June 26, 2022: 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that forgiveness takes away the inner hurt, the inner guilt we all experience in this life.  We’ve all experienced the freedom of conscience that comes when we’re weighed down by a certain sin against another and they say to us from the heart: “I forgive you!”  The only fly in the ointment is that we also know that humans can take back that forgiveness, or not really mean it.  Today remind us that You never take back Your forgiveness and that You always mean it!  And thus armed with the strength of Your love, may we love both You and all others back, thereby showing our appreciation for that wonderful gift!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE FORGIVER OF ALL SINS!

TEXT:  Luke 7: 36-50

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

          Are you living in denial?  Are you really honest with yourself?  Do you see yourself as others see you?  When they point out your weaknesses are you immediately defensive, or do you take their insightful words to heart?  And how do you treat others who have been brave enough and loving enough to tell you the truth about yourself?  Do you say: “Thank you for being so honest and love for their honesty, or perhaps you merely “hurrmph” and grudgingly modify your behavior so as not to get caught in an uncomfortable situation again?

          We humans can con ourselves and live in a state of denial about ourselves.  We can con other people by hiding the true nature of our hearts.  But, we cannot con God.  He sees all, knows all, hears all, and desperately wants us to be honest with ourselves and with Him.  For otherwise the power of forgiveness is rendered impotent and the love that it naturally spawns is really non-existent.  We see these psychological truths played out in our lesson today.  Yes, as we examine this lesson we see that:

BIG LOVE COMES FROM BIG FORGIVENESS

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          Simon the Pharisee was a nice man with good manners.  Unlike many of his fellow Pharisees, Simon wasn’t openly hostile to Christ.  O, he knew that Jesus was unorthodox in His approach to people in that He tended to hang out with what Simon considered the “lesser” and more “undesirable” members of society.  Since Simon thought that Holy God would only want to consort with holy people, His prophets should do likewise.  And since Jesus obviously had Godly power (recall that Christ had just healed with centurion’s servant), Simon naturally thought that Christ would want to hang out with him—for he practiced holiness, at least in his own eyes.  So, the dinner invitation went out and Jesus accepted.  We find Him sitting, actually reclining around Simon’s table, for that’s how they ate in those days.

          Suddenly a woman comes in.  Luke says: “she had lived a sinful life in that town.”  Now, we don’t know who this woman was or what made her sins so notorious.  She is not identified as Mary Magdalene, as some suggest.  She is not identified as a prostitute, as some suggest.  Yet, you do get the feeling that such sins might have given rise to her notorious reputation.  Then something amazing occurs.  She stands behind Jesus weeping.—Simon is uncomfortable.  Her tears drip unto Christ’s feet.—Simon’s discomfort increases.  Then she kneels down, undoes her hair and begins to wipe Christ’s feet and her tears  with her tresses.  Then to top it all off, she opens an alabaster jar of perfume—worth a lot of money—and anoints Christ’s feet!—Now Simon is squirming.  Jewish women just didn’t do such things!  It spoke of a familiarity that was unholy to him. 

          “When the Pharisee (Simon) who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”  Of course, Jesus knew both the heart of this woman and Simon’s too, after all as God’s Son He can read human hearts.  And so Jesus talks to Simon and tells him a parable about two men who owed money to a money-lender.  At this point, Simon must have been wondering: “What’s going on?  Where is all this leading?”  You can almost see his growing discomfort.

          Christ goes on to tell Simon how neither man could pay back his debt.  And yet, unlike any human shylock that Simon had ever met, this money-lender forgave the debt of both men.—To the first fellow he forgave a debt of $500 and to the other he forgave a debt of $5000!  Simon must have really been confused at this point!  And then Jesus asked Simon: “Now which of them will love him more?” 

          Simon is on surer ground.  He can relate to this.  And he gives the logical answer: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”  Jesus’ response: “You have judged correctly” had Simon feel better.  Who doesn’t like to get their ego stroked? 

II

          But, Jesus immediately deals with Simon’s smug comfortability.  He turns to the woman, but addresses Simon: “Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet (a traditional Jewish custom of good manners), but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  (Simon is starting to squirm again.)  You did not give me a kiss (another Jewish custom of greeting), but this women from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. (Thereby showing ultimate respect.)  You did not put oil on my head, (another mark of honor) but she has poured perfume on my feet.  (Simon now has that ‘deer in the headlights’ look on his face.)  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

          The traditional Roman Catholic explanation of this passage dove-tails nicely into their teaching that human beings must love first and show that love for God and others by good works in order to earn forgiveness.  They say: “See, she is forgiven because she loves much.”  As if love precedes true forgiveness.  Unfortunately, for them that is a faulty reading of the Greek text.  This phrase of Christ’s is actually a result clause.  It really means this: “She is forgiven and as a result she loves much.”  In other words, Big Love Comes From Big Forgiveness!

          Why is this so important for us to know and understand?   Well, it all goes back to honestly examining your own life so as not to live in a state of self-delusional denial.  Simon was living in such a state.  He hadn’t yet come to grips with the extent of his own sinfulness.  He refused to see himself as God saw him—a pompous man who thought God owed him because he outwardly avoided open sins.  This woman was his direct opposite.  She had lived in open sin much of her life and by God’s grace had come to realize the dire condition of her soul.  She had also repented of those sins and subjugated herself before her Lord.  She looked to Jesus for help because she loved His brutal, yet loving honesty. Outwardly, she stands for the man who was forgiven the $5000 debt.  And by Simon’s own words, he is convicted of his inner hypocrisy when he said: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” 

          Of course, the guests at that meal murmured their discomfort over all this: “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  (Thereby showing that they didn’t accept Christ’s divinity.)  Yet, Jesus seeks to comfort the woman all the more by applying heavenly salve to her hurting conscience: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

          Do you think this woman was stingy with her love for others the rest of her life?  Do you think she practiced love for them conditionally, or unconditionally?  And what about you?  Christ has totally forgiven all your sins on the cross.  He has wiped them away, not with tears, but with His blood.  He has anointed you at your baptism and re-charges your love with His eternal forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. 

          The moral to the story is this: Don’t live in a state of denial about who you are.  You cannot con God.  Examine your own heart.  Perhaps your inability to love others is based on the fact that you really don’t think you need God’s forgiveness, His love-in-action, as much as the other guy.  Being honest about yourself and seeing the depth of your faults actually pays huge dividends.  Those dividends being: huge forgiveness and an exponential ability to practice Christian love.  Yes, Big Love Comes From Big Forgiveness!  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 

June 19, 2022: 1st Sunday after Trinity

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO IS THE LORD OF EVERY DAY OF OUR LIVES!

TEXT:  Deuteronomy 5: 12-15

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Today I’m preaching to the choir.  It’s Sunday and you’re here.  You’ve come to worship God, following and obeying the words of our text, the 3rd commandment.  Obviously, I don’t have to convince you of the importance of going to church on Sunday morning, because  by your presence you agree. 

          When addressing this command of God I usually stress the positives associated with it.  It doesn’t get any more positive than starting out your week with God.  After all, at church He feeds your faith, forgives your sins, takes the emotional burdens you’ve been carrying around off your shoulders, uplifts your spirit, provides Godly guidance for your upcoming week, listens to your prayers and with a happy smile answers them.  I’ve said many times that going to church is also like changing the oil on your car.  If you do it regularly you won’t break down.  If you don’t, well you’re going to regret it.  You could well say that going to church on Sunday morning is the most important appointment you will have on any given week.  It’s your appointment with God Almighty.  And at that meeting He doesn’t seek to give you bad news, but only good news!  The news that our sins are totally forgiven by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross.  At church we are actually handed peace with God and eternal life via Christ’s resurrection.  If we advertised that every attendee at Pinewood would receive a gold coin for free, I’ll bet we’d have a full church every week.  Well, that’s exactly what God gives to each of you!  He hands you the golden keys of heaven itself at no cost to you because Jesus completely paid the bill!

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          There is also the physical, perhaps I should say “earthly” component to the 3rd commandment, too.  Notice that injunction: “On it you shall not do any work; neither you, nor your son or daughter, etc. etc.”  And then God adds this: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”

          All of you know that necessary work on Sunday doesn’t violate this command of God.  That is, if you have a job that schedules you to labor on Sunday and is directly related to keeping commandments 4-10—“Loving your neighbor as yourself” God won’t hold it against you.  So, nurses, fire fighters, police, and caregivers have a legitimate excuse for missing Sunday worship.  In today’s Gospel, where Christ is accused by the Pharisees of “working on the Sabbath” because His disciples stripped wheat kernels and ate them out of hunger, thus “threshing grain”; well, Jesus reminds them that a starving David ate the consecrated show bread at the ancient tabernacle and God understood the situation.  Good Christian common sense, made holy by Godly faith and resolve, will always lead us into holy decisions. 

          That being said, just like the Israelites needed a time for bodily rest and a time to recharge their emotional well-being, so, too, all of us.  Work doesn’t do that.  Running errands like a chicken with its head cut off doesn’t do that.  Rest and reflection on God’s blessings does it.  That’s part of Sunday worship, too. 

          I know the excuses.  I doubt there are any I haven’t heard over the years.  But my job isn’t to make you comfortable in your excuses.  It is to hold God’s inviolate command before you and test your resolve and your faith.  If you fail the test you’ll “reap what you sow.”  Likewise, if you pass the test.  I’m not saying that some sort of plague will hit you tomorrow if you miss church on a particular week.  What I am saying is that because God cares for you deeply He’ll allow things to occur in your life in order to re-awaken your spiritual hunger for Him and that sometimes those “things” are not very pleasant because we have such hard heads and stiff necks.  Sometimes pain is the only thing we pay attention to—especially when we begin to take His love and patience for granted.

II

            Today in America, Sunday morning worship is an afterthought for most people.  Is it any wonder our nation has so many problems erupting in it?  You reap what you sow.  I’ll admit that going to church is very easy.  So easy that it seems almost a superficial afterthought to a busy weekend.  I suppose it’s the old: “What, why worry about church, I’m busy, I can pray at home, and I can read the Bible if the mood strikes.  I don’t need some Pastor to tell me what to do.”  Of course, the fallacy of that view is: you don’t read at home, you don’t pray much, you don’t have the strength of the saints to draw on, you don’t get absolved, you don’t commune, and thus your faith stagnates and begins to recede.  Also, the view of many is that the 3rd commandment is optional and breaking it isn’t a big deal—unlike the 5th (murder), the 6th, (an affair), the 7th (stealing) or the 8th (gossip and slander).  But try explaining that to God……

          There is one other aspect to keeping the 3rd commandment that I don’t think many have contemplated.  I’ll put it in the negative.  If God Almighty appeared  before you along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit and  tried to embrace you with a loving hug, would you spit in His face, kick Him in the shins, and tell Him “I’m just too busy today?”  I really doubt any sane person would do such a thing.  In fact, even the demons wouldn’t do it!  And yet, when God gives us a direct command to worship Him weekly and to set a day aside for such things and we don’t—isn’t that exactly what you’re doing?  And if you dare to think that God is kind and loving and doesn’t mind, what you’re really saying is: “God, you’re a liar when it comes to this commandment!”   I know, that may sound harsh.  Heavens, it is harsh!  But it’s true.

          In conclusion, instead of focusing upon the negatives of breaking the 3rd commandment, I’ll take you back to the positives.  After all, worshiping Jesus Christ is our most positive experience all week long!  He gives us heavenly treasures in place of our emotional sin-burdens.  He gives us heavenly peace in place of inner guilt.  He gives us a clean break with the dark past.  He gives us a new pathway to follow which is lit by the sunshine of the Holy Spirit.  “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  And He also gives us a time to physically “let down” during which He renews our souls and our bodies.  Our God is wise beyond knowing.  The 3rd commandment, regular Sunday worship, and all that goes with it are a vital part of applying that wisdom to each of us.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox   

June 12, 2022: Trinity Sunday

Let us pray: O Holy Blessed Trinity, You are beyond human words to describe.  Our puny minds cannot conceive of the greatness of Your goodness.   And yet, You have chosen to make Yourself known to us out of pure love.  You have chosen to fill our hearts and souls with the uplifting goodness of Your grace.  Thank You!  Thank You! Thank You!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM THE BLESSED, HOLY TRINITY!

TEXT:  Romans 5: 1-5

Dear Beloved Whose Lives Have Been Enlarged By God’s Grace:

          I remember slogging along behind the lawn mower when suddenly I saw movement in the grass ahead.  It was a small toad who was trying to escape after feeling the mower’s vibration.  I’ve seen this same thing a lot and I always slow down for these mosquito-eating machines.  I like toads.  But, this little guy was a bit slow, so I stopped the mower and helped him to safety.  Do you think the toad understood what I was doing?  Do you think he, or she, had a comprehension of the hulking beast that reached down to scoop him up?  Obviously not.  For the chasm between toads and human beings is too great.

          We humans are prideful creatures.  And the depth of our proud nature is especially shown in all its sorted glory when it comes to our attempts at comprehending God.  If the chasm between toads and humans is light years, the chasm between God and humans is zillions of light years.  And yet, we conceptualize God in human terms and define Him in our minds and then become angry with those conceptualizations when things happen differently than we expected them to.  We become angry when He tells us things in the Bible that don’t measure up to our politically correct standards.  If we wouldn’t act that way, how could God do so?  How can He but so judgmental against sin and yet send His Son to die for all sinners?  Yes, God is beyond our comprehension.  So, don’t put God in the little box of your mind and then think you have Him all figured out.  Even toads don’t do that!

          Today is Trinity Sunday.  It is the one Sunday of the church year that we especially key in on the nature and depth of our God.  Surely, God is beyond our understanding, and yet He has reached down into our reality, scooped us up, and chosen to make certain parts of His nature known to us.  He has bridged that zillion light year chasm because we cannot!  And so today as we examine this little section from Romans, you and I need to:

REJOICE! FOR GOD IS BIGGER THAN OUR MINDS!

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          If some evil person invaded your home, killed your spouse and children, tortured you, and then burned the house to the ground before your eyes, how would you react to them?  What would you do to them when you got free and had the chance for retribution?  Would you forgive them?  Would you make peace with them?  Would you trust them with the gift of your heart?  No, no, and no!  And yet, that’s what our huge-hearted God did for each of us.  Yes, He’s bigger than our minds, isn’t He?  In love, not retribution, He sent His Son into our world to suffer and die for all our sins of hateful spite.  That was His eternal plan to save lost humans.  We call that: justification, or  making us right with Him.  And now St. Paul talks about this mind-boggling response to evil human behavior.  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

          In Isaiah 55 God says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  That just about sums up this glorious truth of justification, or how we are saved.  And our only response to this work of the entire Trinity is to Rejoice!  For God is Bigger Than Our Minds!

II

          In our gospel lesson, Christ describes the relationship of the Trinity with each other.  He says: “All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will take what is mine and make it known to you.”  Yes, every good and perfect gift belongs to God the Father Who gives them all to God the Son and Who, in turn, transfers them to the Holy Spirit Who gives them to us.  And for all that, we rejoice!  What else can we do?  It won’t do to question: why?  It won’t do to ponder: What if? Or: Why not?  Or, I would do it differently.  No, just as God just is, so His way of handling our lives just is.  And although the next section makes no sense to pride-filled human minds, it makes perfect sense to God and to those who embrace Him through faith.

          “But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

          Rejoicing in suffering is an oxymoron to human beings.  It makes no sense.  And yet, it makes sense to God and those to whom He has given His grace.  Because suffering causes us to take stock of what is really important in life.  That in turn leads us to look beyond ourselves for strength, meaning, and comfort.  That, in turn, creates hope for a better future.  And since such hope is built on and based in Christ’s undying love for us, it will never, ever, disappoint.  It will enlarge our vistas and get us beyond thinking about life in the narrow terms of: me, me, and more me.  Yes, we rejoice because God is bigger than our minds!  And it’s a good thing, too, isn’t it?

          Moreover, to make sure  we foolish mortals don’t throw such amazing insight into life away, God has sent the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of the Trinity, to work faith in our hearts, open our minds to His reality, and to enmesh us into that eternal reality.  Just as the little toad could not save himself or appreciate my efforts to help, we cannot do it alone or appreciate God’s goodness by ourselves, either.  But since everything God does is perfect and since He created us and knows every aspect to our existence, He also knows how to give us joy! 

          Well, that’s what the Trinity is all about—giving us hope and joy!  We know that because God’s Word defines Him for us.—“God is love.”  Now that you know all that, Rejoice!  That God Is Bigger Than You!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

June 5, 2022: Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for not leaving us alone here on this earth.  Thank You for both promising and sending us the gift of the Holy Spirit.  O how wonderful to have a special helper, an advocate, a divine comforter to assist us as we struggle through life.  Today we ask that You send the Spirit powerfully into our lives and uplift our faith on every level.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF THE BEST GIFT OF ALL: THE HOLY SPIRIT!

TEXT:  John 15: 26,27

Fellow Redeemed Sinners Made Holy By the Work of the Spirit:

          It’s not glitzy and glamorous.  Most people don’t grow up dreaming of becoming maintenance workers.  And yet, they are some of the most important and valuable people in our lives.  For they keep things running.  Think about it.  If you’ve lived a long time in a neighborhood, I’ll bet you’ve seen certain houses go from cheery, well-keep abodes of some older couple to a run-down, unsightly mess.  It’s sad and depressing every time you walk by.  Likewise, we’ve all seen blighted areas filled with graffiti and trash that once were thriving, well-maintained engines of commerce.  But, sadly, over time, someone didn’t take maintenance seriously and it decayed to wrack and ruin. 

