In the north of in Italy, between Rome and Florence, lays the town of Assisi. Today it has 28,000 people in it. 900 years ago we can assume it was much smaller. It was in that small town in Assisi, 900 years ago, that a wealth couple gave birth to a son. And against all odds the baby grew to a man, wealthy young man with few rules and lots of free time. That is to say, the man who would become St Francis, was a bit of a trouble maker. When he was 20-ish, he joined a military campaign against a neighboring state and was captured and held captive for a year. It was in prison that Francis had his first visions of God, God became real, and Francis’ life would never been the same.
He renounced his family’s wealth, became a monk, rebuilt a church—which was officially about the building but also built the community around it. A brotherhood built up around him, he had disciples of his own, living first in the example of Jesus, in how Francis understood—living with less, living in connection, living love.
As good Protestant, we don’t often consider the lives of the canonized Catholic saints, being people who celebrate all of us as saints, but I think we can learn much from the lives of faithful people and that there was something special about Francis.
First, I imagine that you and I might be wondering why Francis renounced the wealth of his father and didn’t take it and give it away, how generous could he have been with all that wealth! But that would have meant he would have had to stay with his family, be trained to take over the household, bankrupt his mother if she live after his father, as women so often do.
In the 1980’s and 90’s there was a Christian singer songwriter named Rich Mullins. He sang his own songs and sold songs to some of the biggest names in the industry—he could have been wealthy. But he had a council from him church be managers of his money, giving him just what the average working person received each year because if he knew about it, it would be harder to give it away. I wonder if it would have been harder to give it away if Francis had it in his own hands.
Which means, when he traveled, when he worked to the rebuilding of the church community and buildings, he needed to rely on God and others. It meant he had to be a good steward of what he received, and it meant he saw God in the world around him. And that meant, he saw goodness in the world around him.
Francis walked from village to town to city telling the good news of Jesus—the God who lived among us and loves us and desires abundant living for us. On the road Francis had time to listen, to watch, to know stillness and that sometimes the world isn’t really that still—squirrels chatter, flowers open and follow the sun, birds join together is chorus songs, the leafs on the trees offer applause, fish rise to the surface to capture a meal. What Francis saw, learned, believed was that God was present in each of these. If God made them all, God might have left a spark of the divine in each, like an artist leaves their mark on canvas. Maybe then, we are all connected and the squirrel, the flower, the birds, the trees, and the fish are my family, too.
And how might it change the way we interact with the world when we remember we are connected, we are all divinely made, filled with the divine spark, you, me, your pets, the groundhogs, bats, alligators, badgers. When we come together for communion it is our visible reminder that you and I are connected, we are all bound together, to care for each other, to support each other, to desire the best for each other, to help each other grow. Communion is our reminder that we are connected with all those who participate in communion, around the world and throughout time—all who have been and all who are to come behind us. But it also grounds us in the earth, in the grains and the fruits of the earth. And the soil full of nutrients that come from small creatures decomposing, the bees that pollinate the flower, the birds that spread seeds, the worms that irrigate the land. We cannot be in this moment without the work of all of creation.
Which brings us back to Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s kind of an upsetting one and there are probably a million ways in which we could look at it, but today, today we get to decide what kind of tenets we will be.
Will we be the tenets who live as if we own everything, as if it is ours. Who believe that we can do this on our own, that we know best, that we can use and abuse what is below our feet for the satisfaction of ourselves. What will we do with those who come to tell us otherwise, that we are connect, that we need them, that we are in this together? With the prophet who cries out, with the creature who comes near, with the ground itself that doesn’t understand boundaries? Who will we be?
Or, do we live as tenets who understand that we are stewards, caretakers for a moment of the ground beneath my feet that is connected to the ground beneath your feet, and their feet, and around the world. Are we tenets who are stewards of the creatures that support our life, offering gratitude for the work they do, for the roll that they play, for their place in creation? Are we tenets who celebrate the mountain, desert, grasslands, kelp fields, and glaciers for the life they sustain, and then remember that they help sustain us, too. Are we good tenets, seeing that all of creation is connected and bound together, to care for each other, to support each other, to desire the best for each other, to help each other grow.
Francis preached the good news of Jesus, the God who lived among us and loves us and desires abundant living for us, to creation; to the birds and the trees, to the squirrels and the flowers, to the foxes and the donkeys, to the brother sun and the sister moon as his hymn calls them, and so he desired their abundant living, too. Worked toward the abundant and full living of all of creation and that would be enough for me to call him a saint. Then he instilled in those who gathered around him, who found him so compelling that they just wanted to stay with him, to know the God he knew, he instilled in them the desire for the all of creation to live abundantly which is how you change the world.
We can change the world. Or at least our part of it. Let us live in connection, be good tenets, good stewards of God’s creation—all that walks, crawls, roots, swims, slithers, and flies. Of human and animals, plants and dirt. Let us live bound together, care for each other, support each other, desire the best for each other, help each other grow. And let us pass that on. Teach our children, grandchildren, neighbors. Let us support and live as people of the good news—God live on this earth with creation, God loves us and all that God made, and God desires abundant living for all creatures. We get to be a part of that. The good tenets.