October 3: The Feast of St. Francis, Transferred

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. This sermon was preached in response to the texts appointed for that feast, based on the manuscript below.

Last year, the podcast The Heart
ran a mini series called Race Traitor.
The description of the series reads,
“Even after you’ve intellectually rejected white supremacy,
how does it show up in a room?
In a relationship?
How do we divert intergenerational white power hoarding
that is so normalized it’s nearly invisible?
Phoebe’s been white her entire life.
But she only realized a few years ago
that she inherited a white value system.
Through conversations with friends
and confrontations with family,
she takes inventory of the ways she embodies white supremacy —
in order to disrupt it.”

In one of the episodes,
focused on her parents
how how families of origin form us
it’s as though Phoebe
heard Jeremiah’s call:
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbours work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages;
who says, ‘I will build myself a spacious house
with large upper rooms’,
and who cuts out windows for it,
panelling it with cedar,
and painting it with vermilion.”
Through the mini-series’ four episodes,
she teases out the ways
that white supremacy has benefitted her
in systemic, legalized ways.
She points to race covenants in deeds,
redlining by realtors and municipalities,
and the way the GI Bill impacted
who could buy a new home
and who had to rent.

St. Francis, too,
was familiar with generational wealth.
Although his family
wasn’t engaging race covenants
they were wealthy cloth merchants.
Like Phoebe, Francis grew up
in a system that privileged him
and taught him how to be privileged,
how to take advantage
of what he had.
Francis’ biography in Holy Women, Holy Men says,
the son of a prosperous merchant of Assisi,
was born in 1182.
His early youth
was spent in harmless revelry
and fruitless attempts
to win military glory.”
Harmless revelery
and fruitless attempts
to win military glory.
Some of us had those days.
Others, because of our circumstances,

Holy Women, Holy Men continues,
“Various encounters
with beggars and lepers
pricked the young man’s conscience,
and he decided to embrace
a life devoted to Lady Poverty.”
Lady Poverty
is the personification of Poverty,
a woman that Francis for the rest of his life
sought to court
through giving up all material possessions
and sharing the Good News of Jesus
with all creation.
Holy Women, Holy Men concludes,
“Of all the saints,
Francis is the most popular and admired,
but probably the least imitated;
few have attained to his total identi?cation
with the poverty and suffering of Christ.”

We gather every year to commemorate St. Francis Day
sometimes with new faces,
sometimes with visiting faces,
at least with with visiting faces,
to ask God’s blessing on our pets,
our animal companions
who get us through rough times
or give us perspective
on the vastness of creation.
If a cat ignoring a toddler
saying “Down, down”
doesn’t catch you into how much bigger
life is than we are,
you may not be paying attention.
Part of the adoration for St. Francis
is yes, his care for creation
and his love of animals.
What may be missing, however,
in imitating him,
is that he wasn’t standing in gardens
letting birds land on him
to be pretty.

Francis preached to the birds and the fish
because he believed
that they needed to hear the good news!
It was not simply wandering in nature,
enjoying God’s creation,
where Francis found freedom and restoration.
St. Francis’ dedication of his life
to serving others as Jesus did,
is what led him to the fields,
to the fish,
and to the margins.
St. Francis heard Jesus’ call
as we hear in today’s gospel text:
“Come to me,
all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Despite his father’s intense opposition,
Francis totally renounced all material values,
and devoted himself to serve the poor.
He took up Jesus’ light yoke
by laying down the yoke
of his frivolous youth
and his family’s expectations
and generational wealth.

This is what Jesus offers us,
when we turn to him in faith
and put our who hearts, lives, and trusts
in him and freedom through him.
Jesus is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death
and on those in the tombs bestowing life,
But Jesus doesn’t only offer
hope for the end of time
or hope for the end of our lives.
Turning to Jesus,
letting him carry our burdens
is a freedom and joy
that we do nothing to earn.
It was renouncing wealth and possessions
and turning to, trusting in Jesus
that gave Francis his joy
and his purpose.

I’m not sure I could do it.
I try to have faith
that God will provide,
but I like to hedge my bets some.
That’s not what Jesus asks us to do.
That’s not what Francis did,
and it’s not what Phoebe,
the self-avowed race traitor,
plans to do.

Home ownership is one of the most important
and sustained measures
for gathering and passing on
generational wealth,
like that which Francis gave up.
After noticing how homeownership
was systemically denied to Black people
Phoebe plans to disrupt the system.
She’s asked her parents
to will their house
a house that was built with a racial housing covenant
to someone who’s never owned property.
If she inherits it,
that’s what she plans to do
with the house she grew up in
that continues to appreciate in value
in a neighborhood where Blacks and Jews
were forbidden from living.

I don’t know
if that’s a step toward racial justice
racial equity and healing
that I myself am or will be willing to take.
But it’s a model that Francis —
Most adored and yet least imitated —
set in his own way
as he sought to care for the poor,
to live on the margins,
and to carry Jesus’ good news
even to the birds of the air
and fish of the sea.
Jesus’ Good News is available to us,
regardless of how well
we follow St. Francis’ life modeling.

It’s Good News that we need to hear,
like those around Francis did.
And it’s Good News
that we can’t do anything to earn or unearn
because we can’t earn or unearn
God’s love,
and we can’t earn or unearn
God’s grace.
The Good News Jesus offers us,
which Francis heard and gave up his generational wealth
gave that up and cared for all living things
was this:
“Come to me,
all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
St. Francis of Assisi,
pray for us. Amen.

Leave a Comment