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.

“We Are Church: A Sermon on Division & Unity” 08.18.19

Luke 12:49-56 * August 18, 2019

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

If you remember the gospel reading from last week as we began this journey through the twelfth chapter of the gospel of Saint Luke, you may recall the tone of that teaching from Jesus to be a bit more gentle. And I would argue with Pastor Julie’s thesis that mathematics is God’s language. I do not believe that. I guess we’d be divided on that thesis.

multicolored abacus photography

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

And you know what, that’s ok. After all, we are church.

I have a dear mentor and friend, a former Bishop in our denomination, who has his own theory about math and the church. He’s told me many times over the years that he believes Lutherans are bad at math. “We spend way to much time focused on subtraction and division,” he’d say, “rather than addition and multiplication.” The longer I am called to serve as a Lutheran pastor, the more prophetic and true I think this retired Bishop’s thoughts on mathematics and the church are. But we are still called to be church.

500 years ago, in essence, there was one Lutheran denomination that emerged out of the Reformation – whether Martin Luther wanted a new church to come out of the Reformation or not is beside the point. Today, as far as I can figure out – remember I’m not much of a math person – there are more than 150 Christian denominations around the world who identify themselves as Lutheran. More than 150 different kinds of Lutheran denominations. We are church?

IRelated image don’t believe the division we’ve seen in the Lutheran Christian movement over the past five centuries is the kind of division Jesus is speaking of in the gospel of Luke. It’s not the same thing. But I do believe with everything I am as a follower of Jesus, that the division we continue to see in the Lutheran world, and really all of Christian world, breaks God’s heart. I do not believe this is what God hoped would happen in our world when he sent Jesus into it. I do not believe that the divided church today is what Jesus intended to have happen. We are church.

If you’re only image of Jesus is that of a gentle, shepherd with a quiet voice, someone who is kind of a pushover, I invite you to spend some time re-reading the gospel text that’s in front of us today.

Jesus saying “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Doesn’t exactly give us a picture of a gentle Jesus.

Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”  Doesn’t exactly plant in my mind a gentle shepherd sitting by a lakeshore sharing stories that are easy to understand and apply to my life in ways that I can control. Ways that I’ll then apply to my life as I see the need. Ways that I can choose to do or not do in three easy steps from the comfort of my living room couch.

Jesus calling us “hypocrites” doesn’t exactly speak to unconditional love and acceptance and encouragement to continue destroying each other and sinning without thought of how it hurts us and our neighbors. We are church.

Today’s gospel reading is one of the only times where I think Jesus is actually a bit ticked off. He doesn’t like the way things are and the way they seem to continue to be. Remember, Jesus didn’t come in to the world to start a new church or religious denomination because he disagreed with the one that was already here. He came because God knew that we needed a savior. God knew that we were going to screw things up and it was only because of a savior that we were ever going to be able to start getting any of this right. We are church.

Jesus wasn’t talking about division in the ways we think about it today. I mean, come on, if I just say the word division, every one of you immediately has a picture in your mind of what that looks like for you in our world today. Our sin-filled world continues to be fed by division and it seems to get more and more divided with each passing day. Our unquenchable thirst and appetite for division didn’t surprise God 2,000 years ago. And I don’t believe it surprises God today.

Which is why Jesus is so eager to light a fire. Because it’s a fire of change. A fire of God’s goodness and activity in the world. A fire that will bring about God’s kingdom now. No wonder why Jesus is so excited to get this thing started. It’s really too bad that we still miss that today. After all, we are church.

Image result for we are churchI just returned from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly. This Assembly meets every three years and is the highest legislative and policy-making body of our church. I was not a voting member. However, this was my fourth Churchwide Assembly. I participate as part of the worship leadership team. I’m grateful for the invitation to help with leading worship each day of the Assembly.

And I’m grateful that we have something called a Churchwide Assembly in our denomination – they do a lot of good things. They also do a lot of things that leave me scratching my head for a long time after the dust of a Churchwide Assembly has settled.

The theme of this year’s Churchwide Assembly was simply “We are Church.”

There are policy decisions that were made at this year’s Churchwide Assembly that I’m not sure I will ever agree on, but I am thankful that the we in “We are Church” still includes me. Maybe that uncomfortable feeling I have in cases of decisions made that I don’t agree with is a little of the fire that Jesus is speaking of in today’s gospel reading. Fire that is challenging me to rethink my theological understanding of something. Challenging me to be open to a new way of doing something. Challenging me to stay connected to my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ that we call the church even as I struggle with my own belief.

There are also decisions that were made at this year’s Churchwide Assembly that I celebrate and cheer. But I know in the shadow of my celebration, there is someone who is grieving or even angry at the same time. Sin calls me to just push them aside. Jesus calls me to not be a hypocrite and to interpret the present time as an opportunity to offer care for the one I may have already pushed away. We are church.

Pastor Debbie Thomas wrote this week that, “If ‘tender Jesus, meek and mild’ is what we prefer, then this week’s text is not for us. If feel-good religion is the comfort zone we refuse to leave, then we’re missing out, because the peace of God is about so much more than good feelings. Or to put it differently, if neither you nor anyone within your sphere of influence has ever been provoked, disturbed, surprised, or challenged by your life of faith, then things are not okay in your life of faith.” We are church.

By the end of the Churchwide Assembly week, aside from being exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I was also very grateful. Grateful to have discovered anew how holy and beautiful the theme “We are Church” is. And how grateful I am to be able to be part of this thing called church. I am a long way from agreeing with everything we do together as a denomination or everything we do together as the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church for that matter, but in everything you and I do together as followers of the risen savior of Jesus … “We are Church.”

I hope and pray that God continues to want us to be church for a long time to come. And I hope and pray that Jesus lights a fire in each one of us in ways that inspire us to get better at math – math that involves addition and multiplication rather than subtraction and division. Because we are church. Amen.

 

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“Prayer: A Way of Life” 07.28.2019 Sermon

Click here to watch a video of this sermon.

Luke 11:1-13 • July 28, 2019

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

A young boy – fourth or fifth grade – was kneeling beside his bed one evening, offering his bedtime prayers. His mother overheard part of the prayer as she stood outside the bedroom. Part of his passionate and persistent prayer included, “Let it be Tokyo! Please dear God, let it be Tokyo!”

Mom walked into the room for a goodnight kiss when he had finished. She asked him, “What did you mean, ‘Let it be Tokyo’?”

The boy said, “We had a geography test today and I was praying to God that God would make Tokyo the capital of France.”

Does that sound like any of your prayers? Or at least familiar to some of them? I know it sounds a bit like some of my prayers.

What’s your earliest memory of prayer?

Who taught you how to pray?

This may surprise some of you, but I don’t remember ever receiving formal training on prayer or how to pray. At least not in the way that this unnamed disciple is asking Jesus to do for him in our gospel reading today.

I think my first memory of prayer is probably this bedtime prayer. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul, to take.”

Or I remember a meal prayer from the Catholic tradition of my childhood – “Bless us, oh Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” I actually remember offering that prayer once as the table prayer for an event here. I invited everyone to join me in saying it. At the end of the prayer, all I saw was the blank stares of a whole lot of Lutherans who had no idea what prayer I had just offered.

I also have fond memories of watching my German-Russian immigrant grandparents pray the rosary at St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church in Napoleon, ND. Sometimes prayed in German. Sometimes in English. Often some hybrid combination of the two languages. Even though my grandfather arrived in the United States as a young man, his first language was German until the day he died. He did learn English in order to survive in the US, but I do not believe it ever became his primary language.

Over my lifetime, I’ve read hundreds of articles and books on prayer, attended conferences and spiritual retreats that have impacted my prayer life deeply, and I even have two hours of every day blocked off on my calendar specifically for prayer.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I don’t recall ever asking someone to, “teach me how to pray.” like this disciple asks Jesus to do. And to be honest, I think prayer, has been, and continues to be, a journey for me. A deep and sacred journey that we call faith that will one day culminate in meeting Jesus face to face. Until then, I continue along the way. And some days are better than others when it comes to prayer.

I’ve referenced the book “Help. Thanks. Wow. The Three Essential Prayers.” in many places in recent years. I continue to see it as one of the better books on prayer that I’ve come across in the last decade or so. Anne Lamott is the author. She has a way of expressing faith and the spiritual journey that really connects with me. Her simple, yet profound, 102 page book is a brilliant exploration of prayer.

She opens the book with a chapter called Prayer 101 and says, “I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe,…, there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.” [pg. 1]

“Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.” [pg. 4]

“Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy – all at the same time.” [pg. 5]
“Prayer is talking to someone or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.” [pg. 5-6]

Lamott concludes the Prayer 101 chapter by saying, “…prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold.” [pg. 7]

For my own faith journey, what I think I see prayer becoming more and more each day, is less a prescribed format that we must follow in order for God to hear our prayers and more as a way of life in which prayer is constantly unfolding in every part of my life.
Prayer is less about an activity that I carve out of my busy schedule and more of a rhythm that is simply part of my everyday journey.

Every conversation I have is prayer.

Every thought I have is prayer.

Every move I make is prayer.

Everything I touch is prayer.

I believe it is beautiful and holy and sacred, the many times we pray during a worship service – the confession and prayer of the day, the Prayers of God’s People, our songs and hymns, the Lord’s Prayer.

My hope though, as one of your pastors, is that the prayer we share as a community when we gather for worship is not the only time you and I think about praying. My hope is that the prayer we offer when we gather as a community of faith sends us into the world to live all of our lives as living examples of prayer.

The great 20th Century theologian CS Lewis, once said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

I believe Lewis’ insight is central to what Jesus teaches us about prayer in the gospels. Jesus is trying to show us how prayer is actually lived out along our faith journey. Frankly, if all we believe about prayer is that it’s about getting what we want when we want it, and how we want it, we might be missing the point of what prayer is all together – at least according to what Jesus teaches us about prayer.
Or as another theologian asked this week, “Does prayer make things happen, or change my perceptions of what ‘is’ already?” [www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-06/july-24-17th-Sunday-ordinary-time]

What I believe Jesus says about prayer, is that prayer re-centers us on the fact that the Holy Spirit is already present.

That the Holy Spirit is already with us and is a gift from God.

That our prayer life – and our persistence in our prayer life – encompasses all that we say and do.

And that this prayer life is already bringing us closer and closer into relationship with each other and in relationship with God through our savior Jesus.

In other words, maybe the answer to our prayer is the fact that God is already with us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, prayer isn’t only something we are supposed to set aside time to do, that is if we are ever actually able to fit it into our already over-scheduled lives.

It’s not something we should do only when we need something from God or want God to do something for us.

Prayer isn’t simply about memorization and then making sure we are using those memorized prayers at the correct time and in the correct way.

Prayer is how we live out our lives of faith as the Holy Spirit breathes through us.

May you and I be blessed as we live out our lives of faith.

Lives of faith that begin and end in prayer. And all God’s children say.., Amen.