February 7, 2021: Epiphany 5

Let us pray: Dear Savior, in this time  of virus and disease, send forth Your Spirit with His healing power!  And after making us well again, endow us with a spirit of thanksgiving and a will to show it by “helping and befriending our neighbor in every bodily need.”  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE KIND HEALER OF BODY AND SOUL!

TEXT:  Mark 1: 29-34

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

          The Apostle’s families aren’t mentioned much in the Bible.  We know, however, that their families were active and supportive in their ministry of following Christ.  Mary’s extended family, at least one sister and cousins, were followers and doers of the Word.  James and John’s father, Zebedee, provided the family home in Jerusalem with its “upper room” for various gatherings.  And here we run across St. Peter’s mother-in-law.  So, yes, Peter was married!  No mention of children, but it stands to reason they had one or more.  That’s why he went back to fishing on occasion.  He had to support them.

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          At this time they are all staying in Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee.  “As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her.”  This apparently was not a low-grade fever with a headache.  Fevers are a spike in body temperature caused by a variety of things.  If they go too high delirium and even death can result.  For it to be mentioned here tells me it was serious.  It also indicates how close these families were to our Savior. 

          “So Jesus went to her, took her hand and helped her up.  The fever left her and she began  to wait on them.”  No words of healing are recorded, only our Savior’s loving touch.  Kind of like that woman who touched His cloak later on and power flowed from Christ.   The human body is all electrical.  Each cell is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.  Each atom of you is held together and works together via these electrical interactions.  Your brain is one big electrical system.  So is your heart.  When one is off, everything else is slightly disjointed.  A big fever means greatly out-of-sync.  This is also why the human touch is so wonderful.  Each time you touch another there’s an electrical interaction. Think of a mother touching a child to comfort it when sick.   As true Man Christ possessed all this.  As true God He possessed it in exponential form.  And because He willed this woman to be healed, rather instantaneously, the miracle occurred. 

          “And then she got up and waited  on them.”  She reminds me of Martha who showed her love for her Lord by being an active doer.  We’ve all known such kind, big-hearted, folks.  But here she had an added impetus.  Bringing food and helping out was her way of saying: Thank You, Lord!  This was her active response to faith.  A response to the power of Christ’s love. And note well that she wasn’t reticent about showing it.  For her it was a joy and not a burden.   Would that we all did the same!

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          This little section is easy to skip right over.  But it has an important lesson to teach.  It focuses us on Christ’s concern for human needs and human pain.  It’s not as stupendous as the feeding of the 5000 or as raising Jairus’ daughter.  It’s not done before great crowds of people.  No, it’s done quietly and without great fanfare.  It’s intimate, isn’t it?  So it is with Christ’s modern-day healing among His followers.  Perhaps one of the greatest gifts He gives is fellow believers holding hands (touching) while they quietly pray together.  Believers coming together to pray, encourage, and build-up each other with God’s power is a gift worth sharing and showing every day. And once God’s goodness (healing) took over for her, everyone else benefitted and Christ’s name was hallowed all the more. 

          This intimate miracle wrought some amazing results.  Word spread.  People came to see Jesus and brought others to be helped.  Even demon-possessed souls were freed.  Yes, from one little miracle (as if any are “little”)  great things resulted. 

          You and I have been on Christ’s receiving end of love and compassion more times than we can recount.  So don’t take any  such assistance for granted.  Use every one of them to point others to Jesus—just like what happened here.  And never, ever, forget that in getting involved with other hurting souls, well, in Jesus’ own words: “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do unto Me.”  Amen

THE peace of God…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

January 31, 2021: Epiphany 4

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as the Son of God You are overlord of all things—seen and unseen.  All the chaos that surrounds us in this world is subject to Your holy will.  So today we ask You to continue to exercise Your good and gracious will toward us and protect us and to defend  Your Church, each of us, from any inroads of it in our lives.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF ALL, WHO LOVES EACH OF YOU!

TEXT:  Mark 1: 21-28

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          To see the relevance of our lesson to today, let’s set the stage.  Tiberius was the Roman emperor and strains were beginning to show in his kingdom.  In Palestine the populace hated the Roman rule and their taxes.  The country’s religious/social leadership was divided between 2 groups that hated each other.  The Sadducees were predominate.  They were liberals who went along with Rome to line their pockets.  The Pharisees were the ultra conservatives who acted high, mighty, and were full of self-righteousness.  But they were rotten inside.  There were some fringe groups, too. The Zealots were “zealous” for God’s rule and even adopted political assassination to achieve a return to strict Mosaic ritual.   All in all, it was much like America today.

          I’ve had members who have asked about the open Satanic possession that seems pretty prevalent during Christ’s time.  Why was it so prevalent?  The answer is obvious: Satan didn’t want Christ on this earth.  He didn’t want Him to fulfill God’s promises of saving His people.  So, he sent various minions to oppose the Lord and sought to hinder His plans.  I know people who sense the same thing happening today in our country.  To quote one: “Evil seems to be swirling around in America more than in past years.”  I agree.  I’ve seen it played out and have had to deal directly with it.

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          Jesus has called the disciples and now His base of operations is in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.  One Sabbath Day “Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.”  What did He teach?  We know the answer; the same things He preached all throughout His ministry.—He taught sin and grace.  He addressed their need for the Messiah and how God was fulfilling those needs in and through Him.  He had already done some miracles, so they all knew that He was sent from God.  He spoke Godly truth which set their fearful hearts free.  “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority (from God), not as the (other) teachers  of the law.”  In other words, He was having an impact on their souls and leading them into Godly truth.

          Then comes the confrontation.  Satan and his fellow demons knew Christ was dangerous to their status quo hold over these weak sinners.  They didn’t like it.  Why not disrupt Him?  Why not challenge Him?  Why not spread more fear leading (hopefully) to chaos among any followers?  And what better place to do it than the local synagogue?  So, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—The Holy One of God!’” 

          All demons know exactly who Christ is—God’s Son, the Holy One, the Messiah.  And they all hate Him because they are evil and filled with evil—or opposition to God Almighty.  This challenge speaks to their haughty pride and also their stupidity.  Christ had thrown them out of heaven once and hurled them into hell, but pride corrupted their senses.  Demons never change and evil never goes away.  Note the demon’s use of the plural when referring to himself.  “What do you want of us…have you come to destroy us?”  They didn’t know fully God’s plan for saving us.  But they found out at the resurrection, didn’t they?  For by dying for us and rising from our graves to  life, well, Christ defanged them.  He trampled the fears of life, the fears of death, under His risen feet!

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          Jesus didn’t initiate this confrontation, but He did end it!  “Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”  Right here Jesus performs a miracle, in this case an exorcism.  “All power in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus.”  Demons cannot disrupt His work of saving souls.  So, He hurls him back to hell. No wonder the demon shrieked!  To put it another way: the Lamb of God showed His teeth and bit the wolf! 

          We’re told the people were amazed at all this and asked each other “What is this?  A new teaching—and with (obvious) authority?  He even gives orders to evil spirit and they obey him.”  And news about this confrontation spread quickly. 

          You and I are lambs, sheep of Christ’s flock.  He has given us His care and compassion and always will.  He binds up our wounded souls and heals us from the festering puss of sin.  He has put His Holy Spirit within us and made us lambs through faith.  We know all that so we don’t have to just wonder about what it all means, we have confidence over such eternal truth and power.  Likewise, armed with His word of truth we all possess the ability to bite back when demonic forces encroach our lives and try to attack us.  The Gospel is God’s “Sword of the Spirit” which is a flaming sword, a light saber, that destroys such evil and banishes it from our lives.  So use it in prayer and confession.

          This saber battle takes place all around us all the time.  It occurs at church whenever the Gospel is preached.  It occurs within society whenever Christians speak up and stand up for Jesus.  It occurred at your baptism when by the Spirit’s power you ‘renounced the devil in all his works and ways.’  And it even is directly wielded by you when you thrust temptation from your heart.  The cosmic battle between Good and evil  is swirling all around us.  As citizens of America none of us are immune.  The question is: Do you want to be a winner or a loser?  “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!”  Amen

THE peace of God which…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

January 24, 2021: Epiphany 3

Let us pray: Dear Lord, to keep us from all sorts of evil You have given us Your commandments, the Law, to regulate human behavior.  Today we ask You to give us an appreciation of all that Your Law does to prevent trouble in this world, and even more importantly, we thank You for the Gospel which prevents us from being crushed by it.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE FULFILLER OF THE LAW  AND THE GOSPEL

TEXT:  Luke 10:17: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          For the past few years there has been a rise in America of the anarchist movement.  These are people who reject and hate any form of law in society, except the law of anarchy.  They burn, riot, loot, reject private property  and generally are: a law unto themselves.  It reminds me of a recurrent phrase in the OT: “And every man did what was right in his own eyes.”  Increasingly such anarchy has reared its ugly head—whether it be the hard kind like riots in Seattle and Portland, or the soft kind such as idea censorship in social media.  Are we headed backward into a stone-age mentality of: Whoever has the biggest club gets their way?

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          God gave humans the 10 commandments to prevent anarchy and to lead us towards unity and peace—with Him and each  other.  He first wrote His “rights and wrongs” on everyone’s heart and gave them a basic natural knowledge of God and His will.  Then, because humans hardened their hearts against Him and obscured His Laws, He gave them to Moses in the 10 commandments, etched in stone. Alas, today humans have defaced that stone and anarchy results. 

          I like the old hymn verse: “The Law of God is good and wise.”  Indeed it is!  Think of a society where God’s laws are forgotten or viewed as valueless?  If people are answerable to no one, they are their own gods.  Guilt and shame will never constrain their actions.  Fear of retribution and even death will not curb their selfish appetites.  Likewise, if people never value anyone else’s life or physical well-being, we’re never safe.  If people don’t respect marriage, sex becomes all about power over another.  If private property isn’t respected, violence becomes the status quo.  Well, I could go on but you get the drift.  All of God’s commandments are vital to keep sin in check and to provide for a peaceable life.  This is Godly wisdom.  God knows all about sin and evil.  Anarchy is neither good and always evil.  God’s Law is the antidote to it.

          The problem is: America and the rest of the world has chosen to ignore God, belittle His truths as “quaint” or racist or sexist or politically incorrect.  We humans know what’s best for us—more than our Creator.  It has always been so, but there have been times when social consensus curbed outward displays of anarchy even though everyone still harbored such ideas inwardly.  That is where we are at, once again, today.

          Can you imagine a world in which people actually took God seriously?  Violence and bloodshed would be rare instead of common.  Rape, promiscuity, and sexual perversion would be scorned by the masses.  Stealing and open greed would be looked down upon.  And outward peace and harmony would at least seem to be prevalent.  Respect and acting respectful towards others would be celebrated.  And people would be thankful to their Creator and show it, instead of being selfishly dissatisfied. 

          The Law serves as a mirror to show us how disfigured we are because of sin.  It serves as a curb to keep people within boundaries which don’t hurt and destroy and dishonor God and our fellow humans.  And for the Christian alone it serves as a Godly guide to show us how to live peaceable and productive lives under His blessings.  And, and only Christians can reap that result.  Why?

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          All human history teaches that people, societies and governments spiral downward on their own.  That’s because all people are sinners who  can never fully obey and follow God’s Law.  However, Jesus Christ, God’s Son came into the world to do it for us.  Man is not the fulfillment of the Law, but Christ is!  He came to earth as both God and man joined completely in that one body.  He knew every aspect—both sins of commission and sins by omission—of God’s eternal truth.  After all, He wrote it!  And so every commandment He kept completely in thought, word and action.  He achieved such perfection because He is perfect God!  He never lied, cheated, stole anything, failed to respect anyone’s being, never hurt or harmed another, and always gave thanks to His heavenly Father in every circumstance.  He did this in our place.  And through His gift of faith bestowed upon us, His perfection to the Law becomes our perfection!

          Likewise, Christ alone, Who had no sin—ever—died for us to pay the penalty for breaking God’s Law.  That occurred on the cross.  “He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us.”  The “wages of sin is death.”  Christ died for you and me and thus paid those wages in our place.  That’s why as Isaiah says: “By His wounds you have been healed.”  And even more, Jesus arose from the grave, visibly and bodily to give us complete assurance that “because He lives, we shall live also” forever with Him in heaven!

          Only the believers in Christ thus can follow and live in this third use of the Law.  Only we can reap the benefits and blessings of appreciating the commandments as a blessed way to live without having lives ridden by guilt, second-guessing and regret.   We know we’re forgiven and that warm embrace from God fills us with newfound hope and resolve. 

          If you worry about the news today and seem bewildered by the evil that is so rampant, go back to the basics: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and then love your neighbor as yourself.”  For then, instead  of living in anarchy, you will be able to bask in the warm glow of God’s wisdom from   on high.”  Amen THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

January 17, 2021: Epiphany 2

Let us pray: Lord, in a world where very few speak the truth and even fewer do it in love, remind us today of the unfettered joy over harboring no false agendas or deceit as we converse.  That’s how You treat everyone, including us, as You lay out the way of salvation in the Bible.   May we do likewise as we spread Your  message of forgiveness and heaven. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST WHO CALLS US IN LOVE

TEXT:  John 1: 43-51

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          The next time an election cycle comes along and a pollster calls me to ask: “What candidate do you support?” I’m going to answer: Nathanael.   I can hear it now: “Who’s Nathanael?  He’s not on the list.” To which I’m going to reply: “He should be.  He was a disciple of Christ and the one of whom Jesus said: “Behold a man in whom there is nothing false.”  Nathanael didn’t have any hidden agendas.  He had no deceit behind his words.  He was the same in public as he was in private.  Today we need a man like that in office!

          For these reasons, Nathanael is my favorite disciple.  He simply spoke the truth of his   heart and as Paul later tells us to do, “He spoke the truth in love.”  Let’s face it, if we all adopted a similar approach we’d never have to cover up former lies, would we?  Christ, Who reads everyone’s heart with perfect clarity right here in our lesson, gives Nathanael the highest of compliments, doesn’t He?  So, Nathanael for President!?  It has a nice ring to my ears!…

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          Nathanael was also known as: Bartholomew.  We believe he came from Cana in Galilee,  a bit north of Nazareth which was Christ’s hometown.  We know that John the Baptist was preaching and Peter and his brother, Andrew, were early disciples of the baptizer.  They in turn had a friend named Philip, whom Jesus called.  “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’  ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.” 

          Right here we see the essential nature of mission work.  It is one-on-one dialogue between friends. Dialogue that centers on Jesus.  Nathanael shows the blunt truthfulness of his heart, here, too.  He knows of Nazareth.  He’s an area boy and apparently Nazareth was held in scorn by most.  He’s honest.  But he was also wrong and by  following Christ openly admitted it!  So, when Philip says: “Come and see” he does. 

          Jesus sees him approaching and even though He never met him, says of this erstwhile disciple: “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.”  High praise, from the One Who reads hearts!  “How do you know me?” Christ answers: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  Yes, Jesus is all-seeing across time and space.  Nathanael then openly declared what all this means: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

          He’s honest.  He arrives at the only conclusion possible when Christ says these words.  Only God’s Son can see and know everything—including his past under the fig tree.  Only God’s Son deserves the title Nathanael bestows on Him.  Only God’s Son is the Messiah, the King of God’s chosen people, Who came to take away the sins of the world.  Right here Bartholomew speaks the truth in love and respect and awe.  He’s totally honest.  The question for every Christian today is: When it comes to your confession, are you?

II

          Total truthfulness is rarely seen or heard in our world.  People tell half-truths to influence us and get their way.  That’s the way of Satan, isn’t it?  People tell us whatever it takes to bend us to their will.  Or, they tell outright lies to protect themselves out of selfish motives.  Most are afraid to the unvarnished truth—especially politicians.  And then people also  lie to themselves and tell themselves: “It’s for another’s good since they can’t handle the truth.”  Nathanael does none of this and neither does His Lord Jesus Christ.  Nathanael wasn’t perfect. He was a sinner, like us.  But his honest ignorance, shown by his statement about Nazareth, and then his free confession upon calm correction by Christ, shows his agenda-free heart.  Emulate Nathanael and you really cannot go wrong.

          Jesus concludes this interchange by saying: “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree.  You shall see greater things than that.” And then Jesus adds: “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of  God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”    And right after that in chapter 2, we find Christ doing His first miracle at the wedding in Cana—Nathanael’s hometown. Interesting, isn’t it?

          My mother drubbed into us that “Honesty is the best policy.”  And it’s true.  Nathanael was honest.—He didn’t know everything (ignorance over Jesus) but listened when politely corrected.  Jesus was honest with him, too.  And blessed promises of heaven and angels resulted.  Christianity is rooted in honesty.  Christ came exactly as prophesied, suffered for our sins of dishonesty and ignorance and false motives, and rose from the dead to give us a new life of total honesty before God.  So, our faith is and should be about pure honesty. 

          The one thing about deceit is that eventually you’re going to get caught out by the lying web you spin.  And then you’ll be crushed.  Not so for the believer!  Speak the truth in love and you’ll never have to second-guess yourself again. Whew!  What a relief!  Amen

THE peace of God which……

Pastor Thomas H. Fox