Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
October 4, 2015, Feast of St. Francis
St. Francis was the preacher who said preach always, and if you must, use words. Francis preached through his actions, he taught by the life he lived—a life characterized by incredibly joyful abandon and total dependence on God.
Today we are most likely to see Francis as a greenish gray garden statue either holding a birdbath with small puffy birds on its rim, or with outstretched open hands, cupped as if to hold birdseed. Franciscans, however, see Jesus out stretched hands as a sign that he had nothing. Hands open, unencumbered by possessions, open for God to fill.
As you may know, Francis was the son of a fabric merchant at the time in European history that trade in luxurious fabrics could make a man quite wealthy. He wasn’t much of a student, but wanted to become a knight and when his hill town began warring with a nearby hill town, he went off to fight. Wounded he spent time alone while he wounds healed, and had experiences that led him to wonder about God for the first time.
Recovered, he clothed himself in richly brocaded cape, tunic and breeches and set out for Rome to see if he could understand more about God. Walking up the steps to a church, he saw in the shadows the reflection of two eyes, and walking towards them into the shadows, he came upon three men, two older and one a young man sitting in rags who asked him for a coin. They got into a conversation and the young man openly admired the beauty of his cloak and his clothes. Francis offered him the cloak to keep and told him they could exchange clothes for the day, after which he would need to take back his other clothes to return home.
So Francis spent the day sitting in the shadows with beggars, dressed in rags, asking those who passed by for a coin. He listened to the comments filled with disdain for the rich who ignored the poor resting at their feet. At the end of the day they shared the meager food they had received in their begging, and then, placing his cloak in the arms of the young man, put his fine clothing back on and headed home.
Traveling the distance to Assisi, Francis realized that he had somehow felt comfortable dressed in rags. He felt that he had spent that day as the person he really was, rather than the dandy riding his horse home through the hills of Umbria. Huddled with the old, the sick and the poverty stricken, he had come home.
This was the beginning of his transformation, one which ultimately led him to a reversal of his life that echoed this early story. One day, he wandered into a church in the church of San Damiano in Umbria. Kneeling before the crucifix, Francis heard God call him to “Rebuild my church.” It became the goal of his life. He didn’t rebuild it by creating edifices but through his actions.
There's a wonderful legend about Saint Francis who one day informed his brethren that he planned to go into the nearby village on a preaching mission. He invited a novice to go along. On their way, they passed an injured man and Francis promptly stopped, saw to the poor fellow's needs and arranged medical care for him. They went on and soon passed a homeless man who was near starvation. Again, Francis stopped his journey and ministered to the hungry, homeless man. So it went, through the day: people in need, Francis lovingly caring for them as best he could until the sun was low in the sky. He told his novice friend it was time for them to return, now, to the monastery for evening prayers. But the young man said, "Father, you said we were coming to town to preach to the people." Francis smiled. Then he said, "My friend, that's what we've been doing all day." We, too, live out who we are by our actions, by the specific decisions we make, day after day, year after year. We can be the one Bible many people will read. We can move through our lives becoming more and more like the Christ we love and serve. I don’t think this is pie-in-the-sky theology. I believe that as people who follow Jesus Christ, it is our purpose, and our goal, to become more Christ-like as we age. To spend our years learning and growing in our devotion to God, and in our efforts to be transparent to the Christ we follow. A parish is, without a doubt, called to a similar path. Called to be continually looking at who it is and who and what it is called to be. This requires an ability to make changes to enable it to remain relevant in people’s lives. To be a place of sanctuary, healing and growth. Today, Christ Church, within its revered Anglo-Catholic heritage, reflects a willingness to remain relevant. It reflects a history of coming through times of challenge more focused and in that focus more visibly serving Christ.,
It is that transparency to God’s action and movement that we seek to embody here at Christ Church. To be a place of radical welcome. A place of focused relevance. A place holding to a highly valued tradition as it ensures that it remains relevant.
All that we are today, and all the ways that we embody the history of the past, the connection with the present, and the hope of the future, doesn’t just happen. They require the commitment of both paid staff and those who sit in the pew. To be Christ Church in the 21st century requires a yearly financial commitment that we haven’t for some years been able to reach. Our attendance is relatively even—a fine story today when many church are getting smaller. However, the financial commitment has gotten smaller each year. We have had even attendance, diminished income.
This effects our ability to have hope in the future. It does so because we use much too much of our endowment to make up for lost pledges. It also does so because without a well funded staff, we cannot offer the kind of programming and parish life that this parish has always had in the past—diminishing our ability to form future generations, to raise up and nurture a strong parish base and the leadership needed for the future.
Everyone who sits in our pews is part of our parish. We need your help. Without it we become a hollow shell and hopes for the present or the future cannot become reality. We need your help to staff our parish, to meet your needs for support, counsel, and community. We need your help to turn on the lights and keep our boilers going. We are asking for your help today.
Soon you will be receiving a pledge card and a brochure that lays out our gifts and our needs. Please read it and make a pledge. It isn’t a legal contract. No one will come after you if something comes up in your life and you cannot fulfill. It is a promise in faith to support this parish, to help us be the open welcoming hands of Jesus we so want to be. To help keep our church doors open, our stirring worship ongoing, and our aging building well maintained.
There are so many ways we, as a parish, preach without words. We cannot do it without your support. You cannot do it without the support of every other person here. Let’s become a community where we are all giving. Where we all know the privilege of being able to support this parish. The honor of taking on the challenge, the responsibility. The joy of offering who we are and what we can give, to God.