          For these reasons, one of the most important budget items for any business or organization is: maintenance.  But sadly, due to the short-sighted nature of the modern world, it is the first item to get cut and the last to get increased until the situation becomes dire.  Just think how much could be saved on roads if they were actually maintained beyond a lick and a promise?

          Unlike humans, God is not penny-wise and pound foolish.  In fact, before He left earth Christ made special provisions to ensure that His fledgling Church won’t crumble.  He promised and sent us the Holy Spirit to enlarge, enrich, increase and maintain our faith.  And since Pentecost is all about His coming, today I want to talk briefly about:

PENTECOST: OUR FAITH REFRESHER

I

          “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

          Here Christ promises His faithful flock and special gift.  The gift of the Holy Spirit.  In this section He is called The Paraclete in the original Greek language.   That is an interesting word.  It has various shades of meaning that range from: a Helper, a Mediator, One who appears on another’s behalf, and also one who: encourages, invites, comforts and consoles.  It was sometimes used in a legal sense of a person who advocates, or speaks up for another who needs assistance.  Earlier in John 14: 16 Christ speaks of this 3rd Member of the Triune God.  “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor (Paraclete) to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.”    Likewise in vs. 26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.”  So, the Holy Spirit is true God, Whom both Christ and the Father have sent into the world to refresh our faith and maintain us on the pathway toward glory!

          Do we need this kind of help?  Absolutely!  At times all people and all Christians feel very alone and helpless.  We worry how we stand before God.  We worry about whether our future will be happy or sad.  We worry about whether our faith is genuine or we’re just kidding ourselves.  Christ knew all that.  He knew our sinful condition of self-doubt and God-doubt.  After all, He carried all our sins and all our doubts to the cross and died for them right then and there.  And now, He has sent a wonderful Counselor, a judicial Advocate, to argue for us before the eternal tribunal.  The Spirit says: “I have put Myself in that sinner. I have worked faith into his or her heart.  I have poured My love and Christ’s goodness into them.  I have protected them.  And so you, Satan, and the rest of your allies cannot hurt them anymore.  Be gone and cease and desist afflicting them!”  Yes, Pentecost is a faith refresher because it means God’s Spirit has come into this world to ceaselessly defend us!

II

          After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples must have bursting at the seams to get busy sharing the life-changing message they had experienced first-hand.  And yet, they didn’t immediately go out on their own and do that.  No, they patiently waited in Jerusalem and hung around the temple for the next 10 days because they knew that they desperately needed the Spirit’s power and not just their own.  And then, God sent the Spirit!  And what happened, aside from the rushing wind, the tongues of fire on their heads, and their miraculous ability to speak foreign languages fluently?  What happened was suddenly the disciples were fearless in proclaiming Christ and 3000 people were converted to Jesus that very day!  Yes, God needed and wanted those men to speak to others about the His free gift of salvation.  But God knew that “apart from Him we can do nothing” but with Him, with the Spirit empowering them they could shake the world!

          As we sit here today, 2000 years after Pentecost, Christianity has gone from being a robust, energetic faith which fears nothing to a rather timid faith where many of its adherents often sit back and say little, if anything, because they fear censure.  What does that say?  It says to me that we need to focus on and invoke the Holy Spirit all the more!  We need to pray to Him and ask for His help.  We need to “speak the truth in love” as St. Paul exhorts us.  We need to believe and to testify to God’s truths, the chief one being that: “God was in  Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”  Yes, we need to “trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding.”  And trust we can under the Spirit’s power!  Just as the Bible says: “It is God, the Spirit, Who works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure.”

          Maintenance work is not glamorous.  Neither is maintaining the vibrancy of one’s faith.  Hence, coming faithfully to church each week is not glamorous, Sunday School and bible classes are not glamorous, and neither is a devotional life or prayer.  And yet, maintenance workers keep the world from collapsing around our ears through their labors and the economy chugging along.  And the Spirit, by maintaining our faith keeps our lives from collapsing, too.  In fact, with Him in our corner, we more than “chug along” we shake the world!  So, thank God the Spirit for His Pentecost blessings and then put them into practice.  You’ll be amazed at what He will do for you and everyone you touch!   Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH….