March 27, 2022: 4th Sunday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, by giving up Your life for us, You purchased us and saved us from a life without hope, joy, or peace.  By rising from our grave, You renewed the gift of life given to our first parents, and cemented our oneness with The entire Trinity.  Today, renew that knowledge in our hearts and bring us joy along with Your newness of life!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO LIVES!

TEXT:  Ephesians 2: 4-10

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

          ARE YOUR REALLY ALIVE?  That question might seem silly as you sit in the pew, breathing, heart beating, brain processing, and muscles slightly twitching.  Pinch yourself.  Do you feel it?  Well, that proves you’re alive, right?

          But, there is “being alive” and “being alive.”  You see, humans are comprised and composed of both a body, soul and spirit.  They are joined together into one person, you.  And for any human to reach their full potential; for any human to live life to its fullest; both need to function together and not apart.  Sin causes our bodies to function apart from our souls.  We may still walk, talk, laugh, and cry; but when sin gains the upper hand our souls die.  And then we’re not really alive anymore.  Lest you think I’m just spinning tales, recall Christ’s words to a group of Sadducees who had completely given themselves over to sin by negating any concept of the soul or eternal life in their lives.  Christ calls them: “White-washed tombs.”  That is, living tombs that look alive, but are actually dead, dead, dead.  I try not to dwell much on that passage when I look at a crowd of people.  I cannot read their hearts.  But I sometimes wonder what God and perhaps His angels see when they gaze upon a massive crowd.  Is that mass studded with headstones instead of just human beings? 

I

          There are only two ways of looking at life—from God’s perspective and from a human being’s perspective.  Since humans are imperfect and limited by mere human sight, the whole panoply of the eternal, the real “Real” gets overlooked.  But since God created us; since God made us eternal by putting a soul into us; and since God sees everything including whether or not we’ve been re-linked into His network of love and the fullness of life through the blood of Christ; well, His perspective is the only one that counts. 

          St. Paul started the church in Ephesus.  Later on, he writes them this epistle, which we know as his letter to the Ephesians.  Unlike most churches today, this one had no transfers, or fellow Christians from another locale who were looking for a place to worship.  No, this church began with pagans, adults who knew nothing of God’s grace and first needed to be convinced that they even needed to be saved.  Paul carefully preached God’s Law to them to convict them of their sin, of their need to be saved.  And then he preached God’s Gospel to them to show them God’s huge, loving heart, to show them that salvation was a gift God Almighty had given to them in Christ.  With that as background, listen to how the apostle begins this chapter in the words preceding our text: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air (hot air, very hot air in Satan’s case), the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” 

          So, how are the dead made alive again?  They cannot do it on their own; they’re dead. Again, dead humans cannot even see their own deadness to God and His meaning for life.  Well, our all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving God has overcome our deadness and our lack of total perspective.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

II

          This sentence is not just amazing, it is reality shattering and eternally rich beyond compare!  It is grace, God’s unconditional love for us Christ that resurrects our spiritual deadness, just like it will resurrect our lifeless bodies on the last day.  It is God’s pure love that remakes and remolds us into the purpose for which He created humans.—Being eternally alive!

          Now, Paul goes on to expand on this and apply even fuller meaning to what this new life is all about.  “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

          When God implanted faith into our hearts through which forgiveness and eternal life come, this lifeline to God also transported us into His timeless reality.  Think about what that consists of?—Total peace, total harmony, total love, total happiness.  All of this has been won by Christ on the cross.  And now, even right this moment, you and I possess it through faith in Jesus.  And thus, our purpose in the here and now is to live it, show it, share it, and drink it all in every day.  Our purpose in life is: to serve as a beacon of goodness for future saints to look back on and for every saint to talk about and revel in once heaven becomes our final home. 

          Folks, this is heady stuff!  And you need to remember it when the kids are sick in the middle of the night, when you have to scrape ice off your car and slide off to work, when the boss yells at you, and when you feel like withdrawing into a shell.  During those times, earthly life isn’t much fun.  But your new life in Christ transports you beyond all that because against the backdrop of eternity it’s no more than a grain of sand.

          Then, just to make sure we always give credit where credit is due and don’t backslide into stroking our ego, Paul adds this comment: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

          Did you notice how carefully St. Paul hedged in God’s grace and the faith that grasps hold of it in order to prevent it from ever being diluted and corrupted by humans taking any credit for their salvation?   God’s grace alone saves.  It is made ours through faith.  And faith is not something we create by our own willpower.  It is not from us at all.  No, it is a gift from God alone, not a work of man.  And thus, no human can boast of their “aliveness” or take any credit for it.—Instead to God alone is the glory.  And if all this comes from God, and it does, we can have total confidence in its reality.   What’s the purpose behind all of this?  To carry out the tasks that God has foreordained in eternity.  To be His hands, His feet, His voice of goodness amid a world which so desperately needs it! 

          So, Are You Truly Alive?  Well, you are now!  What better reason to rejoice and embrace your newfound life?  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Fox

March 23, 2022: 4th Wednesday in Lent

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR LOVING SAVIOR WHO DRIES ALL OUR TEARS!

TEXT:  Luke 23: 26-31

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          An expert in the human eye could certainly give you a scientific explanation as to why people cry.  But, we don’t need it.  Everyone knows why people shed tears.—Some are the result of sadness, others of great emotional joy.  Tears are the physical manifestation of great emotional upheaval, aren’t they?  And although we try, we really cannot control them.

          Tonight is all about tears, and yet it isn’t.  Because as sad of the suffering and death of Jesus was, the point of tonight’s sermon is:

SEE HIS CROSS!  SHED NO TEARS FOR JESUS!

I

          Christ’s passion is the ultimate in tragedy and also the ultimate in deliverance.  It runs the total gamut of human emotions.  All the Gospel writers paint a graphic picture.  It’s brutal and quite awful.  Jesus is arrested, manhandled, shunted off for the show trial, falsely accused, severely beaten, and sentenced to death—all in the space of about 8 or 9 hours.  When Pilate finally has Him brought out to the crowd and says: “Ecce Homo!” or “Behold the man” in order to elicit some compassion for Him, all it caused was more mindless hatred. 

          The soldiers then lead Jesus out of the city to be crucified with two others, two terrorists against Rome.  The beating, loss of blood, and lack of sleep took its toll on Jesus’ body.  He breaks down as He carries the heavy, green-wood cross.  Simon of Cyrene, a Jewish pilgrim from North Africa who is in the city for his once-in-a-lifetime Passover celebration, got a once-in-a-lifetime shock.  He’s picked out of the crowd to bear Jesus’ cross.  His new clothes quickly get smeared with blood from the cross.  The crowd stops on their way to work and while some spit and yell obscenities, and others just gawk, some in the crowd break down and cry.

          It’s all so tragic.  Jesus has done nothing wrong.  He is totally innocent.  He was kind and loving throughout every day of His life.  His message wasn’t rebellion and revolution.  It was forgiveness, reforming the heart of evil, and embracing Godly love.  Only a few days before this the Jerusalem crowd had welcomed Him with shouts of praise and joy.  Now some of those same souls yell: “Crucify, Crucify!” while others, like the women of our lesson, cry.  Their eyes overflow with tears.

          Can you imagine if this occurred today?  Can you imagine if some news network got a You Tube feed and broadcast this tragedy?  Can you imagine what the world-wide emotional response would be when people heard Him croak out: “Women, do not weep for me.”? 

          But why not weep for Christ?  After all, He was abandoned by His followers, turned on by His countrymen, and apparently helpless in the grip of evil men.  Why not cry for Him?—Because right here Jesus was fulfilling His destiny.  He was doing, actually embracing, the very thing He came into this world for.  He was suffering the full weight of the world’s evil so that none of us would have to feel it forever in eternity!  As the Son of God, He was and is our perfect Substitute.  He was and is our perfect Twin.  He willingly agreed to become human evil personified in order to pay evil’s penalty to God Almighty.  The penalty was death and now Christ trudges along to embrace it.  St. Paul captures it well with these words: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

II

          On a human level the tears of the women were understandable.  They saw what was occurring and it moved them.  But they did not see the real reasons behind it all.  They did not yet see the real truth of the cross.  They were clueless as to the real meaning of those yet-to-be-written words of St. Paul: “All things work together for good to those who love God.” 

