Pastor's Message

"Mingling Ashes and Love"

posted Jan 27, 2018, 5:48 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Jan 27, 2018, 5:48 PM ]

It can be both strange and interesting when the Sacred and the Secular get all mixed up together.  Sometimes the calendar does that to us, as it does this year. This particular year, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Church’s season of Lent falls on Valentine’s Day!  It is a peculiar conflation of meaning, as people of all perspectives scramble to honor their loved ones with some token of love.  The range of expressions (and the marketing behind it) can leave you breathless! 


While we talk about the hopes and fears of all the years coming together at Christmas, I suspect that Valentine’s Day stirs both in substantial measure!  There are those who hope that their real or imagined beloved will attend to them and will express a romantic gesture that will sweep them off their feet.  There are those who fear that they will not be remembered, and those who will be afraid that somehow they will forget to remember.


In the midst of that, we find ourselves on Ash Wednesday; a time when Christians traditionally have focused on another “remembering”; remembering that “we are dust”; and sinners deserving of judgement and in need of repentance.


Perhaps there is an opportunity here for us to think differently about both days as they are combined!  I think so, anyway.  The confluence of the two encourages me to think about what motivates us to love.  While we could get into a whole discussion (pages and pages of the different words and types of love); I would keep it more simple on this occasion.  This is a particular Valentine’s Day when it would be in order to tell others that they are loved because we have been loved first. This is a particular Ash Wednesday to remember that God loves dust, and created us in the image of God’s self out of the dust of the earth.


Though our bodies will one day return to that dust, the endurance of God’s love is even beyond the “forever” that we promise to each other in our Valentine’s Day cards.  Think about that; when you remember others this coming Ash/Valentine’s Wednesday. Give thanks for the love that is demonstrated through our Lord Jesus Christ in this season, as we remember his journey to the cross.


-Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Where do you put your trust?"

posted Dec 21, 2017, 4:15 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Dec 21, 2017, 4:16 PM ]

When you stop to think about it, trust is a requirement for living.  Without trust, we can’t function.  We make choices every day about what we will trust; often without much thought.   We trust the food we eat to keep us healthy and not make us sick.  We trust the car we drive to take us safely to our destination.  We trust the heating system in our homes to keep us warm in the cold of winter.  We trust as a matter of course.

But what we trust does matter.  Accidents like the recent train disaster in Washington State remind us that even apparently trustworthy opportunities have their risks.  Nonetheless, there are those who would try to convince us that they know what is at stake in the world and what we need to trust.  That is not new, but our access to such perspectives is broadened and immediate.  We can, these days, find most any viewpoint that we would consider, and listen to someone trumpeting that perspective.  Even within the range of Christian belief, we find vastly varying perspectives on what is important and how to encounter the world. Given such realities, it is ever more important to remember that within our faith tradition, we have trusted Jesus to be the clearest revelation of God’s trustworthiness.


In a day when all sorts of understandings of the world are vying for our trust, we must be thoughtful and prayerful about what we trust.  Jesus modeled both of those attitudes in his trust in God.  He was prayerfully in tune with God’s purposes for him, and thoughtfully attentive to his calling.  He was not afraid to act in trust and obedience to God, even as he was aware of the context in which he was called to serve!  In a word, Jesus knew who and what to trust in a world that even then, manipulated trust for all sorts of gain.


Our world is also like that.  In such times, we do well to return to the example and pattern of Jesus as our own guide in how and who to trust. When we do, we discover that at his core, Jesus’ trust in God and his calling freed him to discern between what was worthy of trust and what was not.  He was not guided by the promises of the world, but by the promises of his Heavenly Father.  Nonetheless, he was aware and attentive to  the competing voices that promised much…….but that could not deliver.


