Pastor's Message

“The Sermon on the Mount: A Nice Thought or More?”

posted Jan 25, 2017, 2:19 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Jan 25, 2017, 2:19 PM ]

You know, we Brethren have made it hard on ourselves.  We’ve said that we will consider the whole New Testament as our rule of faith and practice.  That’s a tough assignment.  And nowhere is it more challenging than when we face the teachings of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5 – 7)!


We should have expected a challenge, when we heard Jesus start out with “You have heard it said…but I say to you…”  We should have expected that he would raise the bar.  Some Christians would say that we’re not going to succeed, so just accept that you will fail.  Those of us within the Anabaptist faith stream have never been at peace with that attitude. 


Sure, we lean on God’s grace through Christ.  And we know that we will seldom fully measure up to the challenge extended to us.  But we also know that Jesus’ directives are not just given to make us feel bad and to have to confess our failures.


The behaviors he commends are Kingdom behaviors!  They are things we can and should begin to do now, so that we can embody the conduct befitting citizens of the Kingdom of God!  They are a reflection of what the Kingdom is to look like!


While some might argue that we will not be able to achieve those patterns fully, most of us would acknowledge that we will not accomplish what we do not strive for!  And behind the behaviors that Jesus sets out for us is the firm reminder that these behaviors go beyond the law to reflect God’s intent for his people!


In the coming weeks, we will be reflecting on the challenges of a portion of the Sermon on the Mount during worship.  I encourage you to be with us as we consider the patterns of faith and conduct that our Lord has set for us! 


Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

“A Decade of Thanks”

posted Dec 21, 2016, 5:35 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Dec 21, 2016, 5:35 PM ]

We are blessed and cursed with the number 10.  With our numbering system, we tend to think in decades.  We talk about the songs of the 80’s.  We describe the world in the 50’s or the 90’s (at least those of us who are old enough do).  But we also mark time with events.  Many of us look back to September 11th (remember the year?) as a date when much changed.


The truth is that life and experience is more fluid than that.  Still, we do get more reflective in thinking about decades.  And so do I as I write this note for you.  As of January 1, 2017, I have served as your pastor for ten years.  Ten years!  That seems like a long time!  A lot can happen in ten years.  And some significant things have happened for us as a congregation. 


We’ve celebrated a mortgage burning and a 90th anniversary.

We’ve said hello to a significant number of new friends who have become a part of our family of faith.  And we have said goodbye to dear ones whom the Lord has gathered in, or whose paths have diverged from ours.  It is the nature of life in community that there is a rhythm of comings and goings. 


Some days, I wonder where the time has gone.  Some days I wonder just what we have accomplished.  But then I look around, and remember.  I remember the lives touched, the gifts and talents expressed, the healing accomplished, the growth experienced, the grief lived through.  I remember those realities and I give thanks.  I give thanks for you.  I give thanks for God’s work in you and through you.  And I remember that that work still goes on and will continue as long as there is work to do!


As a new decade begins in our journey together, I suspect that this flow will continue.  By God’s grace we will navigate it together.  May we remember that though the big events tend to get all the press, it is the little things…the little steps…that lead us to become more of what Christ has called us to be.  No matter whether it is our first day or our second decade, may we see this time as what it truly is…a time to continue the work of Jesus, simply, peacefully, and together. May it be so.

-Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Into Such a World"

posted Nov 17, 2016, 5:55 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Nov 17, 2016, 5:56 PM ]

We like to put on our “best appearances” for the holidays, don’t we?  Festive decorations adorn our homes and our worship spaces.  Things are put in order to make space for the tree and gifts that may accumulate.  Preparations are made for delightful treats that our friends and family may enjoy.


It is troubling to think that we might not have everything in order when the doorbell rings!  It is troubling to thinks that our guests might see us disheveled and unprepared.  If only we could have our lives and our nation and our world in order to welcome our Lord!  Just now, it is hard to imagine that, amidst the reality that many are still deeply divided in spirit and attitude in the aftermath of elections and the approach of Christmas.


If only our world could be as peaceful as it was back…when Jesus was born!  So we wish and imagine.  But we would do well to remember that the world into which Christ entered was not in a particularly festive or peaceful place at the moment of his birth.  Rome’s peace was enforced with a heavy and unyielding hand.   People were traveling; not because of holiday gatherings, but because of the edict of the Emperor required this of them…for tax purposes! 


Nor were the people of the world that received Jesus’ birth a united people.  Even the hints of the Gospels (that note but do not dwell on such things) remind us that the world into which he came was as troubled as…well…as ours.  There was a yearning, then as now, for life to be better, for oppression to be eased, and for God’s people to have something or someone in which to hope.  That is, ready or not, what they received:  Someone in which to hope. 


What a healthy reminder to us: to remember that our Lord comes, not when we have all the decorations in place, or when all the cookies are baked, or when our lives are in order.  Our Lord comes into a world that is not ready, so that we might be “made ready” to receive his Kingdom and His love.  That is the news of this holy yet chaotic time.  God comes, ready or not, to be with us!  Immanuel!  May it be so as we receive him again into this ever-troubled world.        

  Yours in Christ, Pastor Del       

“Becoming Great Again”

posted Oct 30, 2016, 6:04 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Oct 30, 2016, 6:04 PM ]

“Make America Great Again!”  “America’s already great!”  We’ve all heard the rhetoric.  Wherever you come out on the side of those vying for the highest office in the land, I would remind you of something.  Greatness has never been lodged in those who have simply come in first.  That is not to say that those who win competitions are not great.  They might be.  But they might just be the winner, and not the greatest!


Just a few months ago, we watched as the 2016 Summer Games of the Olympics were completed.  There was lots of talk of greatness; of records shattered and dominant outcomes.  But I would argue that the moniker of greatness is misplaced.  Greatness doesn’t show itself on the big stage.  Greatness reveals itself in the moments when few if any are watching!  Greatness is about far more than coming in first.  Greatness is not about raw talent, but about applying the talents we have with endurance, perseverance, and sacrifice, to serve a purpose larger than ourselves.


Since as Christians, we are citizens first of the Kingdom of God, and then of the nations where we are privileged to live, we do well to be reminded of what makes a follower of Jesus great.

Philippians chapter 2 expresses the challenge well: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”  Remember how it goes?


 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him…”


Sounds like a pattern for greatness, doesn’t it?  May we be challenged to be great through our commitment to follow Jesus Christ as servants of each other.  May we be great again in that way, for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of his Kingdom, no matter what the rhetoric of our political scene says.


          Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Looking Back... To The Future"

posted Sep 29, 2016, 1:47 PM by Ken Schmidt

Recently, I posted some pictures on Facebook of a trip that I took in 1975.  I was surprised to find them after all these years.  They took me back; way back to wonder who we were.  It was a January Term course at Manchester College.  And we journeyed, of all places, to eastern Pennsylvania to explore some of the roots of our Brethren heritage.  For some of my Midwestern classmates, it was a first exposure to the area. For me, it was coming home.  That trip brought us to Lancaster County, to Germantown and the Wissahicken Creek.  It brought us into an encounter with our history and heritage. 


But surprisingly, it also brought us to encounters with our future.  I knew, of course, that I was coming back home.  One of the blessings of that trip was having my dad bring Lois to Lancaster County to join me for a part of the tour.  That relationship was a part of the future I counted on.


But little did we know, nor could we imagine that the parsonage we visited at Conestoga would one day be our residence as we served that congregation, nor that our hosts (for two of us on the trip) would one day sell their home to our family!


Neither could we imagine fully how our futures as classmates might be intertwined.  I look at the pictures now, and am struck by the paths by which many in this group have contributed to the life and story of our denomination.  Almost 40 years later, we have become a part of that story.  In the picture, I see several pastors, a district executive, a general secretary, and a director of BVS in Europe.  I see several others who have been shaped by their heritage to work in and beyond our church for justice and peace in Christ’s name. 


Friends, I share this to remind you that our place in the story does matter.  Your own part of the journey, including the places and the people that have shaped you, is what God uses to weave our story.

And though we may reminisce with wonder, let us not forget that the Story Weaver is not done, nor are we.  God is still creating a future for and through us - Even here at Mechanicsburg COB.   


  Yours in Christ, Pastor Del


Note:  If you are curious about the pictures, I’ve printed one and posted it on the bulletin board.  See if you can find me in it.  Or contact me, and I can share it via Facebook.

“Ninety Years and Counting”

posted Aug 29, 2016, 12:49 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Aug 29, 2016, 12:49 PM ]

We’ve had a wonderful Brethren Heritage series during Sunday School this summer.  For those of you who’ve been able to take it in, I trust that you’ve gained some deeper perspectives of the faith stream of which we have been a part! (In case you missed it, we were able to do an audio recording of most sessions.  Contact Pastor Del if you would like access to them).  It can be fascinating, surprising and even unsettling to learn about where the journey of the Brethren has taken us from our beginnings in Scharzenau, Germany in 1708.


As that series draws to a close, we are focusing in on our own journey as one congregation; the Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren.  In case you missed it, this year is an anniversary for us.  As of May, we have been in existence for 90 years!


Now, 90 years is a long time!  Just ask a few of our “nonagenarians”!  Alton H, Eva E, and Susan R. know something about that (93, 95 and 99 years of age, respectively).  Though none of them have been part of our congregation for that full time, they have lived that long!  But if you ask them (and I have), you will find that they are amazed at the accumulation of the years.  For none of us live our lives 90 years at a time!  We live one day, one week, one month at a time.  We live through the seasons that take us to years.  We mark our lives with significant events that change us!  And even after many years, we might think back, but we live forward!  For we know that even within aging bodies there are the persons who still remember childhood dreams and youthful visions.


In just a few weeks (on October 9th) we will commemorate our 90th anniversary in worship!  It will be a special day to pause and to give thanks for 90 years of ministry as a community of faith.  But as with each of our lives, such a celebration is a marker on the way!  May we see it, and our place within that story of 90 years, as a continuing part of the adventure.  Until then (and afterward), may we recommit ourselves to making each day, each week, and each season a new opportunity to serve our Lord Jesus Christ and our community…together.


  Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Who is My Neighbor?"

posted Jun 29, 2016, 6:23 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Jun 29, 2016, 6:23 PM ]

Orlando.  Charleston.  When we hear of the latest mass shooting, the news stirs tremors in our souls.  “How can that happen?”  “What moves a person to act in such a way?”  “What can be done to prevent it…the next time?”  We know intuitively that for those families who have lost loved ones, their lives will be forever marked and marred.  There is no “fix” for this carnage.


The still accumulating climate of fear would have us mistrust every stranger who walks in the door.  It would move us to act with suspicion, and “to shoot first and ask questions later”.  It would influence some to “pack” (to carry a weapon) so as to be ready for the moment when they need protection.  I understand that inclination.  It tugs on me too.  But that attitude and mentality of protection is a remarkably dangerous one.  Dangerous, not only because we can hold in our hands powerful tools for destruction, but because of how we come to see the stranger that is coming into view. 


There is something to be said for the ancient custom of showing hospitality to the stranger, even with the knowledge that they could be a threat.  It was a “pre-emptive strike” of sorts, but not with a weapon.  One would extend hospitality to shape the relationship and to create a temporary moment of safety.  As the recipient of hospitality, one could not so easily harm the one who extended it.  Yes, such hospitality could be abused by those with no value of human life.  But it also provided a normative way to treat the stranger as a potential friend, even as it obligated any with a moral compass to respect the hospitality of the giver.


The truth is that fear of strangers is not a new thing.  Nor is our inclination to view some as a clear and present threat.  Jesus was aware of such realities when he told one particular parable (Luke 10:25-37).   It was a parable that challenged perceptions about neighbors.  It did not ignore the reality of those who would rob and leave others for dead.  Instead, his parable provoked its listeners to imagine neighborliness and hospitality from the most unlikely of sources: from among those with whom his people refused to associate!  What are strangers capable of?  Of destruction, yes; but also of surprising hospitality.  While it can be a risk, as the nine church members in Charleston discovered when they welcomed a young stranger into their bible study, it is a choice and a call that we are given.  Jesus’ words challenge us still, in the aftermath of Charleston and Orlando. 

  -Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Questions for God"

posted May 31, 2016, 11:04 AM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated May 31, 2016, 11:04 AM ]

Recently, I shared with our Nurture Team about an experience I had in a previous congregation.  One of the Sunday School Teachers of our elementary aged children was inspired to ask them, “What question would you most like to ask God?”

The children eagerly joined in, and the result was a set of questions that the teacher presented to me, with the invitation that I might preach about them.  Though it was a daunting task, I accepted the challenge.  The questions reflected some interesting and unique “wonderings” from the children.  As I recall, one of the sermons I preached was a response to this question: “How High is Heaven?”

Intriguing, isn’t it?  Well, I hope to offer that same opportunity here at Mechanicsburg COB.  I’m going to start with the children (I’ll be working with the children’s leaders to explore how to do this), and will receive their questions of wondering.  I’ll select from their set of questions, and will be planning a preaching series to address those questions.  I won’t promise exactly what it will look like, but I trust that you will welcome the challenge with me.

In the meantime, you (yes, you as senior adults, adults, young adults, youth) can be thinking about your own questions that you would like to “ask God”.  While it is not your turn yet (children first), it could be a meaningful exercise for each of us. 

As you ponder this opportunity, let me make these suggestions: 

-       First, that no question be anonymous.  Please let me know who is asking. 

-       Second, I would ask that the question be a real one; one that matters personally to you. 

The goal of this focus is not to stump the pastor (though that may well happen).  The purpose is that we can give attention to faith questions that are relevant for all of our lives.           

If we find this to be a fruitful and energizing exploration, I will look at incorporating such “question” sermons periodically.  So give it some thought.  Ponder your questions.  And let’s see what we can learn as we explore both the questions and the answers together!                                   

Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Let It Rain"

posted Apr 29, 2016, 3:10 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Apr 29, 2016, 3:10 PM ]

This past Saturday morning, it rained.  At least in our little area of Mechanicsburg, when I stirred and looked out the window, it was raining.  How did I know?  A puddle had formed at the end of our driveway, and I could see the impact of little droplets splashing into that pool.  I couldn’t see the raindrops, but I could see their impact.  It was real, and cumulative.  The first drop would probably have escaped my view.  But the collection of drops moistened the morning, and caught my eye.


A day later, (April 24th), our Pulse Team led our Sunday worship on the theme of the Great Commission.  That text, from Matthew 28, provides an expansive challenge:  “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…”  There’s more to it than that (teaching and baptizing), but the initial call is so vast in scope that it is hard to fathom how one could accomplish that.  Well, the simple answer is, “one can’t”.  One person can’t fulfill the Great Commission, because we can’t be everywhere at once.  But what if one becomes many?


Andy Murray, Brethren teacher, preacher, and song-writer (and our current Annual Conference Moderator) once wrote a playful tune that began “What can one person do is a very good question if you don’t do nothing at all…”  His lyric ends this way: “One person at a time does it all”.  That is a powerful truth, but in our individualistic day, it can be misunderstood.  The Great Commission was never intended for just one person.  It is not the work of a droplet, but of a rainstorm.  Whether we are the first rain drop that evaporates before it reaches the ground, or the last drop that lands in the puddle, we are just part of the stream of witnesses who share in that greater purpose. 


In that way, we are like those early morning rain drops.  They were just water, after all, set in motion for a purpose. I recognized them when I saw them accumulate.  Perhaps that is a truth for followers of Jesus to remember as well.  We as disciples of Jesus are just people, set in motion by God’s Spirit for God’s purpose. You can’t really tell what disciples are until you see them in action; together.  It is when we do our part and take our place; first or last or in-between, that we accumulate and others can see out impact.  No longer individual droplets; we become the familiar rain that bathes and moistens and stirs life.  That’s a different picture of the Great Commission, but let me offer it as an invitation.  You can’t do everything; but then, you were never expected to.  Just take your place.  And let God make it rain!                          

  Yours in Christ, Pastor Del

"Lord Willing"

posted Mar 30, 2016, 4:18 PM by Ken Schmidt   [ updated Mar 30, 2016, 4:19 PM ]

It’s an interesting turn of phrase.  You’ve heard it, and perhaps you’ve even used it.  Thinking about something that you are about to do, or plans you are assembling, you say something like “Lord willing, I’ll do such and such”.  I’ve heard it (and used it playfully) in combination like this: “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”.  That is, if God or the world doesn’t get in the way, then I’ll do something!  I’m not sure where the second part comes from*, but the first phrase (Lord willing) actually comes from a place in scripture that challenges us not to presume that we can control our path or the future.  It is the book of James that says it (James 4:13-15):


13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money."  14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."(NRSV)


Here’s the thing.  Some folk say “Lord willing” almost as a superstition; thinking that if they don’t say it right, then God will not bless them.  But what is at work here is a call to a deeper humility.  It’s not that we can manipulate God by a catch phrase.  It is that we truly need to grasp that God’s work is larger than us.  While it is appropriate for us to plan and to work toward goals, we must always be attentive to a larger purpose that God is seeking to accomplish through us.  That kind of attention produces two results.  First, it actually moves us to listen for a voice beyond our self-will.  Second, it challenges us to listen for God’s timing.  That can be an appropriate corrective both to our sense of urgency and to our fear of taking action.


We should never presume that we are in charge of God’s timing or will.  But we need to be attentive to listening for God’s purposes, and always to be aware that God may have a larger purpose for us and this moment than we can see. 


               Yours in Christ, Pastor Del


*Check out the phrase in Wikipedia if you are interested in a lively linguistic debate about its origins and whether it refers to a stream or to a group of Native Americans!

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