Kerry Rhoads Mansir
Christ Church Gardiner
October 4, 2020
Feast of Saint Francis
While we shouldn’t celebrate the reasonthat we are worshiping outside instead of indoors this morning, I find that an outdoor worship is the perfect way to celebrate the feast of Saint Francis, who taught us to find the wonder and love of God in the creation all around us, and who spent most of his time outside churches, in the streets, caring for the poor and sick.
In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate two hundred years of worship in the magnificent building behind me that we get to call our spiritual home. And many of us are anxious to regather in that beautiful space. But this morning, and for the past three months, we have been reminded that God is with us right here in our lawn chairs under these oaks and maples, just as much as God is with us inside the church building. The beauty of the changing leaves, the way the light filters through the trees, the call of the crows and the chatter of squirrels, the crunch of acorns under our feet, all of these gifts of nature reveal God to us in ways that we miss when we worship indoors.
We should remember, as well, that Jesus did most of his teaching and preaching in the great outdoors: along the banks of the River Jordan, with the fishermen at the Sea of Galilee, on mountainsides with the people gathered below. In fact, being indoors never worked out well for Jesus. When he preached in the synagogue of Nazareth, they tried to chase him off a cliff, and his angry words in the Temple led to his arrest and crucifixion. It seems that even Jesus found it safest to be outdoors.
But even as we celebrate the beauty of the great outdoors this morning, and our privilege of having this beautiful space available for our worship, we know that this earth, that God called us to be stewards of, is not healthy. We can no longer ignore the evidence of climate change. This summer, the effects of global warming caused by human behavior have been devastating. We’ve seen hurricanes, flooding, drought, and wildfires that would have been unimaginable in the 20thcentury.
I suspect that Francis of Assisi often looks down upon the world today with great disappointment. He taught a reverence for nature that has largely been lost. He taught us to see all the ways that God is found in the beauty of nature and the innocence of animals, like these pets we have brought for blessing. He showed us that the more we learn to love all of God’s creation, the closer we get to understanding God’s universal love. So any celebration of Francis’ life must include confession and repentance about the ways we have forgotten what he taught and abused God’s creation, only valuing it for our own gain and profit.
Christian communities have too often been silent about this truth, but that is beginning to change.
Many of you will remember the speech by young climate activist, Greta Thunberg, at the United Nations last September. Among her memorable remarks were these:”You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” And she ended with these words, “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” Words that place her in the good company of the biblical prophets with the uncomfortable truths of their own time.
Following Greta’s speech and the youth climate protests that she inspired, faith leaders began to respond, acknowledging our complicity in the environmental crisis. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, had this to say, “In this particular moment, we are following our children, who have called us to account for caring for God’s world, because the inheritance that is theirs will not be there in the fullness that it needs to be there. And we are being called to account, and so now, the churches are following the children. And that is maybe the way we find ourselves stumbling into God’s future and changing it.”*
“The churches are following the children.” That reminds me of the words of Jesus in our Gospel this morning. In response to the crowd’s confusion over his message about God’s kingdom, Jesus says, “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…”
“Revealed them to the infants.” What is mysterious and hidden, is revealed to the children, Jesus says. If the crowds want to understand the message of Jesus, they should turn to the children. Likewise, if we want to change our world, we need to follow the children who are speaking out to save it. Perhaps only children have eyes clear enough, hearts open enough, the courage to tell the truth, and the imagination to move forward in a new direction.
Changing the trajectory of environmental catastrophe that we are on will require a different way of living and a different set of values. It will require a countercultural existence—a way of living that does not value things but relationships. That proclaims we need less, not more. That does not measure our worth by the treasures we build up.
Perhaps our children can convince us to adopt that value system, which should not seem strange to us, as it is found in the very Christian ideals that we proclaim. In Matthew’s Gospel, just a few paragraphs ahead of the selection we heard today, Jesus says this, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” We often hear those words and think Jesus is simply talking about personal salvation. But his words mean so much more than that. They speak to the destruction of human behavior that only looks to the self…that doesn’t acknowledge that we aren’t isolated beings and that everything we do impacts the people and the world around us. We have to start living like we believe that, even if that means losing the kind of life we cling to.
There’s a great poem by my favorite creation care writer, Wendell Berry called “Amish Economy.” I’ll read to you the beginning of that poem as it speaks to this idea of losing yourself.
We live by mercy if we live.
To that we have no fit reply
But working well and giving thanks,
Loving God, loving one another,
To keep Creation’s neighborhood.
And my friend David Kline told me,
“It falls strangely on Amish ears,
This talk of how you find yourself.
We Amish, after all, don’t try
To find ourselves. We try to lose
Ourselves”—and thus are lost within
The found world of sunlight and rain
Where fields are green and then are ripe,
And the people eat together by
The charity of God, who is kind
Even to those who give no thanks.
Perhaps, like the Amish, we too, can begin to lose ourselves. Perhaps we will begin to see that walking the life of faith requires us to have the imagination and optimism of children who don’t cling to the world as it is instead of working toward the world that may yet be. And perhaps, we will even discover that losing ourselves, rather than being painful, actually brings a sense of rest and contentment.
Surrounded by the beauty of nature this morning, let us imagine escaping the modern world’s hurried, harried, and destructive way of living. If we can do that, we might just find the rest that Jesus offered when he said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”