It is hard to believe that it was a week ago we had Tim's visitation (Friday) and Funeral (Saturday). It was a spectacular celebration, for those of you who missed it. Pr. Mark Nelson's sermon was a particular highlight, and I share his comments below. The Gospel was Luke 4:16-30.
with love, Christine
This sermon was preached at the funeral of Tim Fisher on May 11, 2019 at Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. My thanks to Russell Kleckley for his words used with permission and Bishop Guy Irwin’s whose were not. I ran across them too late to seek him out but his words regarding Tim and the hope of the resurrection were simply too meaningful not to pass on. My apologies, Bishop Irwin. By request, I also include the additional words of Tim’s commendation. Finally, the many gathered on this day were a tribute to Tim and the glimpse of the Kingdom he gave us. Blessed be his memory. ~ Pr. Mark Nelson
“The Kingdom of God is Among Us”—Tim Fisher—May 11, 2019
Christine, Pete, Ann; Don and Gina, family and friends: Grace to you and peace, from God and from Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.
We are gathered here because Tim has touched each of us. Tim has touched this congregation, Nokomis Heights. Has touched the larger Church. And many, many others in special ways. As a member of that larger group, I’d like to say something on our behalf in a bit. But before I do, I would like to speak a word to a smaller circle in Tim’s life. Pete and Ann. And Chris.
Pete and Ann: We are grateful to you for your son! While you never lived in Minneapolis, you were present in Tim for those of us who did. Like you, Pete, Tim was thoughtful. Smart. With an engineer-like ability at do-it-yourself projects.
For those of us who were less mechanically inclined, it was humbling to go over to Tim and Chris’ house. Often there was something being created. And we’re not talking about a little bit of gardening here and a wood repair there. We’re talking massive backyard earth-moving, Corps-of-Engineer-scale projects! Upstairs demolitions! Years in the planning and executing. In Tim’s hands, the results were always precise and simple and graceful. Lovingly tended.
And going to Tim and Chris’ home was to know the warm welcome and hospitality of family. Like you, Ann, Tim was a gracious host who was unfailingly loyal to friends over many, many years. Ann and Pete, we are grateful for your son. We thank you for Tim and our hearts break for you today.
Chris. Tim said that he had a premonition while sitting in a class with you at St. Olaf: “I will marry her.” And years later he did! Tim and Chris were married right here. In this spot. On June 13th, 1998. Tim wrote a poem for their wedding day. It was called, “Love’s Natural Mirror.” When I was preparing for their wedding, I asked him about the poem—some line in it. “Tim, what does this phrase mean?” And he looked at me, with that Tim smirk on his face, which said, “I’m not going to tell you. You figure it out.” I finally said, “So. It’s one of those, ‘if I have to explain it to you’ things, right?” And he said, “Right.”
Every marriage is a mystery. But here’s what we outsiders saw of yours—we saw in you two a couple who did everything together—because you wanted to. You enjoyed being together. The antiquing. The adventuring. Appreciating beauty wherever you found it. You and Tim—together—were a joy to be around.
And you and Tim were for each other. Especially so, during these last years of Tim’s illness. One of my favorite Gospel images comes from John (John 19). A simple verse. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, Mary, his mother.” We’re not told Mary said anything. There was little she could do. But she didn’t flee. She stood by. She stayed. Chris, you stood by Tim. Tim said so himself: “Chris has been a wonderful caregiver and advocate.” Even though it broke your heart over and over again to see him struggle, you stood by him. You stood in for God. Chris, you were the grace of God for Tim. And our hearts break for you today.
And I would like to say something today on behalf of the rest of us. Those of us in Tim’s larger circle—his friends, his colleagues, those in the Church and across the country whom Tim influenced.
Sometimes I hear people ask, “Where have all the prophets gone?” Where are the people with enough passion for justice—with enough poetry in their souls to capture our imaginations with a vision of God’s reality that is more attractive than our own? According to Luke, Jesus’ inspiration for his own ministry came from the prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quoted: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
As Johan said [in his eulogy], Tim preached on this text. He was inspired by it, too. And it’s not a stretch to say that Tim, too, was a prophet, bringing the Good News of God’s Kingdom.
And he did it primarily with words. When I think of Tim, I think of the prophet Micah. Micah is called one of the “minor” prophets in the Old Testament. But there was nothing minor about his thinking. Like all prophets, Micah was sent as a human alarm clock to wake up people who had gone to sleep on God. And he sounded the alarm with words.
So did Tim. Tim used words that cut right through the cotton that is stuffed in so many of our ears. With words that disarmed us with their beauty and power and reason—all with the conviction that people—God’s people—can change.
There is a particular portion of one verse from Micah that captures Tim for me. You know it. From Chapter 6. It reads: “God has showed you what is good….to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” These phrases can’t really be pulled apart. They belong together; each one is dependent on the other two. And Tim was the living expression of them all.
