Note from CM: Last Sunday, I pulled into the parking lot at the church I was attending and noted that they were having an outdoor service. Getting out of my car, I saw folks walking their dogs and carrying other pets toward the chairs. “Ah,” I thought as I smiled, “they’re blessing the animals this morning!” I have heard of these services, but never attended one before. It was delightful, an affirmation of the goodness of God’s creation, our connection with this world and its creatures, and God’s amazing love for the works of his hands.
You can read about the background of these services here: “Blessing of Animals,” by Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M. As Mackin says, this tradition has come about in honor of St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day (Oct. 4), and is conducted in remembrance of his love for all creatures. St. Francis’s great hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” calls heaven and earth and all therein to worship our Maker.
I won’t say more about the observance, other than that it was a wonderfully refreshing affirmation of our Creator’s care. I asked the pastor, Rev. Mark Havel, for permission to reprint his sermon, and he graciously said yes. So, here is his message, emphasizing God’s radical love for all his creatures.
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[Jesus said,] “Therefore 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. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
A little dog story, in honor of the occasion at hand…
Back in early August a couple of hikers were some 14,000 feet up the side of a mountain, somewhere in Colorado, when one of them noticed a dog – a big German Shepherd, Rottweiler mix of a dog – nestled between some rocks on a ledge. It was obvious that someone had left her there, which they couldn’t understand, because no one’s pet would try to make their way up such a steep, rough, dangerous climb without some encouragement.
Anyway, the dog couldn’t get to them – partly because the terrain of the mountain was too tricky and partly because the dog was obviously weak and injured, with raw, bleeding pads on her feet and elbows, from where she’d obviously been trying to make her way down the mountain for some time. So, the young couple wasn’t able to rescue the dog themselves, but they did bandage her wounds and leave her in a safer place than they found her, with some water to drink, before they headed back down the mountain to look for help. On the way down the mountain, they found a sympathetic ranger who felt badly, but wasn’t able – I suspect because of some rule or regulation – to help with the rescue efforts on behalf of a dog.
So the young couple, with the help of a Facebook page, put out a plea for help with the rescue. A few days later – 8 days after the dog was initially left, for dead, on the mountain – 8 people made their way up to save her. They fought through a snow storm, found the dog un-bandaged and bloodied all over again, loaded all 100+ pounds of her into an oversized backpack, and headed back down the mountain, in what amounted to a 9 hour rescue mission that saved her life.
And she’s fine…recovering…and even though her original owner was discovered…Missy, will likely be adopted by one of her rescuers.
Some might hear such a story and wonder “why so much trouble for the likes of a dog?” Some might rationalize that we should spend so much time and energy and effort to rescue people in the same way that these eight kind souls were compelled to go after this hound. Some might think it silly to bless pets, during worship, on a Sunday at church.
All of this to me is about acknowledging just how connected we are as God’s created ones. It’s about seeing ourselves in that little ditty from Genesis we hear so often – as being crafted by the hands and heart of God, as being linked by our goodness in God’s eyes, and as being bound to one another and to the whole of God’s creation in powerful ways.
And all of this, too, is about acknowledging and celebrating just how radical and irrational and unrestrained and illogical God’s love for all of creation is. And it’s about our call to practice that kind of radical, irrational, unrestrained, illogical sort of grace on behalf of all that God has made.
It doesn’t make sense, after all, that any one of us is rescued from the mountains of our sinfulness by the grace we know in Jesus Christ. It makes no sense that God would bother to climb onto, not a mountain, but a cross, to redeem what so many would just as soon leave for dead. It makes no sense that God would care to seek, to heal… to redeem… to love… to adopt… to welcome home sinners like you and me.
There are plenty of reasons why some might be more worthy than others; why some might be more guilty than others; why some might deserve more or less attention or forgiveness or care or concern than others. But God’s grace doesn’t make that kind of sense. God’s grace comes after us no matter what. God’s love finds us no matter what.
And if you brought a pet with you today – or if you’ve ever been lucky enough to have a pet like these – you know what that kind of unrestrained love and devotion and grace feels like, whether your animal has shared it with you, like the most faithful of dogs; or whether you’ve been blessed to offer it to one of those cats who couldn’t care less!
Whatever the case, we bless our animals today as a reminder of their importance in our lives, as a celebration of God’s creation and our place in the midst of it, and as an experience of grace – given and received – by the one who rescues and redeems us all in Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
O Praise Him! O Praise Him!