Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 23, 2016

Sermon on Romans 5:1-5

Holy Trinity Sunday — May 22, 2016 — Sermon starts at 31:25

A THREEFOLD BLESSING FROM OUR TRIUNE GOD

  1. Peace before the Father
  2. Access through the Son
  3. Hope from the Spirit

Text: Romans 5:1-5

Introduction

fireworksAlthough we are just a week away from Memorial Day—the holiday that marks the start of summer in the minds of many people—I’d like you to move your minds ahead to the holiday that occurs in the middle of summer, Independence Day. Imagine that, after the sun has set, you are taking in a spectacular fireworks display, the likes of which you can’t remember seeing before. The family is all together for the Fourth of July, and one of your children or grandchildren are seated on your lap as this master lights display is bursting before your eyes. Do you think that, at that moment, you would begin to explain how fireworks work in a scientific way with proper academic language? Or is that the moment to sit back, enjoy the time with family, ooh and ah at the fireworks as they blossom in the sky, and just soak in the moment?

Last week was Call Day at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary—the day when graduates of our church body’s seminary find out (in a special service with 1,000 other people present!) where they have been assigned to begin their ministry as pastors. A son of St. Mark’s congregation, Gunnar Ledermann, received his divine call at that service to be pastor at a congregation in Rockwall, Texas. Imagine you are there, hearing the voices of a thousand fellow Lutherans sing the hymns with vigor and enthusiasm, feeling the nervous excitement in the room as life is about to change in a big way for those graduates. Do you think that, at the moment the list of assignments is being read, you would turn to the person next to you and ask them to explain the in’s and out’s and policies of the call process to you? Or is that the moment to sit back, absorb the emotions and energy that permeate the rom, and soak in the whole experience?

C38b-smallToday is Trinity Sunday. The Christian Church has been celebrating this particular Sunday, eight weeks after Easter, as Trinity Sunday since 1334 A.D. officially, and unofficially even earlier than that. And there are two ways we could celebrate this day. We could turn worship into an academic experience, and slice and dice our way through the Athanasian Creed and other precise Christian statements of faith about the Trinity. There is no doubt that there are definite times and places for that! But we could also celebrate like an incredible divine fireworks display of the Triune God’s existence and mystery and blessings on us. That’s really what we’re doing in this service today, and that’s the direction our sermon today will take us in. Our meditation on God’s Word today will be more like celebration rather than education. We want to marvel in the mystery of our Triune God, and also bask in the glow of all his blessings to us. To do that, let’s take a closer look at the Second Lesson for this service, from Romans 5:1-5. That’s where the apostle Paul helps us to celebrate this day by focusing on a threefold blessing from our Triune God: peace before the Father, access through the Son, and hope from the Spirit.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 5, 2016

Sermon for the Festival of the Ascension of Our Lord (2016)

Ascension Day – Thursday, May 5, 2016 – Sermon starts at 29:00.

ASCENSION TELLS THE REST OF THE STORY…

  1. …about the Church’s earthly mission
  2. …about the Church’s heavenly future

 Text: Acts 1:1-11 (emphasis on verses 6-11)

 Introduction

Wouldn’t you like to know what the future holds? Wouldn’t life be a little easier if we could get a glimpse into some of the major events and circumstances that will affect your future? Wouldn’t it help the high school teen to know what college she’s going to attend, and what career path lies ahead in her future, and when she will meet Mr. Semi-perfect? Wouldn’t it be helpful for an adult husband to know which job promotional opportunity will be the one he should take, or how many kids God will ultimately bless his wife and him with, or how much of his income he’s going to need to save to help the kids through college and achieve his investment goals? Wouldn’t it be nice for seniors to know exactly how they could most effectively stretch out their retirement dollars and how their health and well-being will be over the years to come? Wouldn’t it be nice to know the future?

Of course, if we knew our full future, we would also know the hardships that will happen and the heartaches that will come our way. So maybe it would be better if we stayed in the dark! Maybe we can just find out about the “good stuff” in our future and let the rest just happen!

In a sense, we do know the future. No, we don’t know the future about everything. But we do know some of the best and most important aspects of our future in the Christian Church. Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, which we celebrate today, teaches us about our future as members of his Church. Our Ascension celebration today will tell us the rest of the story about the Church’s earthly mission, and about the Church’s heavenly future.

I.

Question: How do you make God laugh? Answer: Tell him your plans!

If all good humor has an element of truth, then that little joke is a pithy commentary on the human condition. We think we know what should happen in the future, but more often than not, God has something quite different in mind!  Read More…

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

 

IGNORANT SHEEP CAN’T STOP THE GOOD SHEPHERD

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

Introduction

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

Exposition

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

Lent Sermon Series: THE IRONIES OF THE PASSION

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

 Text: Matthew 27:62-66

 Introduction

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.

Exposition

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

SUBMIT TO GOD’S CALL TO HUMILITY

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

 Text: James 4:7-10

Introduction

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

Lent Sermon Series: THE IRONIES OF THE PASSION

Sermon Theme: “IT IS BETTER THAT ONE MAN DIE FOR THE PEOPLE”

 Text: John 11:45-53

Introduction

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.

Exposition

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

JESUS IS BETTER THAN ALL THE REST!

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

Text: Hebrews 4:14-16

Introduction

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.

I.

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…

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