April 24, 2022: 1st Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Lord Jesus, we have been washed clean of sin and shame by Your precious blood.  We have been given the gift of a heavenly home through faith in Your Easter victory.  We have reaped countless spiritual, physical, and emotional blessings as a result of Your loving triumph over the cross on our behalf.  And yet, because we are still confined to frail flesh and blood, at times we doubt.  At times we are plagued by worry and uncertainty as to whether all of this true and as to whether it is really for us.  At times, we even worry that perhaps you have forgotten about us.  Today dispel those fears and doubts as You once did with the disciples in that locked room.  And as in their case, replace such worry with fearless, unending joy!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND THE LORD OF THE GRAVE, JESUS CHRIST!

TEXT:  John 20: 19-31

Fellow Redeemed In the Easter King!

          Everywhere you turn, you run into straw men.  That is, you run into people who caricature the Christian faith and then take great delight in crumpling up that caricature and tossing it away into the waste basket of stupidity and unbelief.  One of the favorite straw man arguments used to attack Christianity is called: blind faith.  How often have you read or been told that your faith really is blind?  Some will tell you: “How do you know Christ arose?  Did you see Him?  You weren’t there!”  Others will say: “Why do you think you’re always right?  Has God appeared to you and told you something special?Still others will say: “If God’s really in your corner, than ask Him to do something extraordinary and then perhaps I’ll accept it.”  Try as you might to answer such unbelief, in the end such people will laugh with derision: “Yours is just a blind faith.  You are no different from any other religions of this world.  Marx was right, ‘religion is the opiate for the unthinking masses.’  You’re a weak-willed person who needs an emotional crutch, but I’m better than that!”

          Is our faith really so blind?  Is it really so unproveable and undefendable?  Does our faith have nothing to do with reality, with rationality?  Is our faith based on human subjective whims and emotions?  Is it so totally divorced from reason and the brain?  Is that what Christ had in mind when He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed?”  Of course not!  For does not the Bible say: “Test the spirits to see whether they are of God?”  Have not all things in the Bible been written for our learning and knowledge?  Have not the Scriptures been written so that our faith can rest on more than sin-tainted human emotions and whims?  Did not God act in time and space, in human history, via the cross and the empty tomb to give us a reason for believing?  Indeed He did!  And therefore when unbelief rears its arrogant head with one of those straw man arguments against Christianity, our response can and should be:

BLIND FAITH IS NO FAITH!

I

          Christ lived and died here on terra firma, planet earth.  That’s a fact.  Granted, maybe we weren’t there to witness it, but countless others were.  And they have given us their eyewitness accounts in Holy Writ.  Isn’t the eyewitness testimony of 2 or 3 or 4 enough for the courts of our land to discern the truth?  Isn’t such eyewitness testimony enough to go forward and operate on?  You certainly do exactly that when 3 different accountants confirm that you owe X amount of taxes.  You do exactly that when 3 different mechanics all diagnose the same problem with your car.  You do exactly that when 3 eyewitnesses confirm to you, the jury, that the defendant really did steal that Lexus they were driving.  We humans weigh evidence and then either accept it or reject it.  So, let’s now weigh our text.

          “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” 

          Here we have a room full of witnesses.  Obviously they were not filled with a great deal of faith in Christ’s resurrection at this point.  They were skeptical.  They were hard to convince.  Even though they had seen His miracles and, heard the reports from the women and Peter that Christ was alive again; even though  the two disciples from Emmaus had just arrived to tell them of their encounter with the resurrected Christ, and even though they surely wanted to believe—they weren’t ready just yet to put their faith in Jesus’ resurrection.  Why?  Because they feared the Jews who had killed Christ.  They feared that a similar fate awaited them.  Self preservation is the greatest of all instincts.  We see here that self-preservation was their chief motivator—not belief in the resurrection.  Otherwise they wouldn’t have been hiding in that locked room.

          Next, the unexpected happens.  Christ appears!  He miraculously is just there in their midst!  He doesn’t have to walk through the door.  After all, it’s locked.  And yet, He appears because He’s God.  And not some ghostly form of God, but a physical reality that they can touch and feel.  Note how He shows them His hands and feet.  Luke’s account says that Jesus told them to touch Him, too.  But here we hear that the first words from His mouth were: “Peace be with you!”  Christ came to give inner peace instead of turmoil and emotional chaos.  Indeed, the Christian faith is all about peace.  Peace of conscience and peace of soul.  It worked, here, too.  For we’re told: “They were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”  Christ’s resurrection banishes fear and the uncertainty that it  breeds.

          Next, He empower them, and through them all Christians, to do the very same thing—to banish fear.  He empowers them to give the blessings of Easter peace and forgiveness of sins to sinners who acknowledge their need of it.  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.  And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”

          Christ’s physical resurrection proved that He is God.  It proves that His victory over sin and death is a definite reality.  It proves that He has the power to forgive sins—for only God can do that.  Thus, any and every time that we forgive sins, the power of His cross and His empty tomb is transferred through us to that sorrowful sinner who longs for it.  And even though Christ may not be physically present here this morning, His Word and the peace it conveys is!  Peace Be With You!

II

          So far we’ve seen that Jesus’ resurrection created confidence among those fearful followers.  But if their testimony isn’t enough for it to create confidence in you, then listen up!  “Now Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

          Obviously Thomas was not easily convinced.  He was a thoroughly modern man.  He wanted to scientifically test their claims with his eyes, his hands, and his senses.  He wanted to put the Lord God to the test.  That Thomas is exactly like every other Thomas out there—including you.  We want to believe.  We want to trust.  We want to be strong in the faith.  But often we are o so weak.  Often we worry that God doesn’t really love us, or that He’s forgotten about us, or that He can’t help us with a certain problem.  God’s Word may tell us one thing, and our heart goes and tells us something else.—But God is greater than our hearts and right here He proves it!

          “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.’”

          When Thomas is off alone, worried, doubting, on edge—Christ still remembers him.  Christ cares for the individual.  And Christ will always seek us out and find us when we least expect it.  And although Christ may be physically absent from this earth today, His Word of comfort still comes!  He still bids you not to worry or fear.  He still gives you peace.—In the Word of absolution, in the waters of Baptism, and in His Holy Supper.  What’s your response to all this?

          Thomas’ response was: “My Lord and my God!”   That is to be the echo of every believer, too.  It is our confession.  It is our faith.  But it isn’t blind.  It was and still is based on reality.  The reality that Christ lived and died for us.  The reality that Christ still lives in heavenly glory—ready to come again to judge the living and the dead.  The reality that heaven really is our home.

          My friends, blind faith is a belief that has no basis in history.  Blind faith is based merely on an individual’s whims or personal prejudices.  Blind faith says: Me, me, me.  Blind faith is not the Christian faith!  For our faith is based on historical reality.  It is based on what God says instead of what I may think.  It comes from Him as a gift.  It focuses on Him.  It bows to Him, alone.  It doesn’t say: “My Lord and My God.”  Instead, it says: “My Lord and my God!

          Often we Christians are discontented because we cannot yet physically see Christ.  Somehow we think that if we were present, like Thomas, in that upper room that night we would possess an extra-special faith.  That we would then be blest in a extra-special way.  But instead of feeling sorry for yourself and thinking less of your faith, you need to heed the closing words of Christ to Thomas.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!”  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING KEEP AND GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD. AMEN 

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

April 17, 2022: Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, words cannot express the joy You’ve put into our hearts because of the resurrection!  Fears are removed.  Depression is overcome.  And our future is assured—all by Your triumph over death!  Energize our faith  so that we can truly bask in the glow of joy that today brings!   Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR LIVING LORD!

Text:  John 20: 1-18

The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Today, as I promised on Christmas Eve, Levi ben Simon is back after a 33 year hiatus to report  on the story of Jesus.  Levi was a cub reporter who worked for the “Jerusalem Scroll.”  He has been in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born  and gone back a few days later after the hard-bitten  editor, Schlomo, had rejected his article from that fateful night.  But, he vowed to come back to you after he had more to  report.  Today is his story.

For over 32 years I’ve been waiting to write this tale.   I’ve risen to the job of editor of the Scroll by hard work and perseverance.  Now I’m the boss and I vowed long ago to never deep-six a story.  Because I now have answers to the 33 year old mystery of Jesus Christ, I’m personally conveying it to you.

I

The past few days has been a whirlwind of stories and grief concerning Jesus of Nazareth, the popular miracle worker.  He was arrested, tried before Pilate and subsequently crucified.  He was abruptly buried in the grave site owned by Joseph of Arimathea.  The Romans were so worried about tales of Him coming back to life that they sealed the tomb and posted guards to make sure no followers would steal His body and arouse the masses.  I know all this because I checked it all out. 

Then on Easter morning after the Passover, when it was lawful once more to handle a dead body, Mary Magdalene and a few other women went to the tomb around sunrise.  They report that the huge stone at the entrance had been rolled back!  Likewise, the guard was gone, vanished!  She reported this to me.  She ran off and found Peter and John and told them: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  (By that time many knew about loud-mouthed Peter and John’s family was well-connected, too.)  ‘Tis a puzzlement!

From interviewing the other women, I heard that they saw 2 angels   in shining white robes at the tomb.   They announced that “The Lord is risen!….Come see the place where He lay.”  And then they vanished and the women were left speechless. Meanwhile, Peter and John arrived—the women were gone, and found the burial clothes neatly arranged.  They both saw and believed Christ’s prophetic words about rising from the dead after 3 days.  After they left word started to spread.  Meanwhile, the guards were still no where to be found.   I interviewed one of them later but he was too shook-up to say much and was afraid of the rulers and afraid for his life…

II

The grave yard had all sorts of nooks and crannies surrounding it.  Mary Magdalene had gone off and was crying, imagining the worst, and she, too, saw two angels in white!  They asked her why she was weeping. To which she responded: “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”  Just then she turned around and saw a man who she thought was a gardener.  He, too, asked: “Who is it you are looking for?”  She repeated her query about the lost body.  Then the Man said: “Mary.”  She now recognized Jesus and tried to hold onto Him!”  But He also told her: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ’I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your      God.” 

Well, that’s exactly what Mary did!  She also came and told me her story.   How could anyone keep the greatest truth of the universe all to themselves?  Now it may cost me my job to run all this as front page headlines.  But I don’t care.  I finally after 33 years have an answer to what I saw in Bethlehem those many years ago.  The Messiah was born!  The Messiah  came to save God’s people from sin and death.  The Messiah died in our, my place.  The Messiah arose from the grave, my grave.  All this is made possible and completely true because: “The Lord is risen!  He is risen, indeed!”    In fact, that’s going to be my headline—before the authorities shut me down!  Amen

THE peace of God….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

April 14, 2022: Maundy Thursday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, tonight we have come to have our faith fed and our sins forgiven.  Since You are the One Who does both, we don’t have to worry whether or not such forgiving faith-feeding will be adequate.  For whatever You do, You do it perfectly.  Impress that thought in our minds.  Amen

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

TEXT:  Luke 22: 14-20: “When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.  And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’  After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’  And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”

Fellow Redeemed Searchers of God’s Forgiveness: 

          “Father, forgive them.”  During Lent we focus upon various aspects of exactly what that means.  This evening we have a very direct answer to that prayer.  For forgiveness consists of two parts: one, the offended party forgives the offender from his heart; and two, he lets the offender know that he’s forgiven.  Sometimes that second part is difficult.  Sometimes the sinner is so devastated by their actions that they really don’t grasp hold of the forgiveness being handed to them—it seems just too good to be true.  Well, tonight as we dwell upon our Lord’s Last Supper, Christ seeks to solidify in us the knowledge that, yes, He truly does forgive us.  He answers our prayer:

FATHER, FORGIVE US THROUGH THE HOLY SUPPER!

I

          Christ says that He “eagerly desired to eat this Passover” with His disciples.  They probably felt eager, too, but for different reasons.  For the Passover was the greatest celebration of the Jewish year.  It was the 4th of July, Christmas and New Years all rolled into one.  And the Passover dinner was the high point of the day.

