Sunday, October 6, 2013

St Francis Sermon

“Faith is to believe what you do not yet see;
the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” – St. Augustine
These words from 1600 years ago from St. Augustine, one of the pillars of Western Christian faith, reminds us that faith is forward looking, hoping, ready to see before us what we believe in our hearts. This was true of the disciples too, who eagerly asked Jesus to increase their faith in today’s Gospel.

But Jesus, as Jesus so often does, makes them see faith in a different light for if we had faith as tiny as this mustard seed, we could move mountains said Jesus. This tiny seed, as a symbol of our faith, if we had it, we could move a mighty mountain.

We are called to live out such faith in our lives, that we can with that faith do things that seem impossible, things we do not yet see.

It reminds me of the words from a Franciscan Benediction which fits well with our St. Francis celebration:
“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts…

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.”
These words written well after the life of St. Francis of Assisi capture I think his spirit and his life. For one who was raised in wealth and privilege, who gave it up as he searched for meaning in his life, found God asking him to do impossible things and yet by his prayers and witness lived deep within his heart for the people and creation he encountered. His faith like a mustard seed, guided him in all things.

A story is told of Francis’ visit to the Holy Land in 1219, a time of war, a time of the fifth crusade. Francis proposed an armistice between the two warring sides but was unable to get the Christians at the time to agree. On his way to the Muslim leader, Francis was captured and beaten. But when he got to the Sultan, Francis proclaimed his faith, proclaimed the Gospel to the Sultan, the Sultan who was deeply impressed, remained unconverted, but allowed Francis free passage throughout the lands, even giving him gifts.

Francis was an instrument of peace.

But of all the images that stick with us about St. Francis, is his connection to God’s creation, and especially the animals. I think of those garden statues with Francis standing and animals swirling about him. Thomas of Celano, a member of Francis' religious order who knew the saint personally, wrote about him and his interactions. He reveals in his book how Francis' love for animals and his conviction that his faith and care for God's creatures go hand-in-hand.
“One time as Francis was passing through the Spoleto valley, he came upon a place near Bevagna, in which a great multitude of birds of various kinds had assembled. When the holy one of God saw them, because of the outstanding love of the Creator with which he loved all creatures, he ran swiftly to the place. He greeted them in his usual way, as if they shared in reason. As the birds did not take flight, he went to them, going to and fro among them, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic.”
On this day, when we remember this great saint of the Church and his words and works, it behooves us to remember the creatures we care for, our pets, and all living creatures.
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men." (St. Francis) 
It is St. Francis that reminds us that everything is connected. How we treat animals is the way we also deal with each other. Whether it was birds he met or a Sultan he was going to visit, Francis revealed in God’s creation and lived out of that mustard seed faith he had.

“Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” It was true for St. Augustine and St Francis. It is true for us too & that is mustard seed faith. And its in you and in its me. So we need not worry about increasing our faith, or if we have enough, we just need to live the faith that is inside us, live it in the midst of God’s beautiful creation with one another.
In the words of St. Francis, “The deeds you do [out of your faith] may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.” Amen.

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