FBC Lawrence Secondary Menu

Learning from the Legends: Francis of Assisi Teaches us Celebration

Luke 19.28-44

Francis of Assisi was your typical spoiled rich kid. He was born in 1181, and spent most of his early years partying and carousing and doing pretty much whatever he wanted. He wore the finest clothes and threw money around like it wasn’t even his…because it wasn’t. His parents were well-off and funded his lavish lifestyle. He went to sporting events, feasts, and partied most of the time.

Until, according to the legend, he was taken captive and a ransom was demanded. Now, here is where the story gets interesting. Because you would think that rich mommy and daddy would show up pretty quick, wouldn’t you? But they didn’t find the money for a ransom…for almost a year. Meanwhile, he spent that year in captivity, reevaluating his life.

And he didn’t like what he saw. Before the end of the year, he had decided it was time for a change. Or more to the point, God decided for him. Francis received visions from God that called him to a new life. A life of poverty. A life of serving the church. A life of celebration. But not the celebration that he was used to in those early years…food and wine and women and clothes. God showed him that that life was empty and meaningless. True celebration came in his identification with Christ. After his father finally showed up with the money, Francis took a vow of poverty, traded in his fine clothes for a plain brown habit, and began preaching the good news. The first people that he met on the road in his new life…beat him up and left him for dead. But still he celebrated! Because he was living for the Gospel, and that is all that mattered! Later in life, as the story goes, Francis saw a flock of birds by the side of the road, so he went and preached to them. Why not? That heart of celebration, that life of celebration, came from within, and so it overflowed everywhere he went!

Francis is attributed with a quote that proclaims a life of celebration: A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows. Francis didn’t just put on a happy face, naïve to the struggles of the world. Instead, he committed his life to bringing sunlight to the shadows of the world. For Francis, he knew that that is what Christ did, and what we are called to do as well. That heart of celebration comes not from generic optimism or from “the power of positive thinking.” But it comes from identification with the Christ who drove away the shadows in his life and ministry.

Which brings us to today’s Scripture passage. The Palm Sunday reading. Except did you notice what was missing from the Palm Sunday reading? The Palms! According to Luke, this is not Palm Sunday. Mark and Matthew have palms, or at least branches. John literally calls them palms. It is John’s Gospel that gives us the name of the Sunday. But not Luke. But according to Luke, this isn’t even Palm Sunday. They laid coats and cloaks on the ground, sure, but no palms.  If all we had was the Gospel of Luke, today we would be celebrating…”Dirty Coat Sunday!”

Which isn’t all that bad, right? I mean, nothing wrong with the palms. They are great, adorable when the kids show up with them. Love the symbolism of the palm ashes for Ash Wednesday. But you have to admit that it is a rather foreign concept for us. Here in Kansas, there is nothing contextual about the experience of climbing trees, pulling off palm branches, and laying them on the ground, in order to give someone honor. There is nothing about that experience that makes sense to us, does it?

But we get dirty coats, right? I mean, here were these folks who were so enamored with that Jesus was trying to do that they were willing to take off their coats and lay them on the ground. Here is where the celebration comes in. What does it say? They “joyfully” praised God as they threw their clothes on the ground. Just like Francis throwing his fine clothes to his father as he put on his rough habit, that is what true joy looks like, what inner celebration looks like. “I am going to take off my coat and lay it in the dirt for this guy.” These people must have been amazed at what Jesus was all about, and they were willing to celebrate who he was and throw sensibility to the wind. Just like Francis preaching to the birds.

So, in honor of Francis and the folks on the street in Jerusalem that day, I want to tell you a few stories in celebration of Dirty Coat Sunday!

The story is told of Francis one day, before his calling into ministry. He was selling his family’s wares at the market, making money hand over fist. The rich and the powerful came to “ohh” and “ahh” over the fine fabrics he sold. In the middle of a sale, a man stumbled into his booth. He was clearly poor, likely homeless, and smelled to high heaven. Francis was sure that he had never worn anything as fine as he sold, had probably not even touched anything so exquisite. Francis shooed him away, and completed the sale, and continued throughout the day. But he couldn’t shake the memory of that man, and he thought of him throughout the day. Finally, he could take it no more. He left his booth, including his wares and the money box, and ran through the streets, looking for the man. He finally found him and emptied his pockets, giving him everything he had on him. He even took off his fine coat and gave it to the man. It would never be the same again, between the body odor and the dust and dirt of the hovel where this man lived. Francis knew his friends would mock him for his foolishness, and indeed his father would explode in rage when he found out. But it didn’t matter. He had done the right thing, and it fed his soul.

 A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.

Maria was hiking her favorite trail in the Smokies on a Saturday. Up to the Chimneys, lunch on the summit, and back down by dark. This time, she stayed up a little longer, watching the storm clouds as they started to form. So, the trek down was closer to sunset than she was used to. On the way down, she saw a family standing in the middle of the trail, struggling to decide what to do. Maria saw it all the time. A family drives up for a picnic and they think that they are going to try mountain climbing on a whim. The trail is longer than they think and they get stuck in the dark on the way back down. This family wasn’t sure if they should stay on the trail and try and get to the top, or turn back. Maria made it clear that they were not anywhere near to the top, and by the look of those clouds, they needed to turn back right away. As she left them, she noticed the older grandma with them. She was wearing brightly-colored flip flops and a lightweight t-shirt. Bad news. Maria couldn’t do anything about the flip flops, but she could give her her jacket. She paused a minute…it was one of her favorites. But the weather changed quickly up here and it actually could mean life or death. She handed it over, knowing she’d never see it again. But it was worth it. She knew she was making a difference. And that difference brought her joy.

 A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.

Jack was absentmindedly driving home on a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon when he saw the unthinkable. A woman was walking across the street when a car turned on red without looking and hit her full on.  She went flying into the air and before he could even stop to think, Jack had already pulled over into the parking lot. He called 911 while he ran to check on the woman. Thankfully, she was alive and talking but her leg was most likely broken and she was hurting pretty bad. Jack wasn’t a doctor, and he didn’t have a clue what to do, but he knew she was cold. It was raining and the woman was shivering. Before he thought twice, he took off his coat and laid it over her. He knew that it might well be ruined…between the dirt and the blood and the rain, it might be the end of that hand-me-down Brooks Brothers. But it was worth it. It kept her warm waiting for the ambulance, and as he watched it drive away, he felt like he had done something meaningful for someone. So, it cost him a coat, but it had made a difference. And that difference brought him joy.

A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.

Jesus rode the donkey through the adoring crowds, but noticed that they began to thin out as he made his way through town. He continued riding, until he got to the far side, where he could look back and see the town open beneath him. He picked up one of the dirty coats that had lined the street in honor and glory and held it in his hand. Those who had sung “hosanna” and “glory” caught a glimpse of what was happening, but they failed to recognize what he was really all about. They celebrated his glory, but they didn’t understand that he had to suffer. It was like no one really did. He couldn’t be the person he was called to be, couldn’t speak out for peace and justice and love and change, and not run afoul of those who wanted to keep things the way they were. The status quo. Between the religious leaders who were willfully in opposition to his way of peace, and the faithful followers who really didn’t understand what it would cost, Jesus began to cry. He couldn’t help himself. He put his face in the dusty and dirty coat that he had picked up, and wept. Tears for the injustice of Jerusalem and the destruction that always awaited cities who cared more about their rich and powerful than their poor and needy. Tears for those who caught a glimpse of peace, but didn’t have the power or the ability to bring it to full completion. Tears for the children and the vulnerable and the weak who would be caught up in the hubris of the rich and arrogant. He cried out all the tears he had left. And when the dirty coat was stained and wet with his tears, he dropped it to the ground again. He would be back to tell the story of peace and hope. And it would be his undoing.

A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.

It was just a few days later, when the sound of the whip on his back echoed through the same city streets. Jesus had been arrested, tried, convicted, and now was strapped to the cross as he endured the beatings and punishment of a common criminal. Indeed, he had told the story of peace and hope. Indeed, those who had their own power and their own story could not stand to hear Jesus’ version of justice. And so they led him to his death, with glee and vengeance. As he made his way through the city streets, he remembered what felt like a lifetime ago, when they called out to him as their king and cried “Hosanna!” Through those same streets, now he carried his cross to the hill of his death. Along the way, the soldiers mocked and laughed at him. They placed a crown on him, but it was a crown of thorns. It made him bleed even more. And then one noticed one of those dirty coats. Left behind in the dust from only a few days before. This one was once beautiful: purple, richly ornamented, like a royal robe. It was a wonder that it had been left on the ground this long. But, alas, it was dusty and dirty and torn and worn. The solider laughed as he gruffly placed the purple coat on Jesus’ shoulders. His shoulders were raw and bleeding and the fabric immediately was thick with his blood. They laughed and mocked a the man who would be king. The man who wept over the city. The man who rode a donkey into town. The man who they will kill before sundown.

A single sunbeam is enough to drive away all of the shadows.

The story of the final days of Christ are a story of celebration and joy and pain and passion. But they are a story of light in the darkness. A story of hope in the pain. As we continue our service, and continue this most Holy Week, let us remember the hope of the sunbeam, and the shadows that cannot stand against it.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply