January 19, 2020: 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, what a comfort it is to know that from beginning to end our life, our faith, and our salvation are all totally dependent upon You.  All our blessings in life that bring us such peace and joy are totally dependent upon You.  And since You are full of grace and peace—well, we have nothing to fear.  So, move us to be bold and fearless in all we do—backed by Your timeless power!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO NEVER LETS US DOWN

TEXT:  I Cor. 1: 1-9

Dearly Beloved in Christ: 

          I envy little kids.  I envy how they sleep like a log all night long.  Meanwhile, we “older” folks tend to wake up a few times each night during our REM sleep cycle and once awake it’s hard to doze off quickly.  So, if you’re like me, you replay what’s on your mind, especially things that you haven’t yet resolved.  That’s where my mind goes into hyper-drive.  All sorts of scenarios are quickly played out and even the smallest things suddenly become “big things” in which the worst case scenario grips us.  I’ve become convinced that dark thoughts and dark times go hand-in-hand.  You toss and turn and finally fade into oblivion once again.  And then morning comes and all those dark thoughts vanish.  Light is cleansing to our psyche.  Light seems to bring on resolution and good cheer.  Is this part of the reality of that passage: “God is light and in Him dwells no darkness at all.”?  I think so.

I

          When we read the opening words of Paul’s epistles we tend to skip over the greetings.  That’s a mistake.  All Scripture is God-breathed and was written for our learning.  All sections are important.  And to me the most important part of each greeting is his use of the words: grace and peace.  So, too, here, for those words bring us the light of the Gospel!

          Paul was writing to beloved friends, people he knew and had helped convert in the church he started at Corinth. He cared about them.  He wanted to instruct and comfort them by supplying them insight into God’s active power in their lives.  So, he uses a familiar greeting: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

          One of my Greek professors once remarked that there is no verb in that sentence.  Yes, I know we realize that the verb: “are yours” is understood.  But in the original language it does not appear as it usually would.  Why?  After all, “grace”  and “peace” are nouns.  Well, it all goes back to a uniquely Lutheran teaching.  God’s Word is not just informational it is also transportational.  That’s because through it the Holy Spirit works.  So, “grace” is also  verbal in that it has the power to give, work, and create within us exactly what it is: God’s unconditional love for us in Christ.  The word grace used here doesn’t just tell us about God’s love and forgiveness or remind us of its existence; but it creates that love, gives that love, and conveys that love from God directly to us. Grace is pure Gospel.  And as Paul says in Romans: “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” 

II

          Gospel is light, God’s light.  Light brings us joy and a sense of new beginnings.  So, if you’re tossing and turning in the darkness dwell on grace as it will resolve whatever issues you are facing.  After all, God is all-powerful and all loving toward us in Christ.  Grace reminds us that that love and power are focused upon you and me.  Fear and failure disappear under grace’s forgiving freedom.

          Paul links those words “grace” and “peace” together.  That’s because grace leads, creates, and gives us peace.  The greatest folly of being human is our pride.  Pride especially shows itself in our thinking that we can handle and control and fix whatever problem comes our way.  It may be an untimely death of someone close; it may be an illness or dread disease; financial stress is another item that crops up; or how about a relationship that has hit the rocks?  The list is endless.  Pride and our inner inability to handle and fix everything on our own brings us inner warfare.  It brings darkness to our soul.  When conflicted we have no true peace, do we?

          But grace brings us God’s resolution to our pride and lack of control.  It gives us God’s forgiveness, God’s power, and God’s answers.  If we’re right with God through Christ, than nothing can destroy us.  For all human pride was ultimately destroyed on the cross by Him!  And the result of this is: peace.  Peace with God.  Peace with the world.  And peace with ourselves.  And the entire Trinity is operative in giving us this blessing of blessings.  God the Father ordained it.  God the Son achieved it.  And God the Holy Ghost was the creative Force behind it.  Peace reigns because Light reigns. 

          So next time you awake and your mind begins to go into overload, remember all this.  Remember: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Focus on that awesome truth and God will make it so because both are directed TO YOU!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox, Jan. 19, 2020

January 12, 2020: Baptism of Christ Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for coming to earth, being born, fulfilling God’s entire Law on our behalf, suffering and dying to pay for our failures to keep God’s Law perfectly, rising from the grave, and then ascending in glory—all for us, all to fulfill God’s righteousness on our behalf!  Today You formally begin that journey of salvation by being baptized by John.  May we all view our baptism as the venue You have given us on our walk of faith, too.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS

TEXT:  Matthew 3: 15: “Let it be so for now.  It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Dearly Beloved In Christ:

          Have you ever played dominos? I recall having some dominos around the house as a kid, but I never knew how to play the game.  Instead,  I would set them up in a row and then push the one on the end.  They would slowly all topple, one after another.  It was fun for about 5 minutes—for an eight year old kid.

          Those dominos are a microcosm of everyone’s life.  We all consider ourselves “good people.”  So we emotionally deal with our shortcomings and failures by self-justification.  “Did you do all your homework?” my mother would ask.  I would answer: “Well, I did most of it and the rest isn’t that important.” I would answer.  It was an attempt to evade her question and justify my laziness.  Domino # 1.  Then we add to the line of dominos.  “Yes, I cleaned my room; yes, I mowed the lawn; yes, I took care of the snow; yes, I went to work (short of on-time); yes, tried to make friends at school; yes, I remembered Aunt Sophie in my prayers; yes, I studied for confirmation—all those are additional dominos.  That’s because we did them grudgingly, or we did just enough to get-by, or we told little “white” lies about it all so as to salve our conscience for the moment.  The point is: nothing we do is ever perfect in thought, word, or deed.  But over time we begin to believe that our occasional good intentions are enough.   This is why at funerals people talk about how Frank and Mary were: “Good people.”   But who defines good?  Good in human eyes, or good in God’s eyes?

I

          The word: righteousness, or the state of rightness with God, is used a lot in the Bible.  It is used right here in our lesson by Jesus.  But what does it mean?  It addresses the issue all people face: are you right with God?  Do good intentions cut it with God?  The short answer is: No.  Why?  Because God doesn’t play human comparison games.  He doesn’t judge you against any other human being.  He judges you and compares your life against His standard of perfection in absolutely everything.  And unlike friends, parents, teachers, or anyone else—God sees everything you do—all the cutting of corners and playing word games to weasel out from being guilty and being found out for it.

          So, what is Christ getting at in our lesson when He tells John the Baptist that He wants John to baptize Him into a life of repentance and John responds by basically saying: “Why?”  “You have come to me to be baptized?  I need to be baptized by you!”  John knew that Jesus was the Messiah.  He knew that Jesus came to take away his sins eternally via Jesus’ perfect life lived in our stead and His innocent death, died in our place.  Yes, as the perfect Son of God, Jesus was our substitute in all things.  You and I try to be “good people” and fail every day.  Something gets in the way of our thoughts, words, and actions perfectly meshing with God’s holy will.  We erect those dominos and the line gets longer and longer and looks pretty good to the human eye—until one nudge too hard collapses the whole thing.  Sin is the culprit.  And then we end up feeling guilty; feeling sorry for ourselves; feeling inadequate; feeling worthless; and some people just give up altogether and walk away from our Lord.  That’s the genesis of that famous passage: “There is none righteous, no not even one.”

II

          Baptism was the start of Jesus’ public ministry.  For us, most of the time it is also the beginning of our walk of faith, as well.  And it’s all about being “right with God.”  So, Christ condescended to be baptized in a life of repentance at His baptism—for you and me.  It was the start of His “fulfilling all righteousness” that God demands from us.  Here Jesus fulfills that impossible demand.  He was God’s Son and with God “all things are possible.”  This life of true holiness by Christ has a fancy name among theologians.  It is called the “active obedience” to God’s will.  Put into today’s terms, every time you create a new domino of half-way measures, God in Christ removes that domino from God’s eyes and by faith Jesus’ perfection is put in its place.  So, at the end of the day, there is nothing to topple.  Only Jesus the immoveable Rock of salvation remains! 

