Posted by: dacalu | 8 October 2012

Nature and Poverty

Today, I was blessed to worship with the people of St. Andrew’s, Tucson.  We celebrated the Feast of St. Francis and blessed (and were blessed by) the animals.  Here is my sermon.

Collect

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings

Galatians 6:14-18 “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Psalm 148:7-14

Matthew 11:25-30 “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” and “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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

Sermon

I love today’s collect.

In it, we pray:

            “Lord, grant us grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world;

that, following the way of blessed Francis,

we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy.”

We have this strange notion that all will be well,

            if only we could get what we want,

            that there is some goal-line in life, and

                        when we cross it,

                        we will have arrived.

Turns out that’s not the case.

            Research in economics, psychology, and neuroscience shows

                        us to be remarkably bad at remembering

what brought us the most pleasure – or pain,

remarkably bad at predicting what will make us happy.

            We generally think we will enjoy greater freedom of choice,

                        but worry more when we have it.

            We generally think we’ll be happier with more money,

                        But studies shows that wealth –

                        beyond what it takes to support our basic needs –

                        only makes us less happy.

That’s not to say I want you to give up your choices,

            or your wealth.

I too have these feelings.

I too have these preferences.

I too have the intuition that more is better.

But I’m beginning to be suspicious.

I’m beginning to wonder if the things Christianity has been telling us for 2000 years

            might not be right.

Jesus and Paul both claim that the wisdom of God is foolishness in this world.

            They tell us that we should spend less time adjusting our possessions

                        and more time adjusting our preferences, our priorities.

            And this realignment will seem like foolishness

                        to most people –

            choosing vulnerability over control,

            choosing service over choice,

            choosing eternal life over security.

 

Today we remember St. Francis,

            most often remembered for talking to birds and wolves.

            This love of God in all creation marks him as a patron of environmentalism

                        and communing with nature.

            And that’s an important part of Francis’ spirituality,

                        but it wasn’t the part Francis cared about most.

Francis’ most ardent devotion was to Lady Poverty,

            the end of attachment to wealth and control,

            the idea that one can give up all claim to own and dispose of anything,

                        even one’s own body.

Francis thought the true follower of Jesus should,

            as Jesus did, give up ownership,

            depend upon the gifts of others for food,

            and only hold things in common with others.

Francis thought that good Christians

            should not give too much care even for their own life and health,

            according to the example of Jesus in the scriptures.

For him, everything belonged to God

            and we depend on God’s will whether we strive for control or not.

            So why strive?

By the end of his life, this man softened some of his views.

            He admitted that he treated his body too poorly.

            He admitted that one must care for one’s self as one cares for others.

But his self-denial led to a greater appreciation for the world as it is.

By the end of his life, Francis embraced the notion that

            he was a member of one created family.

            Perhaps you’ve heard of his hymn praising brother Sun and sister <oon.

                        Did you know it also includes sister Death.

By the end, Francis saw even this great transition as part of his family.

Sounds a bit foolish, doesn’t it.

To give up your control over your life and live by charity and chance?

In a culture that values individuality, independence, and self-possession,

            this radical poverty makes no sense.

It sounds foolish.

It did so in the 13th century as well.

 

Francis was the son of a cloth merchant in Italy.

            He led a life of privilege, but he gave that life up

            to be a wandering preacher.

He refused to own anything, but went begging,

            and founded an order of monks who did the same.

They were known as Jongleurs de Dieu – fools for God, jesters for God –

            partly for their joviality,

            but mostly for their dangerous trust

                        that God would provide.

And to this day, there are Franciscans,

            both in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.

            There are even Episcopalian Franciscans,

                        who have renounced ownership,

                        and live with minimal clothing and shelter,

                        eating the cheapest food,

                        and serving the poor.

I have a good friend who does this service in San Francisco,

            and she puts up with more hardship

            and more obedience to the will of her order

            than I could imagine.

And she does it joyfully.

Strange, isn’t it.

You’d think that giving up control would make you less happy…

But maybe not.

So let us return to this notion of nature and animals.

 

It may seem unrelated to poverty, but I think not.

Indeed, as I meditate on the life of Francis this week,

            I come to see that the two are intimately related.

There is only so much you can hold onto in this life.

There are only so many things you actually use –

            regardless of whether you “own” them or not.

There is only so much time.

And with that limited resource, you can devote your attention

            to the real things God has created,

            the things that are present and abundant and often free,

            or you can devote your attention to the things you imagine,

            the things you have judged worthy,

            rather than the things that are available.

Perhaps happiness comes from delighting in the things we have.

Perhaps we must give up the image of happiness,

            before we can have the thing itself.

It’s a radical thought.

If it doesn’t sound radical, I fear you’re missing the point,

            because millions of years of evolution have conditioned us to want,

                        to hoard, to possess

                        the things we need.

We’re good at owning things and we have a complex legal system to help us.

But holding onto them ties up our hands and our attention.

All the fancy stuff gets in the way of delighting in

            Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and even that strange relation,

            Sister Death of the Body.

Francis could preach to the birds,

because he did not see conversion as a thing to accomplish.

He saw the good news as a thing to share.

Poverty is nothing like passivity.

            In fact, it takes a tremendous act of will to give up stuff.

            It takes character and conscience and discipline

                        to live without owning.

The legacy of Francis is a legacy of engaging in the world

            as a partner and brother.

It means not letting anticipation of future pain (or happiness)

            get in the way of present joy.

It means living, as most animals do, in the moment,

            accepting pleasure (or pain) as a gift

            to be taken for exactly what it’s worth,

            delight in communicating with God and the world God has made.

It means giving your full attention to the moment.

 

This week I invite you to join Francis in this divine foolishness.

I invite you to ask – just ask – what would it mean if you stopped

            trying to control the world.

Stop worrying about whether you will succeed,

            whether you will live our die,

            whether the church will flourish or fail,

            whether the US will go down the right road or the wrong.

Indeed all of those things are worth fighting for.

            You should protect yourself, and your church, and your country.

You should work with all your heart and mind and strength,

            to get the very best out of every moment and every group.

And then you should relax – because you do not own the nation,

            or the church, or even yourself.

You are not the owner, dictator, or even proprietor –

            not even of your body.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says:

            “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (12:25)

I invite you to see the world as your family,

            engaging and engaged,

            serving one another,

            and praising God.

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