The Rev. Dr. Austin Leininger
Sermon of Proper 21
17th Sunday After Pentecost
St. Francis Day Celebration
1 October 2017
Who can tell me who we are celebrating today? Why are we having church outside?
Does anyone know the connection between St. Francis and being outside today blessing the animals?
When he grew up, Francis did a lot of things differently than his family and even than the other leaders in the church. He gave away all of his wealth and possessions, and took a vow of poverty – does anyone know what a vow is?
Ya—basically it means that he promised himself and God that he would live without the comforts of wealth and the life of ease that he enjoyed growing up as the son of a wealthy silk merchant. He gave all that up because he felt that it drew him away from God and away from helping other people.
As an adult, he lived simply, with homemade robes, without money, without food—other than what he could gather in nature or that people gave to him, and he took care of people—some who were very sick and that no one else wanted to care for. He also felt very at home in nature and with the animals. Although we don’t know if it is true, some stories say that Francis could talk to animals and that he preached sermons to the birds.
But he wasn’t always like that. When he was young, he enjoyed living comfortably with his father’s expensive lifestyle. He even tried being a knight for a while, trying to win titles and riches of his own. But it was while he was out in the world that he met a lot of people who were sick, who were hungry, who didn’t have enough money to buy clothing and food. And he realized that he wanted to help them.
He tried to sell his father’s cloth to help them, but his father became angry with him, so Francis gave him back all of his things—even the clothes he was wearing!
We hear in today’s scriptures from Ezekiel that we can’t blame our parents for our own choices that keep us separated from God, and that is a big step that Francis realized too. He couldn’t just continue living comfortably while people around him were suffering. So he decided to help them.
Our Psalm today is also a prayer asking God not to be angry with us for our mistakes in the past, but to remember how much God loves us, and to teach us how to be more like God. This was Francis’ prayer too. So he went out to heal people, to help the sick and the hungry, and to teach them about God by living as a reminder of how much God loves each of us. It was a lot like what Paul was trying to teach his followers in the city of Philipi—not to focus on their own selfish ideas about being comfortable and rich, but to focus on helping others so that everyone could be comfortable, healthy, and happy.
For Francis, the best place to make that happen was out in the world. In nature, as well as in cities and along the roads in and out of town. He loved everyone and everything.
Today in our gospel reading, we heard a story that Jesus told about two brothers, one who told his father that he would go into the field and work and who didn’t, and the other who at first told his father he wouldn’t go, but then who changed his mind and went.
The story we have from Francis is a little like this. God calls each of us to help each other, to reach out to those who don’t have friends and help them feel loved and included, to share with each other so everyone has a chance to be happy and healthy, and to help people who are hurting to feel better. For much of his life until he grew up, Francis didn’t do that. But then when he saw how many people in the world needed help, he changed his mind and started helping everyone he could. Even beyond people, he saw that God’s creation is sacred, beautiful, amazing, and worth taking care of—so he helped animals too, and he did his best to show his appreciation for the beauty of the world by not taking part in making money off of hurting the natural world around him.
There is a lot we can still learn from Francis as we look around our own world and see how much harm humans do to each other, to nature, and to animals. And even some of the most looked up to religious leaders like the Pope in the Catholic church and our own bishops in the Episcopal church look to Francis as a great teacher who can help us want to do more for each other and our world, because he lived a life as much like Jesus as he could.
And because of him, we also get to have our pets here in church today, to ask God to bless them, because ALL of God’s creatures are important to God and loved by God!