Fearlessness

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
October 4, 2017
Exodus 1:15-17; Acts 5:27-35, 38-42; Romans 8:31-38; Qur’an 3:172-180

I. BEGINNING

Fear is hard-wired into us. It is a function of biology that we should be afraid. Very often, the things we are afraid of are the kinds of things that can kill us.

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Image courtesy wordle.net

We dread the dark for fear of what predators might emerge from it. We jump at sudden noises for fear of the danger that seeks to surprise us. We feel our hearts race as we move toward the edge of a precipice, sensing our lives are in danger. We grow anxious when we lack certainty about our surroundings, because unfamiliarity and uncertainty often bring danger and death. Continue reading

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Lessons of the Past

Kay Spiritual Life Center
September 5, 2017
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Hebrews 11:32-12:3, Qur’an 27:67-73, 22:39-48

I. BEGINNING

A classmate of mine in seminary once told me that there’s a peculiar way that Southerners give directions. He was from eastern Tennessee and had observed this peculiarity having grown up in that region. He said that Southerners tended to give directions like: “Go down to where the Johnson farm used to be and turn left. Then when you get to the store that Mavis Williams used to own, take a right…”

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Image courtesy wordle.net

These are not directions that someone new to the area could possibly understand. They relied not just on good spatial reasoning and a good sense of direction, they relied on a personal experience of the history of the place you were in, which, if you think about it, would obviate the need for directions in the first place.

But I suppose I should not be quick to judge our Southern brothers and sisters, at least not as long as I keep referring to the East Quad Building as “the Old SIS Building” or struggle to avoid calling the American Café in Ward “Wagshal’s,” which it was called about a decade ago. And while we’re on the subject, it’s no longer the Ward building anymore, is it? It’s Kerwin Hall.

I suppose we all have an attachment to the way things used to be. We all have some relationship with the past. But do we have an honest relationship with the past? Continue reading

Complicit

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Center Brunswick United Methodist Church, August 20, 2017
Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, August 27, 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

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

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

It Is Finished

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church
April 14, 2017—Good Friday
John 19:30

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

I. BEGINNING

“It is finished.”

In John’s gospel, these three words are the last words to cross Jesus’ lips before he bows his head and dies.

“It is finished.”

It is definitive. It is final. It is the perfect conclusion to the narrative. “It is finished.” Far more powerful than “Well, that’s enough, I suppose,” or “That should be sufficient.” No: simple, declarative: “It is finished.”

But what is finished? Certainly not the narrative itself; it continues on for another two and a half chapters.

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Illustration by Kathleen Kimball

Jesus’ ministry? Even John’s gospel presents more ministry from Jesus following his resurrection on Easter Sunday, his encounter a week later with Thomas, and his encounters with the disciples as they fish the Sea of Galilee some time later. Clearly that work is not finished. At least not when Jesus says, “It is finished.”

To be perfectly honest, it is hard to look at the state of the world today and assume that anything is finished. If you hired a contractor to repair your dilapidated home and he told you it was finished looking half as bad as the world does today, you’d refuse final payment and take him to court.

So, what exactly is finished? Continue reading