Repentance and Love

The above is a detail of John the Baptist by El Greco.

the Second Sunday of Advent
8 December 2019

Today’s readings were:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Click here to access these readings.

        This morning we get the story of John the Baptist. Not the whole story – we don’t hear about his later career and how he was killed – but a part of the story. And unlike most people in the Bible, we get a description of how he dressed and what he ate, each of which links him to promises of the Old Testament and a very ascetic way of life. We also get a taste of his preaching style, which is fiery and stirring and seems to begin with an insult. I mean, if a sermon begins with “you brood of vipers!”, you kinda know what sort of sermon it’s gonna be like. John is passionate, forceful, and in-your-face about the state of the world and the lives of the people around him. “Repent!” he calls out, and he means it, and he demands people listen.

        Now, I don’t know about you, but all the yelling and anger and frustration kinda turns me off. When I hear people scream and yell angrily about something, I tend to turn the other way. And I think that’s true for most Episcopalians. We don’t have and usually don’t want fiery sermons. If I got up here and said to you all, “You brood of vipers! Repent!”, you’d probably wonder what’s going on with me. Episcopal and Anglican preaching tends to be meditative, thoughtful, and read from a page on a pulpit or music stand. And that’s cool, that the point. Episcopal preaching isn’t supposed to get you all fired up; it’s supposed to work God more deeply into your hearts and then lead you to the sacraments and the sacramental life outside the church doors. We Episcopalians are a bit more quiet about our preaching.

        Which, like I said, is fine, but if we tune John out, if we ignore him because we don’t like that kind of loud preaching and pushy character, we lose something really important in our tradition and we miss a really important message. Now, when I was growing up, each time I heard the word “repent!” I had a very specific image. And that image was of a guy standing on the street corner with a sign around his neck yelling and screaming out the end of the world. And I saw this image when I went to college. Someone came to campus, stood in front of the student center, and proceeded to harass the students with words like ‘repent’, ‘sin’, ‘hell’, and ‘hatred.’ Two guys came to Sewanee, too, when I was in seminary, and they did the same thing. And the things that these guys said to the students, and especially to the female students, were truly horrible. I can’t imagine the damage and pain that these men inflicted on those students, and, at the time, I wanted nothing to do with words like ‘repent’ and ‘sin.’

        And I still want nothing to do with such words – as those men meant them, that is. Such anger and such hatred are foreign to God. It’s not our jobs as Christians to break people and expect God to clean up the pieces. We do wrong, however, in ridding ourselves of the words themselves, because they mean quite a bit less, and quite a bit more, than when used by angry people to shout down those who aren’t like them.

        But what is sin other than a swear word to throw at people? What is ‘repent’ other than a demand that you scream out without actually looking at the person you scream at? Well, let me tell you a story. While I was teaching abroad in Japan, I fell into a bit of depression. It happens with everyone who travels. It’s called homesickness. And the awful thing about being home sick is that it finds its way into every part of your life. Things depress you and you don’t know why. You get happy and often over-happy when you see things that even hint of home; once I became ecstatic when I found a bag of peanut butter M&Ms being sold at a convenience store. But, really, it’s about depression and having nothing to settle your sense of self on.

        I was home sick a lot of my time in Japan, but this one time was the worst. My family dog, who we had had since I was a kid, had died, and I wasn’t there to be with him. I had no where to put my grief. I would go for walks, travel to the city and see sights, or even spend time with friends, but nothing worked. I couldn’t find a way out of my grief. But all this time there was this odd nagging feeling. It was like someone was yanking me to look at something, and that something was my bookshelf. But reading books and being depressed don’t go well with one another, and so I ignored that yank. And it kept pulling, every morning, every afternoon after I got back from work. At last I just got tired of it and said, “Fine, what!?” I pulled off the first book I saw, which was one by C.S. Lewis, and, miracle of miracles, it was exactly the book I needed.

        I won’t get into how the book helped me in my grief. If you want to hear me rattle on and on about C.S. Lewis, grief, and my dog, ask me after the service. But what I do want to talk about is that yanking feeling. You see, the word “repent” in Greek is metanoea, which means “to turn away, to change one’s heart.” But often, repentance really means a turning to something. You see, God is always with us. That’s what Jesus’ traditional name, Emmanuel, means: God is with you. God is with us in our joy, our hope, and our love, but also in our grief, our sorrow, even our depression. And in these latter moments, God is always calling to us to turn to him, to turn away from the darkness of despair and turn to the light of Jesus Christ. Sometimes God is a voice in our heart or a feeling of being yanked, literally being pulled and turned towards something. At other times, God is a word from a friend or family member or even (this is true) a word from an enemy. And God’s word to us is always, “Turn to me.” Turn to Life, turn to Love, turn to Hope. Turn to God, whose face is Jesus Christ, whose breath is the Holy Spirit.

        In our world, in our community, and in our very lives, we do have to be very serious about sin. Sin – being turned away from God and demanding that the darkness is more real than the light – sin is a very real and present danger. Now, there was no sin in my home sickness, and there was no real sin in my despair. Despair is something we suffer, and Jesus Christ came to help us out of that despair and enter into true and open healing. We sin, instead, when we use our frustration, or confusion, or our anger against others, when we forget that God is love and that that love is calling inside each and every person we meet. And this is reflected in our baptismal promises, where we promise to renounce all sinful desires that draw us away from the love of God and, instead, promise to turn to Jesus Christ.

        It is often good, however, to define something with its opposite, and so I’ll end by doing this for the word “sin.” I just told you a story about two men who came to Sewanee and said some rather horrible things to the students there. They stood on the street corner and yelled at anyone they saw. I wasn’t there myself, and I only heard about it later. I can’t imagine how those students, especially the female students, felt when they heard those things. But here is the grace, and here is the turning. Those students, who were the target of all that hatred and anger, those students who had every right to be insulted and angry themselves, turned away from that anger. They approached these men, and they spoke to them in love. They denied the accusations that were made against them and their ways of life. They defended themselves gracefully, and defended those who did not feel they had a voice. They did not use violence, or hatred, or resentment, and showed themselves, instead, to be strong, hopeful, and full of compassion even in the face of those who hate and slander them.

        And I am proud of those students. They may not have changed the minds of those two men, but they did something else. I think they gave their fellow students hope. They showed them, and us seminarians and the professors and the administration as well, that the way of Jesus, what presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls the Way of Love, is possible. It gave me, at least, hope and sight that love is not some weak, pliable thing, but that it has strength and goodness, for it stands on something firmer and deeper than any sin, and that is Jesus Christ. This, to me, is an example of true turning, true repentance, for it is a turning away from anger and hatred and a turning to life that never, never ends.

Living death and beyond

the 23rd Day after Pentecost
Proper 28
17 November 2019

Today’s readings are:
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Click here to access these readings.

        Goodness, those were some grim readings, weren’t they? There’s a bit of fire and brimstone in our readings this morning, and though they were tempered a bit with the beautiful psalm, there was some grim stuff there. And it’s not just grim stuff like on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, but some gut frustration and anger and destruction. When I read these readings at the beginning of the week, I thought, man, how are the kids going to hear all this? Maybe I should ask Tina to keep them in Sunday school the whole time so they don’t have to hear any of it.

        But, but, that wouldn’t have been a good idea. It’s important to hear the whole of the Bible. It’s important that we Christians read and hear, in our own study and here in the gathered congregation of the church, the whole Bible, not just the nice, happy, and joyful moments, but those moments where the sins of the human heart and the world are laid bare. Someone once said that the Bible is like a map of the human response to God – the whole human response, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we need to take it all as God’s word to us in Scripture. It’s kinda, in a way, like marriage: if we want only the good parts, we’re going to have a pretty rocky marriage. But if we are with our spouses through sickness and in health, in joy and sorrow, through those nasty fights and those times when our hearts are lifted together in joy to the very gates of Heaven, then maybe that marriage will last. The Bible is kinda the same.

        And now, in the darkening time of the year, we read some of the tough parts of Scripture. And the lectionary is designed this way. Starting around All Saints, when we remember those of our beloved who have entered into the joys of Heaven, our readings focus more and more on the end. Or, perhaps it is better to say that Scripture, through our lectionary, asks important questions: what do we do with endings? What do we do with death? What do we do with little ends and little deaths, like the end of the year, or the parting of friends, or the ending of a relationship? And what do we do with those big ends, the death of loved ones, our own deaths, and that day when all things will end, and the world turns to look God face-to-face?

