Sunday, October 1, 2017
My cousin’s dog Maggie died this week – too early, from liver disease and cancer. She was six years old. She was a Golden Retriever. In my extended family we have had up to ten Golden Retrievers in the family at one time – they’re good hunting and fishing dogs, great around kids, and yes, they are a part of the family. We know them all by name and holiday dinner conversation includes reminiscing about the time one of the dogs did this or that. Today is a special day that we can bring our animal family to church! Mostly for practical reasons, we don’t have our pets in church with us, usually. Today, though, we want to take time to recognize how much our pets are a part of a lives, to the point that we treat them like one of the family and grieve their passing. Today, we give thanks to God for our animal companions, and for all of God’s wonderful creation!
When human beings first landed on the moon, seventy plus nations including the Vatican submitted documents to be placed on the moon as representative of Earth’s humanity, should other life forms ever find it, I suppose. Appropriately, the Vatican’s choice was to include Psalm 8. While we will take time to bless our pets today, we are celebrating the miracle of ALL of God’s creation as all our readings for this morning reflect. Psalm 8 is the first hymn in the book of Psalms, and it celebrates the awesome wonder of God our creator. The psalmist writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?” Taking time to admire and appreciate God’s creation is a form of worship. We sit in awe of all that God has done. This happens pretty much anytime I go to the zoo: why did God think up an animal like THAT? Or Wow! I didn’t know nature had those vivid colors! If you head to Lauritzen Botanical Gardens, you can marvel at the endless list of flowers and plant species. Or if you go camping outside of the light polluted cities, just look up on a clear night at the stars and praise God for this amazing handiwork. Taking time to appreciate God’s creation pulls us out of ourselves, our worries and to-do lists, and reminds us of how small we really are, in relation to God’s vast universe.
Then there’s the next part, though in the Psalm. It’s a reminder of God’s love for humanity and amazement that God would love us so much: “Yet you have made [human beings] little less than divine; with glory and honor you crown them. You have made them rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet: all flocks and cattle, even the wild beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatever passes along the paths of the sea.” God loves us enough to entrust the Earth’s care to us. God gives us a great responsibility as human beings to care for creation. And we often fail to take this job responsibility in caring for creation seriously, in big and small ways. We throw away stuff rather than recycle it because it’s easier. We drive when we could walk. We use a lot of modern day conveniences which include tons of gallons of water a day flushing our toilets, using dishwashers and washing machines and running the water when we brush our teeth all of which have a negative impact on the environment.
Christians sometimes misuse parts of scripture like Psalm 8 and the first part of the book of Genesis to argue that because God gave us “dominion” over all of creation, that means we can do whatever we want to the Earth without consequence. This is not true as we see in our weather patterns, melting glaciers and thinning ozone. So our worship today is an opportunity for confession as well as praise. How we mistreat all of God’s creation ought to outrage us as much as one mistreated pet. Too often we treat nonhuman creation like it’s completely ours, when all of what we have for our use is actually God’s – our land, our water, the air we breathe and even our own bodies. What Psalm 8 really tells us from the beginning and the end is that God is the Lord, our Sovereign and King – O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is YOUR name, in all the Earth, is how another version puts it. It is God who ultimately has dominion over Earth and all created things – God entrusts us as caretakers and stewards, not owners, of creation. We all are under God, and human beings always get into trouble when we think we can do things our way, apart from God.
Our pets, in particular, can show us the unconditional love of God even when at the same time we confess we have done harm to God’s creation. Pets have a way of coming by for a cuddle, plopping into our laps just when we need it. Tilting their heads as if listening intently to our woes. Nudging us to get up and get moving and active when we just want to stay inside and mope. Even Martin Luther apparently was a dog lover. He once said “Oh that I could pray the way this dog watches the meat!” Our pets can help us grow deeper in our own faith. Our animal companions are so often signs of God’s love and mercy in our lives, pets who love us without question. Our awesome God gave us creation – pets, plants, flower, stars, to enjoy and to love. Our awesome Sovereign Lord and Creator of All also gives us a big responsibility in caring for creation as best we can. As we deepen our relationship with God, that can help us see more fully that all life is a gift.
Today is a call to do a few things: 1) Take time to stand in awe and wonder of God’s creation whether it’s a fall hike, a camping trip, or a quick peek out your own window. Ponder that question,” what are human beings that you care for them, God?” 2)Work on ways you could be better about caring for creation – it could be as little as bringing your own bag to the grocery store rather than using plastic or volunteering at the local Humane Society. 3) And finally, bask in God’s redeeming love that is more than enough for us, for all of us. Ponder the thought that God’s love for us is unimaginably more deep and wide than the love we have for our families and our pets, despite our inadequacies and failures—great enough for God to send us Jesus to live among us, die for us, and be raised with us. Amen.