April 11, 2021: 1st Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior,  even though believing is hard on our end of the equation, it is miraculous from Your end.  For us our senses get involved in simple faith and emotions get jumbled together so doubt sets in.  But from Your vantage point it is simply an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Who calms our fears and banishes all doubt—as a free gift to us born of Your grace.  Today, do just that once more as You strengthen and uplift our faith.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR RESURRECTED LORD CHRIST!

TEXT:  John 20: 24-29

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          If you look carefully at all the gospel accounts of what happened after Christ’s resurrection and the reaction of the believers one thing stands out: In every instance their first reaction was: doubt.  It was followed by fear and trepidation.  That’s an emotional response.

          Emotions are always present.  They help make us human.  There are positive and negative emotions.  Emotions are generated by our conscious and sub-conscious mind.  Some are learned, some are inherited from our past family.  Some we process rather quickly.  Others take a lifetime—especially if they are traumatic.  BTW, I recall the first time I learned that sneezing is often the result of your body processing some emotion!  Rarely is it merely the result of “a cold coming on.” 

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          Last Sunday in Mark’s Gospel we heard about the women at the tomb and their emotional response to its emptiness and both the appearance and words of the angel announcing the resurrection.  It was one of fear  and doubt.  We’re told they left: “Trembling and bewildered because they were afraid.”  So, too, when Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene.  However, in her case, she got over the shock rather quickly.  Did she let out a giant sneeze?   Likewise the disciples later that day and also that night when Jesus first appeared to them in the Upper Room.  Huge, amazing, miraculous happenings cause corresponding emotional reactions. The first being: doubt. 

          So, it should come as no surprise that Thomas, who was absent that night, doubted the words of the others when first told of the resurrection.  In fact, he “doubles down” on his doubt and rather arrogantly exclaims to them: “Unless I put my fingers in his nail marks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  This is how he tries to handle his initial emotional reaction.  He would only trust AFTER he had verified!  In this he shows that God’s Word of promise and Christ’s resurrection wasn’t enough for him. The question for you is: Is it enough for me?

II

          Thomas was in a huge funk those days immediately following Easter.  His emotions of grief, shame, and inner anger at it all, overwhelmed him.  He needed to be alone and sort it all out.  A week later we find him with the disciples in the Upper Room.—Apparently he was over some of that funk.  Again, Jesus appears among them announcing those glorious words: “Peace be with you.”  Peace is an emotional state of being, isn’t it?  Immediately, Christ addresses Thomas be repeating his own words: “Put your finger here; see my hand.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.” 

          With those words Jesus shames Thomas and also brings positive peace to his agitated state.  God’s Word have inherent power to calm our emotions and replace the negative ones with uplifting ones.  Thomas’ response makes that crystal clear: “My Lord, and my God.”   And so it is to every believer touched by His grace.  Doubt vanishes in the presence of the Gospel and peace and joy take its place.

          You and I are Thomas.  Everyone can relate to Thomas.  We live in a world just as chaotic as theirs.  We see wars, injustice, immorality, death and every other negative circumstance known to man.  One thing we don’t see with our senses is: God.  So we get angry with God and our emotional response is to doubt His goodness for us and even to doubt His words of resurrection.  And yet, like Thomas and the others, our loving Lord seeks to calm our fears and anxiety.  On the cross He made peace with us by paying for all our sins. And then He confirmed it by His physical resurrection from the dead!  Then, to make all this personal He says to you today: “Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!”  Upon hearing those words, Thomas and the others never looked back, and by grace neither will you! 

          Some people think that Christian faith is an emotion.  It’s not.  It is based on certainty and fact.  God’s Word IS certainty and fact.  Emotions are man-made.  Our faith is God made.  It links us with the God-Man Who saved us.  So take Jesus’ Words to heart when He says to you: “Stop doubting and believe!”   Amen

THE peace of God which….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

April 4, 2021: Easter!

Let us pray: O Lord God Almighty, what a privilege to have hindsight as another Easter dawns!  Unlike the women who were weighed down by grief; unlike the disciples who had heavy hearts, unlike lowborn believers who had had their hopes seemingly dashed on Good Friday; we know the outcome of Your death—resurrection!  For us this is a joyous day from the moment we get out of bed to come to Your empty tomb!  Thank You for providing us such blessed confidence!  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR RESURRECTED LORD AND SAVIOR!

TEXT:  Mark  16: 1-8

Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers!  

The Lord is Risen! (He is risen, indeed!)  We go to a graveyard for these reasons: 1. To be buried.  2. To bury someone who we loved.  3. To tidy-up another’s grave. And 4. To perhaps snoop and read headstones.   These women went for another reason: to finish preparing Christ’s body for the long sleep of death.  None of them expected to find the huge stone rolled back.  None of them expected to find an empty tomb.  None of them expected to both see and be addressed by an angel announcing Jesus’ resurrection.  None of them expected to hear that now ancient Easter greeting: “He is risen!”  (He is risen, indeed!”)  Why not?  After all, every one of them was a believer.  They had all heard Christ foretell His rising from the dead.  He Who did miracles before their very eyes, had always kept His Word and they had all embraced it.  Not one believer expected this unexpected development.

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​God, in the book of Hebrews, defines Christian faith this way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients (Old Testament Christians) were commended for.”  No one visiting the grave that morning was “sure and certain” of anything other than they would find surly soldiers, a weighty stone and a dead body.  That is obvious from our lesson, isn’t it?  So, was their faith dead like Christ on Good Friday?  It’s an intriguing question.  But the answer is: NO!  Isaiah says: “A bruised reed, He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”  It just goes to show that grief can and does almost overwhelm Christian faith at times.  It also shows that our Living Lord can and does fan that flickering flame into a bonfire.  This is the lasting legacy of the resurrection!

II

​Seeing is believing—that’s human wisdom.  It’s a universal true-ism.  So, we like to think that if we had been with Jesus during those 3 years and seen Him die that awful death to pay His Holy Father for the sins of the world and then been actually present at the empty tomb—we like to think we would have embraced His promises of life conquering death without any reservation.  Then we would have swaggered to the tomb with supreme confidence.  We would have left any burial supplies in the dust.  “They wouldn’t be needed” we told those with us.  Yet, we find none of that happening.  This is how great the fear of death and the overwhelming sense of lostness grips human hearts—even for believers like you and me.  We forget the truth of Jesus: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”  That’s also us.  We weren’t there, and yet we’re here today to celebrate Christ’s living victory over death, doubt, fear, and all pain.  We’re blest by God because the resurrection really did occur and the Spirit has opened our eyes to it by His outpouring of grace upon us.  Yes, right now you and I are doubly blest because we possess hindsight into the greatest miracle of all time!

III

​This entire lesson should remind us that faith is not merely an emotion.  Christian faith is enduring trust in God, His promises, His power, His truthfulness, and most of all: His love for lost sinners.  Our faith may have, it DOES have, its ups and downs.  It may have times of weakness and times of great confidence. But the reality of Easter cannot be quashed or destroyed because the tomb is empty and Christ really does live!  Our sins are paid for, death has been swallowed up by Life!  

​We’re told: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  –For now.  It took them a while to process their emotions and the reality of what they had seen and heard.  It seemed too good to be true.  And yet, over time the Spirit’s power worked on them and their little saplings of faith started to grow, bud, flourish and gain strength.  Today, you and I are products of just how much those saplings grew!  

​Humanly speaking, we live in fearful times.  We fear dread diseases, war, economic disaster, and ultimately death.  We fear being alone and powerless against the powerful.  We’re just like these women early that first Easter morn.  And yet the truth of Christ’s resurrection conquered all these fears.  For “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  I know that my Redeemer lives!   I know that “He will never leave nor forsake me.”  All of this is made possible because: “The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed!”  Amen   

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

March 28, 2021: Palm Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior,  we need to celebrate!  We need to raise our voices in praise and to sing with gusto when it comes to honoring You.  We have been muzzled and silenced too long.  And although our praise today may be muffled due to circumstances,  accept our outbursts from our hearts and may they move the angels to make up the difference.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO ALONE DESERVES PRAISE!

TEXT:  Mark 11: 1-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Jesus began His work of saving our souls with praise!  The angels gathered that 1st Christmas and shouted their hosannas.  The shepherds followed suit.  About a year later the wise men appeared at the doorstep.  Their homage was a little more subdued, but it was just as heart-felt.  God the Father and the Holy Spirit also praised Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan river.  The heavens boomed their approval as They honored the 2nd Person of the Godhead.  We know the crowds gathered to hear Jesus preach and praised Him, too.  Even in death, when He “gave up His spirit” on the cross, an earthquake ensued, formerly dead people arose, and the giant curtain in the temple was torn in two.  And then there’s also Palm Sunday….

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          Praise is an intriguing word.  It is founded in and on emotions.  It includes: honor, excitement, joy, and an outpouring of pure happiness.  Sometimes it erupts to a climax after a slow building up.  Other times, it just erupts because it cannot be contained. 

          Here it starts slowly.  It was Passover time and pilgrims had gathered from across the empire to celebrate.  It was a semi-somber event celebrating  Israel’s escape from Egyptian bondage 1400 years prior.  People were camped outside the city walls.  The early-risers were starting campfires and rubbing sleep from their eyes.  The birds were twittering.  It was a slow morning. 

          So, too, for Jesus and the disciples.  They had stayed at Mary and Martha’s house and at dawn had arisen and prepared to enter the city a few miles away.  Christ told a couple disciples to go to a house where they would find a donkey colt and its mother.  They did just that and when challenged by the sleepy owner, replied: “The Lord has need of it.”  The owner said, “O.K.”  And off they all went.  Humble beginnings for a historical day.  Don’t ever forget that true Godly praise, along with miracles, usually occurs when people don’t expect it!

II

          There is no advance team.  There are no sound trucks and video streaming about “breaking news.”  There are no signs or placards handed out in advance.  No, it is just Jesus on the donkey colt and the small group of followers that crests the Mt. of Olives and descends to the city gates.  But now the miracle occurs!  The Holy Spirit is the Author of Christian faith.  Here He intercedes and stirs hearts.  Clothing is strewn in Christ’s path.  Palm fronds are stripped off trees and waved in the air.  It builds and builds.  People start chanting: “Hosanna!” which means: “Save!”  Save us from the jackboot of the Romans.  Save us from the bondage of sin and evil.  Save us from eternal death.  They knew Who Jesus was.  They knew He was their long-promised Messiah.  They needed help, comfort, relief, and salvation—Freedom! From oppression. And here Freedom was in bodily form.  We see this from their very words: “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!”  What a day! 

III

          It must have lasted well into the afternoon.  An adrenaline rush like this doesn’t fizzle out immediately.  The crowd needed to hear Him, see Him, touch Him, and congratulate Him.  Listen again: “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple.  He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”  Yes, Jesus took a few hours to meet and greet His followers.  He made time for them, just as He makes and takes time with each of you!  Never forget: You have His ear….

          I can well imagine our congregation’s response the 1st Sunday after  the “mask mandate” has been lifted and food freely flows in the fellowship hall.  Even we staid, reserved Lutherans may be “dancing in the streets!”  Emotional excitement is a unique elixir to the soul.  The problem is: it’s hard to sustain.  We see that during Holy Week.  We see it especially on Good Friday.  That day the crowds were plentiful too, but no “Hosannas”.  Instead “Crucify Him!” was the word of the day. 

Like all of you, I rejoice on Palm Sunday that our Lord was given His proper due.  But true faith isn’t pure emotionalism.  True faith is deeper and much more profound.  It honors our Savior in humility and love and thankfulness over the long haul of life.  It causes us to rejoice even in our current sufferings because Christ already walked that pathway and came out of the tomb of darkness.  The crowd didn’t know this future on that 1st Palm Sunday.  But Jesus did.  And He accepted His future willingly in order to give us sustainable up-liftability!—Upliftability which may not always be an emotional “high” but one that never burns out inside our souls where it really counts.  Palm Sunday was the race horse.  But humble faith is the draft horse that pulls us steadily ahead until we cross heaven’s threshold!  Amen  

The peace of God which….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

March 21, 2021: 5th Sunday in Lent

Let us  pray: Dear Savior, as the long, hard days of winter conclude, uplift our spirits!  Hold before us the empty cross and the empty tomb!  Remind us that darkness leads to light and life!  Yes, give us the same attitude about living in the here and now that you had—one of self-giving love.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR SAVING LORD!

TEXT:  Philippians 2: 5-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Attitude is everything.  Doctors know this.  Cancer patients who give up and adopt a defeatist attitude succumb far faster than those who retain an upbeat mindset.  Players on a team who are positive, even if they have limited skills, are much more popular than “stars” who are always grumpy that others misplayed a baseball.  Teachers respect C students who really try more than A students who are lazy and uninterested. 

          Where does a person’s attitude come from?  Some is inherent.  Some is learned.  Some is a product of family life or perhaps good or bad company.  And, of course, all attitude is either uplifted by God or corrupted by Satan along with our inherent sinful nature.  Let’s take a quick quiz.  When you converse with another are you: 1. Quick of judge them and point out their weaknesses? or 2. Do you seek ways to lovingly built them up without monopolizing the discussion?  Are you more concerned with them than with you?  I think you know the answers. 

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          As Christians, our attitude about life filled with blessings, leaves something to be desired.  All our attitudes need improvement.  And today St. Paul lays before us God’s example of all this.  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”  Whoa!  That’s a tall order!  In other words, get rid of all dissension, pride, hate, grumpiness, arrogance and all other negative emotions and actions that tear others apart. 

          “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

          From our perspective, Christ debased Himself.  He became a slave to our sins.  He took all that nastiness upon Himself.  And He didn’t consider that He was a lesser member of the Trinity because of it.  He did all this willingly to show us the real  meaning of love. 

          “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Think about that.  God Who is the Supreme Creator agreed to save His wayward creation.  So, the Potter took on the form of a deformed pot.  He did so knowing that the pot would be smashed, burned, and ground into dust.  That would all happen to Him, the Potter, because He cared about the deformed pots and through His sacrifice of self, all the other deformed pots could be remade and born anew.  The only word that describes His attitude is: pure love.  Yes, Jesus gave His all—to us!

II

          “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

          In other words, out of Christ’s passion and death comes Easter and life.  Because Jesus laid down His life and His all to save us, His holy Father raised Him to life in heaven at God’s own right hand.  Through and because of Jesus’ lovingly giving Himself up to save you, all creatures are forced to confess that His attitude about showing true love permeated all He did and that it alone is worthy of emulating.  Moreover, only this kind of undeserved love, or grace, is worthy of praise. 

          Unless you’re a bump on a log, Paul’s words should shame you a bit.  That’s because we know how often our attitude stinks in comparison to Christ’s.  But we’re a deformed pot that needs help, we’re not the potter.  We don’t remake ourselves, or reform our attitude by ourselves, that’s Jesus’ job.  And He both has and is doing so right now!  He already paid for our deformities and rose from the ultimate deformity of death in our place.  He already has given that status of perfection before God to us via faith.  And now He’s working at  polishing us by smoothing off all the rough spots.  So, armed with His grace, try to appreciate it!  You’ll be amazed at how much calmer and happier you’ll be! Follow Christ in ALL Things and you’ll never go wrong.     Amen

THE peace of God which….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox