Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When you adopt a new system you adopt the tools embodied in the system

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Sermon given at the Episcopal Ordination of the Rt. Rev. Jeff W. Fisher

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Sermon given at the Celebration Eucharist for Fred J. Pearson

Grace Episcopal Church, 10.4.12

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Sermon delivered at the Rt. Rev. Jeff Fisher's Ordination to the Episcopate

Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
In the midst of their fear hiding behind locked doors to keep others out and themselves locked in…
In the midst of their excitement about seeing their friend resurrected…
In the midst of confusion about the past and uncertainty about the future…
Jesus comes into their midst and says: receive the Holy Spirit.
Receive the Holy Spirit.
Jeff, you received the Holy Spirit from the first moments of your birth to two loving parents.  They nurtured, they loved, and they cared for you.
This Holy Spirit love was clear as your mother Nancy allowed you to wear your favorite green jeans every day for months on end.  She would wake up in the cold dark of the night to wash them and return them in the morning to your bedside.   Because she knew that your idol was Captain Kangaroo’s Mr. Green Jeans and she knew that it was important for you to have those green jeans to wear; and she also knew that it is important to not be the smelly kid.
That was God’s profound love at work. 
The Holy Spirit was at work in your life from a very early age as you learned to forgive, to let go of the sins of others.   For example, every day you and your brother would religiously watch the cartoon Speed Racer.  You would then reenact the episodes with your loving brother using your hot wheels cars; until the fateful day when your brother stepped on your hot wheels garage like a giant Godzilla and accidently crushed it.  Yes, last year when you finally forgave him, you learned the power of forgiveness that comes from the Holy Spirit and from God’s love. 
Yes, you received the Holy Spirit from your mom and dad who raised you in the Episcopal Church.
You received the Holy Spirit as you attended church services as a child and specifically as you were nurtured by the eccentric Marjorie Blossman in her Sunday school class.  Wonderfully spirit filled she taught you to skip and wear a halo cut out of a Blue Bell ice cream lid. She taught you the words to the Butterfly Song and how to flutter your wings. She modeled a Holy Spirit love through her dancing, singing, and her passion for Jesus.
You learned from her God’s love through the ages and God’s love for you specifically.
You have received the Holy Spirit.
An equally eccentric, if not more so, young priest by the name of Corky Carlisle (God help us all) showed you God’s love through engaging bible studies and worship services as a youth.  He gave you leadership, and I believe he helped you begin to see your call to ministry.  It is his fault…this is all his fault! 
While you were neither the first nor the last of Corky’s young adults to be nurtured into ministry; on this day in the diocese of Texas we are particularly grateful for his keen eye.
You married wonderful Susan who has been “the biggest dispenser of God’s grace” in your life.  She loves you. And, thank God!  And we love her.
You brought up two sons (Scott and John) in a similar home to your own, trying to offer to them this notion of God’s Holy Spirit and God’s love.  I would venture to guess that it is their love for you that has most transformed your life.  It is perhaps their love for you which has so often opened your eyes to see the Holy Spirit at work in the world.
There have been countless moments of your life that you can remember with your heart’s eye and recount where the Holy Spirit has been given to you by others.  You can name their names and you can see their faces.
Yes, Jeff Wright Fisher, you have received the Holy Spirit.  You have been receiving the Holy Spirit your whole life.
Now…Jeff, let’s look back to what you wrote before you went to seminary.  You ruminated to your bishop, in a helpful tone, writing your spiritual autobiography, which I have in my possession, and I would like to quote from at this time “I am a leader. I hire, fire, evaluate performance, organize teams, encourage others to take on new tasks, develop budgets and financial statements…etc.” You wrote, “there is a need for these leadership skills in the ranks of the ordained of the Church today. The priest of this twenty-first century must not just perform ministry, but empower and challenge the laity and the other clergy through leadership.”
Thank you, Jeff.  These are great skills.  
As Napoleon Dynamite recognizes in the movie by the same name, everyone needs skills “like nunchuk skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills” these are the skills girls look for.  
Certainly the church in the twenty-first century needs people with skills like yours – don’t get me wrong.
But the church also needs today are bishops who are filled with the Holy Spirit.  We need bishops who have received the Holy Spirit and impart the Holy Spirit to others.
Our church needs bishops who love Jesus and not only understand but have experienced the healing power of God’s love and grace through the unique vessel of the Episcopal Church.
You wrote: “I am called to proclaim… the Good News of God in Christ.  This Good News is that Christianity is not a religion [but] a relationship.  The relationship is with a real living person; Jesus Christ…I am convinced that a relationship with Christ rather than religion is what people…are thirsty for.”
This is the quote that got you to seminary. This is the truth of your life experience. This is the truth of the Gospel. This is the meaning of a God involved in the lives of his people.
When you had locked the doors of your life so no one could get in; Jesus got in.
When you were in trouble, at war with yourself, fearful or anxious, God came to you and offered you a small cup, a small measure of peace which changed everything.
When you have not been able to forgive yourself for the secret wrongs, god has forgiven you.  
God sent you out to discover the Holy Spirit working in the world around you.
The world does not need another boss or team leader.  The world is not looking for a church with a good strategic plan. The world is not interested in a church with skills or what we think they need.
The world is hurting and wounded and maimed.
The world is hungry and homeless.
The oppressed are tired of their oppression, the broken-hearted need someone to bind them up, the captives are looking for a liberty, and those imprisoned seek freedom.
You are to go to those who work, or watch, or weep, you are the angel given charge to tend the sick, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, and shield the joyous.
For love’s sake…the world is looking and longing for a savior.
The world is longing to hear a little bit of good news.
To the individuals you meet on any given sunday, to the clergy and their individual family members you are to tell them about God’s love for them. And you are to tend to them and to their needs. 
And to the world around you, you are to be a herald of good things, a speaker of truth, and a revealer of God’s hand at work. You are to be a public as well as a private minister of the Gospel.
To those to whom you go, and to those who seek you out, as bishop, you will represent God in Christ Jesus. To them you will be the Church.  To them you will be the Diocese.  To them you shall be the one they have been waiting for and to all and to each you are connect them to the greater family through the power of the Holy Spirit, loving them, nurturing them, and forgiving them.  
Let them hear your voice, let them experience your listening ear.  Don’t try to organize, control or create a greater efficiency to deal with the pastoral world you are entering.  Instead remember the words of Jesus, for love’s sake remember them.
And, tell them Jeff: “Peace be with you.  Peace be with you.”
And give the God’s Holy Loving Powerful Spirit to them and show them how to do the same.
Now I will say to you, I know you. I know how you like things. I know how you expect things to be.  There will come in the days and months and years ahead moments when you will be tempted to say, “Why did I do this?”  Why did I make myself vulnerable in this way?” “If I had known this was the job then I would not have put my name forward.”  
Yes, those will be the moments Jeff, the moments most of all, when you will have to pause and to pray.  The moments out of your control and out of your power are the moments in which you will most become the bishop that God is making you out to be.
Hear Jeff one of your favorite quotes from Henri Nouwen in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son wrote: it is “a demand requiring [you] to let go one more time from wanting to be in control, to give up one more time the desire to predict life, to die one more time to the fear of not knowing where it will all lead, and to surrender one more time to a love that knows no limits.”
So, I say to you in this moment.  In this powerful, vulnerable, moment…in this moment when the real you is confronted with all the power and grace of God…a moment from which all life begins to change and unravel in God’s tender hand…I say to you Jeff, peace be with you.
Receive the Holy Spirit and give the Holy Spirit.
Receive forgiveness and give forgiveness.
Jeff, peace be with you.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball