I don’t know about you, but it can be hard for me to plug
into the daily news cycle -- or maybe to unplug from it. I got up
Monday morning and heard 400 hundred people had been injured by
bullets. Four hundred. How is that even possible? It’s easy
to have my attention pulled from one crisis to the next crises,
and feel like the world is a hostile and threatening place. Sometimes
that anxiety can be so acute that I literally forget to give thanks
for each day that I have been blessed with, and to be aware of the
blessings which are part of every day. A text like Psalm 19, which
is brimming with God’s goodness and a planned and ordered
world can be an antidote to the poison of hatred and violence. We
cannot deny the existence of hatred and violence: as incredible
as it may seem, a lone gunman in Las Vegas actually killed 59 people
and wounded nearly five hundred others. We can’t simply stick
our heads in the sand and pretend that didn’t happen, or just
hope it won’t ever happen again, but side by side with that
narrative -- and the stories we have heard about natural disasters
-- are the stories of great and small acts of heroism and courage
and selflessness: strangers pulling strangers to safety, thousands
of people donating blood, people helping their neighbors, churches
sending relief in the form of food, water, cleaning supplies, childcare,
people to rebuild. These are part of the story too, even though
they rarely make headlines.
So this morning I’d like to do something a little different:
I’m going to do something my preaching professor told us to
never, never do. Some of you know my homiletics professor -- please
don’t tell her about this sermon. I’m going to make
your stories the center of the sermon today, and put a theological
frame around that for us -- rather than the other way around. I
have asked several of you to share photos and a few sentences of
reflection: I could have asked many other people; please feel free
to share your stories with others as you have the opportunity.
Let me give you a little context: most of you have heard of Francis
of Asissi. He was a man born to a wealthy Italian family in the
12th century. His birth name was Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone,
but he was known as Francesco. His is a riches to rags story: he
was born into privilege, but came to embrace poverty and simplicity.
He founded the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church. He was canonized
as St. Francis, and became known as the patron saint of the natural
world and of animals. There’s a little image of Francis on
your bulletin: if you have or have seen a garden statue of a guy
in a robe, it is probably St. Francis with a bird on his shoulder
and woodland creatures at his feet. He wrote a famous prayer in
praise of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Hymn 48 in the Blue hymnal
“All Creatures of our God and King,” is an adaptation
of that text.
The feast day of St. Francis is October 4, and in some Catholic
parishes there is a service called The Blessing of the Animals on
or around that day. Do any of you remember when Creekside had a
Blessing of the Animals service here in our garden? There is still
a blue plastic tub in the kitchen labeled Blessing of the Animals.
We had dogs and cats and hamsters: someone even brought a goldfish
in a bag to be sprinkled with holy water. What a day.
Now typically, Blessing of the Animals is a time when people bring
their pets to be sprinkled with water and blessed. Although, when
we did this at Creekside, I was holding our cat when Pastor David’s
dog showed up, and I got sprinkled with something stronger than
water. But today I want to talk about how our pets are blessing
to us. That’s what I’ve asked some folks to share about.
This idea came because of an email exchange over a period of several
months with Marcia Sowles. Marcia grew up in Elkhart City Church,
but moved away to become an attorney at the Department of Justice
in Washington DC. She kept her parents’ home in Elkhart, and
visits at Creekside when she’s in the area. She listened to
one of my sermons online, and emailed me to ask for prayer for her
and her cat, Teddy. Teddy had just been diagnosed with lymphoma.
Teddy was obviously a significant part of Marcia’s life.
Slide 1 Here’s a picture of Marcia and Teddy. Here’s
what Marcia wrote:
Teddy was truly a blessing. I adopted him from the Arlington shelter
in 2001. He greeted me at the door when I came home from work and
always seemed to understand when I had a hard day or was sad. He
slept by me at night. Even when he was losing his battle with lymphoma
he would still give me kisses in the morning.
Slide 2 I adopted Ford two weeks after Teddy died. He is very active
and loves to play. I hope that we will share many years together.
Slide 3 Choir members will recognize Bruce Barwick’s miniature
schnauzer, Abbie. Abbie was an honorary member of the Creekside
Choir. She wasn’t much of a singer, but she was better behaved
than some of the other members of the choir [that’s my comment].
She was a wonderful companion to Bruce, and I got to see how she
was trained to run on their treadmill. She passed away this spring,
and Bruce still misses her very much.
Slide 4 This is from cat lovers Joe and Karen Kohler: It’s
a glorious feeling to sit in easy chairs in our living room, feet
up on the coffee table and Christmas CDs playing in the background.
But when cats climb up on our laps and fall asleep, THAT’S
when we think we have a glimpse of what Heaven must be like.
Slide 5 Anne Griffith couldn’t send just one picture of her
cats! She says, For as long as I can remember, I have loved cats!
I truly love all animals, but cats are easily my favorite. My long-time
kitties; Rough & Tumble were brothers from a litter of barn
cats on John & Jean Mann’s property. I got them in 1996.
They were great at snuggling and making me feel loved. They roughhoused,
would get into mischief, and play doing silly things. They taught
me to be patient at times, and listened to all my troubles without
complaint or rolling their eyes. Cats can be way better company
than people! My current kitties are a mix of outdoor ferals and
strays. Piglet, DJ Skinny Boots, and Pumpkin Light are a strange
lot. I’m pretty sure I will always have cats around to keep
Slide 6 This is Kurt Vardaman with Jazz, Kurt and Lisa’s
3 year old cockapoo. Lisa writes when she and Kurt and got their
first dog shortly after their 2nd anniversary, a close friend exclaimed
that she would not need to worry about us now, because we had something
besides ourselves to take care of. With the exception of about 5
months, we have always had at least 1 dog in our home over the last
28 years. Each dog has been a wonderful companion, as special and
unique as people. Jazz keeps our daily routine from being dull.
She is persistent when it comes to playtime and lifts our moods
with her always happy nature and wagging tail. She loves to play
tug-of-war, fetch, and to take Kurt outside for a walk, but as she
ages, she is learning that sitting on a lap and snuggling is a good
way to soothe our hurried souls.
Slide 7 This is my daughter Becca and one of our cats, Sultan.
Sultan is proof that you don’t have to be smart to be happy.
(Becca is proof that you can be smart AND happy) Sultan is a simple
soul who just wants attention in order to be content. He has been
draped on my shoulders for every sermon I’ve written at my
home computer, and he hasn’t learned anything: except gratitude.
He never forgets gratitude. Some people have not figured this out.
I appreciate the folks who share pictures and stories: pets get
us out, slow us down, remind us that there’s more to life
than just ourselves, and provide companionship and playfulness in
our lives. These are blessings which we all need. We need to be
reminded that in the midst of tragedy and disaster and grief that
there is still order and goodness in God’s creation, and although
we have a place in that creation, we are not God. We cannot control
the world, but we can affirm the goodness that is in it. There is
more to this world than what we hear in the headlines. This is the
world God loved so much that sent his Son, Jesus, to be part of
it with us. Thanks be to God.