October 15, 2023: Thanksgiving Festival Service

Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this glorious day as we come to give You our thanks and praise, move us to focus on what we do have instead on what we don’t have.  Move us to recognize our blessings, give thanks for those blessings, be content with those blessings, and not to pine away for gauzy dreams and fantasies.  For it is then that our faith in You will make everything whole.  Amen


TEXT:  Luke 17: 11-19

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

         If memory serves me correctly, it was 34 years ago that we began service on Thanksgiving Eve.  Before that, the congregation had worshiped on Thanksgiving Day.  But, when I arrived on the scene, the church council asked that we change our worship time in order not to conflict with hectic meal and travel preparations.  So, Thanksgiving Eve worship was born at Pinewood.

         The evening service has always been a small one—attendance wise.  But, it has also always been one rich in meaning and fulfillment.  This is a service for the “diehards.”   It is for those who remain at home during the holiday and wouldn’t dream of skipping an opportunity to thank God.  I recall telling one of our organists: “I’d have service if just you, me, and my wife were present.”  For God deserves the thanks and praise of His people. 

         The usual Gospel lesson for this day is the one before us: the healing of the 10 lepers.  It’s meaning is obvious: Christ has earned the thanks of His people.  It was about my second  year when I preached on this text that an interesting event occurred.  The sainted Gertrude Krey, mother of John Krey and Esther Lowrey, was in attendance.  After the service Gertrude met me at the door, cocked her head, tilted her omnipresent hat, and said to me: “Pastor, where are the other nine?”  The memory of that moment still makes me smile. 

         As usual, Gertrude cut to the chase.  She was a bit put out that the “other nine” the bulk of the congregation wasn’t in church that night.  And out of love for her Savior, she desperately wanted them to be.  All of them had received God’s blessings over the past year.  All of them had had their souls healed by Christ’s undying love.  All of them possessed health, wealth, and life itself stemming from God’s grace.  She knew how much her life was enriched by her Savior.  She wanted them to show Him the same honor.  So, as she left, she focused her attention on their absence with that question: Where are the other nine?”

         Surely, you can do that same thing as you ponder this lesson.  After all, it’s a pointed question first spoken by Christ Himself.  But, is it the essence of this lesson?  No, it is not.  The essence of this text is the final words of Jesus to the newly cleansed leper: “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”  And that brings us to our theme:


         I’ll admit that Christ appears a bit saddened by the fact that 90% of those newly cleansed lepers forgot to give Him thanks and praise.  And the lack of a response to Jesus’ question by the returning one shows that that man simply had no answer as to their absence.  But note well: Jesus focused the rest of His attention on who did come instead of who didn’t come.  It took just one out of ten to gladden our Savior’s heart.  It took just 10% of the whole to give praise and thanks to Jesus and for Jesus to accept it with joy.  And out of this interchange came the ultimate blessing: “Your faith has made you well.”

         Today we can learn volumes from this.  This service, this holiday or “holy day” isn’t about the many who don’t give thanks, it is about you who do.  It isn’t about things we don’t possess, but about the blessings we have received.  It isn’t about fantasies in life, but about concrete reality.  Too often we get so hung up on being jealous over what others seemingly possess that we lose sight of what God has graciously given to us.  Note well that Jesus didn’t do that.  After asking about the “other nine” He focused all His energy on the one standing before Him.  Likewise, that leper didn’t get so caught up by emotionalism over being healed and dwelling on long-lost family and friends that he lost sight of the One Who caused it all.  No, his thanks were directed to the concrete presence of the Savior before him. 

         As we celebrate this holy day, each of us should do the same.  Thanksgiving is an attitude from the heart.  It is individual, not corporate.  It is about you and your God.  It is about you recognizing His gifts and you honoring Him for them.  In the end, nothing else matters, does it?  So, I’m happy you’ve come.  God’s pleased, as well.  Your faith has made you well!  For even one voice of thanks counts with God.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

October 8, 2023: 20th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, because our egos are fragile and we’re easily crushed–all as a result of sin, we crave the acceptance and accolades of others.  And to achieve those accolades, we all do our prideful best to impress them.  Lord, today teach us that you have a better way, a more excellent way to live!  Your way is to spurn what the world deems so important and to embrace love and humble service to others and to You.  Lord, move us to think and act accordingly.  Amen


TEXT:  Mark 9: 30-37

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

         Why is it that some people feel inferior to other people?  Well, all those inferiority complexes are a result of our sin-drenched hearts.  You say: “I’m not inferior to anyone and I never feel that way?”  Ah, but you do and your words condemn you.  I’ll give you a couple of examples.  Many years ago a close relative pointed out how often some people “name drop.” Guys are especially guilty of this.  We seem to think that more important people we’ve known will impress another and make us rise in stature before their very eyes.  That relative was correct.   Name dropping is a indication that your ego needs boosting.  And a night of two men name dropping back and forth is pretty silly and non-substantive, if you think about it. 

         All people engage in name dropping.  Most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it.—All to impress someone else.  But, trying to impress others has other forms, too.  Designer fashions with the maker’s mark prominently displayed is a classic form.  I laugh when I see women proudly carrying Louis Vuitton handbags.  Quite frankly, they look like kitchen linoleum with a label stamped on them.  But to many they are the ultimate status symbol.—All this to feed their fragile ego.

         One of the great things about age is that you begin to realize you really don’t need to impress anyone.  Either they should accept you as you are, or they’re really not worth great time and effort.  And such a balanced ego breeds peace—both with yourself and with your sphere of influence.

         Today, we find the disciples engaged in this ego-feeding, worldly one-upsmanship.  And Christ takes them head-on and shows the futility of it all.  So, let’s search the Scriptures by pondering this question:



         Jesus is well into His ministry of reconciling the world to Himself and to God.  He has trained the disciples well.  They have witnessed miracles and even engaged in  a few on their own.  Walking through Galilee He took time to instruct and remind them of his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection.  But, the disciples weren’t really paying attention.  Instead they were arguing on the road about who was the greatest in their midst!  Of course, Jesus knew this.  Thus His question to them.  And their reticence to answer shows that they were embarrassed by it all.

         When I visualize this scene, I can see them following Christ at a little distance.  I can hear them say things like: “Well, I cast out one demon in Cana!”  While another says: “Well, I cast out two in Nazareth!”  It’s almost akin to little kids arguing over their parents—“Mom loves you more than me!  But, I do all the work around the house!”  Where does this silliness come from?  You know.  It’s the sin-tainted ego at work trying to excuse and justify itself before others.  We do that because somehow we think that by putting others into an inferior position, we enlarge ourselves—at least in our own eyes.

         This idea of impressing others by name-dropping, or showing off, is rampant.  The whole celebrity culture today is based on it.  But, they had such a culture in their day, too, and it rubbed off, as well.  Think of how the Pharisees dressed in sumptuous robes with bells and gold tassel adorning them.  Think about how such religious leaders lived—in spacious houses fit for nobility.  And because of these impressive externals people fawned when they walked by.  Don’t you think these simple fisher-folk from back-water Galilee wanted a piece of that action, at least a little?

         Of course, lest we get too cocky and adopt a pious demeanor simply to impress others that we’re above such human silliness, consider other aspects of “impressing others.”  For example, many Christians today react negatively to people dressing up to go to church.  So, instead they go to the other extreme and wear even less than casual clothes.  In a sense, they’re trying to impress by how they are not dressed.  I suppose they would say: “Well, man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  Implying that they’re better than the well-dressed because they’re above it all.  To which I would respond, are you using that as an excuse for being lazy in doing your best, or wearing your best to honor God?  Finally, it’s really all about your motivation.  It’s about your heart.  So, examine your heart and ask yourself: “Is what I say and do untainted by my inner ego?  Is God glorified and are others uplifted?  Does this pithy truth from James ring true in my life: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”


         The fact of the matter is: trying to impress others to boast our ego is a fruitless task.  It’s never-ending because it focuses on externals in life while the real issue is internal.  But what about impressing God?  Can we do that?  And if so, exactly how?  Listen to Christ’s response: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and a servant of all.’  He took a little child and had him stand among them.  Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

         Of course, a simplistic understanding of these words is practiced by many today.  That is, they go through the motions of self-denial, of helping others in need, and of making a show of being kind and charitable.  They think to themselves: “Ah, I’ve kept Christ’s words, I’ve done what He said, so He’s impressed with me!”  Wrong!

         External actions must always correspond to a person’s heart.  Let’s be frank, because we’re stuck with our ego, neither our motives nor our actions will ever be totally pure, perfect, and holy.  So, the point is: trying to impress God on our own is a futile endeavor.

         Christ knew that.  In fact, that’s why He came.  He came to be the perfect servant to us.  He came to suffer for us.  To die for us.  To put His life on the line for us.  He came in order to perfectly love every human with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind.  He was God’s Son.  He didn’t need to impress anyone.  His ego was guilt free and sin free.  And by living in our place, Christ won a wonderful blessing which He freely gives to us through faith.  That is, He impressed God the Father for us and His perfect impression is transferred to us and covers us.  Yes, He, the First born of all creation, become the last.  With Him humbleness wasn’t just a word, or an occasional way of living, it was His ongoing reality.

         So, Are You Living to Impress God or Other People?  Are you at peace enough with God in your soul and let Him shine forth in you, or do you still try to obscure the light of His grace and replace it with your own fake light?  That day on the road to Capernaum, the disciples learned an important lesson about God’s most excellent way.  Today, I hope you’ve also learned that lesson, as well.   Amen        THE PEACE OF GOD….   

Pastor Thomas H. Fox