May 24, 2020: Ascension Sunday

Let us pray: Lord, on this glorious Ascension Sunday we join with saints and angels in praising You for Your victory over all evil on our behalf and we join them in celebrating Your victory in heaven.  We’re thankful  that after all the pain and suffering You finally got to “go home” and bask in glorious bliss.  Your happy heart makes our hearts joyous, too!  May we never grow tired of that feeling!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST OUR RISEN AND ASCENDED LORD!

TEXT:  Acts 1: 1-11

Dearly Beloved in Christ:

          In order to truly appreciate the meaning of the Ascension, we need to go back and ponder some of the truths of Christology.  We know all about how Christ was true man, or fully human.  All of  us can recite the Christmas story from memory where it is spelled out.  Being true Man isn’t a cliché.  It means that Christ as both God and Man possessed all the essential characteristics which make us, us, with one exception: He was without sin.  Recall the passage: “Christ was tempted in every way that we are, yet He was without sin.”  That means that Jesus had a human emotional side.  He laughed, He cried—Jesus wept, He got angry—think of the money changers in the temple, He was sad—as He wept over Jerusalem’s plight on the way to Golgatha, and on it goes.  There are various passages which spell out these emotions.  And where did such emotive responses come from?  Where did they originate for Him and for us?  Obviously, the answer is: God.  For God Almighty has an emotional side.  He gets angry—Sodom and Gomorrah.  Prayer is a “sweet-smelling offering” to Him, so it makes Him happy.  The same was true after completing creation—“Behold it was very good.”  God even felt grief over the sorted state of  mankind before the Flood.  So, the emotional side of Christ was present in both the God side and the human side of Christ.  

I fear many often view Jesus as a robot creature–that He was detached from all those raw emotions that make us, us.  Or, that such emotional responses in life are somehow misguided or wrong.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Emotions are neither.  Emotions aren’t the problem, but sin is.  And Christ was without sin.  Evil had no hold over Him.  In fact, His whole work was about saving us eternally from evil’s influence.  And on the cross, feeling unimaginable pain, Christ did just that.  He died to sin and in the process put sin to death—all this for us.  Then He arose to restore lasting life to us.  All this made Him relieved, vindicated, and satisfied.  It made us glad beyond measure.  And now, 40 days after Easter, it would further fill His heart with joy because He finally got to go home and reap heavenly accolades.

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          So, for me, Ascension is all about joy.  It is my favorite church holiday. For on Ascension He finally reaped His much-deserved heavenly homecoming party!  All the other holy days are about Christ doing something, working out our salvation.   But Ascension is all about Him receiving something—praise and adoration, from joyous saints and angels.  And now this would never cease!  The victory over the dark powers was complete!  They can never be resurrected because death lost and Christ won!  Yes, forgiveness conquers power.  The King of forgiveness has made it so.

          I guess I would liken  Ascension to a Medal of Honor winner coming back to his or her hometown for the first time.  They had already saved lives, thus winning the medal, defeated the enemy, gone to the White House for the grandiose ceremony, and made headlines.  They were basking in thankfulness and satisfaction.  In this case, it was God’s Son, basking in that glory.  But when He came to His hometown, heaven, and was welcomed by its inhabitants, well, the sound shook the cosmos, the trumpets brayed even louder, and the applause and celebration was beyond all compare.  How must Christ have felt over all this!?  It swelled His human heart and soul.  And as to His Godly side, well, it made God glad and extremely satisfied over a joyous victory!  The Giver of all good things finally became the Receiver of all good things.  And this party has no end.

II

          Celebrating a loved one’s well-deserved accolades is a joyous time in our lives.  The disciples got to do it with angels announcing His departure to them.  They celebrated in hearing that announcement that someday: “He will return in the same manner as you have seen Him go.”  Then He will take them into glory, too.  And so it is for us today.  For that promise of God extends to each and every faithful believer in Christ.

          Meanwhile, we have no lasting fears.  For our Lord is in heaven at God’s right hand exercising all power for our benefit.  He’s in heaven listening to our every groaning and laying our petitions before His Father, knowing that the Almighty will hear, listen to, and grant them better than we can ever express.  He knows our emotional state.  He truly has felt our pain.  And from heaven He can do something—everything—to alleviate it. 

          Ascension is my favorite holy day because it is all about genuine joy without end.–  Christ’s joy that we get to share in.  What a privilege it is to be a part of such joy.  Every Lutheran knows from confirmation class that “Amen” means: This is most certainly true!  And so we end this little homily with: Amen, Amen, and Amen!

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox     

May 17, 2020: 5th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for giving us clear direction for our lives.  In an age where many flounder and search for meaning to their lives, You spell it out today in our text.  We are to let our light of faith shine forth at all times with all people and make an eternal difference to them.  Further equip us to do so today.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD!

TEXT:  I Peter 3: 15-22

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          In college the gals complained a lot about “gaining the freshman 15.”  Away from home for the first time with no mom or dad to instill guidelines for their behavior, they partied too much, binged on junk food, and gained those infamous 15 pounds.  They needed self-discipline.  They needed to discover their new purpose in life.  Now we have the “quarantined 14” for the same reasons.  Working from home, eating “Ben and Jerry’s” throughout the day, and snacking out of boredom due to a lack of defined purpose and schedules has hit hard. 

          To be sure, some people are much more driven than  others.  Paul Kretzmann, the famous Lutheran commentator on the Bible wrote a 4 part set of books explaining each passage in the entire Bible was one such person.  I was once told that he wrote it from 4 to 6 a.m. every morning!  Each of those 4  books is about 700 pages long!  Now, he had a purpose in  life!  I’m not telling you that you need to latch onto some kind of purpose like that.  But the fact remains: you need a purpose to drive you out of bed and give structure and meaning to each day.  It might be an employer’s expectations or keeping the kids on a schedule of learning.  It might be the dog whining to go outside at: 6:30.  It might be engaging in a thorough housecleaning.  Or, how about a strict work-out regime?  Or even writing that long-dreamed of novel?  Everyone needs a purpose, or many purposes, in life which compel us to get-going and feel useful and necessary.  Well, Peter does just that in our lesson.  In fact, he provides us with an eternal purpose to our lives, an over-arching one.

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          For Christians this purpose isn’t anything new.  After all, you sing the Apostle’s Creed every week, know the basic truths of Christianity that it spells out, and can see how many people would benefit from being shaped and molded by them.  So, Peter reminds us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 

          Christians handle adversity better than unbelievers.  That’s a fact, not a dream.  We know that God wouldn’t have invested in us the blood of His Son without a reason.  He loves us.  He cares for us.  He’s our best Friend Who wants to assist us with all our fears and all our indecisions in life.  And He put His life on the  line to do so.  That was His purpose in life.  Because then our lives will have meaning that is eternal.  Then our legacies will last literally forever.  So, always be prepared to confess Christ and what He means to you and the difference Christian hope makes on a daily basis.  God loves me.  God cares for me.  God will protect me.  God promises me eternal hope that does not disappoint.

II

          Nations that have resilient citizens bounce back a lot faster than those where hope is absent.  What makes you resilient?—The hope that God has implanted in you via faith in Christ!  People hear you talk about hope.  They see you bounce back quicker than others.  They feel good when they are around you.  So, when they ask “Why?” tell them!  Confess your faith!  And do so with “gentleness and respect” as Peter says.  You don’t have to be preachy and give them the whole catechism in one sitting.  Keep it simple.   Tell them: “I will pray for you.  Or, God will give you the strength and guidance to deal with your overwhelming problems.”  Send them the YouTube link to the services.  Invite them to come to church.  Have a handy favorite passage etched in your mind like Phil 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”  That’s a promise of God that He cannot go back on.  Tell them that!  And always do so “with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience,” so that their negative side may be shamed by your Godly goodness.  This, my friends, is your Godly purpose in life.  A purpose which makes an earthly difference and an eternal one.  “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous and the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  Yes, that modern catch-phrase: we’re all in this together” certainly applies here!

III

          Then, to add gravitas to his words, Peter does something quite amazing!  Yea astounding!  Listen to this concerning the ark and the great flood: “In the ark, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”   

          We would say: “The ark saved them from death and destruction.”  But Peter says: the water saved them!  It saved those faithful from getting overwhelmed by the sinful hopelessness of all the others.  It saved them for a new purpose in life.  It saved them to rebuild new nations fueled by joy and hope of an ever-improving tomorrow.  And all this reminds us of our baptism and how it has done the same.

          Bad news, fear, hopelessness—this is the state of our nation and the people in it because they cannot play “make believe” any longer.  Man cannot solve all mankind’s problems—but Jesus Christ can and does.  It’s called the grace of the cross, the grace of the empty tomb, and the grace of increasing heaven’s number of saints.  Your purpose in life is to carry such hope and spread it until the day you get to experience it and see its benefits firsthand.  And you will!  For Jesus Christ has made it so.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

May 10, 2020: 4th Sunday after Easter

Mother’s Day

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for the gift of Christian mothers!  You know what a blessing they are since You had one.  Mother’s impart a huge slice of their very essence to us and exhibit love in action every day.  Without them we would be emotionally diminished if not destitute.  So, today we thank You for such blessed women and ask Your continued grace to shine upon each of them.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF GRACE!

TEXT:  Genesis 2: 18: “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Dearly Beloved Children of God: 

          I don’t like the term: social distancing.  I know it’s hip and modern, but let’s call it what it is: avoiding people.  I also don’t like the whole concept of such avoidance because it seems to run contrary to Scripture and our text.  God created Eve for Adam to interact with.  Part of interaction is being close, touching, speaking with and sharing life together.  But, here we are. 

          There is something about actually touching another human being which is comforting.  Our life energy is transferred to another through touch.  Some of you know that in times of stress, holding hands in  prayer is a huge blessing.  You can feel each other’s vibrancy pass between you.  And, the vibrancy of a mother’s touch at such times is beyond all others.  It transfers love and compassion like no other.  Think of Jesus on the cross when He transferred care for His mother, Mary, to the Apostle John.  Christ could not touch her physically at that time.  His hands were nailed to the cross.  But He did transfer the love in His heart to her via His words of tenderness.  What a beautiful picture of the essence of Mother’s Day!

          I suppose there are 3 interrelated words that define Christian mothers.  They are: Love, Forgiveness, and Self-sacrifice.  So, let’s explore them.

          Every human being has a mother.  The bond with mothers is extremely intimate.  They carry you in their womb for about 9 months.  They share all their emotions with you.  They impart an aspect of their soul and spirit to you, along with the obvious physical characteristics.  Once you come out of the womb, it continues on—especially with Christian mothers who respect this blessed gift from God.  They realize that you are not a blank slate.  No, the proverbial “blank slate” has already been programmed and written on in the womb, but they know there is room for more!  So they work hard at keeping you safe and imparting to you moral values, good judgment, and from all this springs kindness, compassion, and a purpose in life.  And this never ends, even after they depart this world.  Their Christian essence continues to affect you positively until you someday join them in heaven.  This is the nature of their love for their offspring.

          All this comes from God.  It was etched into Eve’s consciousness and into her sub-conscience, too, and along with it comes: forgiveness.  For forgiveness is love in action.

          We all know the roadblocks to intimacy and healing that sin creates. That’s because we’re all human and humans are sinners from birth, sinners from the time their mother’s conceived them, as the Psalm says.  We all can remember  getting into trouble and doing something that hurt mom.  Nothing is more painful than letting your mother down.  Nothing is more memorable than causing her to cry over you and because of you.  And nothing is sweeter than hearing her say: “I forgive you” when nobody else will!  That kind of selfless love in action comes from one Source and one alone.  It stems from Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Who is the source of such grace-filled forgiveness.  It, along with a gentle word and a healing touch, calms our fears and steadies our soul.  Yes, we need Christian mothers and are always blest through them.  Thanks be to God!

          Such moms also convey to us a spirit of self-sacrifice.  As long as our mother’s live, and even after they enter glory, their lessons of self-sacrifice remain.  Again, thanks be to God! For without such lessons, life would be very desolate.  Think of  all those times you saw your mother neglecting her own wants and needs to benefit you.  Think of those times when she got up in the night to check on you, to stroke you when you were upset or fearful.  All the meals prepared, all the clothes washed, all the chauffeuring you around, all the long days at work to help provide for you.  Moms sacrifice for their children and are usually the primary care-givers.  Christian mothers do this out of  love for Christ because they know Christ gave you to them.  And it has made your life and mine a whole lot more palatable, hasn’t it? 

          In this Christian mothers are Christ-like.   They are always there when you’re hurting. They never (knowingly) give bad advice.  And they are the family “rocks” who we can always rely on.  This is what God created Eve for—along with all her female progeny.  So, today we take time to honor Christian mothers.  Without them we’re humanly lost.  Our wise God certainly knew what He was doing when He made them just for us.   Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

May 3, 2020: 3rd Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this Good Shepherd Sunday come with Your shepherd’s heart and take our fears, our worries and our anxieties away.  Watch over each of us and apply Your love and compassion to our individual situations.  Search out the straying, pick up and hold the forgotten, and continue to feed us daily with Your eternal soul food.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST THE GOOD SHEPHERD!

