Sunday, October 27, 2013

People are Complicated. God is Simple.

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
October 27, 2013

Year C, Proper24: The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

People are Complicated. God is Simple.
            I received an email this week from the Bishop’s Office asking me to schedule a phone conversation with Bishop Beckwith to talk about our upcoming Celebration of New Ministry here at St. Paul’s.
            Like many of you, I’ve already been thinking about – and planning - our celebration. But that email certainly focused my attention! Our celebration on November 9 is getting close!
            And, as I’ve said before, I really hope that this will be our celebration, not just a service and party to celebrate my installation as rector of St. Paul’s. I want this to be an opportunity for us to look back on what this wonderful church has meant to us and so many others, to rejoice in all that has been accomplished with God’s help, and to look ahead at the exciting - beyond our wildest dreams - future that God has in store for us.
            I’ve been trying to include as many different people as possible to have roles in the service. And, Gail and I have been planning music that we hope will be most meaningful for us.
            In terms of music, I did make one special request.
            I’ve invited our parishioner Dennis Doran to sing “A Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. Some of you St. Paul’s old-timers may remember him singing it here a few times years ago. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music and I love the way Dennis sings it. So, I’m really glad that Dennis has agreed to sing it for us on November 9.
            Unfortunately for Sue, that piece has been in my head and, as she can tell you, I’ve been humming it and sort-of singing it, for the past couple of weeks. I’ll spare you my singing but here are the words:
            “Sing God a simple song.
            Make it up as you go along.
            Sing like you like to sing.
            God loves all simple things.
            For God is the simplest of all.”
            God is the simplest of all.
            I’m guessing we don’t usually think of God as simple – and certainly not the simplest of all. And yet, when you stop and think about it – when we reflect on God as revealed in and through Jesus – we realize that God really is simple – God really is the simplest of all.
            God is pure love.
            God is pure love poured out on us – poured into us – if only we open our eyes and ears and minds. God is pure love poured out on us – poured into us – if only we open our hearts.
            God is the simplest of all.
            But, you and I, we’re not simple at all.
            This will probably sound pretty obvious, but people are complicated. In fact, we’re so complicated that we probably don’t even really know just how complicated we are!
            We carry around lots of heavy baggage: regrets about the past, wondering about roads not taken, and opportunities that passed us by. We are burdened by feelings of insecurity – of just not being good enough, of not being worthy or not being lovable. We are burdened by disappointments - by hopes and dreams that just didn’t work out – by love and affection that were not returned to us. We are wounded by hurts inflicted by people we loved and trusted. We are wounded by hurts that were self-inflicted.
            People are complicated. God is simple.
            We carry around lots of baggage: we compete with each other, measuring ourselves against others, trying to get ahead of the other guy or gal, so that others will look at us and see “success” – so they’ll see someone who has made it – they’ll see someone who is living the dream. We have all sorts of agendas that complicate our relationships with other people – we look down on others – we use people – how can this person help me get what I want – we reduce people into things - all the while never considering or remembering that others have their own hopes and dreams just like we do.
            People are complicated. God is simple.
            Probably no one has ever described just how complicated we are better than St. Paul in his letter to the Romans where he writes,
            “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.”
            People are complicated. God is simple.
            Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke picks up right where we left off last week. You may remember we heard the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge. Through that parable, Jesus teaches us to be spiritually persistent – to keep praying – to keep gathering together here even when - especially when - we don’t feel like it.
            Now, today, Jesus offers another parable on prayer.
            In his introduction, Luke tips us off on the parable’s meaning. He writes, “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”
            Which raises the question, just how could we ever think we can be righteous and treat others with contempt?
            Anyway. People are complicated.
            The parable contrasts the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
            The Pharisee – someone who everybody would have recognized as a very religious person – somehow still feels the need to show off to God. He thanks God that he’s not like these sinners and then he rattles off all of his religious practices.
            Now, I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that there’s a lot going on with this Pharisee. I can understand showing to other people how good and faithful he is. I bet we’ve all encountered people like that – people who want to impress us with how holy they are, how much they give, how much they do for others…
            I get that. But, to do that while praying? Boasting to God? Showing off to God –the One who sees all and knows all? Weird.
            People are complicated.
            And then there’s the tax collector – a person who in that time and place no one would ever consider holy. And, obviously, he doesn’t think of himself as good or holy.
            He stands far off with his eyes lowered. He beats his breast and he cries out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
            Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other, for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
            Now, I don’t know how many of us exalt ourselves either with others or in our prayer. If we do, Jesus’ message is clear.
            But, today’s gospel lesson also reminds us that, although we are complicated, our prayer doesn’t have to be – shouldn’t be – complicated.
            When we pray to God who is pure love, we can put down our heavy baggage, our regrets, our insecurities and our disappointments.
            When we pray to God who is pure love, we can hand over our heavy baggage, our competition, our desire to get what we want, our agendas.
            The great Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila once said, The closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes.”
            People are complicated – we’re complicated - but God is simple, so let’s sing God a simple song. Let’s make it up as we go along. Let’s sing like we like to sing. God loves all simple things.
            For God is the simplest of all.
            For God is the simplest of all.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Spiritual Persistence

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
October 20, 2013

Year C, Proper 24: The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Spiritual Persistence
            As you might guess, being back here these past few months has brought back lots of memories of when Sue and I were parishioners at St. Paul’s. Every day I’m surrounded by reminders of so many generous, wise and faithful people who played such important roles in my life – people who were especially supportive when I was making my way along the long and twisting road to ordination.
            There were times along that long and twisting road when I would sometimes get discouraged. I’d wonder if I had made a big mistake. I’d think it would have been much easier – and smarter - to have remained a teacher – a job, after all, that I liked a lot.
            There were times that I would get frustrated by seminary – the commute into the city every day, the focus on things that often didn’t seem so important to me, the challenge of belonging to a community where nearly all my classmates lived on campus and I was one of the few commuters.
            There were times that I’d get frightened about the future. I’d look at the shrinking size of churches throughout our diocese and wonder if it would really possible to live my dream of serving as a parish priest. I’d see the long list of men and women in the ordination process and ask if there really could be enough jobs for all of these priests.
            My wife Sue was, as always, a huge help and support during those years, helping me get through challenging and exhausting times.
            Many of you – whether you knew it or not – through your prayers and love helped get me through.
            And then, there was our rector, David Hamilton.
            In his usual lovably gruff and blunt way, he’d get me to stop worrying and to quit feeling sorry for myself.
            He had two lines that I must have heard him say to me a hundred times.
            The first was, “There are always good jobs for good people.”
            Helpful, though, to be honest, especially these days, I’m not so sure.
            And the other one was:
            “Persistence is rewarded.”
            Persistence is rewarded.
            That’s something we’re taught in lots of areas of life, isn’t it? When faced with a challenge, we’re taught to keep plugging away, keep chipping away, keep working, keep trying…
            So, in school when we’re up against a subject that gives us trouble – let’s say, math, just as an example – we’re taught to keep studying, ask our teacher for extra help, get into a study group, work with a tutor.
            At work we’re encouraged to work harder than the next guy or gal, to put in the extra effort and the extra time, to get in early and stay late, to bring work home at night and on the weekends.
            Persistence is rewarded.
            Well, sometimes.
            The truth – which is hard for some of us to accept – is that out in the world sometimes persistence is not rewarded. And sometimes too much persistence can be bad for us. We can burn out. We can wear out. Too much persistence can hurt us. Sometimes the time comes to admit that we’ve done all that we can do and just stop beating our heads against the wall.
            In today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke, we have a parable about someone whose persistence was rewarded.
            Jesus tells this little story of the persistent widow coming to the judge repeatedly, saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”
            We’re not told anything about the widow except that she’s a widow and that she’s persistent. We have no idea if her case has merit. We do know that widows in the First Century – and, for that matter, in much of the world today – were extremely weak and vulnerable, dependent on the generosity and support of children or other relatives.
            So, it’s pretty gutsy for this widow to be persistent.
            We are, however, told a little more about the judge. We’re told that he doesn’t fear God or respect people. So, it would seem unlikely that this hard and unfaithful judge is going to show any mercy to the widow no matter how hard she tries.
            There is some humor in the story, too.
            In the translation I just read the judge says, “…because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
            That’s a little amusing.
            But, the original Greek is stronger and funnier.
            “Keeps bothering me” can be translated as “keeps beating me.”
            And “wear me out’ can be translated as “give me a black eye.”
            So, we might imagine the widow punching the judge, threatening to give him a black eye. Maybe a real black eye - or a metaphor for damaging his reputation.
            Well, anyway, the judge gives in to the persistent widow and gives her what she wants.
            The widow’s persistence is rewarded.
            Now, I can easily imagine other endings of the story. The judge gets fed up and throws her in jail. The widow’s persistence eventually becomes an obsession and she’s driven out of her mind, becoming a laughingstock, an embarrassment to her family, becoming even weaker and more vulnerable.
            But, the point of the parable isn’t to encourage us to be more persistent at school, or work, or even in court.
            Jesus is teaching us about our relationship with God.
            Jesus ends the parable with a couple of rhetorical questions:
            “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will grant justice to them.”
            Remember how Luke tipped us off at the start, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
            Spiritual persistence is different from persistence in school, at work, or in court.
            Spiritual persistence is never really done on our own.
            Spiritual persistence is always done with God – God who is always calling us, always reaching out to us, strengthening us.
            And spiritual persistence is what we do together, here in the Christian community.
            We come here from all different places – different geography but also very different spiritual places. Some of us, right this minute, are worn out and filled with sadness and dread – regretful or embarrassed about the past, lonely without people we love or loved, worried about the present and the future.
            “How could I have been so stupid? How will I pay my bills? What will the doctor say? Where’s God? Things are so bad; I should just throw in the towel and give up.”
            And some of us, right this minute, are filled with joy and hope – grateful for good choices and exciting opportunities, looking forward to the future, touched by the love of family and friends.
            “I’m so glad I decided to do this. I’m glad to be able to put away some money for the future. I’m so thankful the doctor said it was nothing. I feel God so close to me. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
            And some of us, I’d guess, are somewhere in between.
            But, wherever we’re coming from – whether it’s a place of sadness and dread, or a place of joy and hope, or somewhere in between – we come here to persist.
            Spiritual persistence is coming here together to say the prayers, to sing the hymns, to reach out our hands in peace, to take the Body of Christ into our bodies and into our hearts.
            Spiritual persistence is coming here so that the joyful and the hopeful can hold up the sad and the dread-filled – and the sad and the dread-filled can remind the joyful and the hopeful that we all inevitably experience loss, disappointment and grief.
            Spiritual persistence is coming here together week after week – times when we really don’t feel like it and times when we can’t wait to see the brown shingles of St. Paul’s once again.
            Spiritual persistence is coming here - the sad and the joyful here together - so that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on earth.
            Spiritual persistence – spiritual persistence together right here at St. Paul’s - is always rewarded.
            Just look around.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"An Attitude of Gratitude"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
October 13, 2013

Year C, Proper 23: The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

“An Attitude of Gratitude”
            Last week we began our stewardship campaign. We didn’t come up with a new slogan. Maybe we should. A number of years ago my former parish used a stewardship slogan that I like a lot, “An Attitude of Gratitude.”
            “An attitude of gratitude.”
            Well, in the section of Luke’s Gospel that we heard both last Sunday and today, Jesus has a whole lot to say about gratitude.
            In my sermon last week, I focused on the first part of the gospel lesson, where Jesus tells the apostles – his closest followers and friends – that if they had faith only the size of a tiny mustard seed they could say to a mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea” and it would obey.
            Jesus told the apostles – tells us here today – that if we have faith only the size of a tiny mustard seed we can do truly amazing things.
            But there was a second part of last week’s gospel lesson that I didn’t mention in my sermon.
            After Jesus’ teaching on faith the mustard seed, Luke quotes Jesus asking the apostles a rhetorical question:
            "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?”
            The apostles would have known that the answer to Jesus’ question is, of course, NO! Right or wrong, when the slave comes in after a days work the master doesn’t tell him or her to take it easy and enjoy the meal. No, the slave’s work continues. And the master is certainly not obliged or expected to say thank you.
            And then Jesus throws in a command to the apostles – and to us:
            “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
            In other words, we Christians shouldn’t expect a medal for doing what we’re supposed to do.
            I suspect that many of the older folks among us have little or no problem with this teaching. I don’t think I’m idealizing the past when I say that people were brought up to do their duty - and not expect a whole lot of praise or even a thank you in return.
            That may have changed.
            Last Saturday some of us attended “Vestry University” where leaders from churches all around the diocese came together to learn, and to enrich their ministries.
            I attended two very good workshops on stewardship.
            And one of the takeaways was the importance of thanking parishioners for their pledges. (In fact, we will include a thank you in the bulletin to all of you who’ve pledged.) The workshop leaders emphasized that this gratitude is not only good manners but they also went on to say that many of our younger adults really expect praise, affirmation and gratitude when they do something good.
            In other words, lots of us today do expect a medal for doing what we’re supposed to do.
            The workshop leaders claimed that this mindset comes has been created by parents and teachers who may have gone overboard affirming and praising our kids – giving them certificates and trophies for participation – sometimes literally giving them medals for doing what they’re supposed to do.
            Young adults, don’t get mad at me! I’m not sure if this is really true.
            But, it reminded me of an interesting article I read not too long ago about how there’s been a huge increase in the number of medals given to – and worn by – members of the military. And that includes officers at the very top. In the article they compared pictures of some of the great generals of the World War II era – men like Eisenhower – who wore very few medals or ribbons on their uniforms. And then they compared them to today’s top brass – whose uniform jackets are almost completely covered by shiny medals.
            Well, whatever the case is today, Jesus is clear that as his followers we shouldn’t expect gratitude – shouldn’t expect a medal for doing what we’re supposed to do.
            So, for example, when we drop off food for the food pantry we shouldn’t be looking for a thank you.
            And when people line up at the Church of the Incarnation on the fourth Saturday of the month to receive bags of groceries, those who serve them shouldn’t expect a word of thanks.
            The privilege of serving God and serving others should be enough.
            Someone once shared with me a quote from the great Catholic saint, Vincent de Paul. I’ve never been able to find the exact words but essentially it was: “We should thank the poor for the privilege of serving them.”
            “We should thank the poor for the privilege of serving them.”
            An attitude of gratitude.
            But, while we shouldn’t expect gratitude from those we serve, we Christians are certainly expected to be thankful people.
            Which brings us to today’s gospel lesson – a story unique to the Gospel of Luke, the story of the one healed leper who returned to thank Jesus.
            In ancient Israel there was a strong revulsion at any kind of skin ailment, not just what we call leprosy today. People afflicted with skin diseases were ritually unclean, were forced to live out on the edges of the community, and made to call out when they approached other people.
            These poor, miserable, outcast people call out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!”
            There’s no dialogue between Jesus and the lepers. Jesus doesn’t interrogate them about their prayer lives, their beliefs, or their personal morality.
            Jesus simply heals them.
            Then, obeying Jewish Law, which required all of those healed to be officially certified by the religious authorities, he tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
            Luke then gets to the heart of the story when he tells us that only one of the healed lepers turns back to thank Jesus for this miraculous healing, prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet.
            And then Luke reveals a key piece of information: “And he was a Samaritan.”
            Now, thanks to this story end especially Luke’s Parable of the Good Samaritan, we have a very positive impression of the Samaritans. But, that wasn’t the case at all for First Century Jews.. Although they were related, the Samaritans and the Jews did not get along at all, disagreeing on all sorts of religious matters.
            Jews viewed Samaritans as ritually unclean.
            So, you see Luke’s point? The other nine do what they were supposed to do, heading off to Jerusalem to show the priests what’s happened. Fine. But, it’s the lowest of the low, it’s the most unclean, the most outcast of the lepers, the one who probably least expected to be healed - it’s the Samaritan leper who offers gratitude to God.
            The one who was the lowest and the least has a profound attitude of gratitude.
            And that gratitude has a powerful spiritual effect.
            Notice what Jesus says to the healed Samaritan leper at the end of the story: “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”
            But, wait a second, Jesus had already healed all of the lepers right?
            Yes, but Jesus is talking about much deeper wellness.
            It seems that the profound attitude of gratitude of the healed Samaritan leper has made him well in a much deeper way - healing whatever was wounded or broken in his heart.
            And in my imagination I see that deeply healed Samaritan going on his way out into the world, with a heart nearly bursting with gratitude to God.
            I imagine that deeply healed, deeply grateful, Samaritan spending the rest of his life offering healing and help to others, thankful for the privilege of serving those in need - and never expecting – never even wanting - a thank you in return.
            So, what about us?
            I bet at one time or another we’ve all felt like the Samaritan leper – outcast, rejected, a mess, desperate for God’s mercy and healing.
            The good news – really the best news of all – is that in and through Jesus, in and through God’s Word, in and through the Body and Blood of Christ that we share and receive - God offers us that same kind of deep healing given to the leper long ago.
            And, just like the leper, the only appropriate response for us is an attitude of gratitude – and a willingness to go out into our broken and hurting city, offering healing and help – thankful for the privilege of serving those in need - and never expecting – or even wanting a thank you in return.
            May we all have an attitude of gratitude.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

