Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 26, 2015

Sermon on Jeremiah 38:1-13


  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) 


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


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

Service Video (sermon begins at 25:50)


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!


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…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 1, 2015

Luther on Deuteronomy 4:2

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

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 20, 2015

A Voice from the Past Looking Ahead to the Holidays

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

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

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

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


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

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

Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 12, 2015

Sermon on 2 Kings 4:42-44


Text: 2 Kings 4:42-44

Service Video (sermon starts at 25:25)


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

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

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

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 27, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:30-34


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

Text: Mark 6:30-34

Service Video (sermon starts at 32:30)


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

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

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


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

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:1-6


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

Text: Mark 6:1-6

Service Video (sermon starts at 24:00)


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

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


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

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

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

Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 10:24-33


 Text: Matthew 10:24-33

 Service Video (sermon begins at 26:15)


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

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

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

Verses 24-25

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

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 6, 2014

A Higher View of Church Musicians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 30, 2014

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


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

Text: Mark 8:27-35

Service Video (sermon starts at 23:40)


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

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

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

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