July 10, 2022: 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we examine our own lives against the magnifying glass of Your Word we see our inner hypocrisy revealed.  Although we say we love You with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, in reality our love has more downs than we care to remember.  And although we say we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, in reality we all practice “selective love” when it is convenient.  Today we ask that You break us out of our shell!  Empower us to be honest and compassionate people to all.  For that truly is the best way to let our light shine.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ULTIMATE “GOOD NEIGHBOR”

TEXT:  Luke 10: 25-37

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

          What is your thought process as you go about being a good neighbor?  Let me give you an example in mine.  About every 6 or 7 years I have to tackle a not-so-fun job.  Our bell just outside the front door of the church is a huge temptation to the neighborhood children.  Once they discover it, they sneak up to the entrance, ring it, and run.  It doesn’t hurt anything or anyone.  But I’m concerned things might get a bit out of hand.  So every 6 or 7 years, when a new crop of kids grows into that age of bell-ringing madness, I have to deal with them.  Usually, once I discover who they are, I approach them and say: “Kids, if you really want to learn how to ring our bell, come to church some Sunday morning and I’ll show you how to do it right.”  That takes the fun out of their prank and to this day none of them has ever taken me up on my offer!  I have adopted this approach because being a good neighbor is going directly to the source—plus, it works.

          Adults live in fear of children today in America.   We worry that if we say or do something about an out-of-control child we’ll be tongue lashed by overly protective parents, or sued, or worse.  This is a natural outgrowth of a nation which is sue-happy and in which no one ever wants to admit their foibles or take responsibility for them.  Also, in our cell-phone age, it’s easier to just make a call and let somebody deal with the problem, isn’t it? 

          True neighborliness is a forgotten thing, isn’t it?  In our urban/suburban/move every seven years culture people don’t know their neighbors and even live in fear of them.  We fail to act when problems  occur because of our fears, too.  And in this we’re all a lot like the priest and Levite in our lesson who fearfully shielded their eyes and “passed by on the other side” of the road.  And so today I want to talk to you about this little lesson which might well be:

THE MOST UNPOPLAR PARABLE IN AMERICA

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          On a superficial level everyone likes the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We like the idea of people caring for others and putting themselves out for strangers because one day we might well be on the receiving line of such compassion.  Likewise, we enjoy patting ourselves on the back when we engage in a neighborly act such as: looking after a person’s house when they are away, calling in an accident, or taking a sick neighbor to a doctor’s appointment.  In such cases, we didn’t “pass by on the other side.”  We put ourselves out a bit and it felt good.

          But, on a deeper level, this parable is disquieting.  That’s because all too often we’ve all acted exactly like the priest and the Levite, ignored those in need around us, and passed by on the other side.  Like them, we view neighborliness as something confined to those we know and not to those who are strangers.  This fear of the unknown, coupled with sensational news reports of nasty things done to good Samaritans, often paralyzes us.  I know of a local older man who is afraid to walk his dog around the school next door because someone might report him as some kind of lurking voyeur!  Such stories and more have lead to the popular axiom: No good deed goes unpunished.  Yes, the parable of the Good Samaritan is the most unpopular parable in America today!

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          Bearing the Christian cross entails overcoming one’s fears and relying on God in all things.  Think of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”  God’s truths dare not be confined to a little religious world walled off from the larger world in which we live in and play in every day.  When Christ summed up the commandments by saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself” He meant it!  Those marching orders for the Christian soldier are in effect 24-7. 

          Of course, like the lawyer of our text who sought to justify his actions, we, too, ponder his question: “And who is my neighbor?”  And that’s where the rubber meets the highway of our lives.  I’ve heard many fine Christians express serious concern over this parable in our modern world.  They feel guilty over their fears.  They feel guilty that they didn’t stop to help that stranded motorist, or didn’t say something to that out-of-control parent.  After going through various possibilities—make the cell call, talk to DSS, call the police, etc.—we’re still left with Christ’s words, aren’t we?  When He says: “Go and do likewise” He meant it.  And He practiced what He preached!  God’s Son didn’t pass us by but went out of His way, gave His life on a cross, to save our souls.  He even banked a love-reserve for us to draw on in His absence.  We find that reserve in baptism, communion, and His glorious absolution.

          And yet, yet, we modern humans chaff under this parable because it means personal involvement.  It means getting your hands dirty with another’s problems.  It often means sweat and tears and emotional upheaval.  My friends, don’t dwell on all that “bad” stuff—let the media do it!  Instead, dwell on the thought that by getting involved, this Samaritan made a friend for life.  He made a difference.  And as Christ proved: Kindness really does cover a multitude of sins.  You have the ability, by God’s grace, to make this world a little better, one person at a time.  So, take back your neighborhood, take back your nation, by showing kindness to all people.  It’s o.k. to “be wise as serpents” in this world.  But don’t forget the second half of that verse which says: “Be gentle as doves” too.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

July 3, 2022: 6th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, although we live in a land where we are free to worship You and free to make the most of our lives, we pay a heavy price for that freedom.  In the kingdom of this world we pay taxes, we sometimes have to defend our land with blood, and we also are burdened with many rules and laws.  Likewise, our conscience is burdened by our guilt over failing to live up to the high standards which You have set for us—the children of light.  Today we thank You for removing that second burden!  Thank You for freeing us from the inner ravages of sin and the inner pain that it brings.  Yes, thank You for paying the price for our eternal freedom with Your blood.  Amen

GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF ETERNAL FREEDOM!

TEXT:  Matthew 11: 29-30

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

          The American flags are flying.  The tri-colored bunting decorates homes and businesses.  The snap, crackle, boom of fireworks echoes throughout the neighborhoods at night.  It’s the 4th of July weekend! 

          Tomorrow in Boston from the old State House the Declaration of Independence will be read publicly.  Speeches will be given about that old rallying cry: “No taxation without representation.”  Yes, this weekend we celebrate our freedom.  And yet, we all know that freedom in this world comes with a cost.  It’s not cheap, either.  Think of all the soldiers who have died to make you free.  Think of the taxes you pay to insure your citizenship.  Think of all the rules and regulations that you still live under to help make society work.  Yes, our freedom is not free—it comes with a burden, a responsibility, a price.  And that price is ongoing.

          Perhaps that is why today’s familiar text is so refreshing and uplifting.  For although the cost of our earthly freedoms is ongoing—over 40% of your income goes to the government to make it continue–the cost of our heavenly freedom is paid in full.  Christ did that on the cross when God’s Son died for you and me.  So, why live in guilt over past sins?  Why continue to carry the burden of your failures to obey every commandment perfectly?  Why live in second-guessing and worry over your heavenly future?  Yes, Christ has marked our bill to God: “paid in full!”  Yes,

IN GOD’S KINGDOM THE TAX COLLECTOR HAS PAID YOUR BILL!

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          As Christians we all know that we live in two distinct kingdoms that occasionally over-lap.  They are the kingdom of the world, and God’s kingdom of grace—of His undeserved love for us in Christ.  So, what do you want out of your life in this world?  What are your ultimate goals and aspirations?  Isn’t it to live in freedom?  Isn’t it to be safe, raise your family without government intrusion, and reap the rest of a peace-filled life? 

          All of us want rest for our bodies.  We crave it.  Most of you spent long hours at work this past week just to make sure that nothing would get in the way of our long holiday weekend.  And yet, even now burdens are inserting themselves into our happiness.  The police are out in force, causing you to worry about a ticket.  Piled up work awaits your return to the office on Tuesday.  The tax man continues to take his chunk out of your paycheck.  And American soldiers around the world continue to die so that we can continue to live safely in our land.  Yes, true freedom is never free on this earth.  Someone, ultimately each of us, has to pay the bill.

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          Because of all this, it is only natural that we Christians transfer that attitude of burden and responsibility for our souls unto our own shoulders, too.  More often than not we live under the burden of God’s Law.  That is, we examine our hearts, see our short-comings, and think that somehow God expects His “pound of flesh” from us, as well.  My friends, that attitude is turned upside down by today’s lesson!  For in this little lesson we see that in God’s Kingdom The Tax Collector Has Paid Your Bill!

          Listen again to Jesus’ wonderful invitation.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

          The burden Christ is referring to here is the heavy weight of God’s Law.  It is carrying around your guilty conscience.  It is the thought that you must do something and do enough to make God happy over your life.  Of course, you know that that is a fool’s errand.  No less an authority than St. Paul tells us that in today’s epistle when he speaks of his quandary over being a saint and sinner at the same time.  “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

          In moments of introspection and total honesty, each of you finds an echo of those words in your own heart.  And that burden, that yoke, that heavy weight is crushing.  It leads to frustration and uncertainty.  It breeds despair and doubt.  It hurts.

          But, the point of today’s invitation from the Savior is: you don’t have to carry it any longer because He has!  He carried it to the cross.  And He left it there when He died.  For on the cross Jesus paid for every single one of our sins.  Yes, the Ultimate Tax Collector, the Heavenly One, has paid your bill to God in full! 

          So, take up His easy yoke.  Take His light burden of living in His love and grace.  Wear forgiveness for all sins as a badge of honor.  For “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord!”  Yes, thank God we live in His kingdom of undeserved love!

          This weekend we have much to be thankful for.  But, as Christian Americans our chief reason to celebrate is that Christ has made us right with God—free to us—but at great cost to Himself.  Your body may be weary after this long weekend, but your soul doesn’t have to be!  Not if you embrace Christ’s freedom from guilt and shame.  You may find a brief physical rest from this long weekend, but in Christ you have rest for your souls  which will last forever.  And that, my friends, is the real reason to celebrate our independence day!  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH SURPASSES…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox