Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 14, 2018

Sermon on John 17:11b-19

JESUS IS “GONE,” BUT WE’RE NOT FORGOTTEN

  1. Jesus prays that we are protected from the world
  2. Jesus prays that we are sanctified in the world

Sermon based on John 17:11b-19

Introduction

She wondered how you were doing when you were ten years old and attended your first sleep over party at your best friend’s house. She hoped that you were having a good time at summer camp and that you wouldn’t be coming home early with an unexpected injury or because you were causing trouble. She was concerned about you as you departed for your week-long high school trip to a different part of the country, praying for your safety every night. She prayed even more for you as you drove off to attend college in another state. She cried bittersweet tears for you when you graduated, knowing that you were soon to find your own place and begin your career and life on your own. All these examples and many more could describe many mothers who have genuine love and concern for their children, especially when they were not physically with their children. We all know that just because we are away from mom does not mean that she has forgotten about us or is suddenly unconcerned about us. Mother’s Day makes us think about how much mom loves her children—both when they’re at home, and perhaps even more when her children are gone.

The phrase, “Gone, but not forgotten,” usually describes how we feel about a loved one who has passed away. But I suppose we could use that phrase in another sense to describe how a loving mother feels about her children: There comes a time when they are gone from her home and no longer under her care, but they are never forgotten from her heart.

“Gone, but not forgotten” could also describe Jesus’ thoughts in the Gospel for today. On Thursday night of Holy Week, Jesus spoke a prayer to his Father in heaven while he was with his disciples celebrating the Passover, prior to his betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. That prayer has been called Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” (That’s the reason we just sang the hymn, “Jesus, My Great High Priest”). Jesus’ prayer looks ahead in time after his Ascension when he would no longer be physically present with his disciples, and he prays to his Father for them with this post-Ascension time frame in mind. Today, on the Sunday after our celebration of Jesus’ Ascension, we take a look at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in this same time frame. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples then is one that is just as applicable and meaningful to his disciples today. In this prayer, we see that even though Jesus is gone from us physically, he has certainly not forgotten us! He prays that we are protected from the world, and he prays that we are sanctified as we live in the world.  Read More…

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Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 6, 2018

Sermon on John 15:12-15

NO GREATER LOVE

Sermon based on John 15:12-15

Introduction

Everything seemed fine at first. It was just another commercial flight traveling from point A to point B. But not everything stayed fine. The left engine blew. The debris broke open a window. The plane immediately dropped in altitude. The oxygen masks fell down. The passengers knew that something had gone horribly wrong, and many assumed that they were going to die in a tragic crash.

SWA1380Apr172018pic2Now that a few weeks have passed since that fateful Southwest Airlines flight 1380 took place on April 17, I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the news story and the reasonably happy ending of a reasonably safe landing. One of the passengers on that flight was WELS Pastor Timothy Bourman, who serves Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in New York City. Pastor Bourman was interviewed on CNN shortly after this incident. During the interview, he said that he quickly sent a text message to his daughters, thinking that the plane was going to crash and this might be the last message he could ever communicate to them. What did he choose to make his presumed last words? Afraid that they might become bitter toward God if they would have lost their parents, he texted them that he loved them, that they should never lose their faith in God, and that Jesus loves them.

I hope none of us is ever in that situation. I hope if one of you are in a similar situation, you experience the same happy ending that Pastor Bourman and his wife did. But if you are in that situation, what would your last-minute message be to your loved ones?

In the Gospel for today, Jesus was in his equivalent situation. Knowing that his crucifixion and death would occur within 24 hours, Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal with his disciples and gave them a lengthy last message recorded in John 13-17. Perhaps this seems like an odd Bible reading choice for the end of the Easter season, but if we read the entire section, we discover how well Jesus’ words fit into worship this time of year. This Thursday, we will celebrate Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, and in two weeks from today, we will celebrate the day of Pentecost, when Jesus miraculously sent a special gift of his Holy Spirit on these same disciples. On the night before he died, Jesus looked ahead to his Ascension from this world and the day of Pentecost, and his words to his disciples prepared them for that day. That’s why we typically read from these words of Jesus during the end of the Easter season: Even though the words were spoken the night before he died, Jesus’ overall topic fits with his Ascension and the day of Pentecost. Jesus weaved several different topics into this discourse; the excerpt we will look at today focuses especially on living a life of genuine Christian love in light of the love that Jesus has shown us.

Read More…

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…

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

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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…

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