July 20, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
My Only Comfort
Faithful God, You walk with us throughout life’s journey. As our strength diminishes, may our faith increase. As our eyes grow dim, let the light of Christ shine more brightly before us. Help us live to the end of our years in joy, knowing that You lead us into eternal life! Amen.
As most of you know, last week while you were faithfully worshiping here under the leadership of Gene and Kathy and Lilly, I was in AZ worshiping with my Mom the day after my Dad’s funeral. My Mom’s pastor was also on vacation, so they had volunteers and Associate Pastors leading their worship – which, frankly, helped me pretend I was here with you.
It was an awkward worship experience because just 22 hours earlier I sat in the front row while my Dad was being memorialized. So, my mind wandered off to my final days with my Dad just a week before his death. One day my Mom was whisked off by a church-friend to go to the store – a much needed break from the care-giving she had been responsible for. So my Dad and I got to talk with each other. In his final couple of weeks he was very lucid some times, and very confused other times. This was a lucid moment. I told him how much I loved him, and I thanked him for how he had taught me to be the best I could be. And I asked him if he was scared. Listen to how he answered:
“What would I be scared of? I guess I wish I knew how long it would take – but I’m not scared. ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until [sic] that day.’”
As my eyes welled up with tears, I asked him what he meant. And he said, “I don’t know exactly what’s next, but I know that it’s good.”
Not exactly a PhD in statements of faith; but I remember clearly when he became a Christian during my senior year of high school; and have full confidence that this was Dad’s way of reminding me of his faith and God’s perfect faithfulness.
This Summer we are working our way through Paul’s epistle from prison to the people of Philippi. Last time we saw that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
Today we read Philippians 1:12-30, & discover our only comfort in life and in death. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 1:12-30…. —-
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me (being arrested and bound and imprisoned for my faith) has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
These verses serve to remind us of one basic truth: the choices we make do not define us – we are defined by something far deeper.
Paul had chosen between arresting Christians and accepting Christ; between facing a Roman execution and facing the Roman emperor; between denying Christ and relying on Christ; between being grouchy/grumpy about his treatment/predicament and being grateful/ about his appointment; between death and going to his eternal home in Christ and life and continuing his eternal life with Christ.
And he tells his readers in the northern Greek city of Philippi to choose between conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and any other lifestyle; between being fearful of religious opposition and standing strong in their faith.
And he challenges us in our every choice – to do good and be rewarded or to do bad and be punished; to choose a job in manual labor or a job in an office; to go to this school or take that job; to marry at all, or whom to marry; to stay close to home or to move farther way; to buy these prescriptions or to pay rent; to choose expensive treatment or to allow nature to take its course; what are you deciding today?
These decisions, as important as they are – and they are very important! – , do not define us. What defines us, what gives our lives meaning, the thing that drives our purpose, is in recognizing one truth.
Almost everybody in this room has lost loved ones to some kind of death – some tragically too soon and unexpected and some after suffering far too long and prayed for. I have lost personal friends, some very close friends, but until two weeks ago I had not lost any close family members. So the week between my father’s death and his funeral was a wonderful reprieve from my regular routines and responsibilities. I had, long before, signed up for a week of continuing education and spiritual renewal at Whitworth University. One of the speakers there, the President of Princeton Seminary, made some passing remarks about his reliance on a Reformation era statement of faith – The Heidelberg Catechism (written just over 450 years ago, when the Protestant Reformation was still young and developing). So I started re-reading the Heidelberg Catechism, and my faith and life has been fully revived (not that it was dead, but this really jump-started it again). A “catechism” is a statement of faith written in question & answer form, often used to help teach new believers and people who wonder and want to learn more about what these “Christians” believe.
I re-recognized this singular truth and realized that this is exactly what my father told me a week before he died! And I have rediscovered this truth in almost every reading of Scripture since 10 days ago. And I have heard it said again and in different ways from some of your mouths and lives. And I am now compelled to make sure we are all on the same page!
Today’s passage from Philippians 1, and Question/Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, and my father, and our faith together expresses this singular truth.
Philippians 1:21 says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
My dad said, “‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until [sic] that day.’”
The Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 1 says: “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…. Because I belong to Him, Christ by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him”!
Did you hear those words? “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” That does not mean, do you know where your remote control is when you’re in your Lazy Boy?! The word “comfort” comes from the Latin root “fortis” (which means “strength”) and prefix “com” (which means with). What is your only source of strength in life and in death? My only source of strength is that – I am not my own! – I am not responsible for my own salvation! I am responsible for receiving the gift of faith; I am responsible for choosing to obey and honor God rather than reject and turn away from God. But my salvation is totally in God’s hands because I belong—body and soul, in life today and in death forever—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!
And while we nourish and enrich our faith by being in community, by sharing our lives and our struggles together, notice the singular nature of this question and answer.
What is your (singular) only (singular) comfort in life and in death?
That I (singular) am not my (singular) own, but belong—body and soul (my whole being), in life and in death (my entire existence)—to my (singular) Savior, Jesus Christ. This is very personal. I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”
If you’re here this morning and have not yet made that personal choice to receive God’s gift of faith in Jesus Christ, you can change that. You can make Jesus the Lord & Savior of your life right now.
If you need to renew or refresh your belonging to Jesus today, you can do that as well.
In just a few minutes some of us will join together for our Lord’s Prayer Corps time – an extended time for prayer and worship downstairs in the Social Hall – we will pray for each other there, and rediscover our only comfort in belonging to our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Barnes, M. Craig; Body & Soul: Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism; Faith Alive; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 433.