Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 26, 2016

Sermon on Matthew 24:36-44

JESUS IS COMING—ARE YOU READY?

  1. We don’t know when he will come,
  2. But we do know what will happen.

 Based on Matthew 24:36-44

 Introduction

Perhaps you are familiar with the name Nicholas Thomas Wright. N.T. Wright, as he is often known, is a New Testament scholar in the Anglican Church. He has written many scholarly works and also many popular Bible commentaries. In his commentary that covers today’s Gospel account, he shared the following personal anecdote:

matthewforeveryone2It was a fine Saturday afternoon in the heat of summer. The family, some on holiday from work, were relaxing in the house and the garden. Books and magazines were lying around the place, along with coffee mugs, newspapers and packets of biscuits. Everything had the look of the sort of cheerful untidiness that a large family can create in about an hour.

Suddenly there was a ring at the doorbell. Wondering vaguely which friend might be calling I went to answer it, dressed as I was in very casual clothes. There, outside, to my horror, was a party of 30 or so well-dressed visitors. They had arranged, many months before, to come to look at the house, because of its historic associations. And neither I nor the family had remembered a thing about it.

You can imagine the next five minutes. I suggested that the visitors went into the garden for a little while (‘to get a good look at the house from the outside’), and then mobilized the family to clear everything up. Within minutes everything was clean and tidy. The children retreated into bedrooms. We opened the front door again and the visit went ahead.

You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage … [is] about.

Matthew for Everyone, Part 2

Today’s service puts us in mind of Jesus’ second Advent, that is, his second coming into this world. As we get ready to celebrate Jesus’ first entrance into this world at his birth, we need to be honest about the situation: Jesus came once, and as we think about his first entrance this time of year, we also have to “get real” about his second coming. N.T. Wright’s personal anecdote is a fitting everyday illustration for our thoughts today—except that if we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, it is not merely a social faux pas or a personal embarrassment. If we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, we can’t tidy up our hearts in five minutes and hastily prepare ourselves. But if we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, we will face eternal consequences. Jesus is coming! Are you ready? Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel help us to be ready. He reminds us to be ready because we don’t know when he will come, but we do know what will happen when he does.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 18, 2016

Sermon on Colossians 1:13-20

CHRIST IS A KING LIKE NO OTHER

  1. He rules over all
  2. He has reconciled all

 Based on Colossians 1:13-20

Introduction

When a new person is put in charge of something—a project or a committee or a company—that person often has an agenda to improve whatever he is in charge of. Politicians run campaigns with the promise of changing things for the better. Look at our current and future presidents; both ran campaigns promising change! A new boss or supervisor comes into our workplace, and we compare them with the previous boss and evaluate which one was better. Packers fans have become so frustrated with our suddenly mediocre team that many have been calling for change at levels as high as the defensive coordinator, head coach, and general manager, and all with the assumption that a new coordinator or coach or G.M. will be better than what we have now. In every case, whether it’s the people who serve us in government, or who oversee our workplaces, or even run our favorite sports teams, we want people who are better than all the rest.

different religionsSometimes people think the same way about God. We live in a place where Christianity is the vastly predominant religion, but throughout our world many identify with other religions and “gods,” all with the hope that their religion and their god will make their lives better.

Thanks to God’s grace and his Word, we know the one and only path to God is through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Son of God has used the Word of God to plant faith in your heart, and as a result, you realize that you don’t need to look for some other “god” out there to rule your heart and guide your life. There is no better option—in fact, there really is no option at all—other than true God who tells about himself in the Bible and who reveals himself to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. On this final festive Sunday of the church year, our Second Lesson helps us to appreciate and celebrate that point. The only divine influence we need is Jesus Christ, because Christ is a king like no other. He rules over all, and he has reconciled all.

I.

Today’s reading comes from the New Testament book called Colossians. It seems that the apostle Paul wrote this book, at least in part, to warn his readers about a false teaching that was starting to make its way into their minds. This false idea is sometimes called the “Colossian heresy.” So what was the problem? We can’t say with total certainty, but we can gather some information about this issue from Paul’s letter. It seems that there were some people, either in this church or influencing this church, who promoted ideas such as secret spiritual knowledge, or the benefits of a highly ascetic life, or obsession with cosmic, spiritual creatures. What these people failed to understand is that chasing after this spiritual fad would cause them to miss out on the real spiritual blessings that Jesus Christ offered and delivered.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 15, 2016

Sermon on Isaiah 65:17-25

YOUR BEST LIFE THEN

  1. Where problems are a thing of the past
  2. Where paradise is permanent

 Based on Isaiah 65:17-25

 Introduction

american flagSo how did you feel on Wednesday morning? The elections were over, the results were in, and the make-up of the next round of our local, state, and national leaders was clear for the most part. Like just about any election, half of our nation woke up with delight, and half woke up with disappointment.

Perhaps it is a happy coincidence that after a tough election process last week, the Bible readings for this week take our minds off this world and place our thoughts in the next world. That’s helpful both for those who are happy with last Tuesday’s election results and for those who are disappointed with those results. It’s safe to say that political differences of opinion do not change the fact that people with different opinions still want what they believe to be the best for our nation. But even if every election and referendum goes your way, you will never be able to achieve a perfect and problem-free society in this sinful world. That simply doesn’t happen now. That happens then—on the other side of the grave, forever in heaven. Your best life and your dream existence won’t happen now. Your best life will be then. And Isaiah helps us to appreciate that point in the First Lesson for today’s service. Your best life is coming then, in heaven, where problems are a thing of the past, and where paradise is permanent.

I.

The second half of Isaiah’s book was written to the ancient people of Judah who would find themselves taken captive by a foreign nation. The homes they had built were vacant. The fruit in their vineyards was dying on the vine. The hopes they had for their children’s future had been dashed. It wasn’t a happy picture.

Isaiah knew his audience well. So did the Holy Spirit, who inspired Isaiah to write these words. To underscore the future reality that problems will be a thing of the past in heaven, Isaiah described heaven in verses 21-23 in these terms: “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.”

When we know the background of the people that these words were first written to, we can appreciate Isaiah’s word pictures of the problem-free existence of heaven. But he doesn’t only speak in terms that his ancient Jewish audience could relate to; he also uses metaphors that anyone from just about any era could appreciate.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 31, 2016

Devotion for “Proud to Be Lutheran” Night

On Friday evening, October 21, Crown of Life Lutheran Church and School hosted “Proud to Be Lutheran” night. The evening included worship, a school play about Martin Luther, chili cook-off dinner, children’s artwork displays relating to the Lutheran Reformation, and more. The offering from the opening Evening Prayer service resulted in over $3,000 for tuition assistance at Crown of Life Lutheran School. The following devotion was a part of the evening’s opening service:

How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Twenty-three years ago, when our current hymnal, Christian Worship, was first published, there was a definite answer to that question. How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Ten: One to change the bulb and nine to say how much they liked the old one better!

There is no shortage of jokes about Lutherans (just ask Garrison Kiellor to tell you a few!), and there is quite a bit of “inside humor” among Lutherans. Lutherans supposedly like to drink coffee even if it’s 110 degrees outside; rumor has it that some churches consider coffee to be a sacrament! Lutherans are known for filling a church from the back; rare is the person who willingly chooses to sit in the front row. Lutherans assume that Jello is one of the four basic food groups; in fact, if you’re really Lutheran, you prepare Jello that matches the liturgical color of the season. Lutherans are more reserved with their emotions in worship, to the degree that some have labeled Lutherans, “the frozen chosen.” Even though we are more reserved with our emotions, we are nevertheless quite musical: Lutherans can sing four-part harmony moments after coming out of the womb.

Most humor has an element of truth in it, and there is an element of truth in the humor you just heard, but at the end of the day, that’s all those comments are—humor. Your love of coffee does not make you Lutheran (which is good, because I don’t like coffee)! So what is it that makes you Lutheran?  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 3, 2016

Sermon on Luke 17:1-10

THE MINISTRY IS SERIOUS BUSINESS!

  1. It proclaims a serious message
  2. It requires serious humility

 Based on Luke 17:1-10

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The pastors who participated in my Installation Service at Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Hubertus, Wisconsin on September 25, 2016.

Introduction

“So, Pastor, what are you going to do to grow this church?” The new pastor was a bit surprised to receive this question from a member of his new congregation on his first Sunday. He sensed a presumption in the question that he was supposed to have some kind of silver bullet or magic formula that would make the ministry flourish there. In light of what he sensed, he answered this practical question with a theological answer. “What are you going to do to grow this church?” The pastor responded, “Preach the gospel!”

Setting aside any assumptions about silver bullets and magic formulas, it certainly isn’t inappropriate to be thinking about the ministry today, especially as we begin our relationship together as pastor and congregation. I would imagine that when I arrived at my previous congregations, people had their own questions. What was my ministry going to look like? What kind of pastor would I be? Would the kind of pastor I would be line up with their expectations or hopes? Those questions are fair questions. They were fair questions for people to ask five and fifteen years ago when I arrived at my two previous parishes. They were fair questions thirteen years ago when Pastor Helwig arrived at Crown of Life. And they are fair questions this weekend as your newly installed pastor begins his ministry to this congregation.

This is a natural occasion for us to think about the ministry. In the Gospel for this week, Jesus’ words contain helpful thoughts as we begin our ministry together as new associate pastor and congregation. Even though Jesus wasn’t speaking directly about the ministry in Luke 17, we’ll find a good deal of direction and encouragement about the ministry in these verses. Today’s Gospel teaches us that the ministry is serious business. It’s serious business because the ministry proclaims a serious message, and it requires serious humility.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 29, 2016

Farewell Sermon on Luke 14:1,7-14

HOW SHOULD WE GO FORWARD? WITH HUMILITY!

  1. Humility with respect to self
  2. Humility with respect to others

Text: Luke 14:1,7-14

Introduction

When Pastor Waterstradt was about to retire from the ministry a couple of years ago, he came to me with a request about the worship plans for his final Sunday. He asked that we not make any major changes to the service plans or the Bible readings for the day; he would simply preach on one of the three readings for the day and make it fit as a final farewell sermon. As the plans turned out, Pastor Waterstradt’s final Sunday occurred eight weeks after Easter on “Trinity Sunday.” All three readings mentioned the Trinity, but one of the readings that day came from the end of one of the apostle Paul’s letters, in which he was saying “farewell” to his readers. Needless to say, that reading was a perfect match for that occasion!

St Marks ChurchI took the same approach on my final Sunday in my previous parish five years ago, and I planned to do the same this morning for my final Sunday among you here at St. Mark’s. And then I looked at the appointed readings for today and thought, “This is going to be a challenge!” Today’s three lessons have one common theme: humility. What a message to preach on a pastor’s final Sunday: “You all should be humbler!” This could be an awkward sermon to preach!

But the more I thought about these readings, the more I realized that today is a good day for us to hear a message of humility—that each person thinks humbly of himself and others, that we do not elevate anyone to be a “second Savior” in our minds, and that we maintain a spirit of warmth and humility as you carry out your congregation’s ministry in the future under different circumstances. Since I announced my acceptance of a new call, I haven’t been a part of discussions about St. Mark’s future plans, but on my final Sunday with you, it is appropriate for us to turn to God’s Word and find encouragement for the spirit and attitude with which you ought to move forward. How should you move forward as a Christian congregation? Jesus answers that question in today’s Gospel by saying, “With humility!” Jesus’ words in Luke 14 encourage us to keep a humble attitude with respect to oneself, and also to keep a humble attitude with respect to others.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 15, 2016

Worship and the Right Brain

The following article was published in the July 2016 (No. 79) edition of Worship the Lord, a bi-monthly newsletter for pastors published by the WELS Commission on Worship. Click the article title for the PDF version.

Worship and the Right Brain

by Johnold Strey

“So, Honey, what did you think about that service?” his wife inquired as the family drove home after Ash Wednesday worship. Their congregation included the imposition of ashes for the first time, and it seemed like a natural topic to bring up on the way home.

“I’m not sold on the ashes yet. I mean, I don’t think there was anything wrong with it, but it just didn’t do much for me. What did you think about it?”

“I loved it! It was so powerful seeing all of God’s people come back to their seats with cross-shaped ashes on their foreheads. And I got a little emotional when the pastor said to me, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ But I thought it was a powerful message of repentance.”

lent-2010-_11Their teenage son chimed in from the back of the car: “I thought it was a little creepy that the pastor was basically telling each one of us that we’re going to die. And did you hear him get choked up when his kids came up?”

“It was a little uncomfortable having him stand so close to me to put the ashes on my head, but I liked it,” their recently confirmed daughter said.

Their fifth grade son finally added his two cents worth: “I liked that I could participate. It was different, but it was kind of interesting.”

The preceding family conversation may be fictitious, but it does reflect some of the different reactions worship leaders will encounter when their congregations enter more deeply into the realm of rite, ritual, ceremony, and symbolism in worship.

Experiences like the imposition of ashes and other worship rituals are often discussed as a dichotomy: Do you like “high church” or “low church”? Do you like artistic expression in worship, or do you prefer the service to be simple and straightforward? To those dichotomies, add discussions about emotions in worship or the concern that some ceremonies might be misunderstood, and you can see how this topic is ripe for debate!

There is another way to consider this topic that will avoid false dichotomies and move the discussion into a more profitable sphere. We best understand and appreciate worship’s ceremonies, symbols, and rituals when we understand them as forms of communication. Different forms of communication interact differently with the two hemispheres of our brain. Understanding how the mind processes information, we see how rituals and symbolism in worship are uniquely designed to communicate to the right hemisphere of the brain, while the words of worship communicate to the left hemisphere.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 3, 2016

Call Decision Announced (2016)

Three weeks ago, I received a divine call from Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Hubertus, Wisconsin, to serve as their first permanent associate pastor. I announced my acceptance of that call this morning (July 3, 2016) verbally in the post-service announcements at my current congregation, St. Mark’s, and by a letter that was read to the members of Crown of Life after their services this morning. Here is the text of that acceptance letter:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Dear members of Crown of Life Lutheran Church:

Over the past three weeks, the Lord of the Church has given me the privilege to consider two calls to serve in his kingdom—the call I presently hold to serve his people at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights, California, and the call you have extended to me to serve you at Crown of Life. As challenging as the call deliberation process can be at times, it is a blessing to all involved as pastor and congregations carefully evaluate the abilities and resources they have been given by God.

After prayerfully considering your call, my current call, and the abilities God has given me, I am happy to report to you that I am accepting your call to be your new associate pastor at Crown of Life. I am truly humbled and honored that you have called me to serve you. I am encouraged by the ministry with which God has blessed you and the privilege to be able to serve with Pastor Helwig. I look forward to beginning my ministry among you later this year. Please pray for me, my wife Emily, and our four children as we make our transition to Wisconsin after spending the last 15 years in California.

I am sincerely looking forward to serving your congregation, but the acceptance of this call is also a bit melancholy for my family as we say good-bye to a congregation we have come to know and love for the past five years, and as we bid farewell to northern California which has been our home for the last decade and a half. The people of St. Mark’s and the people of my previous congregation, Gloria Dei in Belmont (near San Francisco), are near and dear to us. They have supported me and my family in good times and bad and have exhibited the love of Christ in so many ways. They are also your brothers and sisters in Christ; they share a common confession with you even though we are separated by nearly 2,000 miles. I ask you to especially remember St. Mark’s congregation in your prayers during the period of transition that they will face in the months to come.

God has richly blessed Crown of Life congregation with a beautiful facility, dedicated ministers of the gospel, supportive members, and a ripe mission field. I pray that I may be a blessing to your ministry even as your call has already been a blessing to mine!

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Johnold J. Strey

I began this blog just before I received my first call to consider while serving at my first congregation, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Belmont, California. Those past blog posts not only record the call letters I sent to the calling congregations, but some of the additional commentary on those posts explained my thoughts and processes going through the deliberation process. As I’ve glanced over those old posts again, it struck me that so much of what I said then applies to this current decision. Rather than rephrasing those thoughts in a new post, I invite you to reread these past posts dealing with the call deliberation process:

I appreciate your prayers for my family, for my current congregation, and for my future congregation during this time of transition for all of us. In the midst of change, we can be thankful and confident that our never-changing Lord and his never-changing gospel will bless and guide us through the inevitable changes and challenges of life and ministry.

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 19, 2016

Sermon on Genesis 39:6b-12,16-23

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost — June 19, 2016 — Sermon starts at 26:05

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED?

 Sermon Text: Genesis 39:6b-12,16-23

 Introduction

Bill came into work and greeted the secretary as usual. It was obvious she wasn’t feeling well emotionally. He sat down and listened to her for a while. When it came time to head to his office and start the day, he ran into John in the hallway, one of the other employees at work who had been a source of grief to the secretary. Bill gently suggested that he take it easy on her today since things weren’t going so well in her life. Fifteen minutes later, the secretary was in Bill’s office, with angry tears and a livid look on her face. “Why would you say that about me?” she demanded from Bill. Apparently John went right to her after Bill talked to him and claimed that Bill had said she was in a cranky mood and that it would be best to avoid her all day. Of course, that’s not what he said, and what he did say was meant to help her, but she wasn’t convinced. And the old saying was proven correct again: No good deed goes unpunished!

Have you been in a situation like that? Your words or actions are twisted into something you didn’t say and didn’t do, or shameful words and actions you didn’t do are unfairly attributed to you. It has probably happened to many of you. And when it does, you can’t help but think to yourself, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But is it that simple? Is life that fatalistic? Does the good guy and the godly gal end up suffering for doing the right thing? Jesus warned us in today’s Gospel that Christians will experience suffering—he calls it “tak[ing] up [our] cross”—for no other reason than that we are Christians. Is there more to it than that? How does suffering play a part of our lives? Does it accomplish something more than meets the eye? In today’s service, the topic that Jesus introduces in the Gospel is something that we will explore more fully in this sermon as we consider the account from the life of Joseph in the First Lesson from Genesis 39.

I.

 Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Jacob was one of the ancestors of Jesus and one of the patriarchs of the ancient nation of Israel. Joseph also happened to be father Jacob’s favorite son of the twelve. And Jacob wasn’t subtle about his favoritism. You can imagine the jealousy and family tension that created. The hatred that Joseph’s brothers had for him became so bad that they faked his death and sold him off into slavery.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 17, 2016

Call Received (Crown of Life; Hubertus, WI)

On Sunday afternoon, June 12, 2016, I received a phone call from Pastor Mike Helwig of Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Hubertus, Wisconsin (a suburb located northwest of Milwaukee), notifying me that Crown of Life had extended a call to me to serve as one of their two pastors, with a particular focus on the congregation’s “inreach” ministry. Crown of Life is a growing congregation in a growing community, and they also operate a preschool and K-8 elementary school.

What follows below is the letter I have sent to Crown of Life congregation acknowledging receipt of their divine call. As I ask for their prayers in this letter, so I ask for my blog readers’ prayers as well during this deliberation process.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Dear members of Crown of Life Lutheran Church:

Greetings to you in the name of our risen and ascended Lord, Jesus Christ.

On Sunday, June 12, the voters of Crown of Life extended a divine call to me to serve as one of your two pastors. I am humbled and honored to have received this call to serve your congregation. Over the next few weeks, I will speak with Pastor Helwig, Principal Troge, and other leaders of Crown of Life to learn more about the ministry you carry out, and to consider where I can best use the abilities God has given me to serve in his kingdom—whether to continue my service here at St. Mark’s, or to begin a new chapter of my ministry among you.

The call deliberation process is a natural time for a pastor to evaluate his ministry. I ask for your prayers as I consider where I may best serve the Lord, and I will keep your congregation in my prayers during this deliberation process. Thank you in advance for your thoughts, prayers, and insights during the weeks ahead.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Johnold J. Strey

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