August 2, 2020: 9th Sunday of Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, prevent us from being over-run and choked out by weeds!  Enable us to grow freely into proud soldiers of Your cross.  And move us not to get over-stressed when weedy, seedy people erupt around us, but to trust in Your patient care and gardening excellence.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE MASTER GARDENER!

TEXT:  Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Dearly Beloved by Christ: 

          People say that weeds are just plants that grow in unwanted places.  I disagree!  Weeds are weeds.  Friday morning I saw some weeds growing around my tomato plants.  Mind you, to avoid weeds I used black landscape fabric over the entire garden and tacked it down just to prevent weeds.  Then I cut holes in it where I planted the tomato seedlings.  So far so good. But now in midsummer after some rain, the weeds blossomed up in those small holes and attempted to choke the tomatoes.  So, I spent a few minutes pulling them out. And before Fall I’ll be repeating the process.

          The worst weeds are either pigweed or crabgrass.  They seemingly grow inches over night.  I did a search and learned more about pigweed than I ever thought possible.  I have redroot pigweed, but I found out there are other varieties, too, and I have some them as well.  They grow quickly and sap nutrients from around the vegetables.  Plus, they’re ugly—probably that’s why people call them: pigweed!

I

          Weeds are an age-old problem.  Our lesson outlines it.  People of Christ’s time planted wheat by tossing it across the plot of land by hand.  The problem was: someone had mixed good wheat seed with tare seed, or plants that appear to be wheat until they are well-established and then they choke out or minimize the wheat harvest.  What to do?  If you attempt to rid the good plants of the bad ones, basically you end up destroying or uprooting both.  And each wheat plant is precious.  So in this parable, the owner of the ground tells his workers to harvest them all together—the weedy tares first and then the good wheat.  Tie them into separate bundles and burn the tares—thus destroying the bad seed, while threshing out the nutritious wheat. Yes it was labor intensive but at least you ended up with something rather than nothing.

II

          After leaving the crowd of listeners behind, Christ’s disciples asked Him what this parable means.  He tells them and us: 1. The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man, Christ.  He casts the seed of the “bread of life” the Gospel around on the earth.  “The good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom.”  2. The bad seed, tares, stands for God’s enemies (children of Satan).    And at the harvest of souls on the last day, the servants of God (angels) will separate the two groups.  Then the tares will suffer the fires of eternal damnation while the good seed will fulfill its Godly purpose in glory. 

          What can we learn from all this?  First, our Savior is a hands-on Savior.  He laid His  hands on the world and planted the seed of faith in all of you when you were baptized, or born again of water and the Word.  Additionally, He has remained a hands-on Savior by applying the Seed of the Gospel, eternal life, which He purchased for you with His blood shed on the cross.  He has nurtured you, protected you, watered you with His love and forgiveness, and caused you to grow via His gifts of grace.  Your purpose in life is to bring forth a good crop of that love and He works hard at making it all happen.

          Ah, but Satan, the evil one, is lurking and plants tainted seeds among you.  How many childhood friends, or even confirmands who went to class with you, have been corrupted by the evil one?  How many of them have turned their backs on God’s care and seek to go their own way?  How often have you agonized over them, thus becoming sapped of some of your Godly strength and purpose?  I know I can think of various souls who fit this bill. 

          The visible church is also another plot of ground where this good seed/bad seed is revealed.  Since we are all still maturing in our faith, the “tare people” haven’t yet fully revealed themselves.  Hypocritical people are present in every visible group of people, including the visible church.  And then suddenly they reveal what they really are and try to choke out faith within us by their negativity.  Of course, the One Who knows everyone’s heart is God.  He sees this and in loving patience toward you, and to prevent harming you, lets it continue until the final harvesting.  It isn’t God’s will that any of His wheat plants should suffer.  But an occasional bruising of the good plant is better than total destruction isn’t it?  At least it still brings forth something rather than nothing. 

