Author Archives: Pastor Craig Schweitzer

About Pastor Craig Schweitzer

I like to think of myself as a pretty easy going person who seeks to daily discover anew how God is present in my life and in the world in which I live and serve. I am a husband, father, brother, son, friend, pastor, and maybe most significantly – a child of God! My beautiful spouse Wendy and I live in Bismarck, ND with our twin daughters, Ilia and Taegan and our crazy dogs Henri & Sadie. I’ve serve on the staff of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, ND since July 2001. I was first called to serve as Music & Worship Minister, in 2010 was called to serve as Pastor of Worship and Youth Education, and in January 2014 was called to serve as Senior Pastor. My professional background is a diverse collection of musical and educational experiences that ranges from live concert production and promotion to recording studios, and live performance to music education. Prior to joining Good Shepherd, I was an Instructor of Music at Bismarck State College and owned and operated a successful teaching studio called 6x6 Guitar Studio. I am a graduate of the University of Mary in Bismarck and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA and was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in September 2010. Outside of Good Shepherd, I enjoy hanging out with my family and friends, reading, listening or playing any and all music, a relaxing round of golf, or spending some quiet time with God.

New Guitars & Discipleship – 09.08.2019 Sermon

Luke 14:25-33 • September 8, 2019

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Our gospel text today begins by informing us that large crowds are traveling with Jesus by this point in his ministry. I wonder how large the crowds were after Jesus offers this teaching to them about discipleship. About what it looks like to actually be a disciple.

In my own faith journey, if I read Jesus instruction in today’s gospel in a black and white literal way, I can’t help believe that I’d be one of those in the crowd who walks away at this point. Following this Jesus is just going to be WAY too hard.

Hate my family? Are you kidding me Jesus? Yes, they drive me nuts some times, but hate them? I couldn’t possibly do that.

Carry the cross? Oh that’s easy. I’m carrying all kinds of crosses all the time Jesus, which one do you want me to carry now?

Or maybe the one that seems to sting the most, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

download (1)Many of you know that I own a few guitars. How many, you ask? Well…more than I probably should, but definitely one less than too many. My guitars are part of my very being. Simply put, I believe that I can no more be a good husband, father, pastor, son or anything else God calls me to be without the presence of my guitars. Music ebbs and flows through everything that I am or am called to do or be as a child of God, a disciple of Jesus. I don’t see my guitars as possessions but as extensions of who I am.

I’ve been shopping for a new addition to the family lately. This past Monday, I was able to make a deal on a guitar that I’d been looking at for a few weeks. It’s actually the one that’s on the screen today – and soon, with the help of FedEx, after making a deal on it this past Labor Day Monday, this guitar will become part of our family. And I’m very grateful for that.

Shortly after this exciting purchase and sharing the good news with my wife, I sat down to do a few minutes of sermon study before we had to leave for a brunch that we were invited to attend. As I came to the last verse of our gospel reading, my heart sank. I was still basking in the joy of a new guitar as I heard Jesus say to me “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Of the four gospels, Luke is the gospel that speaks about wealth the most. Luke points to the way wealth gets in the way of being able to follow Jesus. Being able to be a disciple.

All of the scripture and themes that are before us on this Rally Day – the kick-off to Good Shepherd’s fall ministry and mission – all center us again on discipleship. And what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This couldn’t be a more perfect theme for this day. Because all too often, the way we live our life each day actually pulls us away from being a disciple of Jesus.

So, let’s take a few minutes and dig a little deeper into this. What does it mean to be a disciple? What is a disciple? Are disciples only the 12 men that Jesus chose to follow him at the beginning of the gospel story? Or are you and I also disciples as the gospel story continues to be told and written in our day and time?

One description for a disciple that I’ve found helpful over the years is this. “A (disciple is a) person who follows Jesus, who is, of course, pursuing us. Being a disciple is always to know that Jesus is on a mission to us – to love us, to save us, and to bless us. And being a disciple is always to know that we follow Jesus on this mission and that Jesus is on a mission through us – to love through us, to save through us, and to bless through us.” [Crazy Talk, Rev. Dr. Rolf Jacobson, pg. 53-54]

Being a disciple of Jesus is not something we initiate, it’s something God initiates through Jesus for us. Being a disciple is not about worrying that we’ll get caught if we don’t obey a prescribed set of rules.

Being a disciple is a way of living that shows others who Jesus is through you. If you are a disciple of Jesus, people around you should know it and experience Jesus in all that you say and do.

How do people in your life right now experience Jesus through you as you participate in worship? Are you just sitting there? Or are you actively engaged and participating?
How will people in your life experience Jesus through you on Tuesday or another time when you are not in a formal church worship service?

At the end of our worship today we will participate in a blessing of our vocations. On this Rally Day, it’s a way that sends us out into the world knowing that everything we say and do in our life, is a reflection of Jesus working through us. The word we use to describe this is our vocation. Whatever vocation you are being called to live out this week, it is Jesus working through you that enables that vocation to exist in the first place.

Jesus is on a mission to you that is being lived out in the world through you, right now.

May the vocations God calls you and me into being a reflection of this truth for all the world to see.

The truth of what a disciple looks like today.

Another description of a disciple that I like is this – “To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a student, learner, or apprentice in a community of mutual growth in love.” [The Agile Church, Dwight Zscheile, pg. 10]

I’ve always seen myself as a student and learner. I’m constantly trying to understand more deeply what it means to be a disciple, what it means to live my life as a disciple. I’m constantly reading, studying scripture, taking classes, and having conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ about faith and life.

All of us who call Good Shepherd our faith home has countless opportunities outside of weekly worship to be students. To be life-long learners of the faith in a community of faith that loves us deeply.

I invite you to get involved over the next few months in at least one of the wide variety of ministry programs and events offered at Good Shepherd. I believe they will challenge you to grow deeper in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

And maybe the most pointed description of being a disciple I’ve ever come across is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic book The Cost of Discipleship. Shortly before Bonhoeffer was executed in a Nazi concentration camp in April 1945, he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.”

When Jesus calls you to be his disciple, he calls you to come and die.

For us, as Lutheran Christians, this call to come and die is exactly what we are talking about when we begin the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism with the words “In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

You see, baptism is not a five-minute liturgy during a worship service with a bunch of words and promises that have no bearing on the rest of our lives. Baptism joins us to the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus. In baptism, we are called to be disciples.

Jesus knows there are many things that will compete for our attention. Many things. Way too many things.

What Jesus asks of us as God’s children who are called to be his disciples, is that we put all of the things that compete for our attention aside and focus only on him and the cross which ultimately gives us life?

Discipleship calls us to come and die. Because it is only in a death like this that we will ever be joined to life with Jesus.

Several times a year, I’m invited to offer an opening prayer or invocation for local events or conventions in town. Often times, a presentation of the colors followed by the pledge of allegiance or singing of the national anthem happens at the same time. At one of these events, the color guard and the pledge of allegiance came before the prayer. This was the first, and only time as far as I can remember, that it has ever happened in this order. I honestly didn’t think much of it. Someone forgot to tell the MC what the agenda for the day was going to be.

After I finished the prayer and left the stage, I was met by the commander of the color guard. He waited for me because he wanted to offer an apology. He said, “I’m very sorry Reverend. Something got messed up in the schedule and I’m very sorry it happened. You have my word that it will not happen again.”

I asked him what was wrong. I thought everything went just fine.

He said, “It didn’t go fine pastor. We are not supposed to present the colors before the prayer. It is always God before country. Always. I’m very sorry.”

Now, I’m far from an expert on this. And I’m not sure there is a steadfast, black and white rule on this. I’ve actually researched it a little and what I’ve found is that it varies a little depending on the type of event or location of the event or who’s at the event. The order is even different between the chambers of the United States Congress – one way in the Senate, a different way in the House.

What struck me in that brief conversation and apology from the commander was not so much the order of things at this event, but the heart of things expressed by a disciple of Jesus. The heart of this decorated veteran now serving proudly and faithfully as a commander of a local color guard reminding me, the pastor, as he said “It’s God before country pastor. It’s always supposed to be God before country.”

“Why yes, sir. Yes. Yes it is,” was the only reply I could offer. And I thanked him for reminding me of that truth.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Rally Day, in the life of our congregation, I believe that’s all Jesus is trying to say to his disciples – to you and me – again today.
Above your relationship with your father or mother; wife or children; brothers or sisters, your relationship with God is most important and always comes first. Frankly, I do not believe you can have a healthy relationship with anyone else if you don’t have a healthy relationship with God.

Reverend GuitarAnd may our possessions never become things that possess us and take control of our lives if we truly want to be disciples of Jesus. Yes, I am looking forward to that new guitar arriving soon, I’m not going to lie about that. But that guitar, or any other guitar I own, will never get in the way of how I respond to Jesus calling me to serve as one of his disciples.

Finally, as our vocations are blessed today, I hope and pray that we enter this new day and a new week, and a new season of the church’s year, by confidently taking up our cross and following Jesus wherever he may lead. Thanks be to God. Amen.

“Remember the Sabbath” 08.25.2019 Sermon

Luke 13:10-17 • August 25, 2019

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord of all healing and savior of the world Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This week gives me an opportunity to remind everyone in worship that your pastors, in fact, do not select the scripture readings we receive each week in worship. And thanks be to God for that truth. You see, if your pastors were the ones who decided which scripture readings we would use, I firmly believe the list of those readings would be quite short and the readings before us today – especially the gospel reading – would probably not be on that list.

Good Shepherd, and the majority of congregations in our denomination of the ELCA and dozens of our sister Christian denominations around the world, follow something known as the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary was first developed in the late 1960’s.

It’s a 3-year sequence of readings that walk us through the bulk of the Bible as one Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel reading are assigned for each Sunday and festival day of the church year.

The gospel reading from Saint Luke that is before us today is a story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue. This particular story is only found in Luke’s gospel. Even though it is unique to Luke’s gospel, it is not unique to the overarching picture that all four gospels are trying to show us regarding who Jesus is and what Jesus has come into the world to do.

There are three prominent themes in this text – Sabbath and what the practice of Sabbath may or may not mean; healing or exorcism of a woman suffering from the bondage of none other than Satan himself; and, a conflict that breaks out between Jesus and the religious leaders of the synagogue.

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The Sabbath. I hope that most of us know that keeping Sabbath is one of the 10 Commandments. It’s the third commandment actually – “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” And in our Catechism we learn the meaning of this commandment that “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.”

The challenge with the Sabbath is that culture, over thousands of years of human arrogance and sin, has driven you and me away from what I believe God actually intended the Sabbath to be.

Now, If you didn’t know that insight about the third commandment and Sabbath, maybe you recall the origination of Sabbath as it’s found within the seven days of creation in Genesis, the second chapter of the first book of the Bible. In that chapter, we hear “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day, God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

Now, for some faith traditions, the Sabbath is to be observed on Saturday, for others it’s Sunday. And for many of my pastoral colleagues, it’s a different day of the week entirely.

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First of all, it’s impossible for us to think about the seven days of creation as seven 24-hour days like we have today. Our seven 24-hour days in a week system of time has only existed for 4,000-5,000 years or so. And regardless of how old you think creation is, the way we have kept time over the past 5,000 or so years is far different than the way time was kept at the beginning of creation. Or even the way I think the time is kept today by God.

What I’m trying to get at is this, if Sabbath-keeping for you is only about a prescribed time of the week or a particular day or certain practices that you must follow using a prescribed set of rules, you might be getting caught up in things which actually have nothing to do with what Sabbath-keeping is all about. I think this is at the heart of what Jesus is showing us in today’s gospel reading. And I do think it’s the reason why the religious leader is so upset by Jesus healing on the Sabbath.

On my calendar, Mondays are blocked off as my Sabbath day. Of the 52 Mondays in 2019, I’m hoping for about 15 of them to be actual Sabbath days. When my phone rings or I get a late-night text message or email, I do my best to answer. And often those calls to serve God’s children just so happen to fall on what is scheduled to be my Sabbath day.

Just because I fail to keep Monday sacred and set aside from any form of work more often than not, does not mean that I’m ignoring the Sabbath. If I was in fact blatantly ignoring Sabbath, I couldn’t stand before you today as one of your pastors and a fellow child of God claiming to follow this Jesus. Very simply and directly put, I do not believe that one can be a follower of Jesus and intentionally ignore God’s command to remember the Sabbath.

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One theologian’s thoughts on Sabbath were helpful for me to hear again this week – “Maybe ‘Remember the Sabbath’ is being too polite about it.” He said. “There’s no ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not.’ Perhaps a rewording is in order. Something like: (God saying to us…) ‘Hey, … ! What is wrong with you people? 168 hours in a week is not enough for you? I ask you to set aside just one day so that you can rest up long enough to be renewed for the coming week, and what do you do? Double overtime, 80-hour workweeks, and supercenters open 24/7! How are you ever going to slow down long enough so that you can gather together in Christian worship and sit still long enough to hear the Word that I have to share with you? Stop! Listen!” [Crazy Talk, Rolf Jacobson, pg. 150]

When God entered the seventh day of creation, he didn’t simply push it aside and ignore all he had created in order to make sure he had time to take a nap. God hallowed what had been created. Hallow – another one of those crazy church words. It means to make holy or to set apart.

In other words, the Sabbath is not about being lazy and making sure you can selfishly take a nap. The Sabbath is about time you intentionally set aside in order to see what is already holy before you. In order to be drawn closer to God.

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I gravitate quite freely and am getting better at openly admitting that I’m a bit of a workaholic. Having this tendency, and being called to serve in the vocation of pastor where the opportunity to work is always before me, there are more times than I care to admit when Sabbath-keeping is challenging. The reality is today’s gospel reading should be on my shortlist of scripture. It might help remind me of the many times hypocrisy enters into my speech, especially when I’m tired because I’ve been working too many hours; times when Satan cripples my ability to see God’s beauty in all of God’s good creation and all of God’s children; times when I need to let Jesus touch me, without even asking him to touch me, in order to be healed, so my heart can be opened and my spirit can be renewed in the regular rhythm of remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.

In our gospel reading today, in one sense Jesus is breaking the Sabbath in the present moment. Disregarding all of the rules that one is supposed to follow for proper Sabbath observation. In Jesus’ opinion, this woman’s suffering has gone on long enough and she simply cannot wait another day for healing to take place. Her future begins now. And it begins with great joy as healing happens on the Sabbath.

In another sense, Jesus is not breaking, but fulfilling the commandment of Sabbath. Fulfilling the commandment of the Sabbath in ways that the religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t understand because they were trying to hold on as tightly as they could to the rules and regulations of the past. Rules and regulations that Jesus, the savior of the world, came to fulfill. Imagine the relief that the woman in our gospel reading must have felt after 18 long agonizing years of being crippled by Satan.

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What does Sabbath look like for you today?

Where in your life is Satan overpowering you?

Where in your life is the chaos and noise of this world blocking your ability to hear Jesus say to you “you are set free from your ailment?”

Where in your life are the rules and regulations you’re hanging onto so tightly destroying your very soul and causing your heart to be closed to the new thing God is doing in your life, in our community, in our world?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this “is what God has given us in the Sabbath – the gift of reconnecting with our soul, the gift of reconnecting with God, the gift of once again realizing what freedom of life means. It is the chance to once again stand up straight and praise God for all that we are and all that we will become. It is the freedom to be what God intended us to be.” []

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Amen.