|The Rev. Dr.
Kristin Johnston Largen
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
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Blessing of the Animals Sermon
Oct. 4th, 2008
In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying God. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to God’s creative love…The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like God….Each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what God wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by God’s love and God’s infinite Art.”
This, to me, is one of the best descriptions of the gospel message revealed to us in today’s reading from Genesis. What we learn from this text, and what we celebrate in our commemoration of St. Francis today, is that God loves creation and all God’s creatures in the same way God loves us: just as God made us – without doing anything special, without having to earn God’s blessing. In God’s eyes, our planet is not good only insofar as it is useful to humankind; and animals are not good only insofar as they can be trained, tamed, shot or eaten. God loves them just as they are.
And what’s more, these words of Merton remind us that God not only loves God’s creatures, but God also takes great joy and delight in their unique expression of their “selfness” – to paraphrase Hopkins – in their being exactly what God created them to be. I am convinced that God delights in the stubborn tenacity of a Jack Russell; in the insistent communication of the Siamese cat; in the playfulness of a river otter; and in the powerful bite of a Great White shark. These animals are not objects to God, they are subjects, with their own integrity, their own inherent value, and their own created worth.
And if they are subjects to God, so also should they be subjects to us; they deserve our compassion, our respect, our advocacy; and our joy, our delight, and our love. They are “Thous” God calls us into relationship with, not “Its” that we can manipulate, exploit, or ignore. And today we witness to that significant theological truth by bringing these members of our families here, before God, to worship with us and receive a blessing. In this act of love and solidarity, we as a church offer a prophetic critique of society, of those who would abuse and neglect God’s creation, by witnessing to a more loving, just relationship between humanity and the rest of creation, thereby even offering perhaps a brief glimpse of what God has in store for us in the kingdom. Saint Francis saw such a vision, and lived his life as if it were true. So also can we. AMEN
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