May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Please be seated, or should I say “Sit!”
If you were reading along or singing the psalm with the choir you saw where I got that statement that I almost always use to begin my sermons. It is from that Psalm, number 19.
I would like to tell the parable that Jesus gave us today in the manner it might be told in the 21st century. Let’s imagine that Bill Gates has discovered a new area that is very poor and a town that has absolutely nothing. So he goes there and he builds a factory. He puts in wells. He builds houses for the people who will work in the factory. He puts in a large garden so the people can be well fed. He plants fruit trees for the future and sets everything up for this town to thrive. The people of the town are so thankful, so appreciative of what they have been given. Then Mr. Gates picks out a few of the more intelligent and sophisticated of the people and says; “Now you will be the managers and you will oversee what happens.” You are to send me a certain percentage of whatever you make so I can reinvest it other places, and you are to see to it that everyone has a good life. Then he goes off to another country in another part of the world to help them out.
Well, at first the people are so thankful to Mr. Gates for having done this and helping them out that when it comes time and they add up how much money they’ve made that year they have no trouble sending the percentage that was expected back to Mr. Gates. They have more than enough now, with enough food and housing, and so forth. Well a few years down the road the managers realize that they haven’t heard back from Mr. Gates and there is no way for Mr. Gates to know how much they are making, so why are we sending him the full percentage? We can send him less and he would never know. So each year they send a little bit of a smaller percentage of what they have made, because after all they are enjoying how they live and they want to live better. Especially the managers who want to build some new houses that are a little bigger than the other houses and they need that extra money to take care of it. Well this goes on for a few years and then comes the rumor. The rumor is, (I think they read it on the internet) the rumor is that Mr. Gates has died. Oh, well, if Mr. Gates has died then this is no longer his factory – it’s now ours. Right? So we don’t need to send him anything. We can just enjoy it, and the managers discover that they need more and more. They work harder than everybody else so they need to have more than everyone else. Some of the people are starting to be a little poor, but that’s their choice that they don’t have as much because they don’t work as hard.
Well after a couple of years Bill Gates say, “How come I haven’t gotten any money from that one town? It has been several years now. I’m going to send one of my chief aids to go and figure out what’s going on.” Well, this chief aid of Bill Gates is a little smarter than the ones in Jesus’ parable and he doesn’t go there and tell them who he is. He just tries to figure out what’s going on. Then he says that this isn’t right. This isn’t yours, this was given to you to use, to take care of and you shouldn’t be treating some people as less than. Some of the people hear and some don’t.
Then that person goes back to Mr. Gates and says, “I’m really concerned. I’m hoping they will change their ways, but there is no guarantee.” Well a few more years go by and they are still not getting their share of the profits so finally Bill Gates sends his son. And his son goes. Well when they find out that it is Bill Gates son they say, “Ah, if Bill Gates is truly dead then if we kill the son it will be ours. We’ll inherit it.”
In this version of the story Bill Gates’ son doesn’t get killed but what do you think of those people? Those people who were given a great gift. They were given a gift of new life. They were given so much opportunity, and they forgot it was a gift. They forgot it didn’t belong to them. What would happen to such a people?
What would happen to us, because after all, everything, everything we have, is a gift from God. The sunshine isn’t ours. The rain isn’t ours. The seeds that are planted and grow up to make food aren’t ours. Our bodies were created by God and are a gift from God. Our intellectual capacity is a gift from God. We didn’t make ourselves smart; we didn’t make ourselves talented. Our hands, with these wonderful opposable thumbs which means we would be able to create all this amazing technology, that was a gift from God. We didn’t will and decide that we would have all of that. It is all a gift.
Now we are celebrating St. Francis today, but I am using the readings that are normally used for this Sunday, not the readings that are for St. Francis, but they certainly fit with Francis.
Let’s begin with the Old Testament reading. It is always good to remember what those basic commandments are. And the very first one, the very first one is, “I am the Lord who brought you out of slavery in Egypt, you will have no other gods before me.” The very first commandment is a reminder that God gives us everything. Our freedom, our lives, all of it. And we are supposed to keep God as number 1. That’s the foundation. That’s the first commandment. No ifs, ands or buts. No I am number 1 except when there is a good football game on. Not I am number 1 but make as much money as you can. Not I am number 1 and if you make me number 1 then I will give you something. It is not a deal. It is not an exchange. I am number 1, period. End of that first commandment.
And when we make God number 1, when we appreciate and realize that God is the source of everything, all of our lives, how can we not live a life of thankfulness and praise. All the time. And that’s St. Francis. St. Francis praised and loved God all the time. No matter what.
He chose poverty because he knew that everything he had was God’s anyway. And he gave away all of it. He wrote some of the words we have been singing today in some of the songs about praising God. One of the last things he wrote was a wonderful ode to God, a poem of praise, which is Hymn 406. So if you look in the blue hymnal for hymn 406 you will recognize the words. “Most high omnipotent good Lord to thee be ceaseless praise outpoured, and blessing without measure. From thee alone all creatures came no one is worthy thee to name. My lord be praised by brother sun who through the skies his course doth run.” And it goes on that everything in creation should praise God. It is a joyous hymn of praise, a poem of praise.
You would expect that someone who could write that sort of praise for God was probably feeling pretty good at the time. But the truth is this was written near the end of Francis’ life. The last few years of his life he was constantly in excruciating pain. His feet were in so much pain he couldn’t walk. So when he wrote this he was in great physical pain. And he was also in emotional and spiritual pain because the order that had founded based on the idea that they would own nothing was now under the control of some of his followers and was starting to buy property. Which he was against. He could see that his order, although still doing good work, was not living up to the deepest commitment that he had. The absolute poverty of Francis was too much for even the Franciscans. And so he was in anguish about that. Imagine being in constant pain and seeing your life work going in a different direction than you’d intended it and being able to write such wonderful praise to God. That was St. Francis. That was St. Francis.
We bless animals around the time of St. Francis’ feast day because it is said that he loved animals. There is a story of him with a wolf and there are stories that he so needed to preach the love of God that if there were no people around to hear it he would preach to the birds. I sometimes try to imagine what Francis might have said to the birds. And I imagine that Francis said to the birds, “You beautiful creatures of God, creatures created by the loving God, sing God’s praise all the time.” And I imagine that if Francis was here today and saw the wonderful creatures we have here, these wonderful dogs who are being so very, very good, he would say, “Animals, you are beloved creatures of God. Created to praise him. Praise and serve God with every breath, with every pant, with every bark. Sing God’s praise.
And I think that Francis might say to us two legged creatures who are gathered here today, “You wonderful creations of God, you blessed of God, know that God loves you and praise God with every breath.”