Belonging and Allegiance
Heidelberg Catechism • Sermon • Submitted
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Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great. May the Lord give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth! The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!
Scripture: Psalm 115:1-18
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 52, Questions and Answers 127-129
Sermon Title: Belonging and Allegiance
Tonight we have come to the end of the Heidelberg Catechism. As we have been going through the Lord’s Prayer, we’ve had one question and answer at a time. But now on Lord’s Day 52, we had three of them to conclude the prayer. I don’t think the writers got to this point and realized they should have spaced them out differently to get 52 but decided to be lazy. It is more likely because the final phrases “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen,” is historically viewed as an addition to the prayer. When you look at Matthew 6 or Luke 11, we do not find these words. It was included in some later editions of Scripture, meaning that it was added on to the original authors’ words. It is not bad or wrong to say them; it certainly is the case that God should be receiving the kind of worship expressed in this doxology. But that is likely why the Catechism authors’ did not spread them out over other Lord’s Days.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if any of you have a really good memory, you might remember when we started going through the Catechism about eighteen months ago, we focused on a particular word in question and answer 1; that word was “belong.” Right in that opening phrase, “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Everything else expands on that truth. Jesus has done everything to pay for our sins, he continually preserves us, and assures us of salvation and sanctification by the Spirit.
When we put our beliefs into words, and what we find in the big picture of Scripture, it really does boil down to that. Our belonging is not ultimately up to us. Any and all benefits that we, as Christians, enjoy and look forward to receiving are not earned by our accomplishments. But we belong to, we are the possession of Jesus Christ. That is what gives a believer comfort in our current tumultuous world, but also hope for what will one day be when Jesus returns.
We have been working through the three main sections, recognizing our sin and misery, knowing God’s salvation and the means he gives the church to grasp that, and then the final section. The section we have been working through that answers the question of what do we do knowing all this? Summed up, the answer is service. God has delivered us from the guilt of sin, and eternal punishment and wrath, so let us live in gratitude. Let us live loving God and loving others, even by how we communicate with God in prayer.
As I think about where we started and where we are now at the end, I see and hear common ground. Our call to service is not based in a culturally-defined system of morals; it is not based in some human desire to be nice and let everyone do what they want as long as there is no immediate harm. No, we are to serve because we belong to Jesus Christ, whose Spirit has changed us. We do not serve first and foremost for ourselves—rather we say God the Father—to him is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. We can only end the Lord’s Prayer as we do, and identify with the psalmist, if our destiny and plans are not all about what we can dream up. We only join the psalmist in saying, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory,” if we have learned that we can’t satisfy ourselves. So we give God, the giver of all good gifts, glory. We find value in praying to him, if we belong to Christ, having died to ourselves.
Genuine prayer comes out of a person’s heart who trusts that they cannot go through life alone, by their own strength. It comes out of someone who has put their faith into someone who has a control over the universe. It has to come out of a genuine connection, a genuine covenant, by which we believe God will provide for us. To belong in this sense is not just a minor idea proposed by the Catechism or Scripture; no, to belong is at the core of the good news that we hold.
It is because we belong to God and trust him, we are able to pray the Lord’s Prayer, but especially the final request, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (or the evil one).” We are told that this means, we are too weak to do anything on our own, to hold out against sin. That we have enemies, the devil, the world, and there is responsibility on us too—our own flesh. The authors of the Catechism are very clear that Scripture gives details of a war going on for our souls. In the war between light and darkness, between good and evil, battle lines have been drawn revealing who and what is an ally and who or what is an enemy. We must see that. There are people who oppose us in this life; not everyone is living or fighting for the same cause.
To have the foundation of belonging to God is crucial for us to understand when we think about the war that is going on—it is crucial because in this belief we know that God has acted first. In earlier requests, we have prayed for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done, for him to provide for our daily needs, and that he would forgive us our sins. Each time we have seen there is a part for us to play, a role in the acts of redemption that God brings about. What we must understand as we come to the end of the prayer, is that not only do we belong—that work that God has done, but truly there is also an active call for our allegiance.
