Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018–continuing the sermons of people who make up The Church since the resurrection. Today, Earth Day, the look at our stewardship role is coupled with St. Francis of Assisi.
April always seems like a doorway into spring. The trees bud and leaf out. The jonquils, daffodils, tulips, and lilacs all pop out to brighten our world. What better time of year to stop and consider all that is alive around us!
Admittedly the door seems to be shut tight considering the odd snows on Sundays, the blustery winds, the cold temperatures, and the lack of sunshine.
Still, the grass is greening up, lawn mowers are attacking the scraggly yards; the willow trees are blowing along the ponds in that spectacular yellow-green, the Bradford pairs are in full bloom, and the redbuds are really red.
Spring has sprung, and our frozen winter souls finally are unwrapping. Tired and weary, spring has a way of refreshing us, despite busy schedules, gardens to tend, and places to go. Spring is a gift from God. Spring epitomizes love.
Living in rural America, God’s world wraps around us. Those swallowed in the concrete of our cities are not easily reminded daily about how nature nurtures us. The secular world potentially overwhelms all of us with demands that mask our responsibility to be stewards of our world.
During the early church history, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, nicknamed Francesco more commonly known as St. Francis of Assisi, was born in 1181 AD in Italy. This young man is similar to today’s millennials (denoting people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century as defined by the Oxford On-line Dictionary). His father was a prosperous silk merchant and he lived “a high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man” (according to Wikipedia’s biography).
Yet, Francesco’s mischief caused him to ‘butt heads’ as we would say, with his father, even being imprisoned for stealing from his own dad. The life experiences of this young man may not seem to be appropriate for the adult man now referred to as Saint Francis of Assisi. Yet, God went to work and transformed his life in to one who now serves as patron saint for the environment and for animals.
Saint Francis’s story is the story of a steward of the natural world. This April 22, as legislators have designated this a time to save the world, Christians are reminded of God’s instructions:
Genesis 1:24-28, NLT:
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
The United Methodist Church includes in its social principles, statements that outlines the church’s position on the natural world:
All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of natural and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies. This continued course of action jeopardizes the natural heritage that God has entrusted to all generations. Therefore, let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitableand sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.
This statement summarizes the full document on the UMC.org website. Each category is then developed more completely and considering the continued concerns for our world, may be amended again as the church feels called to do. (Every four years, the UMC reviews, amends, edits the official position following the voice of its jurisdictions. The process is thorough and takes time to adapt officially.)
Including this principle in the church’s doctrine is one means of the denomination accepting the responsibility to be stewards of God’s world. Yet, each Christian, regardless of denomination, has a role in being good stewards of God’s natural world. Sadly, the effort may not be adequate to preserve God’s Garden of Eden worldwide.
The videos being shared through the network news includes one about how the oceans are being polluted by massive amounts of floating debris. But let’s admit, we do not have to look far to see how much debris is damaging our own community.
For instance, driving less than a half mile from the church, the trees are trapping plastic bags in their bare branches. These plastic bags become twisted and snarled around the budding branches and flutter in the wind. The solution to ridding the trees would take bucket trucks to reach the problem. By this point, the problem is literally out of reach.
Is there a solution? Yes, but only if we do what we can do in our own way. Admittedly, I use the plastic bags, and I am not an activist carrying reusable, fabric bags or requesting biodegradable paper bags. But neither do I let those bags escape my control. I either reuse in one way or another, or I properly dispose of them.
Christians are called to be stewards of God’s world. St. Francis of Assisi experienced a transformation in his life when he looked at the world through God’s eyes. His story is so similar to the parable of the wealthy man in Mark 10:17-31:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b]to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
St. Francis of Assisi walked away from his wealthy heritage and followed God’s calling. His story exemplifies stewardship but as The Church has acknowledged by the beatification of St. Francis, his story guides us today in our own stewardship of God’s natural world.
St. Francis of Assisi loved all in God’s world. The stories of his oneness with animals are included in the reasons for his beatification, yet today we all know some who have a special gift with animals. In fact, we now coin the term ‘whisperer’ when telling about those with special gifts for working with animals.
St. Francis is accredited with saving a town from a wolf. Yes, that does seem like a wild story, but the wolf was hungry and would come into the town attacking people. The story or legend is that Francis went out to the forest, found the wolf, and then made him return to town subdued as recorded in Wikipedia, St. Francis spoke to the wolf:
“Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil”, said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you … But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly. In return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.
Making peace with the wolf may sound more like a legend or folktale, but the stories of St. Francis are filled with his efforts to demonstrate God’s unconditional love for all in his world. Whenever you practice unconditional love towards others, toward the living creatures, or to the very land upon which you walk, you are being stewards of God’s world.
St. Francis’ actions are models of servant hood, too. He did all that he could to see that all were fed, were clothed and were fed. Not one of God’s creatures should go without the basic necessities in life. Each decision that you make needs to be made based on the filters of God’s unconditional love and our responsibility to be stewards of this earth.
St. Francis is credited with the words included in the UM hymnal, All Creatures of Our God and King(no. 62). Each stanza reminds us of God’s creation and our relationship to it:
All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing, . . .
O brother sun with golden beam,
O sister moon with silver gleam!
O praise ye! O praise ye! . . .
A brother wind, air, clouds, and rain,
By which all creatures ye sustain; . . .
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice! . . .
O sister water, flowing clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear, . . .
O brother fire who lights the night,
Providing warmth, enhancing sight, . . .
Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way, . . .
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them God’s glory also show! . . .
All ye who are of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part, . . .
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow
Praise God and on him cast your care! . . .
And thou, our sister, gentle death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath, . . .
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way has trod, . . .
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship him in humbleness, . . .
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
O Praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Today, stop and review your own relationship with God’s world. Think of how much of God’s unconditional love you experience from he natural world around you. As stewards of God’s world, we need to demonstrate our unconditional love back to all the wonderful facets of this world.
Including St. Francis of Assisi in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass reminds each of us that we have accepted responsibility as Christians and as The Church to be stewards of our world. Unconditional love is received when we give unconditional love. Remember: God is love!