks the psalmist, “for all the good things he has done for me?”
In the life that we know in the world, if some belong, then it follows that others do not belong. If some are chosen, others are left. But that is not the case in the spiritual realm. God’s love extends to each and every person, to every living thing. We belong to God, not because of anything we have done or merited on our own, but because God has chosen us. God has chosen to create us in love and to redeem us when we turned away and rejected that love. At our baptism, that belonging is confirmed and sealed. God marks us as God’s own. Gradually we awaken to it and embrace it and learn to live in the freedom and security it offers us. Others may not yet see or understand it. They might even resist it. But even that does not extinguish the burning love God has for each of his creatures. We are all loved. We are all chosen. We all belong. Some will never know it. They will stumble through life on their own, blindly unaware that they belong, that they are loved and cherished, that they have been offered security and freedom and peace. They are like the prodigal son, dwelling in a lowly place of their own making, not yet awakened to the realization of who they are and to whom they belong. But to those who know and believe, who hear the voice of the Shepherd and come to him, there is a deep comfort that is given them, the security of knowing that they belong.
St. Paul knew it and valued it. He counted it his most valuable possession, more precious that his distinguished family background, his excellent education, his many achievements, his spotless reputation as one who was zealous for God. All those things he counted as nothing in comparison with knowing the Lord. He lived in the security that nothing could separate him from God’s love – no amount of persecution or trouble, no evil or resistance from other men, no calamity or disaster. He was free and secure and untroubled in the knowledge that he belonged to God. How else could he have found grace to sing praise to God in his prison cell? And of this knowledge was born a great love and zeal to spread this good news through all the world. Paul lived for God. His new life was born out of a deep desire to love and serve the God who had claimed him as his own.
What is your only comfort in life and in death? That you belong to God. That “[you are] not [your] own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to [your] faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Live in the freedom and security of that love. Entrust yourself to the One who has claimed you as his own.
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Such comfort we have been given! I heard this past Sunday in a sermon that, when there is more anger and pain than one can bare, give it to Christ Jesus to carry for you. One is not obliged to carry it alone. When you give up that burden, then you can hear and receive God’s love without confusion, and follow the Shepherd.
I was feeling bereft today after an unfortunate falling out with my daughter. I felt alone and abandoned and this message has been a balm. Thank you.
I enjoyed reading your sermon once again. I had a couple of thoughts I would like to share. There was a book a few years ago entitled THE HOUND OF HEAVEN which stresses the fact that, as you stated in this sermon, God seeks us. He does not give up on us. So often we say that we need to seek Him. True, it is, but He also seeks us.
Another thought is that Jesus was the Shepherd, but He also became the sheep, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Perhaps it can be compared to the Divine nature vs. the human. He was God as well as man. He was the Giver as well as the Gift; the Shepherd to whom we belong, as well as the Lamb who became one of us. Thanks once again for reminding us that we belong to Him.
I have read this sermon again just now, and I read my previous post. This time in reading Br David’s sermon, I noticed something I had not noticed before — that as sheep we need to follow the Shepherd. This is an area where I continue to struggle — have I followed the Shepherd to His satisfaction? How do I know?
I really needed to hear this today. Thank you so very much. May God bless and keep you.
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Thanks David for that homily. It brings back many things i should be thankful for. You learn to give and take from a large family which we did. I know John was very good to me when i found out i had shingles while staying with you brothers. I have been able to return the help to him when he was at Chatham Resort, The place on Stanley Ave. and Riverview. I was glad i was there when he was taken. He did really suffer a great deal but John was ready to go. I was so glad to see Jonathan, as he was such a help. I am glad i was able to go to the services for him at Cambridge. As Mom used to say about people who tried to pull a fast one they are not dead yet. Also Uncle Bram & Aunty Marg are what i call true christians, they certainly helped Mom and all us kids. Thanks David it makes you stop and think. jane
Good morning Jane: I was so glad to read your reply above. You have been ‘away’ for so many months in the morning messages and I have missed reading your thoughts. Blessings. Christina
Thank you so much for this message. You have helped me more than you will ever know.
Dear Br. David, thank you for this beautiful message. It is exactly what I needed to read today. Aloha!
I needed this today.
Thank you for your sermon. It reminded me that Acts 8: 38 -39 states “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor heights, nor depth, nor any other creatures, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Wlsdom. I too grew up in Western Michigan. Protestant Reformed I used to be. Used to be…
Brother David, thank you for the reminder that “We too can live free from care and worry, knowing that not a hair can fall from our heads apart from the will of our Father, and that we can cast all our cares on him, knowing that he cares for us.” While I know this with my head, I find that in my gut I doubt every time that something adverse happens to me or to others that I know about. I also know that what comes my way each day can be used to shape me more like Jesus and to serve more effectively. But I do continue to question God’s providence when difficulty comes. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement that God is watching over me.
I am amazed again and again that the sermons I read are exactly the sermons I need just then. God takes care of us all.
It’s the one area, by the Grace & Mercy of God & wisdom, obedience & perseverance of a special friend, I feel I have had a much more satisfying insight into. What a messy & merky journey, but how worth it. I just hope there’s plenty more to come.
Thank you, Brother David for this hope-filled message. I needed to hear this, today. May you continue to be richly blessed for the love and gentleness you impart to others, every day.
This sermon was beautiful. After God’s Son’s resurrection, I am even more aware of the joy of belonging to God
I know that I want to share yourthoughts as I visit people. THey will be comforted by this concept of belonging .
and receiving His gift of redemption and the hope of life with Him one day.
I hope I can reach out to others with some of the love and compassion Jesus showed to us, knowing we belong to God forever because of His sacrifice.
I think that I know Gods’ love, primarily through the love that I receive from other people. That love brings me comfort, and I love in return; the love of parents, friends, clergy, all of them, I share love with, and thus with God. Turning to God in our troubles can come through talking to Him through another person. I found great comfort from this just the other day. I would say that this is a form of prayer. Prayer isn’t just an inward activity, but an outward as well; it isn’t just something we do when we are alone, but something we do when we are with other people. Because we belong to God, we also belong to each other, and that is love and prayer.
Right on, Gwedhen. We do belong to each other when we belong to God. He created us, loved us, gave Himself for all of us.
I struggle with feeling God’s love. I struggle with my vision of God and how that aligns with the view that God has human traits and characteristics and loves us like a Father or like a Shepherd. I am on a faith journey and trust it will come together over time.
Knowing that God loves me and that we all belong to God is comforting and makes me safe. So I try to pass this on to my children , to love them and to help them grow in this love.
It was a great way to start the morning. It is the gift that I hope for as a parent- to provide security and freedom to our children. It was amazing to think that I too have that gift always from God, and so do those that I love.
thanks david for those thoughts. it has brought home to me many values in life. i think coming from a large family we have learned to help one another and are very close. you never know when you are going to need help and guidence. it is a two way street. i always said to john when i am there at holy week and david gives his talks they just come to life for you and certaily give you something to think about and try to act upon.
Brother David, Thank you. Your writing was timely. It was helpful to read that in the human realm, some belong and others do not, but in the spiritual realm God loves us all. The human realm was exclusive this week, but serving food for a poverty program, restored faith that all belong and the pastors present were loving and appreciative. God bless you.
Thanks so much for your thoughts and your writing. I have to preach a funeral tomorrow, and I had run dry! Thanks for a great jumping off place.
“Gradually we awaken to it…” Thank God that even at this late stage of my life I continue to be awaken.
I still struggle with the idea of being the sheep of his pasture. In my Swedish Covenant background (apparently similar to the Dutch Calvinist), it was not about belonging, but believing. That included being shamed and alienated for asking questions, feeling numbed from cheery but benign neglect and unable to respond; not coming into a mature interdependence.
It’s hard to feel that I belong to God when the zealous sheep agenda can still set off anxiety. “Don’t you understand? I DON’T WANT TO BE A SHEEP!” I want to cry out. I continue on my journey to learn it is exactly this anxiety, despair and alienation which belongs to God, for it allows me to have something to be embraced, to be healed in me and to see the same need in the world to which I can respond.
It has been the black sheep of society: the minorities, differently abled, alternative sexuality, immigrant, and very young and very old who have been my spiritual teachers, willing to love a wounded yet privileged middle aged straight white guy like me. To those on that cutting edge of spirituality in the church today, I say thank you. Let us heal and be healed together, for that is grace.
There is an invidious invitation in this sermon which carries an underlying un-truth. They are like the prodigal son, dwelling “in a lowly place of their own making”. I do not think this is always true by any means.
There are a whole lot of legitimate victims out there. Victims do not create their own situations. Modern ‘pscho’ babble wants to deny this which takes the imperative off the well to do anything about it other than demand ‘no victim mentality’.
We are all culture bound. Products of our own particular background and situation. Margo
Thank you for this message that I needed so much tonight! I found myself wanting to print out a copy to carry with me. As your words sank in more deeply it came to me that I do already carry that messsage of belonging to God in the form of the cross I wear on a cord around my neck. It symbolizes a choice to try to follow Jesus, but it also marks me as belonging to God. (Sometimes I forget that part when times get rough, as they have been recently. Thank you for reminding me!) The next realization was that even that physical symbol is secondary because I will always have the invisible cross that was traced on my forehead with blessed oil as the external sign to represent the mark traced forever upon my soul with prayers and promises. Your sermon has reminded me that even when I feel very scared and alone, I really am never alone because I belong to God. He is always here with and for each of us (even me) and is always loving us more deeply than we can imagine. Thank you for including that we are all loved and all chosen and all belong. All of us. What a wonderful message to share… and I will.
We belong to God, and God’s church belongs to God. Not us. So much pain is created in the world, was created in my life and lives around me, by the belief that God’s church belongs to us, conveniently handed over to shepherd ministers armed with the 52 convenient sections following the example of the superhero activist Paul.
We belong to God and are called to love one another in the tension created in between God’s perfect love and in our imperfect understanding of it. We are called to show up and stumble our way forward in our imperfect and longing way, to trust that the others are all right, to trust that even we are already loved in our imperfection.
As I heal from the interpretation that “I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” = “I just might be good enough if I try harder but they surely aren’t since they don’t get it at all”, I struggle to find a suitable “we” statement of belonging.
We belong to God, and God belongs to us through one another. Through our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, we belong to each other, for our body and soul, our life and death remain one.
A nearby church has this phrase engraved in a panel over one side of the chance: “Let the Peace of Christ Rejoice, [wherein also you are called in one body:] and Be Ye Thankful.” (I Col 3:15) It came to mind in reading this in particular.
Thank you, Br. David! By the time I read to the end of your message I said out loud, “THANK YOU!” You’ve helped to fill me up anew today with the JOY and PEACE and COMFORT of knowing God in Christ.
This central truth of our faith is totally counter cultural! Thank you.
Dear Br. David,
What a marvelous comforting message! Thank you from the bottom
of my heart.