Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Blessing of the Animals

This reflection was presented at the Blessing of the Animals Service for the St. James United Church of Christ, Lovettsville, VA, on September 24, 2017.

There are some services that are quite important to the life of a congregation and a community. For example, there would be an uproar if there was no Christmas Eve or Easter Vigil in some congregations. Can you imagine the outrage that would commence if there was no Pentecost?
Well, I have learned that the St. Francis of Assisi service, otherwise known as “The Blessing of the Animals Service” is as important to the life of the community, even if we don’t know realize it. In case you didn’t know, St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment, and, as the Old Testament reading reminds us, God created humans to have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Many times, I am convinced, we think that dominion over all the earth, and all the creatures that inhabit it, means that we have free reign to do whatever we want to do, regardless of outcome. That, my friends, is not so.
While dominion and authority indicates supreme control over animals and the earth, there is a second component to having control over something – a requirement to ensure care of and maintenance of. For example, the government, in most cases, has dominion over roadways, they are required to take care of and maintain them so that they are navigable. Now whether the government does that well is another issue, they are still required to do so.
Another example I thought of is that of an absentee landlord. You know the kind – purchases a property, rents it out, yet neglects to take care of it. The landlord enjoys the income they derive from the property, yet does nothing to maintain its wellbeing.
Unfortunately, in some instances, we humans have become absentee landlords. We love all of the benefits we derive from the earth and animals, yet we have failed to take care of them adequately. We are required to care for the animals that God has given US dominion over, and we are required to care for the EARTH as well. In case you have missed it, there are indications that we have not done such a good job of the “taking care of and maintaining” part of dominion. We’ve pretty much mastered the “absolute control” over, but if we are honest, we need to do a better job of taking care of and maintaining.
If you don’t believe me, there are far too many animals being mistreated. We are not taking care of and maintaining the animals we have dominion over. There are far too many animals in shelters or homeless. We are not taking care of and maintaining the animals we have dominion over. Our earth is telling us that we are not taking care of her, and she is telling us through the weather. We are not taking care of the earth we have dominion over. We must do a better job.
This is not to say that we are totally absent in our care. Those of us here this morning KNOW that we have a responsibility for caring for the animals that are in our care. Those of us here KNOW that we have a responsibility for being good stewards of the earth. Those of us here KNOW that we must exercise responsible dominion over the earth, and everything on and in it.
So, this morning, let us be thankful for the animals that we have in our lives, and remember that God made us in God’s image to do take care of and love them. What an honorable assignment to have – loving and blessing animals.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Getting It Wrong

Sometimes I get it wrong.

There. I said it.

Sometimes I marvel at the fact that I was called to ministry. Not in the “Oh my God, I’m not worthy” sense, but in the “Really, God? Me? You DO know who I am right?” sense. By the way, that’s a rhetorical question – of COURSE God knows who I am.

I am not perfect, in any sense of the word. I have some faults, but not according to my husband. He thinks that I am perfect in every way…except when I fail to put dates on the calendar, or I forget to do something that I’ve promised, or I neglect to make the bed properly, or I’m gone from home four nights in one week. I think the one that drives him battiest is that I forget to take the clothes out of the dryer before the next load goes in. Maybe he doesn’t think I’m perfect.

Well, I KNOW Poppins thinks I am the best thing to arrive on earth since boiled chicken. Hey, he has low standards. Well, almost…except when I don’t take him out in time, and then tell him how he’s a bad dog when it’s totally my fault, or when I go to sleep and leave three slices on pizza in the box on the table and he jumps up onto the table, drags the box onto the floor, eats the pizza (but not the green peppers or black olives…but devours the onions, causing his Poppy to go into a panic [nothing funnier than a panicked Poppy]), and then belches. Best one so far – has to be a toss up between the three cupcakes he scarfed down and was on a sugar high for two days or the brownie he scarfed down (another Panicked Poppy scenario, complete with tears, a call to Poison Control and the Vet – the Vet laughed at me) and was high for two days.

So, my congregations must think I’m perfect…except when I totally miss changing the date on the front of the bulletin, or choose a completely horrible hymn that we can’t sing (and let’s be honest, there are some hymns that should be retired from hymnody…forever), or miss a breakfast, or….

My friends CERTAINLY think I am perfect. They have to…except when I am running 30 minutes behind schedule, or have totally forgotten to put their event on the calendar (see my husband), or have triple booked myself in 3 different cities (that happened just this past weekend), or totally botch their birthday greetings or their anniversaries, or in one case, their birthday a month early…and I have 5 friends, who all know each other, with the same birthday. Yes, I made the same mistake 5 times in one day – no one answered their telephone when I called!

My siblings know I am not perfect – they grew up with me.

Maybe I’m the one who thinks I’m perfect. Except I don’t. I know that I am a heaping helping of hot mess, especially when I get nervous. I know I’m not perfect, and I’ve stopped trying to convince myself that I am. In fact, I tell folks, especially people that I am going to serve, that I will get it wrong sometimes.

And that’s why this is important. I do ministry. I serve people.  I love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. (And it seems that I have an “I” problem in my writing. Oh well, this is about me. Great. Now it’s an “I/Me” problem. This is what…get back on track Guy…)

In life, we ALL get it wrong. We do. It’s human nature. I hope we get it right more than we get it wrong. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. But most of the time, I honestly believe we get it right. But it seems that the people we serve expect the servants to be perfect all of the time, even outright dismissing folks who, because of a mistake or two, think the person they’re hiring (that’s the first mistake – you don’t hire a pastor…another post for another time….) calling gets it wrong all of the time and in every way. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And if that is going to be the standard, let’s look at Jesus’ track record. Even the Son of God got it wrong once or twice. I mean, he compared a sick little girl to a dog. THAT’S getting it wrong. He had to do a healing twice. THAT’S getting it wrong. He killed off a fig tree because the tree wouldn’t give fruit out of season. THAT’S getting wrong.

He killed off a herd of swine, ruining a whole lot of bacon, ham, sausage, and ribs. Really dude?

So, I guess (there’s that “I” again) my point is – if we are followers of Jesus, we too will get it wrong. The one we follow and call Savior did, and if he got a do-over, so should we.

Sometimes I will get it wrong. I’m human. But here’s what I won’t get wrong – love. Love is unconditional. I may not agree with you all of the time, and I don’t want to, but I will love you, and hold your hand, and stand by you, and visit you in jail, and call your Mama and Daddy, and cheer at little BoBo’s (fill in the appropriate sport) game, and even make a total fool of myself in a costume, or reading something…I will love you.

All I ask is that you be patient with me. Yes, I can be obstinate, and according to a certain pastoral associate who shall remain nameless, I can also be frightening…until you get to know me. I am none of those things. Now, I AM fiercely protective of people, especially those I love and those that are ignored and or dismissed by/outcast from society. I will ALWAYS go to bat for them, because Jesus would have done the same. I am called to do that. Voiceless people need a voice, and believe me, I have a big mouth.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” Sometimes I will get everything else wrong, but I will do my BEST to get the love thing right.

Unless you’re a Packers’ fan. Then all bets are off.  Well, almost. Cheese is good.

Be blessed, but more importantly, be a blessing.