Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (St Francis)

THANK YOU, YOU . . . AND GOD FOR YOU (Galatians 6:4-18)

I had a neighbor who had a brain condition for many years – that left her unable to drive because at any moment she might lose consciousness. Not the sort of person you want behind the wheel.

Finally she received a successful operation and, in addition to curing her narcolepsy, it left her extraordinarily aware of the world around her – the birds, the trees, the grass and flowers.

She didn’t know what to do with the feelings that welled up within her in response to all this newly discovered beauty – now that she could take her eyes off of herself and off her illness. So she called on me, a priest, who, she thought, might have some idea. She had not been raised religious. She had been raised to despise religion, so this was quite a reach for her. But she knew me as a friend and neighbor, so she decided I was worth the risk.

We talked. She spoke of seeing a red tailed hawk, perfect in its beauty and its flight. What could she do with that overwhelming emotion, that overwhelming appreciation?

Be thankful, I said. What she was feeling was gratitude. Gratitude is the first word of theology, of liturgy, of religion. We have the Holy Eucharist every Sunday; and eucharist comes from the Greek word for thank you: efcharisto. So The Holy Eucharist means, “The Holy Thank You, The Holy Gratitude.”

But she didn’t take it quite that way at first, for when I spoke to her of gratitude – meaning gratitude toward God – she, not being religious, took it as gratitude to the hawk for being the hawk, for being so beautiful. And I think she had it right.

We are called, first, to gratitude to the hawks and birds for being so beautiful, to the dogs and cats and gerbils and snakes we bless today . . . for being dogs and cats and gerbils and snakes; and for loving us as we love them. Gratitude to God first, short changes the objects of our affections of the gratitude we should feel toward them.

So today when we bring up these animals, our first response to their soft eyes or scaly tails or slobbery tongues, is a big thank you, a big eucharist.

The next step is to make it a holy thank you, a holy eucharist. First of all, this is why we do the thank you in church, in the house of God where we say thank you for so many other things every week of the year. We say to these animals by bringing them here, and to ourselves, that they are worthy to be here, that God created them too, loves them too, rejoices in them too. Perhaps bringing them here releases us to some degree from our self centeredness, our human centeredness.

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small; all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. Even the ants and spiders and bugs that come into the church through its cracks are welcomed here by God. Perhaps they are God’s reminder to us that we share this earth with them and we cannot and should not keep them out!

So we make this a Holy Eucharist by thanking God for our dogs and cats, snakes and gerbils. We thank God for creating them and loving them and giving us the privilege of living with them as partners in God’s creation. We are also their stewards, caring for them with the gifts and love and money given to us. But we are stewards of these partners in God’s creation, not their owners, for God has given us certain gifts to share with them; and God has given them certain gifts to share with us. And so we share these gifts with one another, and so we become true partners in God’s creation, expanding this web of partnership with each new pet we have, each new friend we have, each new red tailed hawk we see streaking across the sky, or each new frog we see croaking in a pond.

Thank you, God, for the frogs, the hawks, the rats and the snakes – all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. Thank you Lord.

And so our eucharist is made holy by all we bring to it, and by thanking God for it.

It is also about this time of year that we start thinking about Stewardship, and maybe we should speak of it as Holy Stewardship the same way we refer to the Holy Eucharist. How is each one made holy? By bringing it to God, by thanking God for it, by seeing the Holiness of God in it, the gifts of God in it; and by naming that holiness.

Perhaps, instead of talking about Stewardship season, we should talk of the Holy Money season – that time of year when, like our pets, we bring these fruits of our labors into church, this money we get paid for a hard day’s work, and we see that it is, in fact, holy; the labor that went into it is holy. Then, as with the pets and thanking them for who they are, we thank first ourselves and we appreciate ourselves for all the work we did and the gifts we used.

Then, to make it a holy thank you and not just a personal thank you, we thank God for the strength to do the work, and for the gifts we used in doing it – even if we felt we didn’t have the strength, or not enough; even if we felt we didn’t have the gifts, or not enough. Even so we did what we had to do. So we are grateful to ourselves and to God; and so today and every day we put the money into the plate to be offered up to God at the altar.

We also offer God thanks for the abilities and even the endurance that went into these gifts, especially if we did not enjoy the work for which we got paid. All the more reason to rejoice in the gift of endurance. And if we did enjoy the work for which we got paid, well, all the more reason to be joyful and thankful that God put us in this place and this time where we could use gifts we enjoy in God’s service.

So thank you, God, for love, for patience, for endurance, for jobs we have and jobs we love and jobs we don’t love but have the ability to do anyway. Thank you for the abilities we have, large and small, rewarded and unrewarded; and help us to use them all. Open doors so we may walk through them and be the person You created us to be, with the full gamut of virtues and, we hope, not too many vices.

But to get on this path we must follow the trail blazed by Francis and by his divine master, Jesus Christ. And that is the trail of crucifixion and renunciation.

As it says in Galatians today: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

“By which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Hmmm, pretty tough stuff. So it means . . . ‘by which the world has died to me, has become a corpse to me, has been rendered useless to me, beyond use to me, and shameful to me’ – for the crucifixion is the most shameful of all deaths.

Is that what we really want? Don’t worry. We pray this sort of prayer every Sunday so we have a chance to grow into it, a little more each Sunday, letting the world be crucified to us little by little, letting our need for the latest ipod or ipad or itouch die to us, so we no longer need it, require it desperately to get through life. No. It is just a handy tool or plaything to have, if we can afford it, but we don’t need it.

Like these dogs and cats and gerbils and hamsters, we just need friends and people to love us, and people to be loved by us.

And while we’re not using all that money on those corpse like doodads and gewgaws and gimcracks that we might otherwise buy, we can give it to some worthy cause like this, our spiritual home and that of our friends, or to other charities that will provide for the basic needs of pets such as these, or people such as us, needs like food and shelter and a place to be loved and people to be loved by – just as this church is a place where we can love people and be loved by them, all in the sight and on the site of a holy God who loves us all and longs to get through the protective covering of money that we wrap so tightly around ourselves, afraid that without it, no one will love us, no one will like us, everybody will abandon us and we’ll be left alone, unloved.

No, without the protective covering of money and property – or the extra money and property we don’t need – we’ll be that much more open to the love we do need, and it will be that much easier to give the love we can share.

So today we give thanks to Francis, and to God for Francis, who showed us the way of love not just to birds and flowers, and dogs and snakes, and wolves and planets, and even the rain in these wet times. He also showed us the way of love for the people around us whoever they are, these partners on the path of life with whom we share this life.

Thank you, God, for the person behind me and in front of me and on either side of me, and all around this church with whom I share the Peace of the Lord. Thank you for all the people all around this world! May I love them, may we love each other, as God loved us and gave himself for us.