          But, of course, Jesus had a different motive in mind behind His desire.  He knew as the eternal Son of God, the Lamb of God; that everything about the Passover was really about Him.  He knew that the Israelites deliverance from Egypt was but an earthly reminder of mankind’s deliverance from eternal sin and death.  He knew that the “angel of death” that saved them so long ago, was but a forerunner of the death He was to embrace on the morrow.  He knew that the perfect Passover Lamb with its saving blood, was Him.  It was all about Him.  Likewise He knew that the bitter herbs they were to eat prefigured the bitterness of death He would taste the next day.  And that the unleavened bread they ate, bread without any additive, prefigured Him, the bread of eternal life which needed no other additive.  Yes, Christ was eager to make these truths fully known to His disciples.

          And Christ went on to do just that during the meal.  Toward the end of the meal, He took that unleavened bread, marking His non-sin-tainted Body, the Bread of eternal life, broke (or distributed) it to them and said of it: “This is my body, given for you.”  Then He took the cup of wine, and gave it to them saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  To this action of consecration, or setting these earthly elements aside for holy use, Christ includes His distribution of it all to them along with their partaking.—Consecration, distribution, reception.  And then He adds an emphatic command: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

II

          A covenant is an agreement.  Usually it takes two parties to conclude any agreement.  On Passover evening they were celebrating an agreement between God and the children of Israel, an agreement that had first been instituted about 1400 years before in Egypt.  For 1400 years that agreement had stood.  It had been celebrated by God’s people because it marked and reminded them of God’s great deliverance.  But now,  Christ gives them a new covenant, His last will and testament.  As such it is to extend to the end of time.  And in this agreement, God does all the giving and His people do all the receiving.  And what’s the benefit of this covenant?—The gift of total forgiveness for all sins.

          Communion certainly is a ritual meal.  But it is unique in that God performs the ritual for us and we receive its benefits.  And to make all this real to us, to cement in our consciousness the fact that Christ really did forgive our sins on the cross and really does forgive them when we partake of the Supper, Jesus unites Himself to the bread and the wine.  Through His powerful words uttered tonight He will dwell in, with, and under those earthly elements.  They really will become His body and blood because He says so!  And remember, Jesus cannot lie! 

          To make us truly aware, to make sure we really do grasp hold of the forgiveness He bestows, Jesus adds His body and blood to the bread and wine.  To personalize all this, we taste and chew the bread and we smell, taste, and feel the wine.  The forgiveness He gives is not “other-worldly” but grounded in our reality and it touches our senses.  All of this is done to make sure that we really do grasp the reality of our sins forgiven by Him in His Supper! 

Let’s go back to our prayer: Father, Forgive Us Through This Holy Supper!  Do you want forgiveness?  Do you want to be free from eternal guilt and shame?  If so, then commune together with Christ tonight.  For as His last will and testament, this is His legacy of love to and for each of you!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Fox

April 10, 2022: Palm Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we join with saints and angels in praising Your holy name!  Today we come to honor You, to thank You, to worship You and to give You our hearts.  We come on this Palm Sunday to pay homage to You for honoring us with Your presence, Your life, and Your forgiving love.  May we always take every opportunity to give back to You what You so richly deserve: our praise.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR HUMBLE, YET TRIUMPHANT KING!

TEXT:  Matthew 21: 1-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          34 years ago I celebrated my first Palm Sunday here at Pinewood.  We sang those old, familiar, Palm Sunday hymns.  I preached on the very text before us today.  We were a smaller congregation in those days.  Our average age was quite a bit older than it is right now.  We weren’t as “full” as we were the next week, on Easter Sunday.  And yet, in proportional terms, that service was better attended than any Palm Sunday we’ve celebrated over the past few years.  Why?

          I’ve spoken to other pastors about this situation.  Our church is not alone.  Palm Sunday has been on a downward slope for quite some time.  When I was a child, Palm Sunday was a really big deal.  People turned out for it.  Kids were excited over it.  Most Christians viewed it as one of those special, high-point, cannot miss Sundays of the year.  But, it seems that view of this special day has changed and not for the better.   And so today I challenge all of you to adopt this mantra:

THE RESURRECTION OF PALM SUNDAY BEGINS TODAY,  WITH YOU!

