Holy Ground

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
May 11, 2018—Interfaith Baccalaureate Service
Exodus 3:1–15: Hebrews 10:24-25; Qur’an 2:269, 3:7; 29:43; 96:1-5


So here we are. So close to being done you can almost taste it. Only a day or two more.

Between now and then, of course, there is a fair amount of pomp and circumstance, a number of ceremonies, and a lot of speechmaking that you may not quite have the patience for. (An observation I make with not a little sense of irony.)

But such occasions do merit a pause, an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been together and where we’re going. In this space we pause to invoke sacred tradition, the wisdom of our forebears in rite and word.

We gather to hear blessings, sacred text exhorting us to loving relationships and encouragement, or reminding us of the importance of wisdom and of the God who imparts knowledge and wisdom to humanity.


And we hear the story of Moses and his encounter with God at the Burning Bush. This story has a lot of appeal to read at a time like this.


Image courtesy wordle.net

Now, part of that appeal, to me, is that this passage was the basis for one of the first sermons I ever had occasion to preach to the Class of 2018 when they were freshmen. I won’t check to see if anyone here remembers that sermon, or was even present, or if you were present, if you ever came back after that. (For those of you putting on appearances for your parents, I and the other chaplains will promise to act like we know you in the receiving line after the service.)

But beyond the mere nostalgia factor and the aesthetically pleasing bookending that using this same passage to begin and end a college career can bring, there is something compelling about this particular passage from the Hebrew Scriptures that bears looking at at times like this.

One of the most compelling parts about this story—and there are many—is God’s declaration to Moses that he should remove his sandals because where he is standing is “holy ground.” It’s a beautiful sentiment but it’s worth stopping to ask, what is it that makes this ground holy? Continue reading



Rev. Mark Schaefer
Foundry United Methodist Church
May 6, 2018
2 Samuel 4:5–12; Matthew 11:2–6


Friends, I am here to talk to you about JEE-sus.  The only Son of God, our Lord!  He came to us from heaven, lived among us and DIED for our sins on the cross! Can I get a hallelujah?  But the story did not end there, friends, no, it didn’t. Because he ROSE again.  He came back from the dead so that ALL would know that God has given us a gift of life from the dead, of eternal life through the blood of his precious son, Jesus Christ!  Can I get an amen?

I don’t know how long I can keep that up. That gets kind of exhausting for a Methodist from Upstate New York.

word cloud of sermon text

Image courtesy wordle.net

But I am willing to bet that something close to that kind of religiosity is what many of you think when you hear the word evangelical. Something about loud, emotional preaching. Charismatic religious leaders with huge congregations or tent revival meetings and altar calls, people weeping in the aisles. Lots of jumping up and shouting “Hallelujah!”

Or maybe your mind goes less to the worship style and more to the implicit theology: exclusivist claims to salvation, an emphasis on individual—often sexual—sin rather than systemic sins like poverty and racism, a preoccupation with whether you’re in or you’re out. A lot of asking questions like, “When were you saved?” (My favorite answer to that question is: “2,000 years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem.” Feel free to borrow that one.)

Or maybe it’s the particular set of political beliefs that tend to come with the Evangelical theology: social conservatism, lack of inclusion toward the LGBTQ community, a strong support for law-and-order justice, a strong military, and other traditionally conservative political positions.

However it’s understood, for many Christians who do not so identify, the word evangelical has left something of a bad taste in people’s mouths for a while. In fact, fifty years ago, when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren to form our current denomination, they didn’t choose to be called the sensible combination of their names—the Evangelical Methodist Churchor the Methodist Evangelical Church—they instead dropped the word evangelical and opted to carry over united, instead.

But all of this is to say, that there is a lot of discomfort around the word evangelical.But what does it mean for us, really? Is there a sense of the word that those of us on the other side of the theological aisle can embrace? Despite all of the connotations that we perceive when we hear it, what does the word actually mean? Continue reading


Eulogy for Kenneth Clarke
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 8, 2018
Psalm 130; Revelation 21:1-7; John 14,1–4, 18–19, 25–27


People in my profession are expected to be good with words. We’re expected to come up with the right thing to say in moments of crisis and tragedy. A magic formula that will mend all brokenness and soothe all pain.

Kenneth Clarke is dead. And there’s nothing I can say that will make that okay. There are no words that can erase the fact that this is not how it’s supposed to go. Healthy, enthusiastic, committed, kind, generous, caring young men are not supposed to die tragically, suddenly like this.

This is not how the story is supposed to go, and the feelings we have of shock, disbelief, and anger on top of our grief are testament to the tragic nature of what we’ve experienced together this week. Continue reading


Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 4, 2018
Leviticus 19:2; Guru Granth Sahib Ji; Qur’an 3:104, 110



Image courtesy wordle.net

Every once in a while, I get a song stuck in my head. Sometimes, it’s a good song, like “What’s the Buzz?” from the production of Jesus Christ Superstar that I saw Sunday night. Or a meaningful song like the Taizé song “Stay With Me” that we sang at the prayer vigil on Monday night. But most of the time it’s an “earworm”—one of those songs that just gets stuck in your head for no good reason.

One such song likely got lodged in my head after I’d seen something incongruous online or on television. You probably know this song. It’s from Sesame Street:

One of these things is not like the others
One of these things doesn’t belong…

I am reminded of that song—and am risking re-inflicting upon myself that same earworm—because of what it says about belonging. Because it seems to me that we think about belonging most when something doesn’t belong. Continue reading

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Kay Spiritual Life Center
February 7, 2018
Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Romans 12:1-21, Matthew 5:9, Qur’an 49:13, 8:61; 25:63


By one count there are currently 54 conflicts raging around the world right now:  [1]

  1. wordlesermon180207

    Image courtesy wordle.net

    Internal conflict in Burma/Myanmar

  2. Moro conflict in the Philippines
  3. Oromo conflict in Ethiopia
  4. Somali Civil War
  5. Communal conflicts in Nigeria
  6. Insurgency in the Maghreb involving Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Niger, Tunisia
  7. War in Darfur
  8. Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad
  9. The Libyan Civil War
  10. The Yemeni Civil War
  11. The Sinai insurgency in Egypt
  12. The south Kordofan conflict in Sudan
  13. The south Sudanese Civil War
  14. The Central African Republic conflict
  15. The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan
  16. The insurgency in Balochistan (Pakistan and India)
  17. The insurgency in north east India
  18. The Columbian conflict
  19. The Maoist insurgency in India
  20. The Kurdish Turkish conflict
  21. Sectarian violence in Pakistan
  22. The insurgency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  23. The Kivu conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  24. War in northwest Pakistan
  25. Insurgency in the North Caucasus in Russia
  26. Sudanese nomadic conflicts
  27. The Syrian Civil War
  28. The conflict in Northern Mali
  29. The insurgency in Egypt
  30. Ethnic clashes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  31. War in Ukraine
  32. Unrest in Burundi
  33. Kamwina Nsapu rebellion in the DRC and Angola
  34. Oromo-Somali clashes in Ethiopia
  35. Arab separatists in Iran
  36. Kurdish separatists in Iran
  37. South Thailand insurgency
  38. The west Papua conflict in Indonesia
  39. The conflict in Israel and Palestine
  40. The CPP– NPA – NDF rebellion in the Philippines
  41. The Qatif conflict in Saudi Arabia
  42. Internal conflict in Peru
  43. The Casamance conflict in Senegal
  44. The LRA insurgency in the DRC and to the Central African Republic
  45. The nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Armenia and Azerbaijan
  46. Xinjiang conflict in China
  47. Internal conflict in Bangladesh
  48. Border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia
  49. Insurgency in Ethiopia
  50. Ituri conflict in The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  51. Conflict in the Niger Delta
  52. Insurgency in Mozambique
  53. ISIL insurgency in Tunisia
  54. Turkey ISIL conflict

Fifty-four conflicts. With estimates ranging between 3,969,812 and 5,590,594 people dead as a result. And those are the wars that are continuing. That’s not to say anything of the wars that have come and gone in the last century: WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Balkan War… Continue reading

A Light in the Darkness

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
December 6, 2017
John 1:1-18, Qur’an 28:83-88


Some years ago, I was involved in the process of finding a rabbi for a wedding. My then fiancée and I were looking to put together the perfect team of rabbi and minister to officiate our wedding. We wound up meeting with a rabbi who had had a lot of experience with interfaith weddings and interfaith couples. We enjoyed his wisdom and his reflections on the ways our children might find meaning across religious traditions. He noted, for example, that Jewish children could find a lot to admire in Santa Claus, who, he claimed, possessed a number of Jewish virtues. But then he continued by saying how much he himself enjoyed Christmas.

We were surprised by this but he explained: he’d grown up in New Haven, Connecticut and nothing was drearier than winter in New Haven. But when Christmas came along, suddenly the gloom of a New England winter was pierced through with light—there were lights everywhere!

That simple experience of seeing light in the midst of the darkness as a kid, some brightness to pierce the gloom, had had a lasting emotional impact on this man, such that Christmastime would always generate fond feelings in his heart. Continue reading


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


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