October 11, 2020: 19th Sunday of Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that we have a host of evil arrayed against us all of whom seek to pull us away from You.  Lord, protect us!  And today, remind us that we have an even greater host of protectors guarding us in the form of your angelic army.  Remind us that You have won the victory over evil and those hosts are enforcing it every day all around us.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR KING OF GRACE! 

TEXT:  Acts 12: 1-19

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          “’Thar be beasties out ‘thar.”  I remember seeing an ancient map from the  middle ages of the known oceans.  Inscribed on the edge of the known world was that inscription: “Thar be beasties out thar.”  Were they right?  Or was it all myth?  Reality is based on what we can see and prove, isn’t it? 

          I recall the story of a die-hard communist scientist during the height of the cold war.  He hated Christianity and any talk of God, an afterlife, or the soul.  He weighed a man on the verge of death and then re-weighed him right after death.  The weight was  the same.  And so, he concluded that the soul doesn’t exist because it obviously has no weight! 

          Did God create anything that we cannot see?  Can you see heaven?  Can you verify that angels exist?  Can you see the Holy Trinity?  Is seeing always believing?  And is something you believe in, real?  Moreover, if you cannot fathom the depths of reality, does that make it unreal?  Of course, Scripture answers all this with one passage: “We walk by faith and not by sight.”

I

          Can you “see” the emotion of: love?  You can see manifestations of it.  But you cannot see the raw emotion, can you?  Does that mean emotions are unreal?  No, it just means God hasn’t shown you everything in creation. 

          St. Peter got himself in hot water with the powers-that-be.  King Herod had the Apostle James put to death.  Then he had Peter arrested and imprisoned to await death.  Meanwhile, “the church was praying earnestly to God for him.”

          The night before the trial, Peter was sleeping, chained between two guards.  Outside the cell stood more guards.  “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell.  He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.”  The angel also prompted Peter to put on his sandals and cloak and to follow that angel right out of prison. Peter didn’t understand and thought it was a vision.  They past two sets of guards, came to the iron gate outside, and miraculously it opened for them!  Peter was free!  Then the angel left him.

II

          Angels are real.  We cannot see them all the time, but they surround us with their powerful presence.  They help and assist God’s people when natural means are blunted.  That’s what happens here in our lesson.  Another example is found in 2 Kings chapter 6.  There the king of Israel finds himself and his city surrounded by enemy forces.  It looks grim.  But through Elisha the prophet, God reveals a whole angelic army with chariots of fire encamped in the hills which greatly outnumbers the enemy.  It uplifts and king’s spirit and saves the city.  Then God strikes the enemy with blindness!  Yes, those apart from God are blind to His reality and the unseen aspects of creation. 

          Getting back to Peter, any of his doubts and fears are banished through God miraculously causing his escape from prison.  He’s now strong in the Lord and bold, too.  He goes directly to Mary’s house (Mark’s mother) where he knew the faithful were praying for him.  He bangs on the door and finally the servant girl answers.  She knows Peter’s voice and without opening it exclaims to everyone: “Peter is at the door!”  She insists she’s right and some of them said: “It must be his angel.”—Interesting turn of phrase, isn’t it?  But Peter bangs louder and “when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.” Then Peter recounts exactly what happened, and how the Lord saved him.

III

          This lesson clearly teaches us that God loves and protects His faithful.  It shows that He hears and answers prayer.  It reveals that He has angel hosts encamped around “those that fear Him” as Scripture says.  And why does God do all this for people like you and me?  Because the blood of His Son, Jesus, has bought and paid for our deliverance!  In the end God never lets evil win anything that really matters and the resurrection proved it! 

          So, why can’t I see angels all the time?  It would give me courage and confidence, wouldn’t it?  Do you really think so?  Or would we abuse such a gift and flount it by taking chances and tempting God’s grace, if we could see the unseen?  No, “we walk by faith and not by sight.”  We don’t put ourselves in harm’s way, or “poke the bear” and then expect God’s angels to bail us out—even though they often do! 

          I’ve never seen an angel that I know of. I cannot prove scientifically that they exist.  But I know they do.  Just as I know that Jesus exists, that God loves me, and that He will protect me as long as He decides to give me breath, or until my time of grace comes to an end. I also know that heaven will come afterwards.  So, like Peter, I’m going to live: “as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove” just as Jesus tells me to.  I’m not going to fear the unknown because God’s in charge.  And our unseen and all-loving God will use whatever means necessary to protect me from the evil one and his minions just like He did with Peter!  Because to God all Christian lives matter!  After all, He invested the life of Jesus in us.  Amen THE PEACE OF GOD…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

October 4, 2020: 18th Sunday of Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for the gift of grace!  Thank You for rewarding  us not on the basis of what we deserve or earn, but on the basis of Your undeserved love.  May we never take it for granted.  Amen

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

TEXT:  Matthew 20: 1-16

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          I’m 99.9% certain that Harvard Business School would never cite this text as a basis for a business course!  It runs totally counter to the philosophy of business.  That’s why so many people, especially those in business and their workers, have a really hard time with it.

          Many years ago a friend of ours and his wife were sitting at our kitchen table for a meal.  He was an up-and-coming executive being groomed for “higher office.”  In fact, he recently retired from that major multi-national corporation as second in command!  He deserved it, too.  He started at the bottom in sales and worked very hard to achieve his success in that corporation that you would all recognize.  He asked me to explain this passage because he had trouble with it.  To him it all seemed unfair.  I explained it, but he still went away confused.  I vowed to do better next time.  And today is that time.

I

          Let’s put this parable in terms everyone can understand right now.  40 years ago you started with your company.  You made money.  The benefit package was very good.  You knew every week where your next meal would come from.  They never had any layoffs.  You had the benefit of security in your job and longevity.  But, the big payday would come at the end when you retired.  You were promised a huge bonus payday which made it all worthwhile.

          Over the years other workers were hired, too.  Like you they basically had a good life, free from unemployment worries, slashes in benefits, and they were promised a big bonus as well.  Finally, you’re getting real close to retirement.  You look forward to your big payout.  Then when it comes, they announce that the company is closing and everyone will get their “big bonus.”  The workers line up and to your horror, those hired just last year receive the same amount as the 10 year workers, the 20 year workers, and even you, who has been there for 40 years!  At first, these last hired were happy and so were you.  You naturally figured that you’d get much more than they did.  After all, you labored for far more time.  But as it became apparent that everyone would receive the same amount, and it was sizeable, you became disgruntled and down-right angry!  You thought and even said: “It isn’t fair!” 

II

          I remember sitting in the pew as a kid and hearing this lesson and having trouble understanding it, too.  It runs counter to the human mindset of: those who work longer should naturally get paid more.  Of course, those working 40 years received a whole lot of benefits during that time that the newly hired missed out on.  They didn’t have the stress of not knowing where their next meal would come from.  They missed out on the stress of not knowing if they could plan for retirement, a new car, a vacation each year, and the whole plethora of what it takes to keep a family afloat.  They were only keyed in on that fat bonus check and congratulated themselves each year that they earned it!  In the world, that’s the way it works.

          But the company CEO never promised an amount.  He never told anyone that he would pro-rate it.  He just promised a multi-million dollar bonus.  The owner is God.  And here He answers those upset employees: “Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have a right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous.  So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

III

          The vineyard here is the Christian Church.  Many join it at birth via baptismal grace—or God’s undeserved love in Christ.  They are the backbone of every congregation, too.  And they get to bask in the glow of His forgiving love every single day of their lives.  Others join in their searching years from late teens into their 30’s.  They have faced uncertainty in a host of ways, especially about where they stand with God.  But God then picked them up and brought them into the fold and their excitement and relief is palpable in their gratitude to God.  Still others went through much tribulation over not knowing God until they reached their 50’s.  Maybe it was failed marriages, or alcoholism, or bankruptcy.  They looked for fulfillment in all the wrong places until God found them, forgave them their sins, and gave them a new lease on life in His kingdom.  And finally, there are those who have led a dissolute life of emptiness and something, maybe a severe health scare, caused them to examine their life, repent of their ways, and embrace God’s loving embrace of faith.

          In the end, on judgement day, these new believers will receive the exact same Christian bonus payout as those faithful who labored in the trenches.  Heaven is all of theirs because the bonus payout is: a gift of grace.  A gift that Christ earned for each one on the cross.  Grace, or God’s undeserved love, is grace.  It is full and complete.  Forgiveness is forgiveness.  You cannot possess more forgiveness than another.  There is no such thing as “degrees of forgiveness.”  And the glory in all this stems from God’s fairness.  It is the fairness that He loves each of His children in the exact same amount—all because He loves Jesus.

          My friends, God doesn’t play off one of us against another.  He loves us all exactly the same.  Good thing because who could ever do enough to make Him love you more?  We’re all sinners by nature who deserve literally nothing from Him on our own.  So, be thankful that God didn’t have to attend Harvard Business School to get an advanced degree in salvation!  And wherever you’re at on the road to heaven, just savor the blessing that He has put you there.  For along that road countless blessings seem to crop up continually.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

September 27, 2020: 17th Sunday of Pentecost

Let us pray: Lord, cause all of us to count the cost of true discipleship by using forgiveness, and our practice of it, as the yardstick.  And once we begin to do so, inspire us to look at what forgiveness means by looking at You.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR FORGIVING LORD!

