Lamentations 1:1-6, Lamentations 3:19-26, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
This afternoon we will celebrate the Feast of St. Francis with a pet blessing. We do so, because St. Francis was known for his love of nature. He believed all of creation was good and beautiful and that all creatures should praise the Lord. Like many of the saints of the church, a great deal of lore is told about St. Frances and his miraculous abilities to relate to all creatures. He was not a prolific writer and we do not have the text of his sermons, but the monastic order he founded attests to his love for humanity and his focus of that which is eternal rather than that which is temporal.
Francis was born into wealth, but chose a simple existence and a life of service. In the Episcopal book on Saints, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, it says, “Of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated.” Why? Because it is much easier to proclaim a commitment to serving others, to sharing all our blessings with others, than it to do it.
I must say that when I read the readings for today, and realized this was the Sunday we begin talking about stewardship, I struggled. These scriptures don’t lend themselves well to a sermon on giving. But Francis certainty does. Yet, I am not prepared to follow his example by giving up everything I have. Nor do I believe this is what we are called to do. How we use our money may say a lot about what we value, but it’s ok to take care of ourselves as we share what we have with others.
In the Episcopal Church, we recognize saints for the lives they lived, lives that model for us traits that we wish to follow. Saints are not perfect, many have checkered pasts, but they demonstrated a commitment to walk the way of love we heard Jerusalem Greer talk about.
We are to Turn our lives toward Christ. We are to Learn by reflecting on Scriptures. We are to Pray – to spend time with God daily. We are to Worship as we are today – giving thanks to the one who gives us life. We are to Bless others with our lives. We are to Go – meaning we are to cross the traditional boundaries which separate us from others so that we listen deeply to their stories. And, we are to Rest so that our lives may be refreshed by the peace we receive from God, the peace that gives us the strength to continue our lives in Christ.
This is the example St. Francis sets for us that I want us to focus on this month. This way of love needs to be our focus as we talk about stewardship. I will be happy to answer questions about what the church needs during the receptions we will be having on Sunday evenings, but giving is not about what the church needs – it is what we need.
In our Sunday School Class this past week we talked about where God wants to be in our lives. Many of us think God wants to be first, but Wm. Paul Young, the author of the book we are studying, says God wants to be central in our lives. With God at our core, love and relationships are what motivates us.
I believe we need to give because giving of ourselves is necessary for us to experience healthy relationships. Relationships in which we give, not out of a sense of obligation, but out of love for the other – God and our neighbors. Gifts that mean the most are given as an expression of love and gratitude.
In Luke’s gospel today, the apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” In response he compares what they are doing as his followers to the work of slaves. The master need not thank them for doing only what they should be doing. This is hardly a response that makes sense. For me to understand what Jesus is saying, I must first get past this translation using the label slave, rather than servant. Slavery is sinful and it bothers me to acknowledge it was ever considered okay by some on my own ancestors. Second, I believe that everyone deserves to be thanked, whether they are just doing their job or not.
Jesus does teach us to respect others, to treat everyone with kindness – just not in this lesson. Here, Jesus is saying that doing just what is required of us is not how we increase our faith. When we act out of love, we receive in return. When we give out of gratitude, we are investing a part of ourselves, we receive a sense of peace in what we have done. Investing part of ourselves is stewardship, and it does increase our faith.
We see a need and want to help because we care – not because we feel obligated to give. Giving because we feel obligated is akin to just doing our job. Giving because we care about the health of this church and our mission is an act of love.
As I said, if you want to know about St. Paul’s needs, I’ll be happy to answer your questions at the receptions. Today, I am asking you to reflect on the way of love, and on the seven practices for living a Jesus-Centered life: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest.
The way of love is transforming and it helps us to be who we are called to be in this community. Our community needs to hear this message of God’s love and acceptance that we can bring to it. So, I invite you to consider how you might be a part of spreading God’s love and inviting others into this Body of Christ – or as our Presiding Bishop would say, this Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.
I want to close now with the prayer attributed to St. Francis, found of page 833 in our Book of Common Prayer.
Let us pray.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be
consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.