At the Movies: Pope Francis

“At the Movies: Pope Francis”
John 10: 14-16
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
June 10, 2018

His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He used to be a bouncer. He once had a girlfriend. He owned a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He has only one functioning lung. He released a progressive rock album in 2015 entitled “Wake Up.” He speaks 8 languages fluently. He is the second most followed world leader on Twitter. He holds the world record for the first person to reach 1 million Instagram followers in the shortest time.  He was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2013. He is none other than Pope Francis.

Show movie clip from Pope Francis movie.

This is Bergoglio –the first Pope born outside of Europe in the last 1200 years. He is the first Pope to come from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere. He is the first Jesuit to become pope. He is the first Pope to address Congress. The first pope to take his papal name from St. Francis. How fitting since St. Francis embraced nature and joyously accepted poverty.

St. Francis preached to birds, tamed a ravenous wolf, bought a lamb that was being taken to slaughter and raised it as a pet, and removed worms from a busy road so that they might not be crushed under the feet of passersby. St. Francis referred to nature as his siblings – Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wolf, Sister Whale, Brother Eagle, Sister Loon. Yes, St. Francis embraced nature. And so too, does Pope Francis. Much of the Pope Francis movie focuses on his grave concern for the plunder, abuse and exploitation of Mother Earth. As a chemist by background, the Pope is clear that climate change is the greatest threat our Earth has ever seen – and that it is caused by humans. You can read more about climate change and earth stewardship in his famous encyclical subtitled “Care for Our Common House.”

St. Francis is one who cared deeply for the poor. He was a born into a very wealthy family. He renounced his wealth and exchanged his riches for rags. St. Francis believed that there must be no man anywhere poorer than he. No matter what rags Francis might be wearing, should he meet upon a beggar dressed even worse, Francis would immediately remove his own clothing and give it to the beggar. Pope Francis, too, renounces the trappings of wealth.  He’s traded in the famous Popemobile for a Fiat. He chose not to live in the papal headquarters used by other Popes before him, preferring instead to live in a small apartment. And he cooks his own meals even though there is a staff to cook for him.

St. Francis kissed a leper on the lips 1000 years ago. Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of inmates in a prison in Rome just a couple months ago. Very fitting that our current Pope took the papal name Francis.

How fitting that our sermon movie theme for the day is “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.” For our own Peter Tupou is leaving tomorrow for Rome with a choral group to sing to the Pope this next week! And it is fitting because today is Super Shepherd Sunday. No doubt, that we have a super shepherd in this Pope. …we must apologize to the poor, to mistreated women, to children forced to work.” Yes, Pope Francis has a heart for the marginalized and is a shepherd to the people.

Those under the banner of Christianity are to smell like the sheep, says the Pope. “Do not settle for a theology of the desk,” he says, “Your place for reflection are the boundaries (the margins).” In other words, we are to be out there in the muck and mire of the world. We cannot separate our faith from the suffering in this world.

Oh, how grateful I am for this Pope, for this faith leader. Karen and I went to see this movie, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word”, on May 18th, the day it opened. Unfortunately, there were only 5 of us in the entire movie theater. I understand why – there are moments in the movie that will leave some Christians fidgeting in their pews.

I think of the baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple on Christian grounds. Fifty years ago, I imagine there were bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for interracial couples based on Christian grounds. Yet, this Pope when asked about gay persons says, “Who are we to judge?” This Pope says the church must apologize to the gay persons we have offended. I believe that this documentary about Pope Francis could leave some fidgeting in their pews.

Or I think about the evangelical pastor from Texas who led a prayer at the official ceremony of the relocated American embassy in Jerusalem. Robert Jeffress had previously proclaimed that Jews were going to Hell unless they accepted Jesus as Messiah. He proclaimed that Mormonism and Islam were both “heresies from the pit of Hell.” Never mind that dozens of Palestinian protesters were being killed during the celebration. Jeffries and others believe that the relocation of the American embassy hastens the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy of Christ’s second coming. Yet, this Pope says we must build bridges and not walls with people of other faiths. This Pope questions the existence of Hell. Yes, this documentary could leave Jeffries and others fidgeting in their pews.

A few weeks ago, I participated in candlelight vigil at the White House with over two thousand progressive Christian pastors.  While Pope Francis was not part of the celebration, his spirit was very much among us. The Vigil was led by Bishop Michael Curry (who I have nicknamed Bishop Love because of his impassioned sermon at the Royal Wedding on the redemptive power of love), Jim Wallis, Cynthia Hale, Tony Campolo, James Forbes, Richard Rohr, Walter Bruggemann as well as the Howard University Gospel Choir. The hashtag used for the vigil was #ReclaimJesus. But I understood the reason why this hashtag, #ReclaimJesus, was used. For Jesus has been hijacked. And Jesus was a bridge builder. In our scripture passage today, he says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. But I have sheep not of this sheep pen who I must bring along too.” So we gathered at the candlelight vigil to reclaim Jesus and his radically inclusive message of Jesus. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The candlelight vigil began with a worship service at National City Christian Church. Bishop Michael Curry kicked off the service with these words, “Love your neighbor. Love the neighbor you like and love the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor. Your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino, your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor.” It is time for progressive Christians to reclaim the progressive, revolutionary message of Jesus to love our neighbors. We then marched to the White House after the worship service. In silence. Carrying candles. Two thousand of us.

During the resurgence of white nationalism, racism and the poor treatment of immigrants and refugees in our nation, we gathered at the White House to declare that each human being is made in God’s image and likeness. Each human being is decreed with dignity, worth and God-given equality. We prayed that hearts of stone would be transformed into hearts of compassion. We sang “This Little Light of Mine” as we held our candles high. We reclaimed Jesus.

For Jesus himself was a poor Palestinian Jew born under Roman rule, born in a scandal. Mother Mary was shamed. Father Joseph was dishonored. Remember Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. Jesus was a poor, marginalized outsider who was born in Nazareth out of which nothing good comes. Jesus was a refugee, fleeing his country because of political persecution, brown enough to go under cover in Egypt. It is to the poor, marginalized outsider that Jesus comes sharing a message of God’s radically inclusive love. Love your neighbor.

“For there is power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There is power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There is power in love” (Michael Curry).

During a time when we find ourselves concerned about the rhetoric and actions of national and world leaders, during a time in which many find themselves under a cloud of lament, we can rejoice and give thanks for the much needed witness of spiritual leaders such Pope Francis, Bishop Michael Curry, 2000 church leaders attending a White House candlelight vigil, and many other people of faith (such as yourselves) who are courageous enough to speak truth to power. Oh, I know there are some among us today who are discouraged, but I am hopeful – I am very hopeful that we will one day get it right and reclaim Jesus’ radically inclusive message, to simply “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Amen.