          Jesus reminded these women: “Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”  What does all this mean?  First, it’s a reminder that the progeny of those women would also experience tragedy, loss, suffering, and eventually death.  Like all generations, they would fade away and eventually become dust, forgotten like some forlorn dream.  That’s because without God’s forgiveness cleansing each human soul of evil and without faith in that great deliverance, every human’s future is nothing but tragedy.  Second, this was also a prophetic vision of their rejection of God’s Son and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem, them, and their children by Rome some 40 years hence.  Yes, standing outside of God’s grace, failing to see eternal deliverance through Christ’s cross is the ultimate tragedy deserving of tears because it is an eternal tragedy.

          During my ministry I’ve probably conducted around 100 funerals.  One thing that stands out in my mind is the tear-filled eyes of those present.  Basically I’ve seen two types of tears.  First, there are the Christian mourners who lament their earthly loss but at the same time exhibit tears of joy along with their sadness.  They know the power of the cross.  They know that through it Christ saved the soul of their departed and thus through it they will be reunited in glory someday.  However, there is a second type of mourner who also cries—copiously.  They are the people who don’t believe in Christ, who have rejected His cross, and thus they have no hope and no comfort.  I guess their tears eventually dry up, but only salty bitterness remains behind.  Folks, that’s the true tragedy of life. 

          So, in the future, whenever tragedy strikes and unbidden tears begin to flow, See His Cross, See His Love, and recall the great deliverance from tears that Christ won for you!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Fox

March 20, 2022: 3rd Sunday in Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent

March 20, 2022

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we need You to remind us of the necessity of genuine repentance.  Although we hear that word weekly, and sometimes even practice it daily, our flesh often grows smug in the midst of temptations, gives in to them, and then smugly continues on because seemingly nothing happens.  Lord, none of us know when You will call us to account, so prompt us to snap out of our smugness and live repentance daily.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SAVIOR WHO SEES ALL

TEXT:  Luke 13: 1-9

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

          There really are two kinds of believers in this world.  Those who bend their will to some sort of “higher power” and those who scoff at the existence of any god.  I still recall Channel 5’s “Chronicle” program and the segment they had on the scoffers and avowed atheists.  They all preened at how they are just as well adjusted and just as happy as any of those “religious” folks.  All of them disavowed any religious belief system.  But, of course, they are all liars.  Everyone has some sort of beliefs they follow.  People have value beliefs, moral beliefs, political beliefs, and ultimately they believe in themselves, that they are right.  Without believing in something, anything, you literally cannot make a single decision in life.  Why corn flakes vs. cheerios?  Why chicken vs. beef?  Why a Honda vs. a Chevy?

          Among those who espouse to be believers in a “higher power,” there are really only two subsets.  Those are: Christians who honor the Triune God and non-Christians who pay homage to some sort of fake god.  We call them heathens in traditional Christianity.  Likewise, within Christendom, there is yet still another subset.  That is, Christians who really try to live up to the high standards of God’s Word and live out daily repentance through a total reliance upon God’s grace, and what we could call nominal believers whose attitude is: “I’ve heard it all before, I have nothing new to learn, so I’ll go through the motions of my faith and hope for the best.” 

          By your presence, you’re telling the world that you’re a believing Christian.  No one other than you and God knows the steadfastness of your faith.  That’s because only you and God can read your heart.  So, today’s theme may apply to you very specifically, or maybe a bit more generally.  Either way:

DON’T BE A SMUG BELIEVER!

I

          Everyone tries to play the guessing-game about the victims of a tragedy.  “Why did it happen to them?”  is a question we all toy with.  And believers in god (little g) immediately conclude in their heart-of-hearts that they must have done something especially terrible to warrant such an untimely death.  Of course, the parallel thought within such a heart is this: “Since it didn’t happen to me, I must be on o.k. terms with the “big man upstairs.”  This is really the setting for our lesson, the questions posed to Christ, and the reason behind His answer.

