Francesco had the life, anyone could want. He was born into a loving home that had no need. His father worked very hard as a merchant and did exceedingly well. Francesco and his 6 siblings had the best of schools. The world was his. He tried the military, but there was no glory there. His youth was filled with many misadventures, lots of wealth but no direction. The 13th century in which he lived was a time of political unrest, a time of church infighting, a time when so many people looked for the abundant life but had a hard time finding it in the institutions of the day.
Then it happened, quite unexpectedly, after a serious illness got him thinking about the life he was living. He started to help lepers near his hometown. He went on pilgrimage to Rome for enlightenment, begging along the way for those in need. Then in dilapidated church, as he sat and prayed, he heard the words of God, “"Francis, go and repair My house which you see, is falling ."
And the life of the one we call Francis of Assisi was never the same again. What Francis heard from Jesus on the Cross of San Damiano was repair my Church. And he did that, in his own way, one stone at a time, stones that were made up of his life, living stones and the lives he changed through his witness to the Gospel. It not only happened with the Church of San Damiano but the whole Church would know of St. Francis, and to this day the Franciscans carry on rebuilding the Church just as Francis once did.
On Thursday night, we gathered as a parish to begin to think about God’s words to Francis. Rebuild my church. Our parish home is beautiful but we carry too much debt and we are not growing enough to live within our means. As we sat and listened to Peter Saros our consultant, he began by having us say why we are here, why we call St. Peter’s our home, the living stones inside of us. And then Peter challenged us to consider how we, together, can rebuild St. Peter’s through growth and stewardship, to reach stability that will enhance our mission and ministry.
It is a challenge that Francis faced and that we face, as have countless others. To rebuild the Church for our time so it can continue its mission for centuries to come.
The parable that Jesus tells, of the Wicked Tenants, is also story about the Church. A landowner leases his vineyard to some tenants. When he sends slaves to collect his produce at harvest, the tenants beat some, kill others and refuse to do what they had said they will do. When the son comes, they kill him thinking that it all will be theirs. What will the owner do? The landowner will get rid of the tenants to a miserable death and give it to others who will indeed give the produce.
Jesus is telling his parable in the midst of those who do not believe in him, they do not understand Jesus as the cornerstone but they understand his parable that he is the son and they are the wicked tenants and they want to arrest him but fear the crowds…
And yet if we think about the parable, we are now the generations who are the tenants in God’s vineyard called the Church. How do we give of the harvest today? What is our fruit?
The warning of the last line, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” is a reminder that God has expectations that we produce fruit. Not unblemished, perfect fruit, but fruit of who we are, our time, our talent, our treasure, those God given gifts. God is not waiting for us to fail. No, God is waiting for us to follow Jesus, to live in faith so we can truly have joyous, generous & authentic lives, to be the fruit that is born from a vision of abundance, and share that with the world.
According to a Native American legend, the chief of a certain tribe lay dying. He called his three sons to him. "My sons, my life is at its end. Soon one of you will succeed me as chief. I want each of you to climb our ancestors' holy mountain and bring back something beautiful. The one whose gift is most precious will become chief."
Several days later the three returned from their journeys.
The first son brought back a flower that was extremely rare and beautiful.
The second son brought back a stone of precious gold.
But the third son said, "Father, I have brought nothing back. As I stood at the top of the holy mountain, I saw that on the other side was a land of fertile green pastures and crystal waters. I could imagine our people settling there and establishing a better life. I was so taken by what I saw that I had to return here before I could find something to bring back."
The old chief smiled and said to his third son, "You will be our chief for you have brought us the gift of a vision for a better future."
God has given us a wonderful "vineyard" that we often take for granted. Christ, the Son of the vineyard owner, comes seeking the fruit of this vineyard. The fruit that will come from all of us, the Church, this Body of Christ, will only produce abundant fruit, when we live the vision that Jesus taught, of God’s love for all creation, a vision that Francis understood and that we are challenged to live here in Monroe.
For Francis, he saw this vision, in the fruit that his friends were to live. “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
May we welcome Christ into this vineyard of ours, aware that he calls us to the demanding vision of the Gospel, to rebuild the Church in our time, to be that loving and healing presence in our lives and in this Church, so we can share that with our world. Amen.