Trinity Sunday by Matthew David Morris

Trinity Sunday Whole

Lessons:

Isaiah 6:1-8

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

Psalm 29


In the name of the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 
“No person ever steps in the same river twice,” the philosopher, Heraclitus,
said a long, long time ago, “for it’s not the same river and they are not the
same person.

 
As a field education student, I came to Grace Memorial with questions –
some philosophical, some practical – as well as the hope to learn something
about what it means to be a priest. In the past 9 months, the time it takes to
hatch a new human being: I have preached, right here; I have processed,
carrying the cross, the torches, the paschal candle, and the church banner; I
have carried the Gospel to be read, and I have read the Gospel aloud, in
Spanish, among a cacophony of Pentecost voices; I have dressed up like an
angel and danced with the children; I have made meals for our houseless
friends and neighbors, and I have served around this table; I have listened
to the anxieties of this community, and the hopes of this community, and
the joys of this community; and, I have had the true and unexpected
pleasure of joining a small group of pilgrims on a journey to Jesus’ own
homeland.

 
Standing here today, looking out at all of you, I can say that I am not the
same man that I was when I first walked through those red doors.

 
Now, I’ve been told that everyone just has one sermon that they preach. Lay
or clergy, no matter what Sunday that it is, it’s just one . I thought when I
came here I knew what my one sermon was. I thought I had it down. I
thought it was a sermon about justice, or about challenging systems of
domination, of proclaiming Beloved Community in the name of Jesus.
But now, I don’t think the real one sermon that is at the core of a Christian
heart is one that they choose for themself. It’s not about what aligns best
with their political views. It’s not necessarily one that they want to preach.
But it’s the sermon that they have to preach, because it is the one sermon.
Discovering how to preach that one sermon in your own voice is a process
of formation and discernment, and it begins I think – at least for me – with
an acute sense of uncertainty.

 
Nicodemus, is uncertain. Nicodemus has questions – some philosophical,
some practice. Nicodemus is attempting to situate Jesus and his teaching
into a clear, logical framework. He’s applying what seems like
straightforward and accurate science to Jesus’ metaphor.

 
       “You get born once, Jesus. Once. One time. What do you mean, ‘be
       born from above?’ How can this old body of mine – which I have
       subjected – mind you – to years of work, and stress, and the occasional
       indulgence – how can it be new again? How can this mind of mine –
       which has taken apart and inspected every precious story and belief
       and dream that was ever given to me by my mother, my grandmother,
       or my teachers – how can it see things new again?”

 
Jesus speaks poetry to Nicodemus, and Nicodemus simply doesn’t
understand how this poetry is logically coherent. Nicodemus wants it all to
make sense. And Jesus keeps pointing to the mystery.
Today is Trinity Sunday, which we might as well call “Mystery Sunday.”
This is a day that many preachers fear. And I’ll have you know, Martin – this
is the day that is notorious to give the seminarian Trinity Sunday. This is
the day. Give it to the Field Education Student. Have him explain the
greatest mystery in Christian doctrine. Sure. That’s great. And on his last
day.

 
Thank you, Martin.
That’s fine.

 
Elizabeth Johnson, in her book, Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal In
Christology, recounts this really beautiful story about St. Augustine and the
Trinity, which goes like this:

 
       So, St. Augustine was walking on the beach, trying to figure out the
       mystery of the Trinity. As he watched a little child with a pail trying to
       put the sea into a hole he had dug in the sand, Augustine said, “You
       cannot do that.” To this the child (actually an angel) replied, “Neither
       can you fit the mystery of the Trinity into your finite mind.”

 
Done. Sermon’s over. Done.

 
No. But there’s so much value in that. There’s so much value in that.
All language is symbol. Words are images meant to represent ideas, some of
which are too expansive to fully encapsulate in a series of letters are sounds.
Trinity is one such word. Triune God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This
language is symbol, which is not to say that it is not real. Rather, it is the
realest of the real — so real, in fact, that the holes we dig in the sand with
our logic-shovels and our rationality-pails cannot contain it.

 
But at the heart of this symbol of Trinity is an invitation into the mystery of
relationship.

 
God is calling us into relationship with God’s own relational nature.
We speak of God as three persons, undivided. God is at once the Creator of
all things, and the Redeemer of all things, and the Giver of Life to all things.
As Creator, God has made us. As Redeemer, God has walked with us. And
as Giver of Life, God is igniting a fire within us to speak a true word about
God’s love. Our very salvation is woven into this interconnection of
relationship.

 
God’s invitation into the mystery of relationship is not only what makes
salvation occur, but it is what makes community come to life.

 
Relationship, I have learned, is the foundation of Grace Memorial Episcopal
Church.

 
This sanctuary is made beautiful every week through relationship. The
hymns of praise and thanksgiving we sing are made majestic through
relationship. People of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds are fed, and
educated, and inspired, and challenged here every day of the week through
relationship. You might say that is what church is: it is about being in
faithful relationship with each other, so that we can be in faithful
relationship with God.

 
Nine months ago, when I accepted the call to be in relationship with this
community, I did not expect that the most important thing I would learn
during this time, both through Martin’s own example and through the
example and witness of the entire community, is the value of relationship.
But it’s undeniable. And, its trinitarian.

 
The ethic of relationship which says that my humanity is bound up in your
humanity, and our shared humanity is animated by the very God who made
all things and who suffers and celebrates with us — woo — that is an
affirmation of the Triune God. You might not think you that get the Trinity
(I don’t all the time), but I have learned that if you show up here, and if you
love one another and you love God, and if you respond to the presence of
God by sharing that love with the world, then you are living into the
Trinity. Just trust in that.

 
To be a Christian is to be in relationship with a relational God who is
eternally seeking relationship with us. To be a Christian is to follow God
into relationship with all those who are led by God’s spirit, in and outside of
the Church; all those who, by following God’s Spirit are, in Paul’s words,
“children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs
with Christ.”

 
Friends — Grace Memorial Episcopal Church — you do not need to know
with perfect certainty how to preach your one sermon in order to share the
good news that God loves you, that God has already saved you, and that
God is calling you to transform the world through the power of God’s own
loving, life-giving and liberating nature.

 
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
YES! You… you.. One more time:
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
That brought me here. And I don’t know where it’s going to lead you, I do
not know… I’m off book now…

 
I don’t know where God is leading you, but I know that God is calling you.
That is a true word.
I don’t know where God is leading you, but I know that God is calling you.

 
And I pray that you respond to call from God with courage. I pray that you
respond to God’s call with excitement, and imagination, and creativity, and
all of the talents that you have. And give them back to this community.
You’re already doing it! You are already living into that vision. I am so
excited to one day walk through those red doors again and discover how
God is continuing to move and work in this place.

 
It’s not about me being here. It’s not about Martin being here. It is about
the collective reality of this place. All of y’all.

 
The Lord will be praised.
Amen?
Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter by Matthew David Morris

April 8, 2018

Lessons:

Acts 4:32-35

1 John 1:1-2:2

John 20:19-31

Psalm 133

I have a story I’d like to tell.

No, I have a story I have to tell.

 

This story is impossible. You’re not going to believe me.

 

But I have to tell this story. I have to tell it even though I know you won’t believe me.

 

It happened.

 

I have to tell it because it happened. I was there, and it happened, and I have to tell you about it.

 

Some of you were there, and if you were there you will be able to testify to the truth of my story, even though you were standing in a slightly different place in the room, and even though you may not have heard everything perfectly.

 

But if you were there

you will know that my story is true,

and you will also need to tell the story,

because people aren’t going to believe us.

 

But I cannot stress this enough — we have to tell this story.
We have to tell the world what happened, because what happened changed things. It changed everything.

 

What happened started something new.

Something that has been waiting to happen forever.

And now is that moment. And we saw its beginning.

 

We were there, and all those who weren’t there will need to hear this story.

 

And some of them will believe us.

 

Some of them will hear the words

pouring forth from our hearts,

and the words will be balm

that soothes their woundedness.

They will hear the words

and they will recognize

something that sounds like God,

and they will be inspired

to share that feeling that

wells up in them

with someone else

who isn’t in the room.

