Today we celebrate the legacy of St. Francis. We’ve probably all heard stories about him – making you believe he was, perhaps, a little crazy – but he was a good man and loved to share the Good News of the Gospel.
One story tells of an encounter with a flock of birds – doves, crows – all sorts of birds. When St. Francis spotted them down the road, he ran toward them and expected them to scatter but to his surprise – and probably anyone else’s who may have witnessed this – the birds stood still and seemed to wait for him. He was filled with awe and he asked them to stay and then proceeded to give them a little sermon, reminding them that they should always praise their Creator for he was the one who gave them feathers for clothes, wings to fly, and anything else that was needed. “It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you received God’s guidance and protection.” And so the story goes that from that day on, Francis made it his habit to invoke all animals to praise and love their Creator.
But wait a minute, Francis. While all of what you told those birds was certainly true – if I may say so – you missed the bigger picture! I believe that animals have a lot to tell us, to teach us, and to remind us of. They are messengers and, I believe, vessels enabling 2-way communication with God. So, Francis, perhaps spending some time listening to them would have done you some good, too.
Click here to read the whole sermon preached by Susan Mitchell on Pet Blessing Sunday, 2019
I hope you will join me in holding vigil these next few days. Holding vigil is an ancient Christian tradition which involves private and corporate prayer, fasting, staying awake, keeping alert, and holding back judgment. Today in Chicago the jury in the Jason Van Dyke trial will begin deliberations; tomorrow the U.S. Senate will vote on whether to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both decisions have already exposed deep divides between men and women, people of color and whites, police and civilians, rich and poor, the powerful and those on the margins. News stories push our buttons, and, depending on our own personal stories and experiences remind us of our own hurts, fears, anger, distrust, and pain. Every night we see, hear and read conversations about sex, racism, and politics; topics most of us were taught to avoid in “polite” company. But avoiding these stories or refusing to talk about these topics does not make them less real or less powerful. Truth has a way of coming out; not always immediately, not always completely or fairly, however, I believe that truth always exposes evil and is the beginning of justice. So I believe we need to pray for truth these next few days.
The doors of St. John’s will be open today and tomorrow, during the day and until dark; the garden is also open for prayer. If you can’t join us here join us in prayer at home, at work, on the bus, in your car. Fast if that keeps you focused. Stay awake. Light candles. Pray for yourself, for your family, your neighborhood, our city and this country. Hold back judgment. See and hear the people around you as God sees them, with empathy and love.
The most ancient Christian vigil is the Easter Vigil. Beginning at sundown on Saturday Christians stayed awake, sang, and prayed all night long until first dawn when they joyfully proclaimed the Easter “Alleluia!” We don’t know when resurrection will happen for the McDonald and the Van Dyke families, for police and civilians, for victims of gun violence and our neighbors. We don’t know when resurrection will happen for men and women, for victims of sexual violence and perpetrators, for our flawed institutions, for us. But I do believe resurrection does happen, and death and injustice is never the last word.
My friend and colleague Erica Schemper reminded me that Psalm 146 is helpful in times like this. I hope this song reminds you that Resurrection is promised by God, love always conquers death, and truth always brings justice.
Let my whole being praise the Lord!
I will praise the Lord with all my life;
I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.
Don’t trust leaders;
don’t trust any human beings—
there’s no saving help with them!
Their breath leaves them,
then they go back to the ground.
On that very same day, their plans die too.
The person whose help is the God of Jacob—
the person whose hope rests on the Lord their God—
is truly happy!
God: the maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
God: who is faithful forever,
who gives justice to people who are oppressed,
who gives bread to people who are starving!
The Lord: who frees prisoners.
The Lord: who makes the blind see.
The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low.
The Lord: who loves the righteous.
The Lord: who protects immigrants,
who helps orphans and widows,
but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!
The Lord will rule forever!
Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!
Praise the Lord!
And please remember that prayer is the beginning of action. Prayer leads us to speak up, act out, protest, learn, write, vote, and change. Let us pray for guidance; and then let us work.