A celebration of St. Francis of Assisi; Psalm 148:7-14; Matthew 11:25-30
A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
My friends, this morning I must admit, I have a lot of mixed emotions. A lot of mixed emotions that have made today rather uncomfortable. I am feeling rather weary and heavy-laden. When I originally read today’s texts, especially our Psalm, I was overjoyed. I was overjoyed knowing that this would be my first feast of St. Francis on the Lake. I was excited to preach on the glory of God’s creation. I was excited to preach on our role as stewards of this creation. I was excited to preach on the power of God incarnate in every aspect of the world around us. I was overjoyed because I would have the opportunity not only to draw on the writings of Francis and Clare, but of the Celtic Christians, and even of John Muir as he compares the glistening caps of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the bejeweled city of the heavenly Jerusalem. I was overjoyed to bless my pup, Merlin for the first time and to bless all these beautiful and lively members of your own families on this celebratory day.
But friends, I have to admit, this morning this joy is mixed with something else. This joy is mixed with grief, with sorrow, with anger even. My joy is muted by the events that occurred late last weekend, by the tragedy that touched our state, by the shootings that happened in the city of Las Vegas. And for a second I thought about not even mentioning Francis at all in my sermon. But thank God as I griped about my dilemma earlier this week, a friend reminded me of one of my favorites stories about this saint from Assisi, that wandering monk of the 12th and 13th centuries; preaching and teaching throughout central Italy. It is a story that I believe both reflects Francis’ love of creation and his peace making capabilities.
In the hills of Umbria, Italy, covered in green and sun kissed with Mediterranean light, sits the small medieval town of Gubbio (less than an hour’s drive from the pilgrimage center of Assisi). However, during Francis’ day this beautiful city of Gubbio—sitting so quaint and picturesque in a valley encircled by hills—was in desperate need of help. For this quiet town was terrorized by a wolf. Under the cover of night he visited their village. At first he solely devoured the sheep and goats of the townspeople but soon he graduated to dining on the townspeople themselves; picking them off one by one by one. Having such an insatiable hunger, no prey small or large could curb the wolf’s appetite. And the townspeople of Gubbio continued to be harassed by this wolf, and they knew of no other alternative than to kill the beast who prowled around at their doors. So soon the villagers armed themselves with pitchforks and swords, with clubs and canes, ready for yet another attack from the vicious wolf; ready to put an end to the animal terrorizing their town. Feeling so much fear and hatred for their fellow creature of God.
Yet thankfully this was not to be the end of this animal. For Francis, the dog lover that he was, knew he had to intervene in order to save the lives of both the townspeople and the wolf. So this holy man went out from the village of Gubbio, out into the hills to find the den of the beast. And after Francis spoke with the creature (as he had a habit of doing with all of God’s creatures), he brought the wolf back to Gubbio not as a foe but as a friend. A friend who was also hurting; whose hunger ate away in his belly as a drought was in the valley that year, and hunting was much leaner than it ever had been. And God wouldn’t want this beloved creature to suffer anymore than God would want any of God’s beloved children to suffer.
So this Christian community banded together in the midst of all their mixed emotions, of fear and uncertainty, of anger and hatred. In the midst of the uncomfortable reality of confronting the wolf, the people of Gubbio actually banded together as a community to feed this creature of God for the rest of his life; to care for this animal until his dying day; to transform this wolf from foe to friend with the simple choice of love.
Yet this love was not a complacent love; was not a passive love; was not a inactive love. Instead this love was a love of creative problem-solving; a love that responded to the needs in its midst; a love that strove for justice and peace for all parties involved.
At first the people of Gubbio, these disciples of Christ, may have thought they only had two options: either they had the opportunity to repay hatred with more hatred, blood with more blood, violence with more violence. Or the option to do nothing: to sit idly by as fellow children of God were massacred; to claim complacency because their family was not affected; to respond that now is not the time to talk about the issue and just ignore the agonizing pain in their midst.
But thank God for the wolf, and for us, they chose a third way.
My friends, in the wake of such a tragedy in our own state, in the aftermath of such a massacre, as the wolf prowls around about our door we too have a choice to make. As Christians the kind of love God calls us to; the kind of love modeled by St. Francis; that kind of love is never complacent, is never passive, is never inactive.
As Christians God calls us to choose an option behind door number three. An option that does not abuse these mixed emotions, that does not manipulate anger and grief for evil purposes or pushes them aside encouraging a culture of denial. A culture of denial that continues to allow children to be gunned down in Colorado and Connecticut; that continues to allow families to be massacred who just wanted to see a movie; that continues to allow people who are out enjoying a club or a concert to be targeted and killed as they went about enjoying their lives cut so short. But instead God gives us a third option, as modeled in the life of Jesus Christ. An option that uses anger and grief, crying out from the depths of our souls, to save the soul of another human being; to say we will have no more part in it; to swear that this will be the last time we see such violence in our midst.
God gives us a third option. An option that appears so difficult at first because it is so counter cultural. But it is actually an option that is so easy and so light because it is so simple. For it is the simple choice of love over hatred, of love over violence, of love over complacency, of love over passivity, of love over any other possibility. The simple choice of love that creates the peace that passes all understanding. It is the simple act of choosing love when our society tells us to seek revenge; when our society tells us to remain silent; when our society tells us that nothing can be done to solve the problem. The third option, Jesus’ third way, is the simple act of choosing love so that we truly can become instruments of God’s peace. Instruments who call our legislatures, who march and protest together, who demand gun control reform now and forever.
So this morning, let us harness these mixed emotions we are feeling. Let us be like the disciples of Christ who have come before us; like that Saint Francis of Assisi who cared for every creature of God; like the people of Gubbio who faced their fear and fed their enemy; like the people of the Civil Rights’ movement who marched together for transformation; like the people of Polish Solidarity who overthrew the corrupt government in their land. My friends, let us be disciples of Christ, the people of a third way, the people of today who are not willing to let peace wait until another tomorrow.