I

          The season of Lent, of personal sorrow over sin, and that personal walk of repentance to the cross, is viewed today as an anachronism.  That is, something totally out of step with modern times.  To be sure, Lent isn’t “fun.”  And make no mistake; modern society is totally focused on having fun.  No, Lent is about being truthful with yourself.  It is seeing yourself as you really are: a bankrupt sinner who cannot pay the debt you owe to God.  But even more importantly, Lent then forces us to look outside ourselves for comfort, strength, and lasting help.  It forces us to look to Christ and His cross.  And when we do, we find that on that cross God’s Son paid our debt in full to His Father.  We’re free!  We’re forgiven!  The weight over our eternal future has been replaced by joy and lightness of being.  All this is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.

          From the introspective “lows” of Lent comes a brief shining moment of joy before Christ’s passion and the eternal upper of Easter.  That brief, shining moment is: Palm Sunday.  So, I have to wonder: “Why don’t God’s people embrace Palm Sunday with a staunch fervor?”  The only conclusion I can deduce is: they let all the extraneous “stuff” of life obscure Lent for them.  They let youth sports get in the way of personal, inner growth.  They let work  and tax time get in the way soul searching over what’s truly important in life.  They let the drudge of winter get in the way of letting go of the drudge of inner upset caused by our various sins.  And yet, yet, Palm Sunday is still here!  It’s not too late to free our inner self by letting Christ’s love personally embrace us! 

II

          The facts of this day, the singing of “hosannas” and the omnipresent palm branches are familiar to all.  If we strip all that aside, exactly why do we celebrate Palm Sunday?  What is this day all about?  I’ll tell you.  It’s about giving Christ His due because He was going into Jerusalem to give us His due.  Unlike the disciples, unlike the crowd surrounding Him that day, Christ knew exactly what awaited Him that week.  He was going to embrace death.  He was going to suffer and die in order to save our souls.  He was going to Jerusalem to lay down His life for His sheep. 

          On that first Palm Sunday, really no one there understood all this.  John tells us in chapter 12: “At first his disciples did not understand all this.  Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him.”  Then John also talks about the mindset of the crowd that day: “Now the crowd that was with him had continued to spread the word that he had called Lazarus from the tomb…Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.” 

          That first Palm Sunday crowd embraced Jesus because they viewed Him as a miracle worker, some kind of prophet, and perhaps in Him their popular view of the Messiah—an earthly King who would restore their political freedoms—that view would come to fulfillment.  Those first Palm Sunday worshippers really missed the point—totally.  They didn’t understand that this Man riding on that donkey colt was actually the eternal Son of God.  They didn’t understand that this Man was going to give His life in place of theirs to make them right with God.  None of that was real to them, yet, because the crucifixion and resurrection had not occurred.  But, Jesus in His gracious love still condescended to accept their praise and acclamation, didn’t He?  That’s the irony of the day—He deserved such praise, even if they gave it based on a faulty understanding of what He was all about

III

          You and I have the benefit of hindsight.  We don’t have a faulty understanding.  We know the truth.  We know that when they shouted: “Hosanna to the  Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”—we know just how true and yet ironic those words really were.  They were shouting about being helped and saved by Jesus from earthly problems and from freedom-crushing earthly rulers.—That’s what “hosanna” means: help and save us!  And the irony of it all was that Jesus was helping and saving them from their greatest enemy of all—eternal sin, eternal shame, and eternal death.  If they could praise Him in such an amazing manner for all the wrong reasons, cannot we praise Him even more for all the right reasons?  The resurrection of Palm Sunday must begin anew!  It must begin today, with each of you. 

          One final thought.  Have you noticed how the first glorious day of Spring affects people?  Each Spring there comes a time when suddenly winter is gone and the gentle caress of Spring returns.  Suddenly, everyone is happy.  Everyone is outside.  Everyone drinks up the sun.  Everyone literally has no care in the world.  Aren’t those moments delicious?  Well, in reality, that is Palm Sunday!  The day is delicious because God’s Son is entering His victory lap of freeing our souls from every anxiety.  It’s a moment to be savored by us and for Him.  Truly praising our Lord is always something to be celebrated!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…. 

Pastor Fox