As summer fades into fall, we are always taken aback by the sudden changes in color, the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Western Massachusetts is some of God’s most beautiful earth – from the Blackstone to the Housatonic. We are observing Creation Season with ecumenical partners all over the world. It is a time for gratitude and for conversion.
We are slowly waking up from our denial about climate change. Young voices are calling to us to do now what will profit the world we will leave to them. Like many I have been moved by Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist who captivated the UN, sailed across the Atlantic to avoid the carbon exuded by airliners, and who speaks for an entire generation. This young voice and many others are calling the adults in this world to act – to give climate justice pride of place in the long global to-do list. And a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6b). Thunberg in no child, but neither is she, by our standards, a person with power. Yet, she is using her voice in a way that is moving hearts and changing minds. It’s time for the adults “in charge” of things to get with the program. We have limited time now to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s time to move from “business as usual” to a new mode of awareness and activism.
For months now young people have done monthly school walk-outs to witness to the urgency of climate change. On September 21st our young people are leading a global climate strike. They are asking adults to leave their places of business and their homes and to join them. There will be events for seven days all around the world to highlight the plight of the earth and share problem-solving platforms and strategies.
On Friday, September 20, Springfield folk can participate in the Climate Strike Solidarity Vigil 12:30 PM, Court Square. Later that day in Northampton, join the Climate Emergency March for a Just Future will start with a march at 4:30 p.m. from Sheldon Field, Northampton, followed by a rally at 5:00 p.m. at City Hall. Our Missioner for Creation Care, the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, will speak at both of these actions. Visit globalclimatestrike.net and you’ll see that there are strikes scheduled in Greenfield, Williamstown, Pittsfield, Worcester and more!
I will be at the fall meeting of the House of Bishops that day. Bishop Marc Andrus and I are organizing a public witness in which the whole HOB leaves our meeting at 1 pm on Friday. We will walk across the bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will speak.
Not everyone can leave work. If you can’t join the strike locally or in Boston, why not make September 20th a day for personal climate action?
Have you joined sustainislandhome.org? This platform helps each household to track and reduce its carbon footprint.
September 20th will go down in the history of this movement as the day adults walked away from the important in deference to the urgent. It’s time for us all to have their backs – the youth who lead this movement and will live with the consequences of our inaction. Be part of the Global Climate Strike and be a witness for the earth, our fragile island home.
Homily at the September Requiem for Those Who Died By Gun Violence
Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash
When you gathered in June, (I believe it was the first of these monthly Requiems for victims of gun violence), you spoke the name of Meaghan Burns in this sacred place. She is one of Western Massachusetts’ own. I confirmed her five years ago at St. James in Greenfield. She went on to serve her country in the Navy. She was stationed in Virginia. On the night of her death she went out to dinner with another sailor who had recently broken up with her boyfriend. As they left the restaurant, the ex-boyfriend shot them both dead and then turned the weapon on himself.
Friends, the Body of Christ is bleeding. The public health crisis of gun violence is exactly that – a crisis. A clear and present crisis. It is not far away. It is here. And it demands a response on so many fronts. Including that of faith communities. Bruce Springsteen has a song about gun violence called “Forty One Shots.” One of the lyrics is,
“We are baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood.”
The Body of Christ is bleeding. In a few minutes we will say the names of 1000 of the more than 3000 people who died last month in gun violence in our United States. As we do it, we are doing what faithful women did 2000 years ago at the cross of Jesus. They were going there in sorrow, to bear a witness of love to the one who was dying.
In one of those gospel accounts about the women at the Cross, there is a man with them -the one called the beloved disciple. With his dying breath, Jesus says to Mary, his mother, “Behold your son.” To the beloved disciple he says, “Behold your mother.”
When Jesus does that, he unites all of humanity in the blood of the Cross. We are truly brother and sister to each other. When we say these names, we are naming our brothers and sisters. We are baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood.
And what happened after they went to the cross and after they went to the tomb? What happened after they spoke the name of the dead? The dead one appeared to them and they launched the greatest mission of mercy, compassion and hope that the world had ever seen. Their baptism in the water and the blood inspired multitudes to say that the world cannot stay the same. They refused to say, ‘it is what it is.” The world holds the possibilities of transformation, of new life, and of a new way of being. Or as the royal wedding preacher Michael Curry constantly reminds us, “if it is not about Love, it is not about God.”
I have a wonderful spiritual director. Sometimes I go to her feeling discouraged. And she says to me “you are capable of more than you think you are.”
Photo: M. Tuck
Now we say the names of the victims of the public health crisis of gun violence aloud. We go to the place of the dead. We acknowledge them as our brothers and sisters. We state clearly that the Body of Christ is bleeding. And that we are baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood. And perhaps we will hear the dead whispering back to us. “You are capable of more than you think you are.”
For those interested in doing a similar service, click here to request an updated list of names each month.
Meaghan Burns and her family are members of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield, MA. I confirmed her in 2014. Meaghan joined the Navy and was out with a Navy friend who had recently broken up with a boyfriend. When they left the restaurant, the boyfriend shot and killed Meaghan and her friend and then himself. Meaghan was 23 years old.
The Burns family and the parish of Sts James and Andrew have long been active in the movement to address the public health crisis of gun violence. In honor of Meaghan they organized a Gun Violence Prevention Vigil and invited me to speak. Hundreds of people came to the vigil. The family has given us permission to publish my brief remarks at the event for the sake of raising consciousness of this crisis.
My name is Doug Fisher and I serve as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. I was blessed to confirm Meaghan five years ago.I’m here to grieve with you and pray to our God who loves us in life and in death and in New Life. I’m here to tell you that all of our 51 churches in western and central Massachusetts are praying for Carolyn and Matthew and Kylie and James.
The Burns’ family and this Church have long been engaged in calling for action to prevent gun violence that is so rampant in our beloved country. They organized this vigil and asked me to address the public health crisis of gun violence.
It is not my first inclination at a time such as this. This is a time for celebrating the brief but joyful, kind, always energetic life of Meaghan. And in a few minutes family friend and UCC minister Will is going to do that.
My second inclination is to stand in silent support with you, Meaghan’s family and friends. Silence because words are inadequate to express our grief. Silence because words are inadequate to express the support we want to offer.
But Meaghan’s parents have told me we have had too much silence in the face of the massive problem of gun violence in the United States. Let’s honor their wishes and break the silence.
97 people a day die from gun violence in our country. Over 35,000 a year. And many more are injured. This often is described as a political issue. But it is not. It is a public health crisis. If 97 people a day were dying of a disease, wouldn’t we all – Republican and Democrat and Independent address it? Wouldn’t we put all manner of resources to discover the sources and the cure? Yes, this problem is complicated. But should we fail to address it because it is complicated? Should we allow complexity to paralyze us?
Last week Carolyn met with Reverend Heather to talk and pray. She recalled vigils here in this church about gun violence and how candles were lit and names of the deceased were read. She said “My Meaghan is now one of these candles.”
But Meaghan is not a number. She is our beloved daughter, sister, friend. You will all develop ways of honoring Meaghan and her Spirit in a life cut short. The Burns family invites you to honor Meaghan by thoughts and prayers and more – by taking action.
Just a few days ago in Boston, Episcopalians organized the annual March for Peace on Mother’s Day. Hundreds of mothers and others marched to witness to the losses we have suffered through gun violence. Placards were held high with names of those who have died in this crisis. Some of those placards had the name ‘Meaghan Burns” on them.
In the past year, thousands of young people have turned out for the March for Our Lives. Some younger than our Meaghan. They are survivors of school shootings and young people who have witnessed daily gun violence in urban neighborhoods. All saying we want a different future. A future where we don’t have to leave in fear. Would you, to honor Meaghan, join them?
We remember another who died by violence – Jesus. And our God raised him up and showed us that love is stronger than death. Death cannot stop God’s love for us and the life God gives us eternally. And your love for Meaghan is stronger than her death. May Meaghan Rest In Peace and Rise in Glory. Amen.
I have often said that Luke 3:1 is the most important verse in the entire Bible. “In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was king of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to a man named John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”
It is the most important line because it is saying our faith is not based upon “once upon a time.” It is not a fairy tale. It is not make-believe. It is not “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
No. It is clear. In this time and in this place, the word of God came to John. And Mary. And Joseph. And Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The Spirit acts in real people, in real time. Theologically we call it, “incarnation.”
Knowing that makes our WMA pilgrimage to the Holy Land a deep spiritual experience. In this time and in this place God acted. Now sometimes there are conflicting stories as to where things happen. It is said “holy sites tend to move.” But there is no doubt that it is the Sea of Galilee where so many powerful stories of Jesus and the disciples happened. No doubt that it is the Jordan River where John baptized. No doubt that it is the Jericho Road featured in the Good Samaritan story. And no doubt somewhere in old Jerusalem is the Temple built by Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt by Herod and destroyed by the Romans. Lots of sacred sites have very old churches built over them because oral history said “this was the place where…”
I will reflect more on this experience over time. But here are two immediate impressions.
I never knew how much caves and rocks were part of the housing in the times of Jesus. That barn where we say Jesus was born was really a cave. Families lives in homes homes built with hewn rocks and carved out caves.
For the first time I appreciated the mysticism of the desert. Pictures never do it justice. The desert of Israel is not plains of sand. They are mountains of rock and sand and sparse vegetation. To be in them is to be in a place of awe and vulnerability.
And there is a lot to say about the political conflict in Israel and the oppression of the Palestinians. But a few words would not do justice to a complex situation with many conflicting dimensions. And there is much to say about the tension of the three major religions jockeying for position in this holy land. I will tell those stories in future reflections.
In a couple of days I will leave here with deep gratitude for this experience and for the way my traveling companions engaged this trip not as tourists but as pilgrims on a spiritual journey together. And looking forward to the Spirit who continues to speak in our time and in our place.
The following sermon was given this morning at the annual Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils at Christ Church Cathedral.
Welcome. Thank you for taking time away from sermon prep, acolyte wrangling, bulletin proof-reading, pastoral care and answering questions about when IS the Easter Service, to come together in mutual support of one another in ministry.
Lutherans and UCC. Some of our liturgical language may be different, but the
mission is the same. Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope. When so much
in our world seems to be coming apart, we are coming together. I am grateful
Renewal of vows makes me think of Holy Week
1998. Betsy and I and our very young children were at Holy Innocents in
Highland Falls New York and I was the Episcopal West Point chaplain. We had a
Holy Week evening service in the church with only the candles on the altar for
our light. At that service most of the congregation were West Point cadets and
we all stood around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. Grace, four years
old, stood next to me at the altar, her chin level with the top of the altar.
She was captivated by the scene. For her it was magical and mystical. Looking
out at everyone, looking at me leading prayer. Afterwards Betsy asked Grace
“Did you like being up at the altar with daddy?” To which Grace responded “Oh
yes, mommy. I loved it. I felt just like a pwiest!”
Betsy said, “Would you like to be a priest someday?” Grace was very clear in
her answer. “Oh no, mommy. I want to stack the groceries at the supermarket.
That’s a cool job.”
reminder on the day we renew our vows as ordained leaders in the church.
veteran bishops for coaches. A question my coach would ask me in every session
was “why did your diocese choose you?” It is a way of getting clarity and
setting priorities. I think it was because I said a lot about social justice
and about trying new things in ministry. 50 new things even if 49 fail. And
there is one more. After the election, one of our church leaders said to me:
“You know, bishop, no one in my parish was going to vote for you when the slate
was announced. You were the only candidate with a doctorate (in ministry) and
we knew we didn’t need some academic lecturing us in something abstract when
the needs are so real.” Now that is not my perspective but it was his. And then
he added “But when we went to the walk-abouts and you were asked questions, you
would leave the stage and come into the middle aisle and answer the questions
from there. From where the people were. That night in the parking lot, we all
decided we were voting for you.”
wasn’t because of what I said. No great insights or pearls of wisdom changed
their minds. It was being in the midst of the people. Going to where they are.
That’s what I will be praying about today when
I renew my vows.
you? Priest, minister, deacon. The Holy Spirit, working through so many people
around you and through sponsoring parishes and commissions on ministry, called
you. Maybe it was a few years ago or maybe it was forty. Why did they choose
you? In all your quirky uniqueness. Why did they choose you?
made you say yes?
are thinking about that, let me provide a structure for your particular answer.
Budde is the Bishop of Washington D.C. She points out how often the Bible
contains a “so that” statement. Here are a few examples:
Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before others, SO THAT they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, SO THAT you may discern what is the will of God- what is good and acceptable and perfect.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, SO THAT everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
ordained so that… What comes next? I hope you answer that with something
spectacular. Something worth giving your life to.
A couple of
weeks ago, I put that question to a few of our clergy in an email. Here is what
I will renew my vows SO THAT I can offer my spiritual gifts to a community of faith that has richly blessed me and that helps me to grow in ways that matter.
I will renew my vows SO THAT I might share and testify to the love that saved me and made me and holds me.
I will renew my vows SO THAT the hope and justice of God in Christ would be made known.
called by God, loved by Christ SO THAT we may understand the power of His
ordained SO THAT I could help spread the light and hope of Christ.
What is it
for you? I was ordained so that…
think of your answers I’m going to ramble on about a couple of other things.
Whatever that great, holy, Jesus-centered,
Holy Spirit inspired statement is for you, know that to get there we need to
cultivate resilience, and persistence, or what some in leadership circles are referring
to as “grit.”
quote from the wise Mariann Budde. It is a long quote and we all know you
should never use a long quote in a sermon. So don’t tell the bishop.
we need resilience. Because we are called to lead others from where they are
now, as a body, to where God is calling us, a preferred future or a necessary
sacrifice. That process, by definition, invokes resistance. Resistance is not
all bad; nor is all change good. As a result, those of us called to lead have
no choice but to live and move and have our being in what might be called ‘the
messy middle.’ That place where nothing is clear, where what you thought was a
God inspired idea goes nowhere, where those who called you to lead are now
resisting you with everything they’ve got, and it occurs to you that working as
a barista in your neighborhood coffee shop seems like a more fruitful place for
ministry than the church.” Or you long to stack the groceries in the
happens, not if, when that happens, have friends, deep friends, to confide in.
And a disciplined prayer life. And maybe some scripture verses that can serve
as a mantra. Like Paul’s in the second letter to that conflicted, confused,
hungry for the Spirit community in Corinth. “Since it is God’s mercy that we
are engaged in ministry, we do not lose heart.” Or in Genesis, Jacob wrestling
with that angel “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Now for a
few minutes on today’s gospel. I won’t be long. I know not all the Holy Week
bulletins are done.
I chose the
Gospel about what Walter Brueggemann calls “the riot in the Temple.” I chose it
because I believe it is a pivotal part of the Holy Week story and it gets
overlooked. And I think it is a key story for the ministry we share.
I just learned
a few days ago that the Cathedral in Connecticut is doing something new and
meaningful with this story. On Palm Sunday we begin with the triumphant entry
into Jerusalem and then at the time for the Gospel we read the Passion which
continues the story beginning with the Last Supper. We go from the hosannas of
the crowd to Jesus agonizing over his impending death. We leave out a key part
of the story that explains this very severe change of tone. The riot in the
temple. Here’s what Connecticut is doing. The usual opening of the service with
the entry into Jerusalem. Then at the time of the Gospel the story of the riot
in the Temple is read. And then at the very end of the service, the Passion is
read and the congregation leaves in silence to continue their Holy Week
suffers too from a superficial understanding. How often has this passage been
used as “you see Jesus is human like us. He got angry.” The same way the Martha
and Mary story gets reduced to “we all need to balance out our busy Martha
lives with Mary-like contemplation.” We interpret the verse this way SO THAT we
don’t have to acknowledge the social revolution Jesus began in bringing women
into the male-only circle of religious thinkers.
has meanings so deep that the four evangelists take three approaches to it.
Mark and Luke just tell it and then go right away to the chief priests looking
for a way to kill him. John uses it to illustrate the scripture “Zeal for your
house will consume me.” And an early reference to the Resurrection. Only
Matthew follows the Temple cleansing with healing stories. Throwing over tables
creating a space for healing. I will come back to that. But the heart of it was
an unjust sacrificial system that made demands on the poor. In words and with
very clear action, Jesus drew our attention to a societal problem and acted on
it. Jesus didn’t just offer thoughts and prayers. He overthrew tables. He
disrupted the system. A system that many believed to be sacred.
On this day
in which we renew our vows, I will ask another question: Do you ever feel like
throwing over some tables?
I feel like throwing over.
The public health crisis of gun violence. 97 people a day die from gun violence in the United States. Many from suicide. Several children every day from accidents. Many in our urban communities as victims of what Michael Curry calls the “Unholy Trinity” of racism, poverty and guns. And some in our growing number of mass shootings – the ones that get our attention. America loves her guns and her guns are killing her loved ones. Many loved the theology and culture and economy of the Temple sacrifices but that did not stop Jesus.
Then there is crisis of creation around climate change. I could quote our own Margaret Bullitt Jonas on this but in the spirit of ecumenism I will go with Pope Francis: “Human induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity. In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role.” If we commit to passing the faith down from generation to generation then we have to commit to a sustainable island home for future generations.
The plight of immigrants in our immigrant nation. Children in cages at the border. Lucio Perez in sanctuary at the UCC Church in Amherst for a year and a half, forced to live apart from his wife and their four children. What would the Jesus we follow- the table over thrower- tell us to do about that?
ordination of a bishop in the Episcopal Church, eight questions are asked and
answered. One is “will you shake up the conscience of your people?” Another is
“will you defend those who have no helper?”
are never closely adequate to the depth and expanse of the question. Thank you
for all the times you have inspired me in this work of overturning tables.
And we do
this not just as a voice crying out in the wilderness, not out of righteous
anger, but as Matthew makes clear, SO THAT healing becomes possible. The royal
wedding preacher says “WE are 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.”
On this day, as we renew our ordination vows, let’s return to that wisdom of Paul. Since it is God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. And as my go-to-theologian Walter Brueggemann adds “Do not lose heart. God has not quit, and will not until our joy is reflective of God’s own.”