In Dying We are Born to Life
This year the feast of St. Francis came and went for us at IHS. In years past, we celebrated with an excited gaggle of animals out on the front lawn, holding a prayer service and blessing our four-legged and feathered friends. Over the years, that group of animals has gotten smaller and smaller as our congregation has changed, and this year we didn't hold a blessing service at all. Amidst the busyness of fall, it was forgotten.
The thing is, St. Francis has so much to teach us - so much more than just the love of the animal kingdom and blessing our pets. Our theme this year at IHS is Born of Water and Spirit: God's Promise to All Creation. What a perfect fit with the feast of St. Francis, and yet we let it slip by.
There is a powerful prayer attributed to St. Francis that you may have heard before, and it is about being "born again," a phrase we've been reclaiming this year at IHS. Read this amazing prayer:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that
we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Did you catch it in there, what it means to be "born again?" St. Francis powerfully reminds us that it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. The very instrument of death and destruction is turned by the victorious Risen Jesus into the instrument of God's hope! Death not only is defeated, but in dying, we become changed into something new.
The prayer is so powerful because it invokes the backwardness of the Gospel: it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. This backwardness extends to our mission in this world, so we can reverse course on the awfulness, sin, and brokenness around us, and reverse it into what God longs the world to be: full of love, pardon, union, faith, hope, light, and joy!
This time of year is a beautiful reminder of this message of Good News. Every fall we watch this process play out in God's creation. We see leaves fall and plants die while cold and darkness come more and more each day. Many of us experience this time of year as a personal darkness, a time of seasonal depression as the warmth leaves and so does happiness and joy. But we cannot forget that it is in the bleakest of this darkness that the Light of God, Jesus, was born and entered into the world. It is not a coincidence that we celebrate Christmas in the darkest of times here in North America. It is itself proclaiming Good News to us, that in our darkness, a light shines. We then carry that light forward into the rebirth of spring and summer. Only in dying, can the world each year be reborn into the new life of springtime. The seasons themselves remind us of this message every year.
What does it mean to be born again? It means that our self is put to death, the self that lies inside of all of us, capable of dwelling in hatred, injury, discord, division, doubt, despair, darkness, and sadness. What is reborn by water and Spirit is love, pardon, union, faith, hope, light, joy, and the life of God in us. We then get to bear that new life into the world! What an amazing message. Just as the seasons changing is a reminder from God's creation of the good news of rebirth in him, so we get to carry this incredible message of Good News, God's news, out into the world by our lives. We can bear witness to it just like the brightly colored leaves falling and the blooming flowers of spring. We bear witness when we sow love, when we forgive others, when we reconcile people with each other, when we talk about our faith, when we share hope, when we remember and celebrate moments of joy, when we console the hurting, when we try to understand people different from ourselves, when we give generously, and where we tell others about the new life available in Jesus.
Let's celebrate: in dying we are born again! Now let us go out and share this new life with our community around us.