Laurel P. Deery
Sermon on feast of St. Francis
Today we celebrate the life of St. Francis, a man many of us know as someone who loved to spend time with animals, especially birds, recognizing them to be as much beloved by God as humans. Therefore we will be having a blessing of the animals you have brought with you later in the service. However there is much more to St. Frances that this.
In our first reading we look with Jeremiah at the rulers of his time. They are more concerned with their large beautiful houses, made of the finest materials money can buy, than they are about justice. They are not concerned with being fair to the workers who built these grand houses or with caring for the poor and needy in their midst. Woe to them says the prophet, as they do not know God. Francis of Assisi was brought up in just such a wealthy family, in a beautiful large house with servants and all he could ask for.
Francis was a spoiled young man, a problem child, who didn’t want to work in his father’s textile business. He wanted the exciting life of a knight and joined in a battle between Assisi and another city-state. Through the experience of being taken a prisoner for ransom for nearly a year, becoming gravely ill while imprisoned, Francis became closer to God. Once he found his way home, he began to spend time sitting quietly in the churches in the area asking God for direction. He heard from Christ that he was to repair the church and to live a life of poverty. Francis turned his back on all the family wealth and goods, choosing to live in poverty, tending to lepers and serving all with joy. Some people thought he was a fool or mad, but others thought he was the purest example of how to live the Christian life since Christ. Some of these began to follow him, growing into the thousands over time.
In Matthew Jesus invites us to come to Him with our heavy burdens; worries about our families, concerns for our health, our sense of helplessness when confronted with all the evil in the world. We are invited to lay these burdens down and rest with Jesus. Then we are asked to put on Jesus’ yoke, to yoke ourselves together with Him, to work together with Him on the things which are His concerns; the poor, the lonely and frightened, the sick of body, soul and mind. With Jesus, this yoke is light. St. Francis yoked himself to Jesus; he lived his faith. He showed us loving God with all his heart, soul, body and mind led him to love his neighbors as himself. And he was filled with joy.
The life of St. Francis challenges us to look at how we live and at what we believe. Many of us here today have more than we will ever need. We live in big houses made of quality materials and filled with our possessions. This is not bad unto itself. The challenge for us is whether we are more concerned with maintaining our things and our life styles that with justice. Do we treat those who serve us fairly; the shopkeepers, the civil servants, those who pick up our trash? Do we ever wonder if their wages are fair or ask them how they are doing? Do we treat them with respect?
How much time do we spend in church or another quiet spiritual space asking God for guidance? Do we listen for an answer, believing we will receive one? Do we pray for others needs as well as our own? How do we live our faith? Woe to us who have so much if we do not keep close to God through prayer and time apart with God; if we do not put God’s concerns before our own.
St Francis shows us we can live a joyful life by living our faith. Few of us will choose to leave our homes to live in poverty, and we are not asked to do that. What we are asked to do is joyfully share what we have with someone who is without. Share the love we receive from God with someone who is feeling unloved or unworthy. We can share our time and talents through volunteer work and through daily interactions. Come to Common Cathedral next week or bring food On Sunday for the food bank at Beverly Bootstraps. Donate items to the children of Syria or give of your time at a Monday Night Supper. There are many ways for us too share ourselves with others. If we yoke ourselves with Jesus, going where He leads to tend to His concerns, we will live lives full of joy.
St Francis found God in the beauty of the natural world and all the animals God created for our enjoyment. He found that spending quiet time in church He came closer to God and God’s plan for him. Through this time of prayer and silent presence, he gained the desire and strength to serve the outcast and the poor. Francis found great joy in living his faith, and we can too. Amen.