This sermon was preached at the annual blessing of the animals at Holy Covenant Anglican Church on October 20, 2013.
(Revelation 5:11-14; Matthew 6:25-29)
In February this year, Katie and I went on one of the day cruises offered on Lake Burley Griffin. It was a beautiful, sunny, summer day and so we sat together on the small uncovered veranda at the rear of the boat. Our skipper commentated, for the few hours we sailed, on the history and buildings built around the lake. It was a fascinating ride on a beautiful day.
One of his stories has stayed with me. Our host was related to a builder who at the time was working on one of the new multi-story apartment blocks going up around the Civic area. It had been, extraordinarily, designed to dramatically reduce – and even eliminate – the need for its occupants to ever leave the premises. Yes, this single building will contain private units, restaurants, a range of shopping experiences, a cinema complex, and office space. With a state of the art computing system to be included in each apartment, residents were also able to order – and have delivered – almost anything their heart desired without the need to move from lounge room.
It struck me, as I felt the breeze on my face, as absurd – the ultimate expression of the desire to close ourselves off from the wonder-filled world around us.
Today we at Holy Covenant have set this service aside to celebrate, remember, and give thanks for all God’s creatures, the whole created order, and the faith hero that has come to represent these values, St Francis of Assisi.
We celebrate, today, God’s creative genius revealed in all the wonders of our world.
Our readings today urge us to take this even further: we can both learn from the created order and authentically join her in the worship of God.
In our gospel reading Jesus suggests that we do well to ‘Look at the birds of the air’, and to ‘Consider the lilies of the field’. For those of us prone to worry about life’s basics – and even some of life’s luxuries – these simple wonders of creation have something profound to teach us. Considered carefully they have all the potential challenge our self-reliance and our lack of worry-defeating faith.
The birds and lilies are examples of ones who serve, and are served, by God.
We also heard part of the vision John experienced while imprisoned on the notorious isle of Patmos. Here is one whose punishment for his witness to Christ involves his being cut off from the created order. He is artificially separated from all things.
But these walls are unsuccessful in their quest. Yes, even in this cell creation sings ‘…with full voice’. John celebrates realities well beyond these cold stone walls. He sees angels, living creatures, and elders. He goes on to describe the singing of ‘…every creature in heaven and earth and in the sea and all that is in them.’
It is nothing if not a comprehensive vision of all things in praise of God for all that God has done.
Is there need for any other defence of our blessing of the animals today?
After all our prayers are simply a small expression of what God is doing on a grand and unimaginable scale. The content of creation’s praise in John’s Revelation is – excuse the pun – revealing. Creation offers its chorus to nothing less than the ‘worthy’ ‘Lamb that was slain’ and a ‘blessing’ of both ‘…the one seated on the throne and the Lamb’.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we gather around today, was not an act of God exclusively conducted for the benefit of humanity. As Paul suggests in Romans 8, in Christ ‘…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ All of creation groans as we together await this ‘adoption’ and ‘redemption’.
And today, in the person and memory of St Francis, we are reminded that this is not an ancient pie-in-the-sky vision that could never find a grounding or an action. Ours is a hope that finds expression well beyond mere waiting.
When Francis, as a young man stripped off his clothes in radical expression of his intention to live, not off the considerable profit and achievement of his earthly father, but in faith that God was his real and involved Father – really there and that God really cared – he commenced to live a life that continues to inspire and challenge.
Until recently, I taught ‘Christian Living’ as a subject at Burgmann Anglican School. One of my favourite classes occurred each year when I showed an old Compass episode of some Franciscan monks (sounds riveting, I know!).
The men interviewed had chosen to live in one of the least desirable communities in Sydney. Although they were considerably well educated (one having done further study in philosophy), they dedicated themselves daily to serving and improving the life of this forgotten corner of our largest and wealthiest city. They moved into the neighbourhood to pray and work for others.
And their simple acts of service quietly, but definitely, changed lives.
I used to open the lesson with a simple statement that made more and more sense to me the more I viewed those extraordinary servants of Christ. I would say: ‘Today we will consider three Franciscan monks here in Australia and the way they live. I think they are the most radical and consistent disciples of Jesus I have ever encountered.’
We do well to celebrate our pets and animal companions today. They are an expression of God’s creativity, character, and grace. But if we dare to leave St Francis as a mere lover of nature we miss the best part. He loved and served all God’s creatures because he loved and served God.
May you know the same call to join with God – and all God’s creation – in singing, dancing, and living the wonder of the God who with every fiber of God’s being is seeking the ‘redemption’ of the universe.