He has been called the most admired and least imitated of all the saints. On Wednesday, we observe the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. If we ever needed a saint like him, we sure do need him now.
I spent last weekend at a lively church in Connecticut, led by a faithful and fun priest and friend, Peter Walsh. I admire Peter’s congregational leadership. As a former ad guy, he has gifts for communication and vision, offering his congregation specific and clear focus. For this program year, here’s the theme: What the St. Francis? The Shocking Relevance of Francis Today. Here are a few things Francis has to teach us.
He teaches about spiritual growth and change: Accounts vary on Francis’ early life. He grew up with some experience of affluence, on some level savored the good life. Experience in military, as a prisoner of war, and battling illness changed him. He learned. He grew. Are we ready to grow and change?
He teaches about compassion. Far from detached philanthropy, Francis’ call to serve the poor was founded in relationship, seeing up close the experience of those in greatest need. What can we learn about those who suffer greatest need? How can we minister to them in Francis’ week?
He teaches about creation care. Stories of preaching to birds and calming ravenous wolves, hymns in praise of creation seem timely. This week, many churches will offer blessings of the animals, one way of celebrating the goodness of God’s creation. I recall when I served in Manhattan and we held this kind of service on a Sunday evening. I will never forget the surprise when a woman brought a large iguana forward for a blessing. Secure in a Snuggly, she had carried it to church on the subway. After all that effort, I couldn’t say no. I’m not a big big reptile fan, but the goodness of creation was evident that night. How can we care for all of creation in the spirit of St. Francis?
He teaches about effective preaching. He told listeners: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” He also said: “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.” What kind of sermon will your life be this week? Will it be a sermon with good news? With hope? With love?
He teaches about joy. Maya Angelou noted that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. I often wonder what it was about Francis that 800 years after his death people still recall his joy. Let’s just say it’s not an attribute found in all religious people. (Note H.L.Mencken’s definition of puritanism, i.e., the haunting fear that someone somewhere is happy.) Joy seems to be the mark of saints, going way deeper than mere happiness. When have you experienced joy? Is there a way you can share some of it this week?
He teaches about hope. Francis offered this encouragement: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Where in your life do you need signs of hope? Can you take a starting step, and be ready for what might not seem possible.
Give thanks for the lessons of St. Francis this week. Honor his life and ministry and witness this week, by putting those lessons to work in your world, serving as an instrument of God’s peace.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
(one of the readings selected for the Feast of St. Francis)
The collect for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A prayer attributed to St. Francis (found in the Book of Common Prayer, page 833)
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Discipleship Matters Conference 2017
Oct. 16-18, 2017
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