Imitating Those Who Have Imitated Christ: St. Francis of Assisi & Calling


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“Imitating Those Who Have Imitated Christ:

St. Francis of Assisi & Calling”

1 Corinthians 11:1

October 4, 2020

Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service

Pastor Nicoletti

 

Our text tonight is First Corinthians 11:1.

 

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth:

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

 

This is the Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)

 

Let’s pray …

 

Lord, we ask that by your Spirit the words of my mouth

and the meditation of all of our hearts

would be acceptable in your sight, O Lord,

our rock and our redeemer.

In Jesus’s name. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 19:14]

 

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Tonight we are taking a break from Samuel for a sermon in a series I am hoping to do from time to time: sermons focused on men and women from the history of the Church, whom we might imitate in our own lives as they sought to imitate Christ.

 

These sermons generally won’t come in big chunks but in occasional one-off sermons.

 

Tonight we will consider Francis of Assisi. Today is Francis’s Feast Day – the annual memorial of his death that Christians have observed for centuries.

 

Francis has a special place in my own heart.

 

Eleven years ago I was struggling with what to do with my life. I had wanted, since shortly after my conversion in high school, to go into pastoral ministry. But just two years as an intern with a college ministry was enough to show me that ministry was not as glamorous as I imagined. It turned out that people were difficult to deal with … much of ministry can be quite frustrating … and the work you do is often not really valued by a lot of people. That was my experience in just two years of college ministry … and I got the impression that those things might be true in pastoral ministry as well.

 

In the years that followed I struggled pretty seriously with depression. I suspected God might still want me to go into ministry. But I didn’t want to do it.

 

Those two years after my internship were very formative for me. God, in his grace, used a combination of four means to bring me out the other side of that period. One was my very patient, loving, and long-suffering wife. The second was a very persistent Christian counselor who was willing to put up with me. The third was the Book of Ecclesiastes. And the fourth was Francis of Assisi.

 

I dove into the life and writings of Francis in the fall of 2009. When our first daughter was born in 2010, we gave her the middle name “Clare” after Clare of Assisi – Francis’s female counterpart.

 

Francis was significant for me because he challenged me on what I was going to live for. If the Book of Ecclesiastes taught me that I could not have real control, real comfort, or real security in this life, Francis taught me that I shouldn’t want to live my life seeking those things anyway. Most of my objections to going into ministry were that it would be hard. Ecclesiastes told me that that’s life, and Francis told me that it was a good thing for me that life is like that.

 

And so here I am.

 

There are a few errors that people can tend to fall into when they consider Francis of Assisi.

 

One is the Disney-fication of Francis.

 

Francis has been cartoonized and Disney-fied by some of the folk stories that arose after his death, the art work and garden statues he is now often associated with, and with our culture’s general tendency to treat unusual men and women in this way.

 

In a lot of ways, this is an attempt at defanging Francis.

 

Francis was profound enough to transform the Western world in the thirteenth century. He wasn’t just a vaguely spiritual Dr. Doolittle or a proto-hippie.

 

As G.K. Chesterton argues, Francis is a challenge to the modern world. The Modern world then tries to neutralize Francis with sentimentality. [35]

 

If that is one error – to let Francis get lost in thin sentiments – then the other error is to get fixated on the details of Francis’s way of life.

 

This was a problem throughout the early centuries of the religious order that Francis started. Two tendencies emerged. One wanted to follow the pattern of Francis’s life, adapting it to different individuals, circumstances, and situations. The other tended to hyper-focus on the details of how Francis himself lived his life. The second group had more of a tendency to slip into heresy and schism over the years.

 

But a focus on the pattern, rather than the details, is something that Francis’s followers had to do from the very beginning.

 

When Clare of Assisi and other women wanted to follow Francis’s way of life, Francis knew from the start that the details for women in his day and age would have to look different. When married men and women with livelihoods and families wanted to imitate Francis, again, everyone knew this was possible in terms of the overall pattern, while major changes had to be made to the details. Even as the Franciscans spread throughout Europe, changes had to be made for cultural, regional, and even climate differences. Where Francis had the greatest positive impact, it was where people focused on the pattern of his life more than the particulars.