          It begins with baptism.  And for us it also ends with baptism.  As St. Peter later wrote: “Baptism doth now also save us.”  This is why it is so important that we be baptized, remember our baptism daily, draw strength from it, and thank God for it.  For in baptism Jesus’ rightness with God is transferred to each of us.  The Perfect Rock that is immoveable becomes the foundation stone of our entire lives. 

          Some people don’t give any of this a thought.  Most people prefer to play emotional dominos and spiritual dominos and admire their creativity and artistry until, until in their arrogance a slight nudge collapses the entire building they’ve constructed about their own goodness and achievements.  So today I leave you with this one question:  “Are you right with God?”  Why?  How do you know?  Jesus answers it here: “I have come to fulfill all righteousness.”   Or, as He says elsewhere: “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD…

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

January 5, 2020: Epiphany Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, being sure of our salvation is vital for each of us.  Being sure that you came to save us and that you accept and value our worship is vital.  Epiphany is one of the proofs to those concerns that you give us.  It is your birth stamp of approval upon those wonderful words: “For God so loved the world.”  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SAVIOR OF ALL NATIONS!

TEXT:  Matthew 2: 1-12

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Those were the famous gifts the Wise Men, the Magi, the Magoi from Babylon offered the Baby Jesus.  The Magoi date back to before Daniel of OT fame.  In fact, Daniel was one of the chief Magoi.  They were men picked for their brain-power and abilities to research out and keep track of ancient wisdom.  This included astronomy, medicine, historical events, and the like.  So, the Magoi knew something about the “Star in the East” and how the Hebrews believed it was a sign of their King, the Messiah.  When the saw this predicted “star” they set out to find and worship Him. 

          How many Magoi came along on this trip?  We don’t know, although they are mentioned in the plural form, so there was more than one.  Tradition has it at three—on account of the 3 gifts.  And why those particular gifts?  That part gets interesting.  Gold is an obvious choice.  It’s always been considered the ultimate in money.  It stands on its own.  It is universally valued in literally every culture.  And it looks and feels quite regal.  Frankincense is considered the grand-daddy of essential oils.  It has medicinal properties that are too numerous to mention.  The Magoi were experts in all this.  Likewise, myrrh.  When you get home do a Google search on myrrh.  It has been used to treat everything from lung problems to stomach issues.   People today are just finding or “re-finding” out about its huge benefits.  So, the Magoi gifts provided funds for the holy families escape to Egypt and bankrolled them for the next few years; and between frankincense and myrrh provided them health benefits to keep them all thriving.  I’d say those were insightful gifts, wouldn’t you?

I

          Epiphany is a “big deal” because it shows Christ, reveals Him, to be the Savior of the Gentiles, too.  God didn’t want anyone to forget that Jesus came to save all people of all nations.  He doesn’t play favorites, because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  The Bible reminds all people, Jew and non-Jew, that: “There is no one who is righteous, no not even one.”  That’s why God sent His Son to be born for all people.  He was righteous, or “right with God” for us with His perfect life lived for us and His innocent death died for us.  This Baby, the Prince of Peace, made eternal peace between God and man, consecrated with His blood on the cross.  Speaking of gifts, what’s more costly and valuable than the blood of Jesus Christ?  Epiphany is a precursor of that ultimate gift that God gives to us poor sinners through faith.  For “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

II

          To me, the story of Epiphany is a story of circles.  The Baby is born in Bethlehem, worshipped by Jewish shepherds—a low social caste—and finally worshipped by world-class Magoi before they leave for Egypt.—A circle of universal worship.  Then we have King Herod plotting to kill Christ and cunningly manipulating the Magoi.  But God intercedes, protects and Holy Family from such evil.  Re-routes the Magoi back home by another route.  And eventually brings Christ back from Egypt after Herod is dead.—A circle of safety.  We also have Gentiles being given joy over the honor of worshipping God’s Son in the flesh and Christ happily receiving it—only to give all Gentiles even greater joy after the non-Jewish Roman governor had Christ crucified thereby saving the world.  In other words using evil and turning it around for a good and gracious purpose.—A circle of salvation. 

