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St. Francis Day Sermon
Matthew 11: 25-30
4, 2020


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Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Blessings to all of you on this, the Lord’s Day and also the day of St. Francis of Assisi - Catholic Friar, mystic, deacon, philosopher and preacher who founded multiple orders of monks and nuns and is one of the most venerated Christians of all time. We Lutherans don’t always spend too much time on his life and legacy, other than the fact that we sometimes bless our pets on or around his day, but his life and witness are worth remembering to inspire each of us in our faith journeys. He is the patron saint of merchants, animals and ecology. In his day, many considered him a madman or at least eccentric, which he may have been true to a point, but today his devotion to Jesus is lifted up as exemplary.

Francis was born in 1181 to a French mother and a wealthy merchant father. He grew up a typical spoiled kid of rich parents with friends who liked to party and plenty of privilege. He trained as a knight and participated in a military campaign against the town of Perugia. While he was captured and imprisoned for a year, he discovered there was more to life than wealth and power. He came across Matthew 10:8-10 where Jesus instructs his disciples, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment, give without payment. Take no gold or silver or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey or two tunics, or sandals or staff, for laborers deserve their food.” These verses inspired Francis to denounced his affluence and began a life of radical poverty. He became as poor as the people he was called to love, and often claimed that he was wed to Lady Poverty.

One day early in his new lifestyle, he was riding a horse in the countryside when he was approached by a leper. In his earlier life he would have run from the leper, but his behavior and attitude were now different. Viewing the leper as Christ incognito, he embraced and kissed him, later actually describing the experience as a feeling of sweetness in his mouth. From then on, Francis felt an indescribable freedom, His earlier lifestyle had lost all of its appeal. He was, it could be said, born again!

While in the chapel of San Damiano outside of the walls of Assisi, Francis received a vision of Jesus saying to him, “Go Francis and repair my house, which you see is nigh in ruins.” He took it literally and began to work to repair the church building, taking a bolt of cloth from his father to sell to help fund the project. His father was furious when he found out and dragged him before the local bishop demanding repayment. Francis not only handed over the money, he stripped off all of his clothing and handed them all to his father as a way of leaving that part of his life behind. The bishop gave Francis a rough tunic, which Francis adored as a symbol of his new life in Christ.
After a few years, he gathered 12 followers and received the official stamp of approval from the church as Pope Innocent III gave him permission to lead a life according to the Rule of the Holy Gospel, which simply commands, “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.” Francis and his companions became a band of travelling preachers, devoted to a life of simplicity and lowliness an calling others to their lifestyle. They traveled all over Italy summoning people to faith and repentance, and inspiring men and women to make vows of poverty, chastity and loyalty. This, along with his love for creation and animals, set Francis apart as a holy person in the service of Jesus. He is given credit for making the first creche or nativity scene. He made trips to the Holy Land where he devoted himself to prayerful contemplation on Jesus’ passion and death. He died on this day in 1224, in pain because of a stigmata – Christ-like wounds that appeared mysteriously on his hands – and blind in one eye.

There are a number of legends associated with Francis, especially his love of animals and the natural world. It was widely told that he could communicate with animals. One account describes how one day, while Francis was traveling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told those with him to "wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds." The birds surrounded him, intrigued by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. He is often portrayed with a bird, typically sitting on his hand, much like on our bulletin cover.
Another legend tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, there was a wolf who was, "terrifying and ferocious, who devoured people as well as animals". Francis went up into the hills and when he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Then Francis led the wolf into the town where he found himself surrounded by startled citizens. Francis formed a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly. In return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. And so, Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator.

Now, are these and other miraculous tales about Francis historically accurate? We can debate that for a long time. But we might say that they are true, in that they describe a follower of Christ who gave up all material possessions and had a unique passion and love for all of God’s creatures – human, animal and even the earth itself! You might have been a little uncomfortable with some of the words of our opening song, “All Creatures of Our God Most High,” especially those which refer to brother wind and brother fire, sister water and mother earth, but these come straight from Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun.” It is good to share his own words this morning as we gather outside, in the creation that Francis devoted himself to so completely. We will share more of his words shortly - the second half of our prayers this morning comes from the Prayer of St. Francis, which I a sure you have heard or spoken or even sung before. And of course, we will ask God to bless our pets and all animals, especially those who are in our care, which is very much a Franciscan thing!

Why focus so much on Francis today? Again, it is not to worship him as we do Jesus; it is to lift up his life as one of extreme devotion and love, taking on poverty and sacrifice to all living things. He took Jesus’ yoke upon himself and lived a humble life of servitude in Jesus’ name. God has given us this devoted man who not only shared the love of Jesus with those who encountered him in his earthly life, but also inspires people throughout the ages as we remember his life and strive to care for the poor, the environment, and all of God’s creatures. May the memory of Francis and his devotion to Jesus encourage us to love all of God’s creatures and work to preserve God’s creation with the same passion and love. Amen.