Genesis 1:20-30

God said, “Let the waters swarm with living things, and let birds fly above the earth up in the dome of the sky.” 21 God created the great sea animals and all the tiny living things that swarm in the waters, each according to its kind, and all the winged birds, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was. 22 Then God blessed them: “Be fertile and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”

23 There was evening and there was morning: the fifth day.

24 God said, “Let the earth produce every kind of living thing: livestock, crawling things, and wildlife.” And that’s what happened. 25 God made every kind of wildlife, every kind of livestock, and every kind of creature that crawls on the ground. God saw how good it was. 26 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”

27 God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,[b]
male and female God created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. 30 To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.

This is the word of God for us the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Season of Creation: Blessing All Creatures

God is the creator.

God is the creator of all things.

God is the creator of the heavens and the earth, the mountains, the ocean, plants and creatures of all kinds – birds and fish and tigers and bears and insects and snakes. And God created us humans in the very image of God. And one of the very first responsibilities that that God gave us humans was to care for creation—to tend and cultivate the land and take dominion over creation – to enjoy it and to use it in ways that would honor God. If you have been here the last few weeks for this sermon series, you won’t be surprised that I am sharing this scripture about the responsibility God gives us. It is Genesis 2:15:

                   The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of      Eden to farm it and to take care of it.

But a problem arose with humanity right away – right there in the Garden of Eden; because you see one of the things that God gifted us with was free will. And from the very beginning, we humans have struggled with using our free will in ways that honor and glorify God. From the very beginning we chose to go down the wrong path; we chose not to trust God or to follow God’s way and instead we consistently put ourselves in the place of God. And sometimes our human choices and our way of living cause harm to the rest of creation. So, I hope one of the things you will take in from this sermon series is that we have a role in God’s creation – but, we are not the only part of God’s creation. And God has given us this heightened responsibility to care for the earth, the sea, the sky, to farm the land, and to care for the creatures, too.

Today, we will focus particularly on animals – both wild, domesticated and even livestock.

Animals bring joy, love and peace into our lives. Ed and I went to the Memphis zoo yesterday and had the best time watching the animals – it is hard not to smile when you are around animals of all categories. Our household pets seem to bring a special kind of joy to our lives. The CDC says that most households in the US have at least one pet, and it says that there are physical and mental health benefits from having pets. Having a pet increases our fitness levels, lowers our stress and just generally brings us happiness. Specifically, the CDC reports that pet ownership decreases blood pressure, decreases cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decreases feelings of loneliness and increase opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization (https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html). I know that many of you have experienced these exact things with your pets. This week you all have sent me some wonderful pictures of yourselves with your pets, and I want to show you some of those photos. You’re going to see dogs and cats, squirrels, pigs, chickens, turtles and fish, horses and goats. Enjoy!

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Today we give thanks to God for our pets and the wild animals and creepy crawlers of creation. I want to ask you to consider a couple of questions and talk with someone close to you about it. First, I want you to talk about this with someone near you –when was a pet important in your life? What is the pet you remember most and why? (Ask for some to share.)

And now, would you talk about wild animals and livestock. What is an experience with a wild animal or livestock that most impacted you? Ask for some to share. Did anyone grow up on a farm and have stories about animals? Or what is the most amazing memory you have about an encounter with wildlife? (Ask some to share.)

As I looked at what scripture says about creatures I realized that animals can teach us many things! I want to share just a few examples with you of how animals teach us valuable lessons about our faith and living happy lives.

Matthew 6:25-27

Worry about necessities

25 “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?

Aren’t the birds right? Life is so much more than food and clothes; and we ought to replace our time-wasting worry with trust in our heavenly Father.

Job 12:7-10

“But ask the animals what they think—let them teach you;
let the birds tell you what’s going on.
Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics.
Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories.
Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree
that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—
Every living soul, yes,
every breathing creature?
Isn’t this all just common sense,
as common as the sense of taste?
Do you think the elderly have a corner on wisdom,
that you have to grow old before you understand life?

I really love this scripture. Because God says to Job in the midst of all his anguish and trouble – the animals will teach that I am sovereign. Even the animals know that I am God and I hold all things in my hand!!

