Tag Archive for Bishop Doug Fisher

Amazing things can happen when we stop and slow down.

A sermon offered at St. Mark’s in Leominster on September 16. Gospel text is Mark 8:27-38.

Everyone knows by now that our Presiding Bishop, the “Royal Wedding preacher,” Michael Curry, is coming to our great diocese for an Episcopal revival on Sunday October 21st. The gospel writers don’t use the word “revival” but I think that was what it was when Jesus preached and fed the 5000. And there was a time when Jesus was not preaching a revival but he himself was in need of a revival. I think that time was the Gospel passage we had last week and I think what happened there impacts what happens in today’s gospel story.

Remember last week Jesus went to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Jesus wanted some down time. And if you read the first seven chapters of Mark’s Gospel you would know why. Jesus goes from Nazareth to Capernaum, then north, then south, across the Sea of Galilee several times. Over a dozen different locations are mentioned. Jesus is on the move. And remember they didn’t have Uber™ in those days. Jesus is walking. His pace matches the frenetic pace of Mark’s gospel – the gospel that has the word “immediately” 56 times in 16 short chapters.

Jesus has to stop and slow down. Amazing things can happen when we stop and slow down. This summer I walked 120 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with my son Geoff.

It is a pilgrimage with a deep spiritual tradition. Thousands and thousands of people from all over the world come to Spain to take part in it. It was a tremendous experience for my son and me. The first few days we were not rushing, just walking at our normal pace. My son is 6 foot three and we both have long legs. That meant going at our normal pace we were passing everyone. And, staying with the custom, we would say “Buen Camino” to each pilgrim that we passed. But not much more. In the last few days Geoff developed a sore knee. It wasn’t enough to stop us but it did mean we had to walk more slowly. And because we did, we walked alongside other pilgrims and got to hear their fascinating stories. We met people from Korea, Ireland, New Zealand, and England. That only happened because we slowed down.

Jesus is tired. He is in need of a revival. And because he slows down a Syrophoenician woman gets to see him. Her daughter has a demon and she is hoping Jesus will cure her. Remember this woman is not from Israel and Jesus thinks his mission is only to Israel. When she makes her request, Jesus says something very unlike Jesus. Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Ouch! Jesus needs reviving.

The Canaanite / Syrophonoecian woman with the dog who eats the crumbs Artist: @ReverendAlly.org/art

She answers, Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs. At that exact moment Jesus is revived. He realizes his mission is not restricted to Israel but is to the whole world. He cures her daughter. And his mission is expanded and revitalized.

For those of you surprised that Jesus learned something new, I invite you to check out Luke’s gospel where we are told three times Jesus grew in age, wisdom and understanding.  Jesus, fully divine and fully human, had truths to learn.

Now we are ready for today’s gospel and the new place in Jesus’ journey. He arrives in Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was not always called that. It used to be Naphtali and it was the location of great deeds performed by Kings David and Solomon. It was a holy city for the people of Israel. But when the Roman army took over Israel for the Roman Empire, they renamed it. Caesarea means, “Caesar’s town.” Philippi was the name of a Roman Tetrarch. The Romans are really putting it in the face of the Jewish people.

Jesus arrives with a large following. At this point Jesus is at the height of his popularity. We know this because not long ago he had a revival with the 5000 people. He has so many followers now that he no longer knows them personally. He has to ask his disciples. Who do people say I am? And many are thinking he is the one who will drive the Romans out.

That’s the scene. Jesus with his great following is in a place where people are looking for a revolution. Would he lead them against the Empire? Jesus had proclaimed a different kingdom – one of healing, forgiveness, compassion and hope. But I think at this moment he is tempted with a worldly kingdom. Here’s why. Earlier in his ministry Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan. The temptations were about seizing earthly power for himself. Jesus rejected Satan that day but Luke’s gospel tells us Satan left him to return at an opportune time. The battle was not over. Satan was coming back. This is the moment of his return. It does not make sense for Jesus to be so furious at Peter to say, Get behind me, Satan to Peter. He is not calling Peter “Satan.” He actually sees Satan, tempting him once again with the power of this world. At that moment Jesus could have given in and become just another leader written about in history books. Instead Jesus chooses a true revolution – a revolution that changes hearts. A revolution that is still going on as we attempt to change the world through compassion and grace.

And there is another dimension to Caesarea Philippi. The Romans who settled there built temples to their gods. Temples in which sacrifices were performed.

Ruin of the Temple of Pan at Caesarea Philippi

The temple here was to Pan. To Pan, the Romans sacrificed pigs – and threw the remains into the lake, thereby defiling that so that the Jewish people could not drink it. You can understand why the Jewish people wanted the Romans out. When the Romans did that they were following a theology that had existed for thousands of years. Sacrifice animals, sometimes even children, to God so that God might be appeased. “Here God. Take this. And leave me alone. You are a terrible God. Stay out of the life of my family.” In the city of the Temple of Pan, Jesus, consistent with the prophets of Israel, reverses this practice and this theology. We no longer sacrifice to appease God. Jesus, the Son of God, now sacrifices for us. This means we no longer push God away. We now invite God into our lives. We can now ask God to be with us. Jesus changes the world by completing changing the way we relate to God and one another. This is a commitment to a new heaven and a new earth.

I’ll end with a quote that I am praying every day in this time of our revival. It is a quote from a man named Cyprian who lived around the year 100 in Rome. He wrote to a friend and said,

“The world can be a mean and cruel place. But here in Rome there is a small group of people who care about each other. They give whatever it takes to help each other in need. And they are very happy living this way. They call themselves Christian. I think I will join them and try this way for a while.”

Amen.

+Doug

 

Would Jesus get away with the Lord’s Prayer in Congress?

With many of you, I am following with interest the controversy surrounding the Chaplain to the House of Representatives, Patrick Conroy S.J. I’m reflecting on it from the viewpoint of someone who was a “guest chaplain” for a day on September 22, 2010. The Congressman from my district (the 22nd in New York) Scott Murphy nominated me for this honor.

The Rev. Doug Fisher, Fr. Daniel Coughlin, and Congressman Scott Murphy, NY.

The Chaplain at that time was Fr. Daniel Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest. He was warmly hospitable to Betsy and me. Before my prayer, which would open the day in the House, Father Dan took us on a tour. When we arrived at the Chapel, knowing Betsy is also a priest, he asked her to say a prayer for us in that sacred space.

Doug and Betsy in DC.

In 2010 our nation was still in the throes of the recession caused by the 2008 crash. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were still raging. And, like now, immigration was hotly debated. In trying to offer a  prayer that was more than generic, I wanted to include the unemployed, immigrants and those serving in our Armed Forces. Here is the prayer in full:

Father Conroy seems to be in trouble with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan for a prayer he gave in October 2018 as the new tax laws were being debated. In that prayer Conroy asked for God’s blessing, and urged lawmakers to “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under the new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.” After that prayer, Conroy recalls Ryan saying “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.” Conroy believes that this prayer, and a desire to have an Evangelical chaplain who might be more conservative politically than a Jesuit, were the causes of the request for his resignation (which he gave and then rescinded).

The Rev. Patrick Conroy, SJ Chaplain, US House of Representatives Photo: CBS News

I would argue that my prayer, and that of Father Conroy, stand in a tradition of prayer that is incarnational – praying with a God who “dwells among us.” The Psalmists and Jesus prayed in this way. Their prayers were not abstract. Their prayers were not disembodied.

Consider the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” So far, that prayer would be OK in Congress. But then it gets political. “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.” In heaven there are no “winners and losers” so it should be that way here too. Jesus is calling for a kingdom where all are fed. Would Jesus get away with saying that in Congress?

At the Continental Congress in 1774, there was a contentious debate over prayer. The decision was to allow it.

First prayer at the 1774 Continental Congress

The Rev. Jacob Duche, an Episcopalian, prayed, “Take them (American states) under Thy nurturing care…detest the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness off their cause.” With that prayer ringing in their ears, the 1789 Constitutional Congress declared that every day they were in session would be opened in prayer. It has been that way ever since.

As one commentator on the Conroy controversy put it: “Taking care of the poor and standing against injustice is part of his (Conroy’s) sacred creed.” I think our elected leaders need to hear that creed. I do. Every day. Do you?

+Doug

DACA + TPS = community over chaos

A few weeks ago, Bishop Alan Gates of the Diocese of Massachusetts and I signed an Amicus Brief on behalf of our dioceses joining 85 other religious organizations in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Yesterday Alan and I joined with Episcopal City Mission in supporting Centro Presente in a witness at Boston City Hall. We heard from immigrants here in this country through Temporary Protection Status (TPS) and from their children.

The Rev. Arrington Chambliss, Executive Director of Episcopal City Mission, Bishop Fisher, Bishop Alan Gates of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Photo: D. Fisher

These are two separate political issues relating to immigration, but my participation in both is rooted in one theology. Biblical imperatives about welcoming the stranger abound throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Here are just a few:

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19: 33-34).

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you (Leviticus 25:35).

You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:1-2).

At a prayer service before going to City Hall, Natalie Finstad of Episcopal City Mission described a key aspect of the early Church as she understands it from the book Transforming Mission by David Bosch.

“The nature of the early Christian mission manifested itself from the new relationship that came into being in community. Jew and Roman, Greek and barbarian, free and slave, rich and poor, woman and man, accepted one another as brothers and sisters. It was a movement without analogy, indeed a ‘sociological impossibility.’ Small wonder that the Christian community caused so much astonishment in the Roman Empire and beyond. In fact, the Christian community and its faith was so different from anything known in the ancient world that it often made no sense to others.”

Community. At City Hall, Mayor Marty Walsh took up that theme.

“They (immigrants here through TPS) are our neighbors and coworkers. They’re members of our faith community. They own homes and businesses. Taking this protection away these young people and family members will not make our community safer. To the contrary, it’s going to introduce chaos.”  (Cristela Guerra for The Boston Globe)

Chaos. Ten-year-old Gabriela Martinez of Leominster contrasted her dreams with chaos. She told the crowd that she wants to teach English as a second language to help immigrant families. She said that she doesn’t want to see families destroyed or divided. “In order to accomplish our dreams, our parents and family need residency, not just TPS,” the fifth-grader said. (Boston Globe)

Much of recent theological reflection has centered on finding out what God is up to in the world. We have a dynamic God, a community of divine Love always active, and not confined by, the church’s walls. I see God acting in the work of Amy Grunder, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). We had a long conversation in which she said she needs more allies in Western and Central Massachusetts. I see God acting in the testimony of Centro Presente and in the support of Episcopal City Mission and continuing collaboration of our two Episcopal dioceses. And, I see God at work in our Church, The Episcopal Public Policy Network is following these legislative developments closely and provides us with everything we need to advocate.

Protect Immigrant Youth: Support the Dream Act

Defend TPS

 

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has given us a working definition for the 21st century. “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.” Some of the change will come about if we resist the forces of chaos and become the community God intends for us to be.

+Doug

Tweet the reign of Jesus

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty.  — Thomas Jefferson

President Donald Trump re-tweeted three videos from the far-right group, Britain First. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted quickly and critically.

“It is deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists. Britain First seeks to divide communities and intimidate minorities.”

This has been another big week for our President on Twitter. He has attacked other politicians, NBC, CNN, and implied Joe Scarborough was involved in a murder.

Presidents have always used the communication tools of their times to tell us what is important to them.

The speeches of the earliest presidents were published in newspapers. That was true for Abraham Lincoln and he also used the telegraph. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was famous for his weekly “fireside chats” on the radio. (Calvin Coolidge was actually the first President to address the nation on radio.) Harry Truman was the first to use television. Ronald Reagan brought back weekly radio broadcasts. Barack Obama did short videos designed for the Internet.

It is obvious the current president’s preferred mode of communication is Twitter.

At first I dismissed his Twitter rants as nonsense. Pay attention to what he actually does, like gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, I thought. But I realize now that the President wants us to take his tweets seriously. This is his mode of communication to our nation. I have changed my mind. Like the Archbishop of Canterbury, I will see these tweets as an expression of the President’s values, his intentions and his state of mind.

In my preaching, writing and prayer I keep coming back to the first verse in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

May it be said many years from now,  “In the first year of the Trump Presidency, the word of God came to the Church in the wilderness.”

May it be said that we proclaimed the reign of Jesus’ mercy, compassion and hope.

Let’s Tweet that.

+Doug

Gratitude: the posture of the Christian life.

6th century icon, Sinai

 

Gratitude is the posture of the Christian life. Because of Jesus – because of all he did and said and what he was willing to die for – we know the infinite depths of God’s love for us. We know that whatever happens, the risen Lord is walking with us toward a world transformed by love and justice. So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I wonder how this elemental gratitude can inform my experience of our chaotic world, how I can keep watching the news and still say, “Thank you, God.”

It is complex, isn’t it? We have so much for which to be thankful, but we are weighed down by fear.

Talk of nuclear weapons at the ready, regular mass shootings, scandals in leadership, the abuse of power and the sexual violation of women – it’s more than any one of us can carry. I know that I carry these concerns with the Church – with God’s people – and we carry them to God in prayer. I know that when I participate in some good work like a veterans’ lunch or speak at the Islamic Society or celebrate at “Church Without Walls”, I know the Body of Christ is in motion toward the dream God has for us.

(Left-right: veterans’ lunch, St. Paul’s, Holyoke; walking Pioneer Valley with Respected Wissam Abdul Baki, imam of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts; baptizing members of “Church Without Walls,” Springfield)

Our family Thanksgiving is redolent with tradition – special foods, fine wine, the gathering of dear ones at table. This very American celebration reminds me of Isaiah’s prophecy:

Isaiah 25:6-8 

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
    the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
    the sheet that is spread over all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
    and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.

We believe this day is coming. We believe that what we do matters. Soon, we will begin a new liturgical year and celebrate the Advent of the Lord. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for our faith. I am grateful for the Word of God that calls us to prayer and action. I am grateful for God’s faithful people praying and doing no matter what the headlines say, no matter the hashtag of the moment. I am grateful that we all follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

+Doug