September 5, 2021: 16th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray:  Lord, protect us from the evil one and his minions.  Keep us from throwing away the opportunities we have to receive Your grace.  And may we never, ever, become so jaded on Your gift of life that we ask You to forsake and leave us alone to our own destruction.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM THE ONLY SAVIOR THERE IS: JESUS CHRIST!

TEXT:  Matthew 8: 28-34

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          I enjoy bacon—good bacon that has a nice smoke.  (Corn cob smoked is excellent!) I enjoy scalloped potatoes and ham, too.  Likewise, I’ve learned that meatloaf mix—beef, pork, and veal, also makes delicious burgers!  I’ve also known a few folks who were very good Christians who disavowed pork citing OT dietary laws.  (Here in our text is a reference to that as the Jews at this time considered pork “unclean.”)  So, why do I eat pork today?  Basically, in OT times the people didn’t know about trichinosis, but God did.  Likewise, pigs eat anything—including a lot of garbage in those days, so disease was always an issue.  Thus, to keep them safe, God banned it, just as He did shellfish, because He knew about red tide and they did not.  That’s the “why” behind the ban. But Christ came to “fulfill all righteousness” and in Him all such laws, including the dietary ones, were done away with.  So, I eat bacon guilt free.

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          The times when there is great spiritual outpouring from God are also times when Satan and his minions work extra hard.  I’ve been told by people who work in this field more than I that during the last couple of years they’ve seen more demonic “stuff” than in the past.  Are any of us surprised?  So it was here, during Christ’s ministry. 

          The Gadarene region was basically a heathen enclave by the Sea of Galilee.  They didn’t care about the Old Testament.  They were just greedy and exploitative.  They kept pigs openly because they didn’t cost much to feed and sold for a hefty profit.  They let them forage for themselves and tended them like sheep.  

          Two men who were demon possessed were in some local caves by a graveyard.  These men had super-human strength and lived and looked like animals.  “They were so violent that no one could pass that way.”  As Jesus fearlessly approached, they went out and confronted Him: “What do you want with us, Son of God?”  Demons know exactly Who God is and they also know His followers.  They immediately seize on the negative, too, because that’s all evil knows.  “Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?”  But true justice is never a torture.  Alas, attributing evil to God, which is exactly what they are doing, shows just how vile it is.

          “Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus—‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’”  They obviously knew His power and knew that something bad was about to happen, so they cunningly sought to be spared of annihilation by being consigned to a pig host who they would then go on to torment.  But Jesus has a better idea.  “Go!’ So they came out and went into the pigs and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.”  A fitting end isn’t it?  Every demon really IS a pig in the worst sense of the word!

          Now comes the really sad part: “Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus.  And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.”  

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          If Jesus came down and got rid of all the evil that was infecting your town today, what do you think would happen?  Would people thank Him and praise Him for His goodness?  Would they be happy not to have unborn babies murdered at the local clinic via abortion, all gangs snuffed out, the open sewer of the internet done away with, and banks being forced to never overcharge on their credit card rates?  Or would they complain once their source of income or vice was affected and beg Him to leave and never come back?  Here they chose commerce and greed over their soul’s salvation.  The question for all of us is: Do we fall into the same trap?

          God originally created everything holy, including pigs, clams, mussels, and people.  Evil is what corrupted everything and it is what makes creation unclean in His sight.  Christ’s job was to make it all new, totally clean, once again by suffering and dying in the place of human beings—they being the pinnacle of that creation.  Yes, “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”  Moreover, He gives this gift of being a new creation through faith.  By believing, trusting, and thanking Him for His goodness and loving-kindness.  Scripture says that: “God makes all things new in Christ.”  Through faith evil cannot destroy us, but it ends up destroying itself.  Through faith, under the guidance of the commandments, we can savor all things without guilt.  And if we misuse or over-imbibe in our newfound blessings, we can turn to Him, say: “I’m sorry Lord, please forgive me,” and He’ll wash us clean once again.  Such newness of spirit is you’re greatest gift on this earth.  So, now, as a Christian, use it wisely.  Amen

THE peace of God which…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

August 22, 2021: 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have given us a mouth in order to communicate and to praise You.  Since our tongues are another window into our hearts, we don’t want to use this gift in a manner which turns others off and disrespects You.  Today remind us to use our tongues wisely.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF SPEECH

TEXT:  James 1: 17-27

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          You’re walking in the mall with a group of teenagers slightly ahead.  You overhear—on purpose—them using profane language and telling dirty stories about their girl, or boyfriends. They glance back, wanting to get a rise from you.  You silently shake your head and they all laugh.  You think back to when you were their age and your mother getting out that famous bar of soap to wash your mouth out, followed by a hairbrush applied to a sensitive area.  Too bad that isn’t accepted practice today.  All adults know that such behavior is a cry for attention.  Teens do it to appear more adult, but all it accomplishes is them appearing more immature. 

          But adults do it too. Profane language is more and more accepted.   It used to be men that were the worst offenders, but now women engage in it very often, as well.  We supposedly live in a highly advanced culture, educated and civilized.  But from the common, coarse language used daily by most, we’ve sunk to the barnyard, the outhouse, and reveal our debasement as a culture.  It doesn’t build up, but tear down humanity. 

What has caused this outcome?  Social media is certainly to blame.  But the root cause is sin and the lack of Christian standards which view speech as a gift from God.  God, “who chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might we a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

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          “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, or a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted within you, which can save you.”

          Christians are different than the world.  We’re holy.  We’re purified by the blood of Jesus Christ.  We’re reborn of water and the Spirit in baptism.  We wear crosses to mark our newfound status as children of God.  So why not show it even more clearly by using words which announce it to the world? 

          Talk is cheap because people cheapen it by how they speak.  We listen to words and don’t take them seriously.  Unfortunately we often apply this worldly principle to hearing God’s Word, too.  “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But  the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard,  but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

II

          James then says that true religion worthy of the Triune God Who never lies and never misleads–does not use His gift of language in a profane way.  He never sought to tear others down but to build them up.  He never sought to hurt others but to lead them and comfort them.  Christ could be blunt and honest, but He was never malicious in His speech.  People know  where you stand by the words you employ and how you employ them.  So, don’t let the world pollute your tongue!  No one will remain in the stench  of a sewage plant for long because no one enjoys it. 

          The Son of God lovingly stood in the stench of our sins and died to free us from it.  He had better times and better things for us to do with our lives.  So speak wisely and show Him that His sacrifice was worth it…That you’re worth it….Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH……

Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

August 15, 2021: 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, everything that occurs in  our lives has a spiritual component.  That means that whatever occurs has something we can learn  from it about our faith and also how to handle it in a God-pleasing  manner.  Today open our eyes anew to that truth.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR ALL-ENCOMPASSING GOD!

TEXT:  Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          It was a sultry week, but a good week.  The VBC teachers and staff took our children on a road trip to the top of mount Pack Monadnock in NH.  There, one of our young men who is an avid hiker demonstrated survival skills and showed them a bunch of his gear.  Then the teachers related it all to the spiritual survival skills that God provides us in the Bible.   They all drank a lot of water, dosed with bug spray, ate their sandwiches and had a memorable time with 360 views of God’s creation. 

          Today’s text has many parallels to all that.  First, there’s water, the staff of life.    One of the hall marks of the Jews was that they were extremely cleanly.  They washed their hands before eating—religiously.  Except here the prideful Pharisees criticize the disciples for not meeting the Pharisees’ standards and complain to Christ about it. Mark also adds: they washed after going to the  market along with their vegetables, cups, plates, etc.  Christ knew that they just wanted something to pick away at His people and Him.  So, He answers these hypocrites with words from Isaiah: “These people  honor me with their lips, but there hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

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          The Greek word for “wash” is baptize!  They even “baptized” their fruits and vegetables along with their eating utensils.  But they did not have their hearts baptized by God through the blood of Christ.  Baptism is a “washing away” of sin which has much more severe consequences than bacteria or viruses.  Microbes can hurt the body, but sin can eternally destroy the soul.   Christ is the water of life.  We need his gift of forgiveness which gives eternal life. Late last Sunday I baptized a newborn named Evelyn.  She was born again of the Spirit and became pure and holy by God’s grace—just like all of you.  Water is important, vital, to spiritual survival. 

          We think of water cleansing us from outside sources.  But baptism does much more.  It cleanses us from internal sources of dirtiness before God.  Christ uses this little exchange with the Pharisees to illustrate that age-old truth.  “Listen to me, every one of you understand this.  Nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’” 

II

          Currently everyone is concerned with PPE or personal protective equipment.  We wash our bodies.  We wash our hands and use hand sanitizers.  Some wear masks to protect themselves.  We don’t want to get sick.  But the greatest source of illness is actually inside of us!  It’s called sin.  It infects every aspect of our being.  It creates discord, envy, births nasty words and thoughts and is the cause of all mortality.  The very fact that churches are not packed to overflowing shows how people don’t take sin seriously.  It’s the worst “inside out” infection there is. 

          Jesus then drives home His point by cataloguing such infection: “What comes out of  a man is what makes him ‘unclean’ For from within, out of man’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

          All of you know this to be true.  All of you have such thoughts and engage in such actions at times.  So what are you going to do about it?   Are you going to confess, repent, and actively fight against such deadly infections,  or are you going to ignore them?  Use your baptismal vaccination against sin!  Thank God for it!  Daily!  Employ the spiritual power over evil which you receive via God’s Word of truth, along with holy communion to boost your faith.  And don’t forget to “pray without ceasing” either.  God has already inoculated you against sin at  your baptism and now it’s up to you to keep His antibodies of faith strong and healthy!  Amen

THE peace of God which ….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

August 8, 2020: 12th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, right now we all lament that we didn’t appreciate the months of blessings that You showered upon us in the past.  We took them for granted and thought they would just roll along in sameness as before.  All that has changed.  Now we long for just a day to go by without worldwide upset.  Lord, focus our gaze upon You now and forever.  Move us to praise You, now and forever.  And let us realize that we always rest in Your secure embrace through faith.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO IS IN CHARGE OF EACH OF US

TEXT:  Ephesians 5: 15-20

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Most of us know that when the railroad signal starts the flash and the gates descend, it’s time to stop and wait.  The roaring train hurdling by shortly thereafter is a graphic reinforcement of that decision.  Likewise a tornado siren.  The moments before any  of that occurs would be described in the Greek language  of the NT with the word: Kairos.  As my sainted Greek prof once described it: Kairos doesn’t just mean “time” it means “critical time.”  A time to act and not sit on your hands.  Our text has that word used in it, although here they translate it: ”opportunity.”  That translation casts a positive slant to a negative situation.

          Right now we live in “Kairos” time.  In fact, we have for a while.  But the train feels like it’s bearing down on us, doesn’t it?  Virus variants, shots that just “sort of” work and then lose efficacy, leaders that flounder, food shortages worldwide getting more and more severe, and the whole house of cards funded by printing presses alone, well, you can add your own details. This topsy-turvey world is spinning of our control.  Critical time, indeed!    

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          I’m just like all of you.  I don’t enjoy wearing out my adrenal glands with constant rushes of adrenaline (the fear and flight hormone).  It’s physically and emotionally exhausting.  I just want to preach and teach God’s Word and “pass my time in rest and quietness” as the old prayer says.  But, I don’t control Kairos times, God does. 

          “Be very careful, then, now you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine (or anything else to dull your senses), which leads to debauchery.”

          Is this occurring?  I recently saw a news blurb that liquor sales are at an all-time high!  Are we surprised?  Likewise,  those little booze “nips” are getting hard to find in  places.  I would agree since I find them along the lawn on Rt. 62 each week!  People are looking for escapism.  They are all trying in various ways to run away from their troubles.  It’s sad and it’s scary.  It’s also unwise, akin to running the crossing gates thinking that somehow you’ll beat the train. 

II

          None of us can escape life.  None of us can run away and hide from worldwide troubles. Just like none of us can run away from the sin we bring into our lives and God’s judgment upon it.  So, what CAN we do?  “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

          I was pretty little when I first heard this passage read at church.  My initial response was: that sounds kind of boring.  Quote Psalms?  Speak hymn verses?  Quote passages to others?  What about the rest of life?  Doesn’t any of that matter?  Actually, most human speech doesn’t matter, really matter, when you’re facing a Kairos time.  Only God’s truth, God’s wisdom, matters because it feeds the inner soul and is life sustaining.  The real Bread and Water of life is Christ and His Gospel message.  It is knowing those words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  It is knowing in your inner depths that: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”  It is the truth of the cross and the resurrection.  It is also knowing, because of all this, that when Jesus said: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” He was especially thinking of such Kairos times. 

          Complaining and living in fear doesn’t uplift and doesn’t make anything better.  But seeing even small blessings and giving thanks to God for them does.  The Venerable Bede was a monk in Jarrow, England who lived around 700 A.D.  When he was young they had a nasty plague that killed everyone there except he and the abbot.  I think of him having to help bury 100’s of bodies.  That was his Kairos time.  And yet he kept his faith fixed on Christ.  Our Lord got him through it all, too.  And he went on to an illustrious life and penned that famous hymn: “A Hymn of Glory, Let Us Sing, new songs throughout the world shall ring.”  Yes, Jesus will never let us down.  And He won’t let us down either…. Amen

THE peace of God which…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox