Pastor's Message

"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

"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

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