October 1: The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for October 1, 2023 was preached in response to Matthew 21:23-32 based on the manuscript below.

“According to Lesser Feasts and Fasts,
Francis, 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.
Various encounters with beggars and lepers
Pricked the young man’s conscience, however,
and he decided to embrace a life devoted to Lady Poverty.”

This is an embodiment, a reason that the church looks to him
as we hear about Jesus’ example
of giving up himself
in Philippians today.
“Though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.”

“Despite Francis’ father’s intense opposition,
Francis totally renounced all material values
and devoted himself to serve the poor.
In 1210,
Pope Innocent III confirmed
the simple Rule for the Order of Friars Minor,
a name Francis chose to emphasize his desire
to be numbered among the “least” of God’s servants.
The Franciscan order
grew rapidly all over Europe.
But, by 1221, Francis had lost control of it,
since his ideal of strict and absolute poverty,
both for the individual friars
and for the order as a whole,
was found to be too difficult to maintain.
His last years were spent
in much suffering of body and spirit,
but his unconquerable joy never failed.
In his later years he was ordained as a deacon,
but he resisted all efforts
to persuade him
to become a priest.

“Not long before his death,
during a retreat on Mount La Verna,
Francis received, on September 14,
Holy Cross Day,
the marks of the Lord’s wounds,
the stigmata, in his own hands and feet and side.
Pope Gregory IX,
a former patron of the Franciscans,
canonized Francis in 1228
and began building the great basilica in Assisi
where Francis is buried.
Of all the saints,
Francis is perhaps the most popular and admired
but probably the least imitated;
few have attained to his total identification
with the poverty and suffering of Jesus.”

“Christians have since ancient times
honored people whose lives
represent heroic commitment to Christ
and who have borne witness to their faith
even at the cost of their lives.
Such witnesses, by the grace of God, live in every age.”
As we hear Paul writing today,
“Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father,”
we look to St. Francis
who preached to the birds,
befriended a wolf
and gave up everything
to care for the sick and the poor
following Jesus’ example.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

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