“Do justice.” The hard one. To do justice is to seek the right thing when it would be easier to do the easy thing. In its strictest sense, justice means fair play. Making sure all God’s children inherit their fair share of God’s good gifts. And if they don’t—because someone has swindled them out of their birthright or because they were not strong enough to hold onto it— then justice means doing whatever is necessary to sort out what belongs to whom and return it to them. And this is difficult.
Tim’s life work was seeking justice for LGBT people. Early on, he saw that gay and lesbian people had been hurt by the Church. And, as he said, “In some cases really, really humiliated in a lot of ways.” Tim’s first response? “I want to do something to help.” And help he did.
But advocacy was a challenge. Early on, Tim wrote me: “I’ve been working hard on that same BIG OL’ HAIRY ISSUE. (He wrote that in capital letters!). One of the worst parts of it is that I’ve been working more or less in isolation. I’ve been trying to get people to read my resolution, my rationale, and strategy, but it’s been a struggle.”
It was difficult to talk about justice. Not only because the layers of justice go so deep. They’re hard to undo. But also because the word itself has taken on such a hard edge. “Zero tolerance.” “Three strikes and you’re out.” I don’t know if any of you watch TV but maybe some of you have watched Judge Judy. You know, the courtroom drama. The motto for her show is, “Justice with an attitude.”
Well Micah believed in justice with an attitude. Only the attitude was—guess what? Kindness, mercy. “Do justice,” he said. And love kindness. Justice and kindness go together.
Tim never left his heart out of the faith business. Fierce? Yes! But always kind. The testimonies to Tim’s kindness go on and on. His kindness and mercy were disarming. Russell Kleckley spoke for many of us when describing Tim: “He never alienated people who didn’t see things the same way he did,” Russell wrote. “He respected people who opposed his beliefs.” Justice, for Tim, wasn’t all in his head. Justice was also deep down inside of him. He groaned with those who groaned. Suffered with those who suffered.
“Do justice. Love kindness………..Walk humbly with your God.” That one’s pretty straightforward. Walk. Don’t sleep. Don’t sit. Don’t stay right where you are. Move your feet. Move! Walk humbly with your God. Leave the land that is familiar to you; the land where you feel safe and comfortable. Following God? Wherever! Wherever God is needed the most. Wherever God is showing up next and may need an extra hand.
According to my Bible, this is the only occurrence of the Hebrew word that may be translated “lowly” or “humble.” But it also means, “prepared.” So walking with God means more than just showing up. It means being ready. Being alert. Being prepared to keep up with God at whatever pace God chooses to walk.
That’s Tim! Listen to Bishop Guy Irwin’s words to Tim in March: “I think I speak not just for myself but for many others, too, for whom your calm, patient, persistent presence as an ally and an advocate has been inspiring and encouraging. It just feels like you’ve always been there for us—without ever saying too much, showing us love by showing up, and by all the hard work I know you did behind the scenes.”
“Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.” Tim lived those words. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him. Anointing him to proclaim release to the captives; letting the oppressed go free. The result? From his initial involvement here at Nokomis Heights. To his work with Lutherans Concerned/North America. Throughout the whole Church. Tim wrote and spoke and traveled; working for justice for all LGBT people. Tim, Lutherans Concerned, and many others were instrumental in changing hearts and minds.
And Tim was there, in the middle of it all, when in 2009 the ELCA voted to change its policy to allow gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve as pastors. It was a remarkable moment. And—once again—the Kingdom of God was among us. And all of us are grateful to Tim for being a prophet of that Kingdom.
And though Tim has died, Tim’s words and dreams for God’s people do not. He changed us and will continue to change us. His voice is hushed but not his message. His hands finally at rest but not his good works. His heart stilled, but not his love for Chris, for his family, for all of us—never, never his love.
It’s a love that will not die. It is the never-ending love of God in Christ found in the promise of the resurrection for Tim and for us. Bishop Irwin, again, describes this hope well in that same letter. “I live, and hope to die, in the trust that God loves me and wants good for me. I see and feel that love in God’s presence in my life: in the bread and wine, in the water and word proclaimed. I claim God’s love for myself—and claim it for you [Tim] and Christine, and for all whom you have shown God’s love in your care and witness, and who are praying for peace and comfort for you know. In whatever kind of mystery God holds ahead for us all, I believe we will find together a peace and joy more complete and perfect than we can imagine, and that we and all we have loved will be drawn together into one great, ineffable Love—the love that is God.”
Meanwhile; meanwhile, good people of God—if we learn nothing else from Tim’s life, we have learned what justice and compassion look like when they’re walking around in flesh and blood. We’ve been blessed. All of us. By Tim. Who—made out of the same basic stuff we all are—brought good news to the poor and proclaimed release to the captives. Who had faith that God’s dreams do come true. Who trusted that he—and all of us—have every single thing we need every day of our lives. To do justice. And love kindness. And walk humbly with our God. Thanks be to God for Tim.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Take him, earth, for cherishing, to thy tender breast receive him. Body of a man I bring thee, noble even in its ruin.
‘Once was this a spirit’s dwelling, by the breath of God created. High the heart that here was beating, Christ the prince of all its living…Take him, earth, for cherishing.”
—Portion of “Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing,” by Prudentius (348-413)