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.

There is no “us” and “them”. There is only “us.”

Sermon offered today at Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield. 

the-good-samaritan-1907

The story of the Good Samaritan – how many have heard this story ten times? 20 times? 30 times? We can be tempted to write this off and say “thanks, I got it.” But I believe in light of the recent violent events in our country – Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas – this parable offers us a way to New Life. After the murders in Dallas, reporters and commentators often referred to the United States as a country “on the edge.” The lesson taught by Jesus 2000 years ago might move us away from the edge and into abundant life.

I’m going to set the stage for my sermon by referring to another sermon on this same parable by the outstanding theologian, Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann says the lawyer began with a question about Eternal Life. He gets an answer that is about mercy.

“The question and the answer do not fit together. Eternal life smacks of transcendentalism… future… untroubled…secure. Mercy is by contrast freighted with risk and hurt and involvement.”

By telling the story that he does, about a man beaten, robbed and left to die in a ditch, Jesus changes our question about Eternal Life by “plugging us into a world of violence.” Following Jesus will not mean escaping violence – it will mean engaging it. Sound like 2016 yet?

Now that Brueggemann has set the stage, let’s do 800 years of the history of Israel in two minutes and 500 years of American history in two more minutes and then look at Jesus’ plan for creating a different future. I promise not to talk too fast.

Before 800 B.C. Israel was one nation. But it was split among Solomon’s sons and became the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom was often called Judah and the Northern Kingdom was sometimes called Samaria. Although they all practiced the religion of Israel and relied on the Torah, there was one big difference. The Temple in Jerusalem belonged to the territory of Judah. The Samaritans had to worship at a different Temple and each nation claimed to have the “true” Temple. Other economic and social tensions led to real hatred between the two groups.

To make matters worse, geography made it necessary for some people living in Judah to go through a section of Samaria to get to their Temple. Sometimes when people of Judah on pilgrimage to the Temple crossed through Samaritan territory, they were attacked, robbed and sometimes killed. This went on for hundreds of years. One time shortly before the time of Jesus, a large group from Judah were ambushed and massacred on this trip. In retaliation people from Jerusalem went out and killed Samaritans. Now at this time both sides were ruled by Rome, so Rome sent troops to slaughter people on both sides. Do you get a sense of the tension between the Jews of Judah and the Samaritans after 800 years of history?

1368752672Now let’s look at our history. Honestly. The first African slaves were brought to Virginia in 1619 – the beginning of a long wave of human bondage and oppression. New England was a big part of the slave trade. America became prosperous and we built our economy on slave labor. When we had a chance to do something about that after the American Revolution, we did not. Slavery continues until 1865. And that is followed by the Jim Crow laws that oppressed African Americans for another 100 years. Between 1868 and 1968, over four thousand African Americans were lynched. Now we have what many call the New Jim Crow laws leading to over one million black men in our jails – right now. And there are many other political and cultural realities that continue the oppression of our history. This did not get all resolved by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Racism is a huge part of our history and it obviously impacts us to this day. Let’s see how Jesus gave the Jews and the Samaritans a path to a new life and how that could be true for us now.

Jesus is telling this story to Jews and it could be a nice story about compassion. And it is about compassion but it is also about something more than compassion. If Jesus wanted to tell a story about compassion, he could have said a Samaritan was lying beaten in a ditch and a person from Judah came along and took care of him. That would work. His listeners would say “Yes, we have to stop hating the Samaritans so much. We should be compassionate.” But Jesus did not tell the story in this way. Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the story. And that changes everything. Remember some people of Judah thought they had the only true religion. Salvation was meant for them. By making the Samaritan the hero of the story, Jesus is saying “You are not saved by belonging to a particular tribe or race or religion. You are saved by joining my mission of mercy, compassion and hope. The Kingdom of God is not a religion. The Kingdom of God is a mission and the Samaritan is part of that mission.” This would have stunned the people of Jesus’ time. There is no “us” and “them”. There is only “us.” We are all needed, equally, to move towards the Beloved Community that Jesus intends.

Byron

State Rep. Byron Rushing

Byron Rushing has served for many years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He is an Episcopalian and he is black. Recently he reflected on The Book of Common Prayer collect for July 4th. It reads in part “Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us.” Rushing writes,

“This phrase is only possible because slavery was forgotten – or the ‘us’ was not meant to include me.”

Jesus took the history of the Jews and the Samaritans seriously and he offered another way. Americans need to take our history seriously and find another way. I will leave you with one last “new idea” from Jesus that helped in finding that way 2000 years ago and can help us find it today.

The lawyer asks “who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the story and then he reframes the question to the lawyer. In the original Greek wording Jesus says “Who became a neighbor to that man?”

To become a neighbor to another doesn’t just happen. It demands a new way of thinking. It demands imagination, creativity, effort. The rushing priest and the hurried Levite in the story will not let their lives be interrupted. The Samaritan does let his life be interrupted. He does not run from the brutality. He engages it and the outcome is a new identity. He is now really a neighbor.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians we are told that in Jesus Christ “all things hold together.” In Jesus, there is no “us” and “them.” There is only us. Amen.

Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas

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In Christ all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17

During his lifetime, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw terrible violence and lost his life for speaking the truth to our nation. I find myself wondering what he would say to us today. His way of nonviolence – Jesus’ way – meant that we had to watch Selma and Birmingham on the evening news as police and guardsmen beat and bloodied young protesters. Fifty years later, people we look to for protection – motivated by fear – become judge, jury and executioner in viral video. The more this happens, the less their lives seem to matter. We stand against racism.

Violence will never end violence. Hate only feeds hate. The news from Baton Rouge and St. Paul – captured by cell phones – must force us to speak to one another about race in America. We must admit the ugly truth that Black lives are in danger. We must look long and hard at the way we hire and train our Law Enforcement Officers. Something is broken and we must have the courage to fix it.

Dallas – the city that still bears the weight of another killing more than fifty years ago – today, her streets are marked with the blood of heroes. When hatred fuels the heart of a man with an assault-style weapon, innocent people are gunned down in the streets – people who put their lives at risk for us every day.  We stand with those who keep the peace. Those sworn to protect our lives and property are grieving. We must carry the families of the dead in our hearts. We weep with those who weep.

Make no mistake that hatred plus an automatic weapon equals death. Gun violence in America is now, God help us, part of the fabric of our lives. We cannot let fear take hold – though fear is the right feeling. Whether we “sit in” or stand up or speak truth until we have no words left, we must DO something to end the carnage. We cry out for an end to the violence – for Baton Rouge, for St. Paul, and for Dallas. In Christ all things hold together. In his name I pray.

+Doug

 

We Need to be Good Citizens: Bishop Fisher’s Statement on Election 2016

 

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

Gospel of John

“Your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

The Lord’s Prayer

“We are 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 that God has for it.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

19445971-mmmain - CopyChristianity is not an abstract faith. It is not a “world-escaping” faith, but just the opposite. We are a world-engaging faith. We believe in the Incarnation. God is here, among us. We believe God’s Reign is coming here. We believe Jesus has given us a Spirit to transform the world.

If we are to engage the world, then we need to be good citizens and be informed about the issues of our time. And we need to speak to those issues – even when those issues are complex and they always are.

In my engagement with politics, I often go back to criteria that then Senator Barack Obama put forth in a series of speeches during the presidential campaign of 2008. He invited churches to “enter the public square” and to “inject morality into public discourse.”* He offered these guidelines:

  1. Know what you are talking about. Study issues in depth. We can’t just proclaim “God says…”
  2. Your stance on an issue needs to cut across denominational lines. Your position needs to make sense to people of other religious traditions and to people of no religious tradition.
  3. For the sake of progress in political action, you must be willing to compromise. Too often, in Senator Obama’s opinion, churches take an “all or nothing” approach to legislation.

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In this election year, I encourage our church leaders to urge people to vote, to be informed and to bring Gospel values into their discernment. But there are things we cannot do. We cannot endorse any candidate publicly. Nor should we speak against a candidate by name from the pulpit or in church publications. I invite you to read and study the very helpful TEC ELECTION TOOLKIT. In it you’ll find the “pledge to vote” button and “Policy for Action” – an easy-access guide to all the issues from the perspective of General Convention resolutions.

Another very helpful resource is this “Open Letter to Maine Clergy About Political Advocacy” by Stephen Lane, the Bishop of Maine.  He has all the facts we need to know and he explores some gray areas. Read what he has to say about “church publications” and wonders if the personal Facebook pages of clergy could be considered a “church publication” if that is where people go to get news about their church.

And I recommend “A Word to the Church” issued in Holy Week by the House of Bishops. In it we call for civil political discourse and point to the danger of political rhetoric that turns neighbor against neighbor and threatens those on society’s margins. Although issued in Holy Week, this statement is a useful reminder throughout this election year.

As we vote, as we choose our leaders, as we engage the issues of our day, let’s do so as a people who follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

+Doug

* Full text of Senator Obama’s “Call to Renewal” Address on Faith and Politics, June 26, 2006

More death. More words. And no action.

A Statement on the Mass Shooting in Orlando

They lurk in ambush in public squares

and in secret places they murder the innocent;

they spy out the helpless.

Psalm 10:8

I write to you again in response to yet another mass shooting in America. Elementary schools, high schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, office buildings, churches and gay bars. No place is safe. No one is safe. Not as long as assault weapons are legally available to the one who hates, to the one who is ill, or to the one who wants to bring terror.

More death.  More words. And no action.

The public health crisis that is gun violence just claimed 50 more lives. Add this to the 91 per day that die in the United States through gun violence. Just ten days ago Bishops United Against Gun Violence co-sponsored the #WearOrange campaign. Episcopalians all over the country wore orange and took over social media for the entire day. When will we wake up? When will our elected officials show some courage? In the wake of the slaughter and wounding of 100 LGBTQ people in Orlando, we must acknowledge that homophobia and racism are also at the heart of our dis-ease.

They say in their heart, ‘God has forgotten; he hides his face; he will never notice (Psalm 10:11).’ But God sees. God needs us to break the cycle of fear, hatred and scapegoating with a love that defies the darkness. Yes, our laws must change. Our elected leaders must bear responsibility for the state of gun safety legislation. But we must speak love to those who mourn, to those feeling a wave of justifiable anger. In time and with grace, we must speak love even to the one who brings death.

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Our hearts are broken for Orlando and for LGBTQ people who are absorbing the reality of this violence. Our love surrounds all who bear the weight of this tragedy.

Rise up, O Lord;

Lift up your hand, O God;

Do not forget the afflicted.

Psalm 10:12

+ Doug

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher

IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts

Wear orange on June 2 because “we are human.”

Recently we celebrated Pentecost and many in our churches wore red. I was at The Church of the Nativity, Northborough that Sunday and they take this tradition seriously. I looked out at a sea of red. Red stands for the fire of the Holy Spirit and illustrates our prayer:

Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen

Now I invite you to wear another color that also proclaims God’s love and a desire to renew the face of the earth. The color is orange.

Hadiya Pendleton

Hadiya Pendleton

In 2013 Hadiya Pendleton – a majorette and high school student from the south side of Chicago – was shot and killed just a week after marching in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. Soon after this tragedy Hadiya’s childhood friends asked their classmates to commemorate Hadiya’s life – and the lives of hundreds claimed by Chicago gun violence each year – by wearing orange. Why orange? They said,

“Orange is used because hunters wear orange to warn other hunters not to shoot. By wearing orange, we are showing others that we are human and wish not to be gunned down.”

Numerous groups, including one I belong to – Bishops United Against Gun Violence – have declared June 2nd (Hadiya’s birthday) as Gun Violence Awareness Day. As a sign of solidarity “that we are human and wish not to be gunned down” are all invited to wear orange on that day. Clergy are invited to wear orange stoles on Sunday June 5th. Mine is being made now.

Gun violence is a public health crisis in our country. On average 91 Americans a day are killed due to gun violence. The stories and the statistics are staggering. Here are a few links to the facts.

Since Sandy Hook

Toddler Mortality from Gun Violence

Domestic violence

Polling

Comprehensive research website

Academic research in Preventive Medicine journal

Gun Violence Stats

And, because we are the people who wish to “renew the face of the earth,” we need to act on what we know. 5743341b83ae5Bishops United Against Gun Violence urges our cities, states and nation to adopt policies and pass legislation that will reduce the number of Americans killed and wounded by gunfire. These include common sense gun safety measures that already have the support of a majority of gun owners, such as:

  • handgun purchaser licensing
  • background checks on ALL gun purchasers
  • restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers
  • classification of gun trafficking as a federal crime
  • encouragement for the development of “smart gun” technology
  • federal funding of research into gun violence prevention strategies

And on June 2nd wear orange. Post your photo on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags: #WearOrange and #Episcopal. Bear witness to the belief that our country can do better – much better – in addressing this public health crisis. Wear it because we are the Jesus Movement, because we are out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.

+Doug