Season of Creation
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St Francis day
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Texts (Revised Common Lectionary):
Lamentations 1: 1-6
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Luke 17: 5-10
Today’s service focuses on the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was born in Italy, in 1181 AD, into a wealthy family. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and made frequent trips to France, and their family life was lived amongst the bourgeoisie of the day. Growing up Francis received elite schooling and as a young man was known for his flamboyant lifestyle and extravagance. As a young man, St. Francis enduring a prolonged period of illness during which Francis would spend time in the forests and caves surrounding Assisi and it is here that he is believed to have received a vision in a dream. Francis was convinced that he was called to follow a life of poverty, in following the way of Jesus. Francis would later give back all his belongings to his father, including the clothes in his back, and choose instead to live amongst the lepers. Francis was known for preaching not only to people but also to nature, as seen in one of his most well-known writings, The Canticle to Brother Sun.
Hearing the Word
Comments on Lamentations 1: 1-6
The prophet Jeremiah laments the fall of the once great city of Jerusalem. The city was once was the home of many and a favourite amongst travellers is now empty. A great, autonomous city is now subject to others. A city once characterised by joy and is now known for its weeping. The people of the city, who saw themselves as God’s chosen, and thus set apart from other nations, now live amongst other nations, away from the symbols that were to remind them that they are God’s covenant people.
Jeremiah was sent to the people of Jerusalem to prophesy that God would bring calamity upon them if they did not obey God’s commandments. The people of Israel ignore the prophet’s calls resulting in the destruction of their city and their enslavement by the Babylonians. Today there are many in our world working tirelessly in the advocacy for our care of creation. Resource into the cause of climate change has concluded that it is no longer in doubt that human activity is the primary cause of climate change. We are being called to live our lives in such a way that the earth is able to recover. Our failure to do so might lead to our lamenting at the destruction of the places we call home.
Comments on the Psalm 137
This Psalm captures the spirit of the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. From the first verse see the posture of sitting, an indication of the sorrowful mood that they are in. The rivers of Babylon as a location likewise make it clear that they are away from the promised land and living in a foreign land. They have moved from the known to the unknown This Psalm is a lament of the people of Israel who are captive in Babylon. They are separated from the places and worship and long for the temple and the gathering of the community of faith. The Psalmist however is clear that they although they are being mocked by their capturers and feel the separation from their homeland, their connect to God remains and this is what give them the strength to face what life throws at them.
As we remember St. Francis today and we see the separation of the people from the promised land, it serves as a symbol of how far humanity has moved from being connected to creation. Our care for animals has been broken, as we see in the poaching of rhinos, to the extent that the world’s last male Northern White Rhino has died and that subspecies now faces extinction. The ongoing battle between humans and baboons in the Western Cape is another example of the inability of humans and animals to co-exist. Our recent water crises around the country was a reminder to consider how we use our natural resources.
Today we also consider that St. Francis chose to live amongst those who were removed from their homes to live in leper colonies. This Psalm also helps us to consider those who have been moved off their land for political and/or economic reasons and yearn to return. We hear the cries of those who long for their land to be restored. We think of the many in our country who have been moved off the land and have a desire to return. As we hear the cries of the people of Israel as they remember Zion, we remember all those who are weeping as they remember where they have come from and we pray for the landless throughout the country.
Comments on 2 Timothy 1: 1-14
In this passage St. Paul reminds Timothy of his personal suffering for the sake of the Gospel. In much the same way St. Francis believed that his calling to a life of poverty was to follow the example of Christ. St. Francis, though born into a wealthy family believed that he should give up all and follow Christ, who emptied himself and took the form of a servant. The examples of Jesus, Paul and Francis call us to consider what it means to be Christian in a world driven by greed and a desire for possessions. How do we live Christ-like lives in our time?
As we consider St. Paul’s sufferings, we are reminded also of all others who suffer. Our water crisis in particular called on us to consider how we would live on limited resources. But there are many in our country for whom living on limited resources is a reality. There are many for whom piped water and proper sanitation remain a dream. There are also those who breath in polluted air, eat food that is not sufficiently nutritious and live in areas prone to extreme natural events that could lead to disasters. Can we also consider those for whom the environment therefore means illness and destruction?
Comments on Luke 17: 5-10
There are two main themes in today’s Gospel; faith and service. In the first two verses we have a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in which the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. This is an honourable request because they realise their need only for faith but for and ever increasing faith. Jesus tells them that if we have true faith we could perform mighty works. It is interesting that this request does not come when they are in trouble and are seeking faith so that they may endure, but rather they are seeking a growing faith for the living out of their lives. Jesus tells them faith the size of a mustard seed is sufficient to move a mountain. All things are possible to those who put their faith in God.
In the next five verses Jesus poses a question. He asks his disciples about their practice of managing their servants. He tells that a servant’s duty is to serve and to ensure that the work that has been assigned is carried out. The servant doesn’t get to rest unto the work is done. Jesus reminds them that when a servant has done their duty they are never thanked for it nor have their done anyone any favours, they are servants and they have served. Our duty, as servants of God is to do the will of the one who calls us. Our service for God is no guarantee that things will work out in our favour or a promise that God owes us something. We are servants.
Christians, God calls on us to be good stewards of God’s creation. At this time when so many of the earth’s systems are suffering, we are to work for the restoration of creation. it is good to have faith that things will work out, but as St. James reminds us, “faith, if it is not accompanied by works, is dead” (James 2:17). Thus as Christians we should follow the example of St. Francis and commit ourselves to caring for all that God has placed in our care.
Interpreting the Word
We live in a world that is suffering because of human greed. So many of the problems we face are as a result of being disconnected from creation, from God, from each other and even from ourselves. Our two readings from the Old Testament tell of the disconnect between the people of Israel and the promised land. This disconnection is seen in the destruction of the land (Lamentations 1: 1-6) and is heard in the cries of the people (Psalm 137). The Biblical disconnection comes after God has warned His people to turn from their ways or else face his anger. But the people refused, knowing that they are God’s own people and God would always act on their behalf.
St. Paul in the same way tells Timothy that, although he has dedicated his life to the service of God, he still feels the pains of suffering. St. Paul’s service to God is in no way a guarantee that he would not suffer. Jesus likewise tells the disciples that they are to have faith but not forget to work.
The story of St. Francis is the story of a man who had all the material possessions he could ever dream of. His family ensured that he received the best education and he found himself in the company of the elite of his day. Francis only really found himself once he discovered his connection to God and not to things. This connection made Him see himself as connected to those who suffer, to the point that Francis lived in a leper colony in order to be closer to the people of God. Francis also spoke of the elements of nature as being connected to him, calling them Brother Sun and Sister Moon. St. Francis is remembered as the patron saint of the environment, but his true legacy is in showing us the importance of being connected and that this leads us to seeking for God in everything.
Preaching the Word
One way to illustrate the theme for this sermon is to talk about connections. How are different things connected to each other to make a car work? Or how do ingredients and processes together become a cake? What happens when components no longer work together? Can we see how our disconnection from creation (people, plants, animals and processes) has led to the destruction we see around us?
Living the Word
How can we find God in the people and nature around us? Can we see ourselves as connected to creation and connected to all people? Can we see God in others? And once we do, how does that make us live differently?
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Southern Africa
Henry, M “The Complete Commentary on the whole Bible” Kindle edition
Viviers, H. 2014, “The Second Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi and ecological consciousness”, Verbum et Ecclesia 35(1), Art #1310