Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Are You Ready for a Holy Task - homiletic sermon Sunday December 17, 2006

Are You Ready for a Holy Task - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian recorded
Sunday, December 17, 2006 at Maruroopa Palli (Holy Transfiguration Orthodox
Mission Chapel) in Madison, Wisconsin USA. Focusing of the lessons of the
dream of Joseph - Matthew Chapter 1:18-25 and St Paul to the Galatians
Chapter 1: 11-24 and 1 Peter 2:11-17.

One unique feature of these recorded sermons is that they are
extemporaneously given - no written text or outline is used besides the

Due to technical difficulty between website and service at this time, this
sermon is only available for podcasting or download go to

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By Fr. John-Brian Paprock
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Dates for all major holy days
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Other recent audio sermons posted to listen on-line:

Toward Fullness as a Holy People - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian
recorded Sunday, December 10, 2006 at Maruroopa Palli (Holy Transfiguration
Orthodox Mission Chapel) in Madison, Wisconsin USA. Focusing of the lessons
of the birth of St John the Baptist - Luke Chapter 1:57-80 with Isaiah 62
and John's 1st Epistle 3:1-3.

Baptizing Babies into the Fullness - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian
recorded Sunday, December 3, 2006 at Maruroopa Palli (Holy Transfiguration
Orthodox Mission Chapel) in Madison, Wisconsin USA. Focusing of the lessons
of Holy Baptism (on the occasion of two infant baptisms), Luke Chapter
1:39-56 and Peter's 1st Epistle 3:1-7.

Miracles and Angels Await - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian recorded
Sunday, November 19, 2006 at Maruroopa Palli (Holy Transfiguration Orthodox
Mission Chapel) in Madison, Wisconsin USA. Focusing of the lessons of
Zachariah's vision (Luke Chapter1) and the beginning of Peter's 2nd Epistle.
Including references to 1 Samuel 1:9-18 and Isaiah 41:8-15.

Why We Need The Altar - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian recorded on
November 12, 2006 Lectionary/scripture readings for Sanctification Sunday:
Exodus 33:7-11, I Kings 8:22-40, Isaiah 55:1-13, Acts 7:44-53, Hebrews
9:1-14, and John 10:22-38

Between A Rock and A Hard Place - sermon by Fr John Brian recorded Sunday,
November 5, 2006 - Focusing on the lectionary readings: Matthew 16:13-23; I
Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:15-20 and 1 Peter 2:1-12

Last Sunday of the Cross - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian given Sunday,
October 29, 2006 - based on the scripture readings: Matthew 5:21-25; I
Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Peter 2:15-17 Hear about four things that are
indications of our freedom...

And One More Thing - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian recorded Sunday
October 22, 2006 based on the scriptures: Luke 18:18-27 and Isaiah 43:16-25

Driving Humility - sermon by Fr John Brian delivered and recorded on Sunday,
October 15, 2006 based on Matthew 23:1-12 - this homiletic sermon asks "Is
it possible to be humble while driving an automobile in America?" among
other things...

Can We Break The Rules? - sermon Sunday October 1, 2006 by Fr John Brian -
scriptures: Mark 2:23-28; Romans 8:1-8; Acts 7:2-5

Silly Foolish Children of God - sermon by Fr John Brian recorded Sunday,
September 10, 2006 that challenges: "IF YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD, THEN ACT
LIKE IT." Based on the scriptures: 1 Peter 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23;
Matthew 5:38-48

Proof of Salvation - sermon by Fr John Brian recorded Sunday, August 27,
2006 - based on the New Testament readings: Luke 11:9-20; 1 Thessalonians
4:13-5:11; 2 Peter 3:8-14

What Holds the Church Together? - a sermon by Fr John Brian recorded July
30, 2006 on John 6:47-59; 1Peter 2:4-10; Hebrews 4:14-5:5 Readings for the
8th Sunday of Pentecost

By Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Available at and other fine book sellers Or at a special price at Buy the book and help the mission effort

Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission
6205 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53705 USA
608.236.9622 voice mail

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Learning from Interfaith Awareness - Closing remarks for IAW9

IAW9 – Closing Celebration – Monona, Wisconsin


For theme: Tolerance and Understanding

Closing of 9th Annual Interfaith Awareness Week in Wisconsin


Learning from Interfaith Awareness

By Rev Fr John-Brian Paprock


Delivered December 16, 2006 at Monona Public Library



If there is an inherent balance and harmony in the natural world, regardless of how it came to be, and I am only a small part of the natural world, then why do I keep bumping into others?    I don’t mean in the synchronistic “hello” at the supermarket or post office.  Whose fault is that?  I mean a metaphoric push and shove, tug and shake, that seems to be going on constantly - offending, defending, assuming, prejudging and sometimes outright hating.  I assume this can be done in ignorance as accidental stumbles do happen, but we all recognize the greater harm that is done by those that know better; those that act with understanding and purpose.


The difficulty is maybe I’m “not the one out of synch” – at least not always. If I am, then my personal faith practice of the tradition of my spiritual ancestors can give me guidance and correction.  If I am not, then what?


I can act with love and compassion when I am “bumped into” whether that is physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually – whether it is intended or not.


In Orthodoxy, we go to God for our personal propensity to knock into others and remain out-of-balance.  But it seems that the whole of this world is out of balance, and it is easy for others to bump me out from the good that I might do.  Sometimes fear drives me toward the less compassionate response, the self-indulgent sort.  It seems most of the people prefer to hunker down and isolate. It easier to be alone or isolated than to be bruised and bloodied in the spiritual anarchy that seems to dominate.


What is true for an individual can also be said for groups of people, even nations, most especially, and perhaps most problematic, is that the troubles of society can happen in small groups, churches, religious and spiritual communities – but are wrapped in the guise of high spoken morality with words like, love, truth, unity, harmony, peace, etc.


Perhaps in a signal of our puny efforts and mistaken focus, throughout Holy Orthodoxy, there are chanted prayers for peace – we pray for everyone, everywhere.  One of the great Russian saints, Seraphim of Sarov, said that “when we find inner peace, thousands around us will be saved.”  An elder once told me that the experience of peace and love are never personal.  He also told me that it is also a sin to cause another to sin.  My spiritual elders and ancestors seemed to understand that we are in this all together.


Nevertheless, it seems that matters of spirituality and religious practice have been relegated to personal activities. Freedom of belief sometimes breaks down to “leave me alone” and everyone in families with members of diverse faiths, which is a growing population in America, has had to do battle on the frontiers of  family interfaith events, whether they were intended to be frontiers or not.  In this era, this is a wondrous development. Not the family fights, but rather the objective allowance for each to come to the knowledge of the truth in their own way and in their own time.


This means, over the course of recent decades (perhaps a few centuries) that a marketplace of religious and spiritual groups has been developed.  In this marketplace, there is often great competition for numbers.  That is, there is a pervading cultural belief that the more people in a group, the more desirable (and therefore closer to God) they must be.  Cynically, it could be said that it is more materialistic than that – numbers translate to dollars in the basket…


Often the decisions to adhere to one particular faith tradition or another have little to do with fundamental teachings anymore.  In a recent study, the number one reason for people to leave their faith community was that they didn’t like another family.  The next was that the programming didn’t fit their schedules or inclinations. Much further down the list was any creed or doctrine. It seems to have become a small factor for attending anywhere.  Yet, it is a common desire for a spiritual home in this world that causes people to go anywhere, even when superficiality has become a dominant decision-making force.


With all the individuality of modern culture, the pervading desire is to “fit in;” to belong somewhere, anywhere.  With the marketplace that has been created, religion and spirituality become as commodities to be bought and sold, traded in lots or individually packaged. It IS easier for us to pick and choose, discarding the “stuff” we don’t like. The rewards of a deeper spiritual commitment seem to pale in comparison to the apparent richness of choice.


Like a so many markets (clothing, grocery, electronics, etc), how many regular customers, especially exclusive consumers, become the sign of success. All of the sudden, numbers become the way to keep score in religious and spiritual matters. This has bred a sinister exclusivism that works at the superficial aspects of faith and spirituality – where packaging and promotion dominate the agenda; where the ends justify the means; where identifying your competition is done to exploit their weaknesses (and if they have none, then it is where “stuff” is made up to keep the numbers loyal, fearful of the competition).


This has always been a strange obsession of humanity – “us” verses “them.” 


May we never be so obsessed with another’s faith tradition or practice (or lack of any) that we forget the fundamental benevolent teachings of our own.  It seems silly perhaps to think that any adherent to any of the great religions and spiritual practices of the world could spend so much time practicing the antithesis of their own fundamental teachings.  One teaching that is shared is the golden rule that sparkles in its universality and shines in its practicality.  I am often reminded of what a kind old Russian Orthodox monk, with his long white beard, once told me: “It is more important to be Christian than to make sure everyone else is Christian – that is more than enough to keep one occupied in this life.” 


If I believe in the sincerity and integrity of Holy Orthodoxy, the Christian tradition I practice, why should I be fearful of dialogue and discussion with others who believe differently.  If I take the teaching of Holy Orthodoxy seriously, there is more scriptural and religious teaching about love, hope, and peace than I can ever realize in my feeble work toward those ideals. 


It could be a lack of personal faith that keeps people from such events.  It could be a lack of conviction in the church or religious tradition they self identify.  It could be that they are busy with the secular tasks of business and leisure and have placed all this “spiritual” talk at a low priority.  I hope it is obvious that I believe in the sincerity and integrity of Holy Orthodoxy and that I take its teachings seriously.  If it is not obvious, then pray for me, as it is too easy to diminish the very light within me.


I have to acknowledge that Jesus does say there is no way to the Father except through Him. However, Jesus also said: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34).


Love is to act for the good and welfare of our neighbor. God forbid any of us be a cause of stress to our neighbor. Stress is problematic to our physical, psychological, and most important, spiritual welfare. We need to reflect on the words of St. Paul: "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right" (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). First as a Christian and second as a professional, I must apply this admonition to all dealings with my neighbors. Then, with all unworthiness, I suggest that all Christians do the same to lessen the distress among people. (Note: This idea is taken from an essay by Fr. George Morelli on stress.)

It becomes imperative, then, that I learn to dwell more with my neighbors and less with the competitive marketplace of the American secularization of faith, spirituality and religion.  When I bump into someone, regardless of fault, I have learned to act and speak in politeness and courtesy.

(structured pause here)

There remain real places of disagreement and misunderstanding among spiritualities and religions.  Sometimes, it is very difficult to sit in a room where everyone has already consigned my soul to heaven or hell – often by simply reading my name and religious affiliation or looking at my outward appearance.  It is also difficult to disregard years of serious study and discerning practice. Maybe because of this, it remains difficult for me to reject TRUTH and beauty regardless of its earthly source and I have found it helpful to listen to others.

In this 9th Annual Interfaith Awareness week, I listened to the speakers and to those that did not speak – to what they said openly and privately.  I have five areas of consideration for the future of interfaith awareness activity:

1. Awareness can dispel ignorance, but is not a cure.  We still need to define “interfaith.” It is not a new religion. Although there may be those involved that believe that there will be one true religion, or that there already is one (and the rest of us just don’t realize it is theirs yet), Interfaith Awareness Week is only acknowledging the reality of our current existence; one where diverse faith traditions and communities already coexist in our society, sharing the same roads and neighborhoods in a free republic.

2. Diversity is about differences.  Interfaith activity is primarily a place to acknowledge those differences.  Confronted with that, we still managed to have a week of peaceful interfaith events.  The choice to be involved or not is entirely up to individuals and groups as they see fit.  […Even though I have been known to ask with great enthusiasm.]

