Luke 17: 5-10
St. Francis of Assisi
17 Pentecost C / Proper 22
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” – Amen.
The original sermon, written by the Rev. Canon Frank Logue, ran on October 1, 2016.
Have you ever played the game “Six degrees of separation” before?
I have got one for you.
The Canon to the Ordinary
for the Diocese of Georgia, Frank Logue, now Bishop
wrote a sermon for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
entitled “An Act of Love”.
He did so while visiting his neighbor, Victor Voigt, who was
vacationing with his family on Edisto Island.
Victor Voigt’s son, Richard Voigt,
invited his college roommate to come
over to the beach house on Palmetto Drive
for a day at the beach.
The Voigt’s introduced the Deacon to St. Francis Episcopal Church
to the Canon to the Ordinary of Georgia.
The two engaged in a conversation about the correlation of
St. Francis the man and St. Francis the church.
Anyone care to guess the identity of
the Deacon of St. Francis at that time?
Anyway, getting permission to use parts of his sermon
and directly quote him today,
was shall we say, easy.
Canon Logue stated,
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult and left untried.”
This is according to G.K. Chesterton, who found Christians,
including himself, did not put their faith into action.
But even the curmudgeon Chesterton would agree
there was a notable exception.
All you had to do was to hear the first line of this morning’s Gospel,
the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’
Francis of Assisi,
the saint who launched a million birdbaths,
hundreds of thousands of statues,
and the occasional service of Blessing of the Animals was,
for Chesterton, the one Christian who lived the Gospel.
Francis was the son of a wealthy textile merchant
and as such part of the new Italian middle class
that was coming into its own.
His father’s wealth and Francis’ own natural charisma
made the young man a leader of the youth of his town.
Francis gained a rock-star like following by the early 1200’s.
He remains famous today
not because of his own words and actions
so much as because his words and actions
conformed so closely to those of Jesus.
As a boy, Francis dreamed of earning glory in battle.
He got his chance at an early age when he enlisted,
along with the other young men of Assisi,
to fight in a feud against a neighboring city-state.
Assisi lost the battle and Francis was imprisoned for a time.
Defeat in battle and serious illness in prison
caused Francis to turn away from
his visions of glory on the battlefield.
Francis’ path toward God took a series of turns
closer and closer to God,
rather than an all at once conversion.
However, the course of Francis’ life was profoundly changed
by at least two formative experiences.
On a pilgrimage to Rome,
Francis saw a beggar outside of St. Peter’s Church.
The Holy Spirit moved him to trade places with the beggar.
Francis exchanged clothes with a beggar
and then spent the day begging for alms.
That experience of being poor shook Francis to the core.
Later, he confronted his own fears of leprosy
by hugging a leper…much like the nurses of the 1990’s
who would astound the populous by hugging AIDS patients.
Like trading places with the beggar in Rome,
hugging a leper left a deep mark on Francis.
Shaped by his experiences with the beggar and the leper,
he had a strong identification with the poor.
Depending on whom you ask,
Francis cut himself off from the opulent lifestyle of his father
and sought out a radically simple life.
By the time of his death,
the love of God had compelled Francis to
accomplish much toward rebuilding the church.
He could look on thousands of lives transformed by
his call for repentance and simplicity of life.
Yet, Francis of Assisi was simply a man transformed
by the love of God and the joy that flowed
from a deep understanding of all that
God has done for us.
Francis’ approach to his life of Christian service fits
with Jesus words to us in today’s Gospel reading
when Jesus tells those who follow him that
they are to serve with no thought to reward.
Jesus said, “Who among you would
say to your slave who has just come in from plowing
or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here at once and take your place at the table?’
Would you not rather say to him,
“Prepare supper for me,
put on your apron and
serve me while I eat and drink;
later you may eat and drink?”
Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?
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!”
So, when you come in from doing something for God,
don’t expect a reward,
only more work.
It’s a wonder the crowds followed Jesus at all.
But what exactly is the work of God?
In what way are we to serve him?
We have the example of Francis,
to add to that of Jesus’ own life and ministry.
Yet, how can we
in our own time and place
attempt to live more fully into the Gospel?
First, there is no getting around the fact
that the Bible knows nothing of professional clergy
serving a congregation.
The Bible teaches that all Christians are ministers of the Bible
by virtue of their baptism.
Then as ministers,
each of us has a wide variety of jobs to
do in the kingdom of God
based on the gifts God has given us.
While congregations benefit from the ministry of priests and deacons,
the real work of the church happens
when the people in the pews live out their faith
in their day to day lives.
This includes many thankless tasks,
showing love and mercy
in even small ways and even
if no one notices.
You know how thankless these tasks are
because you have the same issue at home.
Do you get thanked every time you do the dishes?
Or cut the grass? Or wash the laundry?
Or make your bed? Probably not.
But permit time to pass without doing the dishes,
cutting the grassing,
washing the laundry, or making your bed
and you are sure to hear about it.
These are thankless tasks
and you take them on with
no thought to getting praise for doing them.
Notice that in this Gospel reading,
Jesus tells of the servant
who does what he or she is supposed to do
in response to the disciples asking for more faith.
First, he tells them the parable of the mustard seed
and how the tiniest amount of faith is enough
to accomplish great things for God.
Then he goes on to describe the
thankless task of serving God his Father.
It is in serving God
that we find our faith strengthened.
We are not to serve others for the thanks we get.
We are to serve others as serving Jesus,
because that is the life God calls us to,
knowing that we will benefit more
than the people we help.
We will benefit in increased faith and increased love.
Francis took his mustard seed of faith
and used it to trust that he could hug a leper,
though he was terribly afraid.
In the process, he found the faith to work among lepers.
And so, again and again,
his steps of faith emboldened Francis to trust God more.
It is the same for us.
Each step of faith
strengthens our trust in God to
follow even more boldly.
To come back around to G.K. Chesterton,
“Let your religion be less of a theory and
more of a love affair.”
That was Francis, living out a love affair with God.
When it is me and you
living into the love of God,
then Christianity will have been tried
and not found wanting,
nor will it be a series of thankless tasks.
Walking the life of faith then
is not done in search of thanks or praise
but is simply an act of love.
Then you and I can join Francis in
saying that we are merely servants
doing what we were called to do.
We call ourselves servants
knowing that what we do, we do for love,
for the one who knows us fully
and loves us more than we could ever ask for
or ever imagine.
We may have had to postpone the Blessing of the Animals this year
for Hurricane Ian; but, in a couple of Saturdays
we will get together to take pride in our church building
and yard show our neighbors our servant hearts…
…and maybe increase their faith in us as we are faithfully increased by the Holy Spirit.