top of page

"St. Francis: Moving to the Edge to Find the Center" 19th Sunday After Pentecost - October 3, 2021

Updated: Oct 6, 2021




St. Francis: Moving to the Edge to Find the Center


I’d spend my summers in Odessa, TX with my grandparents when I was a kid. I know that sentence makes so many of you ripe with envy. Because who wouldn’t want to spend their summers in Odessa with its diverse landscapes and all the cultural amenities it had to offer in the 1980’s.


In my grandparent’s home, for as long as I can remember, was a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Of course, when I was a child, I didn’t know who that was but as I got older I did and my grandmother would often look over at the statue and say “Francis, what’s a good Catholic like you doin’ in a backslidin’ Baptist home like this?!”


My growing to understand who St. Francis actually was coincided with my coming into the Episcopal Church. Because people actually talked about him. (And in the Episcopal Church we have Franciscan Orders – our own Edie DeTomasso being a Third Order Franciscan – so if you have any questions about Franciscans – don’t ask me, talk to Edie.) But…people around me were talking about him. So, I checked out a movie – because you could still do that then…Franco Zeffierli’s 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon and I watched it over and over…even those super 70’s scenes that looked more like a Carpenters music video than a film about St. Francis. But the story captivated me, as it has others for centuries. And I think in some ways, Francis became a misunderstood saint. We find him safe – fixed in garden beds, an easy-going nature lover with vines attached to his clay feet and I sometimes wonder if all those statues were to somehow become animated, where would they go…? I think they would run out of all the gardens desperate to find a leper to embrace or a beggar to feed, as Francis seemed to be anything but a creature of comfort. As one biographer put it,


"[St. Francis] devoured fasting as a man devours food. He plunged after poverty as men have dug madly for gold. And it is precisely the positive and passionate quality of this part of his personality that is a challenge to the modern mind in the whole problem of the pursuit of pleasure."


Reading through Francis’ Letters, Admonitions, and other writings you see a man trying to devote his entire being to the poverty, compassion, and obedience of Jesus. Writing such words as,


“A servant of God may be recognized as possessing the Spirt of the Lord in this way; if the flesh does not pride itself when the Lord does some good through (them)…”


AND


“For what a (person) is before God, that (they are) and nothing more…”

In Richard Rhor’s book on the Franciscan way called, Eager to Love, he writes:


St. Francis shows us a deep reality, that we must go to the edge to find the center.


You must go to the edge to find the center.


From the moment Francis stripped in the town square and handed the clothes off his back to his merchant father until he took his last breath he always moved toward the edge – embraced poverty, lived with lepers, begged for the beggars, changed and challenged authority structures within cities and the Church, formed a monastic movement whose monastery was the world, traveled to sit down with the Sultan in the middle of the Crusades…why did he keep moving toward the edge like that?


Because he fell in love with Jesus…not the Church, not a role or position, not an institution. He fell in love with Jesus and we see all throughout the gospels Jesus moving to the edge and those who went with him and those who were healed by him found the center.


Just one story and example of this comes from the gospel of Mark. Jesus and the disciples travel to a kind of geographic edge into Gentile territory and find themselves on the edge of a town in a kind of religious edge because they’re in a cemetery and that’s considered an “unclean” place to be. Then they encounter a man on the edge of sanity – he’s tortured, possessed, broken, chained and trapped due to his illness – abandoned by his family, his friends, his community. Jesus heals him – everyone is speechless except the man who asks to go with Jesus and his disciples. But Jesus says, “No. Return to your home, go back to your people.” You see…Jesus moved toward the edge and in doing so the disciples were centered in the healing love of God and this man, once alienated from everyone and everything, is placed back in the center of his community.


We must go to the edge to find the center.


Over the past several months, our clergy and our vestry have been discerning how we at St. Andrew’s might move more and more to the edge. Recently you received a letter from me in which I referred to being an “Outward Facing Church.” That was in no way to suggest our church here does not have a history or is not currently facing outward and engaged in ministries across our community and world. But the work is never done – so what would it look like for us to move a little more and a little more to the edge? I want to invite you to imagine with us three edges to move toward. The first edge is local, we are already involved. Our breakfast and feeding ministries, our community events like Truckin’ in which we raised over $10,000 for local non-profits this summer, our participation in Open & Affirming Congregations, our involvement in StoryBridge and responding to children’s literacy needs here in our community, our deepening relationship with Margaret Wills School, and the growing possibilities to connect with our refugee and immigrant community, and our local mental health community. These works are just a few and are already bearing fruit, but in many ways the work has just begun.

The second edge is beyond our local borders. We are already in conversation with the Bishop to the Navajo people. Thankfully and fortunately for us, Mother Jo is friends with that Bishop and he is excited and encouraged by our desire to move toward that community. And to clarify, we are not talking about a “pet the poor project”, we are not talking about a model churches all too often implemented - whereby we parachute in and tell a community what we’re going to do and then leave and in doing so continue the damaging lineage of patronizing and even oppressive forms of ministry. No, we’re talking about developing a long-term relationship, we’re talking about learning from a beautiful, deep, and spiritual culture, and finding ways to walk together toward the edge – with a real possibility of our first step in the journey beginning this summer.


The third edge is beyond the borders of our country. This will take more time but I want you to imagine with us what it might look for us a few years down the road to move toward the edge of maybe our Sister Diocese the Dominican Republic, or Haiti, or maybe there’s a community in Central or South America. What might it look like for St. Andrew’s to lead out in such a way here that would even inspire other churches in our Diocese to be involved?


This is a season of the year in which we ask of you to give. Words like stewardship, and tithing, and pledging are often used and those are not bad words, but I think they often wash over us. But what we’re talking about here is deeper than that. When you give, you’re not giving to a budget, you’re not giving to a bottom-line…we’re talking about living out the radical generosity of the kingdom of God, giving to a holy and sacred work begun and waiting to begin in and through St. Andrew’s both inside and outside the walls of our church.


We are a church of storytellers, poets, artists, musicians, doctors, nurses, educators, therapists, veterinarians, engineers, people who love to work with children, people who love to serve the elderly, people who know how to build things whether it be a wheelchair ramp or a house, people who love to bake, cook, even brew beer. People who are leaders who can think outside the box and people for whom there is no box. And all of them…all of you at some point in your life you fell in love with Jesus. So what’s it going to look like for us to continue to share the love of Christ in all those ways and more?


Because when you give…that is what you’re giving to.


You are giving to a beloved community of faith, going to the edges together, to find the center together.


Amen.










40 views0 comments

Comments