closing the season of creation: worship notes for the feast of st. francis...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for this Sunday, October 2, 2016, on the Feast Day of St. Francis (actually October 4th). We bring to a close our observance of the Season of Creation and move into the wonderful transitions of autumn. (As I continue to "play" with the new design here I will be experimenting with font color. Please be patient until I get the right combo, ok?)

This is one of my favorite holy days in the whole Christian calendar: The Feast of St. Francis, All Saints Day, the start of Advent and the Paschal Triduum – Maundy Thursday to the Feast of the Resurrection on Easter morning – each carry a unique charism that brings nourishment and stamina to my soul:

+  All Saints’ Day connects heaven and earth for me as we remember those within the community who have crossed over into glory with God forever – and who pray without ceasing for those still living in this realm. The clarifying silence of the start of Advent opens me to all of the longings I carry in my heart like the Virgin Mary pondering the birth of the Christ Child. And the cluster of liturgies that begin on Maundy Thursday and continue seamlessly through Good Friday into the dawn of Easter’s renewal helps me trust that God has not yet given up on me – or us – or all of creation. The arch of this story tells me there is still hope if we trust God rather than ourselves.

+  And then there is today – the Blessing of Our Pets on the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi – at the close of the season of creation. There are a lot of reasons to like this celebration – the presence of our pets, the giddy excitement of our children, the hint of chaos and possibility of barking or squawking and more. But here’s why I cherish this day: it makes visible the interconnected reality of God’s blessing in creation as the Lord intended it. For a moment in time, we realize if only obliquely that we are part of a web of life: flora and fauna, water and wind, earth, fire and air and cosmos. 

+  The Feast Day of St. Francis gives shape and form to something we have known intuitively forever but have only confirmed scientifically in the last few decades: namely that we are all made from the same star dust that created the planets, the sun and the moon, the rain and the stars as well as all the multiple universes beyond our galaxy at the beginning of time. So, it is not an exaggeration to say that God’s wisdom for life has united us all into a cosmic tapestry of interdependence since before there was time.

And having our pets all around us in a place that is usually reserved just for people awakens this truth for me in a unique way. Our animal friends help get me out of my head and into my heart and body where I can feel something of God’s blessed unity. Like the old church camp song used to say: We are ONE in the Spirit, we are ONE in the Lord – and we pray that all unity will one day be restored.

So let me share with you three thoughts about our cosmic unity that are ours to treasure and nourish if we are willing to get out of our own way and live more boldly into this sacred wisdom. First, the heart of creation is Eucharistic. Gathering around the communion table to remember Christ’s life, death and resurrection is not simply a Christian ritual, it is a spiritual and symbolic re-enactment of God’s wisdom revealed to us in time, space and matter. 

+  Astrophysicist, Karel Schrijver, put it like this in a National Geographic: "When the universe started (8 billion years ago) there was just hydrogen and a little helium and very little of anything else. Helium is not in our bodies. Hydrogen is, but that's not the bulk of our weight. (After the explosion that set creation into motion “in the beginning” as the Bible says) stars became like nuclear reactors. They take a fuel and convert it to something else. Hydrogen is formed into helium, and helium is built into carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, iron and sulfur—everything we're made of. So when stars get to the end of their lives, they swell up and fall together again, throwing off their outer layers (and scattering the essence of star dust throughout the universe.) If a star is heavy enough, it will explode in a supernova” sharing the stuff of new life with the cosmos through its own death.

+  The gospel of St. John has Jesus saying much the same thing albeit in mystical poetry rather than scientific prose: "unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies... it will not bear fruit. I give my life and love so that you may have life – and have it in abundance.” This is Eucharist for those with eyes to see: we gather to return thanks to God for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus through whom we experience forgiveness and new life. And then, after dying to self, we move back into the world to share a life of gratitude with others.

In liturgical language we celebrate in communion what the scientists have confirmed in the cosmos: we are all taken and blessed, broken and shared, so that by dying to ourselves we might bring new life to the world. This is the wisdom and rhythm of the holy built into creation since before the beginning of time. Creation is Eucharistic.

