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Pentecost 17 October 1 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 17  Proper 21 Year A
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-8; Philippians 2:1-13;
            Matthew 21:23-32
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, October 1 (commemoration of St. Francis)
The Rev. Janet Campbell
It’s Saturday morning
and I sit in my sermon-writing place
in my home in Lakewood      
looking out over my backyard.
The sun is shining,
the last-day-of-September sky
          a deep, clear blue.
The autumn wind tosses the tree tops,
blowing leaves golden and brown
          across the yard,
and into my as-yet-uncovered gutters . . .
and it’s all good.
A grey squirrel
hurries along the top of the wooden fence
that runs between the backyards
          in this neighborhood,
an acorn in its mouth
to add to its stash of goodies
          against the coming winter.

This Saturday morning,
I’m a miniscule and thankful creature
in this great, wide world God has made,
in the short moment of time I occupy,
surveying the tiny portion
of God’s vast creation
entrusted to me
to dwell in, to love and to tend . . .
my little vineyard
of trees, shrubs, bushes, crabgrass . . .
squirrels . . .
and two little dogs
at home with me
in this place we inhabit . . .
each of us
in the autumn of our own lives . . .
and it’s all good.
What better companion
on such a golden fall morning
than Francis of Assisi,
saint of simple joys,
lover of all that God has made,
humble follower of Jesus the Christ?

Francis of Assisi,
who called
sun and moon,
wind and rain,
the birds of the air,
the beasts of field and forest,
the swimmers in the sea,
even death,
          his brothers and sisters.
a son of wealth
in his youth
was quite the 12th century playboy:
          lover of fancy clothes
          and evenings of wine, women and song;
eager student of the arts of mounted combat,
          captivated by the romantic notion                        
                    of riding gaily off to war
                   to defend Assisi against
                             its rival city-state
                                       of Perugia.

The result of that chivalric folly
was a year as prisoner of war
          in the squalor
                   of a 12th century dungeon . . .
he began to see the misery
of others he would not even
          have noticed before:
the penniless, the sick, the petty thief,
who, unlike wealthy Francis,
          had no hope of ever being ransomed
                   from their captivity,
          for in those days,
                    that was how you got out.
Unfamiliar promptings
          of sympathy and compassion,
          concern for others,
                   stirred within him . . .
moved him
          to share his food and water,
          to try to bring some cheer
          into that cold, dark place
                   with the lilting troubadour songs
                             of his former evenings
                                      on the town.

After his own ransom and return home,
while working for his father in the marketplace
          selling expensive fabrics: silks, linens, velvet,
                    Francis brusquely turned away
                             a ragged beggar pleading for alms . . .
and then,
moved by those same promptings,
suddenly abandoned his father’s stall and wares
          to run after the beggar
          and give him
                    everything in his pockets.
Soon he would be found caring for lepers
          suffering in the lazar houses of Assisi –
Francis had begun to understand
that in all these suffering ones
he was encountering Jesus,
          who was calling him
          from his self-serving life
                   of wealth and privilege
                             and pleasure-seeking,
                   of living large in the world,
          to a life of poverty, compassion, self-offering
                   and service of others . . .
                   a life of smallness
                             in the image of Jesus.

That’s a very spare account
of how Francis came
to his transformed life
          of radical humility and simplicity,
a life of being right-size
          in his life, in the world,
a life infused by joy in Christ,
a life that has inspired countless people
          all around the world
                   down to this very day,
including, of course,
          Christians of all denominations,
and including all the women and men
who, through the centuries,
have become members
          of the religious orders
          he founded,
joining that disciplined life
          of humility and simplicity
                    and joy:
the men’s Order of Friars Minor,
the women’s Order of St. Clare,
and the Third Order of St. Francis.     

Following Jesus,
Francis embraced
his own smallness in the great, wide world,
and his oneness
with all the small,
          the poor and sick,
                   the hopeless and forlorn.
He made it his mission
          to seek them out
and tell them
          of God’s love for them.
He saw God at work in
the intricate interconnectedness
          of all creation,
and how the flowers of the field,
          the birds of the air,
                   the beasts of the forests,
                             the fish in the sea . . .  
          simply by being,
          in their very nature,
          their own real selves
                   and their own right size,
                             lived holy lives of praise
                                      and thanksgiving to God.
He saw how it all
          fit together;
all life, and all things,
          are the Lord’s.

What better companion
in our inflationary culture,
          which is always urging us
                    to want more, be more, get more,
          to make
          wanting more and being more and getting more
                    our life’s focus . . .
          at the expense of other people
                   and other countries . . .
          at the expense of the environment
                   and all its living beings . . .
          at the expense of love . . .
What better companion,
teaching us to love and praise God
by walking the
Way of Simplicity and Appropriate Smallness . . .
Knowing ourselves
not more than nor less than,
but of equal value and use,
inextricably united
          with everything God made and loves . . .

with a bird on the wing,
a squirrel on a fence,
a flower, a wolf,
a tree,
an elephant,
a river of cold rushing water,
a person with red skin, brown skin,
          yellow skin, white skin . . .
Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered,
          Questioning and Seeking persons . . .
Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists . . .
football players kneeling under the
          soul-crushing weight of our racism,
Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar
          in the newest tragic instance
                   of ethnic cleansing,
Puerto Ricans who have lost everything
          in two hurricanes . . .
What better companion
in a self-centered world
of competition, exploitation,
          alienation . . .
teaching us
how all things and all beings
          were made by God to work together
                   for the common good . . .

What better companion
on the journey of emptying ourselves
          of self-importance . . .
that we may be filled with the humility
          of Jesus the Christ,
“though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
          as something to be exploited
but emptied himself,”
being born into the creation
          in human form,
to reveal God’s compassion and mercy,
to live and serve and die
          as one of the many and varied
          and interconnected creatures of God.
Let the same mind be in us
that was in Christ Jesus,
that was in Saint Francis,
whose smallness
became large in God’s service,
for it is God who was at work in him,
enabling him both to will and to work
for God’s good pleasure.

May we likewise,
in this complex and challenging time
in which we live,
become our own small, real selves,
be persons of simple joys,
lovers of all that God has made,
humble followers of the Lord Jesus Christ,
trusting that God, who is at work in us,
will enable us
both to will and to work
for God’s good pleasure.
Francis could not have imagined
what his embrace of
simplicity and smallness would
bring about in the world . . .
nor can we.
May our smallness, too,
become large in God’s service.