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…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 27, 2017

Start the Sermon with … Nothing!

Someone asked me recently, “Does the Seminary teach pastors how to capture people’s attention at the start of the sermon?” Fortunately, the question was not a subtle criticism (as in “Hey, can you stop putting me to sleep in the first minute?”). But the question did get me to launch on one of my personal liturgical hobby horses, and since this is an issue that has come up several times in recent conversations, it’s probably worth sharing with a larger audience. So here it is!

When The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) was the main worship book in the pews of WELS congregations, it was fairly common that the congregation stood after the pre-sermon hymn, that the minister spoke a pulpit greeting (such as Philippians 1:2), and that he announced and read the Bible reading that was the basis for that day’s sermon (i.e. the “sermon text”). In some cases, a prayer was also spoken before the congregation sat down again and the pastor began the actual sermon, usually with another greeting such as “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.”

CIMG2414

The pulpit in the Chapel of the Christ at Martin Luther College (New Ulm, MN)

Part of the reason for this practice may have been the simple fact that the days of TLH were also the days of the one-year lectionary with only two readings per Sunday. Many pastors, looking for more homiletical options than the two readings that were just used 12 months ago, preached on other Scripture selections besides those already read in the service. So it made sense to read the sermon text at the start of the sermon, and, for reasons I won’t get into here, there was also some ceremony around that reading, noted above. (As a side note, TLH also prescribed a post-sermon pulpit blessing: the congregation stood and the minister spoke Philippians 4:7 before the congregation sang its response to the Word of God with a musical setting of Psalm 51:10-12).

Christian Worship does not prescribe any sort of pre- or post-sermon ritual, and so some of what is described above has changed since the days of TLH. My experience has been that few congregations stand anymore at the start of the sermon for the reading of the text. Pastors often preach on a lesson that they read earlier, and so they aren’t rereading the text, but only mentioning the Bible reference and perhaps rereading a key verse or two. But some of the TLH pre-sermon ceremony still remains in several settings.

I’m obviously all for beneficial ceremony and ritual in worship! But I question whether the start of the sermon is the place for retaining these TLH-era customs. Without suggesting that there was anything wrong or improper with those customs, I’d argue that it may be better to set those previous customs aside:  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 20, 2017

Sermon for the Commemoration of St. Joseph

GOD USES HUMBLE MEN TO ACCOMPLISH HIS GREAT PURPOSE

  1. With humility, Joseph obeyed God to protect his Son
  2. With humility, Joseph was used by God to fulfill his plan

Based on Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

Introduction

“Humility is the first mark of a Christian,” once said one of my college professors. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less,” said C.S. Lewis. “Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who … humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross,” said the Apostle Paul to the Philippians (2:5,8).

On the other hand, “Nice guys finish last”—so the popular saying goes. No one ever accused Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick of being humble. Candidates for political office don’t usually run ads promoting their humility—which sounds like an oxymoronic thing to do!

A few sermons preached in this pulpit during this Lenten season have emphasized the pendulum swing we often find ourselves on between the arrogant and proud Pharisee inside us and the down and despairing tax collector who also lives in us. Between those two extremes is a place for proper humility. We’re not talking about the false humility of despair, but the Christian humility that trusts God and his Word and boasts solely in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today the Church remembers Saint Joseph, the earthly step-father of Jesus. There isn’t a lot we can say about Joseph because Joseph didn’t say a lot. Not a single word he uttered is recorded in the Bible. But we do see in Joseph a man of godly humility. In Joseph, we see a humble man that God used to accomplish his great purpose. And that lesson from Joseph’s life as the step-father of Jesus is the lesson that the Holy Spirit teaches in the Gospel for this day that is set aside on the Church’s calendar to remember Joseph. God uses humble men to accomplish his great purpose. With humility, Joseph obeyed God to protect his Son. With humility, Joseph was used by God to fulfill his plan.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 5, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 3:1-15

A STARK LENTEN CONTRAST

 Based on Genesis 3:1-15

Introduction

Name two people that make a stark contrast with one another. President Trump vs. President Obama. A Packers fan vs. a Vikings fan. A quinoa-consuming California vegan vs. a guy who uses his well-worn Arch Card to buy two Big Macs a day. The New York banker who flies in and out of LaGuardia at least once a week vs. the rural northern Wisconsin farmer who has never traveled more than fifty miles from his house.

Those are interesting comparisons to think about, but they have little to no bearing on your life. Perhaps the economic policies of a president affect your portfolio. Perhaps the outcome of another Packers-Vikings game affects your mood for 12 to 24 hours. But beyond that, these contrasts are just interesting observations.

Today’s service places before us a stark contrast of two people who couldn’t be more different, and both of them have a very direct effect on your life. We were reintroduced to one of those men in today’s First Reading and to the other in today’s Gospel. Between those two readings, we saw Adam, the first man, and Jesus, the God-man confront Satan’s temptations. The results of those incidents couldn’t be any different—and the ramifications of these two incidents on you and me couldn’t be any different either! This morning we will especially concentrate on the First Reading as we look at the difference between Adam and Jesus and make a stark Lenten contrast—in their response to Satan’s temptations, and in the results of their actions.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 7, 2017

Sermon on 1 Peter 2:9-12

I WANT TO WALK AS A CHILD OF THE LIGHT

  1. You live in the light
  2. Help others to see the light

 Based on 1 Peter 2:9-12

 Introduction

I want more sunlight! The last time I spent a full winter in Wisconsin was the winter of 2000-01 during my last year as a student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. I recall that we had a particularly snowy December that winter. I knew that returning to my state of origin meant that the last and first months of each year would be much colder, but I don’t think I considered much about the lack of sunlight during the winter months. But now that we’re here, I know I would appreciate some more light!

dscn2177The lack of sunlight can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D, and that can lead to all sorts of other issues: psychological depression (especially in the form of “SAD”—Seasonal Affect Disorder), increased likelihood of catching the flu, even the lack of proper eye development in children. So if the weather is warm enough and the clouds are blocking the sunshine, a walk out in the sunlight even on a winter’s day can do quite a bit of good!

What is true for the body is also true for the soul. Two Sundays ago, our service’s Scripture selections and sermon helped us to think about the importance of receiving the proper “Light” for our souls. That light is the message of the gospel, how Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again to win our forgiveness and salvation from sin. Today we return to that “light” metaphor that we heard two Sundays ago, and we take that thought a step farther. Just as sunlight produces positive benefits for our bodies, so the message of Jesus, the Light of the world, produces positive benefits for our souls and in our lives. Peter teaches us that point in today’s Second Reading from his first letter. Peter encourages us to say (along with the writer of today’s opening hymn), “I want to walk as a child of the light!” God has made us to live in his light, and he now encourages us to live our lives in a way that helps others to see the light.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 12, 2017

Advent Sermon Series for Reformation Year

Luther sealI am belatedly posting a midweek Advent sermon that I preached last month, but the sermon series it comes from may be a useful idea for other pastors and churches to look at near the end of this year. It is no secret in Lutheran circles that 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation–specifically, the anniversary of Luther posting his 95 Theses, formally called Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.  The posting of the 95 Theses was the first of many events that led to the Lutheran Reformation of the Church.

Lutheran congregations will be observing this anniversary in a number of ways throughout 2017–from Reformation-themed Bible studies, to seminars, to children’s Christmas services based on Lutheran hymnody, to (of course) festive Reformation services later this year near the actual anniversary day of the posting of the 95 Theses, October 31.

One way that this anniversary year could be concluded is with the following midweek Advent sermon series. The idea for this series isn’t original with me; I first saw this used as a midweek Advent sermon series in 2000 at Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee (where I happened to be serving as the Seminary student assistant during my last year of studies at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary). Since then, I have repeated this sermon series in all three of the congregations I have served.

Here’s how we described this “Lutheran Advent sermon series” in the service booklets at Crown of Life Lutheran Church during this past Advent season (2016); a few minor edits would make this introduction suitable for an Advent series later this year (2017):

Martin Luther once observed that there were three “ingredients” that turned a man into a good theologian. These three ingredients are summarized in three Latin words:

  • meditatio (meditation, or study of God’s Word)
  • oratio (prayer)
  • tentatio (testing, or trials)

What is true of theologians is true of all Christians. God uses these three things—meditation, prayer, and testing—to draw us closer to him as we wait for the day of Christ’s return.

As we stand on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, our midweek Evening Prayer series for this Advent season will help us Prepare the Way for the Lord by considering how God prepares our hearts for his Son’s advent through the three ingredients Luther observed: meditation, prayer, and testing. As we listen to the Advent story in Luke 1 during these services, we will also ponder three different sections of Psalm 119 that highlight the themes of meditation, prayer, and testing. Join us for worship as the Holy Spirit prepares our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ first advent and to anticipate his second advent.

  • November 30 | Psalm 119:9-16 | Prepare the Way for the Lord – in Meditation
  • December 7 | Psalm 119:145-152 | Prepare the Way for the Lord – with Prayer
  • December 14 | Psalm 119:65-72 | Prepare the Way for the Lord – through Testing

Because I’ve preached at least one of the sermons in this series at several different congregations, I have written sermons for all three texts at some point. I offer a sample sermon for all three texts below, with the hope that others will find this series useful in their own congregations later this year and for their own devotional use at any time.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 26, 2016

Sermon on Matthew 24:36-44

JESUS IS COMING—ARE YOU READY?

  1. We don’t know when he will come,
  2. But we do know what will happen.

 Based on Matthew 24:36-44

 Introduction

Perhaps you are familiar with the name Nicholas Thomas Wright. N.T. Wright, as he is often known, is a New Testament scholar in the Anglican Church. He has written many scholarly works and also many popular Bible commentaries. In his commentary that covers today’s Gospel account, he shared the following personal anecdote:

matthewforeveryone2It was a fine Saturday afternoon in the heat of summer. The family, some on holiday from work, were relaxing in the house and the garden. Books and magazines were lying around the place, along with coffee mugs, newspapers and packets of biscuits. Everything had the look of the sort of cheerful untidiness that a large family can create in about an hour.

Suddenly there was a ring at the doorbell. Wondering vaguely which friend might be calling I went to answer it, dressed as I was in very casual clothes. There, outside, to my horror, was a party of 30 or so well-dressed visitors. They had arranged, many months before, to come to look at the house, because of its historic associations. And neither I nor the family had remembered a thing about it.

You can imagine the next five minutes. I suggested that the visitors went into the garden for a little while (‘to get a good look at the house from the outside’), and then mobilized the family to clear everything up. Within minutes everything was clean and tidy. The children retreated into bedrooms. We opened the front door again and the visit went ahead.

You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage … [is] about.

Matthew for Everyone, Part 2

Today’s service puts us in mind of Jesus’ second Advent, that is, his second coming into this world. As we get ready to celebrate Jesus’ first entrance into this world at his birth, we need to be honest about the situation: Jesus came once, and as we think about his first entrance this time of year, we also have to “get real” about his second coming. N.T. Wright’s personal anecdote is a fitting everyday illustration for our thoughts today—except that if we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, it is not merely a social faux pas or a personal embarrassment. If we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, we can’t tidy up our hearts in five minutes and hastily prepare ourselves. But if we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, we will face eternal consequences. Jesus is coming! Are you ready? Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel help us to be ready. He reminds us to be ready because we don’t know when he will come, but we do know what will happen when he does.  Read More…

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