 

They will tell others about what they heard,

and they will testify to that feeling

that welled up in them

when we talked

about what happened,

and they will connect that feeling

to the livingness of God,

and they will be right to do so,

because the living God

who moved their heart to feel

is the same living God

who gave us the words to speak,

and is the same living God

who caused to happen

that thing we saw.

 

And we do not have language for what we saw.

 

We cannot explain it perfectly.

We will need new words.

We will need scrolls,

and books,

and internets of

new words.

 

We will need centuries

of language

of new words

to describe that moment we had.

 

That encounter.

 

We will need to rewrite the meaning of every history ever told.

 

We will need to give our children new names;

to draw new maps;

to sing new melodies.

 

We will need a new culture because of that moment we had together.

 

And some of them will not believe us.

Some of them will not think it real,

this moment that we had.

But we cannot let that disbelief stop us from telling this story.

Because if death, itself, was conquered,

and what we saw what was we saw,

then certainly disbelief can be overcome.

 

Thomas proved that.

And so did we.

Who among us could before we saw with our own eyes?

 

But they will not have seen.

What we need is to tell the story

— for them and for us

and we need to let our own hearts

be softened by the memory

of what we saw.

 

We need to describe Jerusalem

on the morning it happened.

We need to talk about   

the way the sky looked            after it happened.

We need to talk about

how our                         entire life              felt like a drop of water in the

ocean of God,

and how no metaphor

      could be expansive enough,

            and how every metaphor      

                  gets us a little closer

to the feeling of

             what happened.

 

We need to risk sounding crazy,

to risk sounding irrational,

to risk not making sense.

 

Because what just happened is absurd, isn’t it?

What just happened to us happened, didn’t it?

 

If it did,

Does that mean sin has lost its hold?

Does that mean that we are finally home,

and that this exile of our souls, and bodies, and lives

is finally done?

Even more, could it mean that

God can suffer, too?

 

Was he not God?

Did he not die?

 

He did!

I know he did,

          but he rose, too.

 

So, what of God,

who does not die or let the words of peace and love

stay in the tomb?

 

This is new!

 

So, we have to tell this story.

We have to keep telling this story.

Because when we tell this story,

we point to the

new reality

that is unfolding all around us.

 

And maybe…..

 

…maybe others

will want to understand,

and they will understand

what it felt like,

and then they will know

what it feels like,

and then they will come alive

in the new world

which God is creating

all around us.

 

That is why we tell the story.

That is why we say, CHRIST IS RISEN!

 

 

Because we were there.

And we saw it.

We touched him.

And now we have to tell this story.

 

You have to tell this story.

 

Amen

First Sunday after Christmas by Matthew David Morris

First Sunday after Christmas

Lessons:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

John 1:1-18

Psalm 147

 

Why does it matter? Why does the story of Christmas matter?

If you braved the ice for the late service on Christmas Eve, you may have heard Fr. Martin pose a similar question. I, myself, did not make that treacherous drive through the icy hills of Portland. There are a few too many un-scalable peaks between our house and Grace, so I didn’t get to hear him preach, but I did read his sermon online and there it was: this sneaking suspicion that, whether we believe a specific thing or not, being here together at Grace on Christmas – or, on the First Sunday after Christmas – mattered for some reason.

So why does it matter? It may seem like a strange thing to ask in the midst of a service filled with hymns that offer, in their own way, an answer to that question. And the answer is generally, Jesus, right? It matters because… Jesus?

Yes. I could end the sermon now. It matters because, Jesus. But, I think we could, and probably should, dig just a little bit deeper into what that answer, Jesus, even means.

Asking Why does it matter? Why does Jesus matter? is – I think – an invitation into both a deeper reflection on the meaning of a holy day, and, potentially, a deeper experience of wonder at the very meaning of existence, itself.

Now, I don’t think we are offered that kind of reflection by the mainstream Christmas fanfare. The Christmas Holiday Industry has branded Christmas with generic expressions of hope, well-dressed dioramas of warm, tender moments with loved ones, and a generalized sense of joy. The unspecific joy of the mass marketed Christmas is part of what makes it such a hit, even (or statistically speaking) almost more with people who do not see this as a religious holiday.

But I am both a religious person and one who has seen the behind-the-scenes of brand building. I have been a part of the Disney branding machine, and I have witnessed the emotional, psychological, and even spiritual impact that a carefully marketed product — from Mickey Mouse to Santa Clause — can have on people from all walks of life. So, when I encounter pre-packaged meaning – simple, ubiquitous, de-contextualized joy – I start asking questions.

 Joy, why? Hope for what? Or, why does Christmas matter? If we did away with all of the Christmas window dressing, all of the cultural markers of Christmas – all of the ways that American Christmas is supported by global industry – what would we say that Christmas is?

In our own consumption of some mass-marketed Christmas goodies – specifically, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special from 1965 – we heard a clear depiction of the true meaning from none other than Linus, the blanket carrying theologian. He lays out the Christmas story from the 2nd Chapter of Luke, King James Version (of course); the one in which shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flock, are told by an angel that Christ the Lord is born and is currently lying in a manger. It was, in essence, the Christmas pageant. (And if you missed that… well, you missed something truly angelic.)

But today’s Gospel reading (also in the Christmas pageant, but not in the Charlie Brown special) offers us a more esoteric take on the meaning of Christmas, but that – to Linus’ credit – gets us to about the same place.

Let’s visit John’s poetic prologue once again:

In the beginning was the Word, or what the Greek calls the Logos. The Logos can be understood as the foundational creative principle underlying all that is, was, and ever shall be. Here and everywhere. And this foundational principle of creation — this universal particular — was with God and was God. All things came into being through this universal particular, and without which not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people – not some, not the chosen – ALL people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

That’s John’s creation story. But it doesn’t end there…

The Word became flesh and lived among us…. full of grace and truth.

So, the universal particular through which all things were made was born to Mary in Bethlehem.

This is, understandably, the point where your brain may break a little, and I think that’s a fantastic thing. The Incarnation of God in Jesus is brain-breakable. Always has been, and likely always will be. And the Incarnation is not a one-off in the story of God’s work of liberation, either. We simply proclaim it as the culmination point.

God, in the stories of our ancestors, starts out removed – an overseer – creating from on high. God begins to speak to God’s creation, appearing on a mountain to Moses. Then God takes the form of a pillar of smoke, leading God’s people through their journey of isolation and exile. Then, God sets up shop inside the Holy of Holies, and the people of God develop a complicated system which governs who gets to have access to God in God’s most sacred dwelling place. And the prophets cried out in defiance of the hard-heartedness of God’s people, saying that the God who made all things is not the property of any one nation, but rather the sovereign of all nations. And then, God – the Creator – becomes incarnate. The Word – the foundation of all being – takes on flesh.

And with flesh comes the need to be held, to be loved, to be looked after. God, the One beyond all comprehension, becomes the most vulnerable of things – a human baby who cannot walk, who cannot speak, who cannot defend itself against the weather, or animals, or other humans – so that he might be loved with the tenderness of a mother’s heart.

Jesus the baby, that tiny mewling infant, becomes the most sacred dwelling place of God. Imagine, a God willing to look through the bewildered eyes of a baby, willing to have no control of arms and legs, to have a deep need to take naps, to need a diaper change. That’s the new temple of God. The human being becomes the tent pitched in the desert, in which God seeks to encounter creation in the most intimate of ways.

In the Incarnation, humanity has a chance to love God with unparalleled intimacy because that is how God has loved us. Jesus becomes embodied evidence that God is with God’s creation, so much so that God’s own Self is discernable in the messy stuff of human life, death, pain, and suffering.

And should this mystery, this poetic vision of John, be allowed to take root in us just as Christ was allowed to take root in Mary – if we can make enough spaciousness within us to become pregnant with the very Spirit of God, then perhaps Christ will become visible through our flesh.

Perhaps if we can see the human body as the sacred space in which God can encounter God’s creation, we might be able to see the spark of the Holy in the bodies of other people. Perhaps all bodies will begin to look like places in which the indwelling of God’s Spirit occurs. Perhaps, then, it will become difficult – impossible, maybe – to see anyone’s body as discard-able. Perhaps the bodies which we have been conditioned to look down on or to hate will start to look like sacred dwelling places for an encounter with God, and this awareness will inspire in us the willingness to stand up and protest, with the voice of a prophet, when the powers and principalities of this world systematically oppress God’s creation.

It can start with the simple awareness that God was made manifest in Jesus, and then all flesh will begin to look different. Yours. Your neighbor’s. Your enemy’s. I don’t know about y’all, but I would feel a genuine, sincere, specific joy if we all began to move in this direction.

Jesus is God’s beloved, and to all who receive him, who believe in him, who inwardly digest and give their heart to his generative, life-giving, creative being, he gives power to become children of God.

Kin. Family.

This is how it has been, by design, from the beginning.

I hope we continue to ask ourselves, “What does Christmas mean?” “Who was Jesus?” “Who is Jesus?”, for these are the questions that help to establish the foundation of our own discipleship. And when we stumble to answer that question, or when we wonder about whether these bodies of ours are worth anything, I hope we remember this:

God took on this flesh so that we all might learn to love God and one another more deeply.

Thanksgiving Service by Matthew David Morris

Thanksgiving

Lessons:

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Psalm 65
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19

I begin this homily by giving honor to the Chinook, Clatskanie, Cowlitz Kalapuya, Sillamook, Siletz, and Yakama people, and to the many other tribes and bands of First Nations people whose original lands we occupy in Oregon. Their stories and histories are a part of the long, complicated, and ultimately beautiful narrative of the Creator’s relationship to all of creation. May the lives of their descendents be nurtured by the Spirit, and may the wrongs that have been done against them for our benefit be righted in our shared pursuit of Shalom.

 

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a national holiday with roots that trace back to the Puritans in England, who sought to purge England of its “popish” tendencies throughout the 1600’s, and who publicly recognized Days of Humiliation and Days of Thanksgiving as expressions of Christian piety. The former were days of great fasting to make appeal for God’s mercy, and the latter were days of great celebration of — well — God’s mercy, and God’s abundant blessings.

 

According to the scholarship of Lucy Ann-Baker, a UK historian, these days were proclaimed in response to a variety of ecological, political, or social events, including victories, defeats, disasters, droughts, and seasons of abundant harvest. Today, the US holiday of Thanksgiving has no humiliation-counterpart, which I’m sure we’re all grateful for. We did not, for example, have a public Humiliation Day after the Eagle Creek fire that ravaged the Gorge in September, even though many grieved the fire publicly. Nor did we really see the fast spreading fire, itself, as a sign of God’s punishment. Some American Christians think of God that way, but I don’t. Perhaps you don’t either.

 

Future historians may debate whether our culture’s love of feasting and general rejection of fasting means that we no longer fear God’s wrath or that maybe we simply just prefer turkey and stuffing to empty stomachs. But whatever their verdict, I think that the Thanksgiving we experience today is a unique and fascinating phenomenon.

 

This is not simply a harvest festival, even though our readings this evening speak mostly in the language of agriculture. We could try to see Thanksgiving in that way, but it would be difficult for many of us because we are not living in an agrarian society. We are living in a consumer society, a technological society. And even our consumption of food — the bounty of God’s green and increasingly warming earth — is mediated by automated machinery and a multinational food industry. Harvest is big business, and most of us are disconnected from where our food originated.

 

The popular imaging of our Thanksgiving holiday paints a picture of the quintessential, quaint, New England-style family gathering, and we connect that image to a myth about the “first Thanksgiving.” But thanks to modern scholarship, particularly around the oral storytelling of the Native people in New England, we have come to recognize that our national origin story lacks a bit of historical credibility. For First Nations communities, this holiday brings generational trauma right to the surface.

And maybe you have heard these critiques before. Perhaps you have grown tired of the appeals to reexamine the stories we assume to be true about our national identity and history. You might think that turning a critical eye on our cultural traditions is a little more than a byproduct of our culture’s persistent political correctness, and you’re just tired of taking everything apart all the time.

