May 16, 2021: 6th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Lord, we all need to improve our practice of loving our neighbor.  Today remind and equip us to do so by guarding our tongues and speaking the truth in love.  They will benefit, we will benefit, and You will be honored.  Amen

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

Text: I John 4: 13-21, Eph. 4:15: “Speak the truth in love.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          The human brain is very complex.  Every part of it is interrelated.  And if one aspect of the brain is “off” the others will be, too.  O, the brain is very adaptable.  If one part is not firing at its optimum,  other portions will assume its role and take over so you can function.  It will “learn” its new role and develop “grooves” or patterns where the synapses fire and are received. But it’s not truly how God intended us to be.

          Such grooves can be learned by the brain and become ingrained.  That’s why when you develop bad habits, persistence is needed to break them.  One such groove involves what we would call: “sins of the tongue.”

I

          In our lesson, John states the profoundly obvious: “God is love.”  We Christians have God and His love placed into us by the Spirit the moment we come to faith, and/or are baptized.  He establishes that groove in our brains, or maybe I should say: “He reestablishes it” after it was short circuited by the fall into sin.  So, as believers we should “speak the truth in love” since our speech is controlled by our brain. 

          This isn’t easy.  Have you ever uttered words which you didn’t even know you knew during times of stress and anger?  Have you ever said things that came out all wrong?  Where was love at such moments?  You might have said hurtful things that hurt or even ruptured a relationship.  They might even have been true.  But they weren’t loving.  Ah, God’s newly  implanted groove of love was overridden by the old pattern of sin.  And it hurt everyone and dishonors God.  “Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.”  That’s how it should be, unless and until a brain groove reverts to our old ways.  John addresses this when he writes: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.”  

II

          One of the awful things that Covid has caused is the nasty, harsh speech it has awakened in people.  None of it has really been loving.  Speech meant to tear down instead of build up.  Speech that elevates our self-love and denigrates others.  Speech that fails to exhibit kindness.  Speech that as Dr. Luther states in his explanation of the 8th commandment fails to  “put the best construction on everything” that others say to us. 

          Why do we do that?  One answer is: old brain grooves, born of sin, seem to win out.   The new man brain grooves implanted by the Spirit are overridden.  I find it interesting that such speech and behavior always occurs when we’re under stress, or fear, or anxiety.  Note well that all those emotional states have sin and misbelief attached to them.  They all stem from a lack of personal control.  They all occur when we forget that God alone is in control.  It is He Who loves us.  “We love Him because He first loved us.”  And such love “will make us complete so that we will have confidence on the  day of judgement.” 

          The answer to good honest speech is faith in our loving Lord.  It is the conscious knowledge and trust in Christ Who showed that He first loved us by suffering and dying on a cross and then rising anew in our place.  By coming out of the grave He gave to us a new outlook on life.  A life of love.  And that love etched within us new grooves that truly honor others and that glorify God. 

          You and I cannot overcome or create new brain grooves on our own.  But, “with God all things are possible.”  He made it possible by “speaking to us the truth in love.”  So, consciously focus on His love and you’ll not only be at peace with Him, yourself, and others; you’ll also be and feel a lot healthier!  Amen

THE peace of God….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

May 13, 2021: Ascension

Let us pray: Dear Savior, tonight we join with saints and angels in celebrating Your ascension into glory!  What a privilege it was for the disciples to view the original Ascension and what a joy for us to remember that heady day and join in tonight.  May we always honor You for the same reason the heavenly hosts honored You on the first Ascension—Your victory over all our enemies and the joyous party that resulted.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR ASCENDED LORD JESUS!

TEXT:  Acts 1: 1-11

          When in the physical presence of Christ, when the disciples focused upon Jesus, they never feared.  They feared angels, hence those calming words repeated at various times by them of: “Fear not!”  Or, “Don’t be afraid.”  But when in Jesus’ direct presence when He  was the center of their attention, they never really exhibited fear.  O, I know you’re thinking about the storm on the lake when Christ was asleep in the boat, or when the soldiers captured Him in Gethsemane they then showed fear.  But that  was because their faith was focused away from Jesus—Who calmed those waves and willingly went off to suffer on the cross and then to rise in victory on Easter over fear.  Even after the resurrection we find them: “With the upper room door  locked for fear of the Jews.”  Yet the moment Jesus appeared among them, the moment He uttered: “Don’t be afraid”, the moment His loving presence revealed itself to them—fear went away.  How could it not?  This is why the writer of Hebrews later tells us to: “Fix our gaze on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Yes,  Christ’s calming love banishes fear—always.  In our  lesson we see that happening once again.

I

          St. Luke, the physician, the scientific man, wrote the Acts of the Apostles.  He was an eyewitness to the events that he describes here.  Over a period of 40 days after Easter, Christ had appeared among many  of His followers.  Luke says: “He gave many convincing proofs” that He was alive.  Jesus knew the weakness  of  our mortal flesh.  He knew how fear could quickly displace faith in us.  He also knew that as God’s Almighty Son, He could and would calm all human fears—including death.  For the Lord is risen!  He is risen, indeed! 

          So now, on the 40th day He leads them out of Jerusalem to the backside of the Mt. of Olives and after blessing them, leaves them a final time, ascending into heaven!  And just before doing so, promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter from on high.  He would pick up Christ’s work of calming human fear in Jesus’ absence.

          Why did Jesus have to leave?  Basically there are three reasons: 1. He went to prepare a place there for every believer. 2. He went to hear the prayers of all from that lofty perch so as to better answer them.  3. He went to literally serve as the Father’s “right hand” Man to protect and defend the Church from all evil, which births fear.  And yet, He still didn’t leave us adrift from His gracious presence.  For earlier He had promised them: “And lo, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  We judge reality according to our senses.  But Jesus is above and beyond our senses when fully arrayed in glorious majesty.  And it is now, so arrayed, that He goes home to do exactly that.  He leaves visibly in total peace.  He leaves with all things literally “under His feet” as He ascends, until “a cloud hid him from their sight.”

II

          In human terms, when the Boss Man leaves the room, or the party, we humans let down, deflate, and the excitement leaves the room.  You’d think that would have happened here—except for those 40 days of intense instruction which dissipated their fear.  We’re told: “suddenly two men dressed in white (angels) stood beside them. ‘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.’”  This is a promise of Christ’s visible return on the Last Day, and also served as a final angelic: “Fear not!” 

          Christ always displaces fear.  He brings calmness and peace.  He’s still with us in the forms of the Gospel He has left behind.  The forms through which the Comforter still operates: baptism, absolution, and the Holy Supper.  For therein He applies to our souls that singular balm of forgiveness for all sins.  So tonight we don’t mourn His absence, but join in the heavenly homecoming which continues unabated even now until He visually and physically joins us once again!  Amen  THE peace  of God…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

May 9, 2021: 5th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have shown and epitomize the definition of love.  As You exhort us to follow You, that means we need to show and epitomize that same kind of love, too.  Enable us to do so, not by our own feelings and ability, but by the power of the Gospel. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST WHO LOVES US WITHOUT RESERVATION!

Text:  John 15: 9-17

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Today is Mother’s Day.  So have you honored your mother today?  Have you remembered her sacrifices for you?  Mothers are special.  They have a unique bond with their children. After all, they carried you inside for 9 months, enduring your bouncing around while surrounded with amniotic fluid.  You felt their emotions and they experienced yours.  And one of those emotions was: love.

I

          One of my favorite passages is in our  lesson, John 15:16 where Christ says: “You did not choose me, I chose you.”  Why did He do so?  After all, we caused Him to die.  We caused Him to suffer for all our sins.   The answer as to why is: love.  Not merely emotional infatuation love but deep-seated self-giving love.  Unconditional love which existed before the world was born.    No son or daughter can ever hope to love their closest relative, their mother, as Christ describes here.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in  my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

          So, how good at doing this are you? Let’s give some modern day examples.   I know of a lady  whose son is getting married later this summer.  To attend she has been given certain criteria.  The chief one being: she has to get  the covid shot before doing so.  His mother has deep reservations about that shot and her son knows this.  Some might argue: if she loves him she should swallow hard and get the jab. But is that love?  Or is it coercion?  I also know a couple who is traveling across country to see a son, a daughter-n-law, and the grandchildren.  However, even though they test negative, they won’t be allowed in the house, or hug their grandchildren.  Tests, masks, or no masks—it doesn’t make a difference.  Let’s be honest: in that home fear has replaced love as the guiding principle.  I know these examples hit close to home.  I know you are probably thinking:  Yah, but…..However, my point is this: love is hard to practice and for humans it comes with a lot of qualifiers, doesn’t it?  And in the process, joy gets squashed many times over.  Where is forgiveness and compassion when it comes to such hard choices—on both sides? What would Jesus do? 

II

          For each person with one strongly held opinion, there is always someone who holds the opposite belief. And true love gets stomped on.   But isn’t it a wondrous thing that God’s love for us has no such qualifiers?  Listen again to Christ’s words spoken to the disciples who would soon all desert Him—and He knew it!  “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants,  because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, I have chosen you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name—This is my command: love each other.” 

          In view of the previous examples, this is a tall order!  Can any human love perfectly?  Do we even try?  You gave the answer earlier when you confessed your sins.  The answer is: no.  Perfect love is impossible to practice in an imperfect world.  But after the confession came the absolution, didn’t it?   That declaration of forgiveness from Christ is pure love.  “With God all things are possible.”  With Him “love conquers all.”  Again, not our love for Him, but His love for us. 

          So, how do we practice love towards others in this fear-driven world?  How do we keep this command?  By pleading His mercy.  By relying on His goodness and wisdom. And by holding sacred this truth: forgiveness is love in action.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

May 2, 2021: 4th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for extending Your love and salvation to all races and all peoples.  Thank You for sending the Spirit to engender faith into their hearts.  And when it comes to us, thank You for not playing favorites with anyone so that our salvation rests solely on Your undeserved love.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR ALL-LOVING LORD

Text:  Acts 8: 26-40

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Noah had 3 sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  The modern races all descend from them.  Shem’s people populated the Middle East. Ham’s progeny spread into Africa.  And Japheth’s descendants  settled throughout Europe.  Philip was of a Greek background, so he probably came from Japheth.  This Ethiopian official came from Ham.  Philip was white.  This other fellow was black.  Notice it didn’t matter to either one.  Under God’s grace all peoples become united in Christ. 

          Ethiopia is on the horn of Africa.  It is an ancient kingdom and became Christian 1000 years before when the queen of Sheba met Solomon in Jerusalem.  She took OT Christianity back with her.  Over the centuries the stories they possessed from the Bible became fragmented and people needed more clarity.  This secretary of queen Candace’s treasury journeyed to Judea to find out more.  That’s where he encountered Isaiah’s prophesy’s written 300 years after Solomon.  He’s riding in his chariot with a driver in attendance and reading from an Isaiah scroll which talks about “the Lamb of God who would die.”  We know that’s Christ.  Now, our lesson says that this fellow went to Jerusalem to worship.  He was a believer, but one who lacked some facts.  He wanted and needed more.  And God miraculously provided that “more.”

I

          God knows our wants and needs.  He cares for His children whether they are: black, white, red, brown, or yellow.  When it comes to salvation God is color blind. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  So, He sent an angel specifically to enlarge this fellow’s understanding and to strengthen him.  They meet on the coastal road.  The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  Philip obeyed and ran to the chariot and heard the fellow reading familiar words from Isaiah.  “Do you understand what you are reading.”  “How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’  So Philip obliged and off they trundled down the road.

          In the next couple of hours Philip told him about the birth of God’s Son, His ministry  of reconciliation between God and humans, and how Jesus died to take away the sins, the inner anguish, of the world.  He told him all about the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ. Obviously the man “got it.”  For when they went by some water the man asked to be baptized and Philip gladly did so.  Note well that one of the sacraments is used here to confirm this official’s faith and give him added comfort of knowing that God’s hands of love surrounded him.  So it is with us, too.  And then, in the blink of an eye, the Spirit caught-up Philip and whisked him off to Azotus where more work, eternal work, awaited.

II

          This is a lovely and uplifting story.  It shows us many things.  1. God doesn’t care at all about skin color.   “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  2. The Spirit knows exactly where we are and what’s bothering us at all times. 3. God uses other believers to fortify our faith, or to implant it in our hearts. 4. This always occurs through the power of Scripture.  “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” 5. The Gospel, in this case Isaiah, engenders faith.  “For it is the power of God unto salvation.” 6. Baptism is important because as Peter says: “Baptism now also saves us.” And 7.  Everyone can use a God-provided good teacher and each of us is such a teacher.   That’s why we all need to: ”Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

          Today in America racial divides are being promoted and used by many to drive people apart.  Note well that in Christ the only divide is sin.  And He has overcome it by dying to sin and for sin in order to make us alive unto righteousness!  This delightful story proves it!  Amen

THE peace of God….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox