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.

The mission remains: Micah 6:8

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

The Bishop’s Address to the 115th Annual Diocesan Convention

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Welcome to OUR Diocesan Convention. Let’s start with a verbal challenge. I am on a campaign to change the adjective that goes before diocese. Most often we say “the” diocese – as in “there are parishes” and then there is “the” diocese with the implication that “the diocese” is the staff at 37 Chestnut Street in Springfield. But the fact is that we are all in this together. “The diocese” is not just my staff. It is all of our churches, and all of our ministries, and all of the holy work God has given us to do in this time and this part of God’s world. We are in this together. From Stockbridge to Sutton, from Southwick to Fitchburg, from Williamstown to Whitinsville. From the Connecticut border to Vermont and New Hampshire. Yes, Yankee fans and Red Sox fans. So let’s change the adjective to “OUR diocese.” Because that is who we are. Today, if anyone says “the diocese”, I invite you to lovingly wave your hands. And this anti-casino bishop bets he will fail this challenge as well and will need to be reminded.


The line from last year’s convention speech that was quoted the most on Twitter and Facebook and in actual in person conversation was “we are going to double-down on social justice.” Remember that? Here is the line I hope you take away from this year: “in OUR Diocese we are invited to double-down on prayer.” Before I express the “why” and “how” of doubling down on prayer, let’s look at what the Holy Spirit did with the “double-down on social justice commitment” in the past year. Because the Holy Spirit ran with it. And this will not be a complete list.


In this year our Creation Care Missioner, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas has been engaged more than ever with our churches. And represents us, and now the United Church of Christ, at numerous politically strategic events, so much so that she received the 2016 “Steward of God’s Creation Award” from the National Religious Coalition of Creation Care. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry put me on the “Commission for Socially Responsible Investing” for the church nationally “because” he said “brother I want you to do there what Western Massachusetts is doing regarding climate change.”


leeWe have begun Towards the Beloved Community: Holy Conversations About Race in our Diocese. This grew out of conversations on our Social Justice Committee after we all read the book The New Jim Crow. The first one was well attended and provided a safe space for people to talk about race. Our church is a place where Black Lives matter…and Blue Lives matter…and all lives matter. But we are still a long way from the Beloved Community that God intends.

Michael Curry has made racial reconciliation one of his priorities and now it is one of ours too. I encourage you to participate in future Holy Conversations. We have collaborated with an organization called Ashes to Ashes and prayed a funeral service in Springfield for the 4000 African Americans who were lynched between 1865-1965. Then many of you prayed those names out loud in your churches on “Speak My Name Day.”

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Bishop Alan Gates, Bishop Gayle Harris and I have addressed the public health crisis of gun violence numerous times and actively support Attorney General Maura Healey in her attempt to close loop-holes in the assault weapons ban. Many of our churches take part in the annual Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath to mark the anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook. On the first Sunday in June many of us wore orange – orange is the color that hunters wear so they won’t be accidentally shot by other hunters. We wore orange to say “we are human and do not wish to be shot” in response to the 33,000 people a year who die from gun violence and in the 300 mass shootings (4 or more people) that have happened this year. We are working with an organization called Don’t Stand Idly By to encourage gun manufacturers to use the technology already available for “safe guns” – guns that require the finger print of the owner to fire.


There are twenty-three million refugees right now. It is the largest displacement of people since World War II. The Bible is clear in giving us a mandate to “welcome the stranger.” Among many passages we hear this from Leviticus 19:34 –“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you. You shall love the alien as yourself. For you yourselves were aliens in the land of Egypt.”…Egypt where Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus lived as refugees for two years. We are working with Ascentria (the former Lutheran Social Services) to help refugees. I spent a day with New Americans working at their New Lands Farms. More about Ascentria later today. And St. John’s in Northampton is working with Catholic Charities on helping refugees adjust to new life here. This is holy work. This is Gospel work.

