Complicit

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Center Brunswick United Methodist Church
August 20, 2017
Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Samuel 16:6–7; Galatians 3:26–29

Genesis 1:26–27 • Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.

1 Samuel 16:6–7 • When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the LORD’s anointed right in front. But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”

Galatians 3:26–29 •  You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.

I. BEGINNING

I might be a racist.

I don’t want to be, but I don’t know whether I do enough to be sure I am an anti-racist.

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Word cloud courtesy wordle.net

I realize that sounds shocking, so let me break that down a little bit, because we in this country are terrible when it comes to talking about race, and we need to clarify a few things first.

White folks like me often get upset when we are accused of racism because we imagine ourselves to be good people who don’t wish anyone ill. And for the most part that’s true. But racism has nothing to do with our feelings. Continue reading

In Memoriam: Abbott L. Wiley

grandpa-army-lieutenantMy grandfather, Abbott Wiley, died today, one hundred years and eight months to the day after he was born.

My grandfather was born December 18, 1916 in a little town in Upstate New York, not far from the place he he would spend the majority of his long life. He was a World War II veteran and winner of the Bronze Star. He married my grandmother after having met her only 30 days before while he was home on leave. He was a local small business man, co-founding with his brother a successful hardware and lumber store that thrives to this day. He was a county legislator and active in local Republican politics, and a trustee for the Hudson Valley Community College. Continue reading

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Dumbarton United Methodist Church
July 30, 2017
Deuteronomy 6:4-9; John 19:13-25

Deuteronomy 6:4–9 • Israel, listen! Our God is the LORD! Only the LORD! Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.

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Image courtesy wordle.net

John 9:13–25 • Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”
His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”

I.      BEGINNING

I started out as a child. Perhaps you did as well.

It’s interesting to reflect on the memories you carry from childhood. Some are vivid and are as if they happened yesterday. Others exist in kind of a nostalgic haze colored by emotional associations of the joys of what, for me, was a happy and largely carefree childhood.

Among the vivid memories I have from childhood, there are a couple from my experience of church.  In those days, of course, Sunday school took place before Sunday services not during, so we had no choice as kids but to squirm and fidget our way through services, the way our parents and their parents had before them.

Nevertheless, in the midst of that fidgeting, a few memories from church really stand out. Not always positive memories, unfortunately.  This is particularly true of my then pastor’s sermons. I can only remember a handful of things he said, and all but one of those things was unhelpful.

In fact, on one occasion I remember him saying clearly: “Homosexuals will not get into heaven.” I have no idea what the sermon was about or what prompted him to make this observation in the course of it, but I remember that statement thundering down from the pulpit in our modest little Upstate New York congregation.

But equally vivid in my recollection is my memory of my reaction: “Well, that can’t be right,” I remember thinking. Continue reading

Out of Many, One

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
July 5, 2017
Galatians 3:26-29 • Qur’an 23:51-72

I.      BEGINNING

What is the relationship between the many and the one?

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Image courtesy wordle.net

This is the question that preoccupied the thoughts of the ancient philosophers. They would look a forest of trees and note that all the trees were different, but yet also the same. Likewise, human beings all displayed individual differences but were obviously the same kind of thing. What was the relationship, they wondered, between the individual distinctiveness that they could observe, but the obvious sameness between all those different entities.

And so they began to posit that perhaps everything visible was merely a derivative “shadow” of some ideal. The trees you’re seeing are mere shadows of the ideal tree in the realm of forms. Or perhaps what we were seeing in the individuals were mere accidents, outward measurable variations and that which unified us was our substance.

That’s all well and good for the philosophers, I suppose, but how do we understand the relationship between the many and the one? Other than confusing undergrads in our philosophy and religion courses, what good does this do us in real life? How do we understand the relationship of the many and the one in our daily life? Continue reading

A Prayer for Our Republic

American democracy is an idea.

It is not established by immutable law. It is not a guaranteed by the relentless forces of nature. Should we fail at our democratic enterprise, there is no outside force that will compel us back on the road to a just and free society. There will be no humanitarian intervention from the U.N., no NATO armies attempting regime change here. If our democratic republic fails, it will be because we will have allowed it to, and we will have no recourse thereafter.  No, our democracy is not guaranteed, it is sustained only by our common commitment to that democratic idea.

The shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, a congressional staffer, a lobbyist, and two Capitol police officers is a symptom of a deep problem in our political life, that goes right to the heart of whether our democracy can be sustained. For while it is not the first act of political violence that we have seen in our 241 years as a nation, it takes place against a broader backdrop of incivility, hyper-partisanship, and divisive political discourse that makes me wonder wither this is a harbinger of things to come.

If it is not to be a portent of the complete breakdown of our democracy, then that will only be because we will have recommitted ourselves to the fundamental values and virtues of our republic. The first and foremost among those values is that we are one people—all of us.

Our first national motto is e pluribus unum: out of many, one. It serves as an all too important reminder that we have a common destiny, a common life together. It is a motto we need to reclaim. Continue reading

A Prayer for the Class of 2017

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Image courtesy wordle.net

O Great Mystery,
 We have traveled a long road
To bring us to this day.
Here at this crossroads,
     at this way station,
we pause to reflect
     on the road behind us,
     and the road ahead.

We thank you O Lord, Our God, ruler of the universe,
     who has granted us life, who has sustained us,
          and who has helped us to reach this season, and this point of the journey.

As we pause, we give you thanks
For this moment
     For the day and the life-giving rain,
     For the celebration of mothers,
          and of the gift of life and love.
     For the celebration of accomplishment
          with family and friends;
     For the pomp, the circumstance,
          the skirl of the pipes.
     For the joy of the day
          and the celebration of the moment.

But here, in this moment,
     we also look back on the road behind us,
     and we give thanks to you,
‘God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way…’

     For the journey our graduates set out on years ago
     For the learning,
          the growth,
          the openness to new experiences,
               new understandings
          the faculty who brought instruction,
          the staff who supported them in their need
          the semesters abroad, the internships downtown
     For the friendships, the relationships,
          the late nights
               the deep conversations,
               and the not-so-deep ones
     For the times of joy and of sorrow,
          of triumph and defeat.

We know that the way has not always been easy,
     At times, stony has been ‘the road we trod,’
     and our feet became weary.
     We have seen tragedy and grief,
     Injustice and hate,
     Long borne pain, welling up again.
But on that stony road,
     we have also found traveling companions
     who have borne us up
     who have walked together in solidarity,
     who have fought for justice,
     who have lived out love,
     who have embodied compassion,
     who have affirmed our common humanity,
     and our common journey, together.
This is the ‘hope that the present has brought us.’

And so, in that hope, on this day we give thanks
For the road ahead,
     For the difference our graduates will make
     For the creativity they will offer
     For the gifts they will share
     For the wisdom they will continue to acquire
     For the passion they will bring
     For the imagination they will employ
     For the fearlessness with which
          they will face the future
          and the many challenges it will bring
     For witness they will make
          to justice, to peace,
          to inclusive community
     For the way they will change the world itself.

And so, O God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,
     who walks beside us on all the roads of our lives
     we pray that in all their journeys
     they may continue to be
     beacons of hope and promise
          to a broken world
               a world in need
               a world waiting for them.

And let us say: Amen.

Just a Kid

Kay Spiritual Life Center
May 12, 2017—Interfaith Baccalaureate Service

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Image courtesy wordle.net

Jeremiah 1:4-10 • Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Philippians 4:4–9 • Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.

Qur’an 2:269 • He grants wisdom to whom He pleases; and he to whom wisdom is granted receives indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but persons of understanding.
3:7 • He it is Who has sent down to you the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:’ and none will grasp the Message except persons of understanding.
29:43 • And such are the Parables We set forth for mankind, but only those understand them who have knowledge.
96:1-5 • Read in the name of your Lord who creates —
Creates man from a clinging drop,
Read, and your Lord is most Generous,
Who taught by the pen,
Taught man what he did not know.

I. BEGINNING

So, here we are—gathered in the middle of a time of ceremony. Some of you have had ceremonies already this morning and afternoon. Others of you will have ceremonies later this evening. All of you will have ceremonies at some point this weekend.

And here we are at another ceremony, in which we draw upon the great religious traditions to help us to reflect and discern meaning. We sing songs of celebration and thanksgiving. We pray prayers of invocation and blessing. And we read from sacred texts that speak to the moment. It’s all very… ceremonious. Continue reading