October 2, 2022, Sermon preached by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year C; FB.Francis; 10.2.2022

Matthew 11:25-30

This time of year, I think of the wonderful fall fairs that are in full swing all over the country.  I remember my very first State Fair sneaking under the chain link fence in Hutchinson, Kansas with my friends to attend the Kansas State Fair. My friends and I ate the food, rode the rides and walked through the haunted house, which now I realize was simply a trailer.

John and I were youth leaders at St. Luke’s Church in Durham, North Carolina. We took the youth group on a trip to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh. I remember that John was afraid to ride the Ferris Wheel. (Former Marine and all!) But the kids and I had a blast. I can still taste the funnel cakes and smell the fresh hay in the pig stalls. Those champion North Carolina pigs were big!

It was the Freyberg Fair in Maine that I first witnessed the cast iron skillet tossing contest, and where I walked down the main promenade next to yoked oxen being led by their masters. They were on their way to the arena where the load pulling contest was being held. I followed them to the arena to watch. I remember seeing the wooden yoke around the oxen necks and thinking of this favorite passage from Matthew’s gospel about being yoked to Jesus. I saw how the yoke physically distributes the weight for an easier load.

Jesus said, “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…”  This gentle statement has imperative and promise. “Come to me…” Jesus commands his followers. It’s not an invitation. It is a command for relief to his weary and heavy-laden followers. “And I promise to give you rest. I promise to distribute your load. I promise to lighten it.”

Jesus also commands his followers, “Take my yoke, the yoke of my godly life, the yoke of my teachings.” No, we aren’t lowly oxen yoked together for a contest of strength and load-sharing. We are loved ones that Jesus longs to teach. “Take my yoke. You will find rest for your souls.”

Who in our faith are examples of being yoked to Jesus? We call them Saints. The Saints show us how to live a holy and godly life. Francis of Assisi whose Feast Day is Tuesday, but our church celebrates today, is one of our favorite Saints. Even if we take just one aspect of Francis’ character and follow it, we will be yoked to Jesus because “Francis set out to imitate Christ and literally carry out his work.” So, how DID Francis live as an example of Christ’s life?

His vow of poverty was central to him; living simply so others may simply live. He loved and cared for nature. He called God’s Creation “…the mirror of God.” We see this mirror everywhere, especially in the stars, the moon, the sunrises and sunsets in Maine. I love that Francis called God’s creatures “brothers” and “sisters.” This afternoon, let’s remember our “brothers” and “sisters” when we bless our pets! Let’s listen to the birds and watch the squirrels scamper up the trees! Hey! Sister squirrel! Hey brother pit bull! Hey brother cat named Zeke! Hey sister robin! You are blessed creatures!

One of my favorite legends about Francis is the legend of the wolf. I love to tell this story because it’s about Francis being an “instrument of God’s peace.” There once was a wolf that lived in the hilly woods on the edge of a small agricultural town in Italy where Francis lived for many years. The wolf would sneak into the town and “…devour men as well as animals.” The townspeople were terrified of the wolf and hated him and wanted to be rid of him.

But, instead of setting a trap or planning to kill the wolf, the townspeople allowed Francis to come face to face with the wolf and try to bring peace. So, Francis went up into the hills and into the woods to find the wolf. He went with the attitude of finding his “Brother Wolf.”

Sure enough, he found the wolf, looking more hungry than ferocious. Francis stood before the wolf and made the sign of the cross. He BLESSED the wolf in the name of the Holy Trinity! He instantly could see that the wolf was hungry. He settled a pact of peace between the wolf and the people. If the people shared their food with the wolf, the wolf would stop hurting people and their livestock! He had brought peace between the wolf and the people.

I have placed a copy of an 18th Century German woodcut of Francis and the wolf in our worship booklets. Please take out your copy and look for things that remind you of Francis. Let’s look at the Francis figure. What is he wearing? It is a modest, simple robe, isn’t it? We might conclude that Francis took Jesus’ words seriously, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  So, being poor with so many poor people in the world was important to Francis.

Now let’s look at the other figure in the foreground. What do you see? Francis is reaching out to a wolf. The wolf’s paw is reaching to Francis. They are touching. Does the wolf look deadly and ferocious? I think that they are connecting like brothers! “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called ‘children of God.’” Peace was also the essence of Francis’s life.

And what about the number “3?” Perhaps it symbolizes the blessing, in the Name of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, the blessing Francis gave the wolf. What about the rest of the picture? Trees and hills and a road into town where Francis took the wolf to the people for peacemaking. In this one picture, we see the essential things that were important to Francis: living in simple poverty, loving all creatures, making peace at all times, and cherishing God’s creation.

Now, turn over your paper and think about three things that are important to you. Write them down, or draw them or share them with your family members. What is important to you? For me, giving thanks for God’s beauty is important. Living joyfully and lovingly. And cooking and eating!

            In the October “Messenger,” my article was an invitation for us to reflect on God’s abundance in our lives as we enter the Stewardship pledging season. I shared with you my history of pledging and that this year my circumstances allow me to give more than I ever have. I’m grateful for my experience of God’s abundance in the community of St. Paul’s. Things like generosity, hospitality, deep faith, love and justice are important to this community.

            Take a moment now to wonder about the things of God’s abundance you experience in our faith community. What is important to you about St. Paul’s?  Why is it important for you to be here today? What does our community mean to you?

Francis loved Jesus with all his heart. His life was truly yoked to Jesus.

What are signs that we are yoked to Jesus?