Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 10, 2017

Sermon for KMLHS Celebration of Ministry Service

KML LogoOn Friday morning, September 8, 2017, Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School (my alma mater) held its annual “Celebration of Ministry” service, in which the new faculty members were installed into their positions of service. This was the first year the service was held in conjunction with a regular school day, so that the student body would be present for the rite of installation. It was also KML’s annual “Pastors’ Day,” at which the pastors of the congregation in KML’s federation were present to interact with the students from their congregations and to learn about the latest news and ministry plans from KMLHS. I had the privilege of serving as the guest preacher for the occasion and to perform the rite of installation for the new faculty members at KMLHS this year. Here is the brief sermon from the service.

WORKING FOR THE LORD

Based on Colossians 3:23-24

Sitting on the pavement with his back against the store front, he hung his head down and covered his eyes with his hands. This is what his foolish ways had earned him. After getting moderately good grades in high school, he headed off to college to study for what could have become a good-paying future career, but instead he treated college like it was a non-stop night club. His grades plummeted. His parents threatened to stop paying his tuition, room, and board because he wasn’t taking his studies seriously, and eventually they carried out their threat. Despite the pleas of family, faculty, and friends, he drank and partied and slept away the time that he should have been working and studying. Finally, the official notice came from the Dean of students: His enrollment was discontinued. Without financial help from mom and dad, and without a good education or a good reputation, he found himself on the street, staring at a cold sidewalk on a cold day as passers-by hustled their way to their downtown jobs.

Suddenly a pair of wingtips stood in his peripheral vision. “You okay, kid?” the man’s voice asked. “You need some help?” He seemed genuinely concerned, so he poured out his heart and acknowledged his mistakes to this total stranger. “Follow me,” the man told him, and he walked alongside this well-dressed stranger into a downtown office complex where it just so happened that this kindhearted man operated his successful business. The young man went from sitting on the cold payment to sitting across from the benevolent stranger in a leather boardroom chair. The man said, “Son, I’m going to give you a second chance at life. We’re going to find you an apartment, set up a bank account with needed funds, take you shopping to get some decent clothes, and line you up with a job in the company. You’re not going to live life on the streets. You don’t owe me anything. Just learn the job, work faithfully, and you and I will both be glad that you’re not living on the street.”

If you were that kid, how do you think you would work? Would give it your best shot? Would you jump at the kindness of a total stranger who owes you nothing but wants to give you a second chance? Do you think you might work with all your heart—your very grateful heart?  Read More…

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Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 26, 2017

Sermon on Exodus 34:5-7

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Sermon based on Exodus 34:5-7

Introduction

What’s in a name? When you hear the name, “Milwaukee,” what comes to mind? Beer, brats, and bowling? Polka music? Summer festivals along Lake Michigan? Cryptosporidium? Harley Davidson? Bob Uecker?

What’s in a name? When you hear the name, “Midwest Express,” what comes to mind? (There are some investors who have recently indicated that they would like to resurrect this old Milwaukee-based airline). The best care in the air? Wide seats and spacious legroom? Meals served on china? Champagne? Warm chocolate chip cookies?

What’s in a name? When you hear the acronym, “WELS,” what comes to mind? Skeptics on the outside might say, “A strict church body.” New appreciative members of our churches often say, “A church body that is truly committee to Scripture.” Crown of Life Lutheran Church? Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School? Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary? A solid stand on the Scriptures? Midwest-living, coffee-drinking, casserole-consuming, jello-loving Lutherans?

What’s in a name? Names are so much more than an identifying label, like the name tags and stickers we put on our shirts at a large meeting or convention. Names tell us so much more than the title that people use to call us. Those names often carry emotions and memories and images and so much more.

What’s in a name? In the Gospel for today (Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The “Son of Man” was Jesus’ common expression to refer to himself. The disciples noted that people had all sorts of ideas who Jesus was, but their popular ideas were all a little short of reality. In the end, Peter gave the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” There were plenty of people who knew about Jesus, but they didn’t know who Jesus, the Son of Man, really was. They didn’t understand what was really behind his name.

Yahweh LORDIn the First Reading for today, God defines what his name means. The upper-case “Lord” that we often see as we read the Old Testament in our Bible translations was not a generic word for God. It was the proper name of God, assumed to have been pronounced Yahweh. And this proper name for God, like so many other names and titles, reveals many of God’s defining characteristics to us. We’re going to take a closer look at the first three verses of today’s First Reading, where God defines his own name. God’s self-description will help us understand who he really is, so that we don’t find ourselves in the same boat as the crowds of Jesus’ day who knew about him but really didn’t know who he was. So let’s ask, “What’s in a name—what’s in God’s name?” and answer it from God’s own words in Exodus 34.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 7, 2017

Sermon on Romans 8:31-34

GOD GIVES GREAT GIFTS!

  1. He gave us the greatest gift of his love
  2. He gives us all other gifts day by day

Based on Romans 8:31-34

 Introduction

C101-167What’s the “big picture” lesson that we should take home from today’s Gospel account (Matthew 14:13-21), in which Jesus feeds the five thousand? Years ago, I heard another preacher from a very different Christian denomination preach a sermon on the feeding of the five thousand, and his big picture lesson was that the little boy was willing to share his bread-and-fish lunch with others, and so we too ought to be willing to share our blessings with those in need. You can figure out that the preacher who said that didn’t believe that Jesus performed a miracle. And because of that assumption, he came to a very different point.

Of course, just because you believe in miracles doesn’t mean you’ll come to the best possible understanding of this account from Jesus’ life. The “Prosperity Gospel” is alive and well today. This movement looks at God as the One who will make your life divinely blessed and successful. Just say and pray the right words and, voila, you will have found the key to miraculous blessing. If Jesus could provide abundantly for thousands of people through this miracle, why wouldn’t he provide abundantly for you if you just ask?—so the assumption goes. Because of that assumption, such a preacher would come to another very different point about this miracle.

The problem is that these perspectives, which are common in the church at large, don’t present us with the real Jesus and the true God. Jesus was not a heavenly kindergarten teacher instructing his little children how to share their treats and their toys with each other. God is not some divine sugar daddy showering us with wealth and fame and everything else our selfish little hearts desire. So if these perspectives miss the point of Jesus’ miracle, how will we be sure that we capture the right point?

There is a principle that says, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” Sometimes you need one section of the Bible to help shed light on another section of the Bible. That happens every week when we hear three different but related Bible readings in worship. And one of today’s other readings will help us put this miracle of Jesus in its proper perspective. In Romans 8:31-34, St. Paul helps us look at Jesus’ blessings to the crowd of 5,000, at God’s miraculous providence for Elijah in our First Reading (1 Kings 17:1-6), and at God’s blessings to us today, and come to a proper conclusion about God’s blessings. The conclusion is simple, but important: God gives great gifts! He has given us the greatest gift of his love, revealed in his Son Jesus, and he also gives us all other gifts we need day by day.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 23, 2017

Sermon for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.

Psalm 119:46  (EHV)

I.

Luther 95 Theses

Ninety-Five Theses, 1517

October 31, 1517. An Augustinian monk posts a document for discussion and debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where this monk also serves as a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. For several years, he has seen the abuses of a church that turned repentance from an attitude of the heart into a piece of paper you could purchase. Distressed by this and other abuses in the church, he hopes to have an honest discussion and debate about a matter that surely is a concern to many.

You know all about that event. The Augustinian monk and theology professor was Martin Luther, and his document is now commonly called the Ninety-Five Theses. He posted that document up for discussion and debate 500 years ago this fall, and that’s why our church and church body are sparing no time and expense celebrating the Lutheran Reformation’s anniversary this year. But what happened next? Did Luther’s honest desire to address the abuses of the medieval Roman Catholic Church go anywhere?

Luther Diet of Worms

Diet of Worms, 1521

Instead of being lauded for his pastoral concern, Luther was targeted for stirring up trouble. In 1518, he was called to a meeting before Cardinal Cajetan, where he refused to recant what he had said and written unless he could be proven wrong by Scripture. In 1519, in a debate held in Leipzig, Germany, Luther pointed out how the Roman papacy was making claims and decrees without the support of Scripture. In 1520, Luther was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. Then in 1521, in Worms, Germany, Luther was confronted with his writings and teachings and asked whether or not he would recant. His answer: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” And because he would not bow to the pope’s demands, Luther was declared an outlaw whom anyone could legally kill—all for saying that he would only teach what Scripture teaches!

Presentation Augsburg Confession

Augsburg Confession, 1530

Over the next decade, attempts to resolve this matter never came to fruition. But finally, in 1530, Charles the Fifth, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, called a council in Augsburg, Germany, to deal with two issues: the ongoing threat of Muslim invasions, and the ongoing divisions of the Christian in his empire. The Lutherans’ confession of faith was presented to the emperor on June 25, 1530—487 years ago today. Though the document was prepared by Luther and his colleagues, it was signed and presented by the German princes and rulers who agreed with the teachings and the concerns of Luther and the other Lutheran theologians.

The debates and tensions would continue, but the first official Lutheran confession of faith had been presented to the emperor. Luther did not attend the council in Augsburg because he was still considered an outlaw, but when he received the final copy of the Augsburg Confession, he responded by quoting Psalm 119:46: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.” That Bible verse would later become a motto attached to the Augsburg Confession, and for that reason Psalm 119:46 is the basis for today’s sermon.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 21, 2017

Prayer for the Commemoration of the Augsburg Confession

Many Lutheran congregations are taking the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses as an opportunity to celebrate another significant Lutheran anniversary: the presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530. While this anniversary might have been overlooked since it is not a “major milestone” anniversary like 475 or 500, the fact that it occurs on a Sunday this year and the fact that it is the 500th anniversary year of the start of the Reformation encourages us to mark this important event as well.

Congregations that are planning to commemorate the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession this weekend should have most of their plans set by now. (For future reference, this blog’s resources page has links to two files that have materials that could be used to construct an Augsburg Confession anniversary service: the Responsive Dialogues for Worship file and the Alternate Confessions of Faith file). But if you are still looking to use a Prayer of the Church that is geared toward the occasion, here is one that you could easily incorporate into your services, even at the last minute.

I wrote the following prayer for our use at Crown of Life Lutheran Church this Sunday. Although its paragraphs end with a responsive formula for congregational participation, it could easily be spoken entirely by the presiding minister by dropping the response, “[M] Lord, in your mercy, [C] hear our prayer” from the prayer. Feel free to adopt or adapt this prayer for use in your local congregation.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 31, 2017

Sermon for Ascension and Graduation (2017)

AN ASCENSION-GRADUATION LESSON

  1. Christ guides our lives
  2. We proclaim Christ’s life

Based on Mark 16:19-20

Introduction

Who is excited that the school year is finally over? Students! Teachers! No explanation needed. Who is not so excited that the school year is over? Parents! Some explanation is helpful. You knew what your kids were doing the past nine months, but now you have to figure out what they should be doing the next three months. Maybe you have to figure out what your children’s schedule is going to look like over the summer, who will take care of them, or how to keep them from burning the house down while you’re at work!

Today is not just the end of another school year; it is also Ascension Day. Forty Days after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven now that his work of redeeming the world from sin was complete. But in many ways, Ascension is also like graduation. For the remaining 11 apostles of Jesus, Ascension must have seemed like graduation. Just as our eighth grade graduates are moving on to a new phase of life, Jesus’ apostles were also moving on to a new phase of life. Just as our eighth grade graduates have completed this phase of their education, so Jesus’ apostles had just completed several years in what might best be called, “Jesus Seminary.”

As we celebrate both of these events tonight, Ascension and graduation, we’ll draw a couple of parallel lessons that apply to both. To learn those lessons, we are going to turn to the last two verses of Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Ascension-graduation lessons shows us that Christ guides our lives and encourages us so that we proclaim Christ’s life.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 10, 2017

Palm Sunday Sermon (2017)

YOUR KING COMES TO YOU…

  1. with humility
  2. with peace
  3. with freedom

 Based on Zechariah 9:9-11

 Introduction

Entrances matter. The bride walks down the aisle escorted by her dear father wearing the most beautiful white wedding dress she could have found. The courtroom stands as the black-robed judge walks from his chamber to his chair to preside at the trial. The talk show host comes out from behind the curtain wearing a suit from one of New York’s finest men’s designers to the cheers and standing ovation of the audience. The graduates process to the front of the gym in their cap and gowns to celebrate the newly completed phase of their academic accomplishments. The clergy and children march through the church during the processional hymn on Palm Sunday to commemorate the beginning of the “holiest” week of the Church Year. Entrances matter. They tell us that the event we are experiencing is important and worth our attention.

Palm Sunday procession drawingThere was never a more important entrance in human history than the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on this day set the wheels in motion for the final and most important events in God’s plan to rescue humanity from sin. The First Reading for today’s service, written by the prophet Zechariah in the late sixth century B.C., previewed Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem and especially revealed how Jesus would come into the city where the world’s salvation would be accomplished this week. Zechariah previewed for his Old Testament readers, and reviews for us today, that your king, Jesus, comes to you with humility, with peace, and with freedom.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 7, 2017

Chapel Devotion on Zechariah 9:9-10

KML Logo (green & black) 250This morning I had the privilege to return to my high school alma mater, Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in Jackson, Wisconsin, and lead their morning chapel service. Pastors from churches in KML’s federation take turns leading the Friday morning chapel devotions. The other devotions are led primarily by members of the faculty and, once a week, by a senior student. Each week’s devotions have a theme; this week’s theme focused on the passion prophecies in the Old Testament book of Zechariah. Today’s devotion was based on the Palm Sunday prophecy in Zechariah 9:9-10.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The church bells ring. The guests have gathered for the Saturday afternoon ceremony. The groomsmen take their places in the front of the church. The music begins, and the bridesmaids come down the aisle one by one. Finally the music crescendos and the bride walks in, escorted by her father down the aisle to meet her groom. But how does she walk in? Comfy yoga pants and a well-worn t-shirt, hair not done and slippers for shoes? Of course not! She comes in the most beautiful dress she will ever wear and takes her new husband’s breath away by her beauty.

The announcement echoes through the stadium. The fans have gathered for the Sunday afternoon football game. Bill Jartz, the announcer at Lambeau Field, leans into his microphone as “Get Ready for This” by 2 Unlimited blares its backbeat over the stadium speakers, and he says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome your 13-time world champion Green Bay Packers!” But how do the Packers come into their home turf? Strolling slowly through the tunnel onto the field, maybe checking their cell phone for any final pregame texts as they seem oblivious to the 80,000 screaming fans who have come to their feet for the starting lineup? Of course not! They dart through that tunnel and run out at full speed, “high fiving” their teammates through the line that extends out of the Packers tunnel and toward the Packers sideline.

Entrances are important. Entrances tell you the relative importance of the event you are attending. A grand entrance tells you that what you are watching is not to be taken lightly or frivolously—whether a wedding, or an NFL game, or the entrance that the class of 2017 will make at its graduation ceremony in a few weeks from now!

There was no more importance entrance in the history of humankind than the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem during the first Holy Week. Everything that you and I believe in and everything that you and I put our eternal hope in was going to take place over the next 168 hours. The eternal and incarnate Son of God was going to put sin, death, Satan, and hell in their place once and for all. So how would Jesus enter? With trumpet blasts and paid singers, mounted on a majestic horse, wearing a kingly robe with sword-wielding soldiers flanking him? If there was any time for pomp and circumstance, surely the entrance of the Son of God into Jerusalem deserved a little ceremony!  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 3, 2017

Sermon on Romans 8:11-13

GET A LIFE!

  1. A life that lasts forever
  2. A life worth living now

Based on Romans 8:11-13  

Introduction

“Get a life!” The older sister tells her little brother to “Get a life!” when she wants him to stop barging into her room, to quit spying on what she’s doing, and to cease and desist disrupting her with his random questions. One high school classmate tells the another to “Get a life!” when the second seems all worked up and bent out of shape over something the teacher said in class and something else that someone else was rumored to say, and just won’t let it go.

“Get a life!” usually means something negative. But in today’s Second Reading, St. Paul encourages us to “Get a life!” in a very different—and very positive—sense. Today’s readings emphasize our Lord’s power over death and his power to give life. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones depicted the truth that God can give life in the face of stone cold death. Jesus brought that vision to reality in the Gospel by raising his friend Lazarus from physical death back to life. And in today’s sermon, we are going to explore a few verses from the start of our Second Reading to see exactly what it means to “Get a life!” with God. Thanks to Jesus, God gives us a life that lasts forever, and a life worth living now.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 28, 2017

“Together” Video on WELS Worship Conference

WELS NWC 2017 logo

My daughter, Lydia, and I were interviewed for this week’s WELS “Together” video update, which looks forward to the WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts held this June at two locations — the primary conference in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and a satellite conference in Irvine, California (Orange County).  Read More…

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