St. Luke.jpg


The Secret to Success 




Luke 17:5-10

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.’”

The Secret to Success

Sermon given on October 6, 2019 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

The secret to success for the mighty,

yet small mustard seed

Is the message, sent forth,

In thought, in word and deed.

Today, we are going to spread the secret; the secret to success.

[The priest announces the direction to which the secret will be whispered to one, then shared throughout the church. The message is, “Jesus love you.].

Today is a day to celebrate the life of a saint of the church, whose faith relates to the mustard seed. This Christian is somebody who lived long ago (13th century). His story captivates us. He is known as the lover of the animals, one who lived in the woods, giving up all he had and was wed to Lady Poverty. But this is not where he started in life. To be successful we normally think of someone who is powerful, rich and strong. They are mighty; This doesn’t sound like a mustard seed. Francis may have begun his life as a rich man, but he eventually became poor. He gave up everything, to his rich father’s chagrin.

His father was a wealthy clothier and had his son’s future all planned out. Then came a conflict between the people of Assisi and a nearby city and Francis went to battle. He would not stoop to be a foot soldier or servant. No, those positions were beneath him. He took to a horse and road his way into battle, clearly to be seen by all. Then, he was knocked off his horse, captured and ransomed after a year of negotiations between his father and captors. When he was released he was a changed man. His father expected him to run the family business and started him out by giving him an expensive loom of cloth in which to retail.

But Francis had a conversion prior to this. He entered a church and observed a statue of Christ with tears and blood seen on the figure. He said he heard Jesus’ voice instruct him to build the church. Francis, taking the loom and selling it, would use this money to build the church, but his father was furious. He had the local bishop go to Francis and demand the fortunes to be returned since he dishonored him. With no earthly possessions, he turned to the wilderness. His legend is of course, rich. He was seen with the birds, the bulls and the wolves. This is how we have arrived at the legend of him being the saint of animals.

Francis was much more. He acclaimed that his faith, although small in resource, was great by prayer. After listening more carefully, he heard God’s command was actually to rebuild the church. The city of God was empty. The message of Christ must be sent forth, in thought, word and deed. His secret to success was being “small.” Faith can multiply very quickly and it can grow wherever it goes. In harsh places, with little water, this is what Jesus is asking us to do. Like the place where Jeremiah looked around, where the people of Israel were taken captive and the sense of emptiness and desolation were present.[1] This is often the case in our present time. Where death spreads over and tries to destroy, the love of God spreads forth to counter it, and raise up life.

Cancer is something many of us can relate. When we hear that word, we go into shock and assume our life is over. This is a terrifying illness and it has a way of reducing us, and we weep like the daughters of Babylon.[2] Even this has no dominion over us. We may get lost in the medical details of identifying with markers, blood tests and chemistry, but ultimately we get lost in the minutia. It is the simple, small message that we need to hear in these times.

As the message comes to us, in our small, yet mighty faith, it is through our suffering in Christ Jesus, as Paul mentions six times in his letter to dear Timothy, that we become apostles, teachers and heralds. [3] Whatever is broken, whatever is ill, God is able to heal and to restore. St. Francis, Paul and Timothy were restored by a simple message. The diagnosis of being a Christian, is one who spreads God’s good news of his son who came and died for us and that message is…

“Jesus loves you”

There are things in this world that try to prevent that little message to come into our life. Jesus did not ride in to the battle on a horse, but instead a donkey. The message that Jesus gives us is to be spread forth, as far as the local Walmart, the airport or the mailbox. It is amazing what happens when you spread this simple phrase in the midst of hardship and calamity. It has a way of growing where nothing else can. This is how faith is increased, according to the gospel.[4]

“Jesus love you”

This is our secret to success and we are to spread these words.

Say it when you are down.

Say it when you are cast out.

Say it when you feel lost.

The secret to our success, we, the small

yet mighty mustard seed,

Is to spread forth the message of Jesus,

In thought, word and deed.


[1] Lamentations 1:1-6

[2] Psalm 137:1

[3] 2 Timothy 1:1-14

[4] Luke 17:5-10


Sermon given on October 3, 2010 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Good Shepherd Episcopal, Venice, Florida


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. 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.

© 2007 Black & White Chi Rho Ministries 

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