Between Saints & Sainthood
According to scripture, we are all made in God’s image, which means we all share the same divine DNA with Jesus, and Francis, and so many other saints before us. That DNA, many have argued, is God’s greatest love made manifest in all things. Which means that DNA has a name – the Christ.
By looking at the world around us through this Christ lens, Francis invites us all to participate in God’s Kingdom in ways that truly bring Christ to life in all that we do. In today’s reading from 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. In addressing their concerns Jesus gives us this answer.
READ Luke 17:5-10 here.
In his critique of Christianity, G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
Richard Rohr was less kind when he wrote, “After two thousand years of studying to be like Jesus Christ, we’ve managed to avoid everything that he taught to do.”
Both men, however, would agree that if anyone has ever come close to living up to that Christian ideal, it was St. Francis of Assisi.
The son of a wealthy textile merchant, Francis lived the good life. He wore the finest clothes. And drank the best wine. But after the war, where he spent time suffering as a prisoner, something changed in Francis. He began to have a series of divine interventions. While contemplating the meaning behind these visions, Francis heard God say to him, “repair my church.”
You see, by the 13th century, the church was a far cry from what it was at Pentecost. The Pope’s were starting wars in Europe and in the Middle East. Priests were giving special privileges to the wealthy. Bishops were selling positions of power to those who could afford it. All the while, the church was forgetting the poor completely.
While making a pilgrimage to Rome Francis met a beggar outside of St. Peter’s church. Moved with compassion, Francis befriended the man and, as the story goes, he eventually traded clothes with him. He would spend the rest of the day begging for alms in this man’s place.
That experience shook Francis to the core; leading him to renounce his family’s wealth and take on the clothes of the poor. He dedicated the rest of his life caring for those who were forgotten or pushed away by the church. Out of his faithfulness, a monastic movement was born.
So, what can we learn from Francis? First, we need a little faith. And second, we need to act on it.
Remember, faith is a verb. It’s an action we take. For Francis that meant committing to living the way of Christ. You see, he was learning to read the bible in a revolutionary new way – by looking at it through the eyes of Christ and not the doctrines of the church.
In seeing the world through the eyes of Christ, one can’t help but to do the work of Christ.
Francis quickly realized it doesn’t take much more than a willingness to show kindness or to lend a helping hand to do what God asks of us.
Like Jesus taught, it doesn’t take much for God to do a lot through you. Because it’s not our faith God relies on. It’s God’s faith in us.
watch the entire message here
When the apostles asked Jesus to “increase our faith” his reply was simply you don’t need more, just need a better understanding of it. Jesus goes on to describe faith as a relationship between master and servant, one that is marked by mutual accountability and expectations.
Francis saw himself, his calling, as one of a faithful servant – serving God with a sense of duty and delight. His goal wasn’t sainthood, or to get a free pass into heaven. Francis did it to be closer to Christ. The closer he was to the poor, the sick, and the lame, the closer he was to our Lord. It was as if Francis believed Jesus meant it when he said, “What you do to the least of these you do also to me.”
At Anamesa, we take Jesus at his word. We’ve made it our goal and live it out in all the ways we love God, love others, and serve both. We didn’t decide to do this to earn bonus points for some future life. We faithfully believe that when we do these things, we meet Christ who’s showing us the way to live an abundant life right now.
But here’s the catch. According to Jesus, when you come in from doing something for God, don’t expect a reward, only more work. Faith and faithful service is a full-time job. Sadly, too many Christians today still believe this is too difficult so they don’t even bother trying.
What if we did try?
What if we did what Francis did and just started seeing Christ in everything? How might that change us, or transform the world?
What would happen in our communities if we saw Christ in the homeless vets begging at the end of a freeway offramp?
How might it change the way we give, if we saw Christ in the single moms struggling to make ends meet?
Would we react differently if we first saw Christ in a teenager struggling with faith because of her sexuality?
I think that if we looked at the world through this Christ-lens, we’d see God’s church is still in dire need of repair.
Too many Christians continue to support war-hungry leaders. They continue to favor the rich over the poor. And are more concerned with defending politics and doctrine rather than loving people the way Jesus expects us to.
In this space of Anamesa, there is work to be done. And God is calling people like us – beloved saints hidden inside beleaguered sinners – who are willing to live out the Gospel even if we’re not very good at it.
If we believe Jesus’ words are true, then it doesn’t take a lot of faith for God to change the landscape of life. St. Francis took his mustard seed and used it to help the world see Jesus among them.
St. Theresa took her mustard seed to care for poorest of the poor left dying on the streets of Calcutta.
St. Brigid took her mustard seed and gave it away to those in need.
St. Patrick took his and shared the gospel with the very people who tried to kill him knowing that they too were made in the divine image of God’s love.
What is your mustard seed? And how will you put it to work for the Lord who called us to look for him in the faces of the hungry, the tired, the naked, the imprisoned, in the sick and dying, in the marginalized and outcast…the modern lepers we try to avoid.
How do we use our little bit of faith to love one another as God first loved us?
In the conclusion of his critique of Christianity, Chesterton wrote, “Religion needs to be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
Christian faith is simply an act of love. So is sainthood. I believe anyone can be a saint, especially if they faithfully believe they are doing it to Christ himself.
In his most famous prayer, St. Francis begins by asking, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
In the space between saints and sainthood, that is our job - to sow love. Like faith, love grows through our commitment to serve God’s will by loving and serving one another.
So let me say it again: Faith is more than just believing in some doctrine or divine mystery. Faith is love in action.
Therefore, let us go out into the world as beloved saints walking faithfully with one another, in the footsteps of Christ Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve God’s glory through ordinary and extraordinary acts of love.
Adapted from an original message, A Servant Saint, on October 6, 2019.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Logue, Frank S. An Act of Love episcopalchurch.org on October 1, 2016 (accessed on 10/1/2019).
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”