October 6, 2019: Sermon preached by the Rev. Carolyn Eklund
Year C; Francis of Assisi, 10.6.2019
Our children love the song, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus in the morning. Jesus in the noontime. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus till the sun goes down.” Randy Day wrote some special words to it for today. Let’s sing it. Children and Youth, show the motions, too! Page 5 of your service booklet.
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus in the morning. Jesus in the noontime. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus when the sun goes down.”
(the following words, written by Randy Day)
Dogs bark, Cats meow, barking in the morning, barking in the noontime, Cats meow, cats meow, meowing till the sun goes down.
Sparrows sing, Owls hoot, Sparrows in the morning, singing in the noontime, Owls hoot, Owls hoot, only when the sun goes down.
Donkeys bray, cows moo, braying in the morning, braying in the noontime, cows moo, cows moo, mooing till the sun goes down.
Snakes will crawl, snakes will crawl, crawling in the morning, sleeping in the noontime,
Snakes will crawl, crawl some more, mostly when the sun goes down.
Ants and bugs, creeping things, see ‘em in the morning, see ‘em in the noontime, ants and bugs, creeping things, see ‘em when the sun goes down.
Jesus, Creator, Make of all nature, wonders seen at daylight, Jesus, Creator, thank you for your gift of love.”
We are celebrating the Blessing of Pets today in recognition of the most famous Saint, Francis of Assisi. Even Pope Francis gave himself the name of Francis in recognition of St. Francis and his gentle love of all God’s Creation and all God’s Creatures. Even though he lived in medieval times, the 12th Century, he is as modern a Saint as ever there was one.
He is our patron Saint of Environmental Justice. And, as war and conflict infect the globe today, Francis is the patron Saint of peace with the familiar prayer attributed to him, “Make me an instrument of your peace.”
Francis of Assisi is known most of all as someone who followed Jesus in every way. That’s why we sing, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus in the morning. Jesus in the noontime.” That’s how Francis lived, Jesus, 24/7!
He is characterized by some of his biographers as a poor little man who astounded and inspired the corrupt and broken Church of his time by “…taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance.” (Addison Hart Facebook post). It was his solidarity with the poor, the sick and the suffering that was the essence of his short life of 44 years.
Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel reading for St. Francis this morning, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Can you see the gentleness, the compassion, and the humility of Francis in this gospel lesson? And, because so many people in this world are struggling, lonely, hurting, suffering and dying, our calling of hospitality is to be gentle agents of peace, compassion and humility.
I’ve officiated 40 or so funerals here at St. Paul’s over my six years. I never tire of working with families to plan the funeral. And I love to take part in the funeral. Funerals remind me of why I am a Christian and follow Christ. In the funeral service I get to say things like, “I know that my Redeemer lives….After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”
I think we are called to be like Jesus, “a friend and not a stranger” to each other, to those who are hurting and lonely and dying. Just as Francis learned this from the Gospels and taught his community how to live as Christ lived, we are called to live in this same way.
Recently, the family of our dear late parishioner and veterinarian, Anne Del Borgo asked to read a passage from James Herriot’s book, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” at Anne’s funeral. Herriot was a British veterinarian and author, and Anne had been inspired by him in her work.
The excerpt that was read at Anne’s funeral was a dialog between the young Herriot and an elderly dying woman, Miss. Stubbs. It is an example of a gentle, compassionate, Francis-like presence with someone who is lonely and dying. A lifting of a “heavy burden” between friends. I’d like to share this dialog with you.
“I’m not afraid,” she said. “I know there’s something better waiting for me. I’ve never had any doubts.” There was silence between us as she lay calmly looking up at the card on the gas bracket.
Then the head on the pillow turned to me again. “I have only one fear.” Her expression changed with startling suddenness as if a mask had dropped. The brave face was almost unrecognisable. A kind of terror flickered in her eyes and she quickly grasped my hand.
“It’s my dogs and cats, Mr. Herriot. I’m afraid I might never see them when I’m gone and it worries me so. You see, I know I’ll be reunited with my parents and my brothers but … but …”
“Well, why not with your animals?”
“That’s just it.” She rocked her head on the pillow and for the first time I saw tears on her cheeks. “They say animals have no souls.”
“Who says?”
“Oh, I’ve read it and I know a lot of religious people believe it.”
“Well I don’t believe it.” I patted the hand which still grasped mine. “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. You’ve nothing to worry about there.”
“Oh, I hope you’re right. Sometimes I lie at night thinking about it.”
“I know I’m right, Miss Stubbs, and don’t you argue with me. They teach us vets all about animals’ souls.”
The tension left her face and she laughed with a return of her old spirit. “I’m sorry to bore you with this and I’m not going to talk about it again. But before you go, I want you to be absolutely honest with me. I don’t want reassurance from you—just the truth. I know you are very young but please tell me—what are your beliefs? Will my animals go with me?”
She stared intently into my eyes. I shifted in my chair and swallowed once or twice.
“Miss Stubbs, I’m afraid I’m a bit foggy about all this,” I said. “But I’m absolutely certain of one thing. Wherever you are going, they are going too.”
She still stared at me but her face was calm again. “Thank you, Mr. Herriot, I know you are being honest with me. That is what you really believe, isn’t it?”
“I do believe it,” I said. “With all my heart I believe it.” (from “All Things Bright and Beautiful” by James Herriot)
Francis was a gentle presence among God’s Creatures and friends and loved ones. How are we to be like him?