Francis was kneeling in an abandoned church in the countryside of San Damiano just outside of Assisi. He was fervently praying for God to give some direction to his life. As a young man, he had lived frivolously with an abundance of wealth. Much to his family’s dismay, he gave away everything he owned and joined the military expeditions of his day. Finding no satisfaction in the violence and carnage, he assumed the life of a beggar. The church at San Damiano had fallen into complete ruin after its abandonment. It is here that Francis bowed—kneeling beneath a tattered portrait of the crucified Christ—and prayed for direction. In a mystical moment, Francis heard the voice of Jesus speaking from the portrait, saying, “Francis, rebuild my church.” Francis welcomed the answer to his prayers and immediately began to physically rebuild the church at San Damiano. With his own strength, time and determination, he restacked the stones of walls and gates. He refashioned and reconnected wood. He labored daily to restore the building in which he had prayed. After considerable time and work, Francis had an internal epiphany—a holy thought. While stacking these stones was certainly worthwhile, this was not the true call on Francis’ life. God wanted Francis to rebuild the spirit of the church in the world. Francis left San Damiano to call the world to hear the gospel and practice the disciplines of peace, simplicity and generosity.
Having exited the first wave of a pandemic and the cardiac unit of a local hospital, I’m sensing the same call on my life—rebuild the church. Like Francis, I am less interested in brick and paint and pavement and more interested in the spiritual vibrancy of the church. Beginning this Sunday, September 12, I and other proclaimers, will be preaching a series of sermons titled—Rebuild My Church. In a time when our lives, attention, resources and passions have scattered in a hundred different directions, we will be proclaiming a gospel that calls us back to gathering, simplicity, diversity, sacredness, service, listening, learning, generosity, stability and more. Maybe it’s the pandemic…maybe it’s the heart surgery…it certainly wasn’t a talking portrait of Jesus, but I’ve never been more committed to a series of sermons than I am to this one. Maybe it’s just the quiet Spirit of God—in all our lives—wanting to see the church rebuilt and at her best. Whatever the impetus, I hope to see you Sunday morning as we worship and build together.