Sunday, October 03, 2010

Francis on Sunday

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville FL
The Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
October 3, 2010

The Blessing of the Animals in Honor of St. Francis of Assisi
Matthew 11:25-30

Francis on Sunday

We go to church on Sunday because the Church considers every Sunday to be a feast dedicated to Jesus – to be, in fact, a “little Easter.” Every Sunday we remember and celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And as we hear the Word of God, sing our hymns, pray together, exchange the peace and most of all when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ we deepen our commitment to be a follower of Jesus, to be part of the Body of Christ.

So, every Sunday is dedicated to Jesus. On many of the other days of the week the church remembers some extraordinary people who have lived lives devoted to Jesus; who have lived lives that pointed to Jesus. Some of those people are not very well known. For example, on Friday we remembered St. Remigius. Extra credit to anyone who can tell me one fact about his life!

Others are very famous and much-beloved – like St. Francis, whose feast day is tomorrow. So, we’re bending the rules a bit by honoring Francis today, but I think it’s worth it, because Francis lived a life totally devoted to Christ. And so, by honoring him, we honor the One to whom he devoted his life. And we’re reminded that our faith calls for us to have that same kind of radical devotion to our crucified and risen Lord.

Francis was born in 1181 or 1182 into a wealthy merchant family northern Italy. No surprise, when he was young he had some money so he really liked having a good time, but a year as a prisoner of war and a vision directing him back to Assisi sent his life in a different direction.

In 1207, while praying in a ruined chapel Francis heard Jesus call to him, saying, “Francis, Francis, go and rebuild my house.” Naturally enough, Francis began to rebuild the crumbling chapel stone by stone and then he went on to repair other churches. His radical change of direction led to a break with his father and his old friends.

Gradually, though, Francis came to understand that Jesus was calling him to something much bigger and more radical than repairing falling-down church buildings. Instead, Jesus was calling Francis to rebuild the Church that in his day had largely lost its way, had grown corrupt, whose leaders had forgotten that Jesus called them - and calls all of us - to lives of service and simplicity.

Jesus calls all of us to take on his yoke – to obey Jesus, to follow Jesus, to put our trust in Jesus.

Francis devoted his life to obeying Jesus’ command to give up everything and proclaim the Good News – sometime through words but mostly through his actions. You’d think that kind of life would be hard and miserable, yet by all reports, Francis was a remarkably joyful person.

Francis discovered that Jesus’ yoke really is easy and his burden really is light.

That kind of devotion and integrity and joy is attractive, and soon other men began to join Francis’ movement and women began to gather around his friend Clare. And the Franciscan religious orders for men and women were born and continue to echo the life and work and faith of Francis.

It was important to Francis that we not separate our work and our prayer. He believed our whole life should be a prayer. And since that means we’re doing a lot of praying out in the world, then we are going to encounter God in nature. So, Francis is associated with deep devotion to Christ and also a deep appreciation for God’s creation, a deep love for nature.

Francis knew that if we’re open and paying attention, we’re going to encounter God in Brother Sun and Sister Moon, through Brother Wind and Sister Water, through Brother Fire and Sister Mother Earth. If we’re open and paying attention, we can encounter God in all of the earth’s creatures – even alligators.

For Sue and me this is a difficult day, because our own cat, Noelle, is each day struggling a little more with cancer of the jaw. Over the ten years she’s been with us, she has poured out a lot of love for us – even after we put her in a cat carrier and drove her to Florida! And over the ten years she’s been with us, loving her has made Sue and me more loving people – more aware of what God’s love is like.

And so today we ask God’s blessing on Noelle and all our pets. We ask God’s blessing on Brother Dog and Sister Cat, because through their love and companionship we experience God’s love. Today we bless Brother Fish and Sister Bird, because our care for them reminds us of how we are to treat all our brothers and sisters, and how we are to treat every living thing.

Because of his love of nature, we have a tendency to sentimentalize Francis. But, make no mistake, Francis was a radical who gave away his life in obedience to and in imitation of Jesus Christ.

And near the end of his life, Francis’ desire to imitate Christ was rewarded with the gift of the stigmata – Francis suffered the same wounds suffered by the crucified Christ. His imitation of Christ was complete.

Inspired by the example of Francis, may we all follow Jesus with great joy and devotion, taking on Jesus’ easy yoke and his light burden, transforming our lives into prayer, and building the Kingdom of God right here on earth.