3. Fear of conversion, and/or the “pushiness” of those of convicted belief, still keep some people from attending, speaking and sharing.  We acknowledge everyone speaks from their own training and experience; that authority and agreement are not required for interfaith dialogue. If we accept any, then we must accept all. So if “pushiness” is part of their faith, then that too needs to be acceptable in the fullness of what Interfaith Awareness Week was intended.  I have found interfaith dialogues are poor places for conversion of others.  On the other hand, interfaith activities are safe places and times for seekers to come and hear about different faiths and beliefs, to find, perhaps, direction toward what they seek.

4. The “marketplace” that I spoke of has so increased in its influence that many are not comfortable utilizing the public square where interfaith activity in general, and Interfaith Awareness Week in particular, happens. There are some that see an implied endorsement of competitive “products” by attending. 

5. Demonstrations of cooperative activities among faith groups and diverse individuals, such as planning and participating in the events this week, are important as a secular world would have all issues of faith marginalized.  There are those that benefit from a competitive spiritual “marketplace.”

(structured pause here)

I am grateful for this year’s events and the truly interfaith effort of a multifaith committee with coordinators of different faith traditions. 


(Give an extemporaneous review of activities - the meetings at Perkins, the logo design, the library displays, capitol displays, the activities, pod-casting, blog, etc. here)

As a conclusion, let me tell you more of what I am. I am an Orthodox priest. The root of the word for priest means “bridge.”   I hope that I am a good bridge today.  A good bridge is grounded and secure on both sides.  It is built to be a safe way to get across, from one side to the other. It is utilized for traveling, but is not the ultimate destination. A good bridge is a landmark, a signpost, a point to gain perspective, a place to mark distance. Whether over a small stream or a great chasm, a good bridge should also be a place where the view can be taken in, the soul refreshed and the journey nurtured. [If it is used frequently, it is built up a bit. If it is not used it will disappear.] The numbers of those crossing will determine a bridge’s structure as well as its need.

If I have been anything of a good bridge, then that is a success.  However, if only one person crosses to the other side safely, then the bridge has succeeded marvelously. Hasn’t it?


I am honored and privileged to be here in Monona and to be part of the closing event of the 9th Annual Interfaith Awareness Week. 


I want to thank everyone for their participation whether in little or in much and wish to express my sincere hope that peace will prevail, if we let it.




Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Noel, Noel....on the origins of Christmas

Noel, Noel....on the origins of Christmas

By Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock

[Originally published by Capital Newspapers, Holiday Worship Guide - Sunday, December 17, 2006 Madison, Wisconsin]


The first Noel, the angel did say,

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;

In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,

On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,

Born is the King of Israel.


Okay, that was the first. Fast forward to December 2006, approximately 2006 years forward, and there is no doubt a lot has happened since that first Noel.


The word Noel, or Nowell, comes from the French word Noël meaning "Christmas", which may also be from the Gaulish words "noio" or "neu" meaning "new" and "helle" meaning "light." (definition source:


First, the birth of Jesus Christ was hardly celebrated at all in the first decades and centuries afterwards. There were several prohibiting factors.

Celebration of the birth of someone who was killed was considered disrespectful to the dead and was rarely acknowledged. It was more typical to honor the date of death to honor heroes and saints. So, the first Christians celebrated the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ at (or near) the Jewish Passover. This is still called the "Feast of feasts" to this day. It is still the pinnacle of the religious and spiritual faith and hope that Christians throughout history and throughout the world celebrate.

The beginning of Jesus Christ ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan River was seen as the most important beginning, establishing the divine purpose of Jesus and the sacred mission of His followers. So, this was celebrated as a feast for early Christians. The earliest records indicate two festivals of Christians everywhere the Resurrection (Pascha Easter) and Epiphany (the Baptism of Jesus). Of course, Sundays were a weekly festival and remembrance of the Resurrection. These festivals were around nine months apart from Easter to Epiphany.

Since it was common belief that holy men had the same birth-date and death-date were the same, it would be redundant to celebrate the birth of a holy man if you are honoring the day of his death. This was a confirming attribute to one's holiness. Holiness could be distinguished if the date of death was the same as the date of conception, if known. This was not always known.

The celebration of someone's birth was atypical, but in this case it was part of the story of salvation for everyone. In addition, Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew the date of conception given the unusual manner; it is likely any woman would remember that date.

This began a debate among the early Christians, if Jesus was human not just divine then he was born. If he was born, it would have happened in real time and at a real place.

The stories of where He was born were already being told. There were some that also sought to put a timeline on the stories, but, with the general attitude about holy men being born and dying the same date, there wasn't much interest in confirming a date for decades, even centuries. In addition, Christianity grew up under a cloud of oppression and martyrdom, especially before the 4th Century.

It became acceptable practice to combine the nativity stories of Jesus with the festival time of Epiphany. Then the approximate nine months from the crucifixion until Epiphany came to be understood as relating to the nine months from conception to birth. This fit the belief that holy men die on either the day they were born or the day that they were conceived.

Epiphany has long been established as January 6. But by the Third Century, the date of the Nativity of Jesus Christ would be separated and December 25th people world-wide would come to know as Christmas.

The accepted change to the 25th of December coincided with an acceptance of the Annunciation the conception by the Holy Spirit of Mary as March 25th. But as this happened in the time of foot and horseback messages, Christians varied in their practice for centuries. Gift giving, especially to children, was a common practice of early Christians. This was distinguished from general charity and individual giving that was ongoing throughout the year.

One misconception is that Christmas was derived from Saturnalia. It is true that some of the customs and stories of Christmas in the west seem quite similar. Perhaps, the special gift giving at this time was adopted by early Christians. It is clear that the Nativity was celebrated with Epiphany (January 6) among the Christians of the Roman Empire and was not associated with Saturnalia until the Emperor Constantine (whose mother was Christian) decreed the Empire would recognize the Birth of Jesus on December 25 during the established twelve days of Saturnalia. The celebration of Saturnalia was initially a week long festival that ended a few days after the winter solstice. That festival grew longer until it passed through New Year's. The 25th marked a special day for different cults, including the birth of Mithras later Sol Invictus, which coincidentally was an earlier decree of Emperor Constantine.

It wasn't until the 6th Century (circa 560 AD) that nearly every Christian in the known world adopted the new date separated from Epiphany. Church patriarchs and bishops decided, perhaps as a compromise, that the 12 days from December 25 to Epiphany would be a sacred and festive season.

Orthodox Christians throughout the world still hold Epiphany with its Great Blessing of Water as a higher festival than that of the Nativity. The Armenian Orthodox Church of the first country to become Christian in 301 AD has never conceded the separation of Epiphany and Nativity and still celebrates the combine festival on January 6. Catholics and Protestants have elevated the Nativity so much that Epiphany is almost a forgotten festival. In some cases, the Nativity festival is continued until a newer celebration on January 6, which is very popular in Hispanic churches, known as El Dia de Tres Reyes the Day of the Three Kings.

So much of what is popular and common among modern Americans is of more recent origin. Santa Claus' North Pole, elfin workers, Rudolf, and other stories are marketing campaigns that have stuck. Certainly, some of these derived from mythologies and legends that predate Christianity (although Santa Claus is certainly the modern version of Saint Nicholas, a Christian Bishop who lived during the fourth century in what is now Turkey, and spent his life giving gifts to the needy).

What the world has come to despise or embrace as Christmas, American Christmas, almost never was. Settlers and colonists held various customs and attitudes about the celebration of Christmas, mostly negative and anti-Catholic. Puritans and pilgrims were much fonder of their November gift giving traditions in celebration of Thanksgiving. New England Puritans denounced mid-winter festivities and passed an anti-Christmas law in 1659, only to repeal it in 1681.

Historically, Christian churches resisted Christmas as a secular celebration and Christmas remained relatively unimportant in the United States until 1885, when federal employees were given December 25 off. Christmas Day became a legal holiday in the United States when officially declared in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland. Four years after the first US Christmas card publisher went bankrupt. Christmas cards are now more than two billion pieces of mail every December in the US alone.

