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Thanksgiving for Creation
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 5, 2014

Psalm 148; Matthew 11:16-30

‘The Gospel of Francis and Claire’

God be with you ...

I like these words from the Gospel of Matthew. "Wisdom will be vindicated by her own actions" (Matthew 11:19). Jesus speaks the words with queer reference to John the Baptiser and to himself ... In reference to a spirituality both earnest and lighthearted. The stories of Giovanni/Francis and Claire keep us close to this kind of spirituality. The Holy Spirit is imaged as a woman, not unlike Claire herself, who inspires austerity and good humour in the name of love for a world too often the site of brutality - ecological, psychological, physical, sexual, social.

How poignant the legendary story that accompanies the icon of St Claire by Mercedes Ptak. Francis and Claire were walking in the snow, and upon coming to a cross-road near the Church of St Damian, Francis said, "We must now go our separate ways". Claire fell to her knees on the snow and waited for him to bless her. She asked him, "When will we see each other again?" "When the roses will have bloomed," he replied. Francis had gone forward a few steps and Claire called him back. He turned around and the shrub in front of Claire had become a blooming rose bush which signified that when two people separate for love of Christ, God unites them forever.

I discern a wisdom in the reference to a cross-road that signifies for each of us a particular relationship to God, to the church, to the creation, to others. I discern a wisdom in connection with the snow and the roses - bearers, in their own ways, of love. I discern a wisdom in the implication that gender divides (conventions, stereotypes, disputes) might be overcome in love; that time itself might be regarded a blessed creature and servant of love; that all separation (including the separation of death from life) might be resolved in love.

Wisdom will be vindicated by her own actions. It's a simple statement, too, about the importance of actions. Faith as action. Love as action - as behaviour, as discipline, as habit, as ritual, as political engagement, as community involvement, as creative project, as risk-taking mission ... Francis and Claire acted boldly. They forsook lives of privilege for the sake of a Saviour they believed/imagined to be present in human suffering and solidarity - a Saviour incarnate in earthly and heavenly bodies: Sun, Moon, Wind, Water, Fire, Earth. Francis' "Canticle of the Creatures" is a remarkable song, a remarkable deathbed composition on guitar, arguably the first Christian song of praise to focus on Creation as beloved and as integral to human salvation. A wise eco-theologian of the 13th century!


"Abba God, Creator of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to the youngest children" (11:25). Jesus speaks these words in the context of a religious-political conspiracy that sees the poorest and the youngest oppressed. There is wisdom - revelation - in the cries of those crushed by the wealthy and ambitious ... And there is revelation in the honesty and openness of children, perhaps not so caught up in competition for control over resources - not so invested in systems that abuse.

I picked up a children's book at a street stall in Manhattan called St Francis Preaches to the Birds. It features brightly painted woodblock prints in a naive style. The text is very simple. In the eyes and heart of a child I wonder what is revealed. St Francis is depicted as a contemporary of ours who wakes, sings, cleans and cares for his own body, acknowledges the goodness of food, the goodness of urban and rural life, and gives thanks over and over. The birds are allowed to come, to flock and to fly, to do their own thing, to inspire ... And "then St Francis preaches to the birds ... Until the sun sets ... Yes! Until the sun sets". The final words of the little book are "Good night".

There's a lot to discern, again. The word "good", though, is compelling. How important and how valuable it is to keep in touch with goodness. To have examples of goodness. Individuals, stories, desires. Lest exploitation and resignation (and sheer violence) prevail. Thank God, thank goodness for every gentle and persistent drive/effort/work toward respect and understanding.

The South Sydney Herald has recently recommitted to making space for Muslim expressions of faith and hope. It's so lazy to allow hateful expressions of religious fervour (of whatever alleged tradition) to dominate. In the context of a subtle and not so subtle Islamophobia, it's irresponsible. We can be thankful for the opportunity we have as writers, editors and publishers to contribute, however modestly, toward greater respect and understanding.

There are Franciscan interfaith resources we would be wise to investigate. This DVD is called In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking. It's now a resource of our St Lydia's Library and I think would be a wonderful Friday-night film to screen here in the church in the near future. If someone might like to borrow it and help lead some discussions after a screening, please see me to talk about that.


"Here you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (11:29-30). Much has been written in response to these words of Jesus. It strikes me today, however, that Francis and Claire understood the words as having to do with vocation. Collaborating with Jesus is easy when, in the Spirit, we find the task that is ours. Ours existentially, as well as ours because our unique opportunity for action; our generation's work, our nation's work, our community's work.

Not easy in the sense of trouble-free or even anxiety-free, but easy in the sense of joyful, affirming, blessed. Easy in the sense of knowing the life-giving power of forgiveness, kindness. Easy in the sense of knowing one's own desires transformed and transforming - and recognising in others the common desires for peace and wellness and community wellbeing.

It wasn't "easy" for Francis and Claire to live without the comforts and securities of middle-class and aristocratic cultures. It was tough, I'm sure. The "cross-road" entails costly service; sacrifice. And yet the legends and legacy speak of simple joys - manual labour, street work, creative Nativity Sets and Stations of the Cross, songs, embrace of those with severe illness, interreligious dialogue, peacemaking, sharing life, communing with wild animals ... So much of the tradition is lighthearted and uplifting - whimsical even.

It's right that we smile and laugh today. In the company of those, thanks to Francis and Claire and thanks to God, we are blessed to call companions, friends. Amen.