St. Mary's KC -Feast of St. Francis
Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce
October 8, 2023
I bring you greetings from your diocesan staff - we are here to help you in any way we can, and we mean that. I am especially happy to be back with you all for this visitation - it is a joy to be with you and to celebrate in this beautiful space.
I want to start out by saying that today's gospel has always called me to task a bit. "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Jesus said those words, and I, at times, find Jesus' yoke far from easy, and his burden heavy. Maybe you have felt that way - being a follower of Jesus is not always easy. Especially when you are in positions of leadership in the church, and here I am talking about any leadership position - it can be difficult to love and Jesus loves, and live a Christ-like life.
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, I know that Francis took on the yoke of Christ and carried that yoke with him all the days of his life. He bore the burden of living a Christ-like life with seeming ease.
I want to share with you all this morning that in 2016 Steve and I, together with my older sister, my twin sister and my brother-in-law travelled to Italy. On my bucket list was to go to Assisi. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis. I especially wanted to see the San Damiano cross - the cross which spoke out to St. Francis, calling him to mission and ministry. A replica of the cross is in the Church of San Damiano close to Assisi. When the Poor-Clares moved from San Damiano to the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi in 1257, they took the original San Damiano Cross with them and still guard it. It now hangs in the Basilica over the altar of the Chapel of the Crucifix.
When I walked in the front door of the Basilica where the original San Damiano cross hangs in Assisi -- I didn't need anyone to tell me where that cross was. The minute I walked in the door I was literally drawn to it. It wasn't right there in full sight - it was in a side chapel. I felt this pull - and I went right to it. My husband asked me, "where are you going?" - "I'm going to the San Damiano cross."
There is something about that cross that is mystical. You can feel it when you are there. Certainly St. Francis must have felt that way - remember it was in front of this cross that St.
Francis as a young man was praying - and received the word from God that he was to rebuild the church.
After that moment St. Francis was indeed transformed - and his life was changed forever. He was a new creation. God spoke to St. Francis from that cross.
He took on the yoke of Christ - and from the stories we hear about him, he made the burden seem light.
What about us? How can we enter into that space where we, too, take on the yoke of Christ? How can we learn from Jesus? What does St. Francis' story say to us today?
Pray. Yup. Pray. St. Francis was standing at the foot the San Damiano cross praying. And his life was changed forever.
I will confess to you all that sometimes the busyness of my life as a bishop gets in the way of my prayer life. I will also confess to you all that when I don't pray regularly, I can feel the yoke of Christ weigh me down - why? Because I'm not centered. When I pray, I am much more centered and there isn't anything that I can't face.
I think the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker said it best when he said,
"Prayer might not change things for you, but it will sure change you for things."
Shoemaker also was quoted as saying, "Don't pray to escape trouble. Don't pray to be comfortable in your emotions. Pray to do the will of God in every situation. Nothing else is worth praying for."
St. Francis discovered these truths that Rev. Shoemaker shared long ago. His prayer transformed his life, and I firmly believe it was prayer that spurred him on to years of faithful service praying to do the will of God in every situation. St. Francis understood, as the psalmist said, My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. It was to God - to Christ Jesus - that St. Francis turned.
So whether you pray the daily office, practice Lectio Divina, practice Christian meditation, or just have daily conversations with God - the important thing is to pray. Stay centered. Then in taking on the Yoke of Christ, your burden - our burden - will be light.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!