In the Spirit of St. Francis

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

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This church once had a neighbor named Danny Frye who lived in the house across from the King St. entrance. I’m not sure if Danny loved everybody but I know for sure he didn’t like everybody. He was pretty selective. If he liked you, you might want to put that on your tombstone: Danny liked me.

Danny generally didn’t like Christians or the Church very much. But he liked this church and kept his eye on it and us to make sure we didn’t lose our groove.

The year before Danny died he was under hospice care. One afternoon he stopped me just as I was getting into my car to go home. He asked if I could give a priest a ride.

What—a priest needs a ride?!

That’s right, said Danny. I’d like you to take him to your house. He’s in the backyard. I’ll be right back. And off he dashed to fetch the priest while I stood befuddled, my mind spinning.

Why would I or why should I take a priest to my house? How long would I keep him there? And what was he doing in Danny’s backyard any way?

All I could imagine was that some drunk Irish priest—maybe a cousin of Danny’s—had crashed at his house and needed some pastoral guidance. I was thinking I’d take him to the Rescue Mission in Martinsburg rather than to my home when suddenly Danny showed up with the priest. Danny was cradling a statue of St. Francis in his arms.

I can tell you this: I’ve never ever had a plastic Jesus on the dashboard of my car. But there I was driving home with St. Francis in the back seat of my car. He’s been standing in our flower garden ever since.

Danny loved St. Francis and wanted him to have a good home before he died. It’s a gift Paula and I treasure.

Which brings me to the lesson for today from 2 Timothy: Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.

That’s in a letter from the elderly St. Paul to his young apprentice Timothy. In that letter Paul reminds Timothy of the precious promise passed along through generation after generation and finally to him through his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.

Those wise and courageous women had given Timothy a gift just as Mary had passed on to her son Jesus that ancient promise treasured by her people, a promise of peace, justice and salvation for all people. As it turns out, it’s a promise or vision held in the hearts of many traditions, not just ours. It’s a fragile promise. So it must be guarded.

Guard the good treasure entrusted to you

Take it to heart, says Paul. Give your life to this holy calling. Trust it without reservation.Suffer for it, if you must.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.

One of the treasures of the Christian tradition is St. Francis. Many who dislike Christianity and the Church, still admire St. Francis. Only Mary the mother of Jesus is more universally revered.

So what is it about St. Francis that is so appealing? Perhaps it’s the riches to rag story that gets our attention.

Francis was born into wealth in the late 12th century. His father Pietro was a prosperous Italian silk merchant, his mother Pica a French woman of noble birth.

Francis was born in Assisi while his father was on business in France. His mother named him Giovanni. But when his father returned home—enamored with all things French—he renamed his son “Frenchy,” or Francesco. As it turns out Francis would adopt the manners of French troubadours, those courtly minstrels of song and romantic poetry.

Francis became a poet. And then a kind of jester or Holy Fool. Unlike the flamboyant troubadours, Francis would fall in love with what he called “Lady Poverty.” But we are ahead of the story.

Young Francis lived a life of merriment and frivolity. But when the trumpet of war sounded, he donned his armor, grabbed his sword, mounted his horse and charged off into battle against Perugia, a neighboring city. Little wars like that were quite common then.

Francis did not lack courage. He was a fierce warrior. But in this particular battle he was wounded, captured and imprisoned for a year.

While in prison he heard a voice calling him to a different way of life, a way of life he did not fully understand. But he understood this much: he was to treat all creatures with courtesy, as brothers and sisters.

By the way, if you haven’t heard that voice, you’re not paying attention.

After his release, Francis returned to his jolly life. Then one day he stopped at San Damiano, a small, dilapidated country church. As he sat there in the silence, the voice of Christ seemed to speak from the crucifix on the wall. Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which is falling into ruins.

Which by the way, is one reason the new Pope took the name Francis. There’s more than one way to repair a church falling into ruins.

Francis assumed the instruction from Christ pertained to that particular church building. He rapidly sold off bolts of his father’s silk, bought stones and mortar and began repairing the walls of the church.

His father was outraged, accused Francis of thievery and took him to court. In court, before the judge, Francis renounced his father’s wealth, took off every stitch of clothing that his father had given him and walked out naked into the wintery cold and down a road that would lead to goodness in abundance.

Francis didn’t remain naked. He donned a ragged brown tunic and secured it with a rope little knowing that following his death it would become fashionable.

One day, one of the most frightening and repulsive kinds of human beings approached Francis on the road. It was leper from whom all people fled. Francis did not flee. He embraced the leper and kissed him.

Or was it Jesus he had just kissed? Francis wasn’t sure. He looked back to see but the road was empty.

Francis would never be the same again. The fierce courage of a warrior had become the fierce courage of a lover.

From that moment on Francis devoted his life to following the way of Jesus. Of course, the way of Jesus is different for each of us. Few of us can live like Francis without our things but we might be able to live without things possessing and controlling us. We won’t be kissing infectious people but we might be able to welcome and embrace those whom others neglect or reject.

We don’t know how Francis did it. But out of poverty he fed the hungry. Out of thirst he gave water to all. Out of love he never met a stranger. During the Crusades he met with the Muslim sultan in order to broker peace.

Out of gratitude Francis never stopped giving thanks for each breath, each crumb of bread, each bird, each tree, each person. It is said of St. Francis, he couldn’t see the forest—only trees. And he couldn’t see humanity—only persons one at a time.

For Francis all of life without exception was a gift to be received with gratitude. You can hear it in his “Canticle to the Sun.”

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Sun.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon
Be praised, my Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,

and clouds and storms, and all the weather.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire
Be praised, my Lord, for our sister Mother Earth
Be praised, my Lord, for our sister Bodily Death,

from whose embrace no living person can escape.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,

and serve God with great humility.

Once upon a time, a young man named Francis walked naked into the cold world and down a road that led to goodness in abundance. We don’t know how he did it. But out of poverty Francis fed the hungry.

The road to peace and reconciliation may be a hard road but it is the road on which the Holy One goes. Go humbly in the spirit of St. Francis and God will go that road with you.

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HYMN
“When a Poor One”