Ever wonder what's it's like to be a bishop? Join Bishop Doug here – to learn as he learns – the meaning of episcopal service.

HERO OF THE MONTH -- "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know fo rcertain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. I hope I never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will fear not, for you are ever with me, and you will never let me face my perils alone." THOMAS MERTON

Pray and get into the game…

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A couple of weeks ago Betsy and I had the enjoyable experience of watching the World Cup final in a pub in Ireland with rabid soccer fans. It led me to remember our oldest daughter’s first soccer game. (Don’t worry. This is leading somewhere.)

When Caragh was very little, we would kick a soccer ball back and forth to one another. When we signed her up for the league for five year olds, she loved it. The practices again had children lining up opposite one another and kicking the ball back and forth. But now there were drills too, like spreading out across the field and kicking the ball from one player to another down the field until the one closest to the goal would shoot. But no one played defense.

Now the day of the first game arrived. All the players went to their positions. Then the whistle blew and almost everyone (certainly all the boys in this co-ed league) converged on the ball, all trying to kick it in a jumble of bodies. This was not what Caragh was expecting. She came off the field, walked right up to Betsy and me, and with her hands on her hips she said, “Children are kicking out there. Someone could get hurt. And that someone could be ME. Do something about this!” (Caragh later become a fierce competitor and an outstanding basketball player known for playing with reckless abandon.)

Ok, now for the point. It is so important that we pray for God’s creation, for the poor, for refugees, for peace in a violent world. It is vital that we pray often (“always” recommends Jesus) and fervently. Prayer shapes who we are. But sometimes that can feel like gently kicking the ball back and forth in the safety of our own backyard. People of faith also need to act – to get out and get into the game. Jesus got into a “game” in which someone could get hurt and that someone was him. He gave his life for the life of the world – he took on the emptiness of death and filled it with life. He took on the cruelty of the world and offered a new possibility of compassion – a possibility that could not be killed because the Holy Spirit would not let it.

Earlier this summer, the Social Justice Commission of our diocese put out a study document titled “Not Only With Our Lips, But In Our Lives: The Church and Social Justice”. It can be found here. I invite you to read it. It is a foundational document as to why we must engage the issues of our time.

And I invite you to consider these opportunities for action, among many, to witness to God’s saving mission in this world. On Sunday September 21 there will be the People’s Climate March in New York City. This will be a hugely significant, history-making event. Join with our Missioner for Creation Care, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, and march behind a diocesan banner that reads: “Love God, Love your neighbor: Stop Climate Change.” Details can be found here.

As you know, casinos are on the ballot in Massachusetts in November. There will be a lot of discussion (and kicking) about this for the next three months. Our document A Theology of Casino Gambling has been used in dioceses throughout the country. You can find it here. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. Casinos are bad news for the poor. We follow Jesus.

Activists and church leaders are gathering to address the issue of violence in the city of Springfield. I will get you more information as it becomes available. Consider joining Episcopalians Against Gun Violence. They have a Facebook page you can visit for more information.

Governor Deval Patrick gave a passionate speech the other day calling for Massachusetts to help in the housing of the refugee children now in Texas. We are involved in a dialogue about this and will get you more information when plans become finalized.

And finally, thank you to everyone “out on the field” – to all who work for Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope. You are witnesses to the dream God has for this world.

+Doug

Trinity Sunday

Sermon given at St. Andrew’s, Longmeadow on June 15, 2014

What a great blessing it is for me to be at St. Andrew’s on Trinity Sunday and what an honor it is to baptize Derek’s and Jaimie’s baby – the beautiful Mari.

There is an old Episcopal Church in Kentucky that has this listing in its baptismal registry: Willard Jones partially baptized.

Here is what happened. As an adult Willard went to the church and asked to be baptized. Even though it was an Episcopal Church, Willard wanted to be baptized the way other churches did it – full immersion in the river. The priest consented and on the day of the baptism the congregation gathered at the river. It was cold that day and the priest and Willard were both shivering as they stood in the water. The priest dunked Willard once, holding him under the water saying “I baptize you in the name of the Father” and then bringing him back up. Willard is really shaking now. The priest puts him under the water again saying, “and of the Son.” Willard pops up and he is terribly cold now. He runs out of the river saying, “I have had enough!”

Willard Jones, “partially baptized.”

We are not going to immerse Mari but we are going to fully baptize her in the Trinity on this Trinity Sunday because God as Triune is crucial to our faith. Now I am going to ramble on for another ten minutes about this. If you take away anything from this time, let it be this: We speak of God as Trinity because we are always grappling with a God who goes beyond one dimension. We are involved with God who is always more. God is Creator (Father). Yes, but God is more than that. We meet God in Jesus (Son). Yes, but God is more. God is still with us (Spirit). And even then we don’t have the fullness of God. The Trinity is not an explanation of God. It is a description of our experience of God. A good one, the best we could come up with. But even this is inadequate. There is always more to God.

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine wrote 15 books about the Trinity. 15! And he did that while writing many other books and being the bishop with thousands of people in his care. Now here is my question: when did he have time for golf? Augustine could have written 12 books on the Trinity and it would have been good enough for us. But he was still grappling with the God experience and how to describe it.

Here is the simplest way to understand the Trinity. For a couple of hundred years the church struggled with the more of God. Finally someone had a profound insight while watching a Greek play. When the Greeks performed plays, the actors would wear masks. Often one actor played more than one part, so he would go back stage and come out with a different mask on. The Greek word for “mask” is “persona.” One actor might have several personas. Early church leaders wisely decided this is a good way to describe God. One God, three “personas” (which we inadequately translated as “persons.”) One God coming to us in three ways.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

God is more and God is more than we are. We are not peers with God. Thomas Merton, a great spiritual writer of the last century, wrote “When we deal with God, we are necessarily in over our heads.” God is always more. God must be deep and complex – even more than we are.

Theologian John Shea tells this story. Three people arrived at the door of a spiritual teacher hoping he would take them in as students. He asked all of them the same question: “did you come to me because others sent you or because of yourself?” The first answered he had been sent by others. The spiritual teacher dismissed him. The second answered that he came on his own accord. He was also dismissed. The third stammered that he had heard of the teacher from others and yet he came on his own- partially out of curiosity, partially out of frustration, partially because he was addicted to searching, and probably out of a host of other motives of which he was not aware. The spiritual teacher said, “You’ll do.” The multi-layered mind was accepted.

Yes, we are complicated and multi-dimensional. Of course, God will be – gloriously so. It is true of Jesus. The early church was not satisfied with one gospel. One gospel can’t tell the whole story of Jesus. The genius of the early church was to preserve four different accounts and hold that multiple reality together.

Our description of God as Trinity is not an abstraction. Right there in today’s text from Matthew, the Trinity is connected to mission. The disciples are to go forth and baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Some translate “all nations” as “the ends of the earth.” Actually, scholars of the Greek language tell us the word used here in Greek just means “other.” Go to the other and baptize…

To go to the other, to go to the ends of the earth, means going to specific places to bring the more of God. Here is an example and it comes from the ministry of Michael Curry, the Bishop of North Carolina. Back in the 1980’s he served as a priest in a church in Baltimore. That was the era of the crack epidemic with all the gang warfare that went with it. Baltimore had the highest homicide rate of any city in America and the area where Curry’s church was located had the highest homicide rate in the city.

Bishop Michael Curry

Bishop Michael Curry

The son of one of Curry’s parishioners was killed in a gang warfare drive-by shooting. On the day of the funeral, the congregation gathered was not like the typical Episcopal congregation that prayed together on Sunday. Gang members from throughout the city were entering the church. The ushers came back into the sacristy and said, “Father, these people are not sitting where we tell them to sit.” Michael said “Let them sit wherever they want.”

The church was overflowing. Michael came out and began the service but quickly realized the traditional service was meaning nothing to this crowd. He ditched his prepared sermon and tried another approach. He invited the crowd to shout out the names of all those who had been killed in gang violence. Name after name was shouted out. Then Michael said, “All that killing. You know what? Those people are not heroes. They died because of stupidity and greed. You all want to be The Man. Let me tell you who The Man is!” He went on to talk about Jesus, the Man who used his power for healing. The Man who rejected violence and had tremendous courage. Jesus who showed us that a real man, a real woman, trusts in God. Curry ended the sermon with these words: “I’m going back to that altar to pray and in a few minutes we are going to have an altar call. You are going to come to this altar rail and you are going to kneel down and you are going to open your mouth like a little bird and I am going to pour Jesus into you. And you will never be the same.”

That is bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth. That is bringing the more of God to “the other.”

It might not be so dramatic for you and me. But the mission is still ours. Who is “the other” in your life who needs the transforming power of God? Where are “the ends of the earth” for you? It might be a troubled teenager. Or a person in the nursing home. Or someone at work.

Or maybe it is you. Maybe you feel like you are at the ends of the earth. Maybe you need to remember God’s saving power for you. The saving grace that will never run out because there is always more.

At Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer we say “God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” Not “God, working once in a while out there, can do a little bit now and again.” No! It is “God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

Let’s go baptize Mari into a Church who believes that. Amen.

+Doug

 

 

Gun Violence Prevention Bill

 

Massachusetts House of Representatives

Massachusetts House of Representatives

June 13, 2014

Gun violence is a public health crisis in our country. 30,000 Americans die every year from gun violence and another 100,000 are injured. We who follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope must respond.

Right now, in Massachusetts, we have a great opportunity. House Speaker Robert DeLeo authored a comprehensive gun violence bill that is going before the House very soon. The bill would expand background checks for private gun sales, establish standard requirements for licenses for handguns and long guns, and prohibit a felon from getting a gun license. It would also bring the state into compliance with the federal background check database. You can read more about this bill here.

I have been corresponding with Julia MacMahon - Lead Organizer for B-Peace for Jorge Campaign of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. She says for this bill to pass, it must have support from Representatives in Western Massachusetts. She urges us to email or call our State Representatives. Phone calls are more effective than email. The suggested message to leave is: “I am calling on behalf of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence to strongly urge Rep.______ to vote ‘YES’ on Speaker DeLeo’s gun violence prevention bill. Thank you.”  Click here to search for your Representatives by zip code.

You can read more about the issue of gun violence in this paper I wrote on the anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook here.

Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

+Doug

 

Pentecost

Sermon given at St Stephen’s in Pittsfield, June 8, 2014pentecost

Our youngest child, Grace, just celebrated her 21st birthday. Where did those years go? I remember when she was little and when she would eat something she liked a lot, she would throw open her arms and exclaim, “mmmm…peace be with you!” That’s what happens when both your parents are priests, I guess.

As we celebrate Pentecost today, the lectionary gives us two different accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit – because one account would not do it justice. In John’s Gospel, Jesus enters the upper room on Easter night and says, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” I can imagine him saying “peace be with you” with the same enthusiasm Gracie did. What I am giving you now is something great! It is the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the power to change your life and you have that power now.

I’m going to spend the rest of this sermon on the way St. Luke describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles because the special effects are just too good to pass up. The violent wind from heaven. The tongues of fire. Speaking in other languages. Let’s look at each of those special effects. But before we do, let’s remember what is most important is not the special effects, but what that wind and fire and intense language immersion brought about to those that experienced it. I can’t say it any better than Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor- recently on the cover of TIME magazine- so I won’t try. Here are Taylor’s words:

“Before the day was over, the church had grown from 120 to more than 3000. Shy people had become bold, scared people became gutsy, and lost people had found a sure sense of direction. Disciples who had not believed themselves capable of tying their own sandals without Jesus discovered abilities within themselves that they never knew they had. When they opened their mouths to speak, they sounded like Jesus. When they laid their hands on the sick, it was as if Jesus himself had touched them. In short order they were doing things they had never seen anyone but him do, and there was no explanation for it, except that they had dared to inhale on the day of Pentecost. They had sucked in God’s own breath and they had been transformed by it.”

Back to the special effects. First comes the “violent wind.” In other passages of scripture we hear that God speaks in strong winds. Only at Pentecost is it described as violent. But there is another passage in the Bible that contradicts this. It is in the First Book of Kings and we hear that the prophet Elijah is told to wait outside his cave for the word of God. He stands there and suddenly a “terrible wind” arrives. But God is not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. Then there was fire. But God was not in the fire. And then there was silence. All was still. And God was in the silence.

Ok, so what is it? Is God in the wind or in the silence? The answer is not either/or. Because God’s Spirit is wild and free, we know the answer is both/and. God is in the violent wind and the silence. And here is why that is important for you and me – God is going to be in everything between the violent wind and the silence, including our noisy and messy lives. So don’t be afraid.

Next special effect – fire. But it wasn’t really fire. It was “divided tongues, as of fire.” Now we have created a whole church culture around this “as of fire” and the associated color of red. Red doors, red vestments. So it must be important. Let’s get to its importance by way of a story about Phillips Brooks, like Barbara Brown Taylor, another great Episcopal preacher. Brooks was the bishop of Massachusetts in the 1890’s when the diocese was the entire Commonwealth. I don’t know if he ever made it here to Pittsfield. He was only bishop for two years before his death and many blamed it on the extensive travel he did. When the next bishop only lived two years, that is when they decided to divide the one diocese into two. I appreciate that decision.

Before becoming bishop, Brooks was a priest in Boston. One time a Harvard professor, troubled by some recent events in his life, was in the congregation. Hearing Brooks preach, he decided to go and see him and get some advice for his troubles. He made an appointment and, after a one-hour meeting with Brooks, he came out a changed man. But he later wrote that he realized in that hour he had forgotten to tell Brooks about the specifics of his “issues” and what he should do about them. The Harvard professor wrote: “I did not care. I had found out what I needed was not the solution of a specific problem, but the contagion of a triumphant spirit on fire.”

“The contagion of a triumphant spirit on fire.” St. Theresa of Avila said the same thing four hundred years earlier: “If you become what you should be, the world will be set afire.” Those who designed the red doors and the red vestments knew what they were doing – giving us reminders of what we are called to be in Christ.

Last special effect. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.” And yet, when they did that they were accused of being drunk at 9 am. Why would anyone call a person drunk for speaking another language? I call people who speak more than one language “smart.” Why this accusation of being filled with new wine?

The best explanation my study has revealed is this. The disciples were taking the language of the Temple and bringing it out into the streets where people could hear it in their own context. Think of it this way. We are so comfortable here in this beautiful church saying “The Lord be with you.” What would happen if you said that outside of this building, in the streets of Pittsfield. “The Lord be with you.” The response probably would not be “and also with you” but rather “are you drunk?”

And yet that is exactly what we are called to do. Bring Jesus’ mission of mercy and compassion and hope to the streets where we live and in a language people can understand.

Betsy and I went to London last year to visit the aforementioned Gracie as she studied abroad. Whenever we were in the subway (the “tube”) and the train would stop at the platform and the doors would open, a voice from the loudspeaker would remind us to “mind the gap.”

Perhaps we could use that language of London in union with the intensely religious language of our church services and give this prophetic language to our society. Mind the gap between the kingdom of peace that Jesus wants and the gun violence that is running rampant in our country. Maybe we could remind us all to mind the gap between the creation God wants us to live in and the climate changed creation our children and grandchildren will inherit if we don’t do something about it. Maybe we could mind the increasingly huge gap between the wealthy and everyone else in our society. The list goes on. But the Spirit given at Pentecost compels us to speak Jesus’ vision of a world of mercy and compassion and hope to every corner of this earth – the place where the kingdom of heaven is coming.

On Pentecost the disciples breathed in the breath of God. Let’s end this sermon with an experiment. I’m going to invite everyone in this congregation to breathe in and, if you dare, say in your mind “Come Holy Spirit.” Are you ready? On the count of three. One, two, three. Breathe in…now exhale.

Do you know the word “conspire” means to “breathe together?” That means you are now part of a conspiracy. God’s conspiracy to “fill the hearts of the faithful, enkindle in them a fire of your love, and renew the face of the earth.” It’s a big plan but we have a big God. Amen.

+Doug