Sermon for October 6, 2019
Friday was the feast of Saint Francis. Francis is the most beloved of all the saints. When people are asked which saint they most admire, the answer is Saint Francis. As we honor Francis, we celebrate the fact that he was especially connected with nature. That is why he is the patron saint of environment and animals. The picture on the front of the bulletin is a typical image of Francis, surrounded by animals, off by himself living in nature. We have been told that he preached to the birds. The story is told that he calmed a man-eating wolf. I think he was an animal whisperer, someone who had a special touch with animals. Just as animals meant so much to Francis, we bring our pets to church to have them blessed because they mean so much to us. Our pets give us company, they greet us with joy when we return home after a bad day and they know when we are sad or sick so they come to comfort us. All this we do in remembrance that Francis was so closely connected to nature. We often imagine Francis as a quiet and calm person off by himself in nature.
But there is much more to the story of Francis than that of an animal lover, perhaps the first animal activist. In the first place, he did not grow up as a saint. He was born into a wealthy family and as a young man, liked to party and rebelled against the rules. He dreamed of becoming a famous knight and receiving acclaim for his daring deeds on the battlefield. So, Francis was excited when his city, Assisi, entered into a war with a neighboring town, Perugia. I am sure that the wealthy Francis was outfitted with splendor. Sadly, his town was overwhelmed in the battle and Francis was taken prisoner. He was imprisoned for a year until a ransom was paid by his family.
His time in prison caused a dramatic change in Francis. He slowly turned his attention to God. Francis connected with the poor and the sick. Francis had a vision of Jesus asking him to repair the church. Francis understood that call from Jesus literally. He took some fabric from his father’s shop and sold it to give money the church. His father considered it stealing, brought him before the bishop who simply asked that he return the money to his father. Francis refused, disowned his father and immediately turned to a life of poverty. Just as he rebelled against the rules of life as a teenager, he rebelled against the common understanding of wealth in his time and turned his life over to God.
He wasn’t afraid to confront challenges either. It is told that during the Fifth Crusade, Francis traveled to Syria seeking to convert Muslim people to Christianity. He was captured and met the Sultan and convinced the Sultan of the beauty of the Christian faith. Another story is told that he battled with the ruling bodies of the church. He was told that he must control all of his followers and that total poverty was too much of a burden for anyone to bear. It is believed that he had several altercations with the pope.
You see Francis was not a quiet person who chose poverty over wealth and nature over civilization. Francis was a fighter, someone who was so convinced of his faith in Jesus that he would take up the fight with his father, the bishop, the pope, the Sultan, anyone to convince them to follow Jesus. Francis is a great example of a consistent message found in Scripture today. The message is about the power of faith and the gifts we have been given by God. That message is most clearly stated in this passage from 2nd Timothy, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline”.
It is a good day to reflect on all of the gifts we have been given. And none is greater than the gift of faith. Faith is found throughout our lessons today. The author of the letter to Timothy wrote “I am reminded of your sincere faith”. It was a gift given by God and nurtured by Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Paul was thankful for the faith that was given to Timothy, for the faith with that has been given to every one of us. We too can be thankful because of the faith of others, people who show us how to live. I am thankful that my parents demonstrated their sincere faith to me and their courage and faith helped me even in those times, like Francis, that I strayed from God.
Paul specifically encouraged Timothy to rekindle the gifts that he had been given by God. Timothy was given the gift of proclaiming the gospel. Each of us has different gifts but the same spirit lives in us. Can we turn to the Holy Spirit and ask the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on fire? Can we fan the flame of faith that may have died a little bit in us and turn it into a roaring fire, a power that helps us to live the gospel of Jesus in all that we do?
Our faith is not always the burning, emphatic and strong faith that we would wish. We are often like the apostles who asked Jesus to increase their faith. They did so because they believed that with a stronger faith, they could deal with the ups and downs that life was sending to them. The response that Jesus gave was not a put down. I find it really encouraging. You don’t need a great deal of faith, Jesus said. Even just a little faith is enough to make magnificent things happen. In Luke, Jesus said their faith could move the strong mulberry tree. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus said their faith could move mountains. I don’t think that faith is some magic which allows us to do things unimaginable given our understanding of science. But I do think there is great power in faith. Saint Francis began his new life with just a little faith. That small amount of faith grew until Francis was able to share with us a whole new understanding of how we are to follow God. It brought kings to their knees, it reminded clergy leaders of their duties to their people. Faith isn’t something that we quantify. Faith is what lifts up our hearts when we wonder what is the right thing to do. What have you been able to accomplish with just a little faith? What might you be able to still do if you let faith be your guide?
Faith is a power that helps us in the most difficult times. The reading from Lamentations for today is the sad reflection of the Jewish people after the destruction of Jerusalem by the invading armies of Babylon. The writer describes the loneliness of one who has suffered great loss. The tears describe someone who is distraught. The grieve is real.
The Psalm seems to be a continuation of that overwhelming loss. The people who were taken into exile can no longer sing the songs of the glory of Jerusalem. They have to hang up their harps. But their faith has not been destroyed. They pray that they will never forget the place of God, Zion. Even in great distress, their faith saved them. They demonstrated inceasing devotion and loyalty to Jerusalem. Sadly the Psalm ends with one of the worst verses in all of Scripture. The Jewish people were so upset at the loss of their Godly home they wanted revenge over their conquerors. They looked for such a stunning revenge that they prayed for the babies of their enemies to be killed. We pray that we will not have such thoughts in our hearts. We pray that God will help us to forgive those who have destroyed all that we care for.
Saint Francis chose God over the common perceptions of the day. He listened totally to the message Jesus gave to the rich man, “sell all of your possessions and come, follow me”. He encouraged us to show love to our fellow humans. The prayer attributed to Saint Francis asks God to help us use our gifts for peace and for the improvement of the life of everyone. The Franciscan order carries this message even today and seems willing to find its own space somewhat removed from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
I don’t think that we must sell all of our possessions as Francis did to be true followers of Jesus. But I do believe that the message of Francis is found in the message to Timothy. Let us rekindle the gifts that God has given us. Let us trust that just a little faith can make a big difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Amen.
Last modified on Monday, 07 October 2019 15:22
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