TEXT:  I Peter 2: 19-25

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Fear stalks our land right now. And it’s pervasive. Every time I go to the grocery store I see fear in the eyes of fellow shoppers.  If someone coughs due to allergies—all eyes go there and that person is given a wide berth.  Fear is the focus of all the various news stories from food pantries to drive-by graduation ceremonies.  People are testy.  Sleep problems predominate many.  Psychologists ramble on trying to treat its symptoms, but never really deal with the underlying cause of such fear which is: death and the ultimate loss of control.  Someday someone may study this psychosis of the pandemic and maybe, maybe they will study the strong Christian’s reaction to it.  If they do, I’m certain they will discover that Christians handle fear better than the masses.  Why?  Because our Lord conquered death for us at Easter!  Yes, Christians are better equipped to handle fear than others because Christians know their present and future rests in the hands of the Good Shepherd.

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          St. Peter knew fear intimately.  We all do, if we’re honest.  Recall him cursing God to save his own skin at the high priest’s palace.  And then,  “He went out and wept bitterly.”  But after Christ restored him with forgiveness, and especially after the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, Peter changed.  He was fearless and joyful.  He preached and taught with confidence because he now realized that Christ was in control of his life and Christ would always do what was best for him. Even death now meant life—eternal life with the One Who rose to life and ascended into heaven to prepare a place for him!  Fear stems from the reality of death and our loss of control.  But Christ had taken that club over our heads away.

          In the following years, Peter lived through various persecutions of the church.  He didn’t let any of them get him down and crush his faith.  Often those persecutions took on physical forms: beatings, loss of job and income, imprisonment, and even death.  Most of them were totally unjust.  The Christians were innocent of any wrongdoing.  We could say the same is true of most people who have contracted the virus today. 

          So here he reminds his fellow believers on how to handle such hysteria in a God-pleasing manner.  “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.”  If you deserve such punishment because you’re guilty, that’s one thing.  But if you’re totally innocent and still get slammed either emotionally and physically, what should be your response?  Simple.  Remember Christ and do what He did!  Follow in His steps.  And then Peter quotes Isaiah on the matter: “He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.”   Then Peter adds these words: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

II

          Covid-19 didn’t come out of God’s providence.  It came out of man’s sin, hatched by evil people and used (by chance or on purpose) as a biological weapon.  Now the entire world suffers—either from it physically, financially, and emotionally.  For fear has infected every aspect of people’s lives because of it all.  I recall Pres. Roosevelt’s famous quote during the Depression: “All we have to fear is fear itself.” That’s a lie.  It sounds good to the ear, but it just isn’t true. Saying: “I don’t fear anymore” after the government bailouts are  enacted, or after a truck fully stocks your grocery store shelves, or after you self-quarantine for a month doesn’t take away this fact: the virus is still there along with the uncertainty over your life that it spawns.   And no matter if it is corona-caused, or not, old age and death comes to everyone.

          I know FDR went to church sometimes.  I don’t know the status of his faith.  But I do know that God in the person of Jesus Christ is the only vaccine that will get rid of fear.  For Christ conquered death.  This is how faith in Jesus heals the soul and uplifts our bodies and our psyche.  This is how Christ calms our souls.  As Peter correctly says: “For you were (note that is past tense, or before the gift of faith) you like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

          Shepherds are not butchers.  Shepherds aren’t sadistic.  Shepherds “lay down their lives for their sheep.”  Jesus proved that on the cross.  Shepherds also seek out the straying, the lost, the hurting and “lead them to quiet waters that restore their souls.”  And the greatest aspect of such restoration is the guiding us away from the inner ravages of the lie that “we’re in control” (fear because we’re not) to the humbling truth that our Loving Lord is! 

          I’ve been thinking since the start of our current national plight that if America turned to God and prayed more about the virus and its consequences, we’d all be in a much better place than the mess we are in right now.  People would be uplifted.  We would have hope instead of fear.  And God would bless us accordingly.   And if you think that viewpoint is silly and simplistic, then I remind you of Christ’s own words: “Nothing is impossible with God.”  So hold your head up and refuse to live in fear.  Our Good Shepherd remains in control!  Not you, or the doctors, or the politicians, or the captains of industry, or the hard-working researchers, but the Great Physician.  And never forget: His primary quality which defines what He is all about: Love.   Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox