Monday, May 31, 2010

Bananas Foster at the Table

Yesterday, after church, the four Fishers who live in Waco drove to Houston. The larger Fisher clan was gathering to celebrate my Mom's 70th birthday. All of us dressed up in our finest suits and ties and gathered for dinner at Brennan's restaurant just south of downtown.

All nine of us (my niece, Vivian, who is 1 years old, stayed home with a sitter) gathered around a large round table. Once again I realized that there is something special when an extended family gathers around the table.

Seated at the table, we asked our very capable waiter to take a group picture. As we smiled for the photo, I was reminded of an old black and white photograph that is still studied by genealogy buffs in my family. The picture was taken around 1910, of great-great Aunt Emma's birthday party. Several generations are able to be identified in the picture, from matriarchs and patriarchs, to toddlers and babies.

I wonder: who might, in 2110, study the picture of us Fishers, gathered around the table for this birthday celebration in 2010?

At the end of the meal, Brennan's signature dessert was served, Bananas Foster, prepared table side, with bananas and liqueur and cinnamon flaming in an impressive culinary display. It is impossible to watch this dessert being made without grinning from ear to ear. The waiter served up these warm savory bananas, spooning them over cold ice cream, setting a dish in front of each one of us.

As we ate up our delectable desserts, I looked through the candlelight piercing the dining room. Each person, from 70 down to 7, was smiling. We were not alone, but a family; a family of matriarchs and patriarchs - and angels, archangels and all the company of heaven - gathered around the Table.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wedding Guest

Last night, Susan and I went to a wedding outside of Austin. The parents of the groom are dear members of St. Alban's. I officiated at the wedding of the groom's sister, several years ago.

Yet what was unusual about the wedding was that I was simply a guest. It was the first time in six years that I have been to a wedding where I have not been the officiant. This also meant it was the first time I have been to a wedding in six years, where I was able to sit with my wife.

I so enjoyed just being a guest. I could reach over and take my wife's hand whenever the words of the liturgy became particularly poignant. I could wink at the groom's family when we caught each other's eye. I was able to reflect on relationships in new ways and how they weave and web together at a wedding in interesting ways.

As I reflect today on Trinity Sunday and on the God who is in Three Persons, in relationship, yet also One, I am grateful for the wedding last night, where Susan and I were simply guest. I wonder if in reflecting on the Mystery of the Trinity: Three in One, I should just be content with being a guest at the Feast.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Camp Allen - My Place

Tomorrow, I am going to Camp Allen for meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, the Diocesan Finance Committee is meeting. On Thursday, the Bishop is meeting with all of us who will be supervising curates (recent seminary graduates/newly-ordained folks).

I first went to Camp Allen in 1975, as a camper. During that summer camp session, each cabin went into the woods to find "our place," which we marked off with string tied around trees. Then, within "our space," each camper found a small square of ground that was "my space." We would go to "our space/my space" every day during camp to pray and watch the trees sway in the breeze by the lake.

To this day, Camp Allen is still "my place." At Camp Allen, in 1980, I had a spiritual experience at the old white cross (that is no longer there), when I somehow knew that my grandfather had died. At Camp Allen, I met my wife in 1987. Both of our sons have been campers at Camp Allen; Scott has been a counselor, as well. In 1999, by the lake, I believe that God called me to the priesthood. Now, I love to direct camp sessions for a new generation of campers, as each kid finds their place at Camp Allen.

Tomorrow, after my meeting, I will hike out to the lake, to pray and find a place, a place that is "my place" for that one afternoon, a place where I can listen for God's still, small voice.

I hope that you, too, will seek and find a place to listen for that Voice, a place that is "my place" for you.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Friendliest Ghost You Know

Sermon from May 23, 2010

(The Day of Pentecost – Year C)

John 14: 8-17, 25-27

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

When I was a small boy, I used to love to watch cartoons.

Tom & Jerry and Popeye and the Flintstones were all staples on our television screen.

However, there was one cartoon that always did seem to fascinate me.

The cartoon was called “Casper, The Friendly Ghost.”

In this cartoon, Casper is a white ghost, who also resembles a pudgy little boy.

All of the other ghosts in town go around scaring people.

But Casper is different.

Casper decides that instead of scaring people, like most ghosts, he wants to go around town and make friends.

Sadly, however, when Casper attempts to make friends, they discover that he is a ghost and they run off scared, many times with their teeth clattering behind them.

Although I don’t remember very much about the story lines from the Casper cartoons, I do remember the theme song from the show:

Casper, the friendly ghost.

The friendliest ghost you know.

Though grownups might

Look at him with fright

The children all love him so.

You might say that Casper is a ghost in need of an image makeover - because most people just assume that a ghost is creepy and scary.

Yet Casper, the friendly ghost, is loving and kind.

When I was growing up in the Episcopal Church, we did not refer to the Holy Trinity as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Instead, in the old days, we referred to the Holy Trinity as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

As a matter of fact, in the opening hymn that we sang on this festival morning of Pentecost, we sing:

Hail thee, festival day!

Day when the Holy Ghost shone in the world with God’s grace.

Yet whenever I think of the Holy Ghost, I must say that that image of Casper, the friendly ghost, creeps up from the realms of my childhood memories.

And I see that, just as Casper needed an image makeover,

The Holy Spirit needs an image makeover, as well.

In this last week, I prepared for this festival day of Pentecost, the day when we celebrate that the Holy Spirit was poured out on all people.

And as I prepared for Pentecost, I asked many different people this question:

What do you think about the Holy Spirit?

By and large, the initial reaction I got from most people was the same as if they had seen a ghost.

Most people’s first reaction was that the Holy Spirit is spooky and creepy and frightening.

And once again I realized:

The Holy Spirit is in need of an image makeover.

In the Gospel of John that we read this morning, Philip makes this request of Jesus:

“Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus then replies by saying that if we have seen Jesus, then we have seen the Father.

Now the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are all equal.

And the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit all reflect the nature of the one true God, a loving God revealed in three persons.

Therefore, given the equality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I believe that we can substitute Philip’s request to see the Father with a request to see the Holy Spirit.

With this substitution, Philip requests:

“Lord, show us the Holy Spirit and we will be satisfied.”

And then Jesus would reply by saying –

If we have seen Jesus, then we have seen the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is not some weird and freaky ghost who scares the living daylights out of us.

The Holy Spirit has the same nature and qualities as Jesus.

Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is loving and kind and joyful and fills us with justice and peace.

In some respects, I think that the story that we heard this morning from the Book of Acts is not helpful in improving the image of the Holy Spirit as some scary and weird ghost.

In the Book of Acts, we heard that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all people in Jerusalem, with a mighty wind and with tongues of fire.

Then, the people begin speaking in different languages.

Parthians, Medes, Elamites – all hear about God’s deeds of power in their own languages.

Immediately in our minds, we could have an image of the Holy Spirit as a force that makes everyone speak in tongues and roll around on the floor and handle snakes and raise our hands in the air and shout: Amen, Hallelujah!

And we wonder why the Holy Spirit has an image problem.

And while some people do encounter the Holy Spirit in amazing ways, for most of us the Holy Spirit is simply the Spirit of Jesus - who is still alive on this earth today.

The Holy Spirit is the spirit of love and joy and peace and kindness and gentleness.[1]

And I know, without a doubt, that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in your lives - in love and joy and peace.

I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and active when I see you spend hours of your free time volunteering in our schools and libraries and hospitals.

I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and active when I hear that you spend each and every morning in silent prayer at your breakfast room table, praying using Forward Day by Day.

I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and active when I see you reach out to a newcomer or a guest at this church with the same hospitality of Jesus.

I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and active when we worship in this church each Sunday - and the bread, the wine, the words, the music all wash over me in a peace, a peace that passes all understanding.

I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and active, not because you speak in tongues or perform fantastic miracles.

I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and active – because I see Jesus in you.

However, my brothers and sisters, I want us to talk about the Holy Spirit more.

I want us to name and acknowledge the Spirit’s power in our lives.

I want us to proclaim, boldly, that we love and serve and pray in ways that we could never imagine on our own – because of the Holy Spirit.

I want us to see the Holy Spirit, not as some scary and weird ghost, but as our powerful companion in every day life.

The theme song to that old cartoon used to go:

Casper, the friendly ghost,

The friendliest ghost you know.

Yet Casper is not the only spirit who wants to love and be a friend.

Casper is not the friendliest ghost you know.

The Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, is the friendliest ghost you know.


[1] See the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Come, Holy Spirit, Come

Tomorrow is the Day of Pentecost: the day, 50 days after Easter, when Luke (the writer of the Book of Acts) tells us that the Holy Spirit was poured out on all, in tongues of fire and a mighty wind.

In this week before Pentecost, I have pondered the Scripture readings for tomorrow, in getting ready for Bible studies, for sermon preparation and for personal reflection. I have asked many people in this last week: What do you think of the Holy Spirit?

And I have been a bit surprised that most people's first response is one of fear and confusion. To many, the qualities of the Holy Spirit do not match up with the qualities that we see in Jesus. To many, Jesus = love, peace, kindness. And the Holy Spirit = creepiness, fear, babbling in tongues and snake-handling.

As I prepare to enter the pulpit tomorrow on this festival day, I want us to give the Holy Spirit an image makeover in our hearts. I want us to see the Holy Spirit working in our lives, in beautiful and "non-creepy" ways. I want us to not turn our noses up at the thought of the Holy Spirit. I do not want us to give he/she/it the cold shoulder.

I want us to pray, with every fiber of our being:

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

Friday, May 21, 2010

For Christ's Sake, Be a Crucifer

This blog is now a place to accumulate some of my writings, especially in my vocation as a priest.

For my first blog post, I offer a sermon from March 15, 2009, titled "Crucifer." It is the theology in this sermon, of preaching Christ crucified - and the last line of this sermon, that is the impetus behind the title of my blog: Crucifer.

March 15, 2009
(Lent 3 - Year B)
1 Corinthians 1: 18-25
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

Last Thursday, when it was cold and rainy outside, a 30 year old man dropped in to St. Alban’s in the afternoon.
This young man had just gotten engaged to be married and he was looking for a place for their wedding.

Such requests do happen occasionally, because we have such a beautiful church building and because the Episcopal marriage liturgy is so meaningful.
I like to use these opportunities to show hospitality and welcome, because we are a family of God that welcomes all people.
So, last Thursday afternoon, I stepped away from whatever I was doing at my desk, and I took this young man inside the church to look around.

Once I turned on the lights in here, he looked around for a full view of this wonderful worship space.
Then, he turned to me and said:
“You know, I was raised in the Episcopal Church.
I used to carry the cross in church.”

I am sure that he was referring to when he was an acolyte.
And just like most things in the Episcopal Church, we never call something by its real name, we have to have a fancy name for everything.
Rather than calling those who carry the cross a “cross carrier,”
Instead, we call them a “crucifer.”

And I think that it is particularly fitting that the people in our church who are the cross carriers, who are the crucifers, are teenagers.
The crucifer leads the procession into worship.
The crucifer leads the priest down the aisle to read the good news.
The crucifer leads us out into the world to proclaim Christ crucified.

Last Thursday, that newly-engaged man looked around our church and said:
“I was raised in the Episcopal Church.
I used to carry the cross.”

This man did not say:
In the Episcopal Church, I learned about the virgin birth or about inspiring music or about “family values.”
Instead, he said:
I carried the cross.

Being a crucifer, being a cross carrier, is the first thing that he recounted about being an Episcopalian.
And if our church is best remembered for proclaiming the message of the cross, then we are on the right track.

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church, the Corinthians were not on the right track.
The Greeks proclaimed a message that lifted up wisdom and eloquent speeches.
The Jews could not believe a message about a God who is the victim of capital punishment on a cross.
Yet Paul was the bold crucifer who carried the cross down the aisle of the Corinthian church, writing:
“Jews demand miraculous signs
And Greeks desire wisdom,
But we preach Christ crucified.”

We preach Christ crucified.
For me, for Jeff Fisher, this verse is one of the most important passages in the New Testament.

For the world demands miracles and signs.
Society desires iron-clad arguments and proofs for Christianity.
But we preach Christ crucified.

For me, for Jeff Fisher, I am sick and tired of a message of Christianity that is really just self-help tips on how to improve my marriage.
I am sick and tired of a message of Christianity that is just old arguments about creation vs. evolution and about sexuality and about when the second coming will be.
I am sick and tired of a message of Christianity that is anything except taking the cross and carrying it high -
Carrying the cross in the church and in the barrios and in the country club and in the streets.
As for me,
I want to preach Christ crucified.

I want to preach Christ crucified because the cross, to me, is the basic proof that I need for the existence and presence of God.
When I am present at the deathbed of someone, when I experience their cross, then I know, I have experienced, that God is there.
When I quit my job in order to be ordained, when I walked out of my corporate office in a veil of tears, then I know, I have experienced, that God is there.
Whenever I have carried the cross, in church and in the world, God has been uniquely present.

Therefore, I want to shout out to you - and to the world:
The Son of God was murdered on a cross - to show us that there is no place, no place, where God is not present.
There is no place, no place, where God does not love you.

There was a long-time member of this church named Lillian Sauer, who died last December when she was well in her 90s.
Lillian’s husband, George Sauer, had been the head football coach at Baylor during the 1950s.
A long time ago, the Sauer family was very active here at St. Alban’s.

However, for many, many years, Lillian Sauer lived a life of carrying the cross.
Her husband, George, died the long, slow death of Alzheimer’s.

Then, Lillian’s son, George Sauer, Jr. was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, when he was only in his mid-50s.
So, Lillian walked the way of the cross, the long road of Alzheimer’s, not only with her husband, but then also with her son.

George Jr. had been a highly-acclaimed wide receiver for the New York Jets.
Yet when I met him, he was no longer a famous football player.
And he would wander away from home, for days at a time, not remembering where he lived.

A few years ago, just days before Christmas, Lillian asked that I bring her Christmas communion.
While I was visiting with her, George Jr. walked in the door, after having been gone for hours at a time, and he hurried into his bedroom.
I asked Lillian:
“Do you think that George would want to take communion with us?”
She replied:
“Oh, I seriously doubt it - I don’t think he has believed in God for years and years.”

After a minute, George emerged from his room to get something from the kitchen.
I called out to him:
“George - would you like to join us for communion?”
He stopped in his tracks and said:
“Yes -- I think I will.”

The 3 of us then sat in the living room and shared the Body and Blood of Christ, each of us, with tears in our eyes.
Lillian later told me it was the best Christmas present she had ever received.
At the end of the service, I packed up my communion kit to go.
George then asked if he could walk me to my car.
Slowly, we walked out into the cold December air.
Once we got to my car door, this former professional football player looked me in the eyes and said:
“You know -
I used to carry the cross in church.”

What George did not fully comprehend was that he was still carrying the cross.
However, the cross he was proclaiming was not the beautiful, brass cross that he carried in this church as a teenager.
Yet, in his life, in the life of his dear, old mother, I saw the cross.
In George’s cross - and in his eyes - I saw all the proof that I need that God is alive and at work in this world, in our sufferings and in our Alzheimer’s and in our sorrows.

For the world demands a life without pain,
And the medical community desires a cure for every disease.
But George Sauer preaches Christ crucified.

Your life, I am sure, preaches Christ crucified.
So, do not be afraid to lift high the cross.
Then carry that cross - into these streets and into your office and into your school and into your neighborhood.
And preach Christ crucified.

Because the world in which you and I live is sick and tired of hearing about a Christianity without the Cross.

So for Christ’s sake, be
A crucifer.


[1] A conflation of both NRSV and NIV translations