III

          Today we see this all being played out in literally every grouping of people.  That’s why God’s Word says later on: “Bad company corrupts good character.”  Or, “a little yeast leavens the whole lump” of dough.  Wheat seeds cannot move to another safer location when they realize they are surrounded by bad seeds.  But you and I have legs and we can.  This is exactly why it’s so vital to always be on guard against Satan and his evil advances.  This is exactly why we need to arm ourselves daily with the power of the Spirit which comes through regularly hearing God’s Word, through regularly communing, and by basking in the warmth of the Gospel.  And if you’re not sure about how to mark and then avoid “bad seeds” from corrupting you, well,  in order to help you in this task, remember:  “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find.”  Pray!  We are all “in the world” but we should never be “of the world.”  This parable is a great reminder of that truth.  Take it to heart.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

July 26, 2020: 8th Sunday of Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we slog through these hot days of summer, our thoughts turn to cooler weather with crisp days, and temperate nights.  We know it’s out there.  We know it’s coming to relieve our doldrums.  So, too with the promise of heaven.  It’s real and coming.  Today keep that hope alive within us so that we have an excellent reason to never give up our struggle of faith.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE HOPE THAT NEVER DISAPPOINTS!

TEXT:  Romans 8: 18-25

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

          A few years back, one Presidential candidate had a slogan for his campaign.  It was: Hope and Change. When I first heard that I was jealous that I had not coined those words.  It’s catchy.  It’s pithy.  Who could ever be against: Hope, or Change?  The ad people who put it together certainly earned their money!  But if you analyze it, the slogan begins to raise questions.  What kind of hope?  Hope in what?  And what does “change” really mean?  Put in terms of another long-ago campaign slogan: “Where’s the beef?” behind those two words. 

I

          Today’s lesson, penned by St. Paul, talks a lot about hope and the change it elicits for all Christians.  Paul begins by talking about future glory.  “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Not simply ‘to us’ or ‘for us’ but ‘in us’—we’ll be direct recipients.) The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons (children) of God to be revealed.” 

          The Roman world wasn’t always rosy, even though at this time it was at its zenith.  Slavery was rampant.  Diseases stalked the empire.  Wars were ongoing.  The economy was “good” but welfare (bread and circuses) kept people from revolting.  Everyone in every age longs for some sort  of utopia and in human terms they will never have it.  Such is the result of sin.  But in Christ, God promises a better world, literally a utopia beyond our imaginings!  It all results from, of all things, death.  The death of God’s Son to save our souls and then His glorious resurrection to life and heaven!  This is His gift to you through faith.  And yes it will be revealed—in, to, and for you! This change will happen since it is God and not merely some political leader who promises it.

          There’s more “beef” in the following words.  “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage (slave status) to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, right up to the present time.”

          The climate change people like to point out that weird weather and natural disasters are creation’s groans over human oppression and destruction of our planet.  If you’re a Christian you can agree with that simile.  St. Paul does right here.  But is it worse now than 2000 years ago?  Maybe.  However, those killed by the eruption in Roman times of Mt. Vesuvius  might disagree.  In any case, women in labor make a lot of noise.  Childbirth is never a quiet affair.  Neither is  life at any time on planet earth. Change is constant and seldom does it  make life more “utopian” on its own….This is all a result  of God’s punishment over rebellion against Him which began in Eden.

II

          We go on: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

          I marvel at the grandeur of those words!  Here we are, children of God Almighty and brothers and sisters of His beloved Son.  Just as He groaned over our lost souls in Gethsemane and while nailed to the cross, so we slog on through the trials of life.  But we are also, because of His redemption made ours via faith; we are special.  We are the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit Who gave us saving faith.        We are the very first ripe tomatoes of the season and we taste glorious to His palate!  Yet we still groan and are restive in that we desire heaven and everlasting freedom right now!  We want the fulfillment of our purpose in life right now.  We want perfection right now.  (Think of green tomatoes impatiently waiting to ripen and to show off their goodness and the promise it holds.) But, God wants us to know that it’s all coming.  He holds out that hope to us. 

          Hope is a delicious word.  Hope holds out the promise of perfection. Once you have that first of the season BLT, the second one isn’t quite so fulfilling, is it?  “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

          My point and Paul’s point is that: hope is a universally feel good word.  In the Christian context it’s a fulfilling word, too.  It’s not just something “out there” which is dreamlike and unattainable.  No, true hope is found in Jesus Christ Who was and is real.  Christian hope is grounded in the reality of His death and resurrection.  It’s grounded in the reality of His ascension into glory where, “I go to prepare a place for you.”  It’s grounded in the reality: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you WILL be saved.”  Politicians can reduce “hope and change” to a campaign slogan.  But, let’s face it, those words have real, true, and everlasting meaning because they belong to God and God alone.  Amen

THE PEACE  OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox         

July 19, 2020: 7th Sunday of Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, the gift of Your Gospel is the most precious possession we can have.  It freely forgives and freely uplifts, taking away the burdens that often overwhelm us.  So today, teach us to embrace the Gospel at all times.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST OUR LOVING SAVIOR!

TEXT:  Matthew 11: 28-30

Dearly Beloved by Christ: 

          If you sleep through the entire night without getting up, count yourself very blest!  If you sleep until about 3 a.m. and then awake, why?  Usually the cause is your liver.  It’s detoxing something you breathed in, ate, or were exposed to just about that time.  If you go right back to a sound sleep—terrific!  But what if you don’t?  What if you’re fitful until the morning light dawns?  That’s probably because you’re detoxing, or trying to detox your mind of some sort of sin, or its effects upon you.  And if that’s the case, you awake and feel weary and burdened the rest of the day.

I

          Our synod has a bishop’s conference every year.  A few years back, one of my former classmates preached a sermon on this text to us.  It was timely.  Who doesn’t feel burdened and weary as they deal daily with both their congregants’ sins and their own?  But then he correctly stressed these words of Christ: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my  burden is light.”  That preacher took great pains to inform us that the yoke referred to is not the burden of sin(s) but the Gospel, meaning forgiveness for those sins!  Christ is all about removing guilt (which I talked about in depth last week), the shame that results for them, and replacing it with the uplifting freedom of God’s forgiving love—found only in Christ.  But let’s research out this heavenly phenomenon. 

II

          Go back to one of those fitful sleep times.  You wake up around 3 a.m., toss, turn, and attempt to drift off into oblivion.  It doesn’t seem to work.   You replay the day in your mind.  You had an argument with your spouse.  You lost your temper with your kids.  Work was miserable and people were testy.  You got a bill you didn’t plan for.  Someone shared bad health news with you.  You responded without thinking it through.  The blood pressure rose.  Now in the middle of the night your mind is trying to resolve it all and it isn’t working.  Maybe even in your dreams, moments before waking up, some semi-ancient problem or person reared its ugly head.  Why?  It’s all because of sin.  It’s all because you took, or are taking, such burdens all upon yourself.  You cannot let it go because you’re living under the Law.  You think that somehow you have the ability to handle such things all on your own.  You don’t.  I don’t.  No mere human does. That’s because our conscience is corrupted and influenced by our own sin.  In short, we cannot “fix” our subconscious mind and resolve sinful disruptions to it.  For remember: God made us to live in harmony with Him and all creation and human sin disrupts that flow of peace and joy and harmony.  So, we wake up and replay scenarios and all we do is end up frustrating ourselves.—Does this sound familiar?  This is the “weary and burdened” mindset that Jesus is referring to. 

III

          At Jesus’ time everyone knew exactly what a “yoke” was. Oxen were used for the heavy moving of objects.  Usually you “yoked” together 2 oxen with a heavy wooden beam so that they could pull in tandem.  You wanted 2 similar oxen in size, weight and strength to do this.  That’s why the Bible mentions: “Do not be unequally yoked together as some are” because if one strong ox was teamed with a weak one while plowing a field, the furrow would never  be straight and everyone would tire out quickly.  Hence the expression: “Pull your own weight.”  Anyway,  no human would ever want to wear a yoke.  It would crush us. 

          So, when Christ talks about: “carrying His yoke” it seems like a misnomer.  But it isn’t!  For replacing the yoke of sin via repentance and faith means an unburdening of yourself.  That’s why He adds: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  What’s more easy and light than forgiveness?  We know that Christ came to win forgiveness, harmony with God, by dying for all sins on the cross.  The cross was His yoke, which was originally our yoke.  The harmony of creation is life, eternal life, and He won it for all of us by dying while nailed to that yoke.  And then He replaced it with eternal life, harmony once more, by rising from the tomb.  He thereby gave us His weightless yoke of such life through faith. 

          Faith is truly a weightless “burden.”  Nothing is easier than faith.  You simply say: “Thank You Lord for doing the heavy lifting and giving me the results.”  It is letting go of past burdens because Christ took them all away.  Faith means your life and afterlife isn’t about you “fixing” everything for everyone, but appreciating how Christ fixed it all and then just being appreciative of such blessings! 

          The result is: “rest for your soul.”  So, when you find yourself awake and tossing and turning in the middle of the night, don’t replay what you did or didn’t do, or what you could have said or done.  Instead, think about the Gospel or God’s gift of forgiveness.  Focus on the fact that He bore your burdens and carried your sorrows—all of them.  Leave the past in God’s grace-filled hands.  Sweet dreams will ensue.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH……

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

July 5, 2020: Patriotic Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for allowing us to live in a reasonably free country.  Thank You for allowing us to freely worship You without fear of reprisals.  Thank You for blessing America in and through and because we Christians are its preservative.  And thank You most of all, for freeing us from sin and evil by Your forgiving love.  Amen

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

TEXT:  John 8: 31b-32:  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

          Some of my ancient relatives were enslaved.  So were most of yours.  Freedom is a sweet blessing and it’s hard to maintain.  Even today almost all of us are “owned” by someone or something other than ourselves.  Your house probably owns you.  Likewise, your debt load. If you’re sick, the medical establishment can own you and your time pretty quickly.  Fear and depression own a lot of people, too.  True freedom is hard to come by.

          America was founded upon the principles of: freedom.  One of our founding documents says that: “All  people are endowed by their Creator with: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  But alas, sin in its many forms gets in the way of that and burdens us with servitude to the banks, various creditors, and obligations just pile up and weigh us down.  Such freedom can soon become a drudge.  Maybe that’s why Ben Franklin once said: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”? 

I

          The American painter, Norman Rockwell , once painted 4 portraits for the cover of the “Saturday Evening Post.”  They depicted what he called: the four freedoms.  They were: Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear.  They all interlock, don’t they?   If you cannot voice your opinion on an issue, you’re really not free.  If you cannot worship God in spirit and in truth without someone preventing you from doing so, no real freedom.  If hunger stalks your door, freedom is hard to find and live.  And if you live in fear, the shackles of such fear will severely limit your life.  These were all graphically portrayed by Rockwell in light of the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism.  His point was that in America such freedoms are thought of as a God-given right—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Without those 4 freedoms those words of the Declaration of Independence ring hollow.  Without them the spirit of “76” is dead.

II

          True freedom is an ideal that becomes a person’s reality only in and through and because of Jesus Christ.  Yes, Christianity alone sets the soul of a human free!  That’s because Christianity breeds hope.  And true hope is eternal.  It finds fruition in heaven.  Governments can restrict your movement.  They can tax away a certain amount of happiness.  They can and do pass all sorts of laws which hinder how we live—sometimes for the good and often for the bad.  But they cannot destroy eternal hope in Christ.  And those are a few reasons we can be thankful we live in America where hope seems to spring almost eternally.  Even pandemics and quarantines and economic malaise haven’t destroyed the 4 freedoms, yet.  And as long as Christians remain faithful to Him thus serving as our country’s preservative, hope will shine forth and increase across our land.  Yes, the future of America is not its technological ability but its strength of faith in God’s goodness personified in each of you.  God has blest America because God has blest you.

III

          Today is all about asking God to guide us into maintaining and enlarging our freedom as Americans.  Learn from the past.  Take the good and shun the bad from our history so as to not repeat past mistakes.  Humans are imperfect  We are imperfect.  “All have sinned and fallen short of glory of God.”  So today Christ tells us how to go forward as a nation and as individuals.  Or, how to enlarge our freedom.  He says: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

          St. Paul reiterated it this way: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  That means the 10 commandments are extremely important as a mirror to our mistakes and failures.  It means nations and people need to take them to heart to curb negative, hurtful, slavish impulses.  And it means that if we so guide our lives and behavior, blessings will abound.  That’s the meaning of the  passage: “Righteousness exalts a nation.”

          But the greatest source of such freedom from guilt and shame is: forgiveness found in God’s gift to us of a Savior.  A Savior Who became a slave to our sins, taking them onto Himself and dying to such sin so that we could “become alive onto rightness with God.” 

America needs to wake up to this fact.  If your soul and conscience are not free from guilt and shame, you’re really a slave.  You possess a slave’s mentality because you’re stalked by fear.  But we’re Christians and Christ has taken all such fear, including death, away.  He arose from our grave.  So no matter whether your shackles are made of gold or iron; no matter whether you’re caged in a mindset of your own construction or one that others impose on you via “group-think” or social ostracizing, you really can be free.  Embrace Him in humble faith, hold your head up in joy, and be proud to be an American and most of all: A Child of the Most High God because it’s the truth!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox