Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 23, 2017

Sermon for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.

Psalm 119:46  (EHV)

I.

Luther 95 Theses

Ninety-Five Theses, 1517

October 31, 1517. An Augustinian monk posts a document for discussion and debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where this monk also serves as a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. For several years, he has seen the abuses of a church that turned repentance from an attitude of the heart into a piece of paper you could purchase. Distressed by this and other abuses in the church, he hopes to have an honest discussion and debate about a matter that surely is a concern to many.

You know all about that event. The Augustinian monk and theology professor was Martin Luther, and his document is now commonly called the Ninety-Five Theses. He posted that document up for discussion and debate 500 years ago this fall, and that’s why our church and church body are sparing no time and expense celebrating the Lutheran Reformation’s anniversary this year. But what happened next? Did Luther’s honest desire to address the abuses of the medieval Roman Catholic Church go anywhere?

Luther Diet of Worms

Diet of Worms, 1521

Instead of being lauded for his pastoral concern, Luther was targeted for stirring up trouble. In 1518, he was called to a meeting before Cardinal Cajetan, where he refused to recant what he had said and written unless he could be proven wrong by Scripture. In 1519, in a debate held in Leipzig, Germany, Luther pointed out how the Roman papacy was making claims and decrees without the support of Scripture. In 1520, Luther was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. Then in 1521, in Worms, Germany, Luther was confronted with his writings and teachings and asked whether or not he would recant. His answer: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” And because he would not bow to the pope’s demands, Luther was declared an outlaw whom anyone could legally kill—all for saying that he would only teach what Scripture teaches!

Presentation Augsburg Confession

Augsburg Confession, 1530

Over the next decade, attempts to resolve this matter never came to fruition. But finally, in 1530, Charles the Fifth, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, called a council in Augsburg, Germany, to deal with two issues: the ongoing threat of Muslim invasions, and the ongoing divisions of the Christian in his empire. The Lutherans’ confession of faith was presented to the emperor on June 25, 1530—487 years ago today. Though the document was prepared by Luther and his colleagues, it was signed and presented by the German princes and rulers who agreed with the teachings and the concerns of Luther and the other Lutheran theologians.

The debates and tensions would continue, but the first official Lutheran confession of faith had been presented to the emperor. Luther did not attend the council in Augsburg because he was still considered an outlaw, but when he received the final copy of the Augsburg Confession, he responded by quoting Psalm 119:46: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.” That Bible verse would later become a motto attached to the Augsburg Confession, and for that reason Psalm 119:46 is the basis for today’s sermon.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 21, 2017

Prayer for the Commemoration of the Augsburg Confession

Many Lutheran congregations are taking the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses as an opportunity to celebrate another significant Lutheran anniversary: the presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530. While this anniversary might have been overlooked since it is not a “major milestone” anniversary like 475 or 500, the fact that it occurs on a Sunday this year and the fact that it is the 500th anniversary year of the start of the Reformation encourages us to mark this important event as well.

Congregations that are planning to commemorate the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession this weekend should have most of their plans set by now. (For future reference, this blog’s resources page has links to two files that have materials that could be used to construct an Augsburg Confession anniversary service: the Responsive Dialogues for Worship file and the Alternate Confessions of Faith file). But if you are still looking to use a Prayer of the Church that is geared toward the occasion, here is one that you could easily incorporate into your services, even at the last minute.

I wrote the following prayer for our use at Crown of Life Lutheran Church this Sunday. Although its paragraphs end with a responsive formula for congregational participation, it could easily be spoken entirely by the presiding minister by dropping the response, “[M] Lord, in your mercy, [C] hear our prayer” from the prayer. Feel free to adopt or adapt this prayer for use in your local congregation.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 31, 2017

Sermon for Ascension and Graduation (2017)

AN ASCENSION-GRADUATION LESSON

  1. Christ guides our lives
  2. We proclaim Christ’s life

Based on Mark 16:19-20

Introduction

Who is excited that the school year is finally over? Students! Teachers! No explanation needed. Who is not so excited that the school year is over? Parents! Some explanation is helpful. You knew what your kids were doing the past nine months, but now you have to figure out what they should be doing the next three months. Maybe you have to figure out what your children’s schedule is going to look like over the summer, who will take care of them, or how to keep them from burning the house down while you’re at work!

Today is not just the end of another school year; it is also Ascension Day. Forty Days after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven now that his work of redeeming the world from sin was complete. But in many ways, Ascension is also like graduation. For the remaining 11 apostles of Jesus, Ascension must have seemed like graduation. Just as our eighth grade graduates are moving on to a new phase of life, Jesus’ apostles were also moving on to a new phase of life. Just as our eighth grade graduates have completed this phase of their education, so Jesus’ apostles had just completed several years in what might best be called, “Jesus Seminary.”

As we celebrate both of these events tonight, Ascension and graduation, we’ll draw a couple of parallel lessons that apply to both. To learn those lessons, we are going to turn to the last two verses of Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Ascension-graduation lessons shows us that Christ guides our lives and encourages us so that we proclaim Christ’s life.  Read More…

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…

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