Christ is Everywhere
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 11:25–30
More than anything, St. Francis of Assisi was concerned with God’s creation. The flesh and bone not only of us humans, but of the world itself. The trees and plants, the walls of his local church, the clothes on his back—all the material stuff of this life.
He was born to a very wealthy family, and he was like any rich kid of his time. He ate extravagantly, wore extravagant clothes, and wanted glory and prestige for himself. His father supported all of this. He suited him in expensive armor and sent him off to war and victory.
For Francis and his father, God’s creation was there to be controlled and exploited, a means to individual wealth, to personal glory.
But then Francis had a conversion. It wasn’t sudden. Jesus didn’t stop him on the road and confront him. God didn’t appear in a lofty vision. There was a dream, yes, but more of a nudge than a shove. Francis started to pray, to ask God to lead him.
In fact, his tipping point was a bit ridiculous. Francis heard Jesus say to him, “Repair my church.” Sweet, earnest, naive Francis took this a little too literally. He stole some cloth from his father’s business, and sold it to repair his local church whose walls were falling down.
His father was obviously furious and brought him before the bishop. But the bishop was kind, told him to return his father’s money. He assured Francis that God would provide for the church.
God would provide. Those words made something click for him. He stripped off all his clothes and handed them to his father. I am no longer yours, he said, but God’s. From that day forward, he renounced material possessions and lived his life for God.
Francis renounced material possessions, but I think it’s really important to note that he did not renounce the material world. Francis LOVED this world God gave us. What he renounced was possessing this world.
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
This is actually a statement of incarnation. The word incarnation literally means “made flesh.” So incarnation is actually a statement about creation. Everything we are, everything we see, everything we have, all of the material of this world, from atoms to lizards to mountain ranges, is God’s creation. It is all an incarnation of God.
The Gospel of John opens with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A few verses later, he writes, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The Word is Jesus. John is trying to tell us that Jesus has been with us since the beginning—creation was the first incarnation. When the Word was made flesh, God came even closer to us through the person of Jesus. A person we could see, touch, listen to, and follow. Creation is vast and beautiful, but abstract. In Jesus, we could actually look in God’s eyes. But God still wasn’t done with us. Before Jesus died, he gave his friends bread and wine and told them this—this food, this drink, the stuff of this world—this is my body, this is my blood. When you eat it, when you drink it, remember that you have become my Body.
Jesus as the Body of Christ continues to be revealed to us in the way we love one another and in the way we care for God’s creation.
That’s what Francis believed. He lived into this belief every moment of his ministry. He saw Christ in the poor, and he became poor himself, renouncing any pretense of possessing God’s creation. He saw Christ in the animals around him. Legend has it that they sought him out, befriended him. He became known as “God’s fool” because he preached God’s love to the birds and talked to the wolves.
People followed Francis. They were attracted to his passion for Christ and his authenticity in living it out. So he founded the Order of Franciscans, that is alive and thriving today. In fact, many of us are currently reading a book written by a notable Franciscan, Richard Rohr. The Universal Christ embodies Franciscan theology, and takes it a step further.
He writes: “I doubt you can see the image of God in your fellow humans if you cannot first see it in rudimentary form in stones, in plants and flowers, in strange little animals, in bread and wine, and most especially cannot honor this objective divine image in yourself.”
Yes, you are also an incarnation of God. Fearfully and wonderfully made. That awe you feel when you’re standing beside the ocean, when you’re surrounded by enormous trees, when you’re taking in a beautiful piece of art, when you’re looking down at the world from an airplane window—that is the awe God feels when God sees you.
If you have an animal companion, I imagine that’s also what they feel when they see you. It’s what you feel when they nudge their head under your hand, when they rush to the door when you get home, when they make you laugh because of some silly thing they did. Christ is revealed in their eyes looking up at you.
“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.” Once we are able to see Christ in all, the world becomes softer, less challenging, more bearable, more lovable.
When we are able to go into the world and see Christ in the trees, Christ in our neighbors, Christ in our enemies, and, yes, Christ in our animal friends, the burden lifts. Our souls find rest.