Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 19, 2016

Sermon on Acts 13:15-16a, 26-33a

Fourth Sunday of Easter — April 17, 2016 — Sermon starts at 26:10



Sermon Text: Acts 13:15-16a, 26-33a


Have you ever had a well-meaning but uninformed person do something that complicated your plans? An incident that comes to mind for me was the 2004 convention of our WELS Arizona-California District. It has been my job at these biannual conventions to arrange worship, and this was the first convention that I had this job, so I really wanted everything to go smoothly. We were celebrating the district’s fiftieth anniversary with a special service held at the convention center. Since the service was not at a church, we had to make arrangements to make the convention hall look like and operate like a church. One of the arrangements we made was to rent a digital organ to provide the main music for the service. The organ was supposed to arrive several hours before the service. We told the company that we needed it there at 3:00 p.m. to make sure it was set up properly and to rehearse with other instrumentalists and with the choir. As it turned out, the company we rented the instrument from called the resort to find out when they could deliver the organ. But when they called, some well-meaning but uninformed employee of the resort said that the service was at 7:00 p.m. so they didn’t have to deliver it during the afternoon since that would be a little early. Needless to say, that threw off our plans quite a bit. Everything was fine in the end, but a 3:00 p.m. planned delivery would have been much more helpful than a late arrival after 5:00 p.m.!

I’m sure many of you have your own versions of that story—a time when some well-meaning but uninformed person did something that altered your plans and caused you a concern that you would have preferred to avoid. If there was anyone who can relate to this situation, that person is Jesus Christ. Jesus could relate to people trying to thwart his plans. In the Gospel for today’s “Good Shepherd Sunday,” (John 10:22-30), his enemies questioned him. Then, in the verses that follow today’s Gospel, those same enemies attempt to kill him because they didn’t like what he had to say about himself as the Son of God. In the First Lesson for today, the apostle Paul speaks about what was unquestionably the main time that Jesus’ enemies tried to thwart his plans. But as Jesus’ enemies tried to stop him, they didn’t thwart his plans. In fact, their attempts to stop Jesus actually fulfilled Jesus’ plan to rescue the world from sin. And in that situation, we learn this lesson: Ignorant sheep can’t stop the Good Shepherd!

Biblical World


Our First Lesson takes place early in the Apostle Paul’s first missionary journey. He was in the city of Antioch, some 300 miles north of Jerusalem. After he and another missionary named Barnabas were commissioned, they traveled north of the Mediterranean Sea, heading west, and eventually reached another city in a different region that was also named Antioch. As Paul often did, they went to the Jewish synagogue service on the Sabbath Day. Our reading says, “After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.’” It was a common custom in ancient synagogues to invite a qualified guest to deliver the sermon. So after the appointed Scripture selections were read, the synagogue’s leaders invited Paul to be the guest preacher, and he accepted the invitation.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 2, 2016

Easter Dawn Devotions (2016)

Easter Dawn — March 27, 2016 — Devotions begin at 12:15

Order of Service

FIRST LESSON: Matthew 28:1-7

The assurance that God keeps his promises. Strength and inspiration to live daily for God. The certain knowledge of our forgiveness. The hope and certainty that because Jesus lives, we too shall live. All of these truths, and many more, are intimately connected to the truth that we celebrate today, that Jesus rose from the dead.

All of those truths I mentioned would not be possible were it not for this one, key, fundamental fact of Easter: Jesus’ resurrection is not a fable, but it is a historical fact — a fact that we gather in these early Easter dawn hours to celebrate.

The first visitors to the tomb seemed to arrive with no sense of these facts. It was a fact that the women at the tomb thought that Jesus was still in the grave. The spices they carried with them tell us that they expected to find a dead body. But they would soon discover the joyous facts of Easter, that Christ has risen from the dead! And in the Word of God this morning, we rediscover those same facts, and all of the blessed truths that flow from them.

SECOND LESSON: John 20:2-8

Jesus’ disciples heard him predict multiple times that he would rise from the dead, but just like the women who first arrived at the tomb, they didn’t expect to discover a resurrection on the first Easter morning. When the women left the tomb after coming across the miraculous sight, they went and told Jesus’ disciples what the angel had told them, but they still did not believe until they saw this sight with their own eyes.

This morning, you and I are blessed to see the resurrection through the eyes of faith learning from the perfect and inspired record of Holy Scripture. Let us go with Peter and John to see the facts of the empty tomb and the truths of Jesus’ resurrection.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 2, 2016

Devotions on the Seven Words from the Cross (2016)

Good Friday Service of Darkness — March 25, 2016 — Devotions begin at 27:00

Order of Service

FIRST WORD: Luke 23:32-34

“Forgive and forget” — so that saying goes. If someone wrongs us, we are encouraged to forgive them, and to forget how we have been wronged. But forgetting is hard. We have a brain with memories stored in a hard drive that cannot easily be erased. I may sincerely want to forgive, but I may still struggle with that because I just can’t forget.

If forgiveness is hard after the crime has been committed against us, just imagine how hard it would be to forgive while the crime is being committed against us.

I cannot imagine the pain of the nails that were driven through Jesus’ hands and feet, but I can imagine the revenge I would want to get on those who would do such a horrible thing. And so it shocks us to hear what comes from Jesus’ lips — not revenge, but forgiveness. He forgives his enemies as they violate him, he forgives these cold soldiers who in ignorance and callousness were “just doing their job,” and he earns forgiveness for those soldiers and for you as he hung on the cross.

SECOND WORD: Luke 23:35-42

If you have had the privilege of being at the bedside of a Christian loved one who is about to be called home to heaven, chances are you have seen something you wouldn’t normally see in someone about to face death: a calm person. I am not suggesting that a Christian will always or automatically be calm in the face of death. Perhaps it is valuable to distinguish between dying, the process, and death, the end of life on earth. Certainly we have reason not to look forward to dying, for it is the end result of our sinfulness. But as Christians we have no reason to fear death, for it is the entrance into eternal life.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 25, 2016

Sermon on Matthew 27:62-66


 Sermon Theme: “HE SAID, ‘I WILL RISE AGAIN’”

 Text: Matthew 27:62-66


Good Friday began with a trial before Pontius Pilate. A mob stood outside his palace, worked into a mob mentality by the Jewish religious leaders who convinced the mob to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate tried to give them every reason to calm the mob, but to no avail. He gave in and allowed Jesus to be crucified at the hands of his enemies, even though he was personally convinced that Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing.

For several excruciating hours, Jesus hung on the cross. The physical pain of the cruelest form of capital punishment ever carried out was the easy part. The worst part was the eternal punishment that Jesus endured on behalf of and in the place of the entire world—we call that hell. Three eerie hours of darkness from noon to 3:00 p.m. reflected the unfathomable, that God forsook God as Jesus hung on the cross. But 3:00 p.m. arrived, and after enduring an eternity of punishment for the world, Jesus finally cried out, “It is finished!” and committed his soul to God as his body expired. Two previously private disciples come forward, now publicly, to give him a rushed but honorable burial on what can only be described as the most cataclysmic day in human history.


Now what? What happens next is kind of strange. “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’” On Friday, these religious leaders were leading a riot before Pilate’s palace. On Saturday, some of them stop by the palace to politely do business. On Friday, they wanted Jesus dead. On Saturday, they’re afraid that he will be alive again.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 7, 2016

Sermon on James 4:7-10


  1. Resist Satan
  2. Get Rid of Sin
  3. Repent Sincerely

 Text: James 4:7-10


The city of Milwaukee allows religious groups to put up displays on designated public property parcels during the end-of-year holiday season. Everyone has equal access to post something, including the group known as the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Among the religious displays on public grounds in Milwaukee one recent Christmas was a sign that said, in part, “Religion hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Have you ever encountered that kind of thinking? Have you wondered about it yourself? Is religion just a tool to enslave people’s minds and to control their actions? If we look at the history of some world religions, we see that sometimes conversion is by the sword with a strong message to “Submit!” There are sad chapters in the history of Christianity where power and money were used to control the masses. Is that what religion is—just a way to control people, to make them submit to your will in the name of God?

That kind of thinking certainly exists today in abundance, but just because people claim that religions are all about controlling people doesn’t mean that their claim is true. And while it may be true that some religions are about that kind of control, that doesn’t mean the Christian faith is about strict control or manipulation. Every day people submit to the instruction of their teachers, the directions of their coaches, and the advice of their parents, but no one views that kind of submission as manipulative. So as we submit our lives to God, we too will discover that it is not about God controlling us or the church manipulating us. It is about God teaching us and warning us to avoid those things that would take away the real, lasting freedom that his Son Jesus has won for us. And that’s the message that Jesus’ half-brother, James, wrote about in the Second Lesson for today. Submit to God’s call humbly, James teaches us. What does that look like? Resist Satan! Get rid of sin! Repent sincerely!  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 3, 2016

Holloway on James 4:7-10

College Press Commentary: James and JudeI am preparing a sermon for this weekend based on the Second Lesson suggested in Christian Worship: Supplement for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year C), James 4:7-10. (The choice certainly fits more closely with the Gospel, Luke 15:1-3,11b-32, than the suggested Second Lesson in most lectionaries for this weekend, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). I came across this summary of the section in Gary Holloway’s commentary, James & Jude, from The College Press NIV Commentary series. There are some good application thoughts in this short section, and I thought I’d share it with you as a preview to this coming Sunday’s worship.

In this, the heart of his epistle, James speaks to the contemporary problem of the worldly Christian. A great percentage of our population claims to be Christian. But what makes one a Christian? Are we Christians because we attend church and hear sermons? This is self-deception. Listening to the word is no good without obedience (James 1:19–20). Are we Christians because we believe certain things? Faith without action is dead (James 2:14–25). Are we Christians because we pray? No, even prayer can be evil if we pray for selfish pleasures. Do we claim to follow God while at the same time following the standards of the world? Then we are enemies of God.

An old television advertisement asked, “Who says you can’t have it all?” James answers, “God says.” One cannot be worldly and follow God. “Worldly” may conjure up memories of “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance” sermons, but worldliness is much more than specific vices. In an acquisitive society, it is considered normal to want more. Our whole economy is built on consumerism, ambition, and success. To be successful means fighting the corporate wars no matter who gets hurt.

To fit easily into such a society makes us friends of the world and its standard of pleasure. We cannot have the world and God (Matthew 6:24). He is a jealous husband who demands we keep our vows of exclusive loyalty to him. Keeping those vows are difficult in a culture where it takes little to be considered a Christian. James calls us to buck popular opinion. Such counter-cultural Christianity can be lived only by the grace of God. We turn to God in humble repentance, resisting the devil by rejecting the predominant values of our culture.

Holloway, Gary. James & Jude. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub., 1996.


Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 21, 2016

Sermon on John 11:45-53



 Text: John 11:45-53


Poor Cam Newton. Super Bowl Sunday didn’t end the way he wanted it to end. He and his Carolina Panthers team were favored to win. They had easily trounced their previous two playoff opponents, and now they were six-point favorites to win Super Bowl 50. Cam, the star quarterback of the Panthers, had just won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award the night before. All they had to do was take the field, play like they had all year, and hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the day.

Cam Newton Super Bowl 50 Press ConferenceBut that’s not how it happened. Instead, the newly-crowned MVP became quite acquainted with Denver’s destructive defense. You know what they say: Defense wins championships! And Denver walked away with the victory on Super Bowl Sunday because they kept Cam Newton in check for most of the game. And that’s what led to the sorry sight of Cam in his post-game press conference: hood over his head, face bowed down, barely answering reporters’ questions, and finally walking away before the press conference was supposed to have ended. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. He was supposed to be getting the fame and attention. Instead, all the attention was on the Broncos and Payton Manning, not the Panthers and Cam Newton.

Poor Pharisees. Things weren’t going the way they expected. They were the experts in the law. They were the religious superheroes. They were the ones that everyone respected for their position and knowledge. All they had to do was walk in the temple and immediately they were recognized and treated with the respect that came with their position.

But that’s not how things continued. Jesus came on the scene. He should have been their delight! They should have seen that he was the Messiah they were waiting for! But he was taking away their fame and attention. Ever since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in the village of Bethany, everybody and his brother was coming to faith in Jesus. And that meant everybody and his brother was no longer going to the Pharisees as the experts or heaping on them the respect they were so used to receiving. Instead, all the attention was on Jesus, not the Pharisees.


Resurrections don’t happen every day of the week. So when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in the nearby village of Bethany, you can imagine that the word got out quickly. The news spread like wildfire—even without Facebook hashtags and trending Twitter tweets! Some who spread the news told the Pharisees, members of the religious elite among the ancient Jews. Perhaps these reports came from skeptics. Perhaps these reports came from people who were genuinely amazed by Jesus, but naively assumed the Pharisees would feel the same way.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 13, 2016

Sermon on Hebrews 4:14-16


  1. So cling to your faith firmly
  2. So come to God’s throne confidently

Text: Hebrews 4:14-16


Super Bowl Manning TrophyA week ago at this time, sports commentators around the nation were predicting who would win the Super Bowl. Most said that the Carolina Panthers were the best team in the league and that they would be the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the day. Of course, just because the majority holds to one opinion doesn’t mean the majority will be right—and they weren’t. The old “Sheriff,” Payton Manning, and his Denver Broncos were the ones who came out victorious. The majority of sports commentators didn’t get it right.

Last night the nation suffered through yet another political debate. Various polls suggest that this or that candidate is going to win this or that primary, but just because the majority of pollsters suggest a specific candidate will win doesn’t mean that it will actually happen that way. And just because the majority of voters eventually elects a particular candidate to be our next president doesn’t always mean that we have found the best person for the job. The majority of pollsters and the majority of voters don’t always get it right.

A good portion of the first Christian converts were Jews. That makes sense: Jesus was a Jew, and the Old Testament laws and ceremonies that God gave the Jews were meant to point forward in time to the arrival of Jesus. Some Jews came to faith in Jesus, but many rejected him as the promised Savior. The Jews who came to faith in Jesus often suffered for their faith in Jesus. They were keenly aware that they did not hold the majority opinion, and the persecution that some of them suffered led them to wonder if they should leave their Christian faith behind. But in the Second Lesson for today’s service, these Jewish Christian received an important encouragement. Just because the majority of their fellow Jews thought that sticking with their old perspectives was the way to go doesn’t mean that that was the way to go.

The person that God inspired to write the book of Hebrews encouraged those ancient Jews that trusting in Jesus was far better than clinging to their former ways and waiting for a Savior who had now come! This morning we will benefit from this biblical encouragement as much as the first century Jews who first received this letter. After all, we live in a world that says every path to God is equally valid, and that too is a temptation to leave Jesus behind. But today’s Second Lesson from Hebrews 4:14-16 teaches us that Jesus is better than all the rest. And since he is, let us cling to our faith firmly, and let us come to God’s throne confidently.


Old Testament Illustrations 031You can understand why Jewish converts to Christianity in the first century would have felt a strong temptation to leave their faith behind. Not only did many of them experience persecution for their Christian faith, but they also gave up a lot to become Christian. The temple ceremonies and religious festivals that were a regular part of their lives and culture were suddenly left behind as they worshipped Jesus, whom they could no longer see. They could still go to the temple. They could still see the regular rituals. But they couldn’t see Jesus and they had no established Christian rituals immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. You can see why they would think that Jesus wasn’t worth the trouble.

But the writer to these Jewish Christians said to them: “Yes! Jesus is worth the trouble! He is better than anything else!” Our reading says, “Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” The Jewish Christians reading this may have missed their former celebration of the Day of Atonement, which was sort of like the Old Testament version of Good Friday. On that day, the High Priest passed through the special room in the temple called the “Holy Place” to enter into the most sacred room in the temple called the “Most Holy Place.” This only happened once a year, and on that day the high priest could only enter into the Most Holy Place with the blood of a sacrificed animal.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday Reflections

The following article was written by my wife, Emily Strey, and was published several years ago in Forward in Christ, the official magazine for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Emily’s article is meant to reflect the experience of Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes through the perspective of a worshiper in the pew. Whatever your parish’s practice and personal preference may be, I hope that this article helps to establish a devotional tone on your celebration today as we reflect on the reality of sin’s magnitude and on the greater reality of Christ’s magnificent grace and mercy that has rescued and redeemed us. God bless your Ash Wednesday celebration!

Of all the occasions in the church year, Ash Wednesday is the one I like the least. In fact, I dread it.

lent-2010-_11You see, my pastor uses the imposition of ashes at our church. It is Ash Wednesday, after all. At the specified time, members of our congregation walk forward. The pastor dips his finger into a small bowl of ashes, uses those ashes to make the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead, and says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

That makes me uncomfortable.

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner”

Perhaps more so than any other day in the church year, on Ash Wednesday, I know that I’m going to be made aware of my sin. Don’t get me wrong; I am always aware of my sin, but in day-to-day life, it’s easy to push it aside. I make excuses. “I slipped up.” “I’m just tired.” “I’ll try harder next time.” “I could be worse.” “It’s not that big a deal.”

But on Ash Wednesday, there are no excuses. There’s nowhere to hide. We’re all equal. All of us, sitting calmly in the pews, have a feeling that is more than a bit uneasy on the inside. We know this occasion marks the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross, and we know that it is our sins that put him there.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 20, 2016

Sermon on Colossians 3:16

During the “middle” Sundays of this year’s Epiphany season (January 17, 24, and 31, 2016), St. Mark’s is offering a three-week sermon series that focuses on the congregation’s three-part mission statement: [1] Glorify God, [2] Grow in Grace, and [3] Go with the Gospel. This is the first sermon in the series.

Sermon Series Title:  St. Mark’s, Rise to Your Mission!


Text: Colossians 3:16


Nearly a dozen years ago, when my wife and I had just one child who was then a less-than-one-year-old baby, we took a vacation for about a week to Yosemite National Park. We stayed in a cabin just outside the park’s borders; there were three other units in this set of cabins, and we exchanged some pleasantries every so often with the people who were staying in the other cabins. Sunday morning came around, and since there were no congregations of our fellowship near us, worship consisted of a family devotion instead of a church service. As I stepped outside our cabin that morning, I told one of the neighbors how strange it felt for me, as a pastor, to not be in church for worship on a Sunday morning. He responded to my comment, looking up at nature’s beautiful scenery around us, and saying, “Well, this is a great church! You can worship God anywhere!”

True or false: You can worship God anywhere. Like many good true/false questions, the answer to that question depends; it depends what you mean by the word worship. Like many other words in our language, the word worship can refer to more than one activity. Let me give you an example before we answer the question. Right now my Sunday morning Bible class is studying Roman Catholicism. The word catholic is another word that can mean more than one thing. Catholic can mean universal, something that Christians have done around the world and over the span of many centuries. Catholic can also mean something that is associated with the Roman Catholic Church. As Lutherans, we have no problem with activities that are universal catholic, like speaking the Nicene Creed after the sermon. And as Lutherans, we do have an issue with things that are catholic, that is, uniquely Roman Catholic, such as praying to the saints when Scripture directs us to pray to the Triune God alone. So Lutherans are catholic and not Catholic at the same time, because the word means two different things.

True or false: You can worship God anywhere. It depends on what you mean by the word worship. Worship can refer to the way Christians live their lives to honor God by all that they do. In that case, yes, you can worship God anywhere—in fact, we’ll want to worship him everywhere! But the word worship also refers to the regular, usually weekly gathering of Christians around the Word of God and the Sacraments. I can read the Bible on my own, but it would be difficult to hear it read and applied to my life without connecting to some type of larger gathering of Christians; and I will certainly have a difficult time receiving the Lord’s Supper unless I’m connected to a larger gathering of Christians. That sense of worship is something I cannot do on my own; I need to be with other Christians, just as the Bible encourages us: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 11:25, NIV84).

Today we are beginning a three-part sermon series that will consider the three-part mission statement of St. Mark’s that is printed on the large banner in the gym and is now on display on the wall in the back of church. That three-part mission statement states that St. Mark’s congregation exists to [1] glorify God, [2] grow in grace, and [3] go with the gospel. Today we will examine the first part of that statement, to glorify God—which is just another way of saying that we gather to worship him. Just as worship in daily life is different than worship as a group of believers gathered in God’s house, so the expression, glorify God, means one thing in daily life and another thing as a group of believers gathered together in God’s house. The two terms are basically interchangeable. So we will learn more about what it means to glorify God as a Christian assembly as we study Colossians 3:16 in depth today, and learn from St. Paul that our public worship is all about the Word.  Read More…

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