St. Francis Showed us That By serving Others our faith is strengthened.
a lesson on St. Francis and Luke 17:5-10
The first Sunday in October is always a favorite time of the year for me. It’s a Sunday that has been set aside to celebrate the life and contributions to the church made by one man. Francis of Assisi – the saint who launched a million birdbaths, hundreds of thousands of statues, and the occasional service of Blessing of the Animals.
Francis is a shining example for us to follow today, both as humans and as a gathered church.
He taught that there is joy in life apart from material possession. And showed us how to treasure the natural world and humanity’s relationship to all of life.
Francis had the ability to see Christ in all things, and he has been the main inspiration to my own spiritual quest and the reason behind this blog.
His words and works are a special invitation to us all to participate in God’s Kingdom with the unique gifts we’ve been given.
In the gospel of Luke, the disciples doubt they have what it takes to accept such an invitation. They feel like it will take more faith than what they have. You might feel the same way – wondering how in the heck anyone can live like Christ, or love as he called us to do?
Even though I ask myself that all the time, it doesn’t invalidate the job of the church or her members. In addressing their concerns Jesus gives us this answer in Luke 17:5-10:
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
A few years ago I was struck by something I read from Richard Rohr who wrote, “After two thousand years of studying to be like Jesus Christ we’ve managed to avoid everything that he taught to do.”
His words echo something G.K. Chesterton famously said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
Both men’s views on Christianity, suggest Christ followers have never really put our faith into action, at least not like Jesus did. Yet I think even Rohr and Chesterton would agree there was at least one notable exception beside Christ – Francis of Assisi.
The son of a wealthy textile merchant, Francis always dreamed of earning glory in battle. His first time at war, Assisi was defeated, and Francis was taken prisoner and nearly died from an illness while in captivity.
Through a series of divine interventions, Francis found new glory in answering a unique call to repair God’s church which had fallen away from what Jesus intended it to be.
By the 13th century, the church was waging its own wars in Europe and in the Middle East. Priest were giving special privileges to the wealthy while forgetting the poor completely. Some leaders at the top were even selling positions of power to those who could afford it.
While all this was going on, Francis was leading a revolutionary new interpretation of the gospel life – one based more on the works of Christ than the doctrines of man.
This quiet revolution started after Francis met a stranger on a pilgrimage to Rome. Outside of St. Peter’s Church Francis saw a beggar calling out to him. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Francis did something unthinkable. He traded clothes with the man. And Francis himself spent the rest of the day begging for alms in his place. That experience shook him to the core causing him to renounce his family’s wealth and to take on the garb of the poor.
Following closely to the example set by Christ, Francis cared for those who were forgotten or pushed away by the church. And soon others followed suit, and a monastic movement was born.
In some respects many churches have gone back in time — supporting war-like leaders, favoring the rich over the poor, and being more concerned with defending politics and doctrine than loving people. They preach a new life in Christ but they themselves are unwilling to live it.
Perhaps Chesterton was correct to suggests that the Christian ideal is just too difficult and thus left untried. Not so with Francis. His approach to imitating Christ and living a life of service fits with what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel reading.
In response to the disciple’s plea, Jesus tells them that they can accomplish great things for God with just the tiniest amount of faith. This is important to us because Jesus goes on to describe the thankless task of serving God.
But a careful read of this passage suggests there is a connection between these two seemingly different points: it’s in serving God that our faith is strengthened.
Francis took great effort to see Christ in every living thing...not just in people but in animals and in plants. He knew he could faithfully embrace a servant life because in every task he did he was actually serving the Lord in the process.
The challenge for us today is to see the Divine in all things, especially in the people we serve. In doing so, we can approach even the most thankless task with joy and grace.
I have to keep this in mind when I’m wiping up muddy paw prints off the couch or cleaning dried up toothpaste out of the sink. My dog doesn’t thank me for picking up her poop, but it still has to be done.
In his understanding of who Jesus was and what Jesus taught us to do, Francis knew he had all the faith he needed to give of himself completely to do the will of God because through Jesus God had given him complete and unconditional love. As he engaged with this divine love, Francis watched his faith grow stronger and stronger with every person he served.
I believe the same can be true with us. As Rev. Frank Logue points out, Jesus reminds us that "when we come in from doing something for God, don’t expect a reward, expect more work." You see, it wasn’t accolades that motivated Francis to see and do what Jesus does, it was love.
We are called to serve others with love, mercy and grace as if we are serving Jesus himself. Because to love thy neighbor requires us to constantly care for the needs of one another (including animals and our environment). With each step we take in this direction, our faith increases as does our love, our health, our peace, and our security.
Francis took his mustard seed of faith and used it to exchange clothes with a beggar. In the process, he found all he needed to work among the poorest of the poor. The very place where God needed him the most.
What is your mustard seed of faith? And how will you put it to work for the Lord? What steps are you willing to take as God opens your heart to this call to serve?
Francis took small steps of faith, each one emboldened him to trust God more. Likewise, with every step we take our trust strengthens – as does our relationship with our Creator and all of creation.
As we leave here today, let us look to the examples of Francis and strive to see Christ in every living thing. Let us serve one another as if we are personally serving our Lord.
Let us take up the challenge to embrace the Christian ideal by living it as if Christ actually meant what he said.
G.K. Chesterton concluded in his critique of Christianity by stating, “Let religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
Walking the life of faith is simply an act of love. When we embrace Christ with love, we are able to embrace everyone we see and everything we do with love.
And like Francis we can say that we are merely servants doing what we were called to do…be the mirror of Christ so others can see the Kingdom of God in all its splendor.
Special thanks to Fr. Frank S. Logue whose sermon An Act of Love (10/1/2016) inspired this message. (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/act-love-pentecost-17-c-october-6-2019).