DiscipleChurch Family and Friends:
This Sunday, we start a three week preaching series on the Franciscan experience of God. I will be bringing the message all three of these Sunday’s.
I must admit that before Linda and Tim chose the Prayer of Saint Francis as the foundation of all of our church’s worship services through Lent, I knew very, very little about the distinctive spirituality of Francis and the Franciscans. But having now studied a considerable amount on the subject, I am fascinated by it. I hope that this experience has given me a renewed spirit to continue the work of the Justice Ministry. If you are tired or discouraged with the hard parts of life, and feel a deep disconnect between the way things are and the way you wish them to be, a deep separation between the world’s and your daily struggles and the presence and experience of God, the Franciscans have a hopeful Way for you.
Francis was not an intellectual. He was a poet and a mystic. He was one of those rare people whose senses are just more attuned to the beauty and wonder of creation, who sense the divine in everything mundane. In that way, Francis was a spiritual genius. He was a seer, literally. He was . . . a saint in the sense that he experienced Jesus in everything, and experienced him intimately and lovingly, and cared for absolutely nothing at all other than to live in to and out of that experience.
Perhaps the best symbol for Francis, and the Franciscan Way, is a bronze statue of him which stands outside the cathedral built to house his remains at Assisi (a cathedral which he would surely not have wanted to be built). The statue depicts him calling forth the Holy Spirit. But he is not doing so by reaching his hand to the heavens. He is reaching toward the earth.
I write above that Francis was not an intellectual. So can he be attractive to our particular church? (As I have told you more than once, all of the preachers in this church recognize that this well-educated congregation needs some meaty ideas to chew on in every sermon. In fact, our continual challenge is to get you out of your heads and into your hearts.) To Francis, God is not an idea. To Francis, God is an experience, a force, a Way, a Beauty, a Love, a Mystery, The Mystery, Being itself yet still a person.
But having said this, I have learned that a body of thrilling — yes, thrilling — ideas have grown out of the life and mysticism of Francis. The beginnings of these came with a man named Bonaventura and a man named John Duns Scotus. The ideas of these two have helped to open up Francis’ experience of Jesus and God for me.
Before Sunday, let me give you a bit of scripture which is a favorite of many Franciscans. It is from the first chapter of Colossians.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—everything has been created through him and for him. He himself is before everything, and in him everything holds together…”
“In him, everything holds together”! Everything? So “everything” bears witness to Him and partakes of His goodness? How can that be? To Francis it was. And Francis knew the worst sufferings of this creation.
Let me leave you with these brief poems of Francis. Perhaps they capture him best.
“Such love does the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light when I get home.”
“It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful.
The lessons of deeper knowledge, though,
Instructed me to embrace God in all things.”
“I once spoke to my friend,
an old squirrel,
about the Sacraments—
he got so excited
and ran into a hollow in his tree
and came back holding
some acorns, an owl feather, and a ribbon he had found.
And I just smiled and said,
“Yes, dear, you understand:
everything imparts His grace.””
May we all receive the spirit and reverence and vision of Francis.