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To Live With Respect in Creation

Blessing of the Animals Service

Matthew 6: 25-34

Pentecost 1

Delivered by Rev. Ron Coughlin

Email can be both a blessing and a curse.  The curse is the great amount of junk mail that we get.  The blessing is ease with which we can keep in touch.  Also, often we get funny or thought provoking messages.  That’s what happened this past week when I got this message:

“If you can start your day without caffeine,

If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,

If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,

If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,

If you can overlook it when people take things out on you,

If you can conquer tension without medical help,

If you can relax without alcohol,

If you can sleep without the aid of drugs…

If you can do ALL these things,

then, you are probably the FAMILY DOG.


When I go to the cottage each summer, I am always fascinated by the wildlife which I see on a regular basis.  There are loons on the lake and I enjoy trying to guess where they will come up after they dive looking for food.  It is amazing how long they can stay under water and how far they can travel.  I am fascinated by the deer and their fawns which I see in the fields and how graceful they bound away into the woods.  I watch the industrious beavers as they build their homes in the middle of the streams which flow into the lake.


Yet the lake is now being threatened in a variety of ways.  Over the last couple of years the lake has risen higher than normal.  So that this spring and last year the higher water levels damaged and floated away a number of docks.  Also a few years ago the runoff from some local farms created a severe green algae pollution situation for many weeks in late August and September so that people and dogs should not swim in the lake.  These two factors are threatening not only human life, but also the wildlife around the lake.


The same kind of situation is happening all around the world.  We hear about the melting of the ice caps in the North Pole and South Pole which will mean the rising of sea levels which will damage the coast lines of many countries.  We hear about the issue of global warming caused by increased levels of air pollution.  We humans have not paid attention to the fact that we have an immense influence on the planet.  Our footprints leave a big impression, which lasts for centuries.


Our faith needs to speak to this situation.  So this morning I want to take a little time to talk about the line in our creed which says “to live with respect in creation.” How do we do this?


There is a whole new movement in faith communities that was not heard about even ten years ago.  It is called eco-spirituality.  It combines our concern for ecology and our spirituality.  Eco-spirituality is about our relationship to the earth and with non-human beings.  It’s about changing the way we think about our relationship with the earth and all living things.


Perhaps we need to take our love and concern for our pets and apply that same love and concern to all the earth and all who live upon the earth.


The Bible tells the story of our changed relationship with the earth.  The Bible begins with the story of creation in the book of Genesis.  Now this is a myth or legend, but it does contain truth.  It talks about how God created the earth and it was good.  It continues to tell how humans, represented by Adam and Eve lived in harmony with the earth.  The first people were hunters and gatherers.  They understood themselves to be part of the delicate balance of the earth.  They wandered in search of food and water, taking from the earth what they needed to survive, no more no less.


Then something happened.  It dawned on someone that there was no need to go chasing after animals and following the seasons and cycles of nature.  You could domesticate animals, plant crops, store up water and grain, and eventually build great cities.  Over time, people discovered that rather than be subject to the laws of nature, they could actually master nature.  The principle of living in harmony with nature was longer the dominant style of life; now the principle became how to control nature.


You know this story is also in the Bible.  It is the story of Cain and Abel.  Remember the story?  Abel is the first born.  He is symbolic of the hunter and gatherer.  Cain is the second born; and he is symbolic of the farmer.  And what happens in the story?  Cain murders Abel.  And this begins the history of people’s conquest of nature.  It is a history of violence.


We are the descendents of Cain.  People who today look at the rainforest and see only raw lumber to be exported are descendents of Cain.  People who look at the Great Lakes and see a storage bin for our toxic wastes are descendents of Cain.  People who pollute, knowing that it causes global warming are descendents of Cain.  Yes, we are the descendents of Cain.


Yes, down through history the sense of sacredness and mystery of the earth was lost.  But Jesus offers us another way of thinking.  His whole life was centered around the principle of sharing and serving others.  He lived more like Abel than like Cain.  He promoted the idea of trusting in God. He trusted God to provide for his daily needs.  Remember his prayer?  It says “Give us this day our daily bread.”  As he said in our reading for today, don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.  Consider the lilies of the field.  Think of the birds of the air.  Take only what you need, not what you want.


Eco-spirituality, as I said is about changing our relationship with the earth and all living things.   The change is from one of domination to one of cooperation.  We need a new story to support the change.  We need to leave the story of Cain and Abel behind.


Perhaps the new story would contain the following three principles:

1)     The earth does not belong to us.  We belong to the earth.


2)     Humans and the earth are one. We do not live separate from the earth.  To use Paul’s image, we are all part of the one body and if one part of the body is hurt, all are affected.


3)     The new story requires humility.  We are not called to take care of the earth, which means we are still in control.  No, we are called to recognize our place in the world as one of many species called to live in harmony with each other.


I do not have a solution to our environmental crisis.  But I think we need to begin with a new story, a new foundation, a new spirituality.  The church needs to be a leader in eco-spirituality. Let me end with a quote from Meister Eckhart, a 14th century Christian mystic:

“Apprehend God in all things,

for God is in all things.

Every single creature is full of God

and is a book about God.

Every creature is a word of God.

If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature,

even a caterpillar,

I would never have to prepare a sermon.

So full of God is every creature.”


Memorial to our Pets


This morning we want to pay tribute to those pets which have died or run away, those who been lost.  We join our hearts and souls to remember our pets and honour the love which they showed to us, the affection they gave us and the joy they created in us.


We think of the pets which are sick, or mistreated or abandoned or abused.  We ask God to forgive the cruelty sometimes shown to animals. We ask God to give people a heart of compassion  in their treatment of animals and pets.


There is a reading called the Rainbow Bridge, the author is unknown, which talks about the day when we will join with our pets in heaven.


By the edge of a wood, at the foot of a hill,

is a lush green meadow where time stands still.

Where the friends of man and woman do run,

when their time on earth is over and done.


For here, between this world and the next,

is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.

On this golden land, they wait and they play,

til the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.


No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,

for here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.

Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,

their bodies have healed, with strength renewed.


They romp through the grass, without even a care,

until one day they start, and sniff at the air.

All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,

then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.


For just at that instant, their eyes have met;

together again, both person and pet.

So they run to each other, these friends from long past,

the time of their parting is over at last.


The sadness they felt while they were apart,

has turned into joy once more in each heart.

They embrace with a love that will last forever,

and then side –by-side,

they cross over ….together.


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