In Italy, about eight hundred years ago lived a man called Frances Bernardone. He only lived 44 years. Most of his life he had nothing except the brown peasant robe that he wore. It was brown, beast color. He was not the sort of man that you would think would make an impact on history, that we would remember him at all, yet I bet you have heard of him. Francis was from the town of Assisi and he is known as Francis of Assisi; canonized by the Roman church, he is St. Francis of Assisi.
Francis had a radical encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. I say radical because it changed his life completely. His father was a wealthy merchant who traveled all over the region. Francis was born to a life that would have been important in the region, but it turned out very different. Oddly enough, his life was (and continues to be) very important to a much wider world. He forsook all worldly possessions and (with a few followers) went about begging, preaching, and enjoying the world, its people, creatures and especially its Creator.
St. Francis of Assisi was a fascinating character. People who know about him have their favorite stories. I think he still appeals to Christians because he is so different from us. We tend to be materialistic. He was anything but materialistic. We tend to be so concerned with what other think about us. He did not care what people thought of him, instead he cared about people. That is a thought for us, rather than caring so desperately about what people think of us, we should rather care about people. Often we do not have a thought about what God thinks of us and not much more about whether we think correctly about God. Francis cared what God thought of him and what he thought about God.
I think one of the reasons we find St. Frances so popular today, with his preaching to the animals and lifestyle of deep humility, is this: He is dead. He is long dead (nearly 800 years). We can appreciate the power of his humble lifestyle. We can smirk at those who were so confounded by him. After all, he made a lot of people look bad—church people at that. There was a story of a man named Bernard who became a friar with Francis. Bernard sold off his farm and was giving the money away to the poor people. Up came a priest named Sylvester. Sylvester had sold some stone to Bernard a few years back to repair the place. When Sylvester saw that Bernard was giving away all this money, Sylvester thought he might go and get some. Of course, Sylvester was too proud to go an ask for it or beg for it, so he said to Bernard, “Brother, you did not pay me very well for the stones that you bought from me.”
Francis was taken aback to hear a priest talk in such a greedy manner. He grabbed a double handful of coins gave them to Sylvester. “Here, are you sufficiently paid now?” It was far more than the stones were worth. The priest nodded amidst the murmurs of the crowd who obviously saw a great difference between the new friar who cared for the poor and the priest who cared about getting more money. Francis’s selflessness and that of those who followed him, cast a bad light on those who were selfish. Who would look bad next to him today? He was a man who put his money where his mouth was and his life where his Lord’s teachings were. Do you see why I say that one reason he is popular is because he is long gone? It is hard to live near radicals, even when they are radicals for Jesus. Perhaps it is less convicting when they are 800 years gone, and we do not have to stand next to them.
Francis is known for lots of such adventures and things that he said. Here is another one: Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words. What do you think of that? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Or does it make you nervous? Me? I love it, hate it and it makes me nervous. Let me tell you why I hate it.
I am supposed to share the gospel wherever I have opportunity. I have been in situations where I did know what to say, or was just too flustered or afraid to say anything about Jesus. Those are the times when I like the idea of letting my actions speak for me. After all, maybe words aren’t necessary. People will see my life and say, “Wow, there is something special about you. What do you have that makes you that way? Are you perchance a Christian? Would you tell me about Jesus and how I can know forgiveness of sin and newness of life?”
In my experience, it almost never happens that way. Even if people look at me and think, “Hey, he is different.” They may not say anything. Or they might say, “How weird. He is an odd sort.” The reason I hate that saying of Francis is because I have used it as an excuse for not using words to share the Gospel. Faith comes by hearing the gospel. That is what the Bible says. How can they believe on one they have not heard of? How will they hear unless one is sent. Jesus has sent me. Jesus has sent you too, dear Christian. We have to use words to share the gospel.
But Francis was not saying that we should not use words to preach the gospel. Francis used to preach to every living creature, literally. He would preach to brother sparrow and brother rabbit. No, Francis was saying something about our life. Our words are just words unless they are backed up with power. The Power of the Holy Spirit is what makes the reading and preaching of the Word effective in reaching our hearts. Preach the gospel at all times. In everything you do, whether in word or in deed, do all to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is straight from the Bible. That is what Francis’s saying means, and that is why I love it. Sometimes you will preach the gospel with words, but at all times it should be shining through your life.
Here is why Francis’s words make me nervous. There is no time off from being a follower of Jesus. I am not called to worship on Sunday and then allowed to treat my family rotten on Sunday afternoon, or drive with an aggressive road rage, or respond in kind to those who do. In fact, all of the responses I have to people (even unreasonable people) are to shine the light of the gospel of Jesus. Most of the time, without words.
How did Jesus put it? You are the light of the World. Not you ought to be, but you are. You don’t become that because of your skill, but because of Christ’s Spirit in you. So go on with your day. Start shining.