Sermon at St. Paul’s Ossining celebrating the Feast of St. Francis
Sunday October 6, 2013
I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.–Gospel of Matthew 11:25
Today we are celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Contrary to popular belief, St. Francis was not some sort of new age nature mystic—above and before all things, he was a preacher. He was a preacher who primarily focused on the stories of the Gospel, particularly on the people in those stories, especially Jesus. And he was really a pretty sophisticated guy, but the call that he perceived was to preach, not in the palaces or universities, but in the streets, to the simple people that God loved.
Last year when I preached about St. Francis, I quoted the story of how St. Francis preached to the birds. I won’t give that sermon again, since most of you have already heard it, but thing I want to call to mind is that the reason that Francis was preaching to the birds was because none of the people were listening. Imagine that. Francis wouldn’t put up with that. God’s word wanted to be preached, so Francis went to the creatures who would hear it.
The Gospel, you see, is for the whole of creation—the good news of Jesus is not a philosophy for the smart, or instructions for those who like to win by following the rules the best. The mercy of God is for everyone, that is what Francis preached—and not just to the lepers and the beggars, and not just to those who followed him in the way of voluntary poverty—Francis preached to the ordinary families and workers, perhaps they could legitimately be called poor, but not destitute or homeless. Jesus’ good news is simple: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” and it is for everyone, even for us, even if we are the ones that always want to make it harder and more complicated.
One thing that comes from knowing animals is that they will accept the good of God’s creation. And if we make it complicated: like if I forget and leave a treat in my pocket; they go for the solution: Hilda will head butt my pocket until I take it out and give it to her—simple and not intellectualized. Her simplicity of understanding is extraordinary—when she decides which of the three identical green balls she wants, you can’t fool her. She knows, maybe it smells different, maybe it looks different, but you definitely can’t talk her into one of the others. You definitely can’t reason with her about it.
St. Francis was concerned for the pastoral needs of ordinary people, that is, of all people. He was out among them and addressed the problems directly. It was not so much that he didn’t have a plan or a strategy; it was that his strategy was to prioritize people and their simplicity over talk and theory and fine sophisticated distinctions.
There’s another Francis I would like to talk about. Pope Francis chose that name carefully. Make no mistake; Francis is a conservative and orthodox Roman Catholic. Anyone who thinks differently is bound to be disappointed. But he listens to this same gospel which we have heard today: “you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” I copied about a thousand words relating to this from the interview that was published a couple of weeks ago. I’ll share just this one passage:
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”
We must always consider the person—not the rules, not the philosophy, not our own power or sophistication. In today’s Epistle, Paul says, “a new creation is everything!” And in that creation we are God’s creatures, and fellow creatures with these others, like the ones we have brought today to bless us. And Paul continues: “As for those who will follow this rule (that a new creation is everything) peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”
Sisters and brothers, let us continue in blessing.