Servants of the Lord: Faith and Love in Action

Fred Thompson

Luke 17: 5-10

St. Francis of Assisi

Sunday

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,

he advised,

“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.


AMEN.


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