Weeds Upon the Altar – a sermon in celebration of St. Francis of Assisi

On this the last Sunday of the Season of Creation we celebrate the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Our Gospel text was Matthew 6:25-28

Listen to the sermon here

Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once God asked me to join God on a walk

through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,

and I noticed God lingered a bit longer

before any face that was

weeping,

and before any eyes that were

laughing.

And sometimes when we passed

a soul in worship

God too would kneel

down.

I have Come to learn:  God

adores God’s

creation.

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!

Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,

I have Come to learn: 

God adores God’s

creation.

Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers.  Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God.

Francis was born into a wealthy merchant family and spent his young life striving to become a knight by actively participating in the completion between Italian cities to dominate the emerging capitalist system. Francis learned like each one of us must learn that acquiring things, amassing wealth, competing for power, these things cannot ever bring us peace. And so, Francis renounced things, gave up his wealth and powerful position in Italian society, and walked away from the competitive capitalist system.

Francis even went so far as to challenge the Church’s teachings about how to be a Christian. For centuries, the Church taught that the best way, the truest way to be a Christian in the world was to follow the example of the early followers of the Way that we find in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

“The community of believers was of one mind and one heart. None of them claimed anything as their own; rather everything was held in common. The apostles continued to testify with great power to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they were given great respect; nor was anyone needy among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them and give the money to the apostles.  It was then distributed to any members who might be in need.”

We’ve all heard the story of the early Church that practiced this communal way of being, where each person was cared for according to their needs. But in the 17th century, Francis saw that the Church herself had leaned far too heavily upon the part of this communal equation where:

“The apostles continued to testify with great power to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they were given great respect; nor was anyone needy among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them and give the money to the apostles.” As the heirs to the apostles the church hierarchy gathered wealth and power to itself.

Francis challenged the power of the church by pointing not to the Acts of the Apostles but to the Gospels themselves. Francis insisted that following Jesus meant that the Church could not follow two masters. Following Jesus meant forsaking wealth and power and taking up service.

In the words of this morning’s gospel text Jesus is reported to have insisted: “That is why I tell you not to worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing. Isn’t life more than just food? Isn’t the body more than just clothes? Look at the birds in the sky.  They do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet our God in heaven feeds them. Aren’t you more important than they? Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan? And why be anxious about clothing? Learn a lesson from the way the wildflowers grow. They don’t work; they don’t’ spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in full splendor was arrayed like one of these.”

Inspired by the gospels, Francis who had been a cloth merchant, gave up his fine clothes and put on a simple homespun brown garment. This symbolism reflected Francis journey into Creation where he encountered the beauty of creation and in that beauty, Francis came to know God.

Through his relationship with creation, Francis grew in relationship to the Creator. Nothing in all of creation was to be trivialized simply because everything in creation comes as pure gift from the Creator. Indeed, our very own existence is miraculous beyond compare. The very fact that we exist at all is pure gift. More and more in the beauty of each of God’s creation Francis saw the LOVE that is God. That LOVE that is God was also reflected in every part of creation that was cast aside by the world.

Nowhere was this more evident to Francis than in the people that the world cast aside. In the poor, the infirm, the outcast, the enemy, Francis saw the beauty of creatures created and by the LOVE that is God, and as creations of God, even these powerless, poor, outcasts and enemies were also LOVED by the Creator.

Much has been written about the Church’s disapproval of the ways of St. Francis. Suffice it to say that Francis was himself cast out as a mad-man. I mean you can’t just give up everything and follow Jesus. That’s far too radical for an institution like the Church. And yet, the power of Francis way of being in the world flourished and continues to inspire a rare few to follow Jesus by renouncing wealth and power and taking up a life of service to the poor and the marginalized.

But what are we, wealthy and powerful people that many of us are, what are we to make of St. Francis? Well I think if the truth be told, most of us still think the ways of St. Francis are far too radical for us. I think that’s why for the most part, the image of St. Francis has in the popular imagination been relegated to that of a garden gnome. You know that rather grey and colourless character standing with a bird in hand and a dog at his feet. Today, all over the world churches are celebrating this feast of St. Francis by offering services of the Blessing of Animals. But as lovely as images of people taking their pets to church for a blessing are, I can’t help wondering how much more the world might benefit if we looked beyond our pampered pets and began to see what Francis saw in the powerless, the poor, the outcast and even in our enemies.

Every week, here in this place we are encouraged to go and “Be LOVE in the world.” Francis instructs us how to be LOVE in the world. Francis challenges us to look to the Gospels and to see Jesus forsaking wealth and power and caring for the least and the lost. Francis challenges us to be LOVE by remembering that we are made of LOVE for LOVE, even as we are BELOVED by God who is LOVE ITSELF. As we learn to LOVE the least of these we LOVE our Creator. Our Creator who is LOVE. Our very existence is a gift of LOVE.

So, dear sisters and brothers, do not worry about your livelihood. For life is more precious than this. Learn a lesson from the way the wildflowers grow. Look around at one another and you will see such a beautiful bouquet given as pure gift from our Creator who is LOVE itself. Let us be LOVE in the world by loving all that our Creator LOVES. In LOVING all whom God LOVES, in this we will find our peace. This is our challenge. This is our calling. To follow Jesus to become LOVE in the world. In this we shall find peace. Let it be so dear friends. Let it be so. Amen.

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