A Song of Ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.
SERMON No Ordinary Day
Earlier in this worship service, we brought our pets to be blessed in a tradition that was created in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi, a Catholic monk who lived in the twelfth century. As you can imagine, Francis was said to have cared for the animals, and the animals loved him. In fact, there are tales told how Brother Francis would preach to the birds, talk with fish and rabbits, and even tame a wolf!
|St. Francis with the animals. (Picture found at: http://my.opera.com/zenya/blog/?id=222666)|
Though when we think of St. Francis, we think of the animals and nature, what made Francis a saint was his decision to choose a life of poverty, even though he was born into a family of wealth. As a young man, he had been like many of us, partying away what he had, wasting time and his father’s money. After an experience in his mid-twenties, Francis felt he was called to live a Christ-like life, in extreme poverty. He began preaching around Assisi and gathered a group of 12 followers.
In order to raise some money to rebuild the church, he stole a bolt of cloth and a horse from his father. His father dragged him to the local bishop, demanding punishment. The Bishop told Francis to return his father’s money, which he did…and then some. Right then and there, Francis took off all his clothes and turned these and the money over to his father. Oh, the Bishop apparently gave Francis a rough tunic to wear. So humbly dressed, Francis began to preach around Assisi. His life had changed. Somehow, I don’t think his life had turned out the way he thought it would when he started out enjoying the fruits of his father’s labor. Indeed, I don’t think his parents imagined their son standing naked in the square, holding out his clothes and a stack of stolen money. It is believed he never spoke to his father again.
Yet, his life was a life lived in response to a call that Francis heard from God. He lived a life worthy of remembrance and emulation. A life worthy of naming a Pope after. We have all been called. You’ve heard me say it before. In one way or another, God calls us toward our greatest good. God is calling us every one of us all the time, but we only begin to hear the call when the time is right for us. Sometimes the calls come in the strangest places, and sometimes in the oddest times. Francis heard Christ’s voice call him to rebuild the church when he was praying at an old Byzantine crucifix at the church of San Damiano. Of course we don’t all hear God’s voice or have one bright flash of insight. Sometimes we hear our call in small moments of inspiration, seeing coincidences and recognizing God’s hand in them.
I’ve been hearing mine for a very long time. From childhood, even. Unlike my friend Heather, who used to line her Barbie dolls up in neat little rows and preach to them on a regular basis, I found my early relationship to God when I was in nature. It was only later, when I looked back on my life, that I was able to see that my times under the willow tree or in the strawberry patch with my journal were early conversations with God about where I was headed. I was reminded of how long ago I first recognized the closeness I felt to God in nature just this weekend, as I enjoyed the cool green garden paths of the Marion Center for Nonprofits in St. Francis, Wisconsin, just outside Milwaukee. The Marion Center is housed in the former St. Mary’s Academy, and is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis. There is a beautiful, active abbey on the property. I wish I had time and permission to wander aimlessly about!
|St. Francis at the corner of the Marion Center for Non-Profits|
So, when I boarded the plane last week, headed for Milwaukee, I was headed toward something special. In fact, I was on my way to someplace I’d been going for a very long time. As I sat on a very full northward-bound Boeing 737, I wondered what it would be like to finally be ordained. I didn’t think I would feel differently after it was done; after all, I’ve been preaching for awhile now, I’ve officiated one funeral and a couple of weddings already. Wasn’t it just a matter of conferring an official title upon me, making me a priest?
I have to tell you that I was wrong. It was no ordinary day. I have no words; something happened, of that there is no doubt. All morning I was filled with energy and anticipation and by the end of the service I was on my knees in tears, but not before I lay prostrate before the altar alongside another who was to be ordained. And I want you to know, there was thunder and lightning before the ceremony, and afterward, rain upon parched and hungry souls.
In a time when the idea of Christ-like poverty was unique, St. Francis set out to restore the values of Jesus’ own ministry. He gathered many followers who also felt that the church had come too far from the apostolic ideals. But it wasn’t just that. Reading the story of St. Francis’ life, the many tales of his interactions with animals, and his conversion story, it’s easy to wonder if he was sane. In fact, reading the stories of many of the mystics, the nature of their experience might cause one to wonder about their presence of mind. Yet, who are we to judge?
As I served communion alongside Justin, the newly ordained Deacon, it was like I was moving in a different time and space. Afterward, though, as I thought about the meaning of all the years of study and divergent paths, the import of the day really began to set in. After the book learning and the theological debate, after the preaching and the ritual, what really matters is action. That’s the bottom line: there is a sense of responsibility that comes with this new thing, this ordination. This answered call.
In today’s scripture, the Psalmist writes, “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in.” So it is with the various times of our lives. We go into them and come out of them as the seasons pass; we hear our call and we choose to follow or not as we take the paths we come across in our lives. If we choose to follow, we are responsible for that choice, for the expectations of whatever we have become by answering God’s call.
It can be overwhelming – even frightening – as we pursue our call. The closer we become to who God wants us to become, the more we want to run away sometimes. The ones who don’t think of running away might be considered “crazy.” For the rest of us, there is hope, for it’s true that the Lord will keep our lives. The Lord will keep our goings and our comings, because wherever we are, whatever we are doing, the Lord is our Keeper.
Just as the day St. Francis stood in the town center naked as the day he was born was no ordinary day; just as the day I knelt before my Bishop in the sanctuary of an old girl’s school in Wisconsin was no ordinary day; so is the day any one of us hears the call of God and responds to it is no ordinary day. Indeed, today is no ordinary day!