Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 20, 2016

Sermon on Colossians 3:16

During the “middle” Sundays of this year’s Epiphany season (January 17, 24, and 31, 2016), St. Mark’s is offering a three-week sermon series that focuses on the congregation’s three-part mission statement: [1] Glorify God, [2] Grow in Grace, and [3] Go with the Gospel. This is the first sermon in the series.

Sermon Series Title:  St. Mark’s, Rise to Your Mission!

WORSHIP IS ALL ABOUT THE WORD

Text: Colossians 3:16

Service Video (sermon starts at 24:30)

Introduction

Nearly a dozen years ago, when my wife and I had just one child who was then a less-than-one-year-old baby, we took a vacation for about a week to Yosemite National Park. We stayed in a cabin just outside the park’s borders; there were three other units in this set of cabins, and we exchanged some pleasantries every so often with the people who were staying in the other cabins. Sunday morning came around, and since there were no congregations of our fellowship near us, worship consisted of a family devotion instead of a church service. As I stepped outside our cabin that morning, I told one of the neighbors how strange it felt for me, as a pastor, to not be in church for worship on a Sunday morning. He responded to my comment, looking up at nature’s beautiful scenery around us, and saying, “Well, this is a great church! You can worship God anywhere!”

True or false: You can worship God anywhere. Like many good true/false questions, the answer to that question depends; it depends what you mean by the word worship. Like many other words in our language, the word worship can refer to more than one activity. Let me give you an example before we answer the question. Right now my Sunday morning Bible class is studying Roman Catholicism. The word catholic is another word that can mean more than one thing. Catholic can mean universal, something that Christians have done around the world and over the span of many centuries. Catholic can also mean something that is associated with the Roman Catholic Church. As Lutherans, we have no problem with activities that are universal catholic, like speaking the Nicene Creed after the sermon. And as Lutherans, we do have an issue with things that are catholic, that is, uniquely Roman Catholic, such as praying to the saints when Scripture directs us to pray to the Triune God alone. So Lutherans are catholic and not Catholic at the same time, because the word means two different things.

True or false: You can worship God anywhere. It depends on what you mean by the word worship. Worship can refer to the way Christians live their lives to honor God by all that they do. In that case, yes, you can worship God anywhere—in fact, we’ll want to worship him everywhere! But the word worship also refers to the regular, usually weekly gathering of Christians around the Word of God and the Sacraments. I can read the Bible on my own, but it would be difficult to hear it read and applied to my life without connecting to some type of larger gathering of Christians; and I will certainly have a difficult time receiving the Lord’s Supper unless I’m connected to a larger gathering of Christians. That sense of worship is something I cannot do on my own; I need to be with other Christians, just as the Bible encourages us: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 11:25, NIV84).

Today we are beginning a three-part sermon series that will consider the three-part mission statement of St. Mark’s that is printed on the large banner in the gym and is now on display on the wall in the back of church. That three-part mission statement states that St. Mark’s congregation exists to [1] glorify God, [2] grow in grace, and [3] go with the gospel. Today we will examine the first part of that statement, to glorify God—which is just another way of saying that we gather to worship him. Just as worship in daily life is different than worship as a group of believers gathered in God’s house, so the expression, glorify God, means one thing in daily life and another thing as a group of believers gathered together in God’s house. The two terms are basically interchangeable. So we will learn more about what it means to glorify God as a Christian assembly as we study Colossians 3:16 in depth today, and learn from St. Paul that our public worship is all about the Word.  Read More…

WE WISH YOU A M-A-R-Y CHRISTMAS!

  1. Rejoice in Jesus, Mary’s Savior and your Savior
  2. Marvel at Jesus, Mary’s Son and your Brother

Text: Luke 1:46-49; 2:1-719

Service Video (sermon starts at 24:15) 

Introduction

StarbucksHolidayCupI would like to begin this Christmas Eve sermon by showing you something that is quite offensive to some. (Take out the Starbucks 2015 “Christmas cup”). This red cup is the source of a great scandal in some circles—especially the circles of Joshua Feuerstein, a 34-year-old pastor and internet personality who suggested earlier this year that the plain red cup was Starbuck’s contribution to the overall cultural war against Christmas. Now, as a Christian, I don’t like it when Christmas is put on an equal level as any other quasi-religious, late-December holiday, but I just cannot get upset at a coffee company (that makes a great chai tea) for not proclaiming the Christmas gospel on its paper coffee cup when that’s not the company’s job in the first place.

But there were some who, along with Joshua Feuerstein, were quite offended at the plain red cup, as if it were less sacred the previous years’ cups with ornaments, snowflakes, snowmen, and sleds. And some of those people thought they would “one-up” Starbucks by placing their order and then saying their name was, “Merry Christmas.” So when the 21-year-old barista who’s just trying to make some cash while working through college calls out your drink order, he will have to say, “I have a venti, no water, no foam, whole milk chai latte for Merry Christmas.” The CEO of Starbucks hasn’t exactly been a friend of traditional Christians and their values, but neither he nor anyone else has said that the company employees cannot use the phrase, “Merry Christmas.”

From my standpoint, the whole ordeal is much ado about nothing. And it’s also a shame that the expression, “Merry Christmas,” an expression that should be a joyous, sincere greeting among Christians, has now been added to the overall Christmas cultural controversy of 2015.

Tonight, I want us to rise above the cultural silliness. Tonight, I want the Word of God to help us put these debates and controversies aside and put real, proper meaning back into the expression, “We wish you a merry Christmas.” And one way for us to have a truly merry Christmas is to see Christmas from the perspective of Mary, the mother of Jesus. For us to have a M-E-R-R-Y Christmas, we need to have a M-A-R-Y Christmas. As we work through some key verses in the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit will help us to have Mary’s perspective on Christmas. We wish you a MARY Christmas! Rejoice in God—Mary’s Savior and your Savior. Marvel at Jesus—Mary’s Son and your Brother.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 19, 2015

Sermon on Luke 3:1-6

READINESS REQUIRES REPENTANCE

Text: Luke 3:1-6

Service Video (sermon starts at 23:00)

Introduction

How is your Christmas preparation coming?

  • House decorated? Check!
  • Christmas party plans set? Check!
  • Presents purchased? Check!
  • Presents wrapped? Check!
  • Tree purchased? Check!
  • Tree in its stand? Check!
  • Tree decorated? Check!
  • Christmas travel plans finalized? Check!
  • Repentance? … (silence)

Wait a minute. What is “repentance” doing on a checklist of items to get done before Christmas? That doesn’t sound like it belongs. It hardly fits with the festive holiday mood that it buzzing around this busy shopping area that we find ourselves in the midst of.

Of course, the Christian Church has never been an institution that just goes along with the crowd. Repentance may never make it on to your pre-Christmas to do list. The secular Christmas songs we enjoy this time of year will talk of sleigh bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but they will never talk about repentance at the arrival of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You can enjoy all the songs you want that tell you that Santa Claus is coming to town, but you and I both know that the Advent that really matters is that Jesus Christ is coming to earth. And a major component of our Advent readiness—both to celebrate Jesus’ first arrival, and to be ready for his return—is repentance. That’s the message we will take home as we take a closer look at the Gospel for today from Luke 3:1-6: Advent readiness requires repentance.

Exposition

Today’s Gospel begins: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” Luke thought and wrote like a historian. He regularly included historical references in his two New Testament books. Think of the Christmas story from one chapter earlier: Luke mentions Caesar Augustus and the census he called for and the ruler governing Syria. One chapter later, in our selection for this morning, Luke does the same thing.

I won’t walk you through all of the historical names and references that Luke includes, but let it suffice to say that all of this information takes us to the year 26 A.D. by the estimates of many Bible scholars. But that’s not just historical information. Luke began the chapter this way, with references to real history and real people. He did not begin the chapter by saying, “Once upon a time, there was a man named John the Baptist.” John the Baptist prepared people for the arrival of Jesus’ ministry, but his message prepares us to celebrate Jesus’ first arrival and to be prepared for the second arrival of Jesus. John’s call to repentance happened in real time, in real history—and that’s one reason why we should take his call to repentance seriously as we get ready for Christmas.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 7, 2015

Summaries of the Seasons

Another pastor recently asked me if I had brief, “bulletin-ready” summaries of the seasons of the church year. He wanted to include them in his weekly service booklet along with the description of each specific Sunday’s emphasis. I have included those kinds of descriptions from time to time in the service booklets of the congregations I’ve served, so fortunately I had something to send him back. With the hope of these summaries gaining more mileage, I’ve included them below and offer them here for you to adapt or adopt.

Church Season Explanations for Service Booklets

Advent

The first season of the church year is the Advent season.  Advent includes the four Sundays before Christmas Day.  The word Advent means “coming.”  As we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ first coming into this world at his birth, we also prepare for his second coming at the end of time.

Christmas

Christmas is both a day and a season.  During the twelve days of Christmas (December 25 through January 5), we continue our celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was born of the Virgin Mary to be our brother and our Savior.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 28, 2015

Sermon on Hebrews 12:18-24 by Kurt Eggert

Almost two years ago, I was back in Wisconsin for the first face-to-face meeting of the Rites Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project. After the meetings were done, I caught up with a former member of The Lutheran Chorale of Milwaukee, a volunteer choir of WELS members that I had the pleasure of singing during three different segments of time between fall of 1992 and spring of 2001. For a while, I had been looking for someone who had a copy of the cassette tape of the Lutheran Chorale’s concert from spring of 1993, which was the last concert that Pastor Kurt Eggert directed before the Lord called him home that June.

Kurt Eggert

As it turned out, not only did this person have a copy of that concert, but she also had cassette recordings of several other events involving Pastor Eggert. I was able to take these cassettes home and convert them to MP3 files. Some of the recordings included sermons that Pastor Eggert preached during his time at Atonement Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. While most of the sermons in that group of tapes were preached in connection with special events, there was one that was a “regular service” sermon. The sermon was based on Hebrews 12:18-24. The exact date is not certain, but it seems that it was preached in or close to 1980. The sermon theme (from what I can tell) was, “Almost Home.”

With its End Time emphasis, I thought I’d post that particular sermon now that we’re leaving the End Time emphasis of the end of the church year and entering the similar-but-different End Time emphasis found at the beginning of the new church year.

Click this link to listen to the sermon.

 

Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 17, 2015

Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30

TIME FOR A LESSON ON TALENTS

  1. God gives different talents to different people
  2. God looks at the same criterion for everyone—faithfulness

 Text: Matthew 25:14-30

Service Video (sermon starts at 27:40)

Introduction

IMG_20151109_130740_721

Fall Leaves in Wisconsin

What does late fall mean for you? When I traveled to Wisconsin last week for hymnal committee meetings, I couldn’t help but be reminded that for many people, fall is the time of year to rake the leaves off your front yard! Since we hope that winter rains come in good measure over the next few months, fall might be a good time to clean out your rain gutters! With Thanksgiving just a week and a half away, fall might be your time to clean your house in preparation for the company that you’re expecting; or it might be the time to tune up your car if you’re traveling somewhere for Thanksgiving. We could say this about any time of year, but the activities that take place in different seasons often dictate what is on our personal agendas.

At St. Mark’s, fall means Oktoberfest, a school-sponsored chili cook off, and planning for Thanksgiving and Advent. But at St. Mark’s, fall also means the annual stewardship program. The timing makes sense. As you think about your personal budgets for the New Year, it’s wise for us to have our stewardship program and to encourage you to plan your giving to the church as you think about the rest of your own spending. That helps the church to also plan a responsible budget. And that’s an important part of stewardship.

But stewardship is more than just spreadsheets, offering envelopes, and finances. This year’s St. Mark’s stewardship program intends to get us to think about the bigger picture of stewardship—the “time and talents” aspects of stewardship. And Jesus’ parable of the talents in today’s Gospel will highlight the emphasis of our stewardship program as we take some time for a lesson on talents.

I.

In Matthew 25, Jesus has three back-to-back discourses that all deal with the end of time and his final return. The first is the parable of the ten virgins, then there is the parable of the talents in today’s Gospel, and finally there is Jesus’ description of the final judgment as the separation of the sheep and the goats. It’s helpful for us to remember the larger context of today’s Gospel: It is not merely an isolated story about stewardship, but it is part of a larger discussion about being prepared for the return of Jesus at the end of time.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 2, 2015

Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17

WHAT CAN WE SAY ABOUT THE SAINTS?

  1. Their number is great and growing
  2. Their clothes are white and clean
  3. Their future is perfect and permanent

 Text: Revelation 7:9-17

Service Video (sermon starts at 22:50)

 Introduction

What does it mean to be a “saint”? In common language, I suppose it refers to a really nice person, or perhaps a kind loved one who has died. In Roman Catholic theology, it means a person who has done so many good things in this life that their good works more than balances out their sin. In American sports, it means a football team in New Orleans. In the language of the New Testament, it literally means “holy ones”—in fact, in the NIV’s 2011 updated translation, the English word “saint” no longer appears, but the original word is usually translated something like, “God’s holy people.”

The Christian church has thought highly enough of its saints of the past to set aside a day to remember their examples of faith and to thank God for them since 835 A.D. But what does it mean to be a saint? And do I need to be a part of that group to be right with God? And if so, how do I become a part of that group? Those are natural questions to ask today, and the Second Lesson for today will help us to direct our discussion on this All Saints’ Day. What can we say about the saints? Saint John’s words in the Second Lesson give us three things we can say about the saints: [1] Their number is great and growing; [2] Their clothes are white and clean; [3] Their future is perfect and permanent.

I.

Our readings comes from Revelation chapter seven. In the verses just before today’s reading, St. John saw a picture of God’s people on earth receiving a seal or mark from God that declared them to be his. If you have ever had a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness about those verses, they will tell you that the 144,000 people who are sealed in that account reveals exactly how many people will be in heaven—144,000. But that number is a symbolic number; it symbolizes the entire church on earth. There were 12 tribes that belonged to God’s Old Testament people, the Jews; and there were 12 apostles that Jesus appointed in his New Testament church. Multiple 12 times 12 and you get 144. Then multiply that times 1,000—a number that stands for “completeness” in Revelation—and you have a symbolic number that stands for the entire church on earth.

But notice what happens to that symbolic number once the scene changes from earth to heaven in our reading. “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” The same group that numbered 144,000 is now so great that it cannot be counted. They come from every corner of the world to fill the scene in heaven with saints who now stand before the throne of God in worship.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 20, 2015

Sermon on Genesis 2:18-24

A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN

Text: Genesis 2:18-24

Service Video (sermon starts at 24:30)

Introduction

The guests neatly and politely filed into their seats, wearing their best suits and dresses. The church was decorated beautifully in red and gold pew bows and freshly-cut roses on the altar that filled the air with their aroma. The bells began to ring through the building and into the streets announcing the start of the ceremony. The strings began to introduce Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D as the bridesmaids slowly processed down the aisle in their red dresses, met by their corresponding groomsman halfway down the aisle. Everyone smiled and even chuckled politely as the bride’s four-year-old niece and the groom’s three-year-old nephew came down the aisle. Suddenly the crescendo in the music cued everyone to stand and turn to the back as the bride was escorted by her father, both smiling from ear to ear and holding back happy tears. They arrive at the front of the aisle, where dad gives his daughter a final kiss before placing her arm into the arm of her groom, as they make the final steps to the altar. The wedding service was stunning. Everything went off without a hitch—except the most important hitch: the couple getting married! The wedding ceremony could have been described as nothing short of divine. The day gleamed with so much beauty and the newlyweds beamed with so much happiness that it seemed like theirs was a match made in heaven.

Now fast-forward a few years. The baby cried from the nursery again—the third time so far, and the night wasn’t over. Their toddler was just getting over his cold that he brought home from preschool, and everyone else managed to get their share of it. Dad’s job had him working longer and longer hours, and neither mom nor dad felt like they could get on top of things. Mom dragged herself out of bed only to trip over some toys that had been left in the hallway on the way to the nursery. Then their toddler woke up early—the fifth time he had done that in the last week. They felt like they hadn’t slept a wink, and the exhaustion was making both mom and dad irritated at their kids, at each other, and especially at the telemarketer’s phone call that rang at quarter to seven. The day began badly before it had even started. What happened to the love and romance and excitement from their wedding day? Privately, in their own minds, each began to wonder if they were really a match made in heaven, or just another marriage mistake.

If there’s a mistake that many couples make, it’s that they spend a lot of time preparing for their wedding, but not nearly as much time preparing for their marriage. The wedding is a day—a special and memorable day, but still, just one day. The marriage is “till death parts us.” We can spend thousands of dollars on the wedding, but very little time and energy on the marriage. And then Satan begins to convince us that maybe this wasn’t God’s good plan all along.

Today’s Bible readings put the topics of marriage and family before us. We’re going to focus especially on the First Lesson from Genesis 2, where God not only created Adam and Eve but he also created the institution of marriage. Wherever you are in life, our study of the First Lesson will help us regain an appreciation for the fact that marriage by God’s design leads to a match made in heaven.

Exposition

If you are at all familiar with the creation account in the first chapter of the Bible, you know each day ends with the same basic refrain: “God saw all that he had made, and it was good.” So when God says what he does in the opening verse of our reading, it should make us sit up and take notice: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” God was not only speaking about Adam, the first male, but he was also stating a general principle that is true in this world: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God did not create humans to be hermits. God is not excluding the single life here, but he is saying that in general, men and women desire to be married and have a companion throughout life. So God carried out his plan to “make a helper suitable for him.” It is true and taught in Scripture that God wants the husband to be the loving leader of his family, but that does not mean that the wife’s role as helper makes her inferior or unimportant. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is a complimentary word, used in the psalms to describe God’s relationship to us. And the idea behind the word “suitable” is that God was going to create someone who would correspond with Adam. This was not a clone or replica of Adam, but another person who would complement him. They would “fit together” well as a couple.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 26, 2015

Sermon on Jeremiah 38:1-13

WHEN YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH IN A WORLD FULL OF LIES, REMEMBER…

  1. Expect opposition from the world
  2. Expect apathy from the world
  3. Expect deliverance from the Lord

 Text: Jeremiah 38:1-13

Service Video (sermon starts at 26:00) 

Introduction

Why were so many mothers and infants dying? That’s the question that nineteenth century Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis wanted to know after he began work as a doctor in the maternity clinic at a hospital in Vienna. The disease commonly called “childbed fever” was taking the lives of far too many mothers and babies. Semmelweis began to study and rule out possible causes. He finally came to the conclusion—a conclusion that seems like a no-brainer to us today—that doctors needed to wash their hands and their medical instruments not just with soap but with a chorine solution. And when the doctors in the hospital did this, guess what happened with the mortality rate. It dropped significantly!

You would think that a discovery like this would have been openly received and adopted by the medical community. Think again. Some doctors felt that Semmelweis’s discovery suggested that doctors were responsible for causing these deaths. Semmelweis stood his ground, not always in a tactful way, and made a few enemies along the way. His advice was by and large ignored, and he was so frustrated at the response from the medical community across nineteenth century Europe that he was eventually committed to a mental asylum.

There are many examples through the centuries of people who proclaimed the truth only to be ignored by their contemporaries, while a later generation would come to realize the truth of their words. What was said about Semmelweis the doctor could also be said about Galileo the astronomer or Luther the theologian. You might be speaking the truth, but if the world is comfortable with the misinformation it has come to know, the truth won’t be well received.

Today’s First Lesson takes us to another similar situation where a truth-teller was not received kindly in a world full of lies. The truth-proclaimer in this case was the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, and the message he proclaimed from God went over the land of Judah about as well as a lead balloon. But the lessons we can learn from this account are important as we strive to proclaim the truth in our twenty-first century world. As we focus on the First Lesson for today, God’s Word will remind us that when you speak the truth in a world full of lies, you need to remember to [1] expect rejection from the world, [2] expect apathy from the world, but [3] expect deliverance from the Lord.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 12, 2015

Sermon on Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9

HOLD ON AND HOLD OUT!

Text: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9

Service Video (sermon begins at 25:50)

Introduction

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I remember my teacher handing out a worksheet to the entire class that taught us about following directions. The instructions at the top of the page said, “Read all the questions first before completing the worksheet.” The first ‘question’ said, “Write your name at the top of the page.” The other questions were a series of math and language questions. But the very last ‘question’ on the page said, “Now that you have read all the questions first, go back, write your name at the top, and turn in the worksheet.” In other words, if students actually read all the directions, they didn’t have to do anything other than to write their name! And of course most students kept working on all the questions until they got to the end, realized what they had done, and then spent the next couple of minutes erasing everything they had just written. Lesson learned: Read and follow the directions!

God has given us something far more important than a math book or English book. He has given us the Bible, the book of books. And in today’s service we see that he has certain instructions about how we handle this book and treat what it says. He wants us to grasp all that it says, not to assume what it says like my old fifth and sixth grade classmates did with that worksheet. He wants us to treat his Word properly and to proclaim his Word faithfully. We learn about those very points in the First Lesson for today’s service from Deuteronomy. This reading was Moses’ “farewell sermon” to the ancient people of Israel before God ended Moses’ life and the nation entered the land promised to their ancestors. Moses teaches the Israelites—and us today—how to handle the words and commands of God. We could summarize Moses’ points with two short phrases: Hold on, and hold out!

I.

Listen again to the opening verse of the First Lesson. “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” This verse sets a new direction in Moses’ farewell sermon. The three chapters before this verse include Moses’ summary of Israel’s history for the previous forty years of their desert-wandering history. Now, before they inherit the land God promised their ancestors, he moves his discussion to the “decrees and laws” God gave them. Our English ears hear “decrees” and “laws” as words describing commands, but some of the “decrees” Moses was about to speak included decrees or statements of God’s gracious actions and promises. Moses was teaching them to hold on to God’s expectations for their lives and God’s promises in their lives. In Lutheran lingo, we would call the expectations “law” and the promises “gospel.”  Read More…

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