Tag Archive for creation care

Be a witness for the earth.

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!

The climate strike rally in Boston will be among the largest in the nation. The schedule below shows you what’s happening throughout the day. 

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?

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.

+Doug

Bishop to Clergy: Renew your vows SO THAT…

The following sermon was given this morning at the annual Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils at Christ Church Cathedral.

Bishop Fisher preaching this morning at Christ Church Cathedral. (Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts)

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.

Welcome 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 for you.

 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.”

Grace Fisher and a West Point cadet (Photo: submitted)

A humbling reminder on the day we renew our vows as ordained leaders in the church.

Bishops get 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.”

Notice it 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.

How about 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?

And what made you say yes?

While you are thinking about that, let me provide a structure for your particular answer.

Mariann 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.

I was 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 they said:

  • 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.

We were called by God, loved by Christ SO THAT we may understand the power of His Resurrection.

I was ordained SO THAT I could help spread the light and hope of Christ.

What is it for you? I was ordained so that…

While you 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.”

Here’s another 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.

“Here’s why 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 supermarket.

When that 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 journey.

This story 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.

This passage 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?

Here’s some 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?

In the 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?”

My actions 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.”

Amen.

+ Doug

Now is the day of salvation: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, #WMARevival and Creation Care

This month the Bishop’s Blog is co-written by The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, our Missioner for Creation Care, and Bishop Fisher.

Everyone (and we mean everyone) knows our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as “the Royal Wedding Preacher.” He certainly touched souls around the world in his inspired message of the transforming power of love. But did you know that five days later he participated in a Vigil at the White House?

Bishop Michael Curry (C) waits to speak during a vigil outside the White House May 24, 2018 in Washington, DC, in response to what organizers say is “the moral and political crises at the highest levels of political leadership that are putting both the soul of the nation and the integrity of Christian faith at stake.” (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Vigil was a witness that both rejected President Trump’s “America First” policies and urged bringing people of all political parties together for the sake of the common good. The Vigil was a follow-up on a declaration Michael wrote with other faith leaders several months before called “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”

That document includes the powerful statement: “We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources.”

As we gather together this Sunday in Pittsfield and Worcester for an Episcopal revival led by the “oh so much more than a wedding preacher” Michael Curry, let’s look at why this is a time of crisis for God’s creation.

The Earth is reeling under many pressures, from an explosive growth in human population and consumption to species extinction, habitat loss, and resource depletion.  But our most urgent concern is how human activity is changing the climate.  Our fears were confirmed last week when the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international group that assesses climate change, released a major report.  The IPCC report was stark: humanity is on the brink of catastrophe.  The only way to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degree Celsius – the level that countries around the world have agreed is a safe upper limit for maintaining life as we know it on this planet – is for nations to cut their carbon emissions drastically and rapidly.  In just over ten years – by 2030 – the world will need to have cut global emissions in half (45 percent below 2010 levels).  To hold global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius will require rapid and massive transformation of every level of society.  For example, the report calls for a total or near-total phase-out of the burning of coal by 2050.

The task ahead of us is daunting.  The world has already warmed 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, and without a massive global effort, the world will warm by 1.5 degrees in as little as 12 years.  If we allow global warming to rise by 2 degrees Celsius – to say nothing of allowing business as usual to continue on its present track, which would raise global temperatures by 3.4 degrees by the end of this century – we will live on a planet that is extremely difficult not only to govern, but even to inhabit.  The IPCC report warns that there is “no documented historical precedent” for making the sweeping changes in society that would be required in order to hold global temperatures to 1.5 degrees.  Yet if we want to prevent massive crop failures and droughts, extreme storms and sea-level rise, and the migration of millions of refugees, and if we want to pass along a habitable world to our children and our children’s children, we need to tackle climate change.

The day of reckoning has come. As St. Paul exhorts, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2).  Today is a good day to put climate denial behind us.  Today is a good day to reject the climate denial expressed in White House policies that promote fossil fuels and ignore, downplay, or even accelerate the climate crisis.  Today is also a good day to admit our own everyday version of climate denial and to step up our personal efforts to reduce our use of fossil fuels.

What next steps can you take?  For starters, does your congregation have a “green team” or “Creation care committee”?  Whatever you call it, a team of parishioners concerned about climate change can take the lead in educating and organizing its community.  You can download an article about how to start a “green team” here.  At diocesan convention, delegates will vote on a resolution that asks every congregation to create a green team or liaison.

Here’s another idea: how about eating less (or no) meat?  A new report confirms that shifting to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective actions we can take to reduce our carbon footprint, limit climate change, and allow the Earth to keep feeding the global population.

Michael Curry has made Creation Care one of his three priorities. (Racial Reconciliation and Evangelism are the others.) We have said many times that this Sunday is so much more than great speeches by Michael. It is an opportunity to commit to a revival of our souls, our church, our communities and our world. In a time of crisis, may we passionately recommit to fighting climate change and caring for God’s creation.

+Doug and Margaret+

Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+Doug