TEXT:  Matthew 18: 21-35

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

          What is your most prized, most valued,  possession?  Ask that to a crowd to people and you’ll get various responses.  “My house.”  Certainly it is probably the most valuable in monetary terms—especially if it has no mortgage.  But you can’t take it with you.  “My retirement accounts.”  Again, if gauged by money, it might be true.  But remember: The IRS has a big claim on it when you cash in.  The more cautious will say: “My health.”  Yes, you “own” your health, but for how long?  The spiritually minded will say: “My faith.”  However, do you “own” your faith?  God’s Word says: “Faith is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.”  It’s hard to take credit for a gift, isn’t it?  Gifts are humbling.  And what has given birth, created, your Christian faith?  Isn’t it forgiveness for sins?  Forgiveness earned by Christ on the cross?  So, for the believer, it all comes down to forgiveness which has spawned saving faith.  Today, I ask you: “How do you use  this most precious of gifts?

I

          Last week we learned from Christ how to handle a fellow believer who sins against you.  You speak to them about their sin and when repentance is attained, you forgive them and forget the past.  Today’s lesson follows on the heels of that text.  Impetuous Peter wants to put a limit on such forgiveness.  Kind of like: “Three strikes and you’re out.”  So, he asks Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?  Jesus answers: “I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”  In other words, more times than you can remember!!!

          Then Jesus goes on to tell the disciples of a king who wanted to settle up all his accounts.  One man came in with a million dollar debt.  He couldn’t pay it.  So, the king ordered the whole family be sold into slavery instead.  The servant fell down before his king and begged, “Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.”  Fat chance of that!  But the king is kindly and decided to cancel the debt instead.  Now instead of being grateful, this servant goes out and finds another man who owes him a few dollars.  This fellow demands payment and begins to choke this poor man.  “Pay me what you owe me!”  Between coughing fits, this man basically says the same thing the other fellow said to the king.  “Have pity on me and I will repay you.”  But the response was not merciful.  Instead he has him thrown in prison until he comes up with the money.  (Fat chance of that while in prison.) 

          Some servants of the king witnessed all this and tell their Lord what happened.  So, the King summons him in and blasts him!  “You wicked servant.  I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?  So, in anger his master turned him over to the jailers until he should pay back all he owed.”  Then Jesus adds these final words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

II

          You and I have been forgiven of our entire debt of sin by God, from His gracious heart.  The debt we owe Him is insurmountable. Nothing can cancel it out except the blood of Christ and the rightness with God that He won for us by His perfect life lived in our place and His innocent death offered to the Father in our stead.  This is why forgiveness, Christ’s forgiveness, is our most valued possession.  And it is made ours through the gift of faith. 

          So, are your thankful for it?  Yes.  Do you practice such forgiveness on a daily basis in dealing with all others?  Be honest.  The answer is: sadly, No. 

          Think of all those times family members said or did something to slight you or hurt you.  Maybe they meant it, and maybe they didn’t.  Maybe it was on purpose, and maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe you “forgave them” but also vowed to remember it and use it against them.  Humans are notorious keepers of grudges, aren’t they?  In our parable, who ended up with the short end of the stick?  Wasn’t it the fellow who didn’t practice forgiveness?  It boom-arranged on him.  So it is with grudge keepers—both in this life and the one to come.

          Forgiveness from the heart wipes the slate clean for everyone.  It restores all relationships.  Christ proved that.  Forgiveness is what reconciled God to us.  And forgiveness also reconciles us to each other.  It is what makes life work. 

          With that in mind, all of us have some work to do.  We need to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us and then go and put it into daily practice.  Maybe you cannot search everyone out from the past and verbalize your forgiveness, but you can ask forgiveness from God and then go forward by acting upon it.  You’ll sleep better.  You’ll have a newfound spring in your step.  And you’ll feel refreshed and cleansed.  Your debts of doubt and shame will be erased.  In fact, right now they are erased because today here at church, God obliterated them in His absolution!  Thanks be to God!  You’re solvent once more.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

September 20, 2020: 16th Sunday of Pentecost

Dear Savior, today re-instruct us how to handle difficult issues with difficult people.  Teach us to be honest, truthful, kind, caring, and to always speak the truth to them in love.  For in the end, that’s the only way to save lives and to save souls.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR FORGIVING GOD!

TEXT:  Matthew 18: 15-20

Dearly Beloved in Christ:

          With the advent of Covid and the attendant lockdowns, quarantines, and masks; we’ve become a rather short-fused nation.   People have been bottled-up in their houses, and so they’ve bottled up their emotions.  Then, suddenly something or someone triggers it all and it comes pouring out in a non-elegant fashion.  From a theological point of view, it reveals the fact that sin has a safe-harbor in all of our hearts. Many years ago a black man was beaten by the police in LA.  His name was Rodney King and his beating sparked riots.  I recall him saying: “Can’t we all just get along?”  The current answer for many seems to be: No.

          Some people are aggressive and pushy by nature.  It’s not fun to be around them.  Others are more timid and quiet.  Then there’s the passive-aggressive folks.  They lash out and pop off around those they believe will take their abuse.  This kind of behavior is on the rise for obvious reasons.  They bottle up everything inside and then spew it out when someone says or does something that triggers them.  It makes them feel better for the moment but hurts those suffering such abuse.  Guard against it, my friends.  For Christ taught us a better way.

          The church is not immune from such outbursts either.  So here Christ tells us how to handle such sin, and that’s what it is.  Unchecked, such sins of the tongue or other hurtful behavior can and does harm both body and soul.  It hurts those receiving it, and especially hurts the one doing it.  Since we’re “our brothers keeper” we are duty bound to recognize and assist them in overcoming such sin.  And here Christ lays out exactly how.

I

          “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”  That’s not fun.  It means: confrontation.  And who enjoys confrontation?  This is good advice for all people, but it especially applies between fellow believers.  After all, you supposedly have faith and adherence to Christ in common.  But, don’t do this publicly unless forced to.  Do it privately.  Christianity is about reconciliation—God reconciling us to Him via Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and our reconciling with others because that’s “letting our light shine.”  Keep a level head.  Don’t let your emotions rule you.  Always be kind, but honest about whatever was said or done that’s hurtful.  Don’t give another a reason to reject your advice or counsel.

          But what if that doesn’t work?  Then proceed to step 2.  Take some witnesses with you and try, try, again.  This is designed to show your fellow believer the gravity of their sin.  It’s done out of concern for their soul.  Don’t raise your voice or let your temper overcome you.  Pray before, during, and after you do this.  Pray for the offending party to gain Godly insight into what they’ve said or done that hurts everyone.  Often, very often, prayer is a calming ointment to fear, guilt, or shame.

II

          Currently in America one of the primary drivers behind passive-aggressive behavior is: fear.  People are afraid of the future.  They’re afraid of being ostracized.  They’re afraid of their job, money, health, safety.  They’re afraid of death.  And that potent cauldron of emotions seethes and bubbles inside so they lash out—especially at fellow believers because they think they can get away with it.  But that doesn’t make it right.  And the hurt it causes can be deadly—especially if children see or hear it.  They rightly wonder: “Where’s Jesus and His love in all this?”

          So, Jesus says: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church,” and if he still refuses to repent: “treat him as a pagan or a tax collector” or a rank unbeliever.  This means you need to talk to the pastor or the elders (spiritual leaders) in the church.  They, too, will hear the case, talk to all involved, and seek reconciliation.  But if the guilty party doesn’t want that, well, the church eventually confirms the road they sought to travel upon and excommunicates them. 

III

          In our current age, sin comes in many forms.  Fear has destroyed or inhibited many social norms and good sense.  Christians see others rioting, shouting others down, black-listing them, and generally acting in a boorish manner, and been influenced by it all and tempted to do the same thing.  You know, the old: “Fight fire with fire.”  Our lesson is a call back to sanity.  It is a call back to God’s “most excellent way.”  We’re different because we know that we’re redeemed, forgiven, saved, children of God and we’re to act like it.

          Some of you know that on my gravestone, one of the things written will be: “forgiveness conquers power.”  It’s true!  Power is about: “I want and I’ll do whatever it takes to get or retain it.”  It’s about grudges, revenge, arrogance, and personal aggrandizement.  Forgiveness is about you and God and a renunciation of all the above.  And in the end, when you stand before God, isn’t forgiveness what you really want on your side?

          Additionally, forgiveness IS real power because it is eternal.  It stands when all else turns to rubble.  Christ certainly proved that via His resurrection from the dead.  So, as you go about acting out your faith and trying to protect yourself, others, and even the guilty party from the inroads of sin, listen to Christ and realize the power of forgiveness: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth (passing judgement on sin) will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth (forgiveness) will be loosed in heaven.”  Doing so proves that you are the salt of the earth.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox