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

Anxiety in a Time of Change

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 5, 2017

I.      BEGINNING

Every once in a while, change is a good thing. It’s good to mix it up, to get a little variety. I myself will freqently become seized with the impulse to move all the furniture around in my apartment. Sometimes at entirely inappropriate hours of the night.

We have entire industries and economies based on the virtues of change. Long gone are the days where you sold someone a product that was meant to last a lifetime. Now, you barely get used to your new product before you’re being offered Product 2.0. These days, they don’t even wait to offer you Product 2.0—the little red badge on your phone tells you that product 1.0.0.1 is waiting for you to update to.

But in spite of the ubiquity of offers of and opportunities for change, the reality is that we are not always comfortable with change. We can consider changing the color of our drapes or even the position of our furniture without too much stress. (Although to be fair, one of my alums would frequently express dismay every time we moved the furniture around in the Methodist cove downstairs.)

But when it comes to larger changes, new school, new job, new career, new home, new family arrangement, new country, and so on, we become less enthusiastic about diving right in. We become more cautious. We become more anxious. Continue reading

Service Dogs

Part of the Series: “The Gospel according to Dogs: Lessons from Our Four-Legged Friends
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Emmanuel United Methodist Church
March 19, 2017
Luke 16:19-31

Luke 16:19–31 • “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

 

I. BEGINNING

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Muffin as a puppy

I have had a number of dogs in my life. A pet cocker spaniel growing up, a long haired miniature dachshund who came with a major relationship, and a shih tzu who was as much a part of our campus ministry community as the student she came with. All of them had particular gifts and personalities that made them lovable, caring, and creatures of enormous blessing. Muffin, our cocker spaniel, was adept at following a trail in the carpeting that we’d rubbed with a doggie treat and tracking it until she found the reward at the end. Samson was sweet and friendly and fearless: when we took him to the dog park, he ignored any dog his own size or smaller and wanted to run with the big dogs and would do so darting back and forth until they were all exhausted. Stosch was patient and loyal and could make anyone feel better just by letting them pet her, with a fascinating blend of regal air and a common touch. Each dog was special and unique it his or her own way. And many of us have experiences with pets like that.

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Samson

But as fond as we are of our pets and their unique talents, we understand that service dogs are something else altogether. As much as I loved Muffin, I would not have counted on her to guide me through a busy intersection. I wouldn’t have wanted Samson to be the one to have to bring me needed medicine or to knock the phone off its receiver and call 911. (Samson had a hard time figuring out the concept of pointing and always looked at my hand instead of the thing it was pointing at.) So, as much as we are impressed by our pets’ particular skills, we acknowledge that there’s something different about even these dogs.

As we move through this series on lessons from our four-legged friends, we reflect today on the special lessons we have to learn from service dogs. Continue reading

On the Importance of Community

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
March 8, 2017
Psalm 133:1-3; Acts 2:42-47; Quran 4:36

Psalm 133:1-3 • How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

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Image courtesy wordle.net

Acts 2:42–47 • The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

Qur’an, Sura 4 The Women, v. 36 • Worship God and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, God does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.

I. BEGINNING

I was a precocious child: I emerged from the womb on my own strength and took the tools from the doctor and cut my own umbilical cord. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t even needed that cord in the first place, having obtained my own food through my own hard work in utero.

I slept in a crib of my own making, nourished myself with milk from cows I had found in the wild and domesticated myself. I spun cotton in plants I myself had raised from seedlings and wove my own clothing. I taught myself to speak and read merely by conducting my own extensive field research and deducing through my own mental ability the phonetic values of each letter. Having taught myself to read, I self-educated all the way from pre-school on up, when I wasn’t busy with everything else. There was not a scrap of clothing that I wore that I did not make, not a morsel of food that I ate that I did not harvest or kill myself. Not a piece of information that I did not obtain but through the deductive powers of my own intellect. I am not now, nor have I ever been, in need of anyone for anything. I am the very definition of the “self-made man.” Continue reading

Leaving Home

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Capitol Hill United Methodist Church
March 5, 2017—First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 3:1-9; Matthew 4:1-11

world cloud of sermon text

Image courtesy wordle.net

Genesis 3:1–9 • Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

Matthew 4:1–11 • Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

I. BEGINNING

I went to a university about 15 miles away from where I’d grown up. And I lived on campus. My parents and I were of the same opinion: I was going away to college—even if that college was right next to the mall we always used to go to see movies. That probably made it easier for me, because even when I went away to college, I was in large measure still home. The radio stations were all the same, the TV channel lineup and evening news anchors were those I’d been watching my entire life. I knew the weather, the city, the whole culture of the area. I just had to get used to classes—and that was the exciting part. But on balance, my transition to college was easier, because I could still feel that I was home.

Leaving home is not easy. In my nearly 17 years working on a university campus I have seen my fair share of students arriving on campus having left home. The students take it with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Some cannot wait to get to college and practically bolt from their folks as soon as the opportunity arises. Others text their parents immediately and remain in as near to constant contact as our current state of technology allows.

Where most of our students used to come from the Mid-Atlantic states, more and more are coming to D.C. from California, Texas, and the West. We have always had large numbers of students who come from all around the world. Most of the students who come to AU do so having left home far behind. And that can be traumatic.

Even when it’s for a good reason, leaving home creates discomfort and anxiety. We find ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings, surrounded by unfamiliar people, with unfamiliar practices, and unfamiliar rules that everyone else seems to know but us. We become anxious as to whether we’ll ever make a new home where we are, whether we’ll ever feel that we belong, that we fit in. Continue reading

Love in a Time of Fear

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
February 1, 2017

Deuteronomy 6:4–9 • Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Quran 2:165 Yet there are men who take (for worship) others besides God, as equal (with God): They love them as they should love God. But those of Faith are overflowing in their love for God. If only the unrighteous could see, behold, they would see the penalty: that to God belongs all power, and God will strongly enforce the penalty.
76:8-9 And [the righteous] feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive,- (Saying),”We feed you for the sake of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.
11:90 But ask forgiveness of your Lord, and turn unto Him (in repentance): For my Lord is indeed full of mercy and loving-kindness.
85:14 • And He is the Oft-Forgiving, Full of Loving-Kindness.

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Image courtesy wordle.net

1 Corinthians 13:1–13 • If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I. BEGINNING

This is that time of year when candy hearts, boxes of chocolates, bouquets of flowers, and Valentine’s cards begin to appear in our stores. (Who am I kidding? Those things began to show up before the 12 Days of Christmas were over.) But we are in the middle of a season that talks a lot about love.

In our cultural context, love is often presented as a romantic feeling, as a passionate emotion, one that frequently needs to be proven with expensive gifts. In the movies, love is what compels people to act like fools in pursuit of one another. Love is the feeling that drives the romantic leads toward one another. It is the spark that kindles the fires of passion.

Alternatively, love is portrayed as a soft, vague, “fuzzy” emotion. A kind of kum-ba-yah ethic, proclaimed by hippies driving Volkswagen buses and handing out flowers. It seems weak and idealistic. A warm emotion but little more. Continue reading