          Epiphany is a happy time.  It is a joyous season.  It reminds us that no matter our ethnic background or ancestry, God’s Son came to give us peace of soul.  In this new year and new decade, remember Epiphany and rejoice today that God uses “all things” just like then, to “work good for those who love God” all because “He first loved us.”  Amen

The Peace of God….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

December 29, 2019: 1st Sunday after Christmas

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we rejoice that the mystery of our salvation is so not mysterious anymore!  You have come into this world!  You took on our flesh and blood!  You brought us love beyond telling!  You share in our humanity in order that we can now share in Your glory by faith!  As a result, joy, peace, patience, kindness and forgiveness—they are all the Christmas presents we will ever need!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM THE BLESSED CHRIST CHILD

TEXT:  Galatians 4: 4-7

Dearly Beloved in Christ: 

          Over the past few years I’ve become more and more acquainted with holistic medicine.  I confess that it has made me healthier and happier.  And one key component of that approach to healing the body is: the interdependency of all the organs and parts of the body upon one another.  God made our bodies perfect, before original sin messed it all up.  But, we still retain the residual aspects of co-dependency between organs and the like.  In short, to heal your stomach you need everything connected with it and even things that you don’t think are connected, to work in concert.  Every part of our bodies effect  all the other parts. So, for example,  pain in your knee might well be caused by nerve issues elsewhere, which are related to your sleep patterns, which have their ultimate cause in emotional trauma.  Kind of like that old spiritual about: the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, to the hip bone, to the backbone, etc. 

          Our lesson today reminds us that in God’s creation everything is linked together under the umbrella of His plan of salvation brought to fruition in and by Jesus Christ.  In fact the entire creation ultimately centers around Christ and what He did to save us from the deadly pain of sin.  That’s why Jesus is the central character of the entire Bible and its chief focus. 

                                                                   I

          Here’s the key verse: “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” 

          On Christmas Eve I touched on how God used people, ways, and means of fulfilling the truths of His Son’s birth in ironic ways.  Here Paul says the same thing.  “But when the time had fully come.”  Our God is patient. That’s why impatient people like us need to be reminded throughout the OT to: “wait on the Lord.”  God knows the interdependency of all everything when it comes to saving us.  So, God waited and used the arrogance of Caesar Augustus who proclaimed himself a “god” and initiated a census to count his subjects and tax then for his greater glory—God used this to fulfill Jesus’ birth prophecies about Bethlehem.  In conjunction with this, God made sure the Peace of Rome, made possible throughout the known world, was in place to insure the message of Christianity could be easily spread.  He made sure Rome ruled so that their capital crime death sentence, crucifixion, would be used on Jesus, again fulfilling Psalm 22 which describes it.  I could go on, but you start to see the connections and the interdependency, don’t you.  Countless little details came together at exactly the right time to insure His truths would all come to pass.   Yes, “when the time had fully come” is a pregnant sentence, isn’t it? 

                                                                   II

          It was God Almighty behind Christ’s being sent to save us.  God Almighty behind Jesus’ incarnation.  God Almighty behind the burden of having God’s perfect law and the punishment for breaking it—death—being laid upon Jesus, our Substitute.  It was also God Almighty Who devised redemption—Christ’s life for ours—as the only way to balance His perfect scale of justice and for Good to triumph over evil.  Moreover, God Almighty decreed that you and I would be saved, receive Godly adoption as His eternal children, through His gift of faith given to us via the Spirit’s power and consecrated by the blood of Jesus Christ!

          Listen to this: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who call out: “Abba, (holy and special and honored) Father.”  And now here’s the rest: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

          Patience is a virtue because patience  is about waiting on the Lord.  It is about trusting the Lord.  And ultimately it is about receiving blessings from the Lord.  My friends,  the entire creation is interdependent with itself and totally dependent upon God.  But Christmas proves that such dependency is good, gracious, and brings eternal peace.  Enjoy those Godly gifts as you bask in the manger’s glow.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox