Ever wonder what it's like to be a bishop?

Join Bishop Fisher here as he reflects on the experience of leading the Episcopal branch of the "Jesus Movement" in Western Massachusetts.

We have two precedents: prayer and action.

If we could see one of those “word clouds” of the media coverage of the last couple of months in our new political world, the dominant word would be “unprecedented.”

  • unprecedented use of Twitter by the President-Elect
  • unprecedented responses to criticism
  • unprecedented refusal to hand over tax returns
  • unprecedented attempts at interference in our election by a foreign power
  • unprecedented for Democrats to sit out the Inaugural

What should we do in unprecedented times? We can turn to the “precedented” in our own tradition. Our precedent is for prayer and action.

We will pray “for those in positions of public trust, especially President Trump, that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person” according to the words of The Book of Common Prayer. That powerful but simple line has Biblical roots. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry recently reminded us, Psalm 72 urges prayer for the King of Israel that he might rule in the ways of God’s justice, defending “the cause of the poor” and “bringing deliverance to the needy.”

In that same communication to the Church, Bishop Curry tells us that when we pray for Presidents of the United States, “we pray for their leadership in our society and world. We pray that they lead in the ways of justice and truth. We pray that their leadership will serve not partisan interest but the common good.”

In an unprecedented time, we have precedent for praying for our President. I will do that on Inauguration Day and in the days to come.

We also have another precedent. We have the biblical mandate to act justly.  It can be seen in the 2000 calls in the Bible to help the poor, in the command to “welcome the stranger,” in Jesus’ prayer that God’s “will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven,” in Jesus’ respect for women clearly expressed so often in his ministry and in making Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the apostles.”

Our Christian tradition heralds the actions of those who tried to live this biblical imperative for social justice: Frances Perkins, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Dorothy Day, Thomas Gallaudet, Vida Dutton Scudder.

Our precedent is for prayer and action.

Christianity is not an abstract idea. The biblical imperative to act justly calls us to see immigrants and refugees as the “stranger” in need of our welcome. It calls us to imagine God’s will for the earth and to make it so. (Here is the letter to the President-Elect from the Bishops of Massachusetts about his choice for the EPA.) We will be acting  justly when we respect the dignity of all persons regardless of race, gender identification, sexual orientation, place of origin, religious beliefs, or economic status. We will be living justly when our streets and schools are safe from gun violence.

Bumper sticker of the Presiding Bishop’s description of the Church (Forward Movement)

As the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, we have a big mission. We have to witness to our faith in our families, in our neighborhoods, where we work and in our politics. God be with our President, and God be with those who march in protest this weekend. God will be with us in the struggle to find our way, to speak our piece and act justly for the good of all people.

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I pray for the courage to witness to our faith in the things that matter. I pray courage for us all.

+Doug

Christmas is about a world in which God’s imagination unfolds.

Christ Episcopal Church Albemarle, North Carolina

Christ Episcopal Church
Albemarle, North Carolina

Sermon delivered Christmas Eve at Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield.

A couple of days before Christmas a few years ago, I was with some parishioners from Grace Church, in Millbrook, NY,  where I was the rector. They were all saying how much they still had to do to get ready for Christmas. I said that was true in the Fisher family too and I still did not have a Christmas sermon ready and that was stressing me out. One person replied, “Don’t worry about it. People don’t come to church on Christmas for the sermon. They come for the music.” Ok. Well then let’s look at the lyrics for some of that music.

Do you know that the Christmas hymns we have been singing tonight would have gotten us arrested in Soweto, South Africa in 1985? Yes, in that place they made the singing of Christmas hymns an offense punishable by arrest. In that country, in the time of apartheid, they feared these hymns could spark a revolution. Christmas to them was not “cute” – it was a radical call for a new world.

Consider with me some of those lyrics:

From the seemingly so innocent “Little Town of Bethlehem,” “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight…where misery calls out to thee, Son of mother mild.” This hymn invites the hope of a better society.

From “While Shepherds Watched Their Flock at Night,” we get several “fear nots” to people kept in their place by fear and intimidation. This is empowerment.

And, to those governed by self-serving leaders, let’s find out who the real king is. “Angels We Have Heard on High” invites us to “Come, Adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the newborn king.”

