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
Sunday, October 6, 2019
The Rev. Janet Campbell
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
and by the religious establishment
as ritually unclean, unworthy,
but in Jesus’ eyes and heart,
all the right people,
beloved of God.
a way of
humility and forgiveness
and expansive love,
the rigid social boundaries
of religion and culture . . .
He was attractive
puzzling and upsetting.
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
Faith operates not by quantity,
but by relationship.
Relationship with God,
born in gratitude,
and maturing in trust.
for God’s goodness . . .
in the gift of life,
new every morning,
in the gift of love and friendship,
and those with whom we share them . . .
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 . . .
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.
And springing from gratitude, 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.
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
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 my faith had been big 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,
We surrender the outcomes to God
and wait with hope and expectation
to see revealed
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
most families had at least one slave,
even the poorer families,
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
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 . . .
in the pattern of Jesus
“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,
of God’s concern,
Gratitude for what has been given.
Trust in the giver.
Joy in serving as Jesus served,
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
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.
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
by the consequent exploitation
of the suffering poor.
He rejected it all,
choosing a life of
simplicity and poverty
in imitation of Jesus.
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.
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
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.
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
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,”
that true disciples
are “householders who bring out
from their household
things both old and new.”[Matthew 13:52]
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.
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
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,