        Now, we humans can get pretty caught up in endings, be they small ones or big ones. And some of us Christians can get really caught up in the end times. We can worry about when, or how, or where, and who. We can take the Scriptures and work out the math to figure out when Jesus will return. And this sort of thing has been done with our Scriptures since the beginning of Christianity, but Jesus’ word to us is this: do not worry. Don’t get all caught up in all this calculating, because I am with you. I will guide you and remain with you, whatever may come to pass. I will love you and hold you, Jesus tells us, even when you try so hard to forget I’m there. Rest in me.

        Now, this sort of talk, I think, can easily lead to a “don’t worry, be happy” sort of theology. If we don’t have to worry about bad things, if Jesus will be with us and, hey, how can things go bad with Jesus as my co-pilot? We can just sit back and let the chips fall where they may, because Jesus has our backs. But we Christians don’t really have a “don’t worry, be happy” theology. Our God, our beloved Jesus, was crucified on a cross, a fact we’re reminded of every year during Holy Week, each Sunday at the Eucharist, and every time we ourselves die to our own sin and are lifted by God’s grace into his presence. We can’t get away from a bit of tough thinking, and that’s one of the reasons the lectionary prepares us for such thinking at this time of year.

        There is a difference, though, between a happy-go-lucky, all’s right with the world kind of attitude and the attitude that God calls us to through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. We are called not to throw up our hands in grief, nor to throw up our hands in shallow joy, but to live. We are called to be present with the joy of the world and its suffering. We are called to be present to hatred and grief, calm moments of peace and deep, deep anger, and all the range of human emotions and actions. We are called to be followers of Jesus – Jesus, who did not turn his eye from the despair of his people, but walked straight into it, eyes wide open, because his love was so great and his life so grounded in God the Father, that he could do nothing else.

        Now, our collect this week reminds us to do something very important with Scripture, and I want to add to it that we should do the very same thing with life. Our collect reminds us that holy Scripture was written so that we may learn from it to understand more fully and more deeply the world around us and the very lives we lead. And we pray through the collect that God might grant us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all that we encounter. And this is all to say that we should not take the joys in our lives, nor the sorrows or griefs or deaths, however little or however large, for granted. For deaths should not just be endured with gritted teeth but should be lived.

        This might sound strange, that deaths should be lived, but it is true. Whatever the ending we are brought to, be it the gentle fall of the year or the end of our own lives, we are to live them, as Jesus lived his own death. And to live them is to see them, to mark them and know what they are. For our Lord God leads us through many deaths in our lives, through many endings. And we can shut our eyes and ignore them, we can grasp and covet those things that should have been laid to rest, we can forget the passing of those who have gone before us – or we can open our eyes to the love of God.

        For me, it works like this: I think of all those people who I never said good-bye to. Helene and I have moved around a lot in the past ten years, and we’ve met a lot of good friends. And those who, when we parted, I was able to say good-bye, many of us have remained friends, and if nothing else, they’ve remained a deep and abiding part of me. I learn from them, if they’re still around, I seek them out for their council, their advice, and their joy, and I am sought out for the same.

        But there are those, for whatever reason, be it that I didn’t think they were important or because of a hardness of heart, who I did not say good-bye, or at least said it poorly. There is a grief in my heart about them. There’s something unfinished. There is a hole in my heart, or a tearing, or a sore. And rarely, at least for me, is that sore healed by not thinking about it.

        This is, at least, where my mind goes when I think about endings, both good and bad. Your mind might go elsewhere, to hopes you’ve had that you have said good-bye to well or poorly, or even how you’ve been able to work through the troubles that come with aging. But whatever the case, our word from Scripture is not to look away in grief and despair but to see those deaths, however small, however large, as they are, and to walk through them with endurance and with hope.

        And we can do this, we can pass through these deaths because Jesus, who came before us, who passed through the great death on the cross, Jesus is with us in every death, every grief, and every sorrow. By dying on the cross Jesus broke death, destroyed it, and remade it to be something that, through him, leads not to despair and darkness but to new life. For death is not, not ever, the last word. Life, is the last word, and it is an eternal word.

