St. Francis of Assisi: Gentleness, Humility, and Simplicity -this guy knew how to live like Jesus!

Text: Matthew 11: 25-30

Gentleness, Humility, and Simplicity. One show on the FYI channel that I quite enjoy is an extreme home building show called “Tiny House Nation.” I think I enjoy it so much because it shows ordinary Americans who –for a variety of reasons- decide to really take these virtues –gentleness, humility, and simplicity- to heart. They work with specialized builders to create a functional self-sustaining house for their family in well under 500 square feet. The concept is simple: Figure out what are the barest of essential features in a home that you need, build with natural and sustainable materials that are gentle on our planet, and live a better quality of life with a significantly smaller quantity of stuff. Many homes are only around 300 square feet. They’ve featured families with small children, families with teenagers, families who ran home-based businesses… all making a conscious choice to live simply and gently, in harmony with the natural beauty around them. During the course of the show, the host lays all the family’s possessions on the ground outside and gives them 4 or 5 sterilite tubs (representing the total storage space to be found in their new tiny house) to fill with those items that they really feel necessary to hold on to, the rest of their possessions go to yard sale.

The culture may continue to say that a bigger house and more stuff is a sign of success and prestige, but those in Tiny House Nation are changing that narrative and choosing to live with “Enough” rather than strive to prove their prestige with more and more “Stuff.” They always show the family living in their new 300 square foot home after a few months and they overwhelmingly report how peaceful it is to live with less and to enjoy the land around their tiny house as a true extension of their living space.

To live in simplicity, gentleness, and humility is a pretty countercultural message. Our world tells us to fill our lives up with “stuff” and to strive for success at all costs. As a result of this collective cultural arrogance, we are burdened with debt, burdened with stuff, burdened with guilt over how much waste and damage to our planet is caused by our materialism, and burdened with stress because we strive so hard for worldly success that we forget to take vacations or to spend quality time with our families. We’re in a constant hurry, on a constant deadline, too rushed to stop for a moment and marvel at the splendor of God’s creation in the sunset or the magnificent colors in the changing foliage.

Jesus says “Come unto me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”

Gentleness, humility, and simplicity. Our vision statement says that we are “forgiven and invited to live and love like Jesus.”  Today we hear in our gospel a clear invitation to live like Jesus. He says “learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” To live like Jesus means to live with gentleness and humility.

As a faithful Jew, Jesus knew and lived out his own scriptures. The prophet Micah’s words pretty much summed up the ethical expectations of any faithful follower of the Lord, “What does the Lord require of you but to do Justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” This is the standard for ethical behavior that the prophets were always calling the people back to. Jesus lived out this message in ways that were countercultural and unsettling for the religious authorities of his own time.

Jesus called out injustice when he saw it and challenged the religious establishment for their laws which excluded those deemed unworthy of relationship with God –the sick, the blind, the weak, the young, the widowed, the female. Jesus challenged the pride of the Pharisees and lifted up the meek as Blessed. Jesus had a whole lot to say about money and called his disciples to humility through the way they managed their finances. Jesus made it abundantly clear that our money is not our own. It’s proper purpose is not to make ourselves look better but to bring glory to God by caring for the least of these.

St. Francis, whom we commemorate today, was not Jesus. In his youth he was anything but humble.  He famously said, “I have been all things unholy, if God can work through me he can work through anyone!” Born into a wealthy merchant family, Francis had a taste for the finer things in life and lusted after more and more prestige. His goal was to become a knight and to eventually make it into the royal court. After being taken prisoner in battle for a year, Francis experienced a gradual change of heart and began to hear God’s call.  He renounced his inheritance and stripped down to his undergarments in the town square as he set off to embrace his vow of poverty.

St. Francis was not perfect, but he was a champion of gentleness, humility, and simplicity. The rule that he and his companions followed was simple –live by the Gospel! People thought he was crazy! He took to heart Jesus’ command to the rich young man to sell all his goods and give to the poor, the command to the apostles to take nothing with them for their journey, and the demand to take up the cross daily. He never set out to have followers, but people were so puzzled by his joyful disposition in spite of abject poverty that they began to listen to his call to repentance and his message of humility and living gently with all caught on. In just ten years, 5000 people were part of the Franciscan movement.

Francis’ message of humility was embodied by the way he related to all of God’s creatures. He taught the world about God’s brotherhood and practiced true equality, showing respect and love to every single person he met –whether they were a beggar or the Pope. His sense of Christian kinship extended beyond humanity to Creation itself. Rather than thinking of himself as a higher being than the animals or the Earth, Francis saw himself as brother to the animals and everything that God created and declared good. He took Christ’s command to love neighbor and expanded it to ridiculous lengths, he believed that God had created everything to be family and to provide mutual care and joy.

St. Francis rejected his lifestyle full of “stuff” and his dreams of prestige in favor of a simple, gentle, humble life. He found God there, he found freedom and joy in simplicity, and indeed found rest for his weary soul.

St. Francis may seem like a legend or a super-human -so incredible that no one can do what he did. But the truth is that Jesus still calls us daily to learn from his example of gentleness and humility. As our materialistic culture has damaged our planet and contributed to rapid climate change, Christians all around the world are taking a stand for eco-justice, kindness, and humility. Instead of continuing to be part of the problem, stuck in the mindset that God gave us this world to do with as we please, Christians all around the world are beginning to advocate for clean air, lower carbon emissions, clean water, repurposing and recycling of unwanted goods. Christians all around the world are feeding the hungry through community gardens or even gleaning the orchards which we do in our own backyard here in Adams County. We are becoming closer to nature and in so doing appreciating the gift that our world is and our responsibility to treat it with gentleness and humility; not considering ourselves the world’s master but its brother or sister. Christians all over the world are getting creative with their worship spaces and are finding ways to bring the outdoors in, to remind us of the natural gifts that surround us. Our own baptistery is an example of that. As we hear the sound of the trickling water, we remember our own baptism and we remember the power and gift of water. We know that is is essential to life and we take seriously our responsibility as disciples to ensure that everyone has enough clean water to drink, to care for the least of these by caring for creation. That’s what St. Francis taught and that’s what Jesus calls us to as we live in gentleness, humility, and simplicity for the sake of the whole weary world.

Amen.

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