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Luke 17: 5-10

The Rev. Jon Roberts

3 October


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”


St. Francis receives the Stigmata, by Giotto de Bondone (1267-1337)

St. Francis loved the wind and rain,
He loved each little flower.
He loved the sunshine and the storms
Because they show God's power.
St. Francis found great peace and joy
In doing things for others.
He called the little birds and beasts
His sisters and his brothers.[1]

This is how many would characterize this beloved saint of the church. The biographer Lawrence Cunningham, however, has this to add about St. Francis of Assisi. "He was one who emphasized poverty of life and had a great love of the natural world and its beauty; There is almost an irresistible urge to depict him as a charming naïf with simple tastes and a Wordsworthian sense of nature's refinements. Such a view is attractive, but it falsifies the uniqueness of the saint. His love was not for nature. In fact, he never used such an abstract noun. He was a lover of particularities. As G.K. Chesterton once pithily noted, St. Francis did not want to see the woods for the trees. Nor was St. Francis interested in simplicity of life. He was interested in poverty and that is quite another thing".[2] If we are going to talk about this thing called poverty, we are going to have to walk through the woods. Imagine walking through the woods and you come across something you've never seen before. In fact, you wonder if anyone has ever trod on this ground before. Lying before you, splayed out with a giant wing trying to prop itself up, there is a bald eagle that is badly injured. You want to help it but you don't know how. You look around. You wonder how it got there. This is precisely what happened to Jeff Guidry as he recalls this particular moment in his own life. The eagle was a fledgling and probably pushed out of the nest by stronger siblings. It was completely helpless and just looked up at him, hoping to be saved. Guidry said, "I wanted to help her right away".

He took her home and washed her. She was covered with lice and was starving. He fed her soft food from a tube and later with rats and quail. Though she would never fly, the eagle survived. Guidry named her Freedom. As she grew, her white-feathered head, graceful white tail, golden beak, and intense yellow eyes gave her all the qualities of America's iconic bird. He trained Freedom to accept a leather strap behind the talon binding her to his gloved hand and together they roamed the woods. Two years after he saved Freedom, Guidry found a lump on his neck, which turned out to be stage 3 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As he prepared to undergo chemotherapy treatments, a friend told him about visualization, a technique in which the patient concentrates on a positive image to help in healing. Guidry visualized Freedom. Eight months later, his doctor declared him disease-free. That day, he returned to walk the woods with Freedom. When Guidry began to strap her to her harness, the eagle opened her wings and wrapped them around his head in a dramatic embrace. This was a gesture uncharacteristic of birds and one that she never made before. Jeff says, "Her spirit is magnificent".[3]

There are many similar stories in the life of St. Francis of how he was always followed by the birds or tamed the wolves, calling them his sisters and brothers. What he found particular about them was their love for those in whom they placed their trust. Those who starved want to be fed. Those who are caught in the pit or snares in life want to be set free. Here is where he found his love for lady poverty. He wooed her. Like the animals, he placed himself at the tender mercies of the One who fed them and set them free. What he discovered was that when you surrender yourself to the providence of God, to the manner of Christ's self-emptying of himself, one's awareness that the world is a gift is sharpened. In other words, when one is purely dependent on God they experience Freedom. Innumerable brothers and sisters become our gifts. Flowers begin to speak and wind and rain sings a new song. This is the language of love. When we look into our animal's eyes or pet them, we see this. They give us comfort and joy because we know they are dependent upon us and we can't imagine life without them.

So it is for the master and his servant. He calls us one day out of the fields of our preoccupation and asks us to serve him at the table. When our dog is suddenly asked to join us for a ride, oh how they light up and take to the seat. It is a treat. And our delight comes through their participation. Our gospel today eludes to this as God calls us to serve at the table.[4] Do we heartily rush to join him in this rapture hoping to leave the confines of our seclusion? Or do we stagger with our tail between our legs moaning, "we are unworthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table"? Nonetheless he invites us to participate in His creation. This is the way to the eternal and heavenly banquet. We stretch out our hands, like an eagle who has fallen, putting our trust in God. Uncharacteristic it is for us to live in poverty, but in poverty we must pass through. For only those who have lived poor in spirit, know the eternal joys of dependency on God, and God alone.

Christ has come down to us by a tree in the woods and he beckons us to trust in him. This morning, look upon your pets and see the freedom they have because you have made a way for them to survive. You care for them and in return, with an unspoken language, they have found a way to love you back. Today, we will ask for God's blessing to be upon these creatures; icons of His love and mercy, giving to us more than we either desire or deserve. Let us live like the saints who lived in and wooed Lady Poverty, for in emptying ourselves like Christ, we are filled with God's power.

Like St. Francis;
[Who] loved the wind and rain,
He loved each little flower.
He loved the sunshine and the storms
Because they show God's power.
St. Francis found great peace and joy
In doing things for others.
He called the little birds and beasts
His sisters and his brothers.

[1] Words by Sister St. Aubyn, CSJ, The Story Tree, Faith & Freedom, 1964, p.73.
[2] Lawrence Cunningham, St. Francis of Assisi, Harper & Row:NY, 1981, p.57.
[3] Gary Sledge, Reader's Digest, August 2010, p.87.
[4] Luke 17:5-10

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