Will our behavior align with many of the perspectives active in our culture today?  I would suspect not.  At the same time, we should understand that it doesn’t need to!  If our trust is in God through Jesus Christ, then His way and character is our primary guide and our basis for our trust!  Then, our goal is not to align ourselves with various positions or perspectives, but to be faithful to Jesus!  While trust needs to be a part of our daily life, let us be thoughtful and prayerful about what we choose to trust.  And let us keep Jesus at the center of our trust, that we might be guided by his way, rather than the ways of the world.                               

-Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

“Remarkable Witnesses!”

posted Nov 29, 2017, 9:31 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Nov 29, 2017, 9:31 PM ]

The story of the birth of the Messiah that we tell in the Advent and Christmas season is a marvelous compilation of the scriptures and our imagination.  While the Gospels themselves are more selective in how they offer the testimony of Jesus’ coming, we bring them all together in one awe-struck assembly of witnesses at the manger scene!  Everybody is there; shepherds and wise men, angels and critters of all sorts!  And of course, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus are at the center of it all.

On the one hand, we have to admit that this assembly is a bit of wishful thinking.  The Gospel accounts don’t really tell the story like that.  Mark’s gospel doesn’t even start until Jesus is grown up. Matthew has the Magi arrive well after Jesus is born. John’s Gospel gets all lofty with “the Word became flesh”.  And even Luke, who carries the load for our Christmas story with shepherds and a heavenly host, doesn’t include our full nativity set at the manger!

But there is truth in the way that we assemble our nativity scenes, if we will acknowledge it.  What we have gathered around the manger are a remarkable set of witnesses!  While they don’t all show up at the same time, as we like to imagine on Christmas Eve, every one of them provides us a window through which to see Jesus, and to grasp the significance of His coming.  If we were really as inclusive as the gospel writers are, we would have added John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah at the manger too! 

For they are all witnesses to Christ’s coming!


In your nativity scene, you might have a favorite.  Perhaps it’s a shepherd, or one of the Wise Men.  Maybe you are partial to the angel or even one of the animals of the stable. No matter your favorite around the manger, remember this: together, this remarkable collection of witnesses are there to remind us that God has come for ALL OF US…the wise and the foolish…the mighty and the lowly.  Keep your favorite by the manger, but don’t forget that each of these witnesses has a powerful testimony to share: to proclaim that God chosen to enter our lives and to be with us in a wondrous way through the gift of his Son, Jesus. 


- Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"Remembering God's Call"

posted Oct 26, 2017, 6:14 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Oct 26, 2017, 6:15 PM ]

Perhaps you are already aware of this, but in case not, I want to draw your attention to two persons from our faith community who have been called to unique roles for the Church of the Brethren denomination.  This year at Annual Conference, Colin S. was called by the delegates to serve on our denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board.  He just returned from the fall meetings of that board, which gives guidance and direction to the ongoing ministries of our denomination. Very recently, Traci R. was called from her initial position with the denomination to serve as the Director of Donor Relations for the Church of the Brethren.  This is a significant responsibility and a pivotal role for this season of our denomination’s life.


To have them both called out of our congregation at the same time to such significant roles is a great honor.  But it is more than that.  Their contributions in these unique roles will help to shape the future of our tiny, yet precious denomination.  To say that these are trying days for our church is an understatement.  It is difficult to help the denomination move forward in growth and vitality when we are tugged in different directions by our convictions of what our faith in Christ calls us to do and be.  And yet, there is still a compelling need to seek and to find the ways that we can truly be united in serving Christ and His Kingdom.


Back in the day when I served on denominational staff in Congregational Life Ministries, I would tell folks that the reason for the wider denomination was quite simple.  Its function was “to enable us to do things together that we could not do on our own”.  I still believe that.  Our calling is as simple and as demanding as that.  And so I am encouraged that a brother and sister from our congregation can be engaged in that difficult yet important work!


I hope that you will congratulate them.  But even more, I challenge you to pray for Colin and Traci, and all those who serve us in these critical roles and times.  We will not see all of their work; in fact, we may see less of them because of it.  But know that they are serving the larger church so that together, the thousand congregations of the Church of the Brethren in the US, and the many Brethren in other places, can do together what we could never begin to accomplish on our own.  Thanks be to God for each of them, and for others like them, who are leading on our behalf!        

- Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"A Bucket of Help..."

posted Sep 27, 2017, 8:03 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Sep 27, 2017, 8:04 PM ]

They are just clean up buckets, after all.  Just five gallon pails filled with a variety of cleaning supplies for the dirty and discouraging work of cleaning up a house that has been infiltrated by the waters of floods and storm.  They don’t seem like much.  But they make a big difference!


Think about those now returning to their residences.  The scene is daunting.  How do you even begin such a task?  Where do you start to reclaim the house that was your home?  While we can’t take their place, as followers of Jesus, we recognize the call to care for those who would be our neighbors.  And we understand that even a simple bucket of supplies can be a powerful help in getting started on what must be done. 


As your pastor, I rejoice in the effort that you have made to collect and assemble these buckets (and the hygiene kits that are a first response to those who are displaced).  I am glad that we can make a small difference in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.


But I am also grateful that our faith community, the Church of the Brethren, takes seriously that recovery is not a short-term thing.  Our disaster response is geared for some immediate work (especially in Disaster Child Care), but also focused on helping the most vulnerable in communities to rebuild.  Sometimes that happens long after the news story has faded.  I learned recently that a Brethren Disaster Response project has opened for a disaster that happened in 2016.  While it seems like old news, it is the kind of work that fits us.  Not flashy.  Not even news-worthy.  But making a difference where it counts.


I am also grateful that our church faithfully challenges us to not forget our neighbors.  While recent catastrophes have stirred a marvelous outpouring of sincere response to the victims of those events, such enthusiasm fades too quickly in the face of long-term need.  We should rejoice when others are willing to help.  At the same time, I am grateful for the ways that our disaster response enables us to make a difference for long-term recovery.

So, I thank God (and you) for clean-up buckets that are on their way to help our distant neighbors to get started again.  And I thank God for allowing us to share in the long-term work that goes with caring for our neighbors.

-Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"Overcoming Evil with Good"

posted Sep 2, 2017, 6:54 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Sep 2, 2017, 6:54 PM ]

We’ve had plenty of exposure recently to behaviors around us that are deeply troubling.  The whole ugly re-emergence of groups who are convinced that their kind are better than others due to the color of their skin or the path of their heritage is beyond distressing.


It is instructive for us to be reminded that such attitudes, while unacceptable and inappropriate, are not new.  They have existed throughout history, as one group has perceived another as “less than” themselves.  There are a multitude of motivations; some understandable, but all ultimately destructive and hurtful.  Such beliefs run extremely deep in some situations, and are hard to root out.  They become even more troublesome when they claim to do what they do under the banner of allegiance to the Christian faith!


Such attitudes and conduct are, inherently, evil.  So what shall we do about them?  Should we just let such folk say what they want to say?  Should we suppress their words?  The answer is difficult.  What if good looks weak in the face of evil?  What if there is simply no way to give good a chance when brought up against that which is so destructive and hurtful? 


How as followers of Christ, can we put into practice Paul’s biblical admonition to “overcome evil with good”?  While difficult, one thing we can say is that our conduct should never disregard the other as a real person in God’s sight!  Nor should it disregard the patterns of conduct to which God in Christ has called us. 


One of the powerful temptations that we face is to “ignore” the folks that are engaged in such behaviors.  We are told that they want attention, and so should not be given it.  I understand the inclination.  Nonetheless, the New Testament pattern calls us to approach those who have sinned against us.  Admittedly, the context for Matthew 18 is within the church community.  But in the end, even for those who separate themselves from the community, we are to treat them as tax-collectors and sinners.  And at that point, I find myself asking “How did Jesus relate to tax-collectors and sinners?”  I think I know the answer.  So do you.


So, ignoring the person or the behavior is a strategy, but not an answer.  Demonstrating acts of loving concern toward those who would devalue others is beyond difficult, but it is our challenge as followers of Christ.  Think about that.        

-Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del


posted Jul 2, 2017, 6:46 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Jul 2, 2017, 6:46 PM ]

Why is it that we don’t pause to think about a life until it is gone from our sight?  Why is it that we are reluctant to give voice to our words of appreciation?  Perhaps it is a human inclination to wait until we know all there is to know, before we will share our convictions.


Seldom do we view dying a slow death as a gift.  But sometimes it has those marks.  Those of you who watched the journey of our dear friend Charlie D. knew that he wanted as many conversations and visits as he could handle in his declining days of health.  What a gift it was to him, to have the opportunity to welcome friends and to remember the encounters and relationships that had shaped his life, even as his health and strength faded.


Such is not always our privilege, however.  As we remember our dear friend Annette L’s sudden and distant loss of her daughter Amy, we recognize that those circumstances are not often ours to control.  How precious to hear Annette’s testimony that she and Amy always told each other that they loved each other as they concluded their conversations.  It was nothing fancy, but always there.  How grateful she has been, to have shared those words.


How difficult it is to know which words will be our last ones for a friend or loved one.  Perhaps the best we can do, short of knowing all that God has in store, is to risk what we know in our hearts and place it on our lips.  Without being “sappy”, perhaps our best care for a dear friend is to tell them what they mean to us now.  We may not know how profoundly their mark upon our lives might finally be.  But if we are attentive, we know in our hearts when someone “matters” to us.


So, friends, as you continue to remember and care for those among us who have lost precious ones, do one thing more. 

Take time to tell those who matter to you that they do!  Do it on this side of glory.  Don’t leave that gift “ungiven”.  It is an incredibly precious gift to share, and to receive.

Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

“A Word to Our Graduates (and a reminder to the rest of us)”

posted May 31, 2017, 3:33 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated May 31, 2017, 3:33 PM ]

For a number of our congregational families, this season has brought some significant milestones in the life of their children.  They either have already gathered, or will soon gather to mark the occasion of their offspring’s graduation from high schools, colleges and universities.  There will be parties and gatherings and celebrations.  And there should be such times to celebrate.  These are important moments!


The reaction of students to this season is surely varied.  Many are relieved!  Some are inclined to linger in the glow of their accomplishments, while others are eager to celebrate that the end has come!  Then, there are those who are ready to be done with the pomp and circumstance and to get on with life, or with the next phase of their training.  We, who watch them (with a bit more life experience behind us), recognize that these are important, even profound markers on the journey, but that they do not tell the whole story.  These moments signify, but do not contain our growth.


The point is that the degree or diploma, while a testimony for the world of one’s accomplishment, is not the conclusion of our learning.  There is a reason that the ceremonies are called “commencements”.  Be assured, learning can and does happen in the midst of the requirements of these educational institutions.  However, discovery and insight is not limited to the hallowed halls of the university or school.  Such opportunities are constantly around us, no matter where we encounter life.  At their best, our formal educational journeys teach us how to continue our learning and growth in the remainder of our lives. 


In this season of commencements, I join the hosts of others that are celebrating the accomplishments of you as our graduates!  But I do not believe for a minute that your learning journey is done.  In fact, I pray that among the things you will still learn is this truth:  God has more to teach you than can be contained in a decade or in a lifetime.  It is our privilege to become life-long students, with a will and a willingness to be shaped in our thinking and in our living so that we may become all that God intends us to be.  May you find the journey to continue to be filled with discovery and insight!

--Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

"Generations of Faith"

posted Apr 28, 2017, 4:16 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Apr 28, 2017, 4:16 PM ]

Within the last 24 hours we received the news: we are grandparents again!  Our middle son Ben and his wife Lauren have brought into the world a healthy son, whom they have named Cillian Rhys Keeney (pronounced “Killian Reece”).  He arrived a bit ahead of schedule.  There are too many hours between us to quickly go and see this new child, though we have been sorely tempted.  For now, we are trying to be content with plans to visit for several days at the end of May.


But amidst all the excitement and joy of this new birth, the crazy transition from couple to parents for our children, and our understandable yearning to actually hold him in our arms, I find myself wondering about the path for this wee one.  What will his life be like?  What challenges will he face?  What joys will he discover?  How will the lessons that we sought to convey to our son, and the teaching that our daughter-in-law’s parents instilled in her take shape in this tiny being?  And how will he discover God’s movement in his life?


I know, there are more immediate concerns, with nursing and diapers and the compelling and urgent needs of any little one.  There is so much to learn, and such an ability to absorb and to be shaped in these very early days of life.  But the big picture is made up of so many tiny pieces, as they come together to form and shape a life.


I remember that truth in this season as we look back on the baptisms of six young people from our congregation.  So many tiny pieces that make a difference:  Sunday school lessons.  Children’s times.  Vacation Bible School.  Children’s musicals.  Youth Sundays.  Friendships that linger.  Adults that care and mentor.  .  These pieces join what parents and extended family offer to shape lives like these.  What a joy to see all of that come together in a decision for Christ.


Ah, but the work is not done.  Not in this sense at least: from the time we are born until the time we die, we make a difference in the lives of those around us.  We all do.  Think about the difference little Cillian Rhys is making right now in the lives of his parents.  That is the difference that our young people are making in our lives.  It is not a one-way street.  We are all shaped in life and faith by the little things. 


We hope to have a bit of influence on Cillian’s young life and sooner rather than later!  We hope to be able to add to the little things that will shape him for God.  May we all find joy in that task for each other.


      -Yours in Christ.  Pastor Del

“Follower, Disciple, or Apostle?”

posted Mar 25, 2017, 7:13 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Mar 25, 2017, 7:13 PM ]

In a few weeks’ time, we will encounter Easter.  It is a pivotal event for the Church; partly because of what happens to Jesus, and partly because of what happens to his disciples.

We know well what happens to Jesus; his passion, and death and resurrection.  But while offering all this, the New Testament provides us powerful insight into those who have gathered around Jesus.

Some of them are simply followers; that is, they follow Jesus around.  They are interested in what he is doing and saying.  Others become disciples.  That is a step beyond following, for they are learners and apprentices, discovering along the way what is required to follow Jesus’ guidance and teaching.  When do they move from being disciples to becoming apostles?

While we have sometimes used the terms disciple and apostle interchangeably for people who responded to Jesus’ call to “follow me”, this is a shift in roles!  And it is an Easter shift!  It is as persons who have encountered the Risen Christ that his inner circle becomes apostles.  It is through a post-Easter encounter on the road to Damascus that Paul joins their ranks as an apostle.

Is there a challenge for us there too?  I believe there is.  For we, as a post-Easter people are called to be more than apprentices of Jesus.  We are called to be more than recipients of the mercy of His Cross and the wonder of His Resurrection.  We are also among those who are sent out to “go and tell”.

Apostle means “one who is sent”.  Think about it.  That includes the first disciples, and the apostle Paul, and the vast stream of disciples that reaches down and includes us!

Yes, the term “Apostle” is given in a especial way by the New Testament to those first disciples who were commissioned by the Risen Christ to tell the good news.  But it applies to all of us!  The Resurrection is news to tell the world!

In truth, after Easter, you can’t be one without the other.  You can’t be an apostle if you are not first a follower and a disciple!  But the call doesn’t end with learning about Jesus. Nor does it conclude with choosing to follow Jesus.  It includes “being sent” into the world to invite others to receive his Good News as well.

May we remember that, and be challenged to come and see, to learn of him, and to go and tell!          

  -Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

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