A new hope

Advent 2 – Isaiah 40:1-11

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9 months with Mary

Image result for annunciation

First Lutheran Church  Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church  Natoma, Kansas

December, 2017

Amazingly, there is a show called ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant’, which recounts the experiences of women who show up at the emergency room of the hospital experiencing some discomfort, and end up delivering full term babies.  I find this premise dubious at best, and yet many claim it to be very possible, albeit, somewhat rare.

One woman who made no such claim was Mary.  The angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her in very clear words that she was going to bear the Christ child.

Of course, while Mary knew that she was pregnant by means of the Holy Spirit, others were far less convinced, notably Joseph, first by the actual news, and then that it was by means of the Holy Spirit.

Needless to say, Mary’s pregnancy was very unusual in terms of conception, but very usual in what happened following her conception.  At the initial announcement, she was stunned, and had fear and questions about what was going on.  Later, while she rejoices with Elizabeth over the news, there is the lingering concern about what Joseph will think, and what happens when she gets back home.  And as the time to deliver nears, one must ask the infamous question: what did Mary know and when did she know it about this child she was carrying.  But finally there is the happy sound of a baby crying, as Jesus is born, and is held first by Joseph, and then by Mary herself.

Now while we may think that every detail of her nine month pregnancy would be most fascinating, worthy of its own reality television show in prime time on every network, the Gospel writers disagree.  Sts. Mark and John contain no birth account at all; St. Matthew squeezes in an 8 verse recap between the genealogy and the visit of the wise men which focuses entirely on Joseph; and while St. Luke contains the most detail, it still leaves us wanting more.

Mary’s pregnancy is very similar to those around us today; in fact one would be hard pressed to pick Mary and the newborn Jesus out in the typical hospital labor and delivery unit, unless of course some shepherds were visiting.

But at the same time, for all its similarities, this is very much unlike all other mothers with newborn child; for, in the Apostles Creed, we confess in the Second Article, that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.  In that brief sentence, we confess that Jesus entered the womb of Mary, developed for nine months, and then was born.

But what does this mean?

In our rush to Christmas, and in our continual focus on the future advent of Christ in splendid glory, we barely notice Mary and the nine months she carried the child in her womb.  And yet there is much for us to meditate upon, as we prepare to celebrate with hearts and minds His coming in Bethlehem, as we receive Him today in His coming in the sacraments, and as we await His coming in future glory.

For our midweek Advent services this year we will be focusing on Mary’s pregnancy, tracing it as best we can from what the Gospels do record: the announcement of Gabriel to Mary; the visit to Elizabeth; and the journey to Bethlehem.  These moments, short as they may be, are packed with detail on who this child in the womb will become, and what it means for us today.

As part of this time of Advent, join us on Wednesday’s at 7PM at First Lutheran for worship, reflecting on Mary’s pregnancy.  Also, please make use of the daily devotionals for Advent from Lutheran Hour Ministries.

God Bless!   Pastor Schmidt

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How awkward is this?

Thanksgiving Eve – Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Tonight is perhaps the strangest service that finds its way onto the church calendar each and every November.  In some ways, it is the equivalent of having church on the Fourth of July, or Memorial Day, or Veterans Day.  It is an awkward thing to gather here, it is an awkward service to prepare, it is an awkward sermon to write.

Why?  Because we have not gathered here for an event in the life of Christ, rather, we have gathered here to mark an American national holiday.  You can’t go back and see what the ancient church fathers said, because they all predate the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620.  You can’t find a Luther sermon for the occasion, because he probably never even heard of America.  Nor can you really find anything by Walther for the day, because Thanksgiving really wasn’t even all that regular a holiday until the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

But that’s ok; as with all times and occasions that we gather together for, we focus on Christ, not the American traditions.  Jesus and the disciples may not have sat down and feasted on turkey and potatoes and stuffing and pumpkin pie, but the idea of giving thanks is present throughout the Scriptures, and we can without blinking an eye take this National Day of Thanksgiving and do what we do best as Lutherans: make it all about Jesus.

But that still does not remove the awkwardness of this service.  As those who have dutifully studied and memorized the Small Catechism, we daily confess both in the First Article of the Apostles Creed and in the Lord’s Prayer, that all things are gifts given by God.  We have traced back how the daily bread we receive, and our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all members, reason and senses, as well as clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that we have are gifts of our heavenly Father, that He daily and richly provides us with to support this body and life.

You know that everything is a gift from God, and you daily return thanks to Him for it.  That is in fact what we confess in the Creed and what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, thereby making giving thanks a part of not just this worship service, but every worship service.  Whether the doldrums of Lent, the expectation of Advent, the monotony of Pentecost or the joy of Easter, we gather to give thanks for all that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit has done for us in creating us, in redeeming us, and in sanctifying us.  We gather, in the words of the meaning to the Second Commandment, to pray, praise and give thanks.

To give thanks is as natural a part of the life of the baptized believer as breathing.  To give thanks is what draws us here each and every Lord’s Day, to give thanks for all that we have been so generously given to support this body and life, and most especially to give thanks for the gift of forgiveness, life and salvation that comes to us in Christ alone, and for the Holy Spirit keeping us in this one true faith.

Giving thanks, worship, is just as much an integral part of our daily lives as it was for Israel in our Deuteronomy text.  Giving thanks not just for what God has done in the here and now, but also giving thanks for what God has done throughout the previous generations, and what He promises to do into the future.

And that is what makes this service so awkward, both for the preacher and for the hearer: we have gathered for the specific purpose of giving thanks, when giving thanks is something that comes as natural to us as any number of the Thanksgiving traditions that you will partake in tomorrow.

Why gather and give thanks, when we give thanks every time you bow your head for meal time prayer; when every time you confess the Apostles Creed or pray the Lord’s Prayer, you are giving thanks; when even the smallest measurement of rain, or the tiniest sign of improvement of health, warrants full blown prayers and the singing of the doxology?

Giving thanks is just what we do as Christians, and we would continue to do so even if there were not a specific day set aside for it once a year.

But that is what makes Thanksgiving so difficult for those outside the body of Christ.  To whom and for what do they give thanks?  In their minds, you are the ones who have earned everything you have.  For what purpose do you give thanks?  Is it just some mundane tradition passed down from one generation to the next?  A moral law imposed on the culture once a year on the fourth Thursday in November?  So much of life outside of the faith is about self-preservation and a solitary mindset; how do you give thanks for yourself?

And so what is the culture left with?  It is left with a holiday from work to do little more than gorge oneself with food, and indulge in leisure, before going out and consuming even more than what they had before.

The awkwardness of Thanksgiving is not for the Church, but for the world, where is that so much of life has become separated from the practice of giving thanks, and the absence of a giver who provides for all that is needed.

And so the call of Thanksgiving is the same as the call that we hear each time we gather; repent.  Repent of a lack of thankfulness; repent of rejecting God’s good gifts for you; repent of neglecting gathering for worship in the Lord’s house; repent of despising the Lord’s offerings to you in Word and sacrament.  Repent of the awkwardness that you have foisted upon yourself by giving thanks for no reason at all, only to return to gross over consumption.

Repent.  For the message today, as it is every day, is that Christ Jesus has died for your sins, even those sins committed on Thanksgiving.  Christ Jesus has died and rose so that you might have His good and perfect gifts as you live as a holy and blessed child of your Father in heaven.

There is nothing awkward about that.  There is nothing awkward about gathering to give thanks one more day of the Church Year, for in fact that is the story of the Church Year for it is the story of the believer.

Thanksgiving is just one more opportunity to do what you and I do all year long: give thanks for the all gifts we have, which have been given to us by God alone.

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The problem is also the solution

Recently, I put forth a proposal calling for congregations calling sole pastors to be given priority in receiving Seminary candidates as opposed to those calling assistant or associate pastors from the Seminary.  One of the major objections to this proposal is that some of those receiving first calls still need some refining and mentoring before entering a congregation to serve as sole pastors.

My retort to this objection is that there is already a mentoring system in place throughout the entire Synod for pastors of all ages and graduating classes: the Circuit Winkel, a monthly gathering of local pastors for the purpose of fellowship, prayer and study, with the added bonus of a time of casuistry, in which pastors can discuss with other pastors particular matters that they are struggling with.

And of course this solution is met with the cry that so many circuits are broken, that pastors don’t attend, there is no fellowship, and the whole ordeal is nothing but a waste of time.

I would tell you that I have not actually spoken with anyone in a so called broken circuit, although I have certainly talked to people who find themselves in better circuits than others.  Now to be honest, as soon as you read the previous sentence, I imagine my comment section will be flooded with people telling me that their circuit is the 3rd level of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, and their Circuit Visitor is a literal incarnation of the antichrist.

So let’s just go with that assumption that circuits are broken, and that relying on the circuit to mentor and develop new pastors is an effort in futility.

What needs to be done about it?

The answer is actually not that difficult.  And no, I have not attached an overture for you to submit to your District Convention calling on circuits to behave because they have the job of mentoring young pastors.

The answer is simple: pastors need to demand better.  Stop settling for a dysfunctional, broken circuit that refuses to meet, and when it does meet ends up in a food fight.  Demand better.

How?

Start by showing up.  The biggest problem in all circuits is pastors who refuse to show up, who constantly manage to find some pathetic excuse about their wife needing them, or how it is Advent or Lent, or how they need to get ready for some big event; or even how they are just need a break, or just plain forgot.  Winkels are not a surprise, they happen every month, the same time every month.  Put it on your calendar and show up.

Next, once you arrive, participate.  Text study works best when the group is actively involved.  Put your phone on silent and turn off the wifi on your computer.  Engage the group, be in the room physically and mentally.  The group needs to hear your words on a text, or on any matter that is being discussed by the group.  The group works best when everyone is involved in the discussion and shares their ideas.  No one is going to change their mind and come over to your side, or you to theirs, if you do not open your mouth and share your ideas.

Finally, if all else fails, run for Circuit Visitor.  If your circuit is a broken mess and everyone refuses to acknowledge it but you, run for Circuit Visitor.  And when elected, demand better from the group.  Encourage pastors to attend, remind them that their insights and opinions and views are needed, and that they should come.

And above all else: do not stop attending.  Get up early, show up, and stay late and visit with others.

And if there is a new pastor in your midst, make sure to make him feel welcome, alert him to the value of the Winkel, and encourage him to be relaxed and open with the group.

And if you still don’t attend winkel, then look in the mirror, because you are the problem, not your circuit.  You are the one who is broken, you are the one who needs to repent and hear the words of absolution.

Each and every circuit in the LCMS contains a variety of pastors with a variety of experiences and a variety of strengths and weaknesses, and they gather together once a month in the best possible forum to encourage one another.  Young pastors remind the older ones of their passion for theology; older ones remind younger ones of what it means to be a servant of the Church.

Circuit winkels are not the problem, instead they are the solution.

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Continuing the Celebration

First Lutheran Church  Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church   Natoma, Kansas

November, 2017

Over the next two months, you and I will no doubt remark on the arrival of Christmas in the stores and in the community, and even in the church, and we will each try to top each other in the classic game of who saw the first Christmas decorations this year.

Yes, much like the groundhog in February, the sign of Christmas decorations in Walmart or Hobby Lobby or in the mall, or on the neighbor’s yard signals that Christmas is soon coming.

But you know what else I’ve noticed over the years?  As soon as stores open up on December 26, you notice fewer and fewer decorations.  And one by one, the neighbor’s lights will begin to turn off; and by New Year’s, Christmas will be but a memory.

I draw this illustration, because you may be thinking that with the calendar turning to November 1st, our Reformation celebration is over.  And much like those Christmas decorations, the festivities will fall away, one by one.  We are almost out of Reformation bulletin inserts, the Luther quotes in the bulletin are finished, the gifts and books commemorating this 500th anniversary, are about to go on sale.

And yet, like the Church that insists that Christmas actually goes to January 6th, and like that neighbor that takes his last decoration down while you are mowing your lawn for the first time, there is but one more Reformation reminder showing up in the mail.

At the 2013 LCMS Convention, the delegates authorized the updating of the Explanation to the Small Catechism.  And now, after several years of hard work, orders are now being taken for the new, updated and expanded Small Catechism; which is scheduled to arrive and be available for purchase November 10th according to the Concordia Publishing House website.

Some may look at this as that straggler Christmas card that shows up on the 1st of February; couldn’t the Church have worked a little harder to get this out in time?  Couldn’t some corners have been cut so that we could actually have it available on October 31, 2017?

I suppose the answer is yes, although at a presentation on the new Explanation, I was told that it was a miracle that they got it done this fast.

But despite the seeming oddity of the timing, it does bear forth an important point.  For the past year, we have immersed ourselves in Reformation studies and celebrations.  We have seen movies, done Bible studies, read inserts and quotes, and now as the calendar turns over, we are very much tempted to say that we are done with it and it is on to the next thing, just like Walmart where the Valentine’s Day decorations begin to take over on December 26.

But today, while the official celebration has concluded, what we have learned, what we have read, marked, learned and inwardly digested is not over.  The Solas of the Reformation are still true today, just as they have been the past year.  The call of the Reformation to delve into God’s holy Word on a daily basis has never been timelier.  The gospel message of Jesus Christ still rings forth in our worship, in our preaching and in our teaching.

The forth coming revised Explanation of the Small Catechism, after the close of the official 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is but a reminder, that though the party is over, the message continues to go forth.

So keep those Reformation decorations up a little while longer, for the Gospel is still needed in year 501 and beyond.

            If you would like to order a copy of the new Small Catechism, please speak to Pastor.

God Bless!    Pastor Schmidt

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Rethinking Calling from the Seminary

Greetings!

At the recent Kansas District Professional Church Worker’s Conference, I presented a paper and a proposed overture for consideration and feedback.  The overture will hopefully come before the Kansas District Convention in June, as well as other District Conventions as well.

In the paper, I argue that congregations calling sole pastors should be given preference over those congregations calling assistant or associate pastors.  I believe the Church at large is best served by filling vacancies in as many congregations as possible, as opposed to filling a vacancy in a congregation that is already being served by a called and ordained servant of the Word.  Neither the paper or the overture call for the elimination of assistant or associate pastors; merely limiting the number of candidates placed in those positions as their first call.

Here is the Paper and the overture for your consideration.  Please feel free to substitute Kansas for your appropriate District in the overture.

Rev. Michael Schmidt

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Christ Alone

First Lutheran Church   Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church   Natoma, Kansas

October, 2017

This is part 4 of a 4 part series on the Solas of the Reformation.  Parts 1, 2, and 3 can be found in the January, April and July newsletters.

Well, this is it! October 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation!  All month long there will be celebrations across the Synod and around the world; some will even be streamed online so those who can’t attend in person will be able to join in from afar; others will be recorded and distributed through various mediums.  We will celebrate right here in our corner of the world on Saturday, October 21, when we will join our brothers and sisters of Circuit 15 at Phillipsburg for a celebration with Dr. Gerhard Bode of Concordia Seminary presenting.

But of course, we have been celebrating all year long: seeing the new Luther movie in Hays; a series of newsletter articles on the Solas of the Reformation; Martin Luther quotes in the bulletin every week; as well as inserts highlighting different people of the Reformation; a Reformation VBS: and special Bible studies from Lutheran Hour Ministries on Luther and the Reformation and its lasting impact.

And have no fear, some of those things will continue through December as the CPH children’s Christmas program is based off Luther’s hymn: From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.

So what will you take away from this Reformation year?

Souvenirs?  Surely some will be hitting the CPH clearance racks soon.  A better knowledge of the events of the 1500’s?  That will help if a Reformation category ever shows up on Jeopardy.  Or maybe this whole year has been a blur, and you are wondering what the fuss is all about anyway?  After all, it was not even deemed worthy of a US postage stamp.

For in fact, what has this year truly been about?  Did we prove the critics right that we worship Luther?

Perhaps some will levy that charge; but they would be wrong.  Just as you would be wrong to say this year has been all about Luther or Germany or gathering trinkets and bulletin inserts for your collection.

This year, just like last year and just like next year, is all about Jesus.  In fact that is what the Reformation was all about: getting the focus off of good works and merits and laws, and putting the focus back where it belongs, where it in fact always belongs: on Jesus.

And in that respect, the 500th anniversary should have looked a lot like the 400th and the 300th and the 200th and the 100th and the 1st anniversary of the Reformation; just as it should look a lot like the coming anniversaries that bear significance for the Lutheran church.  What it all comes down to, is Jesus alone for the salvation of all those who believe.

For what do the Solas all point to?  Grace Alone, Faith Alone and Word Alone all point to Jesus.  Jesus is the key that makes the whole thing work.

Jesus alone is what you need to be saved.  You do not need your works or your merits, or anything else attached to your name: you only need Jesus, crucified and risen for you, granting you forgiveness, life and salvation.

Happy Reformation Anniversary!  May it be joyous!  May it be filled with the Holy Spirit!  And may it be all about Jesus!

God Bless!    Pastor Schmidt

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