Sermon: The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 26th October 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am and 8am

Readings:  Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13; Matthew 22:34-46

Over time, on occasions, I have used the sermon preparation material found at the Sojourners website (sojo.net/preaching-the-word). I am going to do the same today, using what some people have said about the readings set for today and the concepts that arise from them.

The first commentary is called On the Way of the Cross, by Jim Douglass.

“In today’s gospel, Jesus joins the greatest commandment of the law in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind) with a second like it from Leviticus 19:18 (loving one’s neighbour as oneself). But the crux of his teaching is not this conjunction of the two, but his scandalous interpretation of the second.

The verse in Leviticus is a national creed. It limits the love of “neighbour” to one’s own people: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

It is when Jesus extends love of neighbour to include the enemy (recorded in today’s Gospel) that he identifies himself as the traitor to every nationalism and imperialism. He is thereby on his way to the cross, as are his followers in the Roman Empire and our own.

In our reading from Deuteronomy, just before he dies, Moses goes up the mountain. And God shows him the Promised Land. Moses looks northward to Galilee, westward to the Mediterranean, and south to the wilderness of the Negeb. “But you shall not cross over there”, (and) God tells the prophet of the people who will cross over.

On the night before he died in Memphis, (America’s) greatest modern prophet Martin Luther King Jr. also had a view of the Promised Land. He saw it in the midst of striking sanitation workers. He saw that land of freedom not in terms of a nation but rather a transformed, global people, most of them poorer than the sanitation workers and some of them his enemies. Following Jesus, he saw the way to freedom for their whole people as the cross he was about to experience from his enemies:

“… it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And (God has) allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The second reflection is written by Richard Rohr and is taken from his work Pure Passion: The holiness of human sexuality, and it is called God’s Longing, and it concerns loving our neighbour as ourselves.
“… the Judeo-Christian tradition reveals a God who is passion. God is not the passionless and omnipotent abstraction of the philosophers, although we have often tried to make it seem so. God is angry, tender, jealous, and seems to be hopelessly in love. God is so “out of control” with this love that he makes unilateral promises and covenants that we cannot break or change. God is apparently willing to wait around for centuries for a believing response, and puts up with all kinds of abuse in the meantime. A real fool, of sorts.

But that is what passion does to you: it makes you feel and it makes you suffer – so much so that we use the same word for both meanings. As you might expect, we are not quite sure whether we want a God with passion. We have not yet learned how to live with that reality. But God seems to be here to stay, and I think that will finally make all the difference. God is not going to change. But we will, I’m sure. We cannot resist God’s passion for us much longer.

 (God is also) faithfulness (personified). It has almost taken us this long to realize that time itself is the great revelation. “Staying in there” gives us the time in which to see the patterns and rhythms of life and love.”

If we listen, if we keep listening, we will know. If we remember, and we keep remembering, we will meet. If we are willing to go deep in at least one place, we will recognize continuities, direction, and purposefulness. We will say, “Who is upholding me?” “Who is this being good to me?” “Is there someone walking with me, or ahead of me?” Then we will meet the Faithful One. And then faithfulness will make sense. In fact, it will be the only thing that will make sense out of anything. Faithfulness is the pattern of God. “Staying in there” is the sign of salvation.

… the Jewish tradition in particular makes us aware of the constant danger and nature of idolatry. It teaches us that we are habitually addicted to the making of gods. We are fascinated with absolutes and answers. We are terrified by ambiguities and paradox. We want a “rightness” that we can always rely upon, a power that is always in control and on our side. We want a warm body that will protect us from our own coldness. We want almost anything rather than journey, and search, and trial and error. So we make gods that do not last, “their makers end up like them” (as it says in)(Psalm 135:18).

The tradition tells us, however, that all human and created things are to be relativised and put in harmonious balance. This includes our relatedness to and expectations of others, our sexual taboos, our bodily pleasures, and even our individual rights to happiness. As old-fashioned as that sounds, I think that is what the scriptures are saying. As someone once said, conservatives are not necessarily wrong about their certitudes. It is just that they are too easily certain about too much. That form of conservatism creates a lot of idols for all of us and keeps us from religious surrender.

In this area of sexuality we all seem to have our areas of blindness and our sacred cows that cannot be touched. The liberals will find some way to say that it is always good, the conservatives are determined to enforce the law. Both seem to be nervous about nuancing.

Idols, with clear shape and explanation, seem to be easier to live with. The wisdom from the tradition, therefore, is that whatever God is doing, it is certainly beyond cultural fears, fads, and social taboos. This is particularly true in this area (of sexuality) where there has been so much overlapping, and where it is most difficult to distinguish what God is really saying from “what my mother told me”, and from what my mother church told me. Only the tradition gives us the criteria for individual and wise discernment.

I think that the tradition has handed on to open and obedient people a very intuitive and almost common sense wisdom about what is real and what is unreal in regard to our sexual relatedness. It gives us an arena in which to move and discover our true bodily and spiritual selves.

The Catholic Theological Society’s 1979 study Human Sexuality summarized it rather well when it stated that our sexual actions must aim to be “self-liberating, other-enriching, honest, faithful, socially responsible, life-serving, and joyous.” That is certainly the task and journey of a lifetime, but it is no more or no less than what Jesus said when he taught the greatest commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. The two loves “resemble” (Matthew 22:39) one another. They are each the school of the other. We will learn how to be properly sexual as we understand the properly passionate relationship that God has with us. And we will learn how to be properly spiritual as we come to understand the true character of human longing and affection.

… the only biblical mandate that matters is to copy and allow the pattern of God’s love in us. If this sounds soft and liberal, perhaps it means that we have never loved “all the way”. We have never let it carry us through all its stages, all of its internal ecstasies, lonelinesses, and purifications. Maybe our very theological argument over grace and good works reveals our inability to put love and work together. To attain a whole and truly passionate sexuality is going to be hard work. We are going to have to want it more than almost anything else.

As the mystics always said, “God’s love can be a thousand times harder than his justice”. So can human love! And of this I am certain: it is God’s love that we are afraid of, not his justice. It is one another’s goodness that we are protecting ourselves from, not the law.

God’s way of loving is the only licensed teacher of human sexuality. God’s passion created ours. Our deep desiring is a relentless returning to that place where all things are one. If we are afraid of our sexuality, we are afraid of God.

So once again, in (Thomas) Merton’s fine phraseology, we must “make ready for the Christ, whose smile, like lightning, sets free the song of everlasting glory that now sleeps in your paper flesh.”

Sermon: The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 19th October 2014

St Aidan’s Anglican Church Epping 8.30am

Readings: Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thess 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-33

Not so long ago, people who saw themselves as atheists or agnostics felt the need to explain their lack of faith or even to apologize for it. They might want to ask questions or to debate issues. But they respected faith. Nowadays however there is a large group of people who actively attack religious faith, and deride believers as fools who are in the same category as those who believe there are fairies at the bottom of their garden. These fundamentalist atheists dismiss any faith in God as foolish, and accuse religion as being a source of confusion and harm in the world.

Sadly they have far too much ammunition. We are inclined to single out extreme forms of Islam as evil, but generally see religion as good. We see Christianity as a great source of good, particularly in service to those in need and seeking the welfare of all kinds of people. And we are thankful for the hope and direction our faith gives to our lives.

But let’s face it: the balance sheet is definitely mixed. Religion has far too often been the reason for war and oppression. We think of the crusades and the inquisition. We think of all sorts of discrimination and the justification of evil.

Yes, it was committed Christians who finally achieved the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, but it took nearly 2000 years to get the point that people are not to be treated as mere things, human tools. Yes, much good has been done by different branches of the church, but the church in all branches has tolerated the abuse of children and others in their care. Leaders have then tried to cover it up, rather than risk scandal by clearly dealing with the perpetrators, who so often themselves used supposedly spiritual justification for their appalling deeds. And if we think of the violence seen in various branches of Islam, we must remember that things weren’t so different amongst Christians in Ireland up till very recently. And it is not so long ago that churches justified the ill-treatment of non-whites in South Africa and the USA.

Mind you atheism – really a modern phenomenon – has a pretty black record too – indeed I would say blacker. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and Hitler were all atheists, and the millions they murdered bear mute testimony to the failure of atheism to instil the values that the fundamentalist atheists trumpet. However, in referring to Hitler I have to acknowledge the readiness of the German church to tolerate the evil actions of Hitler, rather than to stand up against his evil in the name of Christ.

I am a Christian for a number of reasons. Yes, I grew up in a Christian setting, and I am one of those who has not let go of their faith. I think I understand many of the arguments raised against belief in God and against the Christian faith. I think I understand many of the difficulties people have in believing in God in a scientific and sceptical age. But I maintain my faith, and indeed seek to share it with those who are interested in learning more about it.

Why is this? I can’t point to any mountain-top experiences that unquestionably proved the reality of God to me. Some have had those, and that’s great. But I can’t depend on the personal experience of others. I am a Christian basically because it makes sense. There are many reasons why I believe Christianity makes sense of life and its meaning, but to explain them is really for another occasion. What is important is that I don’t believe that there are fairies at the bottom of my garden: actually my neighbours live there! Nor do I believe that I am a fool, conned into believing something that is clearly ridiculous. I believe that Christian faith makes sense: and I have lived long enough to see that genuine Christian faith makes a real positive difference to my life, and the lives of countless other believers.

Now why am I talking about all this? Because our readings today open up these issues, in contrast to confusion and cynicism.

Moses, in our readings from Exodus, had a unique relationship with God. God had spoken to him in an extraordinary way at the burning bush, and acted in a wonderful way to bring the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to Mount Sinai. He had given Moses the covenant to share with the people, rebellious and confused as they were. In the verses leading up to today’s passage, we are told that Moses had a special tent outside the main wilderness camp where he would go and meet with God. Indeed it says that the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.

In today’s passage, Moses is debating with God about the help he will provide as Moses seeks to lead those very difficult and rebellious Israelites to the Promised Land. God assures Moses of his presence and help, without filling in all the details that he would have liked to hear. And then Moses makes a strange request. “Show me your glory, I pray”, he asks. He already speaks with God face to face: is that not enough? But then we have God’s confusing response. “I will show you my goodness and will proclaim my name. I will show you my back, but no one, not even you, can see my face and live!”

How strange! Moses already speaks with God face to face, and yet he is not permitted to see God’s face! What I think is being indicated here is an intimacy in Moses’ conversation with God, but still a degree of “veiledness”, of hiddenness. Moses already saw God in a unique way, but what he saw was not complete. God would reveal even more to him: but God is too infinitely great, too holy, for any mere mortal to take it all in.

And of course that is the problem. God in his infinite greatness, in his spiritual nature, in his overwhelming glory, is not to be seen. He is the invisible God. He may occasionally reveal something of himself in special way: but as John says at the opening of his Gospel, “no one has ever really seen God”. And if we earthlings could do so, would it truly be the real infinite God?

The Thessalonians to whom Paul wrote in our New Testament reading were members of a new church founded by Paul. They had made a great start in their faith and service, despite the great changes they had needed to make in their outlook and way of life. As Paul reminded them, they had “turned to God from idols, to serve a true and living God”. Like pagans throughout the world, they had believed in various gods represented by idols, and spoken about in stories and myths.

But the true God to whom they had turned was too great to be seen, and too overwhelming to be represented by a mere idol. And he was not capricious and unpredictable and immoral as their former gods were depicted in their myths: here was a God who demanded godliness and holiness and loving service, a God who really cared how people live, a God who would actually judge all people.

But he was also a God who had revealed himself in a new way, in the person of his own Son, who shared that divine nature and therefore truly revealed God himself. In fact, Jesus not only provided a unique revelation of the true and invisible God: he also provided the way that we could face God’s perfect judgement without fear. He brought us forgiveness and hope as we come to God with our sins and failures. The invisible God revealed himself in special ways to Moses, but now in a unique personal human way in Jesus.

But Jesus did not overwhelm people with his divine glory. He chose to give time to people, to heal and to show his love, to teach and to challenge people’s assumptions and prejudices. He revealed God by being who he was, and allowing people to discover his glory for themselves. And inevitably he encountered opposition.

The first question in today’s Gospel was a trap, not a genuine question. It was designed to either get him into trouble with the Roman authorities if he spoke against paying taxes to Caesar, or to get him offside with the ordinary people if he approved of paying those taxes to the hated occupying forces. Of course, Jesus went to the real heart of the matter: we fulfil our human obligations as is right, but above all we fulfil our obligation to God, whose image will never be found on a coin!

The second question was that cynical story about the seven short-lived brothers, their often-widowed wife, and their marital status in the resurrection. The Sadducees’ aim was of course to ridicule the whole idea of resurrection. Jesus took the issue back to the nature of God himself. He is God of the living: he lives, as do Moses and the other saints of old. Resurrection was and is a reality bound up with the very nature of the living eternal God. Of course, Jesus’ Lordship would be demonstrated above all through his own resurrection.

The true God is too great for us to see this side of heaven. But he has not left us without witness to himself. He gives us reminders of his reality. Perhaps we will have special experiences of his grace, encouraging us in our faith. But we all have the story of Jesus who uniquely revealed God to us humans, and we have the message of the scriptures to help us understand the reality of God and his love.

No, we are not fools to believe. Far from it! Faith does make sense. And trusting and following Jesus gives us the best way to live now, and true hope for eternity, where we shall indeed see and share with God in all his love and glory. Amen.

 

Paul Weaver

Sermon: The Festival of Saint Francis of Assisi (A) – 5th October 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 10am

Readings:  Genesis 2:4b-9a, 19-22  Psalm 148   1 Peter 2:1-5  Matthew 6:25-33

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a great joy to be with you this morning – and a to return to the district where I spent the very early years of my life – 23 Eastcote Road North Epping (it was a new subdivision 50 years ago)….and on the subject of connections, I first encountered your rector, Fr John, 36 years ago; I was in the business class he was teaching on the night he announced he was off to train for Christian Ministry in the great Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn…how the years race by.

St Francis was conscious of that – the passage of time and the importance of using whatever resources and gifts we have for Kingdom purposes.

His story is well known and oft told: The son of a wealthy Italian merchant, he experienced – what I would describe as a ‘progressive conversion to Christ’ informed and influenced by his time as a prisoner of war at around age 20 (in 1201); a life threatening illness three years later, recurring dreams and visions that led him to engage with lepers and the dispossessed, and the eventual renunciation of the security that his privileged life had afforded.

Passages like our gospel reading with its injunction, ‘Strive or seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and these [material things] will be given to you as well’ and a sermon he heard from Matthew 10 – (when he was in his late 20’s) – enjoining listeners to preach the Kingdom of heaven and to bring healing and wholeness to the marginalised and oppressed – with no thought of care or comfort for self, changed his world view.

Francis eschewed things material and embraced a life of peripatetic preaching, ministry to the downtrodden, and prayer. His piety and passion attracted a small band of followers including the young noblewoman, Ciara Offredicio – Claire of Assisi.

In 1210 Francis received papal sanction and endorsement for the inauguration of a new ministry Order whose first rule called for the household “to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience without anything of our own and in chastity”.

In the early 13th century Francis’ ministry also included irenic dialogue with the Muslim world – both in the Holy Land, where significant concessions seemed to have been granted his followers by the Sultan, Ayyubid Al-Kamil – and in Egypt.

Francis is reported to have visited the Sultan in 1219 (the period of the fifth Crusade) during the great siege of the Egyptian port of Damietta – where, with the Sultan’s permission he preached to the Saracens (the Muslims) and enjoyed the Sultans gracious hospitality; remarkable given that 35,000 soldiers (Crusaders) were at his ‘gates’, ready to launch their next sortie.

I have formed the view that Francis, following St Peter’s injunction, endeavored to rid himself ‘of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy and slander’; for he had indeed ‘tasted that the Lord is good’.

Indeed, lore would suggest that through Francis’ witness, the Sultan turned to Christ and was baptised just prior to his death, twenty years later.

Either way, as we engage with our neighbours, colleagues and those in our purview – from the Islamic community, I trust that with St Francis, our conversation and demeanor and will be irenic, selfless and gracious; a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. I Peter 2:5.

Writing this week to his congregation in Roseville (and picked up the ABC’s ‘the Drum’ website) Dr John Dickson stated:

 In the end, I have a simple thing to say, and I feel a strong sense of God’s pleasure in saying it. Common sense and Christian faith urge us to shun both a naïve recasting of Islam as the mirror-image of liberal democracy, and a hateful projection of our own tribalism onto Australian Muslims.

Instead, let’s go out of our way in the coming weeks and months to pray for the Muslims around us and to convey love and friendship toward them. I commit to pray for every Muslim I see, and when I meet Muslims personally, I will try to express friendship in Christ’s name.

I gave it a go last week at Adelaide airport. I greeted a Muslim family, conveyed my fear that recent media coverage might make them feel under the microscope, and expressed my sincere welcome and friendship. They were taken aback, but the woman held her hand to her heart and said, “Thank you. That means so much to me!”

The look on her face almost made me cry.

__

Francis also seemed to have very clear understanding of his role as vicegerent; as the Lord placed men and women in his garden as those through whom his dominion and authority over the created order would be exercised (the vicegerency of Genesis 2), so Francis understood his role as a steward of God’s world.

His 19th century biographer, Bonaventure, observes that Francis preached that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the primordial sin of men and women. He preached to man and beast the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God [as per Psalm 148] and the duty of men and women to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves.

During the World Environment Day 1982, Pope John Paul II said that Francis’ love and care for creation was a challenge for contemporary Christians and a reminder “not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us.”

He also said on the occasion of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990, that Francis “offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation”.

He went on to make the point that: “As a friend of the poor who was loved by God’s creatures, Francis invited all of creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honor and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples.”

And Francis was never sentimental when it came to an understanding of that peace with God; he knew that it was through Christ’s rejection by mortals (as we read in I Peter) his death for our sin that we are reconciled to God. In his adoration prayer he writes,

We adore You,
Lord Jesus Christ,
in all Your churches
throughout the world
and we bless You
because
by Your holy cross
You have
redeemed the world.

___

My prayer, my hope for the people in the diocese where I serve, following Pope John Paul II, is that when we are at peace with God, we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples.

Or as St. Peter puts it, ‘having tasted that the Lord is good and trustworthy – we’ll grow up into our salvation’; a life set apart for the advance of the Kingdom of God – his reign, his dominion, his glory, his honour.

To this end, I’d like to close with St. Francis’ Prayer at San Damiano:

Most High, glorious God,
Enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith;
certain hope and perfect charity; sense and knowledge, Lord,
That I may carry out
Your holy and true commands. Amen.

 

____________

 

 

 

Sermon: The Festival of Saint Francis of Assisi (A) – 5th October 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 6pm

Readings:  Genesis 2:4b-9a, 19-22  Psalm 148   1 Peter 2:1-5  Matthew 6:25-33

Francis was born in Assisi in Umbria Italy in 1182, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis received little formal education and during his youth was mostly preoccupied with having fun. As a young man, he was popular, charming, enjoyed practical jokes and was usually the life of the party. Because of his wealth, he generally picked up the tab and thus attracted a following of fun loving, rowdy young men and women.

When armed conflict broke out between the men of Assisi and a neighbouring city in 1202, Francis eagerly volunteered for the cavalry but wound up getting captured after the first big battle and spent a year in captivity.

Francis returned to Assisi hailed as a hero, but unknown to his friends he had undergone a transformation in his outlook during his captivity. Although he was once again the life of the party, he was now questioning the reason for his existence.

One day, in the church of San Damiano, on the plain below Assisi, he seemed to hear Christ saying to him, “Francis, repair my falling house”. He took the words literally, and sold a bale of silk from his father’s warehouse to pay for repairs to the church. His father was outraged, there was a public confrontation, his father disinherited and disowned him and he in turn renounced his father’s wealth. One account says that he not only handed his father his purse, but also took off his expensive clothes, laid them at his father’s feet, and walked away naked.

He declared himself “wedded to Lady Poverty”, renounced all material possessions and devoted himself to serving the poor. In his day the most dreaded of all diseases was something known as leprosy. It is probably not the same as either the modern or the Biblical disease of that name. Lepers were kept at a distance and regarded with fear and disgust. Francis cared for them, fed them, bathed their sores and kissed them.

Since he could not pay for repairs to the Church of San Damiano, he undertook to repair it by his own labours. He moved in with the priest, and begged stones lying useless in fields, shaping them for use in repairing the church. He got his meals, not by asking for money so that he might live at the expense of others, but by scrounging crusts and discarded vegetable from trash-bins, and by working as a day labourer, insisting on being paid in bread, milk, eggs, or vegetables rather than in money. Soon a few companions joined him. A separate order for women was formed, now known as the Franciscan Nuns or Poor Clares.

Francis had much love for animals with special fondness for the birds. He liked to refer to animals as his brothers and sisters. Legend has it that wild animals had no fear of Francis and even came to him seeking refuge from harm.

Dante in his Paradiso has the theologian Thomas Aquinas say of him:

“Let me tell you of a youth whose aristocratic father disowned Him because of his love for a beautiful lady. She had been married before, to Christ, and was so faithful a spouse to Him that, while Mary only stood at the foot of the Cross, she leaped up to be with Him on the Cross. These two of whom I speak are Francis and the Lady Poverty. As they walked along together, the sight of their mutual love drew men’s hearts after them. Bernard saw them and ran after them, kicking off his shoes to run faster to so great a peace. Giles and Sylvester saw them, kicked off their shoes and ran to join them …”

After three years, in 1210, the Pope authorized the forming of the Order of Friars Minor, commonly called the Franciscans. “Friar” means “brother”, as in “fraternity”, and “minor” means “lesser” or “younger”. This means that a Franciscan, upon meeting another Christian, is to think, “I am your brother in Christ, and your younger brother at that, bound to defer to you and to give you precedence over myself”.

Francis and his companions took literally the words of Christ when he sent his disciples out to preach. “Preach as you go, saying; The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. … You have received the Gospel without payment; give it to others as freely. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, no spare garment, nor sandals, nor staff.”

They would have no money, and no property, individually or collectively. Their task was to preach, as Francis said, “using words if necessary”, declaring by word and action the love of God in Christ.

It is believed that is was Francis who set up the first Christmas manger scene, to promote the Incarnation by imagination as well as intellect. The first crib was set up at Greccio, halfway between Rome and Assisi.

In 1219, Francis went to the Holy Land to preach to the Muslims. He was given a pass through the enemy lines and spoke to the Sultan, Melek-al-Kamil. Francis proclaimed the Gospel to the Sultan, who replied that he had his own beliefs and that Muslims were as firmly convinced of the truth of Islam as Francis was of the truth of Christianity. The Sultan who was deeply impressed but remained unconverted.

Francis proposed an armistice between the two warring sides, and drew up terms for one; the Sultan agreed, but, to Francis’s deep disappointment, the Christian leaders would not. The results are still being felt today. Francis returned to Italy, but a permanent result was that the Franciscans were given custody of the Christian shrines then in Muslim hands.

Back in Italy and neighbouring countries, the Order was suffering from its own success. Then, as now, many persons were deeply attracted by Francis and his air of joy, abandonment and freedom. What is overlooked is that these were made possible only by his willingness to accept total poverty, not picturesque poverty but real dirt, rags, cold, and hunger, and lepers with real pus oozing from their sores and a real danger of infection.

Many idealistic young men were joining the Order in a burst of enthusiasm and then finding themselves not so sure that such extremes of poverty were really necessary. When there were only a few friars, Francis knew them all personally, and the force of his personality kept the original ideals of the Order alive in them. Now that the Order was larger, this was no longer enough.

In 1220 Francis resigned as minister-general of the Order, and in 1221 he agreed to a new and modified rule, which he did not approve, but could not resist. He died on 4 October 1226. After his death, Pope Gregory IX declared Francis a saint.

For several centuries thereafter, his Franciscan order experienced continuous growth and is still active today caring for the poor, educating youth, and performing many other good deeds.

The Franciscan’s split into the Conventual Franciscans, who held a limited amount of property in common, and the Spiritual Franciscans, who disavowed all property. They taught that Christ and the twelve apostles had held no property. This view offended those who held property, and was declared heretical. In 1318, several Spiritual Franciscans were burned at the stake in Marseilles.

From the first known letter from Francis to all Christians:

“O how happy and blessed are those who love the Lord and do as The Lord himself said in the gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul, and your neighbour as yourself. Therefore, let us love God and adore him with pure heart and mind. This is his particular desire when he says: True worshipers adore the Father in spirit and truth. For all who adore him must do so in the spirit of truth. Let us also direct to him our praises and prayers, saying: “Our Father, who are in heaven”, since we must always pray and never grow slack.

Furthermore, let us produce worthy fruits of penance. Let us also, love our neighbours as ourselves. Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve. We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to very human being for God’s sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father’s children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“The Canticle of the Sun” Attributed to St Francis.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honour and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,

and serve Him with great humility.”[i]

 

 

[i] This sermon prepared using material found at http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/saintfran.html and http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/258.html