The righteous wisdom of St. Francis on his feast day:
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.-Matthew 5:6
In the blessing printed above (the beatitude before us this morning), Jesus builds on his first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit. As we discussed a few weeks ago, here’s another way to think about what it means to be poor in spirit: Blessed are those who know their need of God. It’s a blessing on those who are in touch with the God-shaped space inside each one of us.
So how will that space be filled? Today we hear that it has to do with righteousness, a word that calls for some unpacking. I’m wondering what associations you have with that word.
It’s easy to think of righteousness in moralistic terms. A righteous person does all the right things, toes the line, checks every box, a spiritual over-achiever, on the spiritual dean’s list. Ever met one of those? Not always the most attractive types. It’s easy for a righteous person to morph into a self-righteous person, like the guy in Jesus’ parable who looks at the tax collector and says: Thank God I’m not like that person. It’s also easy to think of righteousness as a matter of being right, which in religious circles often means that somebody else must be wrong, a prideful frame of mind that can be so toxic.
I have been helped along the way by the way St. Paul uses the word “righteous.” He saw it as a matter of relationship, about being rightly related to God, to others and to the world. The Greek word (transliterated as dikaiosune) can also be translated as justified. As an art director, I always connected that with justified type, which is a way of saying that type on a page has been set in right relationship. It has been aligned.
Jesus announces blessing on those who seek that kind of alignment, who hunger and thirst for those kind of relationships. Presumably, they realize they haven’t achieved it yet. Jesus came to help us with that process of alignment, or perhaps more accurately, with that realignment. At the church where I’m serving, as we have contemplated emergence from COVID, we have adopted wisdom from the Milwaukee Airport. At that airport, after you go through TSA, with socks and belts and watches and wallets and bags all over the place, there’s an area set aside by a big sign that reads: Recombobulation Area. In oh so many ways, we could use that kind of space right now. Maybe the beatitude should read: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for recombobulation.
And thanks be to God, on this particular day, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we have an amazing model of someone who did that. He has been called the most admired and least imitated of all the saints. He speaks to us of righteousness, in the sense of being rightly related to God, to creation, to others, to himself.
He lived in loving relationship with all of creation, brother son and sister moon, negotiating and calming menacing wolves, preaching to the birds. (That’s why on his day, we have blessing of the animals. One year I blessed a big iguana who arrived at church in a snugli, having traveled to church with his owner on the subway.) Francis lived in loving relationship with others, taking on a life of poverty in order to serve those his society deemed as least, living out the sense of the Greek word for righteousness translated as justice. He lived in loving relationship with God, as he hungered and thirsted to be a channel of God’s peace. Not his own peace, but God’s peace. He lived in loving relationship with the church, as he answered Jesus’ call from the cross: Rebuild my church. And as a saint remembered over the centuries for unbridled joy, it seems to me that he arrived at right relationship with himself.
Thank God for his life and ministry and witness. Let’s see this week if we can not only express our admiration for him, but also find ways to imitate him. Let your creative imagination go to work: How can you be an instrument, a channel of God’s peace this week? Do you hunger and thirst for that kind of life?
Episcopal Church announces ‘My Way of Love for Small Groups’ resource for spiritual growth
Responding to a hunger for deeper discipleship among Episcopal congregations, creators of the My Way of Love initiative announce an upcoming new spiritual journey guide, video and other materials designed for small groups.
“My Way of Love for Small Groups” expands on the individualized spiritual journey laid out in My Way of Love and offers step-by-step guidance, scriptures, prayers, and reflections for nine weekly group gatherings. The resources will be available in early October; a sample can be found at this link online.
“Participating in ‘My Way of Love for Small Groups’ is a great community builder and especially appropriate for smaller congregations,” writes Jay Sidebotham, founder of RenewalWorks, in the guide’s introduction. “We believe you’ll find it to be a great process for a vestry study, undergirding confirmation classes, informing a teaching series in youth group, or as part of a standard Bible study or prayer group.”