Thursday, 8 October 2020

Sunday 4th October 2020 “At that time Jesus said …”


The First Reading: Galatians 6: 14-18     The Gospel Reading & Preaching of the Word: At That Time, Jesus Said..., - Matthew 11: 15-20

At that time Jesus said, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have revealed to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned."

On the closest Sunday to the anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi, the Rev. John’s Reflection/Sermon was focused on him and his life.  But for me - a good quote to begin our own personal review - comes from the summing up at the end of the Sunday Sermon.

“So what are we to make of this famous saint? He has been called "the Other Jesus" by some. He is revered and loved universally, by Christians and non- Christians alike. And yet, he didn't seem to Get it Right.

Perhaps this is what Jesus is talking about when he suggests that the foolish and unlearned may know something that the wise and learned don't know. Perhaps certainty and Being Right are not what Jesus wants from our lives.

Maybe Saint Francis shows us something completely different, something that looks more like perseverance in the face of uncertainty. Maybe the lesson I can learn from Saint Francis is the lesson that faithfulness is more valuable than Being Right; that humility and unknowing are a more appropriate response to God than certainty and knowledge. Perhaps abandoning the pride of self may be the way to begin to understand God. Or, in the words of Saint Francis' famous prayer, that it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

It is interesting to consider that perhaps the most famous prayer often attributed to one of the most famous saints is not included in the official “Prayers of St. Francis” of the Franciscan Order, although the prayer has been recommended by members of the order.  The lavish use of the personal pronouns "I" and "me" and the complete absence of the words "God" and "Jesus" are often used as “proof” of a different author.

It is widely thought to be more like the writing of Giles of Assisi (c.1180 – 1262), one of the close companions of St. Francis and has similarities to his “Golden Sayings of Blessed Giles of Assisi.”

Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved;
Blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared;
Blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served;
Blessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others behave well toward him;
And because these are great things, the foolish do not rise to them.

St. Francis has been recognised and loved by much of the civilised world going back for many centuries.  He is not just a Roman Catholic saint, but a person with many of the human traits that we can recognise in ordinary people.  His early life was privileged because his father Pietro di Bernardone, was a wealthy and successful cloth merchant who travelled extensively and was in France when Francis was born in 1181/1182.  His was christened Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, but his father called him Francis and gave him every opportunity to enjoy a carefree “entitled” life with his friends. It seems that young Francis was very popular and seen by his friends to be a happy and carefree person who loved parties.  His first biographer, Thomas of Celano wrote that friends called Francis the “King of Revels”.  He was a great favourite among the young nobles of Assisi and had dreams of becoming a Knight, although he was being encouraged by his father to follow him as a merchant, which was not something he enjoyed.  It is recorded that even as a young man Francis had began to develop an intuitive sympathy with the poor people.

When he was 19 or 20 Francis went off to fight the Perugians in a petty skirmish, but he was taken prisoner and held in captivity more than a year.  After suffering from a fever while captive, he began to turn his thoughts to the emptiness of his life but on recovery he again wanted to have a splendid military career.  So Francis arranged to go with a Knight of Assisi who had agreed to accompany Walter of Brienne, who was known as the “gentle count”, who was supporting the Neapolitan States against the Emperor. The biographers of Francis tell us that the night before he set forth he had a strange dream and heard what he believed to be the voice of God.  In good spirits, Francis started the next day on his journey, but a second illness caused him to stop at Spoleto in Umbria, and in another dream where he said that he heard the same voice tell him to return to Assisi he immediately returned to his home city.

It seems clear that at this point in his life he was touched by the Spirit of God and after a short period of uncertainty, Francis the fun loving “would be” knight turned to serious prayer and sought solitude as he answered his call by giving up his fancy clothes and wasteful ways.  In the reading I have done, a recurring theme developed and Francis began to literally embrace and welcome and even kiss lepers and beggars and give away his clothing and his money.  About this time, he made a pilgrimage to Rome where the horde of beggars at the door of the Basilica caused him to exchange his clothing and stand at the door with the beggars and fast. 

Not long after Francis returned to Assisi, the incident described by the Rev. John in his sermon, when Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix at the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damien’s below the town of Assisi, took place.  Francis heard God’s voice again and he said; “Go Francis and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin”.  This event was responsible for panic reactions which resulted in a permanent rift between Francis and his father, who did not forgive his son for rushing off to his shop, and, impetuously taking a load of his materials and also his horse which he rode to a market at Foligno and sold to get the money needed to restore the church.  However, the priest refused to accept the money because of the way it was obtained and Francis hid for a month in a cave near the church to avoid his father’s great wrath, which was not abated at all - even when he got back his money which Francis had thrown down at the feet of the priest.

The stories about the total surrender of all comfort and worldly goods are long and amazing, and soon St Francis who was equally kind to people and animals, was no longer considered to be mad as he wandered the countryside preaching God’s word.  Soon he was being joined by some impressive adherents who joined him and followed his way of life - and the Franciscan order began to spread throughout many countries and his selfless love and service to the poor and the sick people of the world is still reflected in this modern age.

I found this summary about Saint Francis and thought I should share it with you; 

St. Francis of Assisi was a unique spiritual personality who gave up a life of wealth and social position to embrace a life of poverty and chastity – With the approval of the Pope, he founded a new Monastic Order, commonly known as the Franciscans. St Francis is considered one of the greatest saints in the Christian tradition and an example of a life lived in imitation of Jesus Christ.

“Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.” – St Francis – Canticle of St Francis

In 1982 my husband and I visited Italy and I was thrilled to be able to go to Assisi and visit the place where St. Francis had discovered God’s Grace and devoted his life to God’s work.  I felt I needed to pinch myself as we stood in the famous Basilica above the steep streets of this beautiful hillside town and looked at the famous frescos of Giotto and other artists who had painted them nearly a thousand years ago.  I still remember the intensity of my art teacher at school as he held up his precious art book to show his students the photos of these wonderful paintings.   St Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226 and work on the church was started in 1228, the year of Francis's canonisation, and it was constructed slowly over the next 300 years.  We were very sad when the Basilica was badly damaged by two earthquakes in 1982 and some people died in the Basilica and in the town.

Many times I have tried to understand how St. Francis was able to give up all earthly joy and punish himself for his perceived failings when he led a selfless existence with his every thought devoted to God.  I have to admit that I have often had doubts about God’s expectations and asked myself if God really “requires” us to be miserable.  I think joy is the greatest gift in life we can give and share.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Sunday 27th September 2020 - “Walking the Walk”

 The First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7 The Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:23-32  Hymn TIS 618: What does the Lord require? 

Walking the Walk   On Sunday 27th September, the Rev. John began his Reflection/Sermon by asking those watching him speaking on Zoom, listening via a telephone link, or reading his words which asked us to “Imagine you are watching television and a commercial comes on” and then he went on to describe an idyllic scene which was cleverly orchestrated to convince the viewers that buying their product would deliver “salvation – buy our product and it will save you from your harried, over-scheduled existence and lead you to this “perfect” life”.  

Of course we all know that life is not always perfect, yet each of us must admit that we have sometimes been enticed by clever advertising.  Quite recently, I was convinced by a TV advertisement that a new salted caramel biscuit with a well-loved name and international reputation would be quite delicious – instead I was very disappointed and felt let down and only finished the small but expensive packet of these biscuits to avoid waste.  I suspect the product has not been a great success because, after the initial six to eight weeks of blanket advertising, I have never seen these disappointing biscuits mentioned on TV again.

In the Exodus story mentioned by the Rev. John, the Israelites had no doubt been looking forward to a better and perhaps even “perfect” life as they journeyed out of Egypt, but as we discovered - when things became hard; “The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord ?’   But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’”

As “The Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” – the majority of us have expressed doubts from time to time when things go wrong.  I feel sure that many distressed people have questioned God about the current Covid 19 pandemic and asked how he could have unleashed such illness and struggle upon the world. 

During his sermon, the Rev. John went on to tell us a “modern parable” that described ‘someone’ like we have all seen come to worship at our church and grow in enthusiasm and goodwill, but who gradually found that everything was getting too hard.  Their religious fervour gradually waned, so that they may have slowly drifted away, with us barely noticing that one day they just stopped coming altogether.  The “modern parable”  went on; “He still believed in God and felt love for God but didn’t know how to integrate these pieces into the rest of his life. It all seemed like it was too hard, too much.” 

We should wonder why this person did not keep looking for a closer walk with God in our church community and ask; Do we always “walk the walk as well as talk the talk?” 

The Rev. John said; “Jesus gives a telling example of response to God’s love in his parable today about the two sons being asked to work in the vineyard. The first son tells his father outright that he won’t do it, but then has a change of heart and goes and does it anyway. Whereas the second son tells his father he will and then never does. It’s a pretty extreme example, but it gets the point across. Jesus tells this to the chief priests and elders – who rejected John the Baptist and were rejecting Jesus – in order for them to be caught in their own web of deceit. Jesus asks them, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” and they know they are trapped because the answer, of course, is the first son. He ended up living his life faithfully; he didn’t just talk about it or say things to appease his father.”

We often do similar things in our own lives. “How many of us have told someone we would pray for him or her and then got distracted and didn’t? How many of us have thought or talked a lot about helping the marginalised in our neighbourhood, but haven’t? How many of us have been puzzled when people who were once zealous about their faith faded away, and we intended to contact them but never have?

We all have good intentions. But as Jesus teaches us in our gospel reading today, our intentions don’t really matter. It’s our actions that are grounded in and flow from our relationship with God that count – individually and as a community.”

As Christians; perhaps we should encourage the alternate idiom; “Practice what you preach” as a greater motivation than other versions of “Walk the Walk” which is essentially saying “PROVE IT”.  Other such sayings that have great relevance to the expression of our genuine reactions are, “Actions speak louder than words” and “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!”  A different interpretation of that saying is that the difference between what someone intends to do and what they actually do can often be called procrastination.

A few years ago, when my husband and I sorted through some old papers, we unearthed a “to do” list from more than 30 years ago - and the amazing thing was there was absolutely nothing on the long list that still needed to be done, yet not one job had been ticked as completed.  Although we laughed about it and recognised our serious faults of procrastination, we agreed that so called wise quotes are very much like statistics really; you can find one to support almost any argument you wish to make.  I consider myself a reasonably decisive person; however, I can nod my head in agreement with almost all the dozens of quotes on procrastination that I unearthed via Google.  I think the ‘tongue in cheek’ quote; “One of the greatest labour-saving inventions of today is tomorrow”, which is attributed to Vincent T. Foss, perhaps best fits the sad tale of our old unchecked list of jobs.  Although my mother, if she was still with us, would have opted for the often wisely quoted; “Procrastination is the thief of time” theory?  My mother dusted the house and swept the floor each day – it was like a religious ritual.  I have often wondered and imagined how much time would have been saved if she had procrastinated and done it only when her “round tuit” came conveniently to hand.

As we moved our fingers down the lines of writing on our list, we shed tears of laughter as we noted our soft blue British Wolseley didn’t need polishing - there have been around six replacements for that particular car since then.  More good news - the next thing on the list didn’t need doing either – the fuchsia garden that needed weeding and spraying for the black caterpillars that regularly stripped the leaves each time we felt a little smug about how pretty the garden looked, could be crossed off too.  Our daughter’s “new” bedroom was built over that spot some 30 years ago and the rose garden near the back patio didn’t need weeding either.  The sunroom extension was built over that nearly 20 years ago.

Neither did the wrought iron on the front patio need painting because the lounge room extension covered that patio at the same time the fuchsia garden was lost.   Almost doubled up with laughter, we crossed all the remaining jobs off the list with a flourish, feeling really good about all the time we had saved by not doing those jobs either.  Continuing to build rooms onto the house to avoid weeding the garden or painting, may sound a little extreme but it just goes to prove - if you put some things off long enough you never have to do them at all! 

However, the serious, older and hopefully slightly wiser me must now agree with the quote of Edward Young, which my very busy house-proud mother would have approved; “Procrastination is the thief of time; year after year it steals, till all are fled, and to the mercies of a moment leaves the vast concerns of an eternal state. At thirty, man suspects himself a fool; knows it at forty, and reforms his plan; at fifty chides his infamous delay, pushes his prudent purpose to resolve; in all the magnanimity of thought, resolves, and re-resolves, then dies the same."

My reality is; I believe all people who achieve the things that are important to them in life, gain personal satisfaction and harbour warm feelings of fulfilment as well as setting a good example.  It is for each of us to live according to our own truth. 

However, I would like to share one final quote that may never make its way into the ‘endless list of quotes on everything’ to be found on the Internet.  It is an often repeated quote from a lady who can always find a reason to procrastinate when there is housework to be done.  If you know me well, you have probably often heard me say: “When I lie on my death bed I will not be saying, I wish I had done more housework!”

Thank you Rev. John for asking us if we are “Walking the walk”; We say we are Christians, but how do we know? How do others know? God has given us the gift of our lives and we are called to respond.”  You may like to click on the link and listen carefully to the words of Hymn 618 TiS.  “What does the Lord Require?” “Do justly; Love mercy; Walk humbly with your God.”