A sermon preached for the Sunday marking the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis
On the seventh day, God saw that everything that God had made was very good.
This is creation. This is us, as part of creation. Creation is very good. We are very good.
That can be hard to hear. That can be hard to believe.
We’ve had a rough couple of weeks in terms of creation reflecting the goodness with which we have inherently been created. We’ve had a rough couple thousand years in terms of creation reflecting the goodness with which we have inherently been created. It is hard to grasp the goodness of creation when women are not trusted with the truth of their experience in this life, particularly by the men who see themselves fit to pass judgment on that experience. It is hard to grasp the goodness of creation when we mark one year since the deadliest random act of gun violence in our country in Las Vegas, with no movement, no real effort, to protect creation from such an event happening again.
We resign ourselves to an existence that is inherently not good. We accept that creation is inherently not good and we must prepare ourselves for that reality. We have to have trainings for active assailant scenarios in our churches, our schools, our movie theatres, our places of work. We have to teach our daughters to take every single precaution from how they dress to how they speak to how they enjoy life in order to not make themselves a target for the men who have not been taught that the women they meet are an inherently good part of creation and not a nameless piece to be used, abused, and discarded for their own pleasure. This is the reality we resign ourselves to, this is the creation we experience.
But, that’s not God’s creation. God’s creation is good, in fact it is very good. So, what are missing? Where is the disconnect occuring? Why do we live in a world that seems to be crumbling down all around us, when it has been declared by God to be very good from the outset of its creation?
Saint Francis noticed this distinction nearly 800 years ago. Giving up everything, status, wealth, he hoped to reconnect with the inherent goodness of creation. Francis was radically invested in connecting to this goodness. Divesting himself of everything that was connected to the inherent hypocrisy and greed of the man-created structures within God’s creation, Francis found himself utterly destitute, utterly disconnected from others, and connecting to creation deeper and more powerfully than anyone of his time. His order for life was rigid and demanding in its austerity, in an effort to strip away everything of this world that was not a part of that inherent goodness that was declared over the creation by God.
The story of Francis stopping a carriage to go out and preach to the birds is a perfect encapsulation of Francis’ effort to connect back to that original goodness. Disregarding what was expected, disregarding what was acceptable, Francis was determined to share in the word of God with that which was of God. And, if creation was very good, than it must be of God, and therefore necessary to share in the gospel message. Francis’ devotion was so complete and exacting, that he is recorded in history as the first person to receive the stigmata, that is the marks of Christ’s wounds from the crucifixion naturally appearing on the body. In other words, Francis’ devotion to finding the good in creation resulted in a constant physical reminder of the greatest moment of creation failing to live into its goodness.
Our goodness is still there. We are inherently good, no matter what we do, no matter how far we turn away from God, from Christ, from each other, our very nature as part of creation is inherent goodness. This is why God’s forgiveness, God’s grace, God’s love as shown through Christ, is readily available for us if we simply turn to it and accept it. Our nature as good removes any barrier we may try and put in our own way from accessing God. It is this nature, our being very good, that inspires us to want to be good in this world, even as the world around us encourages us to give up and accept a reality of inherent corruption of the soul.
We must stand up to this world as it encourages us to give up. We have to hold onto the goodness that is deeply encoded in our being. We have to trust that in that goodness, in striving to live up to this declaration from God, that we are not swinging for an unhittable goal, that we can realize our inherent goodness in this creation, and perhaps help creation see its inherent goodness too.
This is hard work. This is work that will beat us down. Tear us down. Leave us battered and bruised. Leave us ready to quit and just accept the world for how it is. Ready to just get through this life because whatever comes next, even if it’s nothing, cannot be as bad as this world can be. This is what the world is trying to do. This is what those who see the goodness in this world and actively reject it in order to better themselves at the expense of others hope we do, give up and give in to the vision of the world that they have put forward, where only a few are allowed to have it all while the rest of us fight to simply make it through to the next day.
That is not the world I see. I hope that is not the world you see. For, with Christ, we can see the reality of this creation, we can experience the inherent goodness of creation. We simply have to trust Christ, and take on his yoke.
We are the weary, those carrying heavy burdens. Sometimes we feel it a lot more than others. I know I get caught up in the news cycles and want to simultaneously punch things and ignore the headlines of the day in the hope they just go away. I have the privilege to ignore because often the evil of the world ultimately does not do active harm to a person like me, often it helps to reinforce my place of power and privilege. But I’m not the majority of creation. And unless we are all recognized as being inherently good, then we aren’t recognizing that anyone is inherently good. It is in these moments that I have to turn to Christ. It is in these moments that I have to remember that Christ’s yoke is easy, the burden light.
In taking on Christ’s yoke we are reminded why God would send his son to be sacrificed for our sins. In taking on Christ’s yoke we can see the creation as God saw it, very good. For it is in and through Christ that we learn again the hope that God had for us in our creation. It is in and through Christ that we see what we can be when we live into that inherent goodness. It is in and through Christ that we understand what happens when we forgo that inherent goodness and give into the reported good of man.
Christ’s yoke is easy and the burden light because it is of God and it is good. Our burdens are heavy and we travel this life weary and laden with them because we forget to look for that inherent goodness, because we get caught up in the ways of the world, forgetting that they are not the way of God.
Creation is very good.
We are very good.
It is imperative that we remember this. It is imperative that we fight for this understanding of our existence. When we do, we can’t help but care for all of creation. Whether it be fighting for environmental justice or for an end to systemic racism or systemic sexism or all the other machinations of this world that work to serve a select few at the expense of everyone else, we must stand up and not simply tell this world but show to this creation that it is inherently very good, if we would simply turn to God, turn to Christ, and accept that reality.
This is our call as Christian believers, modeling lives informed by the holy ones like Francis that have come before. This is our reality as a beloved part of God’s creation.
Creation is very good.
We are very good.