From the Archive: He Has Made Us and We Are His – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof originally preached this sermon on May 6, 2006.

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

See what love the Father has given us that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are.  I John 3:1

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,” declares 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 knowledge that you belong to God made any difference in how you experience your life?

Last week, I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of a remarkable family, the Bushnells.  Even after just a brief time together, it was clear to me that this was no “dysfunctional” family, but a family woven together in love — stable, affectionate, and nurturing.  Steve and Monica Bushnell have three children: Ben and Marshall, their children by birth, and Anita, their child by adoption.

Anita is Chinese and was adopted from mainland China, but she has been thoroughly welcomed and integrated into her new family.  Her parents lovingly speak of the joyous day when she “came home.”  She is now a permanent member of the Bushnell family, and this has given her access to much affection, many gifts, appropriate discipline and a profound sense of belonging.  It has given her a new identity and a new name: Anita Bushnell.  It has also given her parents boundless joy because she filled a place in their family that had been waiting just for her.

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 relationships of mature inter-dependence with others.

In much the same way, we know, as the 23rd Psalm reminds us, 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 as his own.  We were “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  We are God’s adopted children, St. Paul tells us, chosen and cherished, valued and loved.

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 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 God 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 realm of the spirit.  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, not because we are inherently better than someone else, 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.  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 to be his own.

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