Pastor's Message


"Marking Time"

posted Dec 22, 2018, 5:01 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Dec 22, 2018, 5:03 PM ]

Here we are again; on the cusp of a new year.  As I write, Christmas is upon us, and beyond it, the markers of 2019 are approaching. 


Calendars are helpful with all of that.  They help us keep track of our days, as most of us don’t keep numbers ranging in the hundreds of days in our heads.  We can handle the division of months a bit better.  Yes, calendars are helpful, but they don’t tell the whole story. 


The calendars that hang on our walls or that hover in our smartphones keep us informed of the passing of days.  But they are far from the only way to mark a life.  As we look back on the lives of those who have come and gone in that span, we are reminded of a different kind of rhythm that marks our days.  We remember the lives that have entered and intertwined with ours.  We recall the lives that have left us behind, marked from their presence.


Our own congregation has developed a pattern of marking those coming and goings; but in particular the “goings” on the first Sunday of the New Year.  We call it “Remembrance Sunday”. 


It usually falls close to Epiphany; the time when we remember the Magi following the light in sky that directs them to the coming of One in whom there is to be found great promise.


Perhaps we should mark both the goings and the comings on that day.  It may be too much of course; both emotionally and otherwise.  But truly, arrivals and departures are the stuff of the relationships that make us who we are.


As we approach the turn of the year, and this time of remembrance, I pray that you can pause and give thanks as you remember the comings and goings, and the lives that have marked your own journey.  Amidst the loss that we recall, may we remember how we have been shaped by those who have entered and departed from our lives.                                          

–Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Advent as a Mindset"

posted Dec 12, 2018, 4:07 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Dec 12, 2018, 4:07 PM ]

Let’s face it.  Most of us have our moments, if not our days when we wish that we could go back to a former time.  It might be a time tucked in our memories when things were easier, or at least different.  It might be a time when what we worried or cared about was smaller and simpler.  Whether in song or story, we easily imagine that “those were the days” when life was good and meaningful.  Our yearning in this Christmas season ironically promises to take us to that simpler time, while inundating us with preparations and activity that can distract rather than focus our lives.

 

As followers of Christ, it is instructive to remember that Jesus in his teaching and parables does not orient us toward returning to the past, but toward preparing for the future through our responses here and now.  We do look to the past for guidance, and find God’s faithfulness expressed there in remarkable ways in hopeless times. But we do so, so that we can more clearly see beyond our own troubled days to the future God has in store.

 

Looking back is not a terrible thing.  But trying to “go back” is truly problematic.  Our past was a moment in time, and though we may imagine being transported back to live now as we did then, that reality has never been possible!  The Hebrews could not go back to the Egypt that they knew; even when they wanted to.  Moses could not go back to the moments before he broke the first tablets in despair and anger at the antics of his people, even though he may have wished to.  Jeremiah as a prophet could not take his people back to a time of obedience and faithfulness, even though he may have yearned to do so! 

 

In each time, there were realities to be faced.  Whether a wilderness journey, a return to the mountain for more tablets, or a deportation from the Promised Land, the present was hard and sometimes devastating.  Nonetheless, the prophets were not without hope even then.  Sometimes that hope was expressed in strange ways; like Jeremiah’s purchase of a land deed for a place soon to be overrun by a conquering army!  Nonetheless, it was hope.  It was life lived in anticipation that God had not fled the scene.  It was a living hope that in difficulty, God had not abandoned them and that in challenging times, God would come to them!

