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.

“Are You the One?” 12.15.2019 Advent 3 Sermon

Matthew 11:2-19 • December 12, 2019

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

If you have been in a Christian worship service during the season of Advent – either this year or any other year before – chances are likely you have heard a little bit about Jesus’ cousin, John. John the Baptist or John the Baptizer as he is often called. John plays a pretty significant role in the story of Jesus. Most of the scripture that we hear during Advent, John is present in one way or another.

And most often, when we think of John, we think of this crazy man living in the wilderness, wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, and eating locusts and wild honey. A crazy man running around telling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” There’s more to that crazy story about John the Baptist in the third chapter of Matthew if you want to dig deeper.

In short, though, John is not only a crazy guy living in the wilderness or simply Jesus’ long lost cousin, John is also kind of a prophet. A prophet who is confident that the Messiah is coming. John is the one whom the prophet Isaiah said would be a voice crying out in the wilderness, declaring “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John is someone whom the Old Testament prophets proclaimed would be the strong, confident person who would tell us exactly when the Messiah had arrived. The person who would let us know when the Kingdom of God was being ushered in with the Savior’s arrival.

Just a few chapters after this image is painted for us of a confident and bold John, the writer of Matthew’s gospel gives us a very different vision of who John is.
Rather than being a crazy guy living in the wilderness calling us to repent.
Rather than a man filled with passion at the arrival of the Messiah.

This John is unsure.

This John has doubt.

He is sitting in a prison cell, knowing that his death is near. He’s no longer certain whether the Jesus he has known is actually the Messiah. Was the one he baptized really the one he, and the rest of creation, had been waiting for all along?

In John’s darkest moment, in his weakest day, he calls out to Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

How often do our lives of faith sound or look like John’s? Living life fully and adventurously. Partying it up, shopping until we drop, oblivious to the needs of others around us as we head toward Christmas at a frantic pace that leaves us exhausted and confused.

And then all of a sudden, we discover ourselves confined.

It might not be a prison cell as in John’s case. Maybe it’s burdensome debt in the aftermath of joyful Christmas shopping or simply a lifetime of irresponsible spending? Maybe it’s a relationship with someone we’ve loved deeply that is anything but loving and healthy right now? Maybe it’s unrealistic expectations you and I place upon a season like Christmas, expectations that only actually come true in Hallmark Christmas movies or greeting cards?

Wherever you may be today, I invite you to join John from whatever prison cell you are in and not be afraid to ask Jesus again “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus’ response to John’s question is not what John was expecting. John was expecting a Messiah that would be powerful in ways that would destroy evil people like King Herod, the very reason why he was in jail in the first place. John was expecting a Messiah who would destroy all that was wrong with the world in his eyes, and make it right.
But that’s not who Jesus is as the Messiah. By this point in time though, John is probably wondering if all that baptizing, wearing odd clothing, eating weird food, and preaching in the wilderness meant anything at all. After all, it certainly hasn’t made John’s life any better. Was all of his work done for nothing?

And then Jesus responds –

“Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” And then Jesus goes on to show the crowds further examples of what the Kingdom of God coming into the world through the Messiah looks like.

Brothers and sisters, in this Advent season, what are you seeing and hearing as you ask Jesus if he is the one? How are you experiencing the Kingdom of God coming into the world?

Is the Messiah you are seeking one who will rule the nations with military power and might? The Messiah who is coming into our world is the one standing next to you as you feed the hungry and help the poor in our community with your hands, feet, voices, and financial resources? Work that you and I do together as Good Shepherd each year by volunteering thousands of hours of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars to share Christ’s love with our brothers and sisters.

Is the Messiah you are seeking the one who can only be found in church buildings like the one we are sitting in right now? The Messiah who is coming into our world is the one who is walking beside all of God’s children, in every place and time. That might look an awful lot like a public school classroom or the state capital building or on the internet and social media sites you and I visit or among those living in refugee camps in parts of the world that we will never step foot or among fellow child of God who lives in our own state’s penitentiary.

John’s expectation of the coming Messiah needed to change. What he expected and what God actually sent are very different. How do our expectations of the coming Messiah need the same kind of change this Advent? Maybe for you, they need to change in ways you can’t even imagine while sitting here today? Maybe you have a bit of fear or anxiety about the change that needs to take place? I know my own expectations of the coming Messiah have been challenged and needed change recently.

For the past year or so, Good Shepherd has been part of a mission project with Luther Seminary and the Lily Foundation called Leadership for Faithful Innovation. A recently formed Guiding Team in our own congregation will continue to walk us through this project. In so many ways, this process may change how we see and hear the coming Messiah. At least, that is my hope as one of your spiritual leaders.

During Advent, our Guiding Team is inviting us to share God Moments with each other. To share times when we see the Messiah coming into the world in our everyday lives. These God Moments might simply be a photo that captures a moment or a brief reflection or a short story. It might be a life-changing experience or a simple encounter that caused you to stop for a few seconds and give God thanks.

What you and I are being invited to do is the exact same thing that Jesus tells John’s disciples to do – “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”

As our Advent journey continues this week, you and I will probably again ask Jesus the question “Are you the Messiah, or are we to wait for another?” In our journey of faith, as we ask that question, do not be afraid to tell others what you hear and see. It probably won’t look like a military takeover, but it might bring good news to the poor. It probably won’t immediately solve all of the hunger and homeless issues our communities face, but it might relieve the suffering of one child of God, or maybe even two.

A colleague, Pastor Dave Lose writes, “Because we believe Christ is coming to bring healing, peace, justice, and hope, we act now to make our congregations and communities, our country and the world more healthy, more peaceful, more just, more hopeful.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may you be blessed in all of your God moments this Advent. I hope and pray that they are moments to show others what you hear and see, moments that prepare the way for Christ, moments that celebrate the Messiah who comes to us. And in the hope that each moment brings, I will continue to pray…Come Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

“Who is Jesus?” 11.24.2019 Commitment Sunday Sermon

Commitment Weekend • Christ the King • November 24, 2019

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

So, one appropriate greeting for today in the church is, Happy New Year! Because, this is, technically speaking, the last weekend of the year for the Christian church. Christ the King Day is our New Year’s Eve so to speak. It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it, that Lutheran Christians celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another by hearing scripture readings about Jesus bloody and gruesome death on a cross. Doesn’t seem like much of a festive occasion, does it?

Today also marks one of the great celebration days in the life of our congregation. We celebrate all that God is doing and all that God will continue – hopefully – to do in our congregation over the next year. Today, we prayerfully make our financial commitments to our shared work.

Commitment weekend in the life of a congregation like Good Shepherd has nothing to do with your pastor standing before you and begging you for more of your hard-earned money. Commitment weekend has everything to do with celebrating the work God is already doing through the congregation we love and the ways God is inviting us to be part of that work through our financial gifts. Financial gifts that are God’s in the first place by the way.

At the heart of all this – one theologian asked a question this week that I’ve found absolutely spot on. They asked “Who is Jesus?” As you hear that question, what do you hear? If someone asked you this week, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you? Don’t you go to that crazy Lutheran church by the Y? Who is Jesus anyway? Why do you waste your time with all of that Jesus stuff?”

This theologian didn’t just ask the question “Who is Jesus?” and then stop. They tried to dig a little deeper into it, especially as it relates to the gospel reading before us today. A gospel reading that seems incredibly out of place given the time of the year and the fact that this week is Thanksgiving, and Advent and Christmas come immediately on the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Here’s what they wrote – “Jesus’ true identity seems to remain a mystery for most of the disciples. Jesus can teach, preach, heal, cast out demons, challenge authority and more, but still they do not comprehend. You might say it is a case of mistaken identity as the disciples and other followers seem to be hoping to discover something very different from the real Jesus. It is the criminal executed with Jesus who in his dying desperation says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Clearly, the criminal has no other hope, still in this moment he acknowledges Jesus’ true identity.”

They concluded their thought by bringing this question of Jesus identity to today, “Modern followers of Jesus,” they wrote, “resemble those ancient followers in many ways. Everyone has their own image of Jesus, the gifts we want Jesus to bring us, the ways we want Jesus to fix those things in our lives that cause pain or suffering. In our anxiety we want Jesus to be our magical everything in an instant.” [THANK YOU to the writers of the sermon illustration section of for this wonderful insight on which this sermon is built]

Hanging on a cross, brothers and sisters, Jesus isn’t a genie in a bottle waiting to grant you your next week. But Jesus is the King, the savior of the world, preparing the way for you. For me. And for everyone who ever has or ever will claim to be a follower of this King.

The simple question – “who is Jesus?” – is why I believe we intentionally set aside a day in the church year to celebrate Christ as King. And asking each other the question “Who is Jesus?” is why I believe making a prayerful financial commitment to the congregation that we are members of each year is such an important act of discipleship.

I spent about 30 hours in Chicago this week. Around 8 of those hours were in Chicago’s O’Hare International airport. As I sat in the airport, I couldn’t help but look around and ask “I wonder who these folks, running frantically through the airport, think Jesus is? Do they know? Have they ever experienced Jesus before? Especially this Jesus hanging on a cross. Jesus who says to a scumbag criminal hanging next to him “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Would they financially support or give of their time for the work of that Jesus? I kept thinking, am I – even while wearing a clerical collar in one of the largest airports in the world – showing anyone around me a little bit of who Jesus is?

In a few minutes, you and I will be invited to share our weekly tithes and offerings. Tithes and offerings are Good Shepherd’s only source of financial support for the work God is doing here. We will also be invited today to prayerfully consider what our financial commitment to this work might look like over the next year. Both – our weekly offerings and tithes; and the yearly financial promise we make before God – are among the most significant ways we live out our faith as disciples of Jesus as our answers to the question “who is Jesus?” take shape.

Since I started serving at Good Shepherd in 2002, the annual ministry financial plan, or church budget, of Good Shepherd seems to always work itself out by the end of the year. I trust that the Holy Spirit is part of the reason why that happens.

At the same time, I struggle with the way it happens. I struggle that folks wait to give anything to God’s work through their church until the last minute. As if God isn’t blessing them in March or June. They wait to see if they need to give anything at all or if the church budget can be balanced without their giving and they can just keep it all to themselves.

I struggle with this because I see first-hand, literally hundreds of missed mission and ministry opportunities God places before us each year that we can’t do because we can’t financially support them at the time God presents them to us during the year. I can’t help but imagine what it would look like if a congregation like Good Shepherd – or any other Christian community for that matter – fully embraced the incredible potential that God places before us to show others who Jesus is. Especially if our giving was a reflection of the abundance God has blessed us with and not just because the church needs to make a budget.

Think about it this way. There’s been a chart in your bulletin throughout November that highlights what I believe the Spirit is trying to say to us today. There are a little over 1,600 households who consider themselves members of Good Shepherd. About half of those households give less than $1 per year to support God’s work through our congregation. If every one of those 1,600 households increased their giving by just $5 per week – about the cost of a cup of coffee or a cheap glass of wine – we would see an increase in our potential to grow our mission and ministry by nearly $400,000. Just imagine the impact an additional $400,000 a year could have on God’s children. God’s children, who maybe for the first time in their life, would be able to experience who Jesus is, simply because you and I made a decision to forego one cup of coffee a week over the next year.

A few months ago I wrote an article called the 4 Gs of Discipleship. This was something first introduced to me by Pastor Tim Johnson. You might remember Pastor Tim when he did an Intentional Interim here. Over 40+ years of serving in pastoral ministry he shared these four truths of discipleship with every new member he ever had the privilege of meeting.

He would start by stating that if their only role in joining the church was to take up space, he didn’t believe they actually wanted to become members of the church or live as disciples of Jesus. His four Gs of discipleship are that disciples of Jesusgather together as a community of faith in many times and places; they grow alongside their brothers and sisters in Christ throughout their journey of faith, they don’t just grow until Confirmation is finally over; they go into the world to show everyone they meet who Jesus is; AND, they give to support the ministry and mission God is calling the congregation they are joining to live out in the world.

On this Christ the King and Commitment weekend, we are reminded that all four Gs of discipleship – gather, grow, give, and go – are central to our life of faith. After all, we are disciples of Jesus who not only ask ourselves “Who is Jesus?”, but we also try to live our answer to that question in ways that demonstrate who Jesus is for us in all that we say and do.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe that is what’s before us today as a congregation. Who is Jesus? How do the gifts of our hands, feet, voices and financial resources demonstrate that we know who is Jesus is, that we’re seeking to more deeply experience what it means to know Jesus every day and that we are willing to share who Jesus is with everyone God places along our path? Who is Jesus for you? Amen.