Christmas, American Christmas, has only grown in holiday lights and silver tinsel. Santa and his elves grace every shopping mall and December sales make or break businesses.

Nevertheless, in the stillness of a certain December night, the stars seem brighter and the faith richer for Christians throughout the world. The reason for the season remains in its origins about a humble birth that changed the world that first Noel.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


[Excerpted from the book "LIVING IN THE EIGHTH DAY" by Fr. John-Brian
Paprock, page 125-126]

The three wise men that came to Bethlehem and saw the newborn Savior of the
world brought gifts symbolic of the noblest of our possessions. The
scripture is clear that these gifts came from their treasure, from their
security, their savings. But if that was the only place from which they
were offered they would not have been worthy. These wise men fell down and
worshipped him and offered their gifts out of the love that was expressed in
their actions. This love is the common source of all genuine giving and
receiving. Armenian Catholicos Karekin II wrote in his book "In Search of
Spiritual Life" (NY 1994):

"Had their gifts not been proceeded and motivated by the act of love
expressed in kneeling, adoration and worship, their value would not have
been as great and as authentic as their material wealth would suggest. St.
Gregory of Narek, the greatest mystical poet of our Church, says: "I look
not upon the gift but upon the giver." It is the spirit of the gift that
makes the real gift, gives color and quality, meaning and value to what is
given. A gift in which there is no self-giving is no gift; a gift in which
love, care, sacrifice are not wrapped, is a show of gift but is not a gift
in Christ-like spirit and form, a genuinely true Christmas gift."

Yes, indeed the gifts of the wise men were graciously received.

A lot of giving and receiving seems to happen at this time of year. However,
much if it is merely buying and selling. Often it is only trading capital
investment in material objects for emotional security of the affection from
others. There is in this culture too much of the buying and selling
mentality. The gift lists are usually related to who is likely to expect a
gift, likely to give one back, likely to appreciate our giving. Of course,
I participate in this annual giving tradition, but I keep in mind the
lessons I have learned about giving and receiving.

Kochamma and our family gave to a soldier without family, to a family in
poverty and to the long-term success of a village in poverty. As a small
mission, we give of our resources to the poor, the oppressed, the suffering.
Many of us volunteer or work to the soothing of human suffering. We give
our hands to the service of our fellow human beings. Yes, we also gave
presents to individuals and to each other. But none is more important than
the loving gift that blesses both the giver and the receiver - that doesn't
wait for Christmas or tragedy to give (although these are not bad reasons to

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese poet, wrote: "You give little when you give of
your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give."

May all our gifts so bless others and may we be gracious receivers so that
others may also be blessed. Sometimes the gift of humane presence is of
greater value - the bowing in adoring service to Christ-light of everyone
born (John 1:9).



By Fr. John-Brian Paprock

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Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Parish

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Virgin Mary Icon drips Oil in front of the Media reports in Brooklyn

The Virgin Mary Icon drips Oil in front of the Media reports in Brooklyn, please see the media footage and the testimony of a report who said he was there for 2 hours and the Oil kept coming. He described the oil as something he never saw before and he does not know what it is made of ….

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Toward Fullness as a Holy People - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian recorded Sunday, December 10, 2006 at Maruroopa Palli (Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel) in Madison, Wisconsin USA. Focusing of the lessons of the birth of St John the Baptist - Luke Chapter 1:57-80 with Isaiah 62 and John's 1st Epistle 3:1-3 .

One unique feature of these recorded sermons is that they are extemporaneously given - no written text or outline is used besides the scriptures.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Baptizing Babies into Full Members - homiletic sermon by Fr John Brian recorded Sunday, December 3, 2006 at Maruroopa Palli (Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel) in Madison, Wisconsin USA. Focusing of the lessons of Holy Baptism (on the occasion of two infant baptisms), Luke Chapter 1:39-56 and Peter's 1st Epistle 3:1-7.

One unique feature of these recorded sermons is that they are extemporaneously given - no written text or outline is used besides the scriptures.