This morning we celebrated St Francis and our two Third Order Franciscans shared with us about Love, Joy and Humility. These are the notes on which their shared sermon was based.
What drew me to Francis and the Franciscans?
I went to Alnmouth Friary in 1998 by accident, on a Parish weekend, and it seems to me that most people sort of stumble across the Franciscans at a point of need rather than set out to meet them. What I loved about the brothers was their combination of very practical hospitality, consistent what I thought of then as cheerfulness and their deep concern for everyone who went there. And I loved the way the Guardian, on that first visit, talked about Franciscans as leading little lives – they are the Little Brothers, the Friars Minor. In the middle of the spinning activity at Alnmouth– because there are not many brothers there – was the worship. I didn’t quite get the full force of the connection between all these to start with. I found it out as I made the journey to being a Tertiary. That started rather hesitantly in 2008 when I became a Companion and developed slowly from there, as I realised how much I wanted and needed a way of life which was more disciplined in helping me to be more conformed to Jesus. I have a butterfly mind and love novelty and action: I so wanted a way of living as a Christian which would ground me in some daily practice however bad I was at it. and the GREAT thing is that you do it in community: you know that others are valuing your daily prayers for them as I value theirs for me.
I also love the way in which Francis was totally inconsistent but totally loving. He went begging with Br Bernard and suggested they meet later to share what they had been given. Bernard was so hungry he ate al he was given and instead of being angry Francis said ’ well done Brother, you are more holy than me because Jesus said we should take no thought for tomorrow..’ Francis was never predictable!
The connection between those three things I first noticed, a deep cheerfulness, loving care and a sense of littleness, comes from their commitment to love, joy and humility, which are the keynotes of the rule for Tertiaries as well. As part of the Rule of life which we adopt, we read the Principles of the order month by month. It’s becoming in the likeness of Christ through a daily remembering and practising. I really really need that discipline.
May the power of your love, Lord Christ,
fiery and sweet as honey,
so absorb our hearts
as to wean them from all that is not of heaven.
Grant that we may be ready
to die for love of your love,
as you died for love of our love..
— St Francis of Assisi
Here’s the first distinctive thing St Francis has to offer us- he was head over heels in love with God. He spent nights and nights fasting and praying in tears of joy and wonder at the fiery and sweet love of God. For Francis, Christianity wasn’t a theory or a philosophy, it was a love-affair.
Song of Songs captures this beautifully- romantic love between a man and a woman, but it’s just as much about God our great Lover desiring us…
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned.
— Song of Songs 8:6-7
God loves us and longs for us with passion that is stronger than death… and God longs for us to love God back with the same intensity. But as for me, that’s not how I respond most of the time. I’m forever ignoring God, taking God for granted, doing exactly as I please- I break God’s heart. And then I shrink away from God out of fear or guilt or something. Because God the judge is going to ask me ‘Why did you do THAT?’ Or ‘How could you let me down like this??’
And so I need to regularly pray this prayer of Francis, to set me straight. God DIED for love of our love. God is our judge yes- but first and foremost God is our lover. And God’s question to us isn’t ‘How could you’, but ‘WHERE ARE YOU’?
To Adam and Eve in the garden, and then throughout the scriptures- ‘Where are you’?? I’m longing for you, and I LOVE YOU! If you seek me you will find me. And in the life of Jesus, God stops waiting for us to seek, and comes looking for us.
Let’s let God sing us a love song!
Sinead O Conor- Nothing compares to you
In John’s Gospel we read Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ This is the basis of our joy.
Such joy is based on Jesus, who loved jokey conversations and also had as one of his constant themes, ‘don’t be afraid – stop worrying’. This is such a theme of the NT. Even before Jesus was born the angels said ‘don’t be afraid’ to Mary, and to John the Baptist’s father Zechariah. Don’t worry about the things you can do nothing about, says Jesus. Live in the present, know you are loved, as much as lilies and sparrows and much more!.I am always with you. Francis understood the source of such joy. In his ‘Praise of the Lord for creatures’ which we know as the canticle of the creatures, we hear his delight in God as fire and light and water, the source of all life, always there. We also hear how Francis thought nothing was unclean or common because everything is part of the creator. Francis revels in being cheerful; in his early life he sang the songs of medieval France he is called a Troubador, a maker of songs, and teller of jokes. The world is our container in which to praise God.
Joy isn’t an easy thing, it’s not happiness. it’s a discipline, which I try to practice but which is hard, when things are hurtful and tough. It’s a deep conviction of the loving presence of God in the present moment which includes the past and the future. Joy led Francis to do some wild things: his delight in fire meant that once when his trouser leg caught fire he wouldn’t let the brother near him put it out and this brother had to rush off and find the Guardian of the group who did put it out. And the story is that when Francis was having his eyes cauterized because they were very sore he refused to be restrained but just asked Br Fire to be gentle with him – and it seems Br Fire was because the ‘surgeon’ who cauterized with an iron commented that he didn’t flinch once!
I try to remind myself daily that joy in being a part of God’s creation, and loved by God, is a great thing.
In the principles there is a sentence which I read with awe every time I come to it. ‘The purpose of Christ is to work miracles through people who are willing to be emptied of self and to surrender to him.’
I am awed that we are part of this. I am awed that I am part of this – others maybe but me? Wow.
Br Giles, one of Francis very early companions, said: ‘it is a remarkably good habit for someone to be their own conqueror…..it is a towering virtue for someone to let themselves be bossed about by everyone. That kind of person becomes ruler of the world.’ I’m still pondering this because there is a difference between a doormat and being confident about
Humbleness is about recognising our place in the world. The place of the humble is with the humiliated in the world. Francis realised he had to eat with a leper, to embrace the things he felt were unclean in the world. He also realised he needed not to hold onto any sense of being offended, but to recognise that we all need forgiving, and would always go off and pray if he had been badly treated.
What do we see as unclean? The bigoted? The arrogant? The exploitative? How do we face these in humbleness?
What do we hold onto about being offended? What happens if we remember that we too need forgiveness?
Francis’ prayer is ‘far be it for me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world’. I find saying that daily leads me a tiny way further along the road to humility, because it takes me back to Jesus’ utter humility in his life and death.
Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits the fact of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God. It is the basis of all Christian virtues. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, “No spiritual house can stand for a moment except on the foundation of humility.” It is the first condition of a joyful life within any community.
Sharing out the duties and joys of this spiritual house that is All Hallows- here in our Sunday worship, and in the daily life of our church.
Humility- laying aside my own self-importance so that I can seek what’s good for you and for all of us collectively.
- In prayer
- In care and concern for each other in daily life
- In mission
- In finance
Humility means loving and valuing others as we love and value our selves. Practically speaking, that means our time and our money. So Francis’ challenge this morning is, how well do we value each other and this wonderful church with our time and our money??
- Financial sustainability:
- Our own giving
- Richard and the Finance Team raising money, applying for grants, etc
- Missional sustainability:
- Kids Church
- Building and Gardens
- Muslim Neighbours
We don’t all have time AND money to give- but humility challenges us to offer as much of both as we are able, to love and value each other as we love and value our selves.
But also to love and value God. Francis’ big insight was that poverty and humility ARE the very heart of the gospel. The Eternal Word of God gave up all the riches of heaven, and in humility shared the poverty of human life. In his lifetime, Jesus chose to serve and not be served; Jesus taught that everyone who wants to be great must serve; Jesus challenged everyone who wants to gain the riches of heaven, to give up their own agendas and selfishness. Which is exactly what you do for a lover! Because the heart of the gospel is the God who IS LOVE. Jesus gave up everything for our love, and if we follow Jesus in his way of giving and sacrifice, then he promises nothing less than union with the love that created and redeemed and sustains the universe, that is fiery and sweet as honey, that is a raging flame stronger than death and fiercer than the grave.
Hymn 73 Brother sister let me serve you