 

We Christians, at our best, live with that mindset.  We, like others before us, may yearn for a simpler and easier time, but we cannot return to that imaginary place.  Our place is here, and our focus is to be toward what still awaits us through Christ!  It is a future that will not be extinguished by the vagaries of the present; even when we can’t see the way clearly, or find ourselves desperate for something more!  That is the reminder of Advent: that God has come and will come again, that the Kingdom is near and among us, and that we live best when we live toward it.  Think about that, as you prepare for this season. 
-Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Prophetic Generosity"

posted Oct 26, 2018, 1:03 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Oct 26, 2018, 1:03 PM ]

Last Sunday, I mentioned the “mega-millions” jackpot (and the odds of one winner in 300 million) as not quite the way that God chooses to be generous to us.  That’s not to say that there isn’t some folk praying fervently for the winning ticket!  No, though we can argue that such ventures serve the public good in some ways; this is truly an endeavor with all the markings of our human inclinations, and not of the divine!

 

Isn’t it remarkable how our human yearning multiplied by the vast pool of persons willing to take a chance to “invest” can cause a jackpot to reach such astronomical heights?  And as the energy, the hype and the stakes build, more and more folks join in with the “what if?” and “why not me”.  It is, to be sure, a great temptation to be a part of something that, if you disregard the odds, promises so much for so little! 

 

What a contrast with the story we glimpse in Mark 12:38-44.   Here is a woman down to her last two coins.  You wish that she could find a lottery to play, even if the play is a long shot.  Then you see what Jesus sees.  Amidst those who have so much, who drop their offerings in the Temple treasury, she comes.  She brings her two coins and makes her “play”.  Not to persuade God to give her that one in a million win, but to thank God for what she has with all that she has!

 

Nobody notices, it seems.  If they do, it might be with pity or embarrassment.  But Jesus sees what is happening here!  And he tells those around him.  Don’t be taken by the hype.  Don’t let the numbers astound you.  Look at this.  This is prophetic generosity!  Generous, because she is “all in”.  Prophetic, because her simple action exposes the character of all the other gifts!

 

What do we do with her and her gift?  We watch in awe.  We face the truth about our own managed gifts.  And we recognize that until we are “all in”, we are just playing the odds.

 

Ponder that, and let the hype of the numbers fade into the background.  For hers is the truth that Jesus would have us to see…and follow.

                                                                       - Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

“Depending Matters”

posted Sep 28, 2018, 5:53 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Sep 28, 2018, 5:53 PM ]

“I don’t need you!”  That sounds at first hearing like a great statement of maturity.  Many of us know of relationships that are dependent in unhealthy ways, and thus view “independence” as a healthy breaking out from such dependencies!  We cheer when we hear such a proclamation!

 

But from a faith perspective, and even from a life perspective, those words are more problematic than they first sound!  Clearly, we don’t need relationships that are manipulative and abusive!  Obviously, we don’t want to depend on someone who will constantly disappoint and discourage us with empty promises and hurtful behaviors.  But does that mean that we don’t need or benefit from those relationships on which we can depend?  Not so!

 

The text from Mark chapter 10 that provides the basis for our conversation on Love Feast Sunday, October 7th, is a provocative one.

It references divorce and children in the same section.  Some years ago, Karolyn Lewis, of workingpreacher.org, reminded me in a piece that she wrote that broken trust results when a relationship that you “depended on” is no longer something that you can trust!  Such an outcome can be devastating to a relationship, and it should make us think seriously about being the one who is “undependable”.  In Jesus’ day, some mattered less than others.  Specifically, children and women!  There were easy options for the men (but not women) to sever a marriage and to officially break trust!   At that time a man choosing to divorce was the ultimate act of saying “I don’t need you”!  And in a culture where the lives of women and children were truly dependent, to do so was to violate everything that God intended for us. Jesus challenged those who imagined that because the law provided for such things that they were justified in their actions.

 

The point is that we do need each other.  Whether in marriage, in family, or just in the living of our days, we need those around us on whom we can depend.  And others need us to be dependable!  We may not be responsible for their actions, but we have a purpose when we can be a source of trust for another; someone on whom they can depend.  It is then that we bear witness in a small but significant way to the One on whom we all depend!

 

Think about that…and join us on October 7th, when we reflect on our need for each other in our morning worship, and when we demonstrate our trust as we give and receive service through the actions of the Love Feast in our evening gathering.


- Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"An Epistle of Straw?"

posted Aug 30, 2018, 1:27 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Aug 30, 2018, 1:27 PM ]

Perhaps you’ve heard this reference before.  It is attributed to the great church reformer, Martin Luther, who was both a priest and a biblical scholar.  Luther didn’t have much time or appreciation for the little book of James that found its way into our New Testament.  At one point he wrote: “St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to the others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”  As a person deeply moved by the conviction that we are saved by grace through faith, the suggestion that “faith without works is dead” was troubling to Luther. 

 

It may be to us as well.  But Brethren and those who have been a part of the Anabaptist stream of faith have seen more substance in this little letter than others may have.  We resonate with the conviction that faith shows itself in action!  We believe that a life of faith is revealed in behaviors and conduct that are consistent with the convictions that guide us!

 

Now, we understand that we, humanly speaking, are not capable of such faithful living on our own.  We grasp the truth that our sin, which gives expression to our self-centered nature, will intrude and show itself in our words and our actions. We truly need the grace of God in Christ to free us from our sin, and make us worthy in God’s sight!  In that, we agree with the Apostle Paul and Luther, and all who would proclaim that we are saved by grace!  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” is a hymn that we joyfully sing.

 

Nonetheless, we have this nagging conviction that such joy in forgiving grace should stir more than a sincere “thank you”!  In fact, we believe that God’s grace creates in us sense of indebtedness that has to pervade our living.  It causes us to act in ways that reflect the change that grace brings.  It not only allows our blind eyes to see God’s grace, but it calls us to live and share that grace!

 

With that in mind, in our faith stream, we have taken the book of James a bit more seriously.  While not the whole of the good news, this little letter is a powerful reminder for us that as people of faith, our actions do matter!  While they do not save us, our behaviors as followers of Christ become our testimony to the world.  In days like these, when the testimony and convictions of Christians are all over the place, the counsel of James give us something more substantial to chew on…than straw.   What we do in response to our faith matters!  Indeed, it reveals how we have experienced God’s grace!

 

-Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"A Compelling Vision..."

posted Jun 29, 2018, 6:39 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Jun 29, 2018, 6:39 PM ]

In a week or so, Brethren from across the country will be gathering for what used to be called the “Big Meeting”; what we now call the Annual Conference.  Cincinnati will be the host city, and your delegates will be Margie Fultz and Cindy Murphy.  They, along with delegates from each congregation represented, will be presented with the beginning conversation about “a compelling vision” for the Church of the Brethren.

 

A part of the motivation for that vision is a growing awareness that we as a church are struggling to find those things which hold us together in our strong convictions and diverse perspectives.  Another aspect behind this effort, I think, is the priority to motivate all of us to be working in the same direction as we serve Christ. 

 

We do not yet know what the results of that conversation will be.  We will learn more about the process at the upcoming conference.  Nonetheless, I would invite you to be in thoughtful reflection and prayer that a path will open for our denomination to consider where Christ is leading us as a church, and what the shape and character of our shared future will be.

 

Those who have been called to guide the process thus far are keenly aware that there could be a range of responses to this effort; including those energized by the prospects and those who may be cautious or skeptical.

 

Hopefully, we will have more of significance to share following the “big meeting”.  But in the meantime, I would offer the Guiding Statement adopted by the Compelling Vision Working Group for your consideration.  Let it stir your thoughts about our future together, as our congregation joins with a thousand unique but related Brethren congregations to seek the mind of Christ for us:

 

“Confessing Jesus Christ as Teacher, Redeemer, and Lord, we desire to serve Him by proclaiming, professing, and walking in His way together bringing His peace to our broken world.  Join us in reclaiming a new passion for Christ and helping set a course for our future as the Church of the Brethren serving Him in our communities and in the world!”

 

Pray for those who gather to begin this conversation.  And pray for all of our congregation and others, that we may rekindle our passion to serve Christ in this broken world!

                                                             -Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"This world is not my home, but..."

posted May 31, 2018, 4:53 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated May 31, 2018, 4:53 PM ]

As a young man, I sang in a quartet of similar young men from our congregation.  One of the first songs we learned and sang together (from a little compilation of men’s arrangements called “Sing Men!”) was a song called, “This World is Not My Home”.

 

The lyrics begin something like this:  “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.  My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.  The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

 

That was quite a tune to sing as a teenager; with a life still ahead filled with many hopes and dreams for this world.  As I went on in my studies and preparations, I found myself reacting against this “other worldly” focus.  Surely, one could hope for heaven and still find meaning and purpose in this world as a follower of Jesus!  Surely, this world is also my home!

 

These days, I am often reminded that both worlds (or Kingdoms) have a tug on me.  I am a citizen of this world, with all its challenges and worries.  How I conduct myself here and now does make a difference not only in my life but in the lives and experiences of those who occupy this world now and long after I am gone from it.  Nonetheless, while I am not just “passing through”, I, with you, am a citizen of another Kingdom.  It is one that stretches across borders and even beyond time as we know it!  It is a Kingdom that beckons and offers the promise of acceptance and welcome in God’s presence through Christ. 

 

What I have learned (and still am learning) is that the Kingdom of God does have a claim upon me here and now.  If it matters at all, it is not just “waiting for me”, but shaping me in the world where I live for now.  Our Brethren ancestors have understood that from their beginnings.  Our conduct and our priorities here and now are to be shaped by another Kingdom.  We are to be respectful citizens who are “in but not of this world”.  That’s a tough path to walk.  But it is a right one. 

 

Let us continue to allow the Kingdom of God, where our Lord reigns, to shape and mold our living in this world.  Even if it is not our final home, it is the very place where Jesus came to transform our lives with his love.  Dare we do less as we live in this world?  Think about that.

 

                                                             -Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"What Binds Us Together?"

posted May 2, 2018, 3:11 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated May 2, 2018, 3:11 PM ]

What binds us together?  What binds our congregation with almost a thousand others that comprise the Church of the Brethren in the US today?  That is not just a rhetorical question.  It has powerful implications.  We are living in a time when the wider denomination is in tension over a range of concerns.  Amidst those tensions, we are learning of congregations that are considering or who have chosen to separate themselves from the denomination.

 While a sad outcome for me, it begs the larger question.  Why do we belong to a denomination like the Church of the Brethren.  Isn’t the significant ministry of the church happening right here, in our church?For years I have described the purpose of the larger church in these simple terms: the denomination exists to enable us to do together what we cannot do by ourselves.  While one can argue that the larger church (Districts and Annual Conference) has a significant role for guidance for local congregations, I think this description is still relevant.

I’ve often wished that we could encourage congregations to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”, while trusting the mind of Christ revealed in each gathered community.  These days, that is becoming harder, as the denomination struggles with what practices are acceptable within that sphere of local discernment. When I hear those stories of impending departures, I confess that they make me sad.  I understand the inclinations to separate.  Yet I am reminded of how time and experience can bring regret from such a choice.

In my college days, I did research on the Dunkard Brethren split of 1926.  I was privileged to interview aged church leader Alvin Brightbill, as he recalled a conversation with one of the chief architects of that division: Elder Ben Kessler.  Many years after the split, in the waning years of Kessler’s life, Brightbill visited in his home.  Alvin was an organist, and Kessler invited him to play a small instrument which he had in his home.  That is significant, because among the key issues use of instruments (including organs) in worship.  Amidst the music, Brother Kessler broke down and wept.  He confessed to Brother Brightbill, “It did not have to be this way”; acknowledging that the issues that seemed so important at the time were less so in retrospect.

While we might have important issues that divide us, I still pray that we not lose sight of the things that we can do together that are impossible to do apart.  In the process, I pray that we can continue to learn from each other; not by forcing another’s hand or practice, but by modeling as best we know what it means to follow Christ as one congregation among many in the Church of the Brethren. 

- Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"What is Church?"

posted Mar 31, 2018, 3:56 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Mar 31, 2018, 3:56 PM ]

What is ‘Church’?  When we talk about our church, we often think of a location.  Our GPS leads us there when we punch in the coordinates.  Our church occupies several acres on the corner of Gale and Apple streets in Mechanicsburg.  But is that really “church”?  Is that really who we are?

 

“Church”, our English translation of the Greek word “ekklesia”, is not a description of a building or structure.  The very essence of the word is “gathering those who are called out”.  The early Brethren understood that meaning, inherently, and in their practice.  The Conestoga congregation that I served in Lancaster County was formed in 1725, but did not have a building until the 1860s!  Their focus was not on a place, but on the gathering of those called out to be followers of Jesus Christ.  Even when buildings for congregations began to be used, our forebears called them “meetinghouses”.  The décor was austere and plain.  The layout was functional.  The intention was a place for the church as the “gathering of those called out by Christ” to meet!

 

In the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection, the “church” came to be!  Its first task was not to construct a building, but to assemble those who would now follow and trust in life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Their call was to accept and to proclaim him as the Christ (the Messiah).  They would focus their energies on sharing the amazing news about who Jesus was, and what he had done, and what they were called to become together as a result!

 

That is still the core work of the church.  These days, many gatherings of disciples meet in a building like we do!  We are blessed to have such a place, though we know that there are still believers who gather in homes to worship.  But while a building gives us a presence and significant opportunities in our community, it was never intended to “take the place” of the church.  The earliest Christians never imagined that it would.  Our Brethren forebears were careful that it wouldn’t.  We are reminded by the testimony of scripture and our heritage that the church is first and foremost “ekklesia”; the gathering of those who are called to follow Jesus Christ, and who together seek to grow in him and to invite others to do the same.

 

In this season following Easter, let’s remember that we are the church when we gather, serve and share Christ!  All that we do and all that we have is for that purpose; no more, and no less!

- Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"Covering our Sins"

posted Feb 28, 2018, 12:44 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Feb 28, 2018, 12:44 PM ]

As Gentile Christians (what most of us are), often we don’t have a strong grasp of the intertwining of Jesus’ intentional actions with Hebrew understandings as he approaches his crucifixion.  As an “outsider” to that heritage, I do not presume to make all the connections myself.  But I was reminded in my preparations for Lenten season that the “Passover” figures prominently into all of the Gospel narratives as Jesus’ crucifixion approaches.  It is a powerful remembrance in its own right.  Numbers, chapter 21 describes one aspect of it: the Passover lamb.  The compelling image in this Numbers text is that the lamb is to be roasted, and “eaten hurriedly”, and with traveling clothes on!  Why?  Because in the aftermath of God “passing over the homes marked by the lamb’s blood”, the Hebrews will soon be on the move; set free from their bondage in Egypt.

 

That ancient story continues to inform the Gospel writers.  For Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus chooses to eat the Passover with his disciples as his “last supper” with them.  The Passover becomes a time of offering a new covenant in his blood with his disciples.

 

John is even more direct, though a bit surprising in his presentation.  For John, the last supper is not the Passover.  That is still to come.  Jesus’ death on the cross happens at the very time that the Passover lambs are being ritually killed in the Temple precincts for the upcoming Passover!  The purpose?  To tell us that he is the One whose death will now cover our sins, and the sins of the world!  His blood will be the lens through which God views our lives, and passes over us without the judgment that we deserve! 

 

As we continue in this season of Lent, as outsiders to the heritage but as those held within its grasp, may we remember the Lamb that was slain, and rejoice in the One whose blood covers our sins from God’s sight, so that we may be seen and known and claimed as God’s precious and forgiven children!

-Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

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