Over the last few weeks I have had the wonderful, if challenging, experience of sharing in leading the God, Humanity and Difference course at St Francis’ College. This has included looking at a wide range of human differences: including those of race, disability, gender, sexuality, faith, culture, history, and socio-economic position. We have heard from a variety of voices from across our Church and world: including Canon Bruce Boase (as an Aboriginal priest, as we explored Reconciliation issues) and, not least, Elizabeth and Ann from our very own congregation here (as we explored faith issues related to disability). In addition, we have been blessed by the insights of the rich mix of backgrounds and experiences within the class itself, including students originally from Sudan and Korea. Sometimes this has meant that we have met fresh questions and ideas which will require some working out. For our God-given human differences are not always easy for us all to live with. We can see that clearly in some of the conflicts and controversies of our Church and world today. Yet, as we have discovered in our course this semester, if we hold them prayerfully, and work with them with intelligence and compassion, they are powerful gifts to us for healing, new life, and flourishing together. For properly to hear each of us, speaking our own witness to God in our own way, is to let the Holy Spirit fly free in fresh experiences of Pentecost…
Let me begin with a famous story from the life of St Francis of Assisi.
A long time ago, the town of Gubbio in Italy had a major problem. A wolf had been eating their livestock and attacking, and even killing, those who had been sent to kill him. Understandably therefore the people of Gubbio grew very afraid, and even frozen in their fear, quarreling together about what was to be done and inflicting their anger and anxiety on one another. What could be done? In the end, they realised, perhaps only God could save them, so they asked the holiest person they knew, St Francis of Assisi, to help.
St Francis did not take the task lightly. He knew that the wolf was indeed capable of great violence. Yet, as someone who was particularly close to the ways of animals, he sensed that there might be another way. So he took courage and walked out into the woods where the wolf scarily lay. Then, in the depths of the forest, making the sign of the cross as the wolf came upon him, he spoke softly ‘Brother Wolf, I will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace.’ The wolf was caught in uncertainty. This man did not approach him with weapons and violence. He had no anger or fear. Instead, Francis’ powerful spirit of peace and compassion unnerved him, touching his own pain and fear. So the wolf sat down on his haunches and listened. Francis told the wolf what the people of Gubbio were experiencing, all about their pain and fear and anger, and he asked the wolf ‘why are you attacking the livestock and the people? Why did you kill?’
The story goes on that the wolf then told Francis his story: how he had been left behind by his own pack when he was injured: how he preferred deer and rabbits but he could not run fast enough to catch them, so had had to settle for the people’ sheep and goats; how he only attacked when he was really desperate and hungry; and how he had only killed people when they had seemed to threaten him. Hours passed as Francis and the wolf pondered together. Then Francis, understanding that the wolf had genuine remorse for what he had done, asked the wolf to accompany him to Gubbio, to ask forgiveness, that all might be reconciled. Slowly the wolf put his paw in Francis’ hand and they walked into the town.
In Gubbio, the people were amazed and powerfully moved by the wolf’s repentance. For those who had lost loved ones or livelihoods, it was particularly challenging. Could they too let go of their own pain and fear and violence, share in God’s forgiveness and begin again together in peace? Time passed with much reflection. However, in the spirit of Christ, anguish turned to healing and even expectation. The wolf was turned from enemy into friend, and the town’s greatest help and protector. How then might we too respond, in our fear and struggles, to those who seem to threaten us in our own day?...
by Jon Inkpin, Pentecost 10A, 17 August 2014
What is at the heart of Faith, and what boundaries does it have? These questions are powerfully thrown up by today’s Gospel story of the Canaanite woman with Jesus. Not for the first time, the Gospel challenges us deeply: asking us to consider what is at the heart of our lives and what boundaries we impose or patrol. It is a great story: very challenging, and worth reflecting on at depth. For what a contrast the heart of Faith certainly is with much of what has sometimes gone on, in the name of religion! Recent events, for example,have reminded us forcibly of the horrors of religious persecution. Our hearts and prayers go out to so many in the Middle East, and elsewhere, where people have been, and continue to be, not just oppressed but, literally, slaughtered, for their faith and culture: simply for being different from others. As people of whatever faith, or none, across the world we must redouble our efforts to seek protection for all, peace and justice, reconciliation and healing for everyone - all of which challenges flow from the heart of our Gospel story today...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,