I’m using that word in the sense that it carries for politics, but even deeper in relationships. Allegiance means the loyalty of a citizen to their government or of a subject to their sovereign. Another word that can be used to define allegiance is devotion. When we pray this final request, what we are doing is officially placing ourselves opposed to all that wars against God, we are allying ourselves with God Almighty. We are taking the stand that when sin and the devil tempt us, we are going to do all that is in power with the help of the Holy Spirit against falling. We belong to Christ, yes, that will not fail. But we ask God to encourage our allegiance to him.
The psalm that we read speaks not only of the blessing that God does, but also of dedicating one’s self to God—we read throughout the second half “Trust in the Lord…you who fear him.” That first half though really brings to mind the difference between our God and any god that any person might try to propose has some power. The other nations, they want to know about our God, because we do not have any idols—any visible images; but God’s people know he is real, and know he is powerful. So the psalmist goes through a list of senses, and he concludes—my paraphrase here, “Just because you add physical characteristics to your idols, your gods, doesn’t mean they actually work—they don’t have any power.”
The psalmist tells the citizens of Israel and Judah as well as their enemies, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever pleases him.” He is making the statement that our God exists, our God is real and has power. Just because people cannot see him like they see a piece of gold or silver or wood, does not mean he is not present. No, our God is omnipotent—all-powerful, and he is omnipresent—everywhere. Our God is not subject to our creaturely limitations.
As hopefully I have made it clear and other pastors as well, even though God is not subject to us, he does listen and answer us. When we are being tempted, when something comes up in our lives to discourage us from following God’s will and instead to sin—God is there. When we are being pulled into the camp of our enemy, to disgrace what it entails to belong to Jesus Christ—we can cry out for the Lord’s help. The psalm spoke of God as our help and our shield. Some of us might not like the military-sounding language, the fighting vocabulary, and yet we are in a struggle, which we are called to resist. We hear that word allegiance, and we are affirming that there are loyalties to be had and not to be had. We are declaring, in trusting thanks for all that God does, that we want his kingdom, his power, and his glory to have all the praise.
One of the questions that some might ask in relation to this request is isn’t the previous request for forgiveness enough? Why even pray that God would lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, or maybe this request should go before forgiveness? The answer is in our human experience. We ask for forgiveness, be it in using this prayer or one of our own, and we assured that we are forgiven; yet so often we find ourselves being drawn to sin again. Pastor Craig Barnes writes, “We pray constantly to resist [the world’s] temptations that addict us to yearning for more…The flesh is constantly hungry for more food, sex, happiness, and esteem—more of everything.” That’s true, isn’t it? Whether we nibble on something or eat a full meal, if we have liked it once, we are prone to return it. That’s how sin operates, and why it must be seen as an attacking enemy that we are in need of help fighting against. Sin that we are drawn to does not just sit there without enticement; no, it is actively inviting us to partake. The enemies of our soul, our belonging and allegiance, do all that they can that we would fall to temptation.
That’s why we need the prayer to be in this order says James Cook, “Because some of the sins of yesterday will reappear in the life of today, and because the life of today will transmit some stain to the life of tomorrow, the process of forgiveness goes on and on. Therefore the final word must be one of deliverance.” That’s not to say that there are not sins that we can and do overcome, that with the help of God and the encouragement of his word and his people that we can certain sins into our past and bind them away. But again we humbly recognize that we are weak. We want to live our allegiance, to live in that fully and without wavering, and yet we do fall. We need God the Deliverer.
I will wrap our message up tonight by looking at the final word we say, “Amen” or “Ah-men,” depending on your preference. “This is sure to be…even more sure that God listens…than that I really desire what I pray for.” Amen means true. You think of those passages when we hear someone saying, “Truly, truly, I tell you,” or “Verily, verily,” the old English way of saying it—this is the same word.
Even though this part may not be in Scripture relating to this prayer, its inclusion in the Catechism is a good reminder for us to pray boldly. When we bring a request to God, whether in it seems small and insignificant or be it something that matters deeply to us, we ought to be praying wholeheartedly about it, in faith to God that he will answer.
Yet we are promised, that even when we struggle with the words to find and even struggling in the consistency of living out our allegiance to God, we are taught that he remains true. That he receives glory and holds all things together; that is always certain. God may bring healing, even when we don’t pray for it boldly or at all. He can bring joy to our mourning, even when all that seems to fill our lives is anger and sorrow. These are the words that are brought before the thrown of God—the God who remains faithful and he remains loving. May it be that we would grow daily in wanting to give him thanks. Amen.