Proverbs 6:6-8

Go to the ant, you lazy person;
observe its ways and grow wise.
The ant has no commander, officer, or ruler.
    Even so, it gets its food in summer;
gathers its provisions at harvest.

And then Proverbs. We can even learn about having good work habits from the ant!

Coming up next week on October 4, is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. You have probably heard of him, but you may not know some of the details of his life. He is a fascinating saint of the Catholic Church who is known for establishing the order of the Franciscan monks. And the Roman Catholic Church’s current Pope — Francis selected Francis of Assisi’s name to use as his papal name. There are a couple of things that Francis is associated with, one is concern for the poor and one is concern for animals. Francis is considered the patron saint of animals and the environment. I have an artwork that is thought to be the oldest surviving depiction of Francis, and I wanted to share it with you because it is a fresco near the entrance of the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco – near Rome, which I would guess our Subiaco is named for! You ought to read about Francis because he is really fascinating.

It has been argued that no one else in history was as dedicated as Francis to imitate the life, and carry out the work of Christ, in Christ’s own way. He and his followers celebrated and even venerated poverty. Poverty was so central to his character that in his last written work, the Testament, he said that absolute personal and corporate poverty was the essential lifestyle for the members of his Order.

He believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters”, he supposedly persuaded a wolf to stop attacking some locals if they agreed to feed the wolf, and he even preached to the birds. In his Canticle of the Creatures (“Praises of Creatures” or “Canticle of the Sun”), he mentioned the “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon”, the wind and water.

In 1220, Francis celebrated Christmas by setting up the first known crèche (Nativity scene).[39] His nativity imagery reflected the scene in traditional paintings. He used real animals to create a living scene so that the worshipers could contemplate the birth of the child Jesus in a direct way, making use of the senses, especially sight.

One of the things that is commonly done on the feast of St. Francis is a blessing of the animals. And so, I have a blessing for your dogs and cats. If you would take out the blessing. You will see printed a prayer on one side and a blessing on another. What you can do is take this treat to your pet and share it with your dogs and cats or granddogs or animals that you know and want to honor. And speak this blessing over that creature. But let’s speak those words together this day.

Animal Blessing

God created us and placed us on the earth
to be stewards of all living things,
therefore let us proclaim the glory of our Creator, saying:
O God, how wonderful are the works of your hands.

Blessed are you, O Lord of the Universe; you create the animals
and give us the ability to train them to help us in our work.

Blessed are you, O Lord of the Universe;
you give us food from animals to replenish our energies.

Blessed are you, O Lord of the Universe; for the sake of our comfort
you give us domestic animals as companions.

Blessed are you, O Lord of the Universe; you care for us
   even as you care for the birds of the air.

Blessed are you, O Lord of the Universe;
you offered your Son to us as the passover lamb
and in him willed that we should be called your children.

Bless, O Lord, this (these) creature(s),
and fill our hearts with thanksgiving for its (their)  being.

May God, who created the animals of this earth,
continue to protect and sustain us all,
now and forever. Amen.

And, I invite you to consider this video prayer for pets.

Saint Francis of Assisi preached the Christian doctrine that the world was created by God and that it is good and beautiful as God’s own creation; however, the world we live in suffers a need for redemption and of healing because of human sin. Francis believed that all creatures should praise God (a common theme in the Psalms) and that people have a duty to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves. May we give thanks to our great God, and may we open our eyes to ways that we are called to love and conserve creation.

Psalm 148

148 Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from heaven!
Praise God on the heights!
Praise God, all of you who are his messengers!
Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces!
Sun and moon, praise God!
All of you bright stars, praise God!
You highest heaven, praise God!
Do the same, you waters that are above the sky!
Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
because God gave the command and they were created!
God set them in place always and forever.
God made a law that will not be broken.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all you ocean depths!
Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke,
stormy wind that does what God says!
Do the same, you mountains, every single hill,
fruit trees, and every single cedar!
10 Do the same, you animals—wild or tame—
you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly!
11 Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person,
you princes and every single ruler on earth!
12 Do the same, you young men—young women too!—
you who are old together with you who are young!

13 Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
because only God’s name is high over all.
Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven.
14 God raised the strength[a] of his people,
the praise of all his faithful ones—
that’s the Israelites,
the people who are close to him.

Praise the Lord!

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