“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Where there is despair

A reflection on Luke 16:19-31

Francis of Assisi is best remembered as the saint of animals. It is in his memory that we hold our annual pet blessing. Normally this blessing would take place on a Sunday morning in October during the 10:00 service. But this year we have guest preachers each Sunday in Oct. to celebrate our life and ministry together. And I thought having a pet blessing would be just too much. So, we had it last night. It was a wonderful occasion for us to gather with our beloved pets and celebrate the joy they bring us.

St. Francis lived in the 12th century. He was born to a wealthy family and had all the luxuries of a good education. But a series of war related injuries and illnesses caused him to reconsider his life. Over a couple of years he changed from being a carefree playful young man to a man serious about helping the poor and caring for the world around him. To do this he began a religious order, now known as the Franciscans.

There are many legends about the amazing power Francis had with animals. One of them tells us that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, there was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, but the saint pressed on and when he found the wolf he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” (Here I picture Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, come to rehabilitate the wolf and the town into a pack that can get along). So, Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens he made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger” the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.

Not only was Francis the Dog Whisperer of the 12th century, but he also cared deeply for the poor and the hungry. The life and stories of Francis of Assisi connect us to our scripture readings today, giving us an example of how we are to be mindful of how we live. We are to remember that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. We are to share, intentionally, generously, with others. The rich man in our Gospel is not mindful; he is blind to what is going on around him. He does not ignore Lazarus, he doesn’t even see him. The rich man's blindness is not physical, his eyesight is fine. Rather its blindness caused by self absorption. Stories like this one from Luke are intended to help us see that our actions in this life have consequences.

One of the reasons the Episcopal Church has adopted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to give us concrete ways to live with our eyes and hearts open. These goals show us we can really see the world we live in and make a difference. The eight goals are: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; Achieve universal primary education; Promote gender equality and empower women; Reduce child mortality; Improve maternal health; Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; Ensure environmental sustainability; Develop a global partnership for development. These goals define real needs in the world and ask us to develop real responses to them. As a congregation we are doing this in three ways: we use and sell Bishop’s Blend coffee; we work to resettle refugees; and today we had our first conversation on keeping people safe in our church.

Bishops Blend is Fair Trade, which means the purchase of this coffee pays the coffee growers a living wage. By earning a living wage the coffee grower is less inclined to supplement the family income by growing and selling illegal drugs. By earning a living wage the coffee grower is less inclined to sneak into this country as an undocumented alien. Paying people a living wage allows families to remain intact, gain an education, and live productive lives. Every time we drink a cup of coffee in this church we are helping families. Every time we buy a bag of coffee to use at home we are helping. And, St. Hilary’s retains a small profit when you buy your coffee here which we donate to our companion Diocese of SE Mexico. Buying, using, and selling Bishops Blend coffee enables us to work on all eight goals.

A second way we are participating in the Millennium Development Goals, or MDG’s, is through our work with resettling refugees. This summer alone we have helped by providing kitchen items: dishes, pots and pans, eating and cooking utensils, for over 20 families. Working with refugees enables us to participate in seven of the goals. Each family we help is one less family facing poverty and hunger, one more family to receive and education, one more family that empowers its women, reduces child mortality, improves maternal health care, combats disease, and develops a global partnership through IRIM. And perhaps in some way I do not know resettling refugees also works to ensure environmental sustainability.

The third way we are participating in the MDG’s is by focusing on Keeping God’s People Safe. This ministry is new for us, at least in the concerted effort we made this morning to look at the reality of abuse in our world and how we, as a church community, can actively work to keep all people safe.

Each of these three intentional efforts requires very little individual effort on our part. But collectively they are making a huge difference in the world. Most of all by engaging in them and keeping them in the forefront of our ministry we have a constant reminder of the needs of the world and how, from our very blessed lives, we are able to address those needs.

St. Francis is attributed with a prayer. Most of you will know it. It is found in our red Book of Common Prayer on page 833, #62. Please open your prayer books and let’s pray it together:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.