19 Pentecost, Yr. B October 4, 2015
Gen 2:18-24 Mark 10:2-16
On this day, we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi by blessing animals at the 9:00 and 11:00 services. Given the limited attention span of our animal companions, the sermon today is intentionally brief as we turn to today’s lessons and to honoring beloved St. Francis.
Most depictions of St. Francis show him surrounded by creatures great and small, for whom he showed great respect and care. But equally important for Francis was his concern for the poor and desolate.
In rejecting the privilege into which he was born, this saint points us to something greater than worldly comforts, just as Pope Francis does now in the lifestyle choices he makes – his simpler dwelling into which he invites the homeless for meals, his mode of transportation, and his attention to people at the margins, whether at home or when visiting other countries.
During the pope’s visit to Cuba in September, he told the crowd that “being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it….That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.”
As both St. Francis and Pope Francis remind us, humans are given great responsibility for the creatures of the earth and for the poor and vulnerable. Caring for them is our duty. We are stewards, all of us.
Psalm 8, appointed in the lectionary for this day, speaks of God’s creating humankind and animals:
“What is man that you should be mindful of him?”…You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.” (Ps. 8:4a, 7-9)
In today’s lesson from Genesis, the first human is shown to be superior to the rest of creation through the gift and power of language. It’s the gift of language that separates us from the animals we adopt into our families, which we hold authority to name, and which we’ll bless shortly.
Language is gift, and language is power. Words matter. Humans can do much damage to other humans through words, as through violent action.
The violent action this week in Oregon which we as a nation deeply grieve began with words as the gunman, apparently targeting Christians, asked victims to state their religion. How much more loss will it take for an end to this madness? Lord, have mercy upon us.
Relationships break, whether friendships or marriage (as the gospel lesson addresses), or with family members—the bitter end often driven by a swift blow of words.
Animals do not have this gift of words, though of course dogs can bark their heads off and birds of the air shriek in a way that makes humans shudder. Our pets, though they understand tone of voice, cannot understand why they have to go to the vet or why we sometimes need to make tough decisions for them.
Last week, a friend admitted that he was undone by the death of his dog in an emotional way that didn’t come close to his loss of friends. Since he’s a biologist, he engaged in some research and learned that “There’s a piece of recent research (earlier this year) showing that humans and dogs participate in a mutual feedback loop for the production of the hormone oxytocin when they gaze at one another. It parallels the mechanism in human infants and their relative adults.”
My friend’s response was not the first time I’ve heard of the intense emotional connection between humans and animals, nor the associated guilt when admitting more connectedness to animals than to humans.
Animals, with their unconditional love, teach us. We as stewards of them and of all creation have much more to learn. Certainly we have miles to go to in understanding how we fall short of caring for the earth – our dwelling place of land, sky and sea – given by God, who created all things and said that they were good.
In his historic address to the United Nations this month, Pope Francis pleaded for environmental justice. He said, “Any harm done to the environment…is harm done to humanity,” noting that the poor are the biggest victims of environmental destruction. “A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to exclusion of the weak and the disadvantaged,” he said.
In the spirit of Francis, how can we serve others with a generosity that leads us to give with open hands, not fists held tight in fear of scarcity? In this stewardship season in our common life as Church, we consider how God’s blessings enrich us with an opportunity to express gratitude for those blessings.
Mindful of our abundance, and in thanksgiving for the gift of God’s creation, may we ask:
What stands in our way of more fully caring for and giving to others? What could change if we first remember all that God gives us, and then respond as good stewards both to our church and to the world left in our care?
 Associated Press, Quad-City Times, Davenport IA, 9/21/15, A5.
 Somini Sengupta and Jim Yardley, NYT 9.26.15, Sec. A6.
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