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Ministry with Veterans is taking off throughout our Diocese. We have a lunch and arts program in Northampton, lunches for Vets in Springfield, West Springfield, Webster and Holyoke and another veterans lunch will be offered soon in Greenfield. We are seeing an average of 50 people at each location weekly. Some vets have told me that these lunches are the only experiences of community they have all week.


More and more of our churches are embracing forms of “outdoor” church and “laundry love” where we hear the stories and enter into relationship with people experiencing poverty. That is happening in Pittsfield, Springfield, Greenfield, Worcester, Milford to name just a few. I’ll never forget Meredyth Ward’s Celebration of a New Ministry in a laundromat and the blessing of the “Walking Together” office in the Main South section of Worcester. In that room were Congressman Jim McGovern, other dignitaries, Episcopalians from our Worcester area churches, and people experiencing homelessness, all in one place. And most recently, a much-needed Sober House opened at The Church of the Reconciliation in Webster. These stories and more will be told throughout this day.

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“Doubling down on social justice” is not a one year commitment. Michael Curry says “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 God has for it.” As long as God’s dream is alive, a dream that is made so clear in the Bible and in the witness of the saints, we are called to work passionately with Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

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This is my 5th Convention in our Diocese. My first one was as bishop-elect in 2012. Since Gordon Scruton handed off the crozier to me on December first of that year, I’ve traveled a lot of miles on the Pike…and a lot of back roads to little towns. 136,000 miles to be exact. I’ve seen this depth of prayer with
my own eyes in big churches and small and all those in-between. I am grateful to serve a diocese where prayer already matters. And yet we can get distracted by many things if we are not careful. We can lose our focus on the heart of our faith: Jesus Christ. And so I invite you to join me in doubling down on prayer.

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Let’s look at what that commitment might look like. And I’ll begin, as I often do, with Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic monk, who wrote 60 compelling books on the spiritual journey. He 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.”

“At the root of our existence, we are in immediate and constant contact with God.” As we run from thing to thing, it does not always seem that way. Instead it seems like we have immediate and constant contact with anxiety. We live in anxious times in our nation, in our world AND in our church. And we can’t think that anxiety away. We can’t make it stop by force of our will. We can only be set free to be authentically human by finding the source of our life and the meaning of our life in God. Our God who is as close as our next breath. It is by entering intentionally into that relationship that we are transformed. No one says that better than last night’s speaker, my friend Rob Wright:

“God causes freedom in people. Freedom to be authentic. Freedom from fear. Freedom for improvisation. Freedom to befriend the world. God is a freedom God and God’s people are in the freedom business.”

What a vision! I want to live that way. Do you?
But remember what Thomas Merton said. He had an “if” clause in there. “We confront the fact that we are in immediate and constant contact with God” – the freedom God – “if we descend to the depth of our own spirit and arrive at our center.”


My invitation to us is to go deeper. And that is a place where average Sunday attendance is not the only measure of our faithfulness. It is a place below our anxiety about the stewardship campaign. It is a deep place of connection to the Living God that will not be destroyed by a church argument about taking out the pews and replacing them with chairs.
What does the “how” of doubling down on prayer look like? How do we go deeper? There are multiple dimensions.


One is a renewed dedication to daily and if possible, more than daily prayer in our lives. I have “holy jealousy” of the Muslim tradition of set prayer times throughout the day. In our own tradition we have the Liturgy of the Hours which many of us continue to pray daily. There is a wonderful story of the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, who founded the Methodist movement. They were asked who taught them the most about God. They said their mother. Now John and Charles were not their mother’s only children. She had 16 others! But there would be a time in everyday when Susanna Wesley would sit down at the kitchen table and put her apron over her head. And the children knew not to bother mom for the next twenty minutes because she was praying.


My mother was a person with a deep commitment to prayer. A few years after she died in 1977, all too young at the age of 47, my sister found two prayers she hand wrote on the first page of a medical book she had as a nurse. The first prayer is called Nine Consecutive Hours, meaning that this prayer should be said every hour for nine hours in a row – such a Roman Catholic thing to do! The prayer begins “O Jesus, who has said, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you, through the intercession of Mary, thy most holy mother, I knock, I seek, I ask that my prayer be granted.”

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Then it says “make your prayer request.” And then there is another biblically centered prayer followed by “make your prayer request.” Followed by a third biblically themed prayer and then one last “make your prayer request.” Remember she did that every hour for nine hours. While having a hyperactive son who liked to jump down stairs instead of walking down them. This is being intentional about a relationship with the Living God.


And the second prayer she has written down is the Prayer of St. Francis. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is sadness, joy. It is in giving that we receive. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” She never heard Rob Wright preach, but I think she knew the freedom God.


Doubling down on prayer means a commitment to daily prayer. Even in the midst of our too busy lives or maybe because of our too busy lives. My prayer practice is to pray early in the morning and then I’m off and running. I’m going to make a commitment to practice what I preach and to schedule in 15 minutes of prayer in the middle of every day. Doubling down on prayer.


Maybe doubling down on prayer means a deeper commitment to Bible Study. In groups and in private. On Sundays, we get short bible passages. I invite you to take one gospel at a time and read it straight through. If you are really busy, know that Mark is the shortest one. There is transforming power in reading the Jesus story as a whole and remarkable life. And, if you want to connect it to social justice, I invite church leaders to offer a course looking at all the times that Jesus quotes the prophets – especially his favorite, Isaiah.

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And I invite you to consider a parish program that is about going deeper in prayer and in bible study called Renewal Works. Pam Mott can tell you all about it. Pam also has another exciting possibility for our churches. It is called Prayer 5/30. It is a commitment to pray 5 minutes a day for 30 days or a season, checking in on Facebook with a community that is making the same commitment and joining you in prayer.

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A renewed commitment to prayer might look like prayer with our brothers and sisters from other faith traditions. Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic wrote:

“Prayer clears the mist and brings peace back to the soul. Every morning, every evening let the heart sing ‘there is no reality but God’.”

God transcends any one expression, any one faith tradition. In the past couple of years I have been blessed to pray with rabbis and imams and Buddhists. We have been in our faith tradition silos for so long, that does not happen naturally. I invite our church leaders to be intentional in seeking out relationships with those from other traditions. Do it for the sake of the communities we live in and do it so our people might go deeper into the mystery that is God. Talk to members of the Cathedral about the enthusiasm generated by our new “rabbi in residence” Mark Shapiro.

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And I invite us to consider opportunities to pray in languages besides English. Prayers in Spanish demonstrate a welcome to the largest growing demographic in the Commonwealth. And if you ever sang “Alabare”, you know God is smiling.


Doubling down on prayer might include a commitment to public prayer. Now I know all our churches are open to the public and all are welcome. But we are in a new era. People are not coming to us like they used to and we need to go out to them. We need to witness to the faith like St. Paul and the Apostles who prayed on street corners. We did that on my walk through OUR diocese. Many of you are doing that on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

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Last Good Friday I was in Worcester and as church people walked along we were joined by all manner of people who usually did not go to church but they were drawn by the cross lifted high and the compelling story of Jesus. A reporter from the Worcester Telegram joined us. Now my experience is that when reporters come to something like this, they get a picture and a quote from me and then they are off to the next thing. But this reporter stayed the whole time. And when she wrote her article, she did not include a quote from me but she did quote several of our pilgrims who were experiencing homelessness. The Holy Spirit was all over that prayer walk.

 

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Public witness prayer and social justice can go together. The House of Bishops has done this several times. In Washington D.C. and in Salt Lake City we had processions to pray for peace in the midst of the public health crisis of gun violence. We will be doing that again in Chicago this spring to draw attention to the Unholy Trinity of Racism, Guns and Poverty. We are clear that these are not demonstrations but prayer. Not marches but processions. We are not another advocacy group; we are a people at prayer. Episcopalians are good at liturgy so why not take what we are good at and bring it to the street?


That is happening right here in our diocese in the next couple of weeks. On the Sunday night before Election Day, our deacons will be leading a prayer service on the streets of Worcester. We will be praying for wisdom in the choices we make and we will be praying for peace and reconciliation after a particularly bitter and divisive campaign season. The deacons will offer those prayers again, here in Springfield on election eve.

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On November 13th we are gathering at the Heifer Farm in Rutland with our friends in the Lutheran and UCC churches for “We Are the Earth: Public Prayer for the Planet.” Margaret is leading us in a liturgy that renews our dedication to following Jesus, and that bears witness to our sacred calling to protect the Earth and create a more just and sustainable way of life.


Also in November, the Berkshire Clericus is organizing an Interfaith Prayer Pilgrimage in the Berkshires addressing our addiction crisis. As you know the opioid epidemic is having a devastating impact in New England. Thank you, Berkshires clericus, for your leadership.


And in June the Episcopal churches of New England are sponsoring a pilgrimage down the Connecticut River – the whole river. I will be with them for the journey that goes through Massachusetts and Connecticut. It is a way to celebrate God’s gift of this river, its history and highlight baptism imagery.
I am often asked what the future of the Church looks like. With you, there is much that the Holy Spirit has yet to reveal to us. Whatever that future is, I am sure public prayer witness will be a growing part of it.


Private prayer. Bible Study. Public Prayer. Our model for this is Jesus. He was committed to all of that. Jesus told us to “pray always and do not lose heart.” Prayer shaped the life of Jesus. And for the next few minutes I invite you to look with me at the prayer that I think might have been with him his whole life long. A prayer that might become our prayer too.
It is a prayer that we know as one of the seven “last words” of Jesus, spoken while he suffered on the cross. It is Luke 23:46.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” According to Luke, they were the final words of Jesus as “he breathed his last.”

Jesus might have summoned up those words from the depth of his soul for the first time because they fit the moment. But I think he practiced those words for a long time before his final breath. I think he made those words so much a part of his living that they came naturally and spontaneously to him at the end.


Could it be that when Jesus preached his first sermon at Nazareth – you know the one where “everyone was amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” and then five minutes later they wanted to throw him off a cliff- that one. Could it be that as they “drove him out of town and led him to the brow of the hill so they might hurl him off the cliff”, Jesus was praying “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And he did not have time to put that prayer request in every hour for nine hours like my mom did. But somehow the prayer was answered and as the bible tells us “he passed through the midst of them and went on his way” – perhaps experiencing resurrection long before he died.


And maybe he practiced that prayer when he was in a house filled with people because they wanted to hear Jesus preach. The house was so full no one else could get in. Outside the door was a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. His four friends knew, if they could just get him in to see Jesus, something great would happen. They climbed up on the roof, carrying him with them. Then they tore the roof apart and lowered him down in front of Jesus. Think of the pressure on Jesus! The roof has been torn apart. If this was a house church, the junior warden is going to be furious about that roof. Before the healing, don’t you think Jesus was saying “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

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And when Jesus was out there in a desolate place and 5000 people gathered. He was preaching and healing all day long. As evening drew near, the apostles told Jesus these people are hungry. Send them away. And Jesus said “you feed them.” But instead of looking what they had, they looked at what they did not have and said “we have five loaves and two fish. It is not enough.” Jesus took it, thanked God for it, broke it apart and gave it away. 5 loaves, 2 fish, 5000 people. Don’t you think Jesus might have been thinking “Father, I don’t want to look like a fool here. Let this food get beyond the first row and out to all 5000. Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

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Now if this were a crowd of Episcopalians, it certainly would go beyond the first row because no one would be sitting in the first row. But they were not Episcopalians yet, so there were people in the first row and they joyfully received the food and broke it and passed it on and God multiplied the grace. More resurrection. More being set free for improvisation as our brother Rob would say. More freedom to take risks. To do things that were not done before. Do you think we need that freedom in our churches in our diocese, in central and western Massachusetts right now?


We could go on and on with these stories. The point is that Jesus, the one we follow today, tomorrow and through all time, had a prayer shaped life. And so did the early church. That is why they were not called Christians at first, but followers of The Way. Their faith was not an “add on”. One of many things they did. Their faith shaped everything they did. And then so many said, “we want that kind of life.” A life shaped by prayer and love of neighbor (also called social justice.)


We started this Convention Address with an experiment. We engaged the challenge of changing “the diocese” into “our diocese.” Let’s keep that experiment going. And let’s end with another experiment. An early church, Pentecost kind of experiment. Earlier, with Thomas Merton, I said God is as close as our next breath. I invite you to get comfortable in your seats and try to stay still. If you are comfortable closing your eyes, do that. In a moment I am going to invite you to breathe in. And as you do, say in your mind “come, Holy Spirit.” We will do that together. And then we will breathe out together.

Are you ready?
Ok. Get comfortable. Feel your feet firmly planted on God’s earth. On the count three we will breathe in and say in your soul “come Holy Spirit.”
One, two, three. Breathe in. Come Holy Spirit. Breathe Out.
The word “conspire” means to “breathe together.” That means you are now part of a conspiracy. God’s conspiracy. God’s plan for the Jesus Movement to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many, into the dream God has for it. Amen.


+Doug


The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher
IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts

Bishops Call for 48-Hour Election Vigil

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Episcopal Bishops Call for 48-Hour Election Vigil

As our nation approaches its Election Day on Nov. 8, we have a deep yearning for the Holy Spirit to be present in our national life.  Individually, we express this yearning in a variety of ways according to personal conscience.  Collectively, we are called to express this yearning through prayer.

We must pray that God be at work in our electoral process.  We must pray for a peaceful transition, no matter the outcome of our elections.  We must pray that the demonization of one another’s opponents which has characterized this election not be further stoked by its outcome.  We must pray that all those elected on that day be moved, strengthened and guided by the Spirit, to lead us through fractious and dangerous times.  We must pray in gratitude for those who, with sacrifice of self and noble intent, step up to lead our common life.

We the Episcopal bishops in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts call for a vigil period of intense prayer from noon on All Saints Sunday, Nov. 6 through noon on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8.  The particulars of such prayer in our congregations will vary according to local parish traditions and planning.  For some it may be as simple as concluding the Sunday prayers with an extended Litany for the Nation, or holding a special form of Morning Prayer on Nov. 8.  Others may wish to hold extended vigils, with prayer in shifts offering continuous intercession.

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges:  Guide the people of this land in the election of officials and representatives, that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. [Book of Common Prayer, p. 822]

 

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

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

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

God is looking for us and God will not fail.

Gary Roulette, "Parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep" (oil on canvas, 8 ft x 5 ft, May 2013)

Gary Roulette, “Parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep” (oil on canvas, 8 ft x 5 ft, May 2013)

The following is the sermon offered to the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Sunday September 11, 2016

Jesus was such a great preacher. In these parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin, he engages his listeners by saying “which one of you…” Which one of you has ever lost anything? Since turning 60 I lose my glasses at least once a day. Losing something is a universal human experience. In asking this question Jesus not only engages his audience but he connects his audience to each other. According to the text, his listeners that day include “tax collectors and sinners” and “scribes and Pharisees.” The unrighteous and the righteous. Scribes and Pharisees would never include themselves among sinners. But Jesus brings them together in the experience of loss.

Now that Jesus has us engaged, he asks “which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one, would leave the 99 in the wilderness and search for the lost one?” Not put them safely away in a pen with a guard. Leave them in the wilderness where there is great danger. Think coyotes. Which one of you would do that? The honest answer is “none of us, Lord, no one would do that.” But, spoiler alert, God would.

Jesus continues “which one of you, having ten coins and losing one, would sweep the house all day long until it was found, and then call your friends for a party?”

How would you answer that question? Let’s consider a 21st century version of this question. Think of a time you lost your car keys. You search and search. You look under furniture, in between the cushions, back out to see if you left them in the car. If you are of the spirituality that does this sort of thing, you might promise money to St. Anthony. Finally you find the keys. Which one of you would throw a big party? For four years now I have been living just 20 miles from here. I know people sitting in front of me this morning have lost and found keys. Not one of you have any of you invited me to a “lost and found key” party. No one.

2000 years ago when Jesus asked this question, his listeners are thinking “no one would do that Jesus.” But God would.

Jesus gets us interested by telling stories of a universal human experience – loss. But after he gets us there Jesus uses the opportunity to tell stories about God. Let’s explore these stories and learn about God and how the Living God makes a difference in our lives.

Let’s look at the numbers: 100 sheep, 10 coins. Those numbers represent fullness or completion. A full set. When one is missing the set is incomplete. God strives for completion. Why does God search out the lost? Because God’s world can’t be complete without them. You have heard the expression that parents are only as happy as their least happy child. God is like a parent. God can’t be happy until all people are brought into the fullness of life.

Here is another truth about God. In God’s eyes we are all sinners God wants to save. Consider this. In the lost sheep story the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness and goes to search for the one. The text is very specific. When he finds the one, he goes home and gathers friends for a celebration. He does not go back to the wilderness for the other 99. That is because all of humanity is represented by the one lost sheep. The 99 don’t really exist. We can only understand this by looking at the words that conclude the parable: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who have no need of repentance.” Do you really think there are 99 people anywhere who have no need of repentance? The Pharisees might think they are in that crowd but Jesus is constantly pointing out their delusions. On many Sundays we have the “confession.” Do you ever exempt yourself from that? Do you think “nope, nothing happened this week that I am sorry for”? That never happens for me. And if it did, the “things left undone” would catch me every time. God knows who we are and yet still wants to save us.

Why? The lost coin parable reveals an answer. The story is about an inanimate object – a coin. The coin does not care if it is found or not. A coin can be a coin lying with the dust bunnies under the bed or when it is placed on a nice clean mantle or if it is being spent. The coin does not know it needs to be saved. And yet the woman (God) looks for it. It matters to God. God has an inbuilt desire to look for us. God is love and God will love whether we want to love back or not. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “if it is not about love then it is not about God.”

We know this from the 23rd Psalm which offers us more shepherd imagery for God. Recall the last lines of that psalm which is the favorite of so many: “surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Here is a secret. Don’t tell the bishop. That is not an adequate translation. Really smart people who know Hebrew better than I do say that in the original Hebrew the word is not “follow”, which sounds so passive. It is closer to “your goodness and mercy shall pursue me, shall chase after me, shall hunt me down”.

The psalm and today’s parables reveal a God who is persistent, faithful. In those times in our lives when we feel lost, know that God is looking for us. Even if we don’t feel God’s presence or power or hope, something is going on. God is looking for us and God will not fail.

Now I know the Red Sox game is on at 1:00 pm so you are hoping I will end this sermon soon, but here is just one more dimension to these rich parables. Each of the “lost” stories in Luke’s Gospel ends with a party. The shepherd throws a party. The woman throws a party. The very next story in this chapter is about the prodigal son – the lost son. And that ends in a party, too.

The Saint John's Bible ~ Saint John's University (Collegeville Minnesota)

The Saint John’s Bible ~ Saint John’s University (Collegeville, Minnesota)

Remember the first lines in today’s gospel. The Pharisees “were grumbling.” The Pharisees were good people. They went to church. They prayed. They studied the Bible. They gave generously to the poor. But they were missing out on joy. They knew the laws of the church so very well but they were confining God to those laws. Jesus invited them to stop grumbling and celebrate a God of irrational, exuberant generosity. We are invited to join the same party.

Now I know we have a big job ahead of us. Michael Curry says 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. What a big mission! And in just two more minutes (I promise) we will re-commit ourselves to that mission. We will recommit ourselves to changing the world into the dream God has for it. We need to act because faith without action is just an opinion. In an anxious time in our world and in our country, let’s be a people of hope. Let’s remember in our tradition that we have been claimed in baptism as Christ’s own forever. Forever. God will find us. And there will be a party like no other. Because that is what God does. Amen.