 

And that is what I’d like to do tonight as well.

 

And so when we talk about Francis’s rejection of money, I think it can have something deep and meaningful to say to us without calling us to go out tonight and empty our bank accounts. And when we talk about Francis’s rejection of social standing, I think it can have something deep and meaningful to say to us even as we may still pursue positions of cultural or political influence or power in our society – though maybe for different reasons than we had initially.

 

The key will be less the details of our lives and the means we use, and more how we use the things we are given, and to what end.

 

There is much we could say about Francis. While this is a one-off sermon, you might expect that I’ll be coming back to him around October 4th of next year.

 

But for tonight I want to focus on Francis’s callings – his “conversions” – and what they have to teach us.

 

Scholars note that Francis did not so much have one moment of calling and conversion, but multiple. Three moments of his life emerge as especially significant, and it’s those three conversions or callings that I want to focus on.

 

Now, as I speak of multiple “conversions,” I don’t mean multiple times that Francis came to faith. Rather, as one biographer put it, by “conversions” in Francis’s life, I mean radical upheavals in his values and his sense of calling.

 

So, tonight I want to consider those three spiritual upheavals that changed Francis’s life – those three “conversions” or moments of “calling.”

 

But first, we need a little background.

 

 

FRANCIS’S EARLY LIFE IN ASSISI:

 

For all the difference between Tacoma in the 21st century and Assisi in the 13th century, we would also notice a lot of similarities.

 

Francis was born in 1181 or 1182, into a society that was highly fractured and contentious. The centers of power that dominated Assisi were the old feudal aristocracy, who occupied the traditional seat of power, the cathedral of the church and the aristocratic bishop who held, in the name of the Church, about half the lands of Assisi, and the growing class of wealthy urban merchants. These three groups – the aristocrats, the Church, and the merchants – vied for power in Assisi. And below them in their highly stratified society were the “beggars, day laborers, craftsmen, local traders, farmers, and herdsman” who made up much of the population. [Cunningham, 2-3]

 

Conflict often broke out in Assisi, whether in the form of violent vendettas, street brawls, or other acts of violence. Lawrence Cunningham points out that “the grandees of the city would build towers at their homes not only to show power but also as fortresses to protect them when the inevitable vendettas would break out.” [3]

 

Francis was born into a fairly well-off family that was part of the rising wealthy mercantile class, which found itself vying with the old feudal aristocracy for power. This class warfare sometimes became literal warfare. When Francis was a teenager, some of the merchant class laid siege to the aristocratic fortress in town and expelled the feudal lords from the city. They came back a few years later.

 

While Francis grew up in the mercantile class, he longed to move up in the world, and to lay hold of the kind of wealth, power, and prestige that the old aristocratic class could claim. [Cunningham, 4-5]

 

Francis was educated in the business of his father, and he both enjoyed and often flaunted the wealth his father had accrued.

 

As Lawrence Cunningham puts it, in his early life: “Francis seems to have been a typical indulgent, wealthy, spoiled, and thrill-seeking adolescent who was indulged by a family who could afford to look with a benevolent eye on the peccadilloes of youth. […] Francis seems to have done all the things that adults deplore in the youth today: waste time and money; be preoccupied with fancy clothes which had to be in the latest mode; run around with the wrong crowd; chase after women; and take an interest in subversive music – in his case, the love songs introduced from France.” [6-7]

 

By late adolescence he came out of his more indulgent stage and into a more ambitious stage. He decided he would move up in the world. He declared he would take up arms and be a knight, and he prepared to present himself for military service as such. [Cunningham, 8]

 

This was the world Francis was born into. A world of cultural fracturing, a world of ambition, of hunger for power, prestige, and wealth. It is a world that, by late adolescence, Francis seemed to very much resemble himself.

 

It is also a world that in the decades ahead, Francis would transform. As Cunningham puts it, there are lines of influence from Francis of Assisi that “had a shaping influence on the subsequent history of Christianity, an influence that spilled over into the larger shaping of Western culture.” [vi]

 

Along with Matin Luther, Francis is sometimes identified as one of the most influential religious figures in the last thousand years. [Cunningham, vi]

 

And he is often credited with breathing new life, revival, and reform into a medieval church that was struggling with coldness, worldliness, and heresy.

 

What changed Francis into the man who would change the church and the world?

 

To consider that tonight, we will consider his three callings.

 

 

CALLED TO SERVE RATHER THAN TO CLIMB:

 

The first was his calling to serve, rather than to climb.

 

As a youth, Francis was enamored with the idea of rising up to the powerful and prestigious position of being a knight.

 

But then he drastically reversed course. Francis actually departed Assisi with a friend, in order to offer his service to a lord who was raising up a militia for the Pope. But then, after only traveling one day’s journey, Francis returned a changed man.

 

The details of what happened are not known. But this halt in his trajectory proceeded his first conversion – his first sense of calling.

 

With his life disrupted, Francis began praying that God would direct him. [The Legend of the Three Companions III,10] And then one day, he felt as if he got a response – whether it was an impression or something else is unclear. But Francis felt that the Lord was saying the following to him: “Francis, everything you loved carnally and desired to have, you must despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. Because once you begin doing this, what before seemed delightful and sweet will be unbearable and bitter; and what before made you shudder will offer you great sweetness and enormous delight.” [Three Companions V,11]

 

Francis was greatly encouraged by this. And then his first spiritual upheaval occurred. The Legend of the Three Companions, one of the earliest and most reliable biographies of Francis puts it like this:

“One day [Francis] was riding his horse near Assisi, when he met a leper. And, even though he usually shuddered at lepers, he made himself dismount, and gave him a coin, kissing his hand as he did so. After he accepted a kiss of peace from him, Francis remounted and continued on his way. He then began to consider himself less and less, until, by God’s grace, he came to complete victory over himself.

“After a few days, [Francis] moved to a hospice of lepers, taking with him a large sum of money. Calling them all together, as he kissed the hand of each, he gave them alms. When he left there, what before had been bitter, that is, to see and touch lepers, was turned into sweetness. For, as he said, the sight of lepers was so bitter to him [before] that he refused not only to look at them, but even to approach their dwellings. If he happened to come near their houses or see them, even though he was moved by piety to give alms through an intermediary, he always turned away his face and held his nose. With the help of God’s grace, he became such a servant and friend of the lepers, that […] he stayed among them and served them with humility.” [Three Companions IV,11]

 

And Francis’s setting gave him ample opportunity to serve lepers. There were about five dwellings for lepers outside of Assisi in Francis’s day, and lepers were shunned by most and so lived a highly segregated life, due to the often-mistaken fear that their conditions were instantly contagious. [Cunningham, 10-11]

 

Francis’s reaching out to lepers was also heavily based on the example of Christ, found in the gospels. [Cunningham, 10-13]

 

But it was also more than just that. It wasn’t just a detail that Francis picked up from the gospel accounts.

 

It was a radical inversion of the pattern of his life. Francis had been living a life characterized by climbing to ascend over others. He enjoyed the status of his family. But even then, he desired more. He desired more success, and more prestige in his society. He wanted not only to flaunt the status symbols of his wealth, but to acquire the noble status symbols of a knight.

 

And then came this upheaval. And suddenly his pursuits of social climbing became bitter to him. And lowly service became sweet.

 

Suddenly Francis stopped climbing, and desired to place himself not above others, but underneath them, to become not a lord over the haughty, but a servant of the lowly.

 

And that desire stayed with him.

 

Later on, in his admonitions to his followers, Francis would write: “Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God, that he is and no more.” [Admonitions XIX.1]

 

In the early version of his rule for his followers he wrote: “Let all the brothers strive to follow the humility […] of our Lord Jesus Christ. […] They must rejoice when they live among people considered of little value and looked down upon, among the poor and powerless, the sick and lepers, and the beggars by the wayside.” [The Earlier Rule, IX.1-2]

 

In that same document, he pointed to the words of Christ in Matthew 20: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and the great ones make their authority over them felt; it shall not be so among the brothers. Let whoever wishes to be the greater among them be their ministers and servant. Let whoever is the greater among them become the least.” [The Earlier Rule, V.10-12]

 

The first conversion of Francis was is turning from social climbing and his turning towards being a servant of the lowly.

 

 

CALLED TO BUILD CHRIST’S KINGDOM RATHER THAN HIS OWN:

 

The second conversion of Francis revolved around whose kingdom he would seek to build with his life.

 

Now, at this point we need to acknowledge an uncomfortable element in some of the stories of Francis’s life: the perception of spoken divine direction.

 

In the previous account we acknowledged that Francis had a sense of some communication to him from the Lord. It becomes more overt in this next story.

 

Now, there are a couple things to consider. One is that these experiences are not narrated to us by Francis himself, but by early biographers. But, with that we should accept that neither Francis nor those around him were good Presbyterian cessationists.

 

I don’t want to get into the details of how we interpret what actually happened to Francis. We may consider that the Lord brought certain truths to mind, impressed them in Francis by his Spirit, and Francis interpreted them as direct divine speech. Or we may think of them differently than that. This isn’t a sermon on cessationism vs continuationism or the distinctions between the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination as opposed to revelation.

 

For our purposes, we can simply accept that whatever actually happened, Francis interpreted it as the Lord speaking to him. And whatever the reality was, God providentially used that perception to redirect Francis’s life in positive ways.

 

With that said, we then come to the second calling – the second upheaval in the life of Francis.

 

As The Legend of the Three Companions records, one day Francis went into the church of San Damiano, and began praying before the image of the crucifix. He then believed he heard the image of Christ on the cross say to him “‘Francis, don’t you see that my house is being destroyed? Go, then, and rebuild it for me.’ Stunned and trembling [Francis] said: ‘I will do so gladly, Lord.’ For he understood that it was speaking about that church, which was near collapse because of its age.” [V, 13]

 

In other words, Francis responded by beginning to work on the physical church building he had been praying in, which was in fact in need of repair. Later on, many would interpret these words as referring more truly to the institution of the Church – not the building. But Francis, in his humility and practicality, took them quite differently in the moment.

 

One biographer writes: “Francis took these words from the cross quite literally. He set out to gather material and actually began working at the reconstruction himself – an unthinkable act for a member of the gentry. Persons of his class simply did not work with their hands. Francis’s bizarre behavior irritated his father greatly. If he was tolerant of Francis the young gallant-about-town, he saw the family honor shamed by Francis’s increasing attention to the poor and by his work on San Damiano and other semi-ruined churches in the area. This odd behavior was all the more intolerable since Francis was doing it with Pietro’s hard-earned money, and Pietro was nothing if not a hardheaded businessman who knew the value of a coin earned in commerce.” [Cunningham, 13-14]

 

This set up a collision course between Francis and his father Pietro. Pietro, angry that Francis had taken goods and money that Pietro had given to Francis for other purposes, and used them to get supplies for repairing a church building, tried to force his son to change his ways.

 

When that did not work, he brought legal charges against Francis. When Francis identified himself more closely with the Church, Pietro finally brought the legal charges against Francis before the bishop.

 

The bishop told Francis that while his desire to serve was good, he could not pursue good works with means that were essentially stolen – since they were used without Pietro’s consent. Francis responded by restoring to his father what he had received from him … including the very clothes he was wearing at the time, and then formally disowning his father, saying he would not longer live as Pietro’s son, but as a child of God alone.

 

Now, there is a lot in that account that may strike us. It can seem harsh and ungrateful of Francis. That said, we should acknowledge that Francis was an adult, and his father had tried to imprison him and take him to court to get him to abandon the devout way of life he was pursuing. Francis may have seen no other way forward without this formal separation.

 

But we also need to acknowledge what this separation really meant for Francis. It wasn’t just a nice inheritance that Francis was giving up. It was his father’s business that he would have found a livelihood in. It was his status in the merchant class. It was all his hopes of power and position in the society he lived in.

 

One biographer writes: “One should not underestimate the symbolic power inherent in Francis’s rejection. Pietro represented the rising new reality of late twelfth-century life: the rise of the money-earning entrepreneur whose skill in the making of money had given power to a new class of people. In early times it was the possession of physical power that counted; now it was the possession of wealth.” [18]

 

Instead of building his own household, his own business, and his own seat of personal power, Francis goes about the work of repairing the church of San Damiano. After that, he goes on to repair another one. And then he repairs a third. [Cunningham, 23]

 

Francis’s second upheaval was his desire to make his chief work in life not the building up of his own kingdom and his own house – but the building up of Christ’s kingdom and Christ’s house.

 

This began with the humble work of practical construction. But as Francis gained influence, it soon meant that Francis, by his example and his order, was repairing and rebuilding the institutional church throughout Europe.

 

As G.K. Chesterton puts it: “Francis “was not only discovering the general lesson that his glory was not to be in overthrowing men in battle but in building up the positive and creative monuments of peace. He was truly building up something else, or beginning to build it up; something that has often enough fallen into ruin but has never been past rebuilding; a church that could always be built anew though it had rotted away to its first foundation-stone, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.” [50]

 

Francis’s first upheaval and calling was to reject the worldly call to social climbing, and embrace God’s call to humble service.

 

His second upheaval in life and calling was to reject the worldly call to building his own kingdom, and embrace Christ’s call to build Christ’s kingdom.

 

 

CALLED TO COMMUNITY RATHER THAN TO ISOLATION:

 

Francis’s third upheaval and calling came a bit later, and we might say it was a change to how he would make his way through the Christian life.

 

At first, Francis was on his own. But as time went on, a few other men began to join him. Still, he had no plan for them. While other men were with him, Francis’s understanding of himself still seemed to generally fall into the pattern of the solitary hermit. He was living his own life before God, on his own independent terms. If others wanted to do the same alongside him, then fine. But Francis had no real vision of community.

 

Until one day, as Francis heard the Gospel reading in worship. And in it he heard Christ calling his followers to go out with nothing, preaching the kingdom of God and repentance unto life to others – bringing them together into the kingdom. Having heard that, Francis went out and began not only preaching the gospel to those who would hear, but gathering those who sought to follow his pattern of life. This was the beginning of Francis’s work of actively gathering a community around himself. [The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas Celano, IX-X]

 

This is when Francis realized he was called not just to be a lone Christian seeking God, but to live in community with others who were doing the same.

 

But this desire to gather was not a desire to rule – it was not a desire to exercise authority or have prominence. Francis did not like leading the order as it grew larger, and eventually he stepped down as its leader and appointed another to lead in his place. [Manselli, 226-227]

 

But even as he did this, Francis continued to reject independence and isolation. He always had a smaller community of several friars – several members of the order – who lived with him, and he requested that one of those men be appointed by the new head of the order to serve as an authority over Francis, because Francis wanted to have the responsibility and accountability of answering to someone in authority over him. [Manselli, 231]

 

Francis wasn’t seeking to rule over a community. He was seeking to be embedded in a community: to have those he could instruct, those who were his peers, and those who would instruct him.

 

And in all of this, Francis sought real relationships with people – not just a vague sense of community.

 

G.K. Chesterton puts it like this – he says:

“I have said that St. Francis deliberately did not see the [forest] for the trees. It is even more true that he deliberately did not see the mob for the men. […] [In a crowd,] he never saw before him a many-headed beast. He only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous. To him a man was always a man and did not disappear in a dense crowd any more than in a desert. He honoured all men; that is, he not only loved but respected them all. What gave him his extraordinary personal power was this; that from the Pope to the beggar, from the sultan of Syria in his pavilion to the ragged robbers crawling out of the wood, there was never a man who looked into those brown burning eyes without being certain that Francis Bernardone was really interested in him; in his own inner individual life from the cradle to the grave.” [88]

 

Francis’s first spiritual upheaval was to reject the worldly call to social climbing, and embrace God’s call to humble service.

 

His second spiritual upheaval was to reject the worldly call to building his own kingdom, and embrace God’s call to build God’s kingdom.

 

His third spiritual upheaval was to reject independence and isolation, and to seek and enmesh himself in a gospel-centered community.

 

Those are the three callings – the three “conversions” – that set Francis’s life on a trajectory that changed his life, and in many ways changed the world.

 

 

WHAT THE PATTERN MEANS FOR US:

 

But what does all that have to do with us?

 

Well, to get to that, I want to first read the opening section of a newsletter sent out this past week by theologian Peter Leithart.

 

Leithart writes:

“2020 has been a banner year for conspiracy theorists. Even people with little taste for conspiracy theories have the eerie sense that someone somewhere is pulling strings to orchestrate a radical change in modern culture.

“Christians need to be cautious. Yes, wicked people breathe-together to form plots (Psalm 2:1; 2 Samuel 15:12). Yet Isaiah warns Israel, ‘You are not to say, “A conspiracy!” in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy.’ And above all, ‘you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread’ (Isaiah 8:12).

“We can remain calm in the storm because we know human plotters aren’t in charge. If the world has been turned upside down and given a good shake, it’s the Lord doing it.

“He does it for His church. ‘Once more,’ He says through Haggai, ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.’ [God] shakes the nations to break loose their glory, which he gathers up to adorn His house (Haggai 2:6-9). He shakes shakeable things so ‘those things which cannot be shaken may remain’ (Hebrews 12:27).”

 

Leithart goes on:

“If you don’t want to lose your footing, make sure you’re strapped to things that can’t be shaken – the Lord’s Word, His table, and His church, which withstands the onslaughts of hell.”

 

Here’s the thing I want us to see: Francis was surrounded by people who were devoting their lives to things that, from a worldly point of view, looked solid and dependable: things like social status, worldly power, and freedom. These were things that looked strong and reliable from a worldly point of view, but which from God’s point of view are actually weak, fragile, and illusory.

 

They are the kind of things that crumble when God shakes the world.

 

Social upheaval can, in a moment, overturn social statuses that were built over lifetimes. Economic forces and political shifts can reduce one person’s worldly power to nothing in an instant. Freedom that feels like a source of power and control can quickly become a source of weakness and vulnerability when the things we rely on to buffer ourselves disappear.

 

Francis saw this. And he abandoned those pursuits. And he began instead to enthusiastically seek those things that are truly unshakeable: He began to seek the kind of service that God values, and that stores up treasure in heaven, which cannot be taken. He began to seek to build up the kingdom of God, which will never be defeated. He began to commit himself to real relationships in the Body of Christ, which will last forever.

 

Francis turned from what was shakeable, and invested his life in what was unshakeable, and when God shook the world in the middle ages, Francis’s life and work remained, while so many other things crumbled.

 

And we are called to do the same thing in our lives.

 

For we too grasp at prestige in this world.

 

It can take many forms. It can be formal prestige, like a title, a position, or an achievement. It can also be informal prestige. Increasingly in our culture we want to be heard. We want to be seen. We want people to pay attention to us. We want people to envy us.

 

That may take a form in real life, but it is also a reality we can live out online as well. We want eyes on us – on pictures of our lives, our successes, or our appearance. Now, of course I don’t mean all pictures on social media seek that. But a lot of them do. A lot of them are not that different from when a younger Francis paraded around Assisi in expensive clothes, hoping for all to take notice of him.

 

How do you seek prestige?

 

And what would it look like, if instead of craving other people’s attention, you sought to be a person who was deeply concerned with giving your attention away to others? What if instead of climbing for more attention, you served others with your attention?

 

What if you started seeking out people who were so often overlooked – in our church, or in your community, or in your family, or at your workplace – and what if you noticed them, the way that Francis noticed those whom his fellow citizens were overlooking? Who are the lepers of our day, whom no one around us sees, but whom God truly values?

 

What if you sought to humbly serve them rather than to socially climb?

 

Or what about power? How do you seek power? How do you seek to build your own kingdom?

 

Is it with money, as a young Francis longed to do? Is it with a desire to grab on to the levers of power for your own benefit? Is it to try to get to a position at work, or in some other institutions, so that people have to do what you say?

 

Those are all formal ways to seek power – to seek to build your own kingdom. But there are informal ways too. Informal ways we can seek to dominate others.

 

Increasingly today it is an obsession some of us have with proving to others that we are right. In our political discourse, in our cultural discourse, in theological discourses – in all of those places, real debate has a real place. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about when we need to prove that we are right, and it’s really all about us. We want other people to admit that we know more than them – we see things clearly where they are deceived – we are smart, and they are idiots.

 

Here’s a question: Can you allow someone to say something – online or in real life – that you think is totally wrong … and then just leave it. Just let them be wrong. Let them think they know more than you do.

 

There is a place for correction. But that is for their sake. I’m talking about the compulsion to correct others for your sake. Can you resist that?

 

And can you instead devote yourself to building not your kingdom, or your reputation, but the kingdom of God and the reputation of Christ? Can you let yourself fade into the background as you devote yourself – your time, your money, your family – to the building of Christ’s kingdom in all sorts of different ways? Can you use whatever cultural, political, or other worldly power the Lord has given you not for yourself, but for his glory? Can you decrease so that Christ will increase? Can you, like Francis, seek to build up the Church rather than your own dominion?

 

And what about community?

 

We have a love/hate relationship with community, don’t we?

 

Professor Matt Dinan summed up the attitude most of us are tempted to have in a tongue-in-cheek comment he made on Twitter back in August. He wrote: “Look, all I want is complete, unfettered autonomy, but also to be enmeshed in a community, from which I derive many benefits. Is that so much to ask?”

 

Isn’t that us?

 

All we want is all of the benefits that come with community and a deep network of relationships … without any restrictions or impositions on our freedom. We want all the benefits of community … with none of the costs.

 

We probably live in the most individualistic culture in the history of the world. We’re all lonely, but we are also all loath to sacrifice any of our freedom to have true connection.

 

Giving up his independence to truly connect to a community cost Francis something. It will cost us something too. It will keep us from doing some things we want. It will call us to spend time with people who frustrate us. It will mean putting other people ahead of what we want – even when we think those other people are being dumb.

 

But that is the Body of Christ.

 

And the Body of Christ – the community of the Church – will not be shaken – it will not crumble. Isolated, independent Christians crumble all the time.

 

 

CONCLUSION:

 

Francis challenges our modern world in many ways.

 

But chief among them is that he calls us to invest our lives in what will not be shaken but will last for eternity.

 

In a day when so much in the world seems in danger of being shaken, we are tempted to double down on worldly sources of security.

 

But if the world really does shake one day, those worldly sources of security will crumble.

 

God calls us instead to lay hold of that which is unshakeable, and invest our lives there.

 

Francis sought to do that in the thirteenth century. Let us seek to do it in the twenty-first.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This sermon draws on material from:

Chesterton, G. K. Saint Francis of Assisi. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1924. Printed 2001.

Cunningham, Lawrence S. Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

Dinan, Matt. (@second_sailing) Twitter.com. August 9, 2020 7:58 AM. https://twitter.com/second_sailing/status/1292475405673402368

Francis of Assisi: The Saint. Francis of Assisi: Early Documents. Vol 1. Edited by Regis Armstrong, et al. New York, NY: New City Press, 1999.

Francis of Assisi: The Founder. Francis of Assisi: Early Documents. Vol 2. Edited by Regis Armstrong, et al. New York, NY: New City Press, 2000.

Manselli, Raoul. St Francis of Assisi. Translated by Paul Duggan. Chicago, IL: Franciscan Herald Press, 1988

 

On Reading About Francis:

There are many biographies of Francis out there. The modern biography that most impacted me eleven years ago, when I was focusing on Francis, was Raoul Manselli’s St. Francis of Assisi, translated from Italian into English. It is, unfortunately, out of print, but used copies are available online. If you are more interested in primary sources, Regis Armstrong has edited all of the writings of Francis and all the biographies from the first 150 years after his death into three volumes, in a new English translation.

G.K. Chesterton’s biography of Francis is a popular one, and an enjoyable read that does helpfully frame and describe some of what made Francis so extraordinary. That said, you should be warned that Chesterton does not always take a critical approach to sifting through the reliable biographies and the more legendary ones, and in some ways you get at least as much Chesterton in the book as you get Francis.

This week, as a refresher, I read most of Lawrence Cunningham’s short biography, which is a good read with a good perspective on Francis, and maybe a good place to start if you want to read a short biography on him.