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The Story of St. Francis of Assisi - 10/06/2019

The man we know as St. Francis of Assisi was born in about 1180, more than 830 years ago. He was baptized Giovanni, the Italian version of John, but his father always called him Francesco. We're not sure if he was actually born in a stable, as some stories tell us. It may have been that at some point around the 15th century – some 300 years after his journey on Earth – that fact was added to his story by people trying to draw parallels between him and Jesus.

What we do know is that he was born into a very wealthy family. His father was a merchant of silk and fine cloth. His mother was likely of French nobility. He lived a life  we might associate with today's young, carefree and sometimes wayward children of the very rich – like a child of a Rockefeller or a Kennedy.

Francesco wanted more though … he wanted to be remembered as the stuff of military glory and honor and at the tender age of 20 he went to war to fight the Perugians.

These types of skirmishes between rival cities occurred pretty regularly and some think Francesco went into the whole experience as a rather cocky young man, sure that he would keep his military uniform sparkling clean and be back to Assisi in no time to resume his life as a young, well-liked, frolicking man, and with military glories added to his name as well.

But that was not what was in store for him. In that particular skirmish, the war party of Assisi was defeated by the Perugians and Francesco was among those captured. He was held as a prisoner of war for a year. It was during that time of imprisonment and illness he began sensing a call to the glory of God rather than the glory of military might. He returned to Assisi a changed man – changed not by the military conquests he imagined, but by the voice of God.

Ultimately, this journey caused him to turn away from his wealthy lifestyle and sure inheritance of earthly riches. One day, while he was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian's below the town of Assisi, he heard a voice saying: "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." He took the command quite literally and sold his horse and some of his father's cloth to fund repairs to the chapel. Over time, this effort grew into his work to help repair the Church of Christ in a bigger sense – the Church with a capital “C.” His father was furious and became even more so when Francis ultimately renounced all his earthly possessions and his inheritance, right down to the very clothes on his back, which he publicly and dramatically stripped off and gave back to his father. He walked away, naked and with nothing, to “follow his Father in heaven.”

Francis is remembered all these 800-plus years later for many things. He founded the Friars minor or the Franciscans, an order of religious men who traveled widely caring for the poor and spreading the Gospel. Francis himself traveled as far as Egypt with his message of God's love. The Franciscans took Jesus' words to his disciples very literally – that they should take nothing on their journey and receive no payment for their ministry. They shunned all possessions and sought out poverty and solidarity with the most vulnerable and forgotten people of their day. It is said that while visiting Rome, Francis kissed a leper and his senses were filled with sweet honey.

Perhaps it was his chosen life of poverty that opened his eyes wide to the glorious riches and richness of God's creation. His deep and radical love of God and God's creation is why we bless our animals at this time of the year – when we remember the life of St. Francis.

Francis died on October 3, 1226, at sunset while singing Psalm 142. “I cry to you, YHWH! I say 'You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.'” He was 44 years old.

Francis was not born a saint. Like each and every one of us, he was born a baby. Like us he was molded and formed by God and the world. For Francis it led him to be entirely devoted to God and to love every neighbor as best he could. I doubt he knew we would still be talking about him more than 800 years later. But I suspect it would please him that we use the memory of his life to lift up God's beautiful creation.

 If he were walking among us today, I wonder what shunned people he would kiss and welcome in his extravagant hospitality. Would he be standing with others in ministry at the border, offering a cool glass of water and Christ-like compassion to the frightened Guatemalan mother, or the hungry and exhausted Honduran farmer?

Would he be pushing hard at all of us to treat depression, addiction and other brain health issues with the same compassion and vigor we do cancer and heart disease?

Would he be daily praying for peace in this divided nation – for God to break into our hearts when we have to admit that we have placed a flag above God or let a political opinion cancel out Christ's command to love all neighbors?

Would he plant fields of flowers for bees and groves of trees for the birds in the face of climate change? Would he labor tirelessly to invite the vulnerable and forgotten to our abundant meal at the Table of the Lord? Would he be asking us how we respond with our very lives to the wonder and strength and vulnerability of God's creation that we mark today and strive to remember every day?

If Francis were walking among us today … take some time to imagine what he might be doing and then maybe follow his lead.

I'll end with what's called The Living Prayer of St. Francis with all of Creation.

Let us pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is fear, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.  Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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