Reflection for Pentecost 18, & St. Francis Day 2020
by Pastor Jim Stickney
I’d like to start this reflection with a word of gratitude for being invited back
to lead this service — a good adaptation of our normal ways of worshipping God.
I last led the worship at St. Alban’s in 2006, but over the years I’ve been following you,
and I rejoice to see so many new names — which means parish growth.
And I’m really glad to be asked on this St. Francis Day, because on October 4th, 1997,
23 years ago, Joni and celebrated our marriage at St. Alban’s Church.
We’ll share some pictures of that event with you later, at the virtual coffee hour.
St. Francis was a nature mystic, finding God not only in people, but in Brother Sun
& Sister Moon, in cosmic forces, in Sister Mother Earth, and even in Bodily Death.
Francis praised God for all these good things in a poem called “the Canticle to the Sun.”
When the Celebrant uses Eucharistic Prayer “C”, we hear the phrase,
“this fragile earth, our island home.” When we are in danger of changing the climate,
a person like Francis reminds us of the care we ought to have for all creatures.
We’re especially reminded of our earth’s fragility during this terrible fire season,
when heroic firefighters are risking so much to keep us safe.
The divisions facing our country include serious debates about climate change,
its reality and the economic challenges that confront our decision makers.
We may be uplifted by looking up into the heavens, but we do not live there.
We may try our best on earth, but we still encounter setbacks and selfishness.
Jesus expresses this tension in the parable story I just read, about a vineyard.
Last Sunday we heard about the workers in a vineyard. That’s also the scene
for today’s episode, just after the harvest — a vineyard that is a fertile success.
St. Francis’ poem praises God for Sister Mother Earth, Brother Sun,
Sister Water, Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms,
and all the weather, through which God gives all creatures sustenance.
All these creatures have now produced a rich harvest for the owner’s vineyard.
But some short-sighted persons put immediate profit over good stewardship.
These greedy folks see money where they should see God’s rich abundance.
They are tenants, rebelling against the rightful owners of the rich land.
They rebel, and one by one they reject the authentic messengers, even killing them.
Their avarice expresses itself insanely: “This is the heir — come, let us kill him,
and get his inheritance.” What has driven these men crazy? Love of wealth.
At the end of this parable Jesus asks his listeners to tell him what happens next.
Jesus’ listeners prescribe the death penalty, with cruel and unusual pain.
(I find it very telling that Jesus himself does not utter a condemnation of death —
and yet he does not contradict the harsh verdict of his followers on that day.)
The wicked will be replaced by other tenants who will give a share of the harvest.
In other words, the replacement tenants will be better stewards of abundance —
these new people will realize who really owns the vineyard, and act accordingly.
Jesus agrees with his followers’ vision of transformation. In fact,
Jesus proclaims that such a transformation is about to happen after his death.
Those who believe in his resurrection will be the ones to share in his new life.
Recall the first part of this sermon, with Francis’ celebration of God the Creator,
almost hidden in the wondrous beauty of created things. This is the experience of God
beyond personality — our wonder at the marvels of an expanding universe.
Since this day is also the Feast of St. Francis, I’ll conclude with that cosmic poem
known as the Canticle of the Sun. This poem is the basis of the Rose Window
found in Grace Cathedral. And many years ago some of our parish members shared
their talent of needlework in the cushions for the choir stalls in Grace Cathedral,
which was a Diocesan-wide art project celebrating Francis’ Canticle of the Sun.
Most high, omnipotent good Lord, all praise is yours, all glory, honor and blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through Brother Sun,
who brings the day, and you give light through him. And he is beautiful
and radiant in all his splendor.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and all the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms,
and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night;
he is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace
no living person can escape. Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve God with great humility.