john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    I talk to the trees
    (A Franciscan conversation)

    Good Shepherd 3/10/2004 (Holy Communion)

    2 Timothy 1.1-14, Luke 17.5-10

    (Sermon begins by asking congregation what they know about St. Francis - patron saint of animals and birds, lived in Assisi, Italy, St Francis' churches in Liverpool ...)

    St. Francis Preaches to the Birds:

    One time when Francis was walking with another friar in the Venetian marshes, they came upon a huge flock of birds, singing among the reeds. When he saw them, the saint said to his companion, "Our sisters the birds are praising their Creator. We will go in among them and sing God's praise, chanting the divine office."

    They went in among the birds which remained where they were. The birds were making so much noise that the friars could not hear themselves saying the office. Eventually the saint turned to them and said, "My sisters, stop singing until we have given God the praise to which he has a right."

    The birds were silent immediately and remained that way until Francis gave them permission to sing again, after they had taken plenty of time to say the office and had finished their praises. Then the birds began again, as usual.

    The life of St. Francis of Assisi has always had an endless fascination for people. He came from a well off family but renounced money, inheritance, and even respect to embrace poverty, prayer and obedience to God. He became a beggar who inspired a legion of others, even today. I've got some good friends who are Franciscans. They are among the poorest, and happiest, people I know.

    One remarkable thing about Francis is his closeness to nature. He talked to the birds, and the birds took notice of him. They stayed calm near this human being. Wild birds rarely let people approach them closely. Perhaps wisely, they lack any trust in our good will. But the birds allowed Francis to come close, so close that his clothes touched them. They trusted this human being more than any other.

    Jesus said we should "look at" and learn from the "birds of the air." He said,

    "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"

    Francis talked to the birds; and Jesus invited us to learn from them. I wonder if you talk to the birds - or other creatures. I wonder if you think about birds - or other creatures - that way.

    (Here the congregation shared many stories about birds and other animals they talk with, including Cocky the 30+ year-old cockateel...)

    Francis walked through the trees - he found the birds living in them; and Jesus also walked through the trees - he found something very profound to say about them.

    The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!' The Lord replied, 'If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea", and it would obey you.

    Jesus seems to be saying, if you talk to the trees they will hear you and follow what you say. If you only had a tiny bit of faith.

    Now usually we keep our distance from people who talk to the trees. There's that famous song from Paint Your Wagon,

    I talk to the trees
    But they don't listen to me
    I talk to the stars
    But they never hear me

    - which my Dad always changes to,

    I talked to the trees
    They came and took me away

    Prince Charles and hippies everywhere who happily talk to trees and plants and flowers are usually laughed at or scorned.

    Yet Jesus talked to the trees. The mulberry tree in the story we just heard. The fig tree on the road to Jerusalem which he famously withered. Jesus talked to the wind, talked to the waves - which obeyed him.

    He was only following his Father, who, at the very beginning of time, spoke to the light - and there was light, who spoke to the waters, and the waters appeared, who spoke to the earth, and the earth formed, who spoke to the plants and the creatures, and the plants and the creatures appeared in all their variety and all their beauty.

    If we only had a tiny bit of faith we would be able to see that there is something very good, something very right, something God-like in being so close to nature that we can talk with it.

    Actually, I think our faith is a bit like that already. This morning, some people have already said that they happily talk to their animals. A survey in the Church Times this week revealed that many people pray with their pets. They are their companions in life; they share the deepest things with them, it's natural to include them in their prayers.

    (one member of the congregation shared how his dog joined him for prayers each night)

    A woman wrote in to the Church Times to tell about her father who was a vicar and whose three cats always followed him to Evening Prayer every day:

    "After he tolled the bell at 6.00 and donned his robes, they would quietly settle down: Dicky at his feet, Bill around his neck like a tabby scarf, and Mowley - well, she was more keen on checking the mouse population." [2]

    In fact only one reader wrote in to say he didn't pray with his pet: "I don't have to," he said, "my pet is a praying mantis."

    Jesus' words to his disciples were really to encourage them to grow in faith just by being more faithful. It's the only way, there is no magic formula.

    But, as we celebrate the feast of St Francis, it is interesting to think that our faith can grow the more we appreciate natural things - creatures, trees, the world around us. God values all of them. God is in all of them. God speaks to all of them. Sometimes, God wants us to talk to them.

    Prayers (Creation)

    Let us give thanks to God our Father for all the gifts he so freely gives to us.

    We thank you, God for the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea;

    We thank you, God for the richness of the mountains, plains and rivers;

    We thank you, God for all that is gracious in the lives of men and women;

    We thank you, God for all creatures that breathe, and move, and have life;

    We thank you, God for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers and trees;

    God, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.

    We pray to you, God, that we may love and honour all your works;

    We pray to you, God, that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation.

    God, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.

    And we pray for our broken world ....

    God, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.

    We pray for our community ....

    God, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.

    We pray for those we know who are in need of God's healing and comfort today ...

    God, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.

    And lastly we remember those who have gone before us in faith, confident in the hope that God will bring creation to perfection, and that we may hold with them a share in God's eternal kingdom:

    Merciful Father,
    Accept these prayers
    for the sake of your Son
    our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

    [1] St Bonaventure quoted in The Message of St. Francis
    [2] Half say they pray with their pets, Church Times, Friday, October 1, 2004