Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pentecost 17, 2014: Divine connection

Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

On Friday, I attended our bishop’s teaching on “The Wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi” at Valle Crucis. Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of St. Francis with a traditional blessing of the animals – traditional, because Francis’ connection with creation was unique, mystical, and still inspires the world who remember and re-enact his ways.

Hear Francis’ own words on this connection:

“I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments –
he got so excited

and ran into a hollow in his tree and came
back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.

And I just smiled and said, ‘Yes, dear,
you understand:

everything imparts
[God’s] grace.’” (“Love Poems from God,” by Daniel Ladinski, 53)

Francis experienced that all things, all people, all of creation provided an opportunity to connect with God whose grace flowed through these connections, and Francis was passionate about making them. Francis taught that we must learn to identify what he called our “false self” and strive to live only from our “true self,” which we learn from these divine connections.

+Porter said our false self is what’s on our resume: the things we’ve done, the degrees, titles, and positions we hold, and any categories we conceive, like liberal or conservative, rich or poor, orthodox or progressive. For e.g., +Porter said, ‘You watch a certain TV news show – which means you must think like this, and vote like that.’

When we operate out of our false self we end up only encountering the categories we hold,
not the people we meet.

Our true self, according to Francis, is simple: we are beloved of God. All of us. Our true, he says, self is rooted in Christ and, therefore, can’t be taken away by any person or any circumstance.

Living from our true self, as uniquely gifted by and beloved of God – no greater or lesser than anyone else on the earth – upsets the status quo which holds that earthly wealth is earned and the privilege it affords is an entitlement, a reward for hard work and a life well lived.

The false self believes there are “right people” and “wrong people.” The true self sees the divine presence in all people and is, therefore, moved to love and serve them.

Francis, who was born into privilege, angered his father by taking his monthly allowance and giving it away to the poor; something his father considered wasteful. Francis refused to take over his father’s lucrative cloth business choosing instead to devote himself to God. In response, Francis’s father went to court to remove Francis’ claim on his fortune so that Francid couldn’t waste it on the poor.

Francis responded by stripping himself of his fine clothes and laying them at his father’s feet in the town square. Disowning himself, Francis said, “I have no father, but God the father.”

To be fair, it wasn’t that Francis despised money or reputation or power. What concerned him was the power those things tend to have over us. For Francis it was about freedom: do we own the money or does it own us?

Francis also was not interested in “playing church.” He actively avoided institutionalization. When Franciscan brothers would build buildings to facilitate their ministries, Francis would go and literally tear them down.

Don’t misunderstand: church buildings are fine, but the church is not its building, and having a beautiful church doesn’t guarantee that the fruits of the kingdom can be found there. And Jesus warns us what will happen if that’s the case.

Our church building, this building, is a place where we encounter God, where we’re nourished by Word and Sacrament, and part of a community where we can safely discover our true selves and how God is calling us to serve.

Francis’ father never forgave him for deserting his fortune and the future laid out for him. In fact, every time Francis came into the town square, his father would curse him, spit on him, and berate him, calling him worthless, a fool, a failure.

Francis knew in heart that he had to answer God’s call to him, but his father’s words reached his heart and touched his place of self-doubt, a place we all share. It got to where Francis took a companion named Alberto with him every time he went into town. When Francis’ father would begin his destructive tirade, Alberto would tell Francis, “That isn’t true.”

+Porter said the lesson here is: we all need someone to help us follow our calling. That’s the church.

The world, and that includes Christians with a worldly view, will resist and even thwart the work of faithful followers of Christ, because it doesn’t make sense to them that the last will be first and the first will be last (Mt 20:16), or that we should give to everyone who begs from us (Lk 6:30), or that we must love our enemies and pray for those who abuse us (Lk 6:27-28), or that the stone rejected by earthly builders would become God’s own cornerstone (Mt 21:42).

Jesus turned the world and our expectations of the reign of God upside down, and that continues to unsettle us. As a result, even faithful people seek peace and security from things that can’t really offer them, like membership rolls, annual budgets, and endowments. They get trapped by the trappings of money, power, and a vision that is familiar, comfortable, and under their control.

According to St. Francis, these people have lost their way and it is up to us, the community of Christ, to help them find their way again. We do that by being channels of God’s grace in the world.

As Francis said, we have been “called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” This is our heavenly calling, the one St. Paul talks about in his letter to the Philippians.

Notice that the prize isn’t heaven. It’s the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus – a call to encounter and connect with God, with one another, and with the world from a place of truth, free from the things of earth that trap, bind, and constrict us.

This kind of divine encounter can be difficult because it brings us to “those things of which our conscience is afraid” as our Collect says, things like: ‘I could be wrong... or, I might have done wrong… or, I might have been betrayed by someone I trusted…’

A divine connection leads us to confront our well-fortified earthly and church systems, systems which categorize, judge, and divide us; systems over which we think we have control but which actually steal our freedom. These are systems of the false self, as Francis would say, and they lead to death, because they are not of God in whom alone is all life, all freedom, and all truth.

Finally, a divine connection leads us to follow the example of our Savior who showed us how to love and forgive even those who abuse and harm us, and called us to live together in unity and love, even as we trust God to provide us what we need to accomplish our work in the world.

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

The church, our church, is where we learn and practice love - God’s love – which is always bigger, wilder, more generous, and less containable than we might like it to be.

The church is the womb of God on earth where we are continually born into new life. In this womb we can safely confront any nightmare, any betrayal, any fear, and discover our true selves: our gifts and God’s purpose for our use of them during our time on earth.

The church enables us to take this journey into love together, knowing all of us are all imperfect
and all of us need to forgive as we have been forgiven by God. We journey together trusting in the redeeming love of God to guide us, heal us, nourish us, unite us, and ultimately, prepare us to go out and connect, heal, and unite others into this love.

I close with this poem from St. Francis:

“God came to my house and asked for charity.

And I fell on my knees and
cried, ‘Beloved,

what may I give?’

‘Just love,’ [God] said.
‘Just love.’
(“He Asked for Charity,” in “Love Poems from God,” Ladinsky, 33)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you.