And the hymn that is the favorite of so many, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Sing all ye citizens of heaven above.”

That was 1985. As we know now, not even the suppression of those hymns could stop God’s grace from overturning apartheid and recreating South Africa.

PHOTOGRAPHER:Dudley Brooks

PHOTOGRAPHER: Dudley Brooks

We can sing these hymns without getting arrested, but I think there are ways that they could be revolutionary for us this night.

A story I told once, but is worth retelling, is from an author named Minka Sprague. One day Minka was walking in Manhattan and feeling overwhelmed by her life. She was a single mother raising two children; she was going to school and holding down a job. The more she thought about it, the more overwhelmed she felt. She could not imagine how to do this. She could not imagine how this might work out. In the depth of her anxiety, she started to pray:

“God I cannot imagine this but You can. My imagination is too small but Yours is not. Lord my God, please share with me Your imagination.”

And God did exactly that. Day by day God shared God’s imagination with Minka. Day by day people came into her life who helped. Day by day things fell into place.

On the first Christmas God began this incredible new chapter in human history of sharing God’s imagination with us. God did it with a revolutionary person. In Jesus God is sharing the plan of salvation. Day by day in the life of Jesus the imagination unfolds. Follow his story of mercy, compassion and hope. Follow his life which is so Spirit-filled that death could not put an end to it.

I bet some of you will get books for Christmas. I’m really hoping Santa or someone in my family gives me the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, Born to Run. Besides reading those books, I invite you to read one Gospel all the way through; but not in small doses like we do in church. Read the whole story. Take Mark or Matthew or Luke or John and learn about a new way of life revealed in Christ. If you are pressed for time, read Mark. It is the shortest one.

Madonna and Child, @JesusMafa

Madonna and Child, @JesusMafa

The story in Matthew and Luke begins with a baby. Somehow, in God’s imagination, it is important to come to us as a baby. Think of how vulnerable that is. A baby needs to be cared for and protected. This baby needs Mary and Joseph and all who helped them to survive during a violent and dangerous time. Remember on this holy night over 2000 years ago the king, Herod, wanted to find and kill Jesus. The threat was so imminent that Joseph, Mary and Jesus were forced to become refugees in Egypt. Thank God there were people generous enough to take them in. In coming to us as a baby, God needs us. That is some big leap of imagination but it is true.

Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum

And it wasn’t only true when Jesus was a baby. Listen to this story. It comes from Etty Hillisum, a young Jewish woman, who died in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. She kept a journal which is published under the title An Interrupted Life. One journal entry described a day in which she and a friend were talking in the midst of the indescribable horror of the camp. It was an awful, desperate situation. Her friend said, “why doesn’t God save us?” Etty responded, “Oh, it is too late for God to save us here. It is time for us to save God.”

Those words are haunting. It is time for us to save God. And it could be that many theologians would say they are the heart-felt words of a person in pain, but it is not good theology. So don’t tell the bishop, but I think there are many dimensions to theology and spirituality, and this is a tremendous insight into the soul. Etty was right. In that seemingly godless situation, it was up to her to keep God alive in her heart, in that camp. And she did by living compassionately and generously until the end of her earthly life, enlivened not by a shallow optimism, but by a deep hope.

Friends, no matter what side of the political aisle we are on, these are difficult and divisive times. We need to “save God.” We need to save God’s dream of peace, of abundance for all, of respect for the dignity of every human being, and reverence for God’s creation. That revolutionary Christmas hymn, “Silent Night,” gives us hope. Evangelical church leader Jim Wallis tells us “peace and mercy triumph over angry attacking in God’s world according to the wisdom of Silent Night”:

“Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright!”

And when politics destroys the “calm” and “bright,” God brings both back:

“Silent night! Holy night!

Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace.

Jesus Lord at thy birth”

Friends, we need to save that dream – now and always.

Perhaps God comes to us as a baby to make a point about faith. Faith in all of us begins as a “baby faith.” Perhaps we have a “baby faith” tonight – a sense of wonder generated by those great hymns, a desire to belong to something greater than ourselves. Maybe a yearning for “the peace that passes all understanding.” Maybe you have heard of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the Dream God has for it, and you are intrigued about how that could happen. Perhaps we have a baby faith and we are called to nurture it – to help that faith grow.

Ornament from the Fisher family

Ornament from the Fisher family Christmas tree

Allow me to offer you an image. We are blessed with three great children but for this image I will stay with our son, Geoff. He was healthy and about seven pounds at birth. We fed him and nurtured him and cared for him, made sure he got enough sleep. He grew and grew and grew. When he was 13, he was taller than me, and I’m over six feet. He would delight in lifting me up in the air.

Faith can be like that. It can start out like a baby and then we nurture it – though prayer, through acts of compassion, through partnership with others in the faith community. Until someday it is bigger than we are. Until someday we no longer “have faith” but faith has us. We no longer carry faith around with us and bring it out when convenient. Faith picks us up. Faith carries us. We don’t hold faith but we walk in a world of faith. The world becomes transformed.

That is why Christmas is so revolutionary. It is about a whole new creation. It is about a world in which God’s imagination unfolds. It is about a relationship with God in which God needs our “yes,” needs our response. God made a commitment to us this night. God won’t let go. Don’t let go of God. And let the revolutionary song break out: “Joy to the world. The Lord is come, let earth receive her King, let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.” Amen.

+Doug

MA Episcopal bishops oppose Trump E.P.A. appointment

presentation1

December 12, 2016 [Springfield, Mass.]— The bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts today issued a letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump expressing their dismay at his choice of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Episcopal Church stands strongly for the protection of the environment.  We respect the facts of science.  We support the laws and policies that address the reality of climate change,” the bishops say in their letter.

Weakening and dismantling the E.P.A.’s protections of the natural world  threaten the common good and compromise national security, the bishops write.

“We wonder why a person who has consistently and adamantly opposed all laws and policies that provide even minimal ‘protection’ to the environment should be entrusted with leading such an agency,” the bishops say.

“As citizens of this beloved country, we intend to write our members of Congress, urging them to block the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the E.P.A. We will pray for a better choice,” the bishops conclude, with an assurance to the president-elect of their continued prayers as he assumes “this office of tremendous responsibility for the good of all.”

The full text of the bishops’ letter follows below.

           ______________________________________________________________

 

December 12, 2016

Donald J. Trump
President-Elect of the United States of America
Trump Tower
735 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Dear President-Elect Trump,

We, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Massachusetts, are glad to let you know that all of our 235 churches pray for you regularly in our liturgies with these or similar words: “For those in positions of public trust, especially Barack our President and Donald our President-Elect, that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

We also pray: “Give us reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.”

The Episcopal Church stands strongly for the protection of the environment. We respect the facts of science.  We support laws and policies that address the reality of climate change. We are in the process of divesting our financial interest in fossil fuels. Most recently our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, joined Native Americans at Standing Rock in their effort to protect their water and their sacred land. Numerous other Episcopal Church leaders have likewise traveled to Standing Rock.

Our respect for our government leaders and our reverence for the earth as God’s creation impel us to write you to express our dismay about your selection of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. We wonder why a person who has consistently and adamantly opposed all laws and policies that provide even minimal “protection” to the environment should be entrusted with leading such an agency.

President-elect Trump, you have promised economic development. Like you, we value a stable and prosperous economy.  However, a thriving economy depends on a healthy environment. The more we weaken and dismantle the E.P.A.’s vital protections of our natural world, the more we threaten the common good.

You have also promised to strengthen our national defense. Like you, we value national security.  However, our country’s top military intelligence have concluded that climate change is a “threat multiplier” that is already creating instability around the world and will likely create significant security challenges in the years ahead.  If someone who casts doubt on the reality of climate change becomes the head of the E.P.A., our national security will be compromised.

As citizens of this beloved country, we intend to write our members of Congress, urging them to block the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the E.P.A. We will pray for a better choice.

And we will continue to pray for you as you assume this office of tremendous responsibility for the good of all.

Respectfully,

 

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop Diocesan of Western Massachusetts

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan of Massachusetts

The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts 

The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts (retired)

The Rt. Rev. Roy F. Cederholm, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts (retired)

 

The mission remains: Micah 6:8

aaeaaqaaaaaaaawbaaaajddiodywnzm4lwjimjmtngyxni1in2u0lwuwmdg3mzuzotk0mg

Ernest Hemingway was once asked about his writing process. He said if he could write just one true sentence, everything would flow from that.

Here is my one true sentence to start this sermon. It is from the prophet Micah:

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That is what the Lord requires. It is our mission as the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it. It was our mission before Tuesday’s election and it is our mission now. The political context of our lives is dramatically different than it was last Sunday but the mission remains. In this sermon I hope to elaborate on that mission, coming off that one true sentence.

At our Convention this year, I invited us to double-down on prayer. Because as Thomas Merton wrote,

“if we descend into the depth of our own spirit, and arrive at our center, we confront the inescapable fact that at the root of our existence we are in immediate and constant contact with God.”

God is as close as our next breath. I invite you to a brief prayer exercise. Get comfortable in those church pews. If you can! Settle in, if you want – close your eyes. Now just breathe. That is all you have to do. God is here…Amen…. Walk humbly with God indeed.

And just as we are doing right now, let’s walk humbly with God together. And let’s not just do it in this building. This past week I spent a lot of time praying with others in the street. The prayer witness this Cathedral gave out on Chestnut Street on election eve was filled with holiness as the cars drove by and people watched us from the apartment complex across the street. We have a mission to witness to the faith that is within us.

group_shot_2

Another dimension of walking humbly with God is listening to God’s people. For some this election was an expression of deep rooted anger. For others of us, this election was a shock. Now the question is “what did we learn from it?” I invite us into dialogue with our neighbors of all political stripes. Let us listen deeply and humbly. And listen with respect. The person we are listening to, whether Democrat or Republican, is a child of God.

But we do not listen in a vacuum. We listen in the context of our faith. So someplace in that dialogue, after a lot of listening, let’s ask a question which comes from our Baptismal Covenant. “Knowing what we now know, how can we respect the dignity of every human being?” With emphasis on “every.” Because we are all children of God. And we should put another filter on the political decisions we make. It is given to us by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who says,

“God is love. If a decision, or an action, is not about love, it is not about God.”

In a minute, I am going to give you a litany of those we need to stand with in order to “respect the dignity of every human being.” But while we are on the theme of listening and what we learned from this election, let’s consider those who are sometimes called the “working class” of America.

9780520262478

 

They shouted their pain and fear. A lot of people have been left behind in this economy. My favorite rock and roll prophet, Bruce Springsteen, has proclaimed their plight many times in song. One is “Jack of All Trades” about a man forced to do a variety of odd jobs because he has lost full time employment. It is a song of resilience but also a song of anger.

 

“I’ll mow your lawn; clean the leaves out of your drain. I’ll mend your roof and keep out the rain. I’ll take the work that God provides. I’m a jack of all trades, honey, we’ll be alright.”

Resilience. But then he adds,

 “While a few get rich, the working man grows thin. It’s all happened before and it will happen again.”

We need to listen and learn from the pain of the working class.

32120e5e456e01846a1e7480aee2fc39Micah tells us to love justice. Respecting the dignity of every human being is loving justice. That means pre-election and post-election we stand with immigrants. The Bible is clear, over and over again, that we have a mandate to “welcome the stranger.” And to welcome refugees. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus spent two years as refugees in Egypt.

 

Four years ago, I stood in front of all of you at the MassMutual Center at my consecration as a bishop. Before I knelt down on trembling legs as bishops surrounded me and with a beautiful chant you invited the Holy Spirit to be among us and on me. Before that I was asked a series of questions provided and required by the Book of Common Prayer. They were all compelling and challenging. But one that seized my soul and still does is “will you defend those that have no helper?”

We stand with immigrants. With refugees.  And we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters and people of all religious faiths who might be worried right now. We stand with you under our one God.

interfaith-hope-042

And we have a mission to the poor. 2000 times we are told in the Bible to help the poor. This year on Sundays we have been reading the Gospel of Luke – a gospel filled with challenging parables. Do you know that in all those parables only one person is given a name by Jesus? Think about it. We all love the Good Samaritan story. What’s the name of the Good Samaritan? When I ask people what their favorite bible story is, so many say “The Prodigal Son.” What’s the name of the Prodigal Son? What is the name of the elder brother? What is the name of the Father? Jesus does not give any of them names. Oh, but then there is the parable about the rich man and the poor man. The poor man who “rests in the bosom of Abraham.” He has a name: Lazarus.

We know the names of celebrities and sports heroes. Do we know the names of the poor? Jesus wants us to know their names, know their stories and act to “change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.”

convention_115-004

 

Respecting the dignity of every human being means building a Beloved Community where diversity is welcomed and celebrated. The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement says “black lives matter”…and “blue lives matter”…and “all lives matter.” Our Diocese offers Towards the Beloved Community: Holy Conversations about Race. I invite you to take part in those conversations.

And LGBT lives matter. We know that so well in the Episcopal Church. LGBT people have brought blessings to us abundantly. We stand with you in every Administration. In every era. In every time and place.

10308108_1493249990886946_1722822360248331643_n

There is another dimension to “respecting the dignity of every human being” that has always been true but was highlighted in the campaign season. Sexual harassment denies the dignity of every human being. After the “groping video” became public, many women who have been raped and abused came forward with their stories to trauma centers and on social media. The statistics concerning sexual harassment and verbal abuse are staggering.

The Church has been guilty of this disrespect of women. And in recent years we have been intentional and forceful in eradicating it. We need to continue that effort and we need to add to that mission. We need to change the culture where men believe they have the right to demean women. And know that we do that for the sake of women AND men. Men become less than whole human beings when they engage in that behavior. We need to change a culture where women can be given numbers depending on how a man perceives them. We must do this work if we are to have any credibility at all when, in a few minutes, we respond to the baptismal question: “will you respect the dignity of every human being?”

I was shocked that climate change was never discussed in the presidential debates. God’s creation has been endangered for many years. No matter who was elected we needed to step up our awareness of this most crucial issue and act to preserve this world for future generations. Today I will be at a liturgy at Heifer Farm in Rutland. It is called We Are the Earth: A Public Prayer for the Planet. Along with several other church leaders, I will sign a pledge vowing to protect God’s creation. It is our mission.

We have so much to do as followers of Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, all of us. This sermon is getting long but the Patriots don’t play until 8:30 tonight so we have time. Just one more thing.

Micah tells us the Lord requires that we love kindness. We should always do that, but in this tense time in America, I invite us to practice kindness in big ways and in small. Hold doors open for others. Don’t drive aggressively…even when you are in Boston. Think twice before you send that text. Check in on your neighbor.

bishop-wissemann-portrait-006

 

 

Practice gratitude. Two years ago in this Cathedral we had the funeral of a beloved bishop, Andrew Wissemann. The Cathedral was full. The preacher, Bishop George Councell, asked “who here ever received a hand-written thank you note from Andrew?” Hundreds of people raised their hands. Let’s practice kindness.

 

 

 

What does the Lord require of us?

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with our God.

Amen.

Repairers of the breach: A Post-Election Statement

bwFor people of faith, the greater reality is God’s love. Our congregations have provided the space and silence for intense prayer leading up to this election. Today we are waking to a new reality as a nation with a new President-elect. Now, our congregations must be places where political opponents can worship together in peace. I acknowledge the weight of this pastoral ministry for the faithful priests who shepherd our congregations. I am praying with you and for you as your sanctuaries offer true sanctuary from the din and degradation of this election cycle.

As a person of faith, I look to Scripture today for wisdom. The prophet Isaiah encouraged the Israelites to avoid ugliness and return to purpose.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
    if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday (Isaiah 58:9b-10).

We are part of a movement that transcends election results. We are followers of Jesus Christ and as such we are called to treat one another with the love that enfolds us at every moment in human history. We are about God’s mission of mercy, compassion and hope. We must uphold the dignity of every human person; recommitting ourselves to the work of justice and to an incarnational faith which recognizes suffering and the very real wounds of the crucified among us. We need to return to purpose as we double-down on our prayer. If we do this, the prophet tells us we will be instruments of the peace for which we long.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in (Isaiah 58:12).

God is near. Jesus is real. The Spirit breathes in us. Double-down on prayer for this nation and for the grace to see the face of God in the other. Let us together, do the work God has given us to do.

 

+Doug

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher

IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts