Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Someone suggested I post my sermon summaries here. Herewith the first one:

Pentecost 18, Proper 22 October 4, 2009
St. Christopher's Episcopal Church Rev. Paul Moore

God and our Pets

There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi and a wolf near the village of Gubbio. The wolf began taking the villager's sheep, and then developed a taste for villagers as well. The wolf became so fierce that no defense was possible, for whoever went out against the wolf was sure to be devoured, so the people stayed in the village for fear of the wolf. Then along came St. Francis, who, when he learned of the situation, went out to meet the wolf. The villagers were terrified that this would be the saint's last day on earth, but when St. Francis met the wolf it bowed its head to him and approached him humbly. St. Francis spoke to the wolf, explaining how his behavior was not right. The wolf made signs to indicate that he was contrite and would not harm the villagers. Then the saint took the wolf into the village, he intervened between the villagers and the wolf. A peace pact was created. For two more years the wolf lived in the village, going from door to door, where villagers would feed it. In the end, when the wolf died, the village mourned the passing of a friend.

A bit fanciful, perhaps, but down deep inside there is something in us that wants it, on some level at least, to be true. And that is not wrong--in fact, in light of today's Scripture lessons, it is very, very right. Jesus is always asking us to go deep, to look beneath the surface to discover the eternal truths.

In the Old Testament lesson today we hear about the creation of woman. You know the story: God declares the human condition to be not right when one is alone. We are created for community, the same radical community which is the Trinity, in fact. So for Adam to be alone is not a good thing. Relationship is sought with all the animals, Adam names each of them—naming is a symbol of seeking relationship—but none is found. When Adam is most vulnerable, sound asleep, God takes a rib from his side—from under his arm, close to his heart, and makes community that has the potential of reflecting that community that is the Trinity. Looking deeply we discover the meaning in the story.

The same thing applies to the Gospel lesson: Jesus teaches that marriage is not merely an economic and political contract that can be dropped when inconvenient, it was intended to create a relationship that could approximate the community of the Trinity, its intention was to display something of what God is like in the social structure of humanity. To break that link, then, has rather significant consequences. The Church has taken a softer stance on this issue than the writer of Mark. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she has sought to look deeply, and to create a policy that is faithful to the spirit of Christ in today's world, though it may differ from the reality of first century Palestine.

Jesus turns, then, to children. Once again He asks us to look deeply. Children are not merely the product of the union of a man and a woman. That is how we get them, but that is not what they are. They are icons of the Kingdom, their simplicity and openness teach us closed and complicated adults about Heaven. They are not only precious because of their promise for tomorrow, they are essential to us adults now.

I do not mean to imply that we should read the stories of Jesus like we read the stories of St. Francis, but there is a similarity in that both seek, in their own way, to look beneath the surface of things. Jesus teaches us to look into its depths. Here is where you discover the truth of God.

In the same way, when we look deeply at the created order we see that the fear that often exists between wild animals and humanity is not as it should be. We rightly intuit that this distance, this cosmic estrangement, is part of the fall and the curse, and when the best of us, the saints, overcome it, we rejoice. We want to believe that holiness of person heals the brokenness of the world, even that of the created order. Indeed, there has always been an uncanny connection between the saints and the animals.

St Seraphim of Sarov made friends with a bear and several other animals, as did St Columbanus in Gaul. Similar stories are told of the monastic holy men who evangelized Ethiopia, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Lappland, Georgia, Armenia and Siberia.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony one day while passing through a wood, called a weasel from its lair in order to admire its beauty. The fierce little beast at once trotted out and allowed the saint to caress it, and then retired with his blessing.

St. Roch healed animals as well as people with the healing power in his hands.

St. Martin of Porres, in Lima, Peru, fed the rats and mice in the garden daily and forbade them from entering the house, which they obeyed.

And we find it in our own lives as well. My son, Landon, since he was a small child, has had a way with animals that has often astounded us. Every human population since the beginning of our race has delighted in having pets. If we cannot overcome the estrangement by the sheer force of our holiness, perhaps we can overcome a bit of it by the force of our cleverness, a way, perhaps, for the common Christian to be in relationship with the created order, to name them into relationship like Adam, and to show forth the truth that in the end ALL enmity in the created order will be overcome. So, "Fluffy" the cat is more than just a cat who claws the furniture and howls at night.
She is a sign of the nature of God, and the coming of the Kingdom.

This afternoon we will bring our critters to church. We will hold a little liturgy of blessing out in the grassy place to the east of the parking lot. We will offer thanks to God for the blessing of our pets, and we will recommit ourselves to the stewardship of their lives. We will reaffirm the truth that our relationships with our pets and indeed the whole created order reflect the nature of God, and contribute to the coming of the Kingdom.

1 comment:

Kes said...

There's a very good reason they find it so easy to worm their way into our hearts, even when they're annoying! *L*