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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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

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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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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

A Christian Country or a Country of Christians?

I teach a course in which the central thesis is that but for the Western religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.), the Western world would not look the way that it does today. There is much in our culture—fundamental respect for human rights, affirmation of the dignity of human life, an emphasis on common humanity and equality before God and the law—that would not necessarily have existed had the dominant religious influences been Norse or Greek paganism. And so, there is some truth to the claim that our nation was founded based on religious principles, even if those principles were of the more implicit kind noted above than explicit ones.

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The U.S. and Christian flags fly not quite side-by-side.

But there is an oft-repeated refrain that America was founded as a “Christian country” and there is happiness in some quarters over the belief that it is “returning” to that intended state. Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether the Founders intended to erect a Christian state (they didn’t) or whether a state that privileged one religion over another would violate our fundamental democratic precepts (it would). Let’s look simply at the question of what do we mean when we say “a Christian country” and whether such a thing is even possible. Continue reading

Hope

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Interfaith Chapel Service
Kay Spiritual Life Center
December 7, 2016

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 NRSV

I. BEGINNING

This has been a rough semester. Following on a rough summer and part of a rough year. It’s a year in which we have seen the deaths of beloved celebrities, shootings of unarmed black men, shootings of police, terror attacks at home and abroad, natural disasters, a constantly rising death toll in conflicts in Syria and Yemen, increased political division. On our own campus we have seen racial tensions, dissatisfaction with the campus climate, the death of a much loved student, a divisive election and its aftermath, a protest by the Westboro Baptist Church, and let’s not forget finals—right as the days get increasingly shorter, colder, and drearier.

It is easy to get worn down by all of this. It is easy to despair. To just want to give up.

And conversely, in such an environment, were someone to express a belief that the future will be better, that person would likely be met with some scorn or ridicule. Or worse. Continue reading

A Christian Letter to the Mosques

Perhaps you have seen the news reports of the vile letter that was sent to a number of mosques throughout the country, threatening genocide against Muslims in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The accompanying photograph of the handwritten note shows the letter signed “Americans for a Better Way.”

Well, the earliest Christians were called followers of “The Way” and this letter represents no part of that faith that I know. And so, I took it upon myself to write my own, handwritten letter—a Christian version of that same screed, improved to reflect the values and faith that are at the heart of The Way.

To the Children of Abraham and Ishmael,

You in the Muslim community are a generous and faithful people. Your mothers are compassionate and your fathers are giving. You are good. You worship God. And the day of your redemption is at hand.

img_5138There is no new ruler of the earth except the King on the Throne whose name is God. He will cleanse the world of sin, of racism, of bigotry, and hate, and will make it good again. He is going to start with us Christians. He is going to do with us as the Prophets did with the Jews—re-instilling in our hearts the Divine Law of love, justice, mercy, compassion, and love of neighbor. You in the Muslim community are our neighbors and will be blessed to remain so.

This is a great time for Faithful Christians to recommit themselves to the gospel of love that Jesus called us to live. We send you our prayers for long life and blessings upon you all.

American Followers of The Way

City of God

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Interfaith Chapel Service
Kay Spiritual Life Center
November 2, 2016

Maimonides, Mishnei Torah, Hilkhot Avel 14:1-2 • It is a positive commandment of rabbinic origin to visit the sick, comfort the mourner, attend a funeral, aid in arranging a wedding, escort guests, and to take care of all matters at a funeral- to carry the coffin, to walk before him, to eulogize, to dig, and to bury- and also to gladden a bride and groom and prove for them all their needs. These are the acts of “chesed” [kindness] done personally which have no limit. Even though all these commandments are of rabbinic origin, they are included in the commandment of “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”
Qur’an 103:1-3 • In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Compassionate. By (the token of) time (through the ages), truly Humankind is in loss Except for those who believe and do good deeds and join together in Truth and join together in patient perseverance.
Mark 12:13–17 • Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

I. BEGINNING

My first semester on this campus was in the middle of an election season. True, it was the fall of 2000 in the middle of a presidential election, but that wasn’t the election that grabbed my attention in those early weeks on campus. Rather, it was an election for president for the Student Confederation—the predecessor of today’s Student Government. One of the students in the United Methodist community told me he was helping a friend of his to run for SC president and he was hopeful that if his friend were elected, he would land a prestigious cabinet post. I remember thinking, ‘Where am I?’

 

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My undergraduate institution had campus-wide elections but no one took them seriously. The candidates usually just tried to outdo each other with cutesy slogans—a student whose last name was Hecht campaigned with the slogan “What the Hecht!”—but here at AU, there were platforms and position papers and people vying for cabinet posts. (The student I mentioned before did, in fact, land that cabinet post and was appointed KPU Director, a position that I subsequently learned was the AU equivalent to Secretary of State.) And so, I learned very, very quickly that we here at American University take our politics seriously. Continue reading