 

I understand that feeling of exhaustion, and that desire to have the world, and our place in it, be simpler. But, following Jesus is not for the faint hearted. Following Jesus complicates many, many things, including a whole hosts of -isms — nationalism, for one, and patriotism, capitalism, consumerism, heterosexism, ableism, and racism. Following Jesus requires us to take a second look at our stories — like, for example, the stories we tell about who is worthy of God’s restorative love. Is the foreigner worthy? The outsider? The one who is not like us? Does God, in the person of Jesus, demonstrate biases in the same way that we do? Or, does God reach across the boundaries that divide us from one another, and in so doing teach us something about our own capacity to cross boundaries in the spirit of love and healing? Thanksgiving is a day when many of us discover that cultural and social boundaries have cut right through the middle of our family’s living room, with us on one side and the people we love on the other. And this can be very painful, and very difficult to navigate.

 

But we are called to try. We are called to follow Jesus across the divide.

My hope for us all as we experience this Day of Thanksgiving — however we celebrate it — is that we open ourselves up to experiencing a love that reaches across our points of difference. May we sow that love abundantly, and may we also reap abundantly. May we share the gifts and talents and joys of our lives, cheerfully. May we have the eyes to see that those who struggle with hard-heartedness are still the beloved of God and equally deserving of God’s love. May we, in the midst of whatever difficulties we face during stressful moments, cultivate a generous spirit — toward ourselves and toward others.

 

And when we experience moments of healing and grace, however small or large, may we, in our hearts, fall down at the feet of Jesus in gratitude and thanks. For the love that comes from God is an indescribable gift; one that we are called to experience fully as God’s beloved people, and one we are charged to share generously as those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus.

 

So, may you walk as Jesus walked, heal as Jesus healed, and proclaim, as Jesus proclaimed, that your faith has made you well.

 

Amen.

 

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost by Matthew David Morris

Blessing of the animals 2

Lessons:

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46


There is a temptation to linger in the details of a saint’s life in search of a clue for how we might become more holy. If we crack the code of any given saint, perhaps we might know — at last — how to become the better people we’d like to be; the “better Christians”…whatever we think that means.

In the late 1990’s, there was a song in the Christian Contemporary Music genre (not my favorite genre, to be completely honest) that jumped out at me from the radio, and I still think of it on days like today, when we remember and lift up the name of a saint. The payoff line in the chorus went something like, “The saints are just the sinners who fall down and get up… who fall down and get up.” I always loved that line, because it dispelled some of the celebrity that we attach to the Christians who’ve lived and died before us. The song draws attention to the ordinary humanity that can be obscured by the extraordinary mythologies of sainthood.

Do a little digging into the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, and you will find a rich collection of stories to enjoy. They range from the mundane to the miraculous. You’ll hear of his early life as a wool-merchant’s son, his relative privilege, his high-minded military aspirations, and his near-supernatural conversion. There are stories of his gentility, which are reinforced by the iconography we see of Francis in the form of a mostly-bald headed hermit, surrounded by animals. That is maybe the most beloved, most comforting image of Francis. The Francis of the animals and of nature is a person who is so aware of God’s presence as Creator of all things that he is capable, in every moment of his life, of rejoicing in the full knowledge and love of God. This image of Francis is a lovely one to hold onto in our minds and hearts, and it has served as an inspiration for generations.

There is something so attractive — alluring, almost — about the peace and serenity we see in the statues of Saint Francis, popular among neighborhood gardeners. When he is cast in marble or concrete, Francis seems unbothered. The news of the world does not change his expression. The horrors that we have come to accept as a normal part of American life never move him. His face remains peaceful; his gaze resting softly on the stone bird perched on his stone finger. His heart, too, must be made of stone, this saint in stasis.

But the actual Francis — the Francis who fell down and got back up — had a heart that broke over the injustices of the world. The Francis that preceded the statuary was a small man in possession of what we might consider to be a completely irrational belief in God. His faith was not well measured, or safe, or polite. It did not obey the rules of etiquette. He was not a Christian who used the good china on Christmas, nor was he a Christian who wore his best clothes on Sunday. He was not a Christian who sought to impress other Christians with his piety, or his intellect, or his righteousness.

He was a Christian who recognized that the path of Jesus is a path of downward mobility. To follow Jesus — to become like Jesus — is to become perfectly dependent on God alone. It is to shun the idolatry of the world, with its preference for worldly comfort, in favor of radical fidelity to God.

It’s crazy. I mean, it looks crazy, and it sounds crazy to the modern ear:

Radical dependence on, and complete fidelity to, God….. and God alone.

Do we know what it feels like to have that kind of faith? Often, our faith is a contingent faith. A faith with strings attached. Our faith asks for assurances from God, because our faith has trust issues.

Sometimes our faith is like a dog with separation anxiety. It’s nervous that God is gone, and not coming back, and this metal cage that we’re stuck in is all that we’ll ever experience, and we’re afraid, and we’re lonely, and this is it. This is it. This must just be it. And in those moments of existential panic, we shore up our defenses with books, or ideas, or theories, or logic, or statues in the garden.

We rationalize our emotions, or we build up new theologies about God, or we take old ones apart. Our faith turns into a constellation of well articulated positions, well reasoned principles. Not too religious. Not too sentimental. We use our minds to hush our hearts, and to keep our fears at bay.

Other times, our faith is a performative faith. It is a faith built out of prayer book liturgies. A rehearsed faith. A well worn faith. It is a faith that has been bound up in the pages of a book that we read once a week. A regular Sunday faith, or a once-in-a-while Sunday faith, but in either case a faith that lives in a book, in a pew, in a building.

But this contingent faith, this fear-driven faith, or this performative faith…isn’t this kind of faith a heavy burden to carry? Is there not something more joyous… more liberative… more meaningful about our Christian faith than this? I certainly hope so.

I fall down regularly in my spiritual life. I am a person who puts his foot in his mouth, who fears the judgement of others, and who can slip somewhat easily into self-righteousness. If I’m not careful, I can make bold and uncritical proclamations about the nature of God, or about the role that Jesus plays in the fate of humanity, and I can do it all with an air of certainty that gives others the impression that I really know what I’m talking about. Some people might feel emboldened to possess this skill, but I take pause. The moment that my faith becomes an expression of certainty, I could just as soon be one of those guys preaching through a bullhorn; the pulpit, a downtown street corner. There is power in certainty, but it isn’t necessarily the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s more kind of human-generated power that puffs up the chest of an insecure person.

The faith with Jesus is not constructed from this kind of power. The downward mobility of Jesus, after which Francis patterned his life, is humbling. It makes men like me reconsider how we use our bravado.

It makes the bold and the boisterous take a second look at silence or quietness. It takes a self-assured person, who finds safety in securing a solid reputation, or who feels confidence with their ability to procure status or good standing in the community, and it challenges them — it challenges US — to see the glory of God in the face of the outcast. It asks us to become the outcast for loving the untouchables in a way that society says is foolish or unsafe. This kind of faith — this Jesus centered faith — makes a mess of everything we try to keep neat and tidy.

Now, there is nothing that anyone can say to force you into adopting this kind of faith. I’m not sure that even God, himself, could force it upon you. This is the kind of faith that dawns on a person in a dream; or the kind of faith that calls out to them like a voice emerging from the San Damiano crucifix, which said to Francis — “Rebuild my church.”

What would we do if we heard God speaking to us so plainly? Saying, Rebuild my church. Love me with a new heart.

It stirs the imagination to even consider such a question.

Francis was not made of stone, and neither are we. Our hearts are soft, and fragile, and resilient. We are affected by the news. We are afflicted by the injustices of this world. And we may even find ourselves on the precipice of asking, “What would it mean to have a faith like that of Francis? What would it mean to rebuild God’s Church in the places where it has fallen to ruin” — both in our own lives and in the world?

I cannot answer this question for you, but I believe strongly that it is a
question worth asking.

Jesus says that God’s truth is sooner revealed to infants than to the wise and intelligent. So let us become youthful fools like Francis. Let us remember that we are not statues, frozen to the world, but flesh and blood children of God. Let us set aside the burdens of any faith that we have built out of fear, or self-preservation, or hubris, and let us follow Jesus on his downward path of the cross. For his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Amen.