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Pentecost 19 October 4, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 19 Commemoration of Saint Francis
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 121; Galatians 6:14-18; Matthew 11:25-30
Christ Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, October 4, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Today we pause in our orderly progression
through the Sundays of this Pentecost season
to commemorate Francis of Assisi
and give thanks for his life and witness.
Saint Francis,
lover of God’s Creation,
lover of Jesus and his Cross,
lover of poverty,
          and the freedom
          a life of chosen poverty gave him
                   to love and serve the poor
                             in Jesus’ name.
He died almost 800 years ago,
in his early forties,
and yet he lives on today
in Anglican and Roman Catholic
          monastic communities
                   of women and of men,
in the worldwide
          Third Order of St. Francis,
in Franciscan healthcare systems,
and in the minds and hearts
          of countless Christians inspired by his example.
He lives on today
in the preaching and teaching ministry of
Jesuit cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio,
who took the papal name of Francis upon his election . . .
(as the first Jesuit pope,
he might well have chosen the name
of Ignatius,
founder of the Jesuit Order)
But he chose Francis,
because he, like Francis, has an abiding concern
for the poor of this world,
for the environment,
for the well-being of all individuals and peoples,
          and all of creation,
for peace and unity among nations . . .
In his recent visit to our country
he challenged our Congress
and each of us
to sacrifice our “particular interests,” 
to “implement a ‘culture of care’ ”                       (Laudato Si’ – 231)
to find “an integrated approach to
          combating poverty,
          restoring dignity to the excluded,
          and at the same time protecting nature.”    (Laudato Si’ – 139)
He called us
to “be at the service of dialogue and peace,”
and to “strive for justice and the cause of the oppressed.” 
                                                                                      (Address to Congress 9/24/15 –                                                                                              Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
Franciscan values.

Those were not
foremost in the mind
of young Francis of Assisi
as he grew into adulthood
in the latter years of the 12th century.
It was a time of great economic expansion.
As the upper classes became richer,
the poor of Francis’ world
were left farther and farther behind –
          not unlike what is happening
          in our own country and world –
the day laborers, the tenant farmers,
the disabled, the sick, beggars, widows,
the hard-luck people and their children – 
the underclass,
the littlest and least.
like most of the upper class,
paid scant attention to their need.
He was too busy
enjoying all the
privileges, pleasures and security
his father’s considerable wealth
          could provide.

By day, he and his friends
practiced the arts of combat:
          horsemanship, swordplay, jousting,
for, in their romantic idealism,
they hoped to become knights
          riding gloriously off to war.
In the evenings
Francis was a dashing
troubadour about town,
wining and dining with his friends,
singing songs of courtly love,
carousing through
          the streets of Assisi.
He hardly seemed headed
for sainthood.
When war was declared
between the city-states of Assisi and Perugia,
Francis and friends set off
on their long-awaited
          grand adventure . . .
. . . which turned out to be horribly different
from the games they had played
at home:
like all wars,
ultimately pointless, brutal, a slaughter of innocents.

Francis was captured,
held prisoner for nearly a year
in a dark, cold cell . . .
always hungry and thirsty,
filthy and smelly, 
          sick in body and soul.
How low he had fallen.
Through his own suffering
he became aware of the suffering
of the other prisoners,
as filthy and smelly,
hungry and thirsty,
sick in body and soul
as he was.
Compassion stirred within him.
He shared his meager food allotment with them,
tended the wounded and sick,
sang his songs to cheer them,
wept when they died in his arms.
Francis also died in prison,
the old Francis, that is,
the heedless, cavalier playboy.
A new Francis emerged.

The scales of privilege
that had covered his eyes,
blinding him
to everything but his own shallow pursuits,
had fallen away.
Now he marveled,
with childlike wonder,
at the beauty of God’s creation
and everything in it.
Now he saw,
with childlike dismay,
how that beauty was marred
by disease, poverty, enmity, sin.
He returned to Assisi,
heart broken open
and available to God.