We've Come This Far by Faith

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
October 6, 2013

Year C, Proper 22: The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

We’ve Come This Far by Faith
            If you were here last week, you may remember that I expressed the hope – the confidence – that we here at St. Paul’s are entering a new era.
            Today we take more steps – very important and beautiful steps into our new era as we welcome Gail Blache-Gill as our Minister of Music and welcome back the St. Paul’s Choir after a much too long hiatus.
            Together we are entering a new era. We are leaving behind the old worries about money and church attendance.
            We are no longer worrying if our church has a future.
            Instead of worrying, we are wondering. We are wondering what kind of beyond our wildest dreams future God has in store for us. And we are wondering how we can work with God to make that beyond our wildest dreams future a reality.
            Now, you know, of course we didn’t get to this new day by accident.
            Oh, no. We got here thanks to the hard work and dedication and persistence of some pretty amazing and talented people – the people who kept this place going during days when the present and the future looked pretty bleak. We got to this new day thanks to people who never stopped believing that this new day would come – who never stopped believing in the future of St. Paul’s – who never stopped believing in our future – who never stopped believing in God’s future.
            I’m happy to have Gail with us for many, many reasons. One of the more selfish reasons is that I can hand off to her the selection of hymns that we sing on Sundays.
            And in a little while the choir will offer an exactly right Offertory Hymn:
            “We’ve Come this Far by Faith.”
            Amen. That’s exactly right, isn’t it?
            We’ve come this far by faith.
            Since here at St. Paul’s we’ve come this far – we’ve come to this new era – by faith, it may be a little jarring to hear the beginning of today’s gospel lesson. The people who’ve been closest to Jesus – the people who’ve heard his teaching – the people who’ve witnessed his miracles – the people who’ve dropped whatever they were doing in order to follow Jesus – the people closet to Jesus say to him:
            “Increase our faith!”
            The apostles’ demand to Jesus to increase their faith sounds like they already have faith and want more. But, the Greek phrase is literally, “Add faith to us.” That has a different ring to it, doesn’t it? That sounds like it could mean that the apostles are completely lacking faith.
            Well, in any case, Jesus replies with one of his best-known metaphors.
            “If you had the faith of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
            Actually, even this is a little ambiguous.
            Jesus might be rebuking his closest followers, saying essentially, “You’ve been with me all this time and you still don’t even have faith the size of a mustard seed!”
            Or, Jesus could be encouraging his closest followers, saying essentially, “Come on, it’s not that hard. All you need is faith the size of a mustard seed!”
            I always prefer to think of Jesus as encouraging rather than rebuking, but you can interpret his words either way.
            But, no matter how we hear Jesus’ words, the bottom line is that if we have just a tiny amount of faith we can do amazing things.
            We’ve come this far by faith.
            But, what is this faith?
            What is this faith that has brought us this far?
            What is this faith that’s so powerful that even just a tiny mustard seed-size amount can do amazing things?
            I bet many of us here – and certainly most people out there – think of faith as agreeing to certain statements or claims made by the Church.
            In a few minutes we’ll all stand and recite the Nicene Creed. And don’t we usually think of the creed as a kind of checklist of faith that we either agree to or don’t agree to?
            “We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty…” Check.
            “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, …” Check.
            “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…” Check.
            And so on down the line.
            Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with thinking of faith this way – of reciting the creed like it’s a checklist of faith. But, we run into problems when we think this is the only way to understand faith or belief.
            We’ve come this far by faith – we haven’t come this far because we’ve checked off items on a list.
            As many of you know, this fall some of us are reading a book called The Heart of Christianity. And in this book the author looks at other understandings of faith, not just checking off in agreement to a bunch of statements.
            For me, the best and most important definition of faith is loving trust – the kind of loving trust that, if we’re fortunate, we’ve experienced with our parents – the kind of loving trust that, if we’re fortunate, we’ve experienced with a husband or a wife – the kind of loving trust that, if we’re fortunate, we’ve experienced with a really close friend.
            Faith is the loving trust that God the Father shares with Jesus – the kind of loving trust that God always wants to share with us
            And, ultimately, loving trust comes from our hearts much more than from our heads.
            In the book, the author points out that the English word “believe” has its root in the word “belove.”
            It turns out that having faith – believing - is beloving.
            Let’s go back to the creed again.
            Doesn’t it feel different to say “I belove God the Father. I belove Jesus Christ. I belove the Holy Spirit”?
            Faith is loving trust. Faith is a movement of the heart. Believing is beloving.
            Which doesn’t mean it’s any easier than the old faith as checklist.
            The apostles had a hard time with faith as loving trust.
            And we have a hard time with faith as loving  trust.
            But, every once in a while, God sends us an example of someone who really is able to put their trust in God – someone who really is able to belove God.
            And, probably out of the whole history of the Church, Francis of Assisi is the best example of someone trusting God – of beloving God.
            Unfortunately, we’ve sentimentalized Francis – turning him into this adorable and eccentric character stuck out in the birdbath preaching to the animals.
            But, the truth is that Francis of Assisi was a radical.
            He was a radical who believed that it was possible to really follow in Jesus’ footsteps – who really believed that the Gospel means what it says – who strove to trust absolutely in God – who beloved God, beloved Jesus, beloved God’s people, and beloved all of God’s creation.
            Francis placed his complete trust in God – literally stripping away his family’s wealth – stripping away worldly pleasures – and giving away his life to God.
            Francis’ complete loving trust in God didn’t make for an easy life – just the opposite, really.
            Yet, here we are 800 years later, and just about everybody who was alive in Francis’ day, including the rich and powerful, are dead and forgotten. But, not Francis. He lives with God - and his memory and example and inspiration remains as alive and powerful as ever. Francis’ faith – Francis’ loving trust – Francis’ beloving did far more – are doing far more than uprooting a mulberry tree.
            And now that same power is available to us.
            My prayer is that God will increase our faith – that God will open our hearts just as God opened the heart of St. Francis long ago. Like him, may we also have faith, may we also have loving trust, may we also belove, may also give away our lives for Jesus.
            We’ve come this far by faith.
            But, with God’s help and God’s love, we’re just getting started.
            Believe and belove.