A Peaceable Kingdom?
This week my friends, don’t forget that we are having our annual service and picnic outdoors at Jim Enoch’s farm at Coggins Point this Sunday beginning at 10:30 AM. It is one of my very favorite times of worship and fellowship. Unfortunately, we were unable to have it last year, but today is a new day, though it is still important to keep some social distance from one another.
We request you bring a dish to share with everyone. The church will provide Fried Chicken and the drinks. Some chairs and tables will be out, but please bring a lawn chair if you like. We look forward to a great turnout sharing a meal with one another.
One of the reasons I enjoy this service and time together is because for me, somehow celebrating and worshipping God out of doors gives me a sense of peace, not only of a God that so close to me and intimate, but a God who is so much larger than we can imagine, who created all that is, the trees, the grass, the sky, the clouds, the river, the birds, and the living creatures that play in the forest.
Next Monday, October 4, we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis. I expect most of you know who I am talking about when I speak of Francis, but here is just a brief synopsis of his life and then a story.
Francis was the son of merchant of Assisi, a producer of fine cloth and linen, and very prosperous. Francis’ youth took him to fruitless attempts of military fame and glory. Encounters throughout his military travels, seeing the lame, beggars, and lepers, let Frances to embrace a life of poverty, despite his father’s opposition. Francis renounced all material possessions and values, devoting himself to serve the poor. I suspect that most know all of this.
But do you know why he is associated with the natural world of birds and beasts and animals of all kinds?
The story of how St. Francis of Assisi tamed the Wolf of Gubbio is one of the great legends linked with the life of the saint. I have never been too worried as to whether the story was historically true or not.
In this well-known legend, St. Francis goes to the Italian town of Gubbio, where a fierce wolf had been terrorizing the village and even killing some of the people, including children. During his visit to Gubbio, Francis goes out to meet the wolf.
According to the story, when the wolf sees St. Francis, he comes charging at the saint with his mouth open, ready to attack. St. Francis immediately makes the sign of the cross over him and says, “Come here, Brother Wolf. I command you on behalf of Christ that you do no harm to me or to anyone.” As soon as St Francis did this, the fearsome wolf closed his mouth and stopped running; and once the command was given, it came meekly as a lamb, and threw itself at the feet of St. Francis.
St. Francis scolds Brother Wolf for destroying and killing the creatures of God. “The whole town is complaining about you,” Francis tells the wolf gently. “But I want to make peace between you and the people. And so, I promise that I will have food given to you regularly, Brother Wolf, by the people of this town so that you will no longer suffer hunger. And I want you, Brother Wolf, to promise that you will never harm any human person or animal.” The wolf showed agreement by simply bowing his head.
And so, Francis asks the people of the town if they will promise to provide food for wolf regularly. They all say they will. Finally, St. Francis asks the wolf to give a guarantee in front of all of the people that he will no longer inflict harm upon the people of Gubbio or its animals.
“Then the wolf, lifting his right paw, placed it in the hand of St. Francis. Because of this action…there was such rejoicing and wonder among all the people…that they all began to cry to heaven, praising and blessing God who sent Francis to them who, through his merits, had freed them from the jaws of the cruel beast.”
“Afterwards that same wolf lived in Gubbio for two years, and he tamely entered the houses, going from door to door, without doing any harm to anyone and without any being done to him; and he was kindly fed by the people…. Finally, after two years Brother Wolf died of old age, at which the citizens grieved very much.”
The story reminds me very much of Quaker minister and painter Edward Hick’s 1833 oil on canvas, called “Peaceable Kingdom.” Although it is not considered a religious image, Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom exemplifies Quaker ideals. Hicks painted 62 versions of this composition. The animals and children are taken from Isaiah 11:6–8 (also echoed in Isaiah 65:25), including the lion eating straw with the ox. Hicks used his paintings as a way to define his central interest, which was the quest for a redeemed soul. In the painting you can see in the background, William Penn making treaty and peace with the native American tribes as well. This theme was also from one of his theological beliefs.
When I see this painting and think about St. Francis and Edward Hicks, I try to envision a brighter future in this world, free from all the squabbling and fighting, particularly in the political arena. I envision a world free of Covid and disease, free of poverty and bias, free of those who would hate and cause harm to those who only want to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Perhaps we can make deals with those wolves who would rather tear us apart than make a deal that is good for all. What happened to the common good? What happened to love your neighbor? We don’t even talk about what God’s “peaceable kingdom” would look like. Shame on our politicians for not working together, and shame on us for not making them. Let us pray:
Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness joy. O Divine master grant that I 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's in giving that we receive And it's in pardoning that we are pardoned And it's in dying that we are born... To eternal life. AMEN
May God bless us all that we may work toward a peaceful and just world. Fr. Bill+