Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | September 24, 2018

Sermon on Mark 9:33-37

JESUS TURNS SERVICE INTO GREATNESS

 Based on Mark 9:33-37

Introduction

Who is the GOAT? GOAT is an acronym for “Greatest of all time.” It’s a term that’s especially used in sports. Who is the GOAT of NFL quarterbacks? Joe Montana? Dan Marino? Tom Brady? Aaron Rodgers? But that GOAT question can easily be asked beyond sports. Who was the greatest musician of all time? Mozart? Beethoven? Brahms? Bach? Who was the greatest president of all time? Washington? Lincoln? FDR? Reagan? Someone else?

A different but related question would be, “How do you define greatness?” Do you define the greatest quarterback by the number of touchdown passes, Super Bowl victories, MVP awards, or passer rating? Is the establishment of a new nation, or the preservation of a union while overcoming slavery, or winning the Cold War the greatest accomplishment among U.S. presidents?

Who is the greatest Christian of all time? How do you answer that question? How do you define Christian greatness? Is it defined by years of service in the church, or the size of offerings in the church, or the number of people to whom a person witnesses his faith?

Our Lord Jesus chimes in on the matter of Christian “greatness” in the Gospel for today’s service. And as is so often the case, Jesus complete turns our ideas of greatness upside down. Jesus doesn’t define greatness by accomplishments, fame, or fortune. Jesus defines greatness by service. That’s what we’ll learn as we look at the Gospel for today from Mark chapter nine. Jesus turns service into greatness.  Read More…

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Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | September 10, 2018

Sermon on Acts 3:1-10

“WHAT I DO HAVE, I GIVE YOU”

  1. The world looks to the Church for something
  2. In Christ, we can give them far more than they expect

 Based on Acts 3:1-10

Introduction

Should a church offer something secular such as a soccer camp or a young mother’s club to connect to its community? You could probably generate a pretty lively discussion among a group of pastors if you asked that question. The whole matter of a church connecting to its community with a secular event raises some very practical thoughts:

  • On the one hand, what is the purpose of the church? Soccer won’t get you into heaven. While young mothers need socialization with other moms, the mothers’ club is not a ticket into paradise.
  • On the other hand, unbelievers have no reason to connect to a church. People who are by nature spiritually dead cannot by definition see their need for God. So if a church looks for unique ways to connect with people in their unique community, and then turns those connections into springboards for sharing the gospel, isn’t that a good thing?

In today’s Second Reading, the apostles Peter and John encounter a lame man placed at an entrance of the temple in Jerusalem. He was hoping for something from the apostles—not a sports camp or a social club for people with disabilities, but a literal donation. They didn’t ignore him, nor did they directly give him what he asked for. This beautiful, unique, miraculous story has a practical lesson for us when it comes to reaching out and meeting the needs of people all around us. Peter’s words sum it up nicely: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have, I give you.” And the incident that follows helps us understand that the people of our world will often look to the Church for something, but in Christ, we can give them something far more and far better than what they expect.

I.

When I served as a vicar (intern) in North Hollywood, California, we often had people coming to the door asking for money. Sometimes those people had a sincere and genuine need. We might go to the store with them and purchase their groceries, or we might provide them a meal. Sometimes people just wanted free money. The young man with the blaring portable radio who said he was hungry turned down my offer to make him a healthy lunch flat out because he said he hoped for money to buy something tastier. I told him: Sorry, no!

New Testament Illustrations 074The poor, lame man at the temple entrance was no farce. He had a genuine need. Luke tells us what happened when this man encountered the apostles: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.” Peter and John walked into the temple for the “evening sacrifice” that was offered daily at 3:00 p.m. This poor beggar encounters them and many others at the highest and most ornate entrance to the temple, which was appropriately called, “Beautiful.” His friends and family must have placed him here each day at this ideal location for seeking help from people who were coming to worship God and would likely be moved to help this lame man in his need.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | August 13, 2018

Sermon on John 6:24-35

EAT THE BREAD OF LIFE!

  1. This is food that won’t poison your soul
  2. This is the only food that will sustain your soul

Sermon based on John 6:24-35

Introduction

Just last month, Chiyo Miyako, the person who held the title, “oldest living person in the world,” died. She was born in 1901, lived her life in Japan, and died on July 22 at the age of 117. According to her family, she loved to eat sushi and eel (to which I respond, “Not a fan” and “Ewwww!”). The person who has since taken the title of world’s oldest person is also a woman from Japan. The world’s oldest man, Masazo Nonaka, also from Japan, recently celebrated his 113th birthday. He claims that the mineral-rich hot springs near his home and his love of sweets are what has kept him going well into his second century.

It’s probably not a coincidence that no one from Wisconsin has been able to claim to be the world’s oldest person. No one is likely to live an exceptionally long life subsisting on Wisconsin’s well-established “3B” diet of brats, burgers, and beer.

Americans generally seem to more health conscious now than a generation ago. But even the most health-conscious person, even the individual who strives to only the most nutritious foods, cannot live forever. There is not a single item you can buy at the grocery store or a single nutritional supplement you can purchase that will keep you alive forever—at least, not physically, in this world. But there is something that will cause you to live forever after this world. The special food Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel will keep you alive after this life and forever. In John chapter six, Jesus talks about a special kind of food, something you can’t pick up at Piggly Wiggly or Pick ‘n’ Save, but something that is guaranteed to make you live beyond this life. Let’s revisit Jesus’ words, where he encourages us to eat the “Bread of Life.” This special spiritual food from our Lord Jesus is the only food that won’t poison your souls, and it’s the only food that can sustain your soul.

I.

This Sunday’s Gospel account continues the sequence of events we have heard over the past several weeks. We have heard about Jesus miraculously feeding the crowd of five thousand, and how the crowds followed him after he and his disciples traveled by night across the Sea of Galilee. It’s now the next morning. The crowd has followed Jesus and his disciples to their destination with hopes of further interactions with this miracle-working prophet who was the Messiah their people had long awaited.

But why? Why were they so determined to follow Jesus? Quite honestly, they were following him for the wrong reasons. Listen to what happened after the crowd caught up with Jesus. “When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’”  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | August 6, 2018

Kettle Moraine Lutheran Adult Chorale

KML LogoThe Kettle Moraine Lutheran Adult Chorale is a choir of WELS and ELS church members who primarily belong to congregations in the federation that supports Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School (KMLHS) in Jackson, Wisconsin. I am excited to announce that I will be the new director of the KML Adult Chorale starting this fall.

The KML Adult Chorale was started by James Grasby in 1995. Grasby was a member of the faculty at KMLHS at the time, serving as the school’s primary choir director. The KML Adult Chorale sang for its first event, a midweek Advent song service at David’s Star Lutheran Church in Jackson, in 1995. The group continued to sing for services at congregations within the KML Federation, but eventually the choir began to offer its own concerts at KML Federation congregations, starting in 1998. In 2003, when Grabsy accepted a call to serve as principal at Lakeside Lutheran High School, the choir appointed Carl Nolte, music editor at Northwestern Publishing House in Milwaukee, to become its second director. Nolte directed the group for 15 successive years, announcing his retirement from the position following the spring 2018 concert.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | August 5, 2018

Sermon on 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18

LEARN FROM ONE WHO HAS RUN THE RACE

  1. There are difficult challenges along the way
  2. There is a glorious crown at the finish line

Introduction

Based on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” That Bible verse uses the picture of deep waters as a metaphor for the difficult times we face in life. The metaphor of waters as a symbol for difficulties was even more than a metaphor in today’s Gospel (Mark 6:45-56), when Jesus’ disciples found themselves on the choppy nighttime waters of the Sea of Galilee. But those metaphorical deep waters were also what Elisha faced in our First Reading (2 Kings 6:8-17) as the King of Aram tried to capture him, and what Paul faced in our Second Reading (2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18) as he knew his martyrdom was just around the corner.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the “deep waters” lessons that the apostle Paul teaches in our Second Reading. Paul used a different metaphor to talk about the challenges we face in this life. He compares his life and ministry to a grueling race like a marathon. We will use Paul’s words and images to explore the Holy Spirit’s comforting truths that will help us deal with the troubles and trials of life’s difficult marathon. Today we will learn from Paul, as one who has “run the race.” Paul’s words teach us that there are going to be difficult challenges along the way in this race called life, but that there is a glorious crown waiting for us at the finish line.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | May 14, 2018

Sermon on John 17:11b-19

JESUS IS “GONE,” BUT WE’RE NOT FORGOTTEN

  1. Jesus prays that we are protected from the world
  2. Jesus prays that we are sanctified in the world

Sermon based on John 17:11b-19

Introduction

She wondered how you were doing when you were ten years old and attended your first sleep over party at your best friend’s house. She hoped that you were having a good time at summer camp and that you wouldn’t be coming home early with an unexpected injury or because you were causing trouble. She was concerned about you as you departed for your week-long high school trip to a different part of the country, praying for your safety every night. She prayed even more for you as you drove off to attend college in another state. She cried bittersweet tears for you when you graduated, knowing that you were soon to find your own place and begin your career and life on your own. All these examples and many more could describe many mothers who have genuine love and concern for their children, especially when they were not physically with their children. We all know that just because we are away from mom does not mean that she has forgotten about us or is suddenly unconcerned about us. Mother’s Day makes us think about how much mom loves her children—both when they’re at home, and perhaps even more when her children are gone.

The phrase, “Gone, but not forgotten,” usually describes how we feel about a loved one who has passed away. But I suppose we could use that phrase in another sense to describe how a loving mother feels about her children: There comes a time when they are gone from her home and no longer under her care, but they are never forgotten from her heart.

“Gone, but not forgotten” could also describe Jesus’ thoughts in the Gospel for today. On Thursday night of Holy Week, Jesus spoke a prayer to his Father in heaven while he was with his disciples celebrating the Passover, prior to his betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. That prayer has been called Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” (That’s the reason we just sang the hymn, “Jesus, My Great High Priest”). Jesus’ prayer looks ahead in time after his Ascension when he would no longer be physically present with his disciples, and he prays to his Father for them with this post-Ascension time frame in mind. Today, on the Sunday after our celebration of Jesus’ Ascension, we take a look at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in this same time frame. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples then is one that is just as applicable and meaningful to his disciples today. In this prayer, we see that even though Jesus is gone from us physically, he has certainly not forgotten us! He prays that we are protected from the world, and he prays that we are sanctified as we live in the world.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | May 6, 2018

Sermon on John 15:12-15

NO GREATER LOVE

Sermon based on John 15:12-15

Introduction

Everything seemed fine at first. It was just another commercial flight traveling from point A to point B. But not everything stayed fine. The left engine blew. The debris broke open a window. The plane immediately dropped in altitude. The oxygen masks fell down. The passengers knew that something had gone horribly wrong, and many assumed that they were going to die in a tragic crash.

SWA1380Apr172018pic2Now that a few weeks have passed since that fateful Southwest Airlines flight 1380 took place on April 17, I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the news story and the reasonably happy ending of a reasonably safe landing. One of the passengers on that flight was WELS Pastor Timothy Bourman, who serves Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in New York City. Pastor Bourman was interviewed on CNN shortly after this incident. During the interview, he said that he quickly sent a text message to his daughters, thinking that the plane was going to crash and this might be the last message he could ever communicate to them. What did he choose to make his presumed last words? Afraid that they might become bitter toward God if they would have lost their parents, he texted them that he loved them, that they should never lose their faith in God, and that Jesus loves them.

I hope none of us is ever in that situation. I hope if one of you are in a similar situation, you experience the same happy ending that Pastor Bourman and his wife did. But if you are in that situation, what would your last-minute message be to your loved ones?

In the Gospel for today, Jesus was in his equivalent situation. Knowing that his crucifixion and death would occur within 24 hours, Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal with his disciples and gave them a lengthy last message recorded in John 13-17. Perhaps this seems like an odd Bible reading choice for the end of the Easter season, but if we read the entire section, we discover how well Jesus’ words fit into worship this time of year. This Thursday, we will celebrate Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, and in two weeks from today, we will celebrate the day of Pentecost, when Jesus miraculously sent a special gift of his Holy Spirit on these same disciples. On the night before he died, Jesus looked ahead to his Ascension from this world and the day of Pentecost, and his words to his disciples prepared them for that day. That’s why we typically read from these words of Jesus during the end of the Easter season: Even though the words were spoken the night before he died, Jesus’ overall topic fits with his Ascension and the day of Pentecost. Jesus weaved several different topics into this discourse; the excerpt we will look at today focuses especially on living a life of genuine Christian love in light of the love that Jesus has shown us.

Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | April 1, 2018

Sermon for the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord (2018)

APRIL FOOL OR EASTER FACT?

Sermon based on Mark 16:1-8

Introduction

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! … Or is he? I suspect that if you are here this morning, if you went through the trouble of dressing up in your Easter best and driving to this building on a morning that is far too cold for the beginning of April, you must have done so because you believe that the resurrection of Jesus is true. But let us not be so naïve as to think that there isn’t another opinion on the subject. More than a few skeptics of the Christian faith will look at all these Easter morning gatherings around our nation and throughout the world and laugh at the millions and millions of people who have bought into what they perceive as the greatest April Fool’s lie that people have bought—the physical resurrection of a human being from the dead.

How does a person approach the claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? On one hand, the skeptic could simply argue that he has never seen a resurrection and that he’s never heard of anyone else who has risen from the dead, so why should he believe that Jesus rose from the dead? On the other hand, a religious person could respond that this is what he believes and this is what the church has always taught, so why shouldn’t I believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Perhaps both sides have a little fear about this discussion: What exactly will I discover if I take a closer look at Jesus’ resurrection?

We will do well this Easter morning to step back from assumptions on either side of the debate and to undertake a fresh study of the record of Jesus’ resurrection that has come down to us today. In fact, that is the only responsible way to find out if we are dealing with an April Fool’s Day joke or an Easter resurrection fact! In the verses that preceded today’s Second Reading, the apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). The Bible itself says that if Jesus’ resurrection didn’t happen, then there’s no point for us to even be here. If Jesus didn’t rise, you should have gone out to an early brunch instead of coming to church! So have Christians believed the biggest April Fool’s joke in history for two thousand years, or does the account of Jesus’ resurrection present us with a historic Easter fact?  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | March 6, 2018

Sermon on Exodus 20:1-6

WHEN GOD TALKS, WE LISTEN!

  1. Listen to his commands that require our obedience
  2. Listen to his promises that inspire our obedience

Based on Exodus 20:1-6

 

Introduction

“When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” If you are my age or older, you probably remember the television commercials for the brokerage firm, E.F. Hutton. The gist of many of these commercials was the same. Two people in a public setting, surrounded with all the noises one hears in public, are having a personal discussion about their finances. One person asks the other what his broker thinks about an investment. The other person replies, “Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says…”. At that moment, all the background noise from the scene in the airport or restaurant or other public venue stops, and everyone in earshot is suddenly leaning in to the conversation in order to hear the financial advice that E.F. Hutton has to say. Finally, the announcer’s voice speaks to end the commercial: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

 

We are not here to discuss finances or brokerage firms today. We are not here to reminisce about old commercials from the 1970’s and 80’s. We are here to hear the Word of God. Today we specifically are going to spend the next several minutes listening to the Word of God in the First Reading for today’s service. We will lean into the account in Exodus chapter 20 where God himself speaks and gives his authoritative commandments for the people of Israel and for all people of all times to follow and obey. And as we review the first declaration of the Ten Commandments, we will do well to pay attention to these very real words of God with the same careful attention as the actors in those old commercials gave when someone mentioned the name E.F. Hutton. After all, when we hear the Ten Commandments, we are truly hearing the words of God. And the Commandments teach us that when God talks, we listen! Listen to his commands that require our obedience! Listen to his promises that inspire our obedience!  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | March 3, 2018

Sermon on Mark 9:2-9

SEE JESUS’ GLORY ON GOD’S TERMS

Based on Mark 9:2-9

Introduction

EaglesLombardiTrophy2018The end of last Sunday’s Super Bowl came as close to resembling a church service as you could have imagined. The congregation of Philadelphia Eagles assembled on the field with an aisle between them. At the appointed moment, not a hymn but an NFL-committed song called “Lombardi Trophy Processional” played. NFL retired player and Hall of Famer Darrell Green, wearing not a robe and stole but his gold NFL Hall of Fame jacket, processed forward as the congregation of Eagles faced him. Green held in his hands not a processional cross but the Lombardi Trophy. After a long procession, he arrived not in the chancel but on the stage where the Lombardi Trophy for Super Bowl LII was officially presented by the commissioner to the Eagles. (If you didn’t think football was a substitute religion for some people, you might want to think again!)

Super Bowl LLIThen came time for the “readings”—the speeches from the owner, head coach, and MVP of the game. We Wisconsin Packers fans all recognized Eagles Head Coach Doug Peterson as the Packers’ former back-up quarterback during the Brett Favre era. And when Coach Peterson was given the chance to speak, one of the first things he said was, “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.” Later Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was asked about his game-winning touchdown; in his comments he responded, “Glory to God, first and foremost. We wouldn’t be here without him.” And a bit later, Eagles back-up quarterback and Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles also said, “All glory to God.”

I am glad to hear world-class athletes on the biggest stage in American sports give glory to God. It’s much better than what we often hear and see from professional athletes. And at the end of the day, it is true: God gave them the physical abilities and talents to play professional football in America and to hoist their first Lombardi Trophy in their team’s history. In some ways it is a breath of fresh air to hear NFL champions give glory to God.

But from another perspective, I wonder if that little phrase, “glory to God,” means anything significant at all. When God is mentioned in public, this is often the context: We give God glory because he gave us the ability to do something. But doesn’t the glory of God extend far beyond that? Isn’t the glory that God has because he is the all-powerful and eternal God far more grand and glorious and great than a mortal human being saying “thanks” for winning a silver trophy? Could it be that we could use a nationwide lesson about the glory of God?

Today is the last Sunday in the Epiphany season. Every year, on this Sunday before Lent begins, we celebrate an event that took place about six months before Jesus’ crucifixion. That event is called the transfiguration. You heard about it in the Gospel for today. That event gives glory to God not because someone is crediting Jesus for their ability to do something, but because that event shows us the incredible divine glory that Jesus possesses because he is true God. And the way Jesus’ glory is revealed in this account teaches us to understand how God does and doesn’t use his glory in our lives. The transfiguration teaches us to see Jesus’ glory on God’s terms.  Read More…

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