I have loved hearing stories of St Francis from the first. As a young person, I saw in him something that spoke to the very heart of me. I knew he knew something of God that I didn’t yet know, and that I needed to know. Something that made him careless of himself, fearless of poverty, fearless of wild wolves, fearless of earthly powers and principalities, parents and popes. I spent this week pondering what it is St. Francis understood about God that I am still growing into.
I have come to think that St. Francis believed to his very core that God is treasuring, delighting in and caring for every single thing God has created at every moment in time.
And … because of that, I think St. Francis believed to his very core that God is trustworthy
The gospel, says Sally Lloyd Jones, in the spirit of Francis, is a love story and an adventure about the setting right of a great wrong, the seeking of a great lost treasure. It is all passion from creation to redemption to restoration.
In the creation story (we just heard proclaimed) I have often heard the phrase “and God saw that it was good” in the same way I hear shop clerks saying “perfect” after I hand them my credit card. Sometimes I want to snap at the clerks “its just a stupid credit card! what is perfect about it.” And within my heart I find myself sometimes hearing God’s affirmation with the same irritated distrust and cynicism. The whole of creation appears to me as one sheer, cold cliff. I fail to hear the stomping of God’s glad dance. I fail to hear God’s giggles, God’s shaking belly laughs, or God’s exultation. YES! YES! I love you giraffe. Whoop, You’re soooo long! YES! YES!, RUN little mouse! Your scurrying feet give me the tingles! Even as I say it now, some part of me feels ridiculous—a laughing, delighting, stomping rollicking Jollymaking healing God? Can it be so? Can it be real?
Over and over and over the spirit repeats in Genesis 1 AND GOD SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD. BLESSED! LOVELY! A DELIGHT TO God’s HEART. EVERY PART OF IT!
But the tale of care, and delight doesn’t stop in the Genesis narrative. It is a river rushing through the valleys of psalms and the prophecies. God delights:
The Lord is good to all, he has compassion on ALL he has made! Psalm 145
He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call! Psalm 147
In Job, we see that God has not made and then forgotten his animals: He knows the details of their existence! Where they run, what they need. And he affirms that his authority is active over them, giving them strength to run and fly. This is more than rhetoric. God describes himself in terms of his relationship with creation repeatedly and in detail.
At the end of the book of Jonah, God is talking, (If you remember, Jonah was sitting under a gourd plant, in its shade, waiting for God to destroy Nineveh. Jonah grew very angry that God would not do it. Then the gourd plant wilts and Jonah throws a tantrum.) And God says “You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—AND ALSO MANY ANIMALS.” Do you hear that. And also many animals
God does not want to destroy THOSE ANIMALS or people. They are dear to his heart.
Then God comes to dwell among us, and he tells us –THIS IS MY PARAPHRASE of—
Luke 12:6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies. And I have never stopped thinking about even one of them. Indeed, the very hairs of YOUR head are numbered. Don’t worry you are worth more than many sparrows.
God says to us, “Do you see how I love and care for these creatures, who I made with the same sheer delight that I made you at the beginning. Do you think that I could forget you, to whom I gave the additional gift of being made in my image?” My love is so BIG.
Francis believed it. I know this because he stopped to speak to the creatures. He saw them sharing in the same redemption with which he was redeemed. He called the howling tearing killing wolf brother, and worked to reconcile it to the community, because he saw their shared identity in both wolfishness needing God, and lovely createdness desirable to God. He chose to walk with the lowest and the poorest, the outcasts of his time and place. He kissed lepers because he knew the same heart of the Father Jesus knew.
St. Francis said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men—“
Because, often, in its brokenness, humanity defaults to power hierarchies in which the lowest does not have feet or hooves washed by the greatest. Knees are used to scramble faster over, not to kneel before, the other creature. But the God Francis knew in Jesus never stopped kneeling before, washing, dying for, the whole of creation.
If we allow ourselves to imagine God as one who makes and forgets the “lowest” of his creatures, we may find ourselves eventually joining violent struggles to be great. But if we allow ourselves to imagine God as one who delights in all creatures, even those utterly dependent and perhaps completely unaware of him/her, then we may develop a trust that despite the sin and terror and darkness in this world, God’s very tender, very gentle hands are soothing and healing, and repairing all that has been created, and that includes us, no matter how strong or weak we are.
I will close with a rather longish quote by
“My friends, does God care for sparrows. Or does he say this altogether for our sakes and not at all for the sparrows? . . .indeed it would mean nothing to us if it were not everything to the sparrows. These words can not reach our door except through the sparrows nest. For see! What comfort would it be to us to be told we were of more value than ever so many sparrows if their value was nothing—if God only knew and did not care for them. Then all this saying would convey was that we were more of value than just nothing….
NO< not one sparrow. . .is forgotten by the Father of men and women. It shall not have a lonely deathbed, for the Father of Jesus will be with it. It MUST be true. It is indeed a daring word, but less would not be enough for the hearts of humans, for the glory of God, or for the need of the sparrow.”
~ Grace A.
Sunday, October 5, 2014 @ Church of the Beloved