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

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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

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.

dog-samson

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

Student Art

For fourteen years, I was privileged to work with a very talented community and among those talents is artistic talent.  Below are some of the illustrations and pieces of art that the students of the United Methodist campus ministry community contributed over the years. To view the picture at a larger size, click on the image. Continue reading

Posted in Art