There have been a few great saints throughout history. But today I want to look at the one who has influenced my ministry and inspired the very idea of Anamesa. That is St. Francis of Assisi – the saint who launched a million birdbaths and backyard statues.
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.
Most importantly, Francis taught us to see Christ in all things. By looking at the world around us with an eye of finding the divine in our midst, Francis invites us to participate in God’s Kingdom in a radical new way.
In our reading today, we will see how the disciples doubt they have what it takes to accept such an invitation.
In addressing their concerns Jesus gives us this reminder in Luke 17:5-6
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 …of which so many of us try hard to avoid, it was St. Francis of Assisi.
The son of a wealthy textile merchant, Francis lived the good life. He wore the finest clothes. Drank the best wine. And had all the power and prestige that most people envy.
But then something changed in him. He began to have a series of divine interventions. This confused and and trouble the young, soon-to-be saint. So he took it to prayer. And pray he did.
One day while Francis was praying in an old dilapidated chapel, he heard God clearly say to him, “Repair my church.”
For most of us, we’d take that to mean start a capitol campaign to fix up the actual building; throw up a new roof, some fresh paint, cushions on the pews. But Francis would soon come to realize God meant something bigger.
You see, by the 13th century, the church was a far cry from what it was at Pentecost. The Pope’s were starting wars. Bishops were selling positions of power. And priests were giving special dispensations to the wealthy. All the while, the church was forgetting the poor completely.
Francis, who was not a theologian, soon realized his call was to lead a revolutionary new interpretation of the gospel; one based more on the works of Christ than the doctrines of man.
Taking Jesus at his word, Francis embodied a radically different lifestyle than that of the heads of church and state.
He shed his wealth for a vow of poverty. He ministered in the fringes instead of in cathedrals. Most importantly, he looked at all people the way God did - with a loving gaze. Then acted upon that love as if he was giving it directly to God.
Realizing even the lowliest of people carry God’s DNA, “Francis discovered that the glory of God is found in identification with the most vulnerable people, the poor, disabled, and leprous.” (Epperly)
This made it easier for Francis to care for those who were forgotten or pushed away by the church. I think this says something about who we are as a gathered people, and what we are called to do as Christ followers. Which takes us to our reading.
For whatever reason the Apostles ask Jesus to “increase their faith.” Jesus reply was simply you don’t need more, because there is no “more” or “less” faith. There is just faith. It only takes the tiniest amount to do the impossible.
Scripture is full of examples of what a speck of faith can produces through ordinary people like you and me.
Look at what it did for an ordinary nomad named Abraham. And lowly nobody named Mary.
The first church was established with uneducated fishermen, and a small group of folks like us who prayed and shared all things in common.
While no mulberry trees have been recorded as jumping into the sea, the faith of these ordinary people made extraordinary things happen.
Here’s why I think that is true. It’s not us. But God. It’s not our faith that God relies on. It’s God’s faith in us. It’s God’s faithfulness that does all the work, but does so using our hearts and hands. One needs to look no further than Mary’s baby to see how God can do a lot with little.
As so many saints before us would realize, it’s the faithfulness of God that redeems and transforms the world and all that is in it.
Francis didn’t set out to be a saint. He was just trying to figure out what God was calling him to do. Through his little bit of faith, he would come to discover, the closer he was to the one’s the church had tossed aside, the closer he was getting to Christ.
As a result, his faith grew stronger and stronger with every person he served. The stronger his faith grew, the closer he came to our Lord. I believe the same is true for us today.
Christ is calling us to be closer to him so we can be more like him. And it only takes having faith the size of a mustard seed. Imagine how our world, our country and our communities, our churches and our hearts might be transformed if we actually met and loved Jesus in the poor, the sick,…the marginalized and outcasts.
Instead of pushing people away because of who they voted for who choose to love, maybe we'd do better welcoming and embracing them as if we are welcoming and embracing Christ himself with love.
You see, it was his love for Christ, not fear or his desire for knowledge, that motivated Francis into action. And to borrow from Jesus, there is no “more” or “less” love…just love.
Love is faith in action. It’s the way God’s faithfulness is seen and felt by others.
God is calling people like us – beloved saints hidden inside beleaguered sinners – to live out the Gospel of Love even if we’re not very good at it. If we believe Jesus’ words are true, then it doesn’t take a lot for God to change the landscape of life. But it does take our willingness to open our hearts and hands to Christ.
You might be wondering what you can do with your small, barely adequate mustard seed.
The Apostles thought the same thing. They eventually took theirs out in the world and planted Christlike communities in homes across the Roman Empire.
St. Francis took his to revolutionize the gospel and show us a way to live in imitation of Christ. St. Brigid’s mustard seed inspired a global charity, helping impoverished people get the help they need. St. Christopher, St. Patrick, St. Catherine were all ordinary people through whom God did extraordinary things.
And now it’s our turn.
Your presence here today is proof that you have just the right amount of faith to feed the hungry, heal the sick, seek justice, care for the widow and orphan, and to love your neighbor as if you are loving Christ himself.
Like Chesterton concluded, “Religion needs to be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
Frank Logue reminds us that “walking the life of faith then is not done in search of sainthood but is simply an act of love.” That was Francis to the letter; finding Christ in all living things and loving Christ through them.
In his most famous prayer, Francis cried, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
In Anamesa, we are called to sow love through our commitment to faithfully serve God’s will by loving God, loving others and serving both.
With this simple act of faith, you and I can join Francis and all the other saints as mere “servants doing what we were called to do knowing that what we do, we do for love, for the one who knows us fully and loves us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.”
Let us make love our intention as we move along this pilgrim path, unlocking the space between where God comes to meet us and redeem us in our words and deeds.
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).
Epperly, Bruce G. Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2021).
Logue, Frank S. An Act of Love. October 1, 2016 (accessed on 11/3/2023).
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.”