          “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those 18 who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”

          Apparently, some Galileans had gone to the temple to offer sacrifice on a holy day.  Apparently they became so agitated by it and so full of religious nationalism that a riot broke out.  (This happened at various times.)  Anyway, Pilate sent soldiers who quelled the riot, killing those folks and their blood mixed with that of the animals they were sacrificing.    Likewise, a tower around the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem fell upon 18 people unexpectedly.  They, too, were killed without warning by this event.  These things fall under the guideline of providence.  That is, no mere human can deduce the “whys” of God such as: Why did the earthquake occur in Japan, or another country?  Did those people do something especially evil in order to bring it upon themselves?  Bad things occur in this world because the entire world is sinful.  Period.  That’s Jesus’ answer.  However, what we can deduce from such events is that our time of grace is limited, we need to live and practice daily repentance, and then no matter what, we’ll be prepared if it happens to us.

II

          The message of Lent is the message of our text.—Don’t be a smug believer!  Don’t rest on your past laurels.  Don’t think you have everything in life figured out.  And don’t play Russian roulette with temptation and with sin.  For you may have played with a particular sin like slander, or theft, or cheating on your spouse; you may have gotten away with it for many times. You then begin to think that it really isn’t so bad because no bad consequences ensue.  Each time the chamber of that revolver clicks “empty.”  But eventually God’s judgment will fall, the hammer will fall and disaster will come.  So, don’t smugly think: “It’ll never happen to me!”

          Again, Jesus addresses this immutable truth with the parable of the fig tree.  For three long years after planting a fig, the owner came to the vineyard and expected to find fresh figs, fresh fruit.  But, each year the fig came up empty.  Finally, he grows exasperated and says to the vineyard supervisor: “Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?”  Of course, this is a word picture of God Almighty and the nation of Israel specifically, and the entire world generally.  Christ came and watered and tended the little tree of proclaimed faith for three years.  But the fruit of that tree was non-existent among the masses.  Time to cut it down and start over!  However, the vineyard worker, standing for Christ Himself, pleads the cause of that little tree.  He’s patient.  He’s kind.  He wants to give it one more chance.  He wants to give you one more chance.  “Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it (with His blood).  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.’”

          Well, we know what happened.  The vast majority of souls in Israel did not listen and learn.  They failed to repent.  They failed to embrace Christ and appreciate His goodness, love, and forgiveness.  Instead, these religiously smug people who thought they were far superior to any Roman or any Gentile played “follow our leaders like Caiaphas” and they killed Christ on a cross.  Yes, how often God’s patience is tried and His grace is used against Him?!  And then, the axe falls. Yes, failure to repent due to smugness leads to certain destruction of self and of soul.

          I may be preaching to the choir, as it were, but every one of us needs to guard against smugness and/or apathy when it comes to our faith in Jesus  Christ.  We guard against it by recognizing our sins, by practicing repentance, by begging for forgiveness, by trying to enlarge and strengthen our faith, and by continually repeating from the heart: “There, but by the grace of God, go I.”  As you continue to walk the path of Lent, burn that truth even deeper into your heart!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH….

Pastor Fox

March 16, 2022: 3rd Wednesday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, tonight we hold You to Your promise never to leave or forsake us!  We know that You know exactly how it feels—to be forsaken.  For the disciples, the masses of people, the church leaders of the day all abandoned You.  You went to the cross alone.  You suffered all alone.  But, because of that we don’t have to!  For You are always with us with Your comfort and strength, with your empathy.  So, tonight we ask You to shower us with comfort from on high by reminding us that whatever occurs in our lives, we’re never alone.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, IN WHOM WE FIND HIDDEN GLORY!

TEXT:  Matthew 26: 57-68

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

          The march to the cross continues.  Tonight we’re one step closer to that apex of human and divine history when all of God’s promises are fulfilled.  Our lesson lays before us one of the most appalling points along the passion highway, Matthew 26: 57-68:

          “Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled.  But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.  He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.  The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.  But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.  Finally, two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’  Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer?  What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’  But Jesus remained silent.  The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’  ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.  ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy!  Why do we need any more witnesses?  Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?’  ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered.  Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists.  Others slapped him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ.  Who hit you?’”

Yes, in this lesson we see Christ’s glory.  We see that:

IT IS HIDDEN IN THE SAVIOR’S REJECTION BY HIS OWN

I

          Whenever and wherever Christ and His cross appear, one repeating theme intrudes.  It is hostility, hatred, opposition and persecution—not outward glory.  His glory is hidden under the cross of rejection.  That’s what He promised and that’s what Lent is all about.  And since it happened to Christ, it is no surprise that it happens to us and the entire Christian church throughout all history, as well.

          Jesus was born in Judea, Israel, Palestine.  He came first to Jewish people who possessed the Old Testament and all its promises concerning the Messiah.  The high priest, Caiaphas that year, was the leader of that religious community.  He stood as God’s representative on earth.  He was the one who offered up sacrificial blood to God on the day of atonement for the sins of the people.  He was the one who could enter the holy of holies.  He was the one who oversaw all the temple worship practices which all pointed to the coming Messiah.

          If anyone should have known that Jesus was the fulfillment of all those ceremonies and sacrifices, it was the high priest.  He knew the Old Testament promises of God and the prophecies about the Savior by heart.  He knew of the miracles.  He knew of John the Baptist’s announcement concerning Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”  And yet, hardness of heart blocked it all out.  Total rejection describes his “faith.”  And so here he sets up a kangaroo court to try Jesus on the basis of lies in order to kill Him.  He gets his cronies to pronounce a death sentence.  He even rips open his robe to make a show of his indignation.  It’s sad, shocking, and just plain immoral. 

          Likewise that kangaroo court.  The Sanhedrin was made up of 70 of the leading religious scholars of that time.  They included (mostly) liberal Sadducees and some very puritanical Pharisees.  But all these men knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards.  They had memorized those holy words from little boy on.  Yet, not one of them speaks up for Christ.  Not one of them says: “He raised 3 people from the dead!”  Not one of them says: “He healed the sick, threw out demons and fed thousands!”  They hardened their hearts to the Palm Sunday accolades and now agree to pass a death sentence of God’s anointed One.

          The question is: why?  Why the hatred and rejection?  Yes, why has Lent always been a stumbling block especially to those within the visible religious community?  Why did people like St. Athanasius have to fight for Christ’s divinity within the visible Christian church of his age?  Why were John Huss, the early reformer, and Martin Luther, the ultimate reformer,  put to death and shunned by the priests and church leaders of their day?  I’ll tell you why.  It is because God’s glory is hidden in the cross and so it doesn’t stroke our egos and provide us with personal glory.  The cross never feeds our pride and humans don’t like that.

          Today in America the majority identifies itself with Christianity.  And yet they don’t go to church, they don’t believe in the Virgin birth, they don’t believe in the physical resurrection, and they don’t hold to the truth that salvation of soul isn’t based on “living a good life.”  In other words, most reject the whole concept of grace.  For them Christianity is an excuse to assuage their guilty consciences on their own instead of letting God do it in and through the cross of Christ.  And so today the American church preaches diversity instead of salvation.  They preach that homosexuality isn’t a sin.  That abortion is sad but not so bad.  Even Pope John Paul II said in a famous talk that the Muslims are on the right path to salvation!  The cross has become emptied of true meaning.  For the cross doesn’t speak of diversity in that God accepts human sin and lazily looks the other way.  No, the cross announces repentance and speaks of self-sacrifice and our human flesh simply hates it—both then and now.

II

          This is shocking and tragic.  Christ’s own rejected Him and still reject Him today.  We’d expect the Romans to reject Him.  We’d expect the heathen to do likewise.  But when those who have been exposed to God’s Word do so, well, it’s doubly bad, isn’t it?  That’s why Christ tells the disciples in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  That’s why He tells them, “If you continue in My Word then truly you are my disciples.”  For He knew the perverse hardness of heart that afflicts self-centered glory hogs who hide behind outward religious piety. 

          “The Lord knows those that are his.”  He knows exactly what’s in our hearts.  And He also knows that our sinful flesh can seduce us away from Him.  He knows that Christian Churches that teach all of His truths, not just the politically correct ones, will be opposed.  Think of how much greater His grief over someone who knows what grace really is, but who soft-pedals it in order become more accepted by friends and neighbors?  Yes, we all want glory, but we don’t want the cross that comes with true glory, do we?

          Ah, my friends, that’s the rub.  So, keep watch and pray.  For the spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak!  Think about the fact that the Savior’s own rejected Him—and then resolve that you will never be counted in their number!  Yes, cling to the cross and glory in it, for it is there that you will find true glory—yes, God’s hidden glory in the form of forgiveness for all your sins!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…. 

Pastor Fox