Sermon for Sunday October 14th
A Legend Regarding St. Francis
Francis made friends one day with a cricket. It happened like this. In the woodlands one day, in the burning dog-days of summer, a cricket breaks the empty noonday silence with its song. The brothers, who had risen before dawn to recite the hours, are asleep. So now in the merciless heat, the praises to the Lord are sung by the cricket. Her song is almost too much as it pours out of the fullness of her joy. The parched fields, the thirsty streams, the dusty roads, resound with it.
Francis, motionless among the still oaks, listens, enraptured. He is overcome by the desire to take into his hand this wonderful sister, who can make her wings, a weft and woof of steel, becoming a ringing lyre. He is delighted by this little creature from which comes such vibrant harmony, who can sing alone or, although in solitude, join a chorus of other crickets. The cricket sings for herself, for the cloud passing over the hill, for the frond stretching over the still water, for the blade of grass awaiting the morning breeze. But she falls silent when people approach, suspecting the worst.
Even this distrust was overcome when Francis calls, “My sister cricket, come to me.” And the cricket comes immediately from a hiding place in a fig tree into his hand. Francis says, “Sing, my sister cricket, and praise your Creator with a joyful song.” And the cricket begins to sing again. She sings and sings while Francis, enthralled, listens to her and praises her. He speaks to her about his thoughts, his desires, his dreams. He speaks of God who is splendor and harmony. He talks of light and shadow, of beautiful life and silent death.
Finally he lifts his hand and the cricket returns to its tree. Eight days pass and the cricket does not move from that tree. When Francis leaves his cell, she is ready to fly to his hand, to sing or be silent according to his command. At the end of that time Francis says to his companions, “Let us give our sister cricket leave to go, for it has made us sufficiently happy now.”…So the cricket takes flight beyond the tree and is lost in the sky. It never returns.
(Taken from Praying with Francis of Assisi, St. Mary’s Press, 1989)
Of all those listed in the calendar of saints – perhaps other than Mary, the mother of our Lord, and Nicholas, the patron saint of children – none of them carries the love and admiration and fascination as does St. Francis, whose feast we commemorate today. Even people who have little or no use for the Christian Church will seem make an exception for Francis, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, in the small mountain town of Assisi, Italy in about 1181. Maybe it was the simple lifestyle he led, stripped of all pretense, and filled with a kind of humility which inspired people both in his own day, and for the past 800 years since he lived. Or maybe it was the unique – almost mystical – way he interacted with animals (like the cricket of our opening story), which has promoted people of many faiths and of no faith to adorn their gardens with countless statues of him with animals gathered around him and perched on his shoulders – and the reason that the blessing of animals is always associated with his feast day. Or perhaps it is because of the deep, spiritual relationship he had with all of creation – as expressed in our first reading this morning… a reading which we know as Canticle 12 from our Prayer Book, and which really is a paraphrase of Francis’ own writings. Or perhaps it was his deep and abiding concern for the poor and the dispossessed – those most fragile members of our society who lived on the margins, and who were the most vulnerable, and therefore subject to the abuse and neglect of society-at-large. In fact, it was precisely for this reason that our current pope took the name of Francis when he became bishop of Rome and the head of the Catholic Church.
Whatever the reason, the thread which seems to tie all of those possibilities together is the abiding sense that we are not alone, that we are not an island unto ourselves… but that, whether we like it or not, we are connected to each part and to all parts of God’s creation.
Despite the fact that his has been the message of St. Francis for over 800 years now (and the message of Jesus, for that matter, for over 2000 years now), I think that’s a lesson which many of us in 2018 are still unwilling or unable to accept and embrace. Too often it seems that people believe that what happens somewhere else on the planet – whether it is an earthquake and tsunami which killed thousands in Indonesia; or dozens of refugees who drowned this past week off the coast of Morocco; or the ambush of seven police officers in South Carolina; or an epidemic of typhus which has hit Pasadena, but goes pretty much unreported since it has primarily affected only the homeless community – if it happens somewhere else, it doesn’t really have anything to do with us. We may hear the news accounts, and maybe even feel badly about it for a while. But then the cares of the world – at least, the cares as we define them – press in on us, and distract us from those other events, and they are quickly moved to some quiet, safe corner of our memories, so that we can get on with the more immediate demands on our time, and our energy, and our psychological resources, and our money.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Desmond Tutu, the South African Anglican theologian and Archbishop of Cape Town (who is celebrating his 87th birthday today, by the way) stood on the front lines calling for the dismantling of apartheid in his country – the officially sanctioned and enforced policy of dividing people by race and ethnicity, until it finally collapsed in the mid 1990’s. Through his experiences in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu brought a single word into the lexicon and into the consciousness of much of the world – Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the ancient African word which means, “I am who I am because of who we all are.” Or, as Desmond Tutu would say, “My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours. We belong in a bundle of life.”
That, to me, is an incredibly hopeful image… but also an image which carries along with it great responsibility as well as great hope. For I am called to remember that I am never alone… that I am always surrounded by, and connected to, a great multitude of others. But just as I am never alone, neither are those others of the multitude… and just as they have a relationship and responsibility to me, so too do I have a relationship and responsibility to them. Ubuntu.
On this day when we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis, may you find and feel that connection to one another – and to all of God’s creation – in a new and special way today. That is the gift which God has given us this day. So let us receive that gift… and then share that gift… that the world might be blessed… that we might be blessed… that God might be blessed… and even the crickets will sing God’s praises. Amen.