May 28, 2023: Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today as we celebrate Your sending of the Holy Spirit, the Eternal Comforter, open our ears to His guidance and counsel.  Enable us to really listen when He comes with eternal Truth and then to act on that truth so that we may be saved, others uplifted, and You glorified.  Amen


TEXT:  Acts 2: 1-4

Dearly Beloved By Christ Who Has Sent Us The Eternal Power of The Holy Spirit: 

         The Holy Spirit is not a rabbit’s foot.  He is not a Christian “good luck” charm.  He is God Almighty, the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity, Who is in charge of personalizing Christ’s forgiveness and comforting our souls with the eternal peace and love that Jesus won for us on the cross.  I fear that many Christians ignore the urgings of the Spirit until something rather dire occurs in their lives.  Suddenly we’re overwhelmed by the untimely death of a loved one, or by a marriage gone sour, by a job upheaval, or by illness or disease.  Suddenly our comfort zone is invaded, we feel like we’ve been kicked in the stomach, and we don’t know where to turn for help.  At such moments, what do you do?  You pray.  You pray hard.  You pour out your heart to God and tell Him exactly how He should fix your problems.  And then we expect an immediate response—in exactly the form we’ve outlined to Him, don’t we?  However, usually God’s timetable is different than our own.  Usually He handles our problems far differently than we expected or asked.   And as we engage in this “waiting game” with the Spirit we’re confused, upset, and sometimes angry with Him.  “Lord, why aren’t You answering me?” is our constant question.  Eventually as our haste subsides, blinders seem to be lifted from our eyes and then we begin to see the Spirit’s subtle hand of guidance.  All our worry was for nothing.  All of our sleeplessness was a waste.  For God truly does take care of His children!

         I mention this because it dovetails rather nicely with today’s theme which is:



         Certainly God wants to hear our prayers.  He commands us: “Ask!” and then He adds: “It will be given to you.”  “Seek!—And you will find.”  “Knock, and it will be opened to you.”  But, when does our asking cross over the line to dictating to God?  Are we sometimes so busy pushing our own agenda down God’s throat that we fail to listen and thus bring a plague of worry down upon our heads?  In last week’s lesson on Christ’s ascension into heaven, as found in Acts chapter 1, we run across a prime example of this “dictating to God” and missing the point in the process.  Right before His ascension into glory Jesus is with the disciples and he gave them the command not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for Pentecost.  To “wait for the gift my Father promised.”  Immediately after Christ said those words, what did the disciples do?  They asked that silly question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Obviously they missed the point.  Obviously they weren’t really listening to Him.  Here He was promising them God’s eternal power, the gift of the Spirit to change the world by changing hearts.  But all they could think about was “is He going to create heaven on earth and turn us into political big-shots?” 

         Another example of dictating to God instead of listening to His voice of comfort is found in the Old Testament.  It is the story of the prophet Elijah.  For three years Elijah was a hunted man.  He had proclaimed God’s Word against the evil King Ahab and announced a three year drought to back it up.  At the end of this time span Elijah had a show-down with those godless prophets of the idol Baal upon Mt. Carmel.  God performed a miracle through Elijah and those godless prophets were slaughtered.  Elijah is at his zenith.  Then he gets word that the vile Queen Jezebel wants his head.  What does Elijah do?  He runs away in fear.  He runs away into the southern desert and mopes under a broom tree telling God how worthless he feels.  We’re told “he prayed that he might die.”  After letting him vent his frustrations, God eventually comes to Him.  He sends the Spirit to comfort him.  But the Spirit doesn’t come in the great wind that tore the mountains apart. Nor in the earthquake that followed.  Nor in the fire that God sent.  No, the Spirit finally comes in the sound of the gentle breeze.  Yes, when Elijah is through dictating to God, the Spirit comes  in a gentleness that could easily be missed unless and until the prophet was ready to listen.


         Did you ever wonder why Christ didn’t send the Spirit to the disciples the day after His ascension?  Why did He make them wait for 10 long days?  Well, I guess someday we can ask Him, but I believe the answer is: they weren’t ready yet because they were too busy dictating their ideas to God instead of listening.    It was only when they got their dictatorialness out of their system that they were ready to listen.  And that’s when the Spirit came.  And in this case, He came with a violent wind that didn’t blow anyone over and with tongues of fire that  didn’t burn the body but inflamed the heart.  And the fact that we’re here today shows that that fire is still burning and that wind is still blowing, doesn’t it?

         Like the disciples and just like Elijah, the Spirit comes into our lives when we quit dictating and embrace humility.  Such Christian humility is nothing more than following Peter’s advice: “Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.”  It is the heart singing the song: “Lord, I am but clay, You are the potter, make of me what You will.”  It is the acceptance, the total acceptance, of that age-old Christian phrase: “What God ordains is always good.”

         Pentecost is about making head knowledge into heart knowledge.  We all know with our heads that Jesus is God’s Son, that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, that Jesus promises never to leave nor forsake us.  We all know with our heads that Jesus sends His strength and love upon us through baptism, the Holy Supper, and His Word of truth in absolution.  But unless and until those “head truths” become “heart truths” worry, anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration will dominate our lives.  Unless and until those “head truths” become “heart truths”  we are going to be dictatorial towards our God instead of accepting. 

         My friends, God gave you one mouth to praise Him and two ears to listen to Him.  The Spirit comes simply yet powerfully through God’s Word of truth.  When the Bible says: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength”  the Spirit is trying to break into your heart and comfort you.  So, listen to His voice.  Put your worries aside.  Trust in Him to guide you always.  Yes, humble yourselves before the Lord and then “He will lift you up on eagle’s wings!”  To be sure, this is not easy for any of us to do.  So let’s thank God every day that “God the Spirit’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

May 21, 2023: Ascension Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, a few days before Your blessed ascension into glory You promised to remain with Your people always—to the very end of the age.  As we sit in a world drenched by human violence, arrogance, and pain those words are very comforting.  Today we ask that You remind us exactly how You are with us and exactly where we can find You and the comfort of Your love.  Yes, teach us to remain in You as You remain with us.  Amen


Text: Matthew 28: 20: “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Fellow Redeemed Who Sit In The Comforting Presence of Christ: 

         New England was the home of the transcendentalists—Emerson and Thoreau.  Neither was a Christian.  Both taught that God is found in nature—in the sky, trees, and rocky hills that surrounded Concord and the rest of terra firma.  Because of this they “communed with nature” instead of attending a Christian church service and communing via the Lord’s Supper.  Both had no time for baptism—they’d rather wander along the banks of the Concord River and get wet by wadding in the shallows.  And both had little or no time for the Bible as they’d rather read cloud formations and the tree leaves. 

         I fear many Christians have been unduly influenced by this idea of a transcendent god who surrounds us in nature.  That is, people have latched unto God’s omnipresence (the Scriptural teaching that God fills all things) and somehow tried to find comfort in that concept.  However, nature teaches us nothing about God’s love and goodness.  It teaches us nothing about His forgiveness and compassion for lost sinners.  Only the Gospel and the sacraments do that.  I fear this misunderstanding of where and how to find Christ and bask in His presence  can be traced back to a misreading of our text.  So, today let us learn anew the real meaning of those blessed words:



         What did Jesus do during those 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension into heaven?  If you take all the various Bible accounts together you discover some interesting things.  1. Jesus told the disciples to “wait for Him in Galilee.”  They did, too.  And He meets them there at the shore of the lake while they are fishing.  Remember how Peter leaped out of the boat and swam to shore to be with his Lord?  2. In another instance Jesus appeared to the 11 and also over 500 other believers—probably at the same place–where He  preached His sermon on the mount.  St. Paul reports this event.  Jesus comforted all of them, even those who hadn’t yet seen Him and doubted His resurrection.  He comforted them with His visible presence and with His Word of truth. Jesus also gave them the “Great Commission” at that time.  That commission to His whole Church to “go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and to teach them to obey everything He commanded throughout His life.”   And then comes the words of our text: “And surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.”  3. He also singled out the apostle James, Jesus’ cousin, and appeared to him and the other apostles at a special moment. 

What happened after that?  Well, we’re told that Jesus directed them to “go to Jerusalem” and await Him and later the Holy Spirit—Pentecost—there at the holy city.  On Ascension, which some scholars say took place on Thursday May 18, 30 AD Jesus appeared to them.  One last time He comforted them and instructed them about the work they would do.     And then He led them out to the back side of the Mount of Olives, the place of His agony in Gethsemane, and from that small mountain visibly ascended into glory.  Yes, He went to heaven to exercise control over all things for the good of His people.  He went to heaven to prepare a place just for us.  He went to heaven to directly intercede for us by offering up prayers to His Father on our behalf.


So, now comes this question: “What does it mean when He promises to be with us always?”  Where are we to find Him?  How is He with us?”  He gave this promise in order to comfort His children in His absence.  So, are we to find Christian comfort, hope, and confidence about our future by star gazing or nature worship?  Were Thoreau and Emerson correct?  No!

Christ is the “Word Who was made flesh and blood.”  That truth of Christmas hasn’t changed and never will.  At His incarnation Jesus forever joined His humanity which is our humanity, to the Gospel and to the sacraments—His visible Word.  So, Jesus is truly with us when we read the Bible, hear sermons, bask in our baptism, commune, receive absolution, and whenever else we come in contact with His Word of truth.  My friends, that’s why worship is important.  That’s why His avenues of grace are comforting.  For they are the one and only way that Jesus keeps His promise and remains with us always!

I recall traveling 1200 miles to meet my sisters in MN and to work together cleaning out my mother’s home.  It was a lot of work yet a joy to be together.  We found comfort in our togetherness.  I have a question for you:  how far would you travel to meet Christ?  What would you put on the back burner, how would you juggle your schedule in order to meet Christ?  For us it is actually very simple.  We dig out our Bibles and read of His work of saving us on the cross.  We make use of our devotionals and are thereby reminded of how God is involved in every aspect of our lives.  We go to church and commune, are absolved, and talk to Him in prayer.  In the early church they called the preaching of the Word and the sacraments “holy things.”  They are holy because that’s where and how the holy Christ remains with us and transfers His holiness to us!

Christ died on the cross to set you free.  Free from self-doubt because God loves you and He’ll “never leave nor forsake you.”  Free from human arrogance because since He was humble for us “he who humbles himself with also be exalted.”  Free from death because He arose from our graves.  

Spring is a glorious time of the year!  I think of flying by air, looking out the window, watching the billowing clouds and marveling at it all.  Certainly the “heavens declare His handiwork” as the Bible says.  But we can never find eternal life and our soul’s salvation in nature.  No, nature teaches us about change, about death, about decay.  The smells of Spring prove that fact.  But God’s Word teaches us about joy, love, forgiveness, and eternal life!  Christ is eternal life.  He lives in heaven to welcome you.  And by surrounding yourself with His means of grace and immersing yourself in His Word, “the Word made flesh” will remain with you always—to the very end of the age.  That’s our comfort and joy not just today, but forever.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox                    

May 14, 2023: 6th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this Mother’s day we thank You for providing us with Christian mothers who mentor us and comfort us and love us in spite of our failings.  We thank You for etching their love so firmly in our hearts that we joyfully and willingly remember to give our love back to them on days such as this.  Today we ask that You also etch Your love so firmly in our hearts that we never fail to return a portion of Your love for us back to You, either.  Amen


TEXT:  Acts 1: 1-14

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

         Have you ever forgotten your Mother’s birthday?  Have you ever forgotten to send a card to her or call her on Mother’s Day?  Ooops!  No doubt she forgave you.  Mother’s always seem to.  But, I’ll bet you felt  like a bit of a heel and resolved never to forget it again.

         Because we’re human and get caught up in our own lives, often we forget some very important things.  Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, your kid’s special school program are a few occasions that come to mind.  But once you realized your oversight and the inadvertent  hurt that it caused those who love you, I’ll bet that special date became firmly fixed in your mind. 

         Not only do we overlook important dates when it comes to our loved ones.  Sometimes we forget occasions  that are important to our God.  Ascension is a prime example.  Next Sunday we will celebrate Ascension service here at church.  The vast majority of people forget Ascension.  But, did any of you forget Christmas?  Did any of you forget Easter?  No!  I suppose that’s because our culture makes a big deal of that dates, but neglects Ascension.  And that’s too bad.  For Ascension in its own way is just as vital and important to our faith as either Christmas or Easter.  In fact, Ascension could be termed an even more joyous day than either of those other two.  For those holidays are about the joy that we receive from the hand of our gracious God.  They are all about us receiving and Him giving.  Whereas Ascension is about the joy that Christ received and experienced when He got to go back home to heaven.  Yes, Ascension also reminds us that Christ has gone to prepare a place for us in glory, that He now can instantaneously hear and answer our prayers without us waiting in line to get to Him as happened when He walked this earth, and that He now is using His divine power to be with His people everywhere, all the time.  But, really, the joy of the day is about Jesus going home to His victory party in heaven. 

         Mother’s day isn’t about you; it’s about your mother.  Your attendance at your father’s 75th birthday party isn’t about you; it’s about him receiving your honor and you sharing his joy.  Each of you instinctively knows that.  And you would not dream of subtracting from such joy by turning the day’s focus unto yourself.  But, when we forget about or neglect our Lord’s ascension, that’s exactly what we’re doing. 

         Well, I didn’t come here today to scold you or to make you feel bad.  What I did come here for was to etch upon your soul this important truth, namely:



         Imagine where you and I would be if Christ had forgotten to be born?  No Savior means no salvation.  No Savior means no eternal life.  Imagine where we would be if Jesus had forgotten to willingly die on the cross for us?  No death means no forgiveness for sins and no peace with God.  Imagine if Christ has forgotten to rise from the dead?  No resurrection would mean no heaven.  It would mean no freedom from fear and the darkness of the grave.  But, Jesus didn’t forget to do any of those things God had promised.  For God never forgets any of His promises to us hurting sinners. 

         In our lesson Jesus makes a few more promises that He didn’t forget to keep, either.  During those 40 days before His ascension He reminded His followers of the promised  gift of the Spirit.  And He also promised that they would be baptized  “with the Holy Spirit.”  This, of course, is the promise of Pentecost which we celebrate in two weeks.  Then, when they ask about the growth of His kingdom on this earth, He promised them special power to spread His message of love and forgiveness.  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  St. Matthew records another promise Jesus made right before His ascension, too.  Recall Jesus giving His Church His great commission to: “Go and make disciples.”  And at the end of that command, He adds: “Lo, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  Everything God says is important.  Everything He promises He does.  He never forgets or overlooks anything or anyone.  And what a comfort that is when we’re feeling forlorn and forgotten.


         I know that Ascension is on an odd-ball night.  I know the news doesn’t report it or make a big deal about it.  But, that’s exactly why I’m doing so today and also next Sunday!  I want to make it unforgettable to you!  I want you to have the honor and joy of sharing in Christ’s joy over going home! 

         As Jesus arose toward heaven, eventually a cloud hid Him from the disciples’ sight.  (And by the way, if we piece together all the various accounts of this event as found in the Bible, it was not just the 11 who saw this, no, over 500 followers witnessed this glorious event!)  Well, after the cloud hid Him, those people were simply staring up to the sky when suddenly two angels appeared in their midst.  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Obviously this was a watershed event in the life of the early church—hence the appearance of angels.  And obviously God wanted to comfort them with the reminder that some day Jesus would return to take His people home with Him.

         When they get back to Jerusalem and assemble in the Upper Room, we find it filled with those closest to Christ.  The apostles are there along with various women close to Him, His mother Mary, and even His brothers who had earlier in His ministry rejected Him.  But now they don’t reject anymore, they believe.  They have seen the miracles, heard the sermons, seen His death and resurrection.  It caused them to believe because it was all so unforgettable. 

         I hope after today Jesus’ Ascension will remain unforgettable to you, as well.  So mark your calendars.  And take this comfort home today and remember it throughout the coming year.  Namely, Christ has not and will never forget about you….Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

May 7, 2023: 5th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior,  we live in a world in which people constantly scoff at Your reality, mock Your goodness, and trade in Your grace for fake self-congratulations over supposed human goodness.  Because of this we’re weary in trying to break through this façade of human idolatry.  Today re-energize us to continue in our battle to convey Your goodness and grace to others—first by breaking down their objections and second by letting the Spirit do His job via the truth of the Gospel.  Amen


TEXT:  Acts 17: 22-31

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

         If it hasn’t happened to you, it will.  Maybe it was a ticket line at a Sox game, or perhaps the cattle line at the airport.  In any case, it usually happens when a whole bunch of people are massed together waiting to be served one by one.  Everyone is tired, tense, and just wants to wait their turn to be free of it all.  Suddenly, someone budges in line, or they raise their voice and demand immediate attention by saying: “Do you know who I am?” 

         In our pseudo-celebrity culture, displays of such an attitude are on the rise.  “I’m important.  I’m special.  I deserve more attention than anyone else.  I make a lot of money.  I went to this or that school.  I won a championship and got on the television.”  Yah, right.  And I won the spelling bee in 6th grade…..

         It’s humorous and sad at the same time, isn’t it?  So many people think they have life all figured out.  They think they are smarter, wiser, and are leaps and bounds above the masses.  Unfortunately, too many of them think they are smarter than “god” too.  They think they have that “god stuff” all figured out.  This attitude is much more far-reaching than most imagine.  It literally extends to everyone who calls themselves “spiritual” but agrees with the agnostic viewpoint that it’s impossible to really know who or what god really is.  Yet, because they’ve convinced themselves that “god” must be just like they are, they blissfully wander through life worshipping a facsimile of themselves.  And if you challenge them on this, their reply can be boiled down to this:



         The people of Athens at St. Paul’s time personified this exact attitude.  After all, they were the descendents of Aristotle, Plato, and a host of other well-known thinkers.  They thought they had life all figured out.  And up on the fairy-tale like setting of the Areopagus in Athens they spun fairy-tales about both life and their views on god—patting themselves on their backs throughout the process. 

         Some read this text and say: “What was St. Paul doing trying to preach to people like this?  Talk about a non-receptive crowd?”  Others read Paul’s opening words and conclude: “Well, at least he knows how to butter-up this audience by means of those opening words: “I see that in every way you are very religious.”  Both readings miss the point.

         The Areopagus was a meeting place in Athens for debate and public discourse to occur.  Paul walks all around that hilltop and observes statutes to literally every single “god” known to men at that time.  He even sees an altar to “The unknown god” just in case they’ve missed any.  The average observer would conclude that such a people are very religious or spiritual, as they say today.  But Paul isn’t an average observer.  He’s an apostle directly called by Christ, the only Son of the only God that exists.  I delved into the original Greek meaning of that word that is translated: “very religious.”  One of its old meanings says something a bit less neutral.  That meaning is: demon-fearing.    So, listen anew to how Paul hits these Athenians where their pride doesn’t protect them: “Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very demon-fearing.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To An Unknown God.  Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

         The common denominator that nails every human is fear—fear of death, fear of evil, fear over the sources of evil.  Evil is inescapable.  Evil cannot be defeated forever by man.  Evil is to be avoided at all costs.  And yet, for the non-Christian, the evilness of death stalks its prey and none can escape.  So, all these amazing looking statutes and false altars are simply a puny attempt to placate evil and the demons that bring it into human lives.  For all their arrogance, these prideful men are reduced to scared little boys.  So it is with those who write God out of the equation of their lives today.  Whenever people boast: “Do you know who I am?”  I think to myself, “Yes, I do know.  You’re scared to death and that’s why you cling to your self-boasting.  It’s all you have.” 


         If you’re going to reach a lost soul and save it, you first need to break human pride.  It’s called: preaching the Law.  That’s what Paul does.  Next, you need to make your case for the Triune God in terms the hearers can relate to.  So, Paul continues on in that vein.  He begins with the obvious, natural law.  Truths God has written into everyone’s conscience.  He speaks of God being the builder of heaven and the maker of earth.  And yet, “He does not live in temples built by hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”  (Unlike what you’re doing here on Mars Hill!  So folks, you’re barking up the wrong tree!)  Then Paul goes back to Adam, the foundational human being made by God.  From Adam came all nations.  God set limits and determined these nations’ pathways. And eventually God led humans to seek more information about Him and to know Him better.  And lest anyone think that this Almighty God is not personal and doesn’t directly care about every facet of each individual’s life, he even quotes one of the famous Greek poets: “We are his offspring.”  (Think here of the Lord’s Prayer, and how Our Father protects, provides, and preserves each of His children.)

         Now comes the really important stuff.  How can anyone escape being ruled by fear?  How can anyone live with peace, contentment and quietness in their heart—not fearing punishment for their sins, not fearing death, not fearing demons?  This is Paul’s reply: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

         God is a living Being.  Idols, whether physical images or mental images, are damnable.  They subtract from and belittle His glory.  And God will judge such arrogance correctly and justly punish it according to His perfect will.  The only way out is to repent.  It is to change your ways.  It is to embrace Christ, His Son, who died on the cross to pay for our evil attitudes and misguided notions of what true holiness is, and Who was raised from the grave, our graves, to show all that Jesus is: “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Faith in Jesus saves.  Faith in Jesus changes the heart.  Faith never struts out: “Do you know who I am?”  Because faith knows: I’m nothing before God.  Faith mimics the response of the humbled repentant tax-collector who prayed: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  And ultimately, faith also knows the answer, the only correct answer when it comes to the only One Who has earned the right to exclaim: DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!  That answer being: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” Or, as St. Peter says today:  “He’s the reason for the hope that you have.”  Yes, Christianity is not about us making peace with God out of fear, but Him making peace with us out of love.   Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox