Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 1, 2018

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

APRIL FOOL OR EASTER FACT?

Sermon based on Mark 16:1-8

Introduction

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

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

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

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Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 6, 2018

Sermon on Exodus 20:1-6

WHEN GOD TALKS, WE LISTEN!

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

Based on Exodus 20:1-6

 

Introduction

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

 

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

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 3, 2018

Sermon on Mark 9:2-9

SEE JESUS’ GLORY ON GOD’S TERMS

Based on Mark 9:2-9

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 4, 2018

Protected: Family Christmas Letter for 2017

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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…

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