Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 1, 2015

Luther on Deuteronomy 4:2

Several lectionaries appointed selected verses of Deuteronomy 4 as the First Lesson for last Sunday. The Christian Worship lectionary appoints Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8 as the First Lesson for this coming Sunday; the Christian Worship: Supplement lectionary adds verse 9 to the pericope. So this quote may be a little late for many others, but for WELS pastors planning for September 6, 2015, this applies to the upcoming Sunday. I appreciated this quote from Luther’s comments on Deuteronomy 4:2 regarding the command to neither add to or subtract from the Word of God, which then lead into Luther’s comments on free will.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 20, 2015

A Voice from the Past Looking Ahead to the Holidays

The picture of Pastor Kurt Eggert near the collection of books that bears his name in the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary library.

The picture of Pastor Kurt Eggert near the collection of books that bears his name in the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary library.

Summer is a good time for future planning in the parish. One important upcoming service that gets planning attention this time of year is the children’s Christmas service. The service we’re going to use at St. Mark’s has already been selected, but it was our brief Christmas service discussion that reminded me about this article from the Spring 2001 edition of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. Prof. James Tiefel at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary wrote the following article in which he quoted the late Pastor Kurt Eggert’s insightful thoughts about children’s Christmas services, and then included some further related commentary. I’ve shared this with others often enough through the years that I thought I’d share the article online. Perhaps Eggert’s voice from the past will offer you some good food for thought as you make your Christmas service plans in your own local parish this summer or fall.

(As an aside, the WELS Hymnal Project has made Viva Vox — a worship journal that Kurt Eggert and Ralph Gehrke produced in the mid-1950’s — available on its resources page. Check it out for more of Eggert’s wisdom and insights from the past).

THE SAME OLD STORY … THE SAME OLD SONGS

There is a certain post-Christmas relief that settles over church and school in January. The annual Christmas services are over and done. Winter may be a good time to review what took place during December.

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of a letter the sainted Pastor Kurt Eggert wrote long ago as a review of a children’s Christmas Eve service. He must have been writing to the service’s author or arranger. What Eggert wrote may be helpful as you begin planning for Christmas 2001.

Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 12, 2015

Sermon on 2 Kings 4:42-44

WHEN YOU WONDER WHAT TO DO, RETURN TO THE WORD OF THE LORD

Text: 2 Kings 4:42-44

Service Video (sermon starts at 25:25)

Introduction

It is a Lutheran social faux pas of the highest order. Under no circumstance whatsoever do you want to find yourself in the unenviable position of having to take the blame for this horrible situation. If it happens, people will be talking about it for years to come. What is this socially unacceptable behavior among Lutherans? It’s simple: Not having enough food for a church potluck dinner! Of course, that’s easier said than done. You have to guess how many people are going to be there, and you are somewhat at the mercy of the people who will be bringing food for the meal. And it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up plan just in case. (At St. Mark’s we call that back-up plan El Pollo Loco).

In the Gospel for today (John 6:1-15) we have a familiar miracle account from the ministry of Jesus. Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 men appears in all four Gospels, and it’s probably among the most well-known incidents from the ministry of Jesus. The lack of food to feed such a large crowd was not addressed by a fast food run or a hired caterer, but by the hand of the Son of God who proved his divine power through this memorable miracle.

In the First Lesson for today we have a much less familiar account from the ministry of the Old Testament prophet Elisha. A small amount of food is donated to the school of the prophets—a kind donation to be sure, but not enough to give a sufficient meal to 100 men. But the end result of this account is quite similar to Jesus feeding the 5,000. And while you and I may not be the beneficiaries of either of these miraculous meals, we can be beneficiaries of the lessons we can learn from them—particularly the lesson we can learn from the First Lesson, which is the basis for this morning’s sermon. And the lesson we’ll learn is simply this: When you wonder what to do, return to the Word of the Lord.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 27, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:30-34

TIME FOR A “CHURCH REFRESH PROJECT”

  1. We need a time for refreshment
  2. Others need refreshment, too

Text: Mark 6:30-34

Service Video (sermon starts at 32:30)

Introduction

After today, we will have just one more month in this church sanctuary before we move worship into the gym for two months while the long-promised sanctuary refresh project takes place. On Monday, August 31, the pews will be taken away, the wood repaired and refinished, the padding recovered, the ceiling repaired, and the walls repainted and redecorated with wall sconces and a few appropriate Bible passages. When we return to worshipping in the sanctuary, Lord willing on October 25, I think you’re going to be very pleased and excited with the final outcome. And if our fiftieth anniversary thank offering is able to support it, in a couple of years there could be stained glass windows along these walls, beautifying this sanctuary even more and proclaiming the gospel through art and symbolism etched in glass.

Even without the refresh project, we are blessed with a fantastic church sanctuary. Space for plenty of worshippers, good acoustics for singing, a good location—these features alone make many other congregations a little envious. But the facelift that the refresh project will give this sanctuary will undoubtedly be—well, refreshing!

It is time for a church refresh project. Notice now that I didn’t say sanctuary refresh, but church refresh. Those of you who were here last month for our fiftieth anniversary service may remember from Pastor Bill Tackmier’s sermon that he emphasized that the church really isn’t the sanctuary or the building, but the congregation or the people. Just as there is value refreshing our sanctuary with a new look, so there is great value giving the church and the people who make up the church some refreshment. That’s what we’re going to learn this morning as we take a look at the Gospel reading that is appointed for today’s service. Jesus teaches us that it is time for a church “refresh project.” We, the members of the church, need a time for refreshment, and there are many others outside the church who need that some refreshment, too.

I.

Jesus and his disciples needed some refreshment also. Today’s Gospel occurs immediately after the account we heard last Sunday (Mark 6:7-13), when Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs to preach and teach and even perform miracles to back up their message. And now they came back to Jesus, gave him a full report of all they had said and done and how people had responded to their gospel message. By now, quite a “buzz” has been created around Jesus. Mark said, “So many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat.”  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:1-6

THE HOMETOWN PROPHET–REJECTED

  1. See an amazed rejection of Jesus
  2. See an amazed reaction from Jesus

Text: Mark 6:1-6

Service Video (sermon starts at 24:00)

Introduction

There is an unwritten rule among pastors that you never accept a call to serve the congregation in which you grew up. Four years ago, I came to St. Mark’s to serve as one of your pastors, but the year before you called me, I had a call to a church that would have placed me just down the street from our seminary, mere minutes from my parents’ house, and within reasonable driving distance to more than one Lutheran high school. Some friends thought I was crazy to decline that call until I tell them that the church that called me five years ago operates the Lutheran grade school that I attended. To be the pastor of your grade school classmates and their parents would present challenges that could cause problems to the ministry. People remember the child, and it would be awfully difficult for them to accept—let alone respect—a man as their pastor that they primarily remember as a little boy.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Jesus didn’t seem to fare so well in the Gospel for today. Chapter six of Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus visiting his hometown, Nazareth, and serving as the guest preacher for a synagogue’s Sabbath Day service. Jesus was only the guest preacher, not the resident rabbi, but instead of being treated as a hometown hero, Jesus, the hometown prophet, was rejected by the synagogue crowd. None of us claim Nazareth as our hometown, but this account from Mark’s Gospel contains a warning for us lest we reject Jesus, and it also contains a unique glimpse into the grace of God. As we work through today’s Gospel, we will see an amazed rejection of Jesus, but also an amazed reaction from Jesus.

I.

There is always a certain feeling of excitement when a son of the congregation preaches in a service. In September we will welcome back Pastor Keven Boushek who will preach for our final fiftieth anniversary service, and a couple of years ago we had Seminary student Gunnar Ledermann preach for us, who is now only a year away from his ordination. Those occasions offer a sense of pride not just for the parents but for the whole congregation.

If we look at Luke’s account of this incident, it seems that there was some initial excitement when Jesus came to guest preach in his hometown’s synagogue. But it didn’t last long. Mark takes us right to the rejection. “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

Mark tells us that the crowd was “amazed.” Later on in this reading, Jesus is also described as “amazed,” but in each case a different word is used in the original language. Here the word “amazed” pictures the crowd as being overwhelmed by what they witnessed. You can year it in their words. “Where did this man get these things?” We’d say, “Who does this guy think he is?” This Jesus fellow had been a carpenter—a profession that wasn’t always thought of so highly at that time. Some of these people probably had furniture in their homes that Jesus made! They mention his brothers by name and the fact that his sisters were right there in town. And he preaches to them that he is the Messiah? That was too much for most of them!

Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 10:24-33

WHOM SHALL I FEAR?

 Text: Matthew 10:24-33

 Service Video (sermon begins at 26:15)

Introduction

The pastor had made repeated attempts to contact a member who had fallen away from church and had fallen into a sinful situation without any sign of repentance. Phone calls were not returned, emails were not responded to, and every communication attempt was met with unresponsiveness. So the pastor sent a final letter, a last attempt to express the seriousness of her sin and how her soul was danger of being lost. Later that week an anonymous caller phoned the church, asking to speak to the pastor, berating him for the letter he had sent his acquaintance and saying in his best tough guy New York accent that he was “going to come over there and take care of business!”

The college student was engaged in a conversation with another student about religion. He confessed his faith that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6). The response from his classmate took him for surprise. He said, “If everyone had that kind of attitude, there would be nothing but hatred and war and bloodshed in the world!”

Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” But it doesn’t take too long to respond to that rhetorical question with a sincere objection. “I can think of a lot of people I’m afraid of, people who will give me a hard time or maybe even threaten me because of my sincerely-held Christian beliefs!” Whom shall I fear? The list is longer than we’d care to think about!

Verses 24-25

The Gospel for today comes in the middle of words that Jesus spoke to disciples that were about to be sent out on a missionary journey. Prior to today’s Gospel, Jesus had told these commissioned missionaries, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” and went on to describe the kind of opposition and persecution they could expect. Whom shall I fear? I suspect these disciples had more than a few real answers to that rhetorical question from the psalms!  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 6, 2014

A Higher View of Church Musicians

I’m teaching a class on the book of Psalms right now for my Sunday morning Bible class at St. Mark’s. The first three weeks are covering “background information” on the book of Psalms (types of Psalms, the organization of the book, poetry, the church’s use of the psalms), and then we’re going to study selected psalms (some chosen by the class) over the last seven weeks of this study. In the course of reading about some of the lesser-known authors of a few psalms, I came across the following quotation from one of the volumes in the People’s Bible, a WELS-produced Bible commentary. And since I haven’t been saying much lately on the blog, I figure that it can’t hurt to quote someone else — in this case, our seminary‘s president.

I appreciate the higher view of church musicians represented by this quotation. We could view our musicians as “hired hands” — and in the days before MIDI, a church without an organist or pianist in its membership would need a hired musician for there to be any music at all during worship. But when the musicians who accompany us in worship share a common confession of faith with us and express that confession by the music they select or the way they bring out a hymn’s message in its performance, we have so much more than a practical service provided to our church. We have a musical expression of faith and fellowship that stands alongside the proclamation of the gospel in Scripture and sermon and sacrament. Surely that deserves our encouragement and support!

With that, here’s a quote worth pondering from the volume of the People’s Bible on 1 Chronicles. This paragraphs come from the comments on 1 Chronicles 6:31-53.

For the first time in our book, we meet David as the great organizer of Israel’s temple worship. We will meet him again later in this same capacity. Noteworthy too is the high prominence given to music in the worship of the one true God. Of all the duties of the Levites, the ministry of music is listed first. There are many artistic gifts that God gives, and there are many forms of service. None serves the message of the gospel better than music.

It is worthwhile to note that the Levitical musicians were regarded as much more than simply blowers of horns, bangers of cymbals, and pluckers of strings. They were viewed not as entertainers or performers but as servants of the Lord. Under David they had a call into a type of public ministry. They delivered God’s message to the people through words matched with music. As we glance at the titles over Psalms 39, 42, 44 through 49, and 73 through 88, we notice that many of the same names listed here reappear there as authors of those psalms. These musicians were inspired biblical poets as well as composers. …

What can we take away for ourselves from all this? Certainly we are not bound by Old Testament forms and regulations. It would be a misapplication of Scripture to say that we must have called musicians just as David did. That was then. This is now. The Christian is free to choose, to select, to adapt, to create.

Yet isn’t it a good idea to prize and develop musical talents among us? Rather than taking a low view of organists (“anyone will do; all they do is depress keys”), shouldn’t we cultivate an attitude among us that sees them as offering great service to the Lord? Are we quick to criticize our instrumentalists because they hit a couple of wrong notes or play a hymn faster than we might like it? And are we slow to recognize the humble spirit of service that they display Sunday after Sunday? What kind of hymn writing is being done among us? Do we leave all that sort of thing to those whose doctrinal pedigree is suspect? What place does music take in our church budgets? Is it somewhere behind office supplies and parsonage upkeep? The prominence given to musicians in Israel suggests we ask ourselves questions like these.

Few things serve the gospel like good words matched to good music. God understood that. David understood that. It is good for us to understand that too.

-Wendland, Paul O. 1 Chronicles. 2nd ed. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 2002.

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 30, 2014

Sermon for the Commemoration of Sts. Peter and Paul (2014)

LESSONS TO LEARN FROM THE SAINTS

  1. We share their same faithful confession
  2. We struggle with their same sinful condition

Text: Mark 8:27-35

Service Video (sermon starts at 23:40)

Introduction

What is the oldest holiday or celebration in the Christian church? I suppose Easter wins that award, since the very first generation of Christians chose Sunday as their day of worship in light of Jesus’ Easter Sunday resurrection. The First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. set the practice we western Christians observe today, celebrating Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21. The fourth-century doctrinal controversies about Jesus that our Christian forefathers faced contributed toward setting a day to remember the birth of Jesus, and so December 25 became the day to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord in 336 A.D. in Rome.

It doesn’t surprise us to hear that those key Christian holidays became holy days early in Christian history. What might surprise us as twenty-first century Christians is that the occasion we’re celebrating today has been a Christian holiday as long as Easter and Christmas have been holidays! According to Christian tradition, Paul and Peter were martyred on the same day of the year, and some believe it was also in the same year. On June 29, 258 A.D., their remains were moved to the catacombs in Rome during a time of persecution, and since the fourth century, June 29 was observed as a day to remember Peter and Paul.

Today we are not here to worship these key saints as secondary saviors. The spirit of today’s celebration is much like our celebration last Sunday when we honored a pastor who had served us for a quarter century and thanked God for his service among us. Today we remember two saints who served the church in its infant years and we thank God for their service and what he accomplished through these apostles. We won’t turn Peter and Paul into secondary saviors, but we do want to learn some lessons from their lives, and we’ll do that by focusing on the Gospel for today. That’s where we’ll see these two lessons we can learn from the saints. First, we share their same faithful confession. Second, we struggle with their same sinful condition.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 25, 2014

Sermon on 1 Peter 3:15-22

WHEN PERSECUTION COMES, LOOK TO CHRIST!

  1. Be prepared to defend the gospel of Christ
  2. Find comfort in the resurrection of Christ

Text: 1 Peter 3:15-22

Service Video (sermon starts at 36:00)

Introduction

Persecution of Christians is on the rise in our country. Perhaps the number one issue that demonstrates this is the very sudden increase in the public promotion of same-sex marriage. A family-owned bakery in Oregon had to close its doors and the business is now run out of the owners’ home because of the heat they took when they would not agree to make a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. A photographer in New Mexico was sued and forced to pay a $7,000 fine because she wasn’t comfortable and wouldn’t agree to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. It seems that practicing your faith is only allowed inside your church building—and I pray God that this right not also be taken from us!

And yet, if we think persecution is ramping up in America, we need only to look at other countries around the world to realize that we really don’t have it that bad. A news story that is gaining attention especially on social media is about a Sudanese woman who has been given the death sentence for leaving Islam and marrying a Christian man. She was raised by her Christian mother and has always been a Christian, but her father was a Muslim, although he left her family when she was young. Her faith in Christ has earned her the death sentence and a brutal, inhumane stay in prison until she gives birth to her child, after which she is to be flogged and then hanged.

Persecution is very real today. It takes different forms at different times in different places, but it appears to be hitting closer to home and increasing in intensity around the world. And that makes today’s Second Lesson that much more significant. The apostle Peter wrote to first century Christians who were scattered around ancient Asia Minor due to persecution. The words Peter wrote for those ancient believers are as applicable to us modern Christians as it was to Peter’s original readers. Today St. Peter encourages you: When persecution comes, look to Christ! Be prepared to defend the gospel of Christ—in other words, direct others to look to Christ. And then also find your comfort in the resurrection of Christ—in other words, look to Christ for yourself and your faith’s comfort.

I.

Our Second Lesson actually begins mid-sentence in the original language and in many translations. We’ll use the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) for our translation today, since there are a few difficult spots in this reading to translate, and I feel the HCSB has done a good job translating them and making those spots a little clearer. Our excerpt begins, “Honor [Christ] as Lord in your hearts.” Peter was just writing about the fact that sometimes Christians suffer for doing the right thing. As the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” In contrast to their persecutors who denied Christ, Peter told his readers to honor Christ and set him apart as Lord in their hearts and minds. That would show itself in many different ways, but one way Christians do that is when we defend our Christian faith. Peter says, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The word “defense” in the Bible’s original language looks like the word “apology.” In certain contexts, “apology” means “defense. For example, one of the Lutheran Confessions is called the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1530). In that case, the word apology doesn’t mean that our Lutheran forefathers wrote that they were sorry about what they had publicly confessed; rather, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession defended what the first Lutherans said they believed in the Augsburg Confession (also 1530). Peter urges Christians to do something similar. Our faith is built on historic facts, not fiction, and so there is something we can defend and articulate to others. Apologetics is a worthy field of study, but you can hardly defend the facts of your faith if you don’t know them well to begin with. So Peter’s words call for constant study of the Scriptures so that we are prepared to defend the gospel of Christ.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 1, 2014

Sermon on Romans 8:1-4

FREE AT LAST!

Text: Romans 8:1-4

Service Video (sermon starts at 34:40)

Introduction

“Free at Last!” When you hear that phrase, what comes to mind? If you are at all in tune with American history, the phrase “Free at last!” brings to mind the conclusion of the famous “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. If you are in tune with the African-American music tradition, you know that “Free at Last” is an old spiritual. If you enter “free at last” in a web search engine, you will see that phrase used to promote an addiction treatment support group, to describe a particular political action committee, and to advertise a bail bonds company.

“Free at Last” could just as easily be the theme of the opening verses in today’s Second Lesson. In that reading from Romans chapter eight, the apostle Paul gives a spiritual “Free at Last” speech. But it’s kind of an ironic “Free at Last” speech, because these words follow a chapter where Paul sounds like he is anything but spiritually free. Romans chapter seven could be called the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” chapter of the Bible, because Paul laments the ongoing spiritual struggle inside him between his old sinful nature and his new Christian nature. Just a couple of verses before the start of today’s Second Lesson, at the end of that “Jekyll and Hyde” chapter, Paul wrote, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” So how can Paul go from that to a spiritual “Free at Last” speech in just two verses?

That question isn’t just a theology question. It is a very real and practical question. Is there anyone here who has never struggled with guilt? Aren’t Lutherans supposed to be the ones all about grace and forgiveness and salvation! Then why should the power of sin and the pangs of guilt still plague my heart? Perhaps that is why Paul’s “Free at Last” speech deserves our attention—if for no other reason than that we ought to understand how Paul could make such a bold claim about his spiritual freedom when earlier, in the same breath, he acknowledged his ongoing struggles with sin.

Exposition

Today’s Second Lesson begins: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Let me get this straight. Two verses earlier, Paul called himself “a wretched man.” Now he boldly and emphatically says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The word “condemnation” focuses on the punishment that comes from a verdict or judgment. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, Paul says there is no future punishment coming because of the guilty verdict we deserve for our sin. That’s great, but doesn’t that contract Paul’s own words two chapters earlier when he said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a)? How can Paul say that, and then say two chapters later that there is no condemnation? How can we talk about grace and love and forgiveness when my life’s story and your life’s story are not very worthy of grace and love and forgiveness from God?  Read More…

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