Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
You may have noticed we have a different sort of bulletin insert this morning. It’s the full text of one of our Presbyterian creeds entitled “A Brief Statement of Faith.” Admittedly at two pages long it’s not as brief as, for instance, the Apostles’ Creed. But to be fair it’s far briefer than some of the other statements of faith in our Book of Confessions. The “Second Helvetic Confession” and the “Westminster Confession of Faith,” for instance, are each over 50 pages long!
This particular creed you see before you, published in 1991, has served as the framework for our Confirmation curriculum this spring, and it will also be the focus of our summer sermon series. So you might consider today’s sermon a preview of coming attractions.
Confirmation, in our tradition, is an opportunity we offer our high school students to allow them to dig deeper into the Christian faith they were taught as young children, and to make their own commitments to live as followers of Christ. Next Sunday two of our high school students, Lily and Brea, will stand up in front of the church and answer the same questions and make the same promises that adults make when they join the church as active members. As part of that service, they will also be speaking to you about what is most important to them about their Christian faith, and their church involvement here. In other words, they will each offer you their own individual statement of faith, as will Alina, who though already a confirmed member of the congregation, has also been attending the class with her peers. In preparation for that opportunity to share their statements of faith, we have spent the last 8 weeks using this “Brief Statement of Faith” as our guide.
So there are a couple of things I wanted to point out to you here as we orient ourselves to this document. First, when it appears in our actual Book of Confessions, the “Brief Statement of Faith” is followed by a long list of Scripture passages on which the statement is based. Every one of our creeds, in fact, is absolutely steeped in Scripture, and the publishers of our Presbyterian Book of Confessions make this as clear as they can. So for instance, the opening six lines you’ll see here, which begin “In life and in death we belong to God,” are accompanied by no fewer than thirty three Biblical references to back them up. And even that is just a sampling of the verses they could have chosen. I selected just two of these references as our Scripture readings for this morning, Isaiah 43 and Deuteronomy 6. (And incidentally I didn’t copy the whole list of references for you, for the entire creed, because that would have added several more pages to our bulletin insert, but I’m happy to direct you to a copy of the Book of Confessions online or in print, if this is something that interests you.)
Christian creeds aren’t, after all, composed in order to teach us new things, that haven’t already been made clear for us in the Bible itself. Instead, they are composed in order to shorthand a whole lot of biblical truths all at once. For the six lines that open the creed, references are given for texts ranging from Exodus to Acts, from Jeremiah to Ephesians, and so on. The truths stated here are well-established elements of our biblical faith. And it’s important that we take time to affirm them together publicly from time to time. In fact, let’s take a moment to do that now. Pull out your bulletin insert, and together let’s read aloud just lines 1-6 (you’ll see them numbered on the left hand side):
In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God,
And the communion of the Holy Spirit,
We trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
Whom alone we worship and serve.
There’s a lot packed into those few lines, as you can see. God’s grace and love conveyed to us through Jesus. The Holy Spirit binding us together into one communion or community. The doctrine of the trinity – one God in three persons. The continuity of our New Testament Christian faith with the God of the Old Testament, the Holy One of Israel. Even a reminder that God and God alone is worthy of our worship. Frankly, we’d do well to remind ourselves on a daily basis, in the midst of so many other competing claims on our loyalty, that it is “the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.”
Of all of the lines we’ve just spoken aloud, the very first is a favorite for many of us who’ve spent time with this creed: “In life and in death we belong to God.” It’s a line I’ve certainly used many times in memorial services over the years, and one that you may remember formed the basis for our Call to Worship as we opened our service this morning too. “In life and in death we belong to God.” I find this one line a powerful reminder in a number of different ways. First, it reminds us that God doesn’t belong to us, isn’t our own special property or personal commodity. God’s the author, owner, and director of our lives and of every life on this planet. We belong to God. But it also reminds us that we do belong – we have a place, we have worth and value, our lives have meaning because we are God’s beloved children; we not only belong, we belong to God. That all of this is true both in life and in death can be a source of great comfort– from pregnancy and the delivery room through every moment of our lives and certainly a comfort on our death beds or beside the graves of loved ones, too. We belong to God always and forever. No matter who we are or where we come from, not for one minute of our lives, not for one second of eternity for that matter will we be anything other than God’s precious, beloved children. “In life and in death we belong to God.”
You might also be interested to know this first line was one of the simpler lines for us to guess when we tried acting out favorite lines from the Brief Statement in the form of charades in our Confirmation class a few weeks back. [demonstrate] I’m pleased to report that our Confirmation class members were willing guinea pigs this spring, so after we went over each week’s section of the “Brief Statement of Faith” to be sure the girls understood it well, we would each share our favorite lines either Pictionary style, or by playing charades, and the other class members had to guess which line we were referring to. If you had a chance to look at their Pictionary style drawings out in the narthex as you came in this morning, you’ll get a sense of how creative they got with these. I was really quite impressed!
This morning you heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim: “Thus says the Lord, he who created you, he who formed you: I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. Do not fear, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43:1-5)
You also heard the author of Deuteronomy affirm: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone,” and that same author reminded us to “keep these words in [our] hearts. Recite them to [our] children and talk about them when [we] are at home and when [we] are away, when [we] lie down and when [we] rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
Creeds or confessions, like this “Brief Statement of Faith,” are one way for us to do that – to highlight God’s promises to us, to keep these biblical truths forefront in our minds and hearts, to recite them to one another, and to our children, proclaiming what is most important to us about our faith, the central affirmations which we base our lives as disciples of Jesus.
Music can sometimes function this way for us too. So many of the hymns and praise songs we sing together here on Sunday mornings have lyrics we’d do well to be reciting to ourselves and to our children, “when [we] are at home and when [we] are away, when [we] lie down and when [we] rise.” Certainly our responsive hymn this morning is one such affirmation of faith. It will provide us with a beautiful opportunity in just a moment to remember God’s promises to us from texts like those we’ve read from Deuteronomy and Isaiah: “Do not be afraid, I am with you… I love you and you are mine.”
But first, whether you find yourself best able to call to mind the Scripture texts themselves, the lyrics of a song we sing here at church, or the words of this “Brief Statement of Faith,” I pray each one of you will find ways to remind yourself every single day that – remember how that first line goes again?
In life and in death, we _________ (belong to God).
In ___ (life) and in ____ (death), we ______ (belong to God).
One last time: _______________________ (In life and in death, we belong to God).
Preach it, church!
It is hard to imagine more important words to have ringing in our ears. Let’s remember to repeat these words as often as we can, to ourselves, to our church kids, to one another: “In life and in death, we belong to God…whom alone we worship and serve.” Amen.