Sermon; 18 Pentecost/Proper 22A; Feast of St. Francis
Today, October 4, is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi. According to the rules of the BCP, Sundays take precedence over any feast day that falls on a Sunday except for Christmas, Holy Name, Epiphany, the Presentation, Transfiguration, and All Saints'. That doesn't mean, though, that we can't add other prayers or insert other aspect into the service. And it doesn't mean that I have to preach a sermon based on the scripture readings of the day; which is a good thing because none of today's readings are particularly suited to the feast of Francis.
So on this Feast of Saint Francis, what can we learn from him? And especially in this time of stress, of pandemics and quarantines, of financial uncertainty and social unrest, what can we learn from a man who renounced his family's wealth for a life of poverty, a life devoted to the marginalized, and a life reveling in God's creation? The answer, as you might expect, is, “A lot.”
His biography in Lesser Feasts and Fasts has this line: Of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated. We tend to equate Francis with his love of creation or preaching the gospel to the birds, while overlooking his ministry and compassion to the sick and poor. We have a tendency to only focus on one aspect of a person's life, especially if that one aspect is easy and lovable. With Francis, that one aspect is animals.
But on this day I'm going to say that that's okay. On this day I'm going to focus on that aspect of Saint Francis that we all love – and that is Francis, patron saint of animals.
Today is, by my count, the 218th day of March. Or maybe it's the 32nd Sunday in Lent. Or maybe it's whatever day you call it. The point is that this has been a long, hard season for us. We are living with uncertainty. Our stress levels are through he roof, and they seem to constantly fluctuate. Two weeks ago our Canon to the Ordinary reported testing positive for COVID. Among other things he suggested having a plan in place “should you, a parishioner, or a family member test positive.”
I spent much of last week wondering what we will do should I get a call on Monday or Tuesday from a parishioner saying they tested positive. We obviously have a contact protocol, that's why we keep a reservation list and Joelene and Sherry are posted at the doors. But what then? I get tested. Dcn. Sue gets tested. Mark gets tested. What happens if we test positive? Do we have backup? Can someone else lead morning Prayer? What about live-streaming? It's one thing after another. And that was somewhat stressful to think about in and of itself. The dominoes Just. Keep. Falling.
And what about you? How are all of you doing right now? Some of you have what seems like a life of nothing but Zoom meetings. Some of you are trying to parent, home school, work, and adult through all of this. Some of you are teachers trying to figure out what's best for your students. Some remain at home, limiting outside contact to a bare minimum. Some are willing to take some risk and shop, dine, or attend church in person. There's no one right answer for how we are coping.
What does all of this have to do with Saint Francis?
Just this: that in all things Francis was able to find joy and he was able to delight in all of creation. Hymn 400, which is our final hymn today and is based on Francis' “Canticle of Brother Sun,” reflects that joy and delight. Add to that his traditional love for animals and we have someone who can be an example to us in these times.
Our pets don't know there's a pandemic. Our pets may pick up on our stress. And our pets may provide some relief – whether that's a happy greeting at the front door or comic relief as they do something ridiculous.
We have two cats who basically tolerate each other. They have each staked out their territory in the house – Ria has taken control of the upstairs and sun room, while Lula controls the living room and downstairs family room. The dining room, where we keep their food and water, has become an official Neutral Zone, where, apparently, only one at a time is allowed.
But every day when I go home for lunch they are both at the door to greet me – and they they say, “Oh, it's you,” and walk away. Lula likes to lay up against me when I'm stretched out on the recliner, and then she will desert me when Joelene comes down and climb up around her neck. Ria will lay with us in bed until Joelene quits reading. She'll also try to jump up again at 2:30, 3, 3:45, 4 . . . They are both annoying as all get out, but they make life a little less, or maybe a little more . . . . I don't know what. But they add to it, whatever it is.
And all your pets do the same thing. Lovable or annoying, there's a reason we feed and water them, clean up after them, care for and love them. They are a part of God's creation that we can enjoy in a time when it may be difficult to find joy. Whether they are our lovable companions or we are their tolerated but devoted staff, we (most often) take delight in them and find joy with them.
This is the gift we can take from Francis – that even in difficult times there is joy and delight to be found in God's creation. These animals of ours, these pets we care for, tolerate, and love, these are a part of God's creation that can bring us a sense of joy and peace when everything around us seems to be falling apart.
So on this day when we remember Saint Francis of Assisi, let us remember his devotion to those on the margins and his love for all creation. Let us find joy and delight in our pets, and let us find comfort and solace from a head in our lap, from a body taking up too much space on the couch, or from one who wants to be underfoot because they just want to be near. And in their eyes, in their purrs, in their howls, with their shedding and slobbering, let us bless all these creatures of our God and King. And may we remember that, despite it all, life is beautiful.