Second, in countless ways, our spiritual tradition has been trying to help us grasp the ethical implications of this cosmic wisdom of Eucharist for over three or maybe four thousand years. In Genesis 2, the first book of the Bible, we read that on the day the Lord our God created human beings, formed as we were from the dust of the earth and filled with the breath of God, the Lord also created a garden from star dust and filled it with bounty and harmony so that more life could be set into motion. 

 The Scripture says: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the dust of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field. And the animals were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. There was unity and creativity born of spirit and flesh.

Jesus seems to be saying much the same thing in that part of St. Matthew’s gospel we know as the Sermon on the Mount. Listen as he reminds us that we are all connected to one another according to God’s plan: I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Life, as God intends it, is grounded in honoring our unifying and creative place within the cosmic tapestry of creation. Community and solidarity lay at the heart of this plan – sharing and compassion are woven into the essence of a sacred life of balance – and the more we respect this truth, the better able we are to serve the Lord throughout the whole cosmos. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the ethics of creation like this in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: In a real sense all life is inter-related. All of us are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality.

And this points to the third insight for this Feast Day for Blessing Our Pets: as a part of the Eucharistic rhythm at the heart of creation and God’s bold, cosmic interconnectivity, we have been charged to live as God’s image in creation. Not Lord or King or Queen– not someone else’s part nor the role of the animals, water, the heavens or the land – just our part. In Genesis 1 we read that after all of creation was formed, God made human beings in the image of God to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and every living being. And this word dominion is tricky: back when the Bible was translated into English, it was the age of European empire and exploration. So when the King James Version was written, it was natural to translate the Hebrew word, rawdah, in the spirit of the age.

It actually made sense in that day to speak of the image of God in terms of nobility, control and

power. But as time changes and we become more insightful about the nuances of culture, language and scripture, scholars now agree that dominion really doesn’t work – especially because the ancient Hebrew story in Genesis does not portray the first people as nobility or even divine unlike all the other creation stories of that era. No, we were formed in the image of God to strengthen and cherish creation as did the Lord – exercising a “special and unique power and privilege – a tender responsibility – to share love, interdependence and respect” just as God did in the beginning. 

+  The Reverend Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School puts it like this: to exercise the rule or reign of God in creation – rawdah in Hebrew – is always related to the image of God in reality. That’s why she suggests a more evocative translation where we are to exercise a skilled mastery of balance amongst the creatures of creation.

+  God has already set an order and rhythm into motion in the cosmos: the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are to be fruitful and multiply – not just human beings – so what we’re encouraged to do is live in a way that honors and strengths the blessings God has already set in motion. Not control them. Nor act in self-absorbed or ruthless ways, but rather to become the image of God as the Lord intended since the beginning.


I love this day in the life of the church because it calls me to honor my place in God’s creation – and do so knowing that as I exercise tender care in the world, I am living into the image of the Lord. Jan Richardson, a United Methodist clergy person and artist, wrote a blessing poem for our pets that gets the heart of this right and brings my message to a close:

You who created them and called them good: 
bless again these creatures who come to us as a blessing

fashioned of fur or feather or fin, formed of flesh that breathes with your own breath,
that you have made from sheer delight, that you have given in dazzling variety.
Bless them who curl themselves around our hearts, 
who twine themselves through our days 
who accompany us in our labor, who call us to come and play.
Bless them who will never be entirely tamed a
nd so remind us that you love what is wild,
that you rejoice in what lives close to the earth, that your heart beats
in the heart of these creatures you have entrusted to our care.

Lord may it be so within and among us all. Amen.


Bill said…
Beautiful message. I love the way you've connected it all. It is truly a wonderful season.

I am awed when I consider that 8 billion years ago the entire known universe was composed of nothing but hydrogen and helium. Nowhere in the universe were there conditions even remotely capable of supporting life. And no reasonable observer of that state of affairs would have concluded that such conditions would ever be possible. It's hard to imagine a situation more apparently hopeless. Yet here we are. It makes being an optimist in face of today's difficulties relatively easy. :)

By the way, not to be "that guy," but Ellen Davis is at Duke Divinity School.

RJ said…
Thanks so much Bill. I am grateful for your kind words of encouragement. BTW I was quoting from Krista Tippett who had Ellen Davis at YDS. Ooops... I will make the change. Thanks.

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