Pentecost 17 October 6, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

Pentecost 17  Proper 22 Year C

Commemoration of Saints Francis and Clare

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

Following Jesus

was an unsettling experience . . .

 

Ever since they had joined him,

the disciples’ assumptions

of how things ought to be

were constantly challenged . . .

 

They found themselves

hanging out with all the wrong people:

the poor, the unloved,

sinners, the sick, the needy,

the helpless and hopeless:

all those deemed by their society

as outsiders,

and by the religious establishment

as ritually unclean, unworthy,

 

but in Jesus’ eyes and heart,

all the right people,

beloved of God.

 

 

Jesus lived

a way of

humility and forgiveness

and expansive love,

breaking through

the rigid social boundaries

of religion and culture . . .

 

He was attractive

and compelling,

puzzling and upsetting.

 

And frightening,

when he spoke of the suffering

that would come

to those who dared to challenge

the way the world worked.

 

 

“More faith,” the disciples thought,

“Give us more faith.”

 

But they had it backwards.

 

Their faith might be

as tiny as the nearly invisible mustard seed,

but it was God’s power

that was at work in them,

and they would do great things.

 

 

 

This would not involve

stunts like uprooting a mulberry tree

and planting it in the sea . . .

 

typical Jesus-hyperbole . . .

 

but it would involve

doing things far beyond

what they imagined they could do

for the sake of the gospel,

the coming kingdom of God

at the heart of all Jesus’ actions

and teachings.

 

 

Faith operates not by quantity,

but by relationship.

 

Relationship with God,

a commitment

born in gratitude,

and maturing in trust.

 

Gratitude

for God’s goodness . . .

 

goodness manifest

in the gift of life,

new every morning,

in the gift of love and friendship,

and those with whom we share them . . .

 

 

goodness

in the beauty of Creation,

and its life-and-soul-sustaining abundance,

in the many and fascinating bugs, birds and beasties,

co-inhabitants with us of this earth . . .

 

goodness

in the rich diversity of humankind,

our various cultures and ethnicities,

our rainbow of colors,

and all our possibilities . . .

 

goodness in the coming of Jesus to share our life . . .

and despite how we keep messing up,

making it all new again,

 

goodness in his continuing presence

within and among us.

 

Gratitude.

 

And springing from gratitude, trust . . .

 

Trust

in the reality and power of God’s grace

permeating all of creation,

flowing in and through our lives

to strengthen and sustain,

to challenge and encourage,

ever urging and moving us

toward the life that truly is life,

the life we see in Jesus.

 

 

And trust

that God’s goodness will always

fill up what is lacking in us,

work through our uncertainties and weaknesses,

continue to transform us

as we seek to follow Jesus.

 

 

A literal reading

of the mustard seed parable

can lead to

the mistaken belief

that faith

can make things happen,

bring about any outcome we desire.

 

As if we were deficient in faith

because we commanded a mulberry tree

to leap into the sea and it didn’t,

because we said to a suffering loved one,

“Be well” and she wasn’t cured,

because we cried out to the world,

“Stop this madness,”

and peace didn’t break out all over . . .

 

“If only,”

we say,

“if only my faith had been big enough,

strong enough

secure enough,

sincere enough  . . .”

 

 

Faith is not about our power or agency.

 

Faith is about relationship

with the One who is all power and agency.

 

It is about surrendering the outcomes

of our prayers and desires

to the God

whom we trust,

 

the God who is in relationship with

and intimately concerned with

all that God has made . . .

the mulberry tree,

our loved ones,

this violent and troubled world,

ourselves.

 

We surrender the outcomes to God

and wait with hope and expectation

to see revealed

the pattern

God is weaving

in the world

with the threads of our lives.

 

It will become apparent

at some undetermined future time,

we know not when.

 

 

Relationship with God

brings expectations and responsibilities.

 

 

“Who among you,”

Jesus asked the disciples,

“would thank your slave

for doing what you have commanded?”

 

In the ancient

Mediterranean world,

most families had at least one slave,

even the poorer families,

and

the roles of master and slave

were clearly defined and accepted.

 

Jesus’ question was rhetorical;

the obvious answer,

“no one among us

would thank our slave.”

 

The master does what a master does;

the slave does what a slave does.

 

Thanks are not due.

 

From our own perspective,

we might wish

that this parable

did not take the servitude

of one person to another

for granted.

 

We might wish

that Jesus had used it

to condemn the inequity and cruelty of slavery,

to hold up the value of mutual servant-hood.

But his purpose in this parable

was to use, as an example,

a relationship common

to the experience of his hearers,

to challenge their expectations

of their relationship with God.

 

“Why,” he asked them,

“when you have only done

what you were supposed to do,

should you expect thanks

from the one you serve?”

 

First he had cast them

in the role of the master;

now they find themselves

in the role of the slave.

 

Good slaves simply do what they are told to do,

with no expectation of thanks.

 

Relationship with God

does not bring entitlement.

 

“So you also, when you have done all

that you were ordered to do, say,

‘We are worthless slaves;

we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

 

And there is a conundrum . . .

 

how is an obedient and dutiful servant

worthless . . . ?

 

The New English Bible translation

suggests a different sense:

 

“We are servants and deserve no credit.”

 

The followers of Jesus are servants . . .

 

humbly serving

in the pattern of Jesus

who said,

“I came not to be served, but to serve.”

[Mt. 20:28]

 

And yet, we are more than servants,

for Jesus also said,

“I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.”

[John 15:15]

 

He said this

as he prepared to give himself on the cross,

to suffer and die and rise from the dead,

to bring his friends into the fullness of life

that really is life.

 

We are that worthy in God’s eyes,

worthy

of God’s concern,

God’s love,

God’s mercy,

God’s hopes,

God’s expectations,

God’s self-offering.

 

 

 

Gratitude for what has been given.

Trust in the giver.

Joy in serving as Jesus served,

self-offering

in the freedom of friendship with God.

 

 

Two such grateful, trusting,

joyful and humble

servants and friends of God

were Saint Francis

and Saint Clare

of Assisi

whom we commemorate today . . .

 

Francis whose feast day is October 4

and Clare whose feast day is August 11.

 

It was the latter part of the 12th century.

Western civilization was moving inexorably

toward rationalism and consumerism.

 

Francis,

son of a wealthy dealer in expensive cloth,

was expected to continue in

his father’s business.

 

 

But he became disgusted

by the artificiality of his luxurious life;

 

by a society and Church

corrupted by a growing reliance

on production and consumption

of goods;

 

by the consequent exploitation

of the suffering poor.

 

He rejected it all,

choosing a life of

simplicity and poverty

in imitation of Jesus.

 

Free from

the trappings and expectations of his former life,

he discovered the goodness of God

shining through all of creation

and gave thanks for it in poetry and song,

and in his affection for every living creature,

whom he treated as brothers and sisters.

 

He saw humanity’s proper place in the world

as members and servants of the creation,

not its masters.

 

He found joy in seeking and serving God

in the least and the poorest of God’s children.

 

 

He traveled about the countryside,

preaching and teaching,

depending only on God’s love

and the generosity of strangers.

 

Owning nothing,

he possessed everything that mattered.

 

Others joined him,

attracted by the simplicity and joy

of a life devoted entirely to God.

 

One of them was

18-year-old Clare.

 

In the custom of the time,

she was expected to marry

as soon as her wealthy father

could negotiate a mutually beneficial alliance

with the rich family

of a prospective husband.

 

But Clare

wanted the life

she had seen in Francis.

 

He found refuge for her

in a nearby convent

 

and later helped her

found a contemplative community

of  women

originally called “The Poor Ladies of San Damiano,

later known as the “Poor Clares.”

Like Francis’ missionary community

of “Little Brothers,”

they lived poor in possessions

and rich in joy in Christ.

 

 

Francis and Clare were children

of a society and Church

that valued comfort, control, wealth –

values Francis and Clare challenged

by the radical and visible transformation

of their lives.

 

They left the world

of merit, prestige, possessions,

to live in the wondrous, and perilous, world

of God’s grace.

 

Their master Jesus

said that he came

“not to abolish the law,

but to fulfill it,”

 

and

 

that true disciples

are “householders who bring out

from their household

things both old and new.”

[Matthew 13:52]

 

 

Like Jesus,

Francis and Clare

recognized and acted on

what was truly of God,

and rejected what was untrue, passing,

merely cultural, even destructive.

 

 

Two mustard seeds of faith,

Clare and Francis,

their lives threads woven into the fabric

of God’s goodness.

 

Their humble self-offering

of littleness and simplicity

changed the world and the Church.

 

And continues in ways

they could not have imagined

in the lives and ministry

of Franciscans around the world.

 

Lives of Action and prayer.

Lives of Contemplation and prayer.

 

Lives of

gratitude,

trust in God,

joy in serving.

 

 

There was that in both Clare and Francis

that was winsome and delightful

and that which was stern and demanding

of themselves and their followers.

 

Perhaps their most urgent demand

of us today

would be

that we take loving care of all the Creation,

that outward and visible sign

of God’s gracious indwelling of the world.

 

That we cherish and protect

the air and the waters,

the forests and plains,

the mountains and valleys,

all things growing on the land,

all animals, birds, fish, insects,

and every human being,

 

all of them precious to God.

 

Their way of life

challenges the insane pursuit of profit

that results in the despoiling

of the environment

and the cruel exploitation

of animals and people.

 

So let us celebrate Francis and Clare

not just by asking God’s blessing

on our animal friends and companions later today,

although that is certainly a good thing to do.

 

Let us also celebrate by today and every day

repenting of our degradation of Creation,

remembering that our relationship with Creation

is an aspect of our relationship with God,

speaking and acting for the well-being of Creation

in places of power and influence,

challenging the values of the present day

by living as gentle occupants

and gentle servants

of God’s endangered world.

 

We may feel that our faith is not big enough.

 

But our God is.

 

 

With thanks for meditations on Francis and the Franciscan Way

by Father Richard Rohr, OFM and Father John Quigley, OFM,

published online by the Center for Action and Contemplation,

Meditations@cac.org

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