Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 1, 2014

Sermon on Romans 8:1-4

FREE AT LAST!

Text: Romans 8:1-4

Service Video (sermon starts at 34:40)

Introduction

“Free at Last!” When you hear that phrase, what comes to mind? If you are at all in tune with American history, the phrase “Free at last!” brings to mind the conclusion of the famous “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. If you are in tune with the African-American music tradition, you know that “Free at Last” is an old spiritual. If you enter “free at last” in a web search engine, you will see that phrase used to promote an addiction treatment support group, to describe a particular political action committee, and to advertise a bail bonds company.

“Free at Last” could just as easily be the theme of the opening verses in today’s Second Lesson. In that reading from Romans chapter eight, the apostle Paul gives a spiritual “Free at Last” speech. But it’s kind of an ironic “Free at Last” speech, because these words follow a chapter where Paul sounds like he is anything but spiritually free. Romans chapter seven could be called the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” chapter of the Bible, because Paul laments the ongoing spiritual struggle inside him between his old sinful nature and his new Christian nature. Just a couple of verses before the start of today’s Second Lesson, at the end of that “Jekyll and Hyde” chapter, Paul wrote, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” So how can Paul go from that to a spiritual “Free at Last” speech in just two verses?

That question isn’t just a theology question. It is a very real and practical question. Is there anyone here who has never struggled with guilt? Aren’t Lutherans supposed to be the ones all about grace and forgiveness and salvation! Then why should the power of sin and the pangs of guilt still plague my heart? Perhaps that is why Paul’s “Free at Last” speech deserves our attention—if for no other reason than that we ought to understand how Paul could make such a bold claim about his spiritual freedom when earlier, in the same breath, he acknowledged his ongoing struggles with sin.

Exposition

Today’s Second Lesson begins: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Let me get this straight. Two verses earlier, Paul called himself “a wretched man.” Now he boldly and emphatically says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The word “condemnation” focuses on the punishment that comes from a verdict or judgment. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, Paul says there is no future punishment coming because of the guilty verdict we deserve for our sin. That’s great, but doesn’t that contract Paul’s own words two chapters earlier when he said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a)? How can Paul say that, and then say two chapters later that there is no condemnation? How can we talk about grace and love and forgiveness when my life’s story and your life’s story are not very worthy of grace and love and forgiveness from God?  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 20, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 27:25

“LET HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN”

Lent Sermon Series: Sermons Preached by Jesus’ Enemies

Text: Matthew 27:25

Introduction

Tuesday, February 24, 2004: the day before Ash Wednesday, ten years ago. My church office phone rings. It’s a reporter for the local paper where we used to live, the San Mateo County Times. The reporter wants to ask some questions about the movie that is scheduled to be released the next day, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. A few questions into the phone interview came the predictable question: “What do you think about the controversy surrounding the movie?” I played dumb. “Controversy? What controversy?” “You know, the controversy from the fact that some say the movie is anti-Semitic.” The claim that The Passion of the Christ spoke negatively about Jews came from the statement blurted out by the Jewish crowd in the verse that forms the springboard for tonight’s “sermon” preached by Jesus’ enemies—“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” It’s kind of strange that this verse, which was omitted in the final cut of the movie, was viewed as anti-Semitic. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, is painted in a pretty bad light by the Gospels and yet no one claims that the Bible or the movie is anti-Italian! But somehow The Passion of the Christ was deemed controversial even after editing out this statement from the crowd: “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Controversy

There is controversy in this account, but it is not anti-Semitism. The controversy is the trial and the verdict of Jesus. The verses prior to tonight’s verse reveal the real controversy, at least as far as proper justice is concerned. Pontius Pilate knows that the Jewish religious leaders have handed Jesus over to him for the death penalty without just cause; the only cause was their intense envy and hatred for the Messiah that their people had waited for over many centuries but they failed to recognize before their eyes. Pilate tries to devise a way to free Jesus, reverting to a custom he had of releasing one prisoner back into the population, and giving them two choices: the innocent Jesus, or the known and notorious Barabbus. Surely this would bring the crowd to its senses! As Pilate concocts this plan, a message comes from his wife: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” When the crowd rejects Pilate’s plan, he asks them point blank, “What crime has he committed?” Everything is screaming toward Jesus’ innocence, but the crowd before his palace shouts, “Crucify him!” And there is the real controversy.

Pilate knew he had an innocent man before him. More than once he used the brutal force of his position and the military forces at his disposal to put people in their place. But now he had a riot on his doorstep. Caesar back in Rome would not look too favorably on him if this crowd got out of control. Well-known Anglican theologian N.T. Wright wrote in his popular commentary on these verses, “Pilate commanded troops. He had sent them to quell riots before and could do so again. He didn’t have to be pushed around. But, like all bullies, he was also a coward. He lurches from trying to play the high and mighty judge to listening a little too much to the growing noise of the crowd.”

And what did the growing noise of the crowd shout out when Pilate literally and figuratively washed his hands of responsibility? “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ [Pilate] said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’” How ironic that at the start of the Passion History, the Jewish religious leaders made their plans to arrest Jesus, but with a caveat: “But not during the Feast…or there may be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:5). And now, in the midst of the Passover celebration, the Jewish religious leaders work up a rioting crowd before Pilate that blurts out in utter shamelessness, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 10, 2014

Sermon on Romans 5:12-17

THE TWO MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE

  1. Adam condemned us
  2. Jesus acquitted us

Text: Romans 5:12-17

Service video (sermon starts at 29:25)

Introduction

Christian WorshipWho has been a major influence in your life? Who has influenced you in a way that has helped to shape you into the person you are today? Lately I have been thinking a lot about the influence of one particular pastor in my life. Choir members and participants in my Bible class have heard me mention the name Kurt Eggert quite a bit. Pastor Eggert was the project director for Christian Worship, the hymnal that sits before you in the church pews. As a senior in high school, I called up Pastor Eggert to audition to sing in the Lutheran Chorale of Milwaukee, a choir that he founded, made up of WELS members in the Milwaukee area. I got to sing under his direction for the last of the 36 years he directed the choir. As a 17-year-old I was exposed to music by great composers like Bach and Handel and Mendelsohn—not just listening to it, but drilling it for hours and hours and then singing it in live concerts. Two months after the final concert he directed, the Lord called the 70-year-old Kurt Eggert home to heaven. The Lutheran Chorale sang for his funeral service. I’ll never forget that day. It seemed like the entire Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod was there. I’ll never forget the sight of important pastors and synod officials crying at his graveside committal service. That event made me realize what a great privilege I had to sing for him during that previous year. At some point during my college years, thinking back on that experience, I thought to myself that if I ever have a son, I’m going to name him after Kurt Eggert. Twenty years after that experience, and after meeting my wife in the same choir that Pastor Eggert founded, I now have a son named after him. And I’ve been thinking about him a lot more lately now that I’m serving on one of the committees that is producing the next WELS hymnal, scheduled for publication in a decade from now. The rites committee met for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and the name of Kurt Eggert and his insights came up quite a bit during that meeting. So if you asked me right now, even though I only had one year of interaction with him and I was only a teenager at the time, I’d say that Kurt Eggert has been a major influence to me.

Who would you put at the top of your list of people who have influenced you? Your mother or father? A former pastor or teacher? A close neighbor or trusted friend? Most of us wouldn’t have too much difficultly coming up with a list of people who have influenced us. But our lists could also easily miss a few names. Typically we think of people we know directly as the ones who have influenced us the most. But sometimes there are people we never meet in person who influence us in significant ways.

This morning I would like to suggest that the two most influential people in your life are people that you have never personally met, even though you are acquainted with both of them fairly well. The two most influential people in your life are Adam, the first person to ever live, and Jesus, the first sinless person to ever live. Today’s Second Lesson from Romans 5:12-19 bring together the other two readings for today’s service (Genesis 3:1-15; Matthew 4:1-11), readings that reveal Adam’s first sin and Jesus’ perfect holiness. We’re going to study St. Paul’s words in today’s Second Lesson and realize how true it is that Adam and Jesus are the two most influential people in our lives.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 16, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 5:27-32

IF YOU THINK OF SIN BUT LIGHTLY…

  1. Realize the damage it can do to you
  2. Realize the damage it can do to others

 Text: Matthew 5:27-32

Service Video (sermon starts at 38:15)

Introduction

I realize that we are in the middle of Epiphany, but I spent a good chunk of last week making sure the season of Lent is ready to go here at St. Mark’s, so my mind is in “Lent planning mode.” Even with the extra services we offer during Lent, it seems like there are never enough services to get in all the good hymns for Lent. One of the hymns we’ll sing during one of the Wednesday night services this year is, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” (Christian Worship #127). Like many Lent hymns, that hymn pictures the agony and suffering Jesus endured for us as he died for our sins on the cross. One of the stanzas begins, “If you think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here you see its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.” To put that in plain English: If you think sin is no big deal—if you think of sin but lightly—then look at the hellish suffering Jesus endured to remove sin’s guilt from you; see how much your sin cost him!

That line came to mind as I prepared today’s sermon. Maybe that line came to mind because I was also in Lent planning mode, but in the Gospel for today, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we have a very hard-hitting, soul-searching section that is bound to make you shift and squirm in your seat. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us a very sober and serious examination of what sin does to a person’s heart and life. If you think of sin but lightly, Jesus warns us, then realize the damage it can do to you, and realize the damage it can do to others.

I.

New Testament Illustrations 022This is the second of three Sundays in a row where the Gospel comes from Matthew chapter five and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus has a certain pattern he uses in this chapter as he moves from one matter to the next. Each section begins, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” Jesus first quotes the Old Testament or the rabbis’ interpretation of the Old Testament, but then he goes on to explain the full force of the Old Testament’s laws and commands which the religious teachers of his day missed so often.

At the start of the section we are considering today, Jesus shows the full extent of what God intends with the Sixth Commandment. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Someone putting their own spin on the Sixth Commandment might assume that he has obeyed it because he hasn’t had an affair. But Jesus teaches that the sins against this commandment are not just the outward actions but even the inward thoughts of the heart. With Jesus’ authoritative teaching, who would dare to suggest that he has actually kept this commandment? Jesus treats lustful thoughts as actual sin, not just some possible evil. Sins of the heart are just as much “sin” as sins in words or actions.

And yet even God’s people are prone to treat sin lightly. And so Jesus goes on to explain the great lengths one should undergo to avoid sin’s deadly destructiveness. “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. He’s overstating his case to make a point. Gouging out eyes and chopping of limbs is not his goal. His goal is to get us to understand that anything and everything that leads us into sin must be removed from our lives!  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 30, 2013

Sermon on Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

CAN ANYTHING TAKE AWAY CHRISTMAS?

 Text: Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

 Introduction

On Christmas Eve, you experienced the joy of opening up gifts. But a few days later, the joy is gone because the family is back to bickering as usual. On Christmas Day, you experienced the warmth of gathering with extended family or friends for Christmas dinner. But a few days later, the warmth is gone in a house that seems cold and empty because a loved one is no longer with you. On Christmas Eve and Day, you experienced the thrill of worship with beautiful music in a beautifully decorated building celebrating the beautiful Christmas gospel message. But a few days later, the thrill is gone because the bills still show up in the mail, the paychecks are still too thin, or the job search has gone on too long. The Christmas season is supposed to last twelve days starting on Christmas Day, but we don’t have to get very far into those twelve days before it seems like Christmas has been taken away from us.

I am not going to pretend that everyone’s holiday celebration automatically dampens on December 26, but I also cannot pretend that a good majority of the people gathered in God’s house aren’t facing their own sets of crosses and problems, and that the concerts and pageants and family gatherings of Christmas are only temporary distraction from the realities of life. And I also cannot pretend that there isn’t a part of us that feels like Christmas is taken away from us far too soon after the celebrations are ended and the regular routine revs up again.

I.

So what is it that leads to this all-too-common problem? What causes Christmas to seem like it’s being taken from us, and where is the cure? The Gospel for today will help us get to the heart of this matter. In Matthew chapter two, we see an individual who literally, actually tried to take away Christmas!

Contrary to common assumptions, the Wise Men who came to visit Jesus did not come on the heels of the shepherd’s exit on Christmas night. They likely came several months later, perhaps even a year and several months later. Jesus is called a “child” here rather than the Greek word for “infant,” and based on King Herod’s murderous actions in the verses omitted from our reading, Jesus might have been close to two years old.

The opening verse of our Gospel introduces us to King Herod’s attempt to literally take away Christmas. “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’” Herod the Great was appointed King over Judea by the Romans in 40 B.C., and he was still ruling at the time of Jesus’ birth. He had a record of paranoia and ruthlessness, perhaps seen no more clearly than in this account. The Wise Men’s quest to find the King of the Jews led Herod to fear a rival king since he really had no clue about the King of Kings who had come to win the world’s salvation and establish an eternal, spiritual kingdom.

Have you ever traveled with an infant or a toddler on an airplane? After three children, I think the Strey family has this down to a science a lot more than we used to, but it is no easy task—and I would argue that it’s much harder to travel with a toddler than an infant. And we’re only talking about a plane ride of a few hours. Now put yourself in Joseph’s sandals and in Joseph’s era. In the middle of the night he receives this warning from the Lord’s angel. And what does he do? “He got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 24, 2013

Ideas for St. Michael and All Angels

This Sunday is September 29. Church calendars set aside September 29 as a minor festival commemorating St. Michael and All Angels. Since this date occurs on a Sunday this year, congregations may consider setting aside the usual focus for the day and replacing it with this festival in the church calendar. If that’s your plan, here are a few ideas.

First, here is a little background on the origins of the day:

Feasts in honor of angels developed particularly  in the East. After the time of Constantine many churches were dedicated in honor of Michael, the only archangel named in Scripture (Daniel and Revelation). Gabriel is the only other angel mentioned by name in Scripture. … September 29 was the date of the dedication, in the fifth century, of a small basilica on the Via Salaria, six miles from Rome, the first church in Italy dedicated in honor of Michael.

The feast which commemorates this event, and in which the church eventually regarded Michael as representative of all angels, gradually spread throughout the West. The Council of Mainz introduced it in A.D. 813, and the popularity of the “warrior saint” in Teutonic lands is shown by the large number of churches which bear his name. King Ethelred established the feast in England in A.D. 1019. The term “all angels” is an Anglican addition at the time of the Reformation (Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, revised edition, p. 566).

The resources that support Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal appoint the following readings for the day: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 10:17-20Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 13, 2013

Sermon on Philippians 3:4-11

CONSIDER THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

  1. Cut your losses
  2. Count your blessings

 Text: Philippians 3:4(b)-11

Service Video (sermon starts at 34:40) 

Introduction

Rick Henderson couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t take it anymore than prominent Christian preachers in America, whose smiling faces appear on televisions in millions of American homes each week, preach a gospel that is not the Bible’s gospel. He couldn’t take it anymore, so Pastor Rick Henderson called out some of these preachers by name from his pulpit in a sermon last month at South Mountain Community Church in Draper, Utah. And he wrote a blog post about it—a post that, just over a month later, has generated well over one thousand comments and who knows how many hits.

His point is one that is shared by devout, traditional, Bible-believing Christians across denominational lines. Jesus never said that the Christian faith makes your life better; in fact, he said just the opposite. Didn’t Jesus shock you in today’s Gospel (Luke 14:25-33)? Didn’t he offend the sinful nature inside you when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27)? Jesus’ hyperbole is clear. He does not command us to literally hate the people that Scripture calls us to love. But he does call us to get anything and everything out of the way that would keep us away from him, even if that means disappointing or even disassociating with those we love when they would keep us from loving Jesus with our whole heart. That’s not your best life now! That’s a life of potential persecution and family fighting starting the second after the baptismal waters first touch your forehead!

Jesus urges his followers to consider the cost of discipleship. The apostle Paul urges us to consider the same in the Second Lesson for today. In that account, Paul urges us to consider the cost of discipleship by way of his own personal example. In our day and age, this is a lesson that we all would do well to learn. Consider the cost of discipleship! The cost of being Jesus’ disciple means that you need to learn to cut your losses and count your blessings.

I.

Our sermon today comes from Paul’s joy-filled letter to the Philippians, written while he was under house arrest in Rome. Our section for today comes in chapter three of this four-chapter book. At the start of chapter three, Paul warns his readers to watch out for false teachers who promote the idea that believing in Jesus was not enough to make a person right with God. A prominent false teaching in early Christianity came from some Jews who had converted to Christianity but then said that a person still had to follow certain Old Testament laws and customs in order to be on God’s good side. These false teachers are sometimes called “Judaizers” today, because they attempted to import Old Testament Jewish ideas into the New Testament Christian faith. The Old Testament laws and customs God gave the ancient Jews were meant to direct Old Testament-era believers forward in time when the promised Savior would come. But those Old Testament laws and customs had no practical use pointing people forward in time when the Savior had already come in the past. Insisting that a person got right with God by following these customs placed their focus away from Christ and onto themselves.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 26, 2013

Sermon on Romans 9:1-9

ENTER THROUGH THE NARROW DOOR!

  1. Don’t neglect the unique blessings God gives you
  2. Don’t forget the unique promise that saves you

Based on Romans 9:1-9

Service Video (sermon starts at 38:20)

Introduction

I’m sure that many of you have had this conversation before with various people in your life. I’ve had this conversation many times before. The most recent time was just last week. As the topic of discussion turns to spiritual matters and eternal life and how you get to heaven, someone says, “I haven’t been that bad. There are lots of people worse than me. Of course God will let me into heaven!” Is that common view? Yes. Does that seem reasonable? Yes. Is that what God’s Word teaches? Not by a long shot!

In Jesus’ day, many people also had misconceived notions about how they got right with God. This was the case with many people who were a part of the same nation Jesus was a part of. God had chosen one particular nation, Israel, to be his chosen people, because through them the Savior of the world was going to come. But many people in God’s chosen ancient nation thought that since they had the special privilege of being the nation that the Savior came through, they were right with God based on that special privilege alone. Was that a common view among them? Probably. Does that seem reasonable? Yes, given the fact that God really did choose Israel for that special privilege. But was that perspective correct? Not by a long shot.

In the Gospel for today’s service (Luke 13:22-30), Jesus warned his listeners that they should not presume that their assumptions about how to enter heaven were correct. The invitation to be a part of God’s family was bigger than they assumed it was: It is meant for all people! And the criterion for acceptance into God’s family was different than they assumed it was: It had nothing to do with one’s DNA, and everything to do with faith in God’s promises. So Jesus warned his audience not to assume that they could casually coast into heaven by virtue of their ethnicity. He warned them that, in that sense, the door to heaven was narrow, receiving only those whose trust was placed in the promise of forgiveness directly attached to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In today’s Second Lesson (Romans 9:1-9), the apostle Paul makes a very similar point. And far from this being some hypothetical, theoretical discussion that only applied to first century Christians, there are some pivotal and practical lessons for us to learn from this discussion. In his own way, Paul warns us, as Jesus did, “Enter through the narrow door!” And if we wish to enter through the narrow door to heaven, Paul warns you: Don’t neglect the unique blessings God gives you, and do not neglect the unique promise from God that saves you.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 17, 2013

Lambeau Field and Liturgical Rites

It’s time for football. The second Packers preseason game is tonight. Time for a comparison post that would only come from yours truly. Expect nothing less from a proud Packers shareholder!

A couple of years ago, a line from an article by Vic Ketchman on the Packers website caught my attention, at least enough to save it for a future blog post.  Ketchman wrote:

I like sitting in the Lambeau Field press box in pregame, looking out over the top of the stadium and watching the smoke rise from the tailgate fires. I like the idea that the way it is now is the way it was a long time ago, just a whole lot of football fans going to a football stadium to watch a football game.

Earlier in the article, he also observed:

Packers players enter the playing field at Lambeau by passing through a tunnel and over bricks on which Lombardi, Starr and company walked. …

When visitors to Lambeau Field ask, “Which end zone is it?” they are inquiring as to which end zone Bart Starr scored the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl.” …

Lambeau Field … reveres its history and its traditions. Major renovations have not compromised Lambeau a bit. Lombardi still lives there and you feel his presence.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 12, 2013

WELS Hymnal Project Launched

WELS Hymnal Project LogoSometimes it seems that everyone still calls Christian Worship the “new” hymnal. But at age 20, and with a five-year-old supplement that bears the family name, it’s not new anymore. Regardless, the “new hymnal” just took one more step toward becoming the “old hymnal” (a name once reserved solely for The Lutheran Hymnal). The WELS hymnal project has been launched, with a planned publication date of 2024, marking the 500th anniversary of the first Lutheran hymnal published.

The WELS Conference of Presidents extended a call to Pastor Michael Schultz to be the project director for the next WELS hymnal. Pastor Schultz brings a wealth of knowledge and talent to this project. He has made fresh translations of German Lutheran hymns into modern English, authored brand new hymn texts, composed new musical settings of liturgical rites, served as the hymns committee chairman for Christian Worship: Supplement, and prepared the guitar edition of the supplement. He is a member of the WELS Commission on Worship and is one of the presenters for the WELS School of Worship Enrichment. The talents that God has given Pastor Schultz make him the right man for this important project. You can read his introduction to our synod’s hymnal project on the director page of the project’s website, and you can peruse (and, if desired, purchase) some of his previous work at www.ForTheDirectorOfMusic.comRead More…

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