Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 4, 2018

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Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 1, 2018

Sermon on Luke 2:25-35

“MY EYES HAVE SEEN YOUR SALVATION”

  1. I see the Christ Child who will accomplish our salvation
  2. I see the cross where he will accomplish our salvation

 Based on Luke 2:25-35

 Introduction

WalmartAfterChristmasA few days after Christmas, I saw a picture on social media taken inside a major American retail store. The picture revealed that this chain of stores has already removed anything connected to Christmas from its shelves and in its place has put up Valentine’s Day gifts and candy. I first saw that picture two days ago, and it was one of those social media pictures that had likely “gone viral,” so perhaps this store had made the Christmas-to-Valentine’s Day switch even earlier—I suspect the day after Christmas! Then there is the local radio disc jockey who said on the air that December 13 was the first of the twelve days of Christmas. She didn’t realize that the twelve days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day; they don’t end on Christmas Eve. Both of these anecdotes show that, for better or worse, the American culture sees a holiday as the end of its celebration. As a culture, we are ready to put Christmas back into the box and store it in the closet as early as midnight on December 26.

But there are many families who buck that trend. Many of you have displayed the presents you unwrapped under the tree for everyone in the family to look at and enjoy before they find their permanent homes in your home. Many of you aren’t ready to take down the tree and decorations on December 26. You might even keep them up all the way through the twelve days of Christmas until Epiphany Day on January 6! The advantage of doing that is you have a chance to enjoy, celebrate, and savor Christmas. Take a closer look at the presents. Enjoy the family time together. Savor another sip of your favorite Christmas beverage. Soak in the season before it’s packed away again for another year.

In a sense, that’s how the Christian Church celebrates Christmas. We ponder and marvel at the blessings of the Christ Child for a while before moving on to the next season. On this seventh day of Christmas, the Gospel for the First Sunday after Christmas takes us to the fortieth day of Jesus’ post-birth life. We go with Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem where they took place in the required religious ceremonies that a mother went through after the birth of a son, and that a firstborn son went through after his birth. We meet the same man Mary and Joseph met in the temple, a man named Simeon, and we listen to what he has to say about this 40-day-old infant in Mary’s arms. Simeon will help us to savor the blessings of Christmas one more time. He will help us to see with the eyes of faith what we might miss if we walked away from the manger too quickly. Simeon teaches us as he says to God, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon teaches us to say: I see the Christ Child who will accomplish our salvation. I see the cross where he will accomplish our salvation.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 24, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38

THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS — It’s about…

  1. A miraculous Child
  2. An everlasting kingdom

 Based on Luke 1:26-38

Introduction

Conduct a “man-on-the-street” interview. Watch the Christmas specials on television. Listen to the conversations around you. And then ask yourself this question, “What do people say that Christmas is all about?” I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I would put serious money down on the bet that the most popular sentiment about Christmas is that it’s about kindness and giving. The holidays and the music and the sights of winter and the contrast of people in need verses people buying more presents than they know what to do with — all of these things are mixed together in a kind of psychological blender, someone presses the “puree” button, and out comes this late-December time for family gatherings, charitable donations, and a little bit more love and kindness to our neighbor than we might be inclined to show the other 11 months of the year.

In a world where greed and gain are driving forces, a little more giving is a good thing. In a world where people tear one another a part daily on social media and in the press, a little more love is badly needed. In a world where families are splintered and broken, a little time for healing and patience is a welcome change of pace. These are all good things. But there’s just one problem. None of these things are really about Christmas. None of these things are exclusively Christian. None of them truly define the meaning and significance of Christmas. None of them fill the emotional and spiritual hole in our hearts that crave more meaning and purpose and hope than just an encouragement to stay off Santa’s naughty list.

This morning we are celebrating the Fourth Sunday in the season of Advent, and it occurs on Christmas Eve this year. This is usually the Sunday of the year that helps us to make the transition from the preparation thoughts we have heard throughout Advent and brings us into the Christmas celebration. As we make that transition this morning, the Gospel for this service will help us keep a proper perspective and outlook on everything we are going to celebrate tonight and tomorrow. The message that the angel Gabriel had for Mary, the mother of Jesus, will help us to understand the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about a miraculous child, and an everlasting kingdom.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 21, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:39-45

This is the final sermon in a three-part Advent sermon series, titled, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?”

O LORD, HOW SHALL I MEET YOU?

With Miraculous Joy  (John the Baptist)

Based on Luke 1:39-45

Introduction

Any parent or grandparent, any caretaker or teacher, anyone who deals with little children will tell you that those little ones learn and absorb far more than we might assume at first. I remember my children as toddlers suddenly belting out songs they heard for a few weeks in a row in church even though we never actively tried to teach them those songs. My wife teaches music classes for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers that are based on the psychologically proven premise that little children will learn simply by being in a musically rich environment. When our youngest two children were born, the midwives who attended the birth had a very specific post-birth routine that they followed to help our newborns learn to recognize and attach to mom and dad. Research indicates that children still in the womb are already able to identify the voice of their mother, and their little brains are already taking the first steps toward comprehending language. Experts today agree that toddlers and infants and, yes, even babies still in the womb are learning and absorbing far more than we once thought.

If we could go back in time tonight, and share this modern research and these cutting edge findings with Elizabeth, the first-century B.C. Jewish mother of John the Baptist, she might look at us as if we were a bunch of Johnnys-come-lately who were stating the obvious. She might tell us that she had that figured out long before the New York Times published the latest findings on prenatal learning and development.

In our brief meditation tonight, we take another step forward in the Advent story from Luke 1. We go with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she visits her relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. And on this visit we see far more than Elizabeth’s baby showing signs of prenatal development. On this visit we see Elizabeth’s baby greeting our Lord and his mother with miraculous joy.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 14, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38

This is the second sermon in a three-part Advent sermon series, titled “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?”

O LORD, HOW SHALL I MEET YOU?

With Humble Faith  (Mary)

Based on Luke 1:26-38

Introduction

I preached last Wednesday’s sermon as if I were Zechariah, explaining the account from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel telling Zechariah that he and his wife were going to have a son in their old age as if Zechariah were retelling the story himself. Tonight we move forward to the next section in Luke 1, and we learn about the annunciation—the announcement that Mary received from the same angel, telling her that she was going to conceive in a miraculous way and give birth to the Son of God. I do not plan to preach this sermon as if I were Mary speaking to you tonight! I probably can play the role of an old Jewish priest better than I can play the role of the mother of our Lord. Of course, the advantage of a “first person sermon” is that it helps you to mentally place yourself in the position of the person who is imagined to be the speaker. Even though this sermon will take a more traditional approach, we will do well to try to imagine what it was like to be in Mary’s proverbial shoes; then we can truly appreciate the way she greeted the angel’s news about the coming Savior with such humble faith.

New Testament Illustrations 006One useful way for us to appreciate Mary’s response of humble faith is to compare the response we heard about last week from Zechariah with the response that we heard about in tonight’s reading that focused on the angel’s message to Mary. At first glance, maybe that seems like a simplistic exercise. We could just jump to the bottom line and review how Zechariah was filled with complete skepticism that he and his wife would have a son in their old age, while Mary humbly believed all that the angel said to her and accepted the angel’s Word as God’s Word. Sermon over! Amen! Gather the offering and go home!

We could immediately jump to the bottom line, but I think we would miss some of the details that reveal just how significant it was for Mary to humbly receive and believe the angel’s message. For a moment, let’s go back and contrast some of the details in the account with Zechariah that we heard last week and the account with Mary that we heard a few moments ago.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 7, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:5-25

O Lord How Shall I Greet You - CW 18Our midweek Advent service and sermon series at Crown of Life Lutheran Church for December 2017 is titled, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?” The title of the series is the same title as an Advent hymn in Christian Worship (and many other Lutheran hymnals). Our sermons will look at three key characters from the Advent story and their reactions to the news of the coming Savior — Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25), Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and John the Baptist while he was still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:39-45).

The following sermon is the first sermon in the series, looking at Zechariah’s unfortunate skeptical doubts in response to the news that he and his wife would have a son who would be the prophet that prepared people for the promised Messiah. As a change of pace from typical preaching formats, I wrote this sermon in “first person” format, retelling the story and applying the text as if Zechariah himself were speaking to the congregation.

This was my first attempt at a “first person” sermon. Overall, I think it went well. I will admit that I have had some hesitancy about this type of sermon, mostly because I realize that the preacher has the responsibility of faithfully delivering law and gospel application to the congregation in this “first person” format, which could easily be nothing more than a retelling the story in a way that doesn’t actually apply the text’s law-and-gospel message to the hearers. It’s possible for this style to be very engaging and enjoyable to hear, and yet it could fail to call worshipers to repentance or fail to take them to Christ their Savior for forgiveness and peace with God. If the preacher isn’t careful, this kind of sermon could be an experience without also being an application of God’s Word.

Of course, the form by itself doesn’t mean that such a failure will happen, but this is a caution for the pastor to keep in mind as he works with this sermon style. And there is something to be said about the “first person” sermon’s ability to bring someone vividly into the Bible text. One aspect of this sermon that I liked was that I felt I could bring out Zechariah’s thoughts and actions more vividly than if I were explaining them in a more traditional sermon format. So I pray that the message of sin and grace applied to the hearer (or reader) still comes through in the sermon that follows, and that it also makes Zechariah’s experience “come alive” as you read the sermon. Thanks for taking the time to read it!

O LORD, HOW SHALL I MEET YOU

With Skeptical Doubts? (Zechariah)

Based on Luke 1:5-25

You folks have all heard about “Doubting Thomas,” right? He was one of the disciples of Jesus, the Messiah. He was one of the inner circle of faithful followers and apostles. After Jesus returned to heaven, Thomas brought the Christian gospel message to India! He was martyred for his faith in Jesus. Even during Jesus’ ministry, Thomas said that he was willing to follow Jesus and even die with him if necessary. Thomas was a highly respectable and honorable man—but everyone remembers him as “Doubting Thomas.” His big blunder was doubting that Jesus had risen from the dead after the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the risen Jesus. That’s what still defines Thomas in many people’s minds today.

Thomas came after my time, but I feel the same way as Thomas about the way I’m remembered. Drop my name to someone and see what they say. If they know their Bible, they might think of the Old Testament prophet with my name, but that’s someone else. Otherwise they remember me as John the Baptist’s father—and especially as the man who was skeptical about the news from the angel, the priest that doubted God’s news that my wife and I were finally going to have a son. I admit it; that was true. But that’s not the whole story about me! Please—can you give me a few minutes of your time and hear out an old Jewish man?  Read More…

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…

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…

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