Can any good come from…

Kansas District Pre-Lent Retreat devotion based on St. John 1:43-51

Philip, the fresh seminary graduate who is new to the circuit, runs up to the grizzled veteran Nathanial, and announces to him the great success he just had in teaching confirmation class; to which Nathanial asks: can any good come out of confirmation class?  Or of counseling?  Or of preaching?  Or of a pastors conference?

The Nathanial’s of the church want to have the energy and the enthusiasm and the excitement of a Philip, but years of disappointment, and reality, have caused all of that to fade away.

Nothing good comes out of Nazareth; that is a backwater town that is full of people who are more likely to screw everything up, as opposed to produce the long promised Messiah.  And such is often the case with confirmation; they’ll just end up breaking the 6th Commandment anyway; the couple you counsel will just end up getting divorced; that sermon you slave over for hours to get just right will be ignored; you’ll get home from conference with nothing more than a backlog of work that needs to be done.

Can any good come out of any of this?  Such is the question of Nathanial, such is the question of all who find themselves sitting under fig trees, or behind desks, or in the front of the classroom, or in the driver’s seat of the car.

Perhaps it is to humor Philip that Nathanial goes along, or more likely guilt that this may be the one time, let alone the first time, that something good actually comes out of showing up.  Energy and enthusiasm do at least cause some interest to be raised, even if only for a moment.

Jesus response upon seeing Nathanial is Behold, a pastor in whom there is no deceit.

Jesus of course knows what you and Nathanial thought before coming here; he knows the burdens and the heartaches of being disappointed so many times, of not knowing if anyone will ever understand that the 6th Commandment, the sermon, the words of Law and Gospel apply to them.  Jesus knows that after years of service, sometimes it is hard to get one’s hopes up about much of anything, and that it is far easier to be cynical about everything.

And so Jesus speaks these words to you: Behold, a pastor in whom there is no deceit.

You know of course that there is much deceit in you; that grumbling and groaning about one thing in the church or another is not godly, nor is it part of ones call documents.

But today Jesus speaks the words to you that there is no deceit found in you.  Not because you are allowed to mumble and grumble, but because by His death and resurrection, Christ Jesus has forgiven you this sin, just as He forgave Nathanial, and just as He will forgive Philip when the work of proclaiming the Gospel produces a cynical nature in him as well.

For you will see greater things: you will see those who break the Law, repent.  You will see those who come to be counseled, reconcile.  You will see that sermon open the eyes of those in the pews to the wonder of God’s love.  You will see that Bible study reveal the true nature of Christ in the world.  You will see that conference provide a renewed spirit and zeal for the work of the Lord.

But even if it should not, you will see the Lord Jesus, standing before the throne of God, announcing for one and all to hear: Behold, a child of God, in whom there is no deceit, for you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified.

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Honor God with your bodies

Epiphany 2 – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Sorry about the camera angle.

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What have we done?

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First Lutheran Church  Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church  Natoma, Kansas

January, 2018

I was in a meeting last month, and the presenter, a District executive recounted how he had asked his staff: what have we done in the past three years?  He told us that there was an initial pause, as those gathered asked themselves what had they really accomplished in the past 3 years.  The pause was short lived, as they ended up with a list of 25 accomplishments, some more significant than others, but all things that at least some progress had been made on.

As we turn the page on the calendar, I ask you the same question: what have we, as a congregation, accomplished in the past year?

So often when the ‘to do list’ is endless and seems to be added to daily, we often forget that along the way, we actually did get some things done.

So what happened?

  • We survived. Often when the question is asked about hopes for the future of the congregation, the answer is to just survive; so if nothing else, we survived another year.  We made it through 2017, and we will have the doors open and the lights on in 2018.
  • We celebrated. 2017 was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and we spent an entire year learning about Luther and the Reformers.  We went to Hays and saw the new Luther movie; we went to Phillipsburg and heard a Seminary professor present on the Reformation; we had Bible studies and bulletin inserts and a series of newsletter articles, all marking this special year in the life of the Church.
  • We mourned. Sadly, 2017 was a year in which some transferred from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant; and while we rejoice they are with the Lord, we grieve they are no longer with us.
  • We rejoiced. 2017 was a year of baptisms and confirmations, as the Church Militant expanded once more.  We welcomed each one of them in the name of the Lord, and we pray that their life of faith would be blessed.
  • We were visited. Both congregations were officially visited by the Kansas District.  Our voices were heard by those in Topeka, and they have responded in joy for the work that we faithfully carry on here in western Kansas.
  • We grew. Not always numerically, but we grew in the Lord.  We studied the Word in Bible class.  We ate and drank the body and blood of Jesus; we remembered our baptisms; we confessed our sins and heard the words of absolution.  We are not the same people we were a year ago; we have refined ourselves on both the lathe and in the fire, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are stronger in the faith.
  • We were faithful. The Word was faithfully preached and the Sacraments were rightly administered.  The culture around us demanded once again that we capitulate to their demands and their ways; and yet, we stood firm and we remained faithful to God over and above man.

Keep this in mind as you ponder what 2018 will bring.  2017 was not a lost cause in the least,

and neither will 2018 be.  The Lord is working in you, in His Church, and in this world in ways we do not always see or understand, and yet when we look back over the year, let alone over a lifetime, we see that His hand is always guiding us.

God Bless!   Pastor Schmidt

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Christmas Letter 2017

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Christmas, 2017

There is no shortage of nativity scenes this time of year, available both for purchase and for viewing pleasure.  They come in all shapes and sizes; some with just a few pieces, and others with seemingly all of Bethlehem surrounding the small crèche; they come in the more traditional form with non-descript humans filling each of the rolls, and they come in the perhaps overly secularized form with popular comic strip characters dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men.

Yet in each and every one of them, you will find a small baby lying in a manger; and no one questions such a thing.  We look at the manger, and we expect to see a small baby resting comfortably, wrapped in swaddling cloths, resting on what looks to be a soft bed of straw.

That infant lying in the manger serves as a reminder that Christ Jesus came into the world in human flesh, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law.  The little Lord Jesus lays there peacefully, and we can gaze upon Him in peace, knowing that He has come to bring peace between man and God.

But the manger is not where salvation lies, instead, salvation is found at the cross.  And what do we see when we gaze upon the cross?  We see the crucified Jesus, beaten and bloodied, with His head bowed down, we see the consequence of our sins, borne not by you and me, but borne by our Lord Jesus.  Each time we see the cross, we see Jesus hanging there, dead, so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation.

We would never imagine a nativity scene without baby Jesus lying there so peacefully; nor should we imagine the cross without our crucified Lord hanging upon it.  Both the manger and the cross serve as reminders of who Jesus is and how He has come into the world to save us, not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.

May you find both peace and joy in the manger and the cross this Christmas.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

God Bless!

Pastor, Lindsey and Theodore Schmidt

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Christmas Day

Christmas Day 2017 – St. Luke 2:1-20

It is perhaps the greatest irony in the world today: we live in a culture of death, all people want to talk about is death; all people want to celebrate is death.  We watch movies and television shows in the hopes of seeing the most people die in the most gruesome manner possible.  We listen to music that fantasizes about how one might enact vengeance upon another.  We dream of what we would do in a situation where called upon to protect the lives of others, and how fast we would be to end the life of an intruder.  We think nothing of breaking the Fifth Commandment in thought, word and deed in bringing pain upon another.

We are fascinated by death, because it comes so easy to us.

And yet, for as fascinated as we are by death, the birth of a child still brings joy to the hearts of man.

Birth means hope; it means life; it means there is a future.  No matter the time or the place, the birth of a baby brings a smile to the faces of mother and father; grandparents and great-grandparents; and even the most hard hearted of souls.  You just cannot help but celebrate the birth of a child.

What follows may be up for debate: vaccinations, education, nutrition, parenting styles, etc, etc, etc.; but in the moment, if only in the moment, there is joy in the birth of a child.

There is joy in the stable as Mary and Joseph gaze upon this child; there is joy amongst the shepherds in that the news is shared even in the hill country among the undesirable citizens; there is joy among the magi, who are intrigued by the far reaching possibilities of this child; there is even joy in Herod’s palace and in Rome, as the tax base has expanded by one more.

And there is joy in Nazareth, for whatever presumed scandal this birth resulted from, there is still joy that a child has been born.  And there is joy in Judah, in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and John the Baptist, who were perhaps the only people outside of Mary and Joseph who understood what this birth meant.

There is joy, there is celebration, there is exultation.  There is a buzz about the house where Mary and Joseph are staying as the new baby is passed from one family member to the next.  There is a collective smile that today a child is born.

That joy extends to today, though perhaps a little differently than it did some 2000 years ago.

Today there is joy that a child has been born; but it is a different joy than one finds in the average maternity ward of the local hospital.

For the child born today is more than a glimmer of intrigue in the eyes of magi; more than a passing acquaintance in the lives of the shepherds; more than an additional denarius on the tax rolls; more than just another baby boy.

For this child has come to redeem His people from sin, death and hell.  He has come so that you might have life, and that you might have it to the fullest.

And His birth brings a smile, brings joy to the hearts of all people.  This birth brings joy to those who have wandered from the faith, for deep in their hearts, they still know that a Savior has come into the world to redeem them, who loves them just as He loved those shepherds in the hill country.

There is joy among the secular world, who like the magi look in at the celebration of the faithful, and come to see what is going on, and find themselves paying homage, whether intentionally or accidently to the king of kings.

There is joy amongst the elected officials, who ordinarily have no use for the Church and the faith we confess; for this day still bears weight when one looks at the calendar; this day still shows up as meaning something.

And there is joy in your hearts, just as there is joy in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, just as there is joy in the hearts of Zechariah and Elizabeth and John the Baptist, for you know what this child who now rests in the manger means, not just for the world, but for you.

For the joy that you have when you gaze upon the manger, is the joy of life, not just the life of the child, but your life.  For in the manger, is the one who has come to grant life to you and to all who believe.  In the manger is the one who gives life meaning, who makes life worth living, who makes life not just a temporary trip around the sun, but an eternity with your Father in heaven.

There is joy and celebrating today, for a child has been born.  And not just any child, but the child long ago promised to Adam and Eve; the child promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the child promised to Moses; the child promised to King David; the child promised to Isaiah and to all the prophets; the child promised to the remnant that returns from exile; the child promised to Mary; the child promised to all people of all times and places; the child promised to you.

Today we once again celebrate the birth of the Christ child.  He has arrived.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve 2017 – St. Luke 2:7

In our rush to get to the shepherds and the angels, and to the loud shouts of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Gloria in Excelsis Deo, we often miss what happens before.  In fact, verses 1-7 of St. Luke 2 are merely a checklist: historical names and figures and government ordered censes? Check.  Mary and Joseph walk to Bethlehem?  Check.  Mary gives birth to a son?  Check.  Ok, let’s sing Away in a Manger and then go find the shepherds.

And yet, in our rush to move on, we miss out on St. Luke 2:7, which is perhaps both the simplest and most profound verse in all of the Scriptures.

On the surface, we read the verse and it merely tells us what happens: Mary gave birth, it’s a boy; and in an effort to keep Him warm, she wraps Him up in some loose fitting cloths, and then places Him in a manger, and presumably steps back to admire the newborn child with Joseph.

Very simple; very straightforward; all in fact very mundane.  How is this different than the birth of any other child, not just in Bethlehem, but in the world today?  How many parents can report the exact same thing happening at the birth of their child?

Indeed, switch out the swaddling cloths for a onsie, and the manger for a crib, and you may as well be describing every child born in America today.

But this child is different; and that is what makes this verse from St. Luke 2 so incredible.

For this child is the Son of God.  This is not some random birth, this is the birth of the long promised Messiah.

The Son of God, who has all the authority in heaven and on earth at His disposal, who is not bound by time and space, has His arms and legs bound by some swaddling cloths.

This Messiah, who sits at the right hand of God, ruling the heavens, the earth and the church, is laid in a manger box.

The one who was present before the creation of the world, who spoke heaven and earth in existence, is now bound by the laws of gravity.

This verse is so simple, includes such seemingly minor details, and yet to read it in the context of who this child is that lays to rest on Mary’s lap, makes this verse absolutely amazing.

The Lord of heaven and earth, who governs all things and who stands as owner of all things, can’t even get a private room in Bethlehem.

Welcome to earth o noble guest; welcome to life in this world; welcome to the limitations of living in a fallen creation.

It almost makes you forget that just a few moments earlier Jesus was still swimming in amniotic fluid.  It makes you forget that Jesus went through the birth canal and was delivered just as any other baby, boy or girl.  We forget that in 8 days, Jesus will be circumcised according to Jewish law.

And yet it is in both the simplicity and the profundity of this verse that we find our hope and comfort.

For the one who was born of Mary, who now rests in the manger box, is indeed the Savior of the world.

Christ Jesus became just like you and I, so that He might save you and I from sin, death and hell.  For just as through one man, Adam, sin came into the world; so too by one man, Christ, shall life come into the world.

For as frustrated as we may get by the lack of the spectacular in the Christmas account, it is that very absence of the spectacular that applies this to us.

Christ Jesus became man, bound Himself in human flesh and by the laws of gravity so that you might have forgiveness, life and salvation.

The spectacular in the Christmas accounts, is in how mundane everything is.  The spectacular is that this could be the birth of any child, and yet it is the birth of the Savior of the world.

Welcome to earth o noble guest; we have long been expecting you.  Your coming is nothing short of amazing, not that you came today with bells and whistles and trumpets; but that you came as any one of us did.  And we rejoice that you came as one of us, so that when you do come with bells and whistles and trumpets, we may not fear, but experience the glory that is promised us now and forever.

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A homeless God

Advent 4 – 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

It is one of the great mysteries of the Scriptures as to why God refuses to allow David to build the temple.  To add confusion to the mystery is that in verses 6-7, God seems perfectly content with dwelling in a tent, but in 1 Kings 5, Solomon has the same idea to build a temple, and God seems to have no qualms about it, and even embraces the idea.

You could point to any number of reasons, most notably that David’s reign as king was marked by warfare and squashing the enemies of God’s people, whereas Solomon’s reign was marked by living off the riches that David had secured.

That makes this an interesting text for Advent 4; the desired emphasis by those who selected this reading is to be on the concluding verses and the Lord establishing the House of David forever, and the ultimate fulfillment of that promise in the coming of both David’s son and David’s Lord in Jesus in our Gospel text.

But this morning, let us linger on a parallel between our Old Testament text and today if we may, focusing not so much on why God rejected David, but rather on what happens next.

Picture for a moment King David walking around on the roof of his house, and looking off in one direction and seeing the tent with the Ark of the Covenant; he compares his own dwelling place with that of the Lord God, and in his guilt, desires to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, and thereby house God.  But after being rejected, he turns around and looks off in another direction and sees Bathsheba bathing, and knows that she will not reject him.

What follows is David finding himself very far from the Lord’s favor.

But that is not where you find yourself today, is it?

The cat is probably out of the bag by now that while this morning is Advent 4, tonight is Christmas Eve.  And tonight and tomorrow, there will be a great celebration as we mark the coming of the Christ child into the world.  It is somewhat remarkable that in a world that is becoming more and more secular with each passing day, the average radio station still plays the old familiar Christmas hymns mixed in with all the other modern popular Christmas songs; and that one of the most popular Christmas movies on television features Linus reciting a portion of St. Luke 2.

Yes, much like David, this is the popular time of year to look outside and see the holy family huddled around the manger, with the newborn Jesus wrapped in nothing by some loose fitting cloths, and to invite them into your home.

Now is the time of year to declare that you would have opened the doors of your home to Mary and Joseph; given them whatever they needed to make the birth of the Savior a little more comfortable and pleasant.  Now is the time of year to rush to the nearest church and declare that this child in the manger is most welcome in your humble dwelling.

Is it guilt that drives you to welcome this child into your home?  Guilt built up after another year of forsaking the Lord and His Word and His gifts?  Guilt that you could not save yourself?  Guilt that you live far better off than most of God’s people in the world?

And so as you look out the window on this Christmas Eve, and you see your parents or grandparents loading up the car to come to church, your guilt drives you to agree to go along; because after all, it is Christmas.  Or your guilt drives you to announce to your company from afar that it is Christmas, and therefore you will say grace before the meal, as opposed to everyone digging right in.  Or your guilt drives you to set up a nativity scene in the midst of all the other decorations.

Guilt is a powerful thing, and throughout history, the Church on earth has greatly benefited from the guilt of others consciences; in fact many churches are adorned with wonderful gifts of art and furnishings given by those who were guilt ridden.

No doubt, David would have built a spectacular temple for the Lord; it would have been adorned with gold and silver and all the precious jewels one would expect to find.

And yet God says no.  He rejects David’s offer.

Instead God tells David what He does want; not a temple, but He wants David’s heart.

And this Christmas as you invite the holy family into your home; grant them a place of prominence at your Christmas feast; as you boldly proclaim that Jesus can have any gift He so desires in His stocking, Jesus tells you the same thing: keep your gifts, I just want your heart.

Certainly not a familiar response.  In fact, we are very used to gift buying and giving alleviating a whole host of problems; there are after all not many transgressions a new car, or a new video game, or a new dress, or some piece of jewelry will not smooth over.

But the gift that the Lord wants is not a temple or the hottest new gadget, but your heart; and you suddenly find that this is a very difficult gift to give.

For one other possibility for why David was not allowed to build the temple is that after having his architectural rending rejected, he did have his affair with Bathsheeba; he did arrange for Uriah to be killed in battle; he did completely reject God for a period of time.  And while Solomon was hardly a model citizen of faithfulness to the Lord, at least his crimes came after he built the temple.

An all too familiar tale indeed.  For all those who welcome the holy family into their homes this week, how many will be quick to escort them to the door when the decorations are put away?  How many will soon find that meal time prayer, daily devotions, and regular worship attendance are too time consuming to bother with when no one is watching?  How many will take that new Bible, or Catechism, or hymnal, and relegate them to places far out of reach once the fresh new smell has worn off?  How many, like David, will turn their hearts away from the Lord when the next shiny item glistens in their eye?

It is a steep fall to go from desiring to build the Lord a magnificent temple, to forsaking Him for the pleasure of another; and yet, the thud from that crash will reverberate for miles in about twelve days from now as many homes that were once bright and welcoming, turn dark and hostile once more.

And yet that is in fact the miracle of Christmas, about darkness falling upon a home where Jesus was no longer welcomed.  It is heaven.  For at the time appointed, Jesus left heaven, left the splendor and the glories and the power and the majesty, and came to earth.  He came to a simple virgin and her carpenter fiancé.  He came to live amongst those who had for so long rejected the Lord, and who would once again reject Him sending Him to suffer and die.

The story of Christmas is the story of the Christ child coming to earth to be rejected by men, rejected by God, so that man may no longer be rejected by God, but rather so that the hearts of man might be turned, their sins forgiven, and the gates of heaven opened to you.

David ends up rejecting God, and yet, David is forgiven; not because of some great gift He gave, but because of the gift that God gave to Him in Christ Jesus, who would be both David’s son and David’s Lord.

And it is this Jesus, this descendent of David, this Son of God, who now also redeems you, forgives you for all of your sins of turning away from God, and welcomes you back into His loving embrace.

David wants to build God a house, and yet God rejects his offer, just as He rejects your offer to come into your home this Christmas and celebrate with you.  Instead, what God offers to David and to you is the gift of a Savior, one who will redeem you from the perils and the guilt that you find yourself in, and welcome you into His house, the glories and the splendors of heaven.

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