Saying "Yes": A Sermon for Francis the Fool
Sometimes I feel like church is a place full of "no" and "stop".
No, you can't put the kneeler down
Stop talking please
You need to sit still
No, you can't go to coffee hour until church is over
Stop playing under the tree, it's time for church
Shhh, I will tell you later
Shhh, no bark!!
Now, I totally get why the “nos” are there (whenever I sit with my family I’m pretty much like a non-stop no machine!) and respect for sacred space, silence and the needs of the gathered community are to be observed (when possible!)
But, I can't help but wonder how St. Francis would have felt about this litany of no and stop and shhh.
And, for this I am thankful for days like today, where the answer can be yes, yes to noise, and confusion, yes to joyful exclamation! Yes, you can bring your fish to church! Yes, your lovey can leave the house today! Stand up and look! Sing as loud as you can!
The saint who sang the sun up in the morning and the moon in at night. The saint who chatted with the birds. The saint who welcomed Clare. The saint who stood naked before the bishop and proclaimed himself a fool for God. A saint who asked his brothers to sing him into heaven as he stepped out of this life and into the arms of God.
The saint who calls us to find delight and joy and love in the entirety of creation. No matter how big or how small.
The Gospel we read today in honor of St. Francis is traditionally used for this saint's day because it reminds us that we do not control where or how God's revelation will be made manifest.
That revelation is not limited to the learned, to the seminary trained, to the folk we may look up to as somehow more spiritually profound than us. In fact, in the words and actions of Francis we are reminded that revelation is not limited to human beings.
The birds proclaim the glory of God, the sun in its courses the moon by night...
And, in glorying in creation, in finding grace beyond any pages or ivy walls--we are open to learning more about God in places we may have never thought to look and in people whom we had once ignored and in animals who are all too easily neglected. Francis' life was marked by his disavowal of his inherited power and privilege and the sheer joy he took in the love of God. And for Francis, much of that love was made manifest in the beauty of creation.
Francis' found the entirety of creation to be a bearer of God's love. He saw the world around him as a true gift, to be revered for it's beauty and gave ready thanks for all that God has brought forth in creation.
What would it be like to see everything around us as gift, as symbol and sign of God made manifest to us?
How would our lives be transformed, if we met each moment, each creature, each breeze, each ray of sun, each spark of star, with thanksgiving?
Would we see the newborn Christ in the squawking infant? Would we see the first day of creation in the rising sun? Would we wonder at the leviathan, the whales and the elephants? Would the miraculousness of the bumblebee whose flight defies logic startle us into praise?
Is it any wonder that the prevailing themes of Francis’ life were those of joy and love? A joy and love that was a natural extension of thanksgiving as we see in his famous sermon to the birds.
“My sweet little sisters, oh, birds of the sky, you are bound unto heaven, to God, your Creator. In every beat of your wing and every note of your song praise Him. He has given you the greatest of gifts, the liberty of the air. You neither sow, nor reap, yet God provides for you the most delicious morsels, streams and lakes to quench your thirst, hill and dale for your home, tall trees to build your nests, and the most beautiful clothing, a change of feathers with every season. You and your kind were preserved in the Ark of Noah. Clearly, Creator loves you most dearly, His gifts flow forth in abundance; so please be careful of the sin of thanklessness, and always sing out your praises for the Lord, our God!”
If God has such care, such love for these sweet sisters, how much love for us--what a wonder that God loves us most dearly!
Us and them, us and the creatures of the earth, us and the sun and the moon.
The unification of all creation is one of the postmarks of the vision we are offered of the kingdom of God--all creation. And, in witness to what this vision can be...
Francis offers us the wolf of Gubbio.
In the town of Gubbio the townspeople felt themselves under siege. A wolf was killing and eating their sheep and other stock. And, even worse, the wolf had become a threat to the people of the village--killing those who confronted him. In desperation they called for Francis. Francis went out into the forest and found the wolf.
And...reasoned with him. Spoke to him with love and compassion and in doing so the wolf repented. And, then the wolf and Francis walked back into the village and the horrified townspeople saw their enemy, the wolf, in the flesh.
Before they could strike the wolf down, Francis explained the wolf’s contrite heart and the wolf’s promise to cease killing. He then enjoined the townspeople to remember their calling as Christians to forgive.
Forgive, the wolf?! But, the townspeople listened to Francis’ words and they saw the wolf’s hunger and desire for forgiveness. They agreed to feed the wolf from their own larders and the wolf vowed to protect them.
And years later, when the wolf died, the villagers mourned the death of a friend.
In relationship, in knowing and listening to those they had previously feared, peace was obtained, fear was set aside, and love grew. How many and much was transformed by listening and hearing God in each other. How great a leap that enemies found mutuality and in that leap grew closer to the vision of wholeness we see in God’s creative action!
A whole community. Where all are welcome. The quiet, the loud, the still, the wiggly, the crying, the barking, the mewling! Those with dirty knees from under the pine tree play, and those with the finest suits one can find. We have the opportunity to be an echo of God’s vision for creation! There are no enemies here, only folks imbued with love and grace. Let it begin here and let it end when all of God’s creation is gathered together in a love without walls or boundaries.
Let it begin and let us wonder, let us sing, let us proclaim, let this be a time of yes! Yes you are part of this creation! Yes, you are welcome to the table! Yes, you may partake of the feast laid before you!
Yes, you can have a truck in your Easter picture...