Most of you have already figured out by now that I love animals. I especially love our dog, Deacon, who is destined to be a character in my sermons for years to come.
We are all animal people, in one way or another. Humans have long depended on animals for food, labor, and companionship. Whether you’re a pet-loving vegetarian or a steak-loving carnivore, your life is enriched and blessed by animals.
And so we’re going to celebrate the blessings of animals by blessing them—and by giving them treats, which are probably more to their liking. This whole blessing of the animals thing is a bit crazy. I know that. There is a great British comedy called The Vicar of Dibley that features an episode with an animal blessing. The vivacious pastor tries so hard to get her parishioners to rally around the concept of a pet blessing to no avail. Her first mistake was to hold it in the sanctuary. Let’s just say her trustees were not pleased with the prospect of mopping the floors and scrubbing the pew cushions. There’s only so much Febreeze can do.
But this wacky and wonderful tradition goes way back. Oftentimes churches hold animal blessings to commemorate St. Francis of
Animals are significant to the Christian life not only because of their usefulness to us, but because as people of faith we believe that God is the Holy Creator of all that lives.
When there was nothing but chaos, God created the Heavens and the Earth. When there was water, and dry land, and light, God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,” and then when the oceans and lakes were full of silvery fish and sea monsters, God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals” and so on. God formed these living creatures, and then God saw that it was good. This wild and wooly animal kingdom, with so much extravagant diversity, was good. And then, after affirming the extraordinary goodness of this created life, God blessed them. The first recipients of God’s blessing were the birds and the fish, and then the creeping things, and finally, humankind.
The Creation story doesn’t tell us the mechanics of how life came to be. This story is much deeper than biology, much more profound than fact. The creation story reveals the essential truth of who we are: that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by our delightfully creative God. The account of the beginning of life in Genesis boldly proclaims that God is the maker of all, and that all the things that God has made are good. The very meaning of life is found in this book.
God is the source of all that is: the wellspring of the trees and the bugs, the bison and the trout. And God is the source of human life. Only humans are created differently. Humans are created in the image of God. We are created in such a way that we reflect the Creator of the Universe.
Before we even get to the part of the Creation story where God blesses the newly minted humankind, God declares, “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
And as creatures formed in God’s image, as men and women infused with the spirit of God, we have a different relationship to God, and a different relationship to our fellow creatures on earth.
This relationship is marked by the word, “dominion.” Dominion is a tough concept. We do not think of “domination” as a very good thing. No one wants to deal with a domineering person.
All too often, the gift of domination over the earth has been interpreted to mean that humankind has the right to use and abuse any living thing. This is a testament to the brokenness of human nature. At the genesis of creation, we were called to be in charge of the earth. We were given domination over what God created and called good. But instead of approaching this role with fear and trembling, instead of being humbled by the awesome responsibility of taking care of God’s creation, humans have more often than not ransacked and plundered the earth and the living things it sustains.
Christians have a very particular calling when it comes to living things. As believers in a creative and creating God, we affirm that life is good, in and of itself. God formed and blessed this world and its inhabitants. This is the basis for our stubborn plea for the sanctity of life—all life. We must acknowledge and honor that each and every living thing is the recipient of God’s extraordinary blessing. Before we rush ahead to looking for ways that God’s creatures are useful to us, we must give thanks for God’s abundant blessings of life. And when we do use God’s creatures for our own sustenance and enjoyment, we must always be mindful that these creatures are blessings, good in their own right, before they are resources.
This matter of domination is a matter of stewardship. Oftentimes when we talk about stewardship in the church we talk about financial stewardship—but truly, we are called to practice good stewardship over much more than our pocketbooks. What Genesis teaches us is that everything is God’s. Everything. There is not one thing, animate or inanimate, that does not belong to God. When we abuse the gift of creation, we are practicing poor stewardship. We are failing to honor what God has made—failing to agree that creation is good. And that failure is a sign of arrogance. We cannot let arrogance be our mode of relating to God’s creation. When we are arrogant, we see everything as it relates to us—will this hurt me? Will this help me? Arrogance clouds our vision from seeing creation as it relates to God. Arrogance is a form of pride, and pride is a form of sin. I do think it is time to recognize that the abuse of the earth is sinful. To move toward better practices of stewardship we need a change of heart—a conversion to a Christian spirituality that takes seriously the claim that life is God’s and life is good. Christ came not only to redeem individuals, but to redeem the whole creation.
We cannot let arrogance be our mode of relating to God’s creation. When we are arrogant, we see everything as it relates to us—will this hurt me? Will this help me? Arrogance clouds our vision from seeing creation as it relates to God. Arrogance is a form of pride, and pride is a form of sin. I do think it is time to recognize that the abuse of the earth is sinful. To move toward better practices of stewardship we need a change of heart—a conversion to a Christian spirituality that takes seriously the claim that life is God’s and life is good. Christ came not only to redeem individuals, but to redeem the whole creation.
Next Saturday our church parking lot will hopefully be teeming with life—life in all its astounding diversity. And I hope that this Blessing of the Animals will give us an opportunity to cultivate a deeper gratitude for God’s creation. I hope we will be reminded of what a blessing life is—all of life. This earth is a cathedral of God’s making. Let us learn anew to say grace for this vast and glorious home, and to match our thanksgivings with the hard work of stewardship.