“Be Glad” Colchester Federated Church, October 11, 2020, (Philippians 4:1-9) Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

October 4th (last Sunday) was World Communion Sunday and the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi.  Now we focused on World Communion Sunday because that is a bigger Sunday to observe in most Protestant churches.  Though this Sunday (in conversation with the end of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in the Lectionary) it seems like too good an opportunity to miss to not talk about St. Francis a bit.  Why?  Because his life and teachings have something to say to us as we ask questions about power and privilege, about the Christian call to care for creation, as we contemplate what living lives devoted to God looks like, and how we can make our Christian faith our own.

We can begin in Italy in 1208.  A young man named Francesco Bernardone who came from a world of wealth and privilege (his father was a cloth merchant) had a life changing moment in the middle of a worship service.  He felt called by God to live a life of voluntary poverty when he heard these words from the Gospel according to Matthew, “As you go, make this announcement: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons. You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment.  Workers deserve to be fed, so don’t gather gold or silver or copper coins for your money belts to take on your trips.  Don’t take a backpack for the road or two shirts or sandals or a walking stick.  Whatever city or village you go into, find somebody in it who is worthy and stay there until you go on your way.”[1]  

Francesco gave away his shoes, his fancy tunic, and his staff.  He wore a simple tunic and the hood of a shepherd, tied a cord around his waist, and began to preach and attract followers.[2]  In time, this man who walked away from a world of privilege to live in simplicity with his fellow monks and the rest of creation became known as St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular saints in history.  St. Francis loved nature; he is often depicted out in the world preaching to birds.  There’s a great story about St. Francis taming the Wolf of Gubbio, so he’s often depicted with the wolf by his side.  He lived a life of humility, praising God for the good we can find in all of creation. And he’s known for his “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” which goes (in part) like this:

We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
 fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
 He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
 who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.[3]

St. Francis was someone who changed the landscape of European monasticism and influenced Christian thought about creation.  All of creation reflected God for St. Francis and pointed to how interconnected we are with one another and with this earth we call our home.  In the end, when we look at the world around us, we can always praise God.  St. Francis taught that God deserves praise for the sun, moon, stars, heavens, wind, air, fire, water, earth—all of the elements of the natural world that help make life possible.

St. Francis’ teachings seem aligned with Paul’s instructions to the Christian community in Philippi.  Instructions that Paul wanted to leave them with in his parting words.  Paul wrote in Chapter 4 (which we heard this morning), “Be glad in the Lord always!  Again I say, be glad!”[4]  Praising God for the gifts all around us, yes, even when we are living in difficult days seems like a way to hold onto some joy in the midst of life’s trials.  As Paul ends his letter to the Philippians, it can remind us of St. Francis and how he was in the world.  Because Paul called on the Christian community to come together in peace just as St. Francis lived a life of peace—even taming the Wolf of Gubbio to bring peace to that region.  Paul wrote, “Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people.”[5]  Treating all people gently, perhaps we could extend this and challenge ourselves to treat all of creation gently—that’s quite a statement to hear in 2020.

As I shared in an earlier sermon on Philippians, there was some conflict in the Christian community here.  Paul gave instructions about a dispute between two church leaders who were likely the leaders of different house churches.  He calls them out, “Loved ones, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to an agreement in the Lord.  Yes, and I’m also asking you, loyal friend, to help these women who have struggled together with me in the ministry of the gospel.”[6]  It’s not that these women are leading house churches that’s the problem, he just wants them to get along better.  Because one theme of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is for anyone who hears his words to imitate Christ by putting the good of other people above ourselves so that the Christian community can be united in God’s love.

“Be glad in the Lord always!  Again I say, be glad!”  “Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people.”  “We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures.”  These are the important sentiments from Paul and St. Francis to take to heart.  Especially because there have been more coronavirus cases of late here in Colchester and we may be feeling tired or scared or just weary as this pandemic has dragged into the 7th month.  Though my perpetual hope is that our Christian faith serves as an anchor to keep us connected to one another though we remain physically apart as the whole Body of Christ.  The hope is that we show gentleness in our treatment of one another and our treatment of all creation.  That no matter what, we praise God and we remain glad in God always.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 10:7-11, Common English Bible.
[2] Richard P. McBrien, “Francis of Assisi, friar,” In Lives of the Saints, 404-407.
[3] Francis of Assisi, “Canticle of Brother Sun,” http://prayerfoundation.org/canticle_of_brother_sun.htm
[4] Philippians 4:4, CEB.
[5] Philippians 4:5.
[6] Philippians 4:2-3.