Notes for a more coherent sermon—Feast Day of St. Clare

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON 1 P.M.

I’m surprised that I haven’t posted the following sermon before:

Sunday, August 12 , 2007 (Feast Day of St. Clare)
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears (Toronto)
1:00 p.m.

1st Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 1- 11

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you,
which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this
gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.
Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was
buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the
Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at
the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen
asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last
of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called
an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of
God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I
worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was
with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and
this is what you believed.

Gospel: Luke 18: 9 – 14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down
on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the
temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The
Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am
not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this
tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up
to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a
sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified
before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who
humbles himself will be exalted.”

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

Depending on the church calendar, the feast day of St. Clare of Assisi
is celebrated either August 11th or 12th. It is therefore appropriate
to spend a few moments reflecting on the life of someone who has
challenged me to be serious about faith, and yet also tried to get me
to laugh at my own absurdities.

About 800 years ago Italy was in ferment. There were wars and
political violence; religious strife, particularly between western
Christians and the Muslim world, was a dominant factor in international
affairs; economic hardships for some while new sources of wealth for
others was an all too common source of social tension; epidemics and
famine were feared.

And into this world came some very odd people. Voices for peace were raised by those in the military; people of property renounced their priviledge and lived among and as the most vulnerable; people of firm religious conviction found ways to listen for the voice of God across cultural and religious barriers—everyday stubborn and cantankerous people looked to find ways to love one another.

It seemed that the strangest area in Italy at that time was Assisi—for Assisi was the home both of Francesco Bernadone and Clare di Offreduccio. Francesco was the son of a rich merchant, an army veteran and former POW, discharged due to health concerns. Clare was the daughter of wealthy minor nobility who had to flee her home for a while due to civil war. Both had a personal history of generosity to friends and those in need, but no more than any others who grasped the responsibility of those with wealth and power to the community they lived in.

These two, who we know as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, were merely two of a large number of people who at about the same time
heard the call to love one another and then set about exploring what
such a call means to themselves, to their community and to the world.
Some, like St. Francis, were orators and poets. Others, St. Clare,
were administrators and organisers. All shared the idea that sainthood
wasn’t for the perfect but for the imperfect—we can, with the help of
God, live out in the here and now an echo of the shalom kingdom.

These early Franciscans and Poor Clares weren’t unfamiliar with living in harmony with the daily demands of their faith. They attended mass, gave to charitable endeavours, attempted to be good family members. But this wasn’t sufficient for them. They wanted to respond more intimately to the loving presence of God and less to the structured way that a faithful life had become.

They didn’t see the life that they were called to—voluntary poverty and simplicity, a rejection of violence and priviledge and the social barriers
so readily woven between individuals and communities—as a grand
gesture that elevated them above other believers. Rather, they embraced their life and encouraged others to find truth in theirs, challenging everyone by
example to move closer to the fullness of life shown in the example of Jesus’
life among us.

This spirit of seeking to be with those in need, to help one another, to embrace peace rather than conflict, to find a way of life closer to that of the creator, continues to move among us. There are many Poor Clares’ communities, living in ways inspired by the rule for the order devised by St. Clare, that seek through prayer and charity, contemplation and a model of life in community, to imitate in a joyous fashion the life of the risen Christ.

Like she did some 800 years St. Clare inspires not only those called to a life of simplicity and prayer. She inspires those that want to hear the voice
of God in creation—a spiritual approach to cherishing the environment
and seeking to share it with all those who are within God’s creation.
She inspires those wanting to provide a haven for those on the
outside—both those that do it through communities of hospitality such
as the Catholic Worker movement and those that do so within a more
formal structure such as St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing Society. And
she inspires those who need to be reminded that prayer is active
participation in the life of the world.

St. Clare, and the others in the circle that come together in Assisi, didn’t come to their conclusions in a vacuum. They had heard from their earliest moments of what happened when God walked among us, that Jesus spoke to those, such as the Samaritan woman at the well and the tax collector for the Roman occupiers, who were outcasts and yet who wanting to be included in the embrace of a loving creator. They learned about Jesus who called blessings on the peacemakers and healed the leper. They learned about the last judgement, when people would be held to account for how they treated the hungry and homeless and dispossessed of the world. They were challenged to renounce the
things of this world and embrace the things of the next. And in a time
of chaos and fear, they chose to do the ridiculous thing of becoming
powerless, peaceful and poor.

The renounced and reclaimed—they renounced priviledge and reclaimed
joy; they renounced power and reclaimed hope; they renounced status and reclaimed love.  It was a time of liberation.

Life to St. Clare and for St. Francis was upside down. If one fasted,  it wasn’t to deny life but to embrace a sense of freedom from the restrictions of normal life. If one wanted to be heard, one spoke to the birds as what was said in
creation was forever present. This was a Pentecost movement, born in
joy and exuberance and hard work and faith.

800 years later there are around us modern Clares. They will be found
in places of conflict caring for the suffering. They will be found trying to encourage people to share what they have with one another. They will be found
getting people to laugh at themselves.  Some are within religious
orders; others are in movements for calling for economic and social
justice; some are in places of conflict seeking to explore non-violence
in dangerous lands; others are found on the 4th floor of an apartment
building making a meal for their neighbour who’s just got out of the
hospital. They can be advising the powerful and panhandling on the
streets—they are among us. Like all saints, they aren’t perfect.
And like all saints, they make a difference in the same way we all
can—doing what we are able to do to show that love is ever present in
the world.

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