        And we know this from our own lives, don’t we? When we have come to an end, and we have come through it, by the grace of God, with our minds and hearts open, and Jesus within us, there is new life on the other side, isn’t there? We are still in this world, where darkness and sorrow run rampant, and there is often still grief on the other side of death. There is a sense of loss for what has died. But above all there is a newness of life, a rekindling of something deep within us, a rebirth and a resurrection of something essential and free. This is something we see in the natural world, where the fall of leaves in the autumn and the bare branches of winter lead to the renewed life of spring. And we see it in our lives in our healing, be it in mind or body or spirit, as we are led through the small deaths of life by the hand of God, until we come to that last and final death, our own death, when Jesus will carry us on his back, like a shepherd carrying a lost lamb, into the eternal glory of Heaven. And then, there, will all deaths finally die, and we will live the life eternal.

Jesus is Alive!

the 22nd day after Pentecost
Proper 27
10 November 2019

Today’s readings are:
Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Click here to access these readings.

        I want you to take out your service bulletins again, even though you probably just stowed them nicely away. Take out your bulletin with all the readings on it, the one with the big green bar at the top that says “22 Pentecost.” Now, the first part there isn’t a reading from the Bible (though most of the language is straight from our Scriptures); it’s a collect. Collects are prayers, and they’re always said at the beginning of our worship time on Sundays. There are collects for each Sunday of the year, and for each of the days after Easter, and for each saint’s day, too. They’re called “Collects” because they collect us, they bring is all in from each of our disparate lives and focus us, collectively, as the Body of Christ, the Church, on what we’ll be thinking about and praying about on each particular morning. If you have some time, read through some of these Collects in the Prayer Book; they’re beautiful, short prayers, and many Christians (and not just Episcopalians) use them in their own, private worship.

        And if you looked at all the Collects, you’d notice that they all end pretty much the same way: “where he (that’s Jesus) lives and reigns with you (God the Father) and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” Hooray for the Trinity. And while all the words in here are important, there is one that’s very, very important: lives. Jesus Christ lives, with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, as one God. Lives. Jesus is alive. Jesus Christ is alive.

        Now, this might seem a little obvious to us, maybe. I mean, Jesus isn’t dead, right? That’s what we talk about every Easter: Jesus died on the cross but was raised from the dead three days later. But for the early Church, this idea that Jesus was alive was of utmost importance. Everything kinda hinged on this. The Good News that they were to proclaim was that Jesus was alive, that he was resurrected, and that this made all the difference. And with Jesus, the one who Jesus himself called “father”, God, who created the universe, is also alive. And the Holy Spirit, sent on the day of Pentecost to form and sustain the Church, is also alive and present with us, even now, two thousand years later. As Jesus tells the Sadducees in our gospel reading this morning, “God is not of the dead, but of the living.”

        And on this morning, two thousand years after the Resurrection, two thousand years after a small group of women, one morning, found an empty tomb and an angel sitting around just to tell them that Jesus wasn’t here, that he was Risen, on this morning this is all still Good News. Jesus is alive. The whole Trinity is alive. But what does this mean, alive? We can understand, surely, the excitement and confusion and utter joy of the disciples that the tomb was empty and that their beloved friend and God wasn’t dead and that they could still talk to him and hold him and break bread with him and hear his voice again. Surely we can understand their excitement, but what about us? Is this still Good News to us, or just old news? Is it news that fills us, or is it news from a long time ago that’s great, but, really, what about now? What does it mean that Jesus is alive?

        Well, I mean, there’s theology for you. If you want to know the answer then read all the works of Thomas Aquinas, come back and listen to ever sermon I give until I retire, pray unceasingly until your last breath, and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Then maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of what it means for Jesus to be alive. But we don’t have to know the full reality of God (as if we could) for us to step towards him, and for that Good News, that Jesus is alive, to have meaning for us today.

        Let me tell you a quick story: this past summer, Gwendolyn spent a bit of time in a small, blow-up pool we have. It really was small, not much more than something to get your feet wet, but Gwen liked splashing around it in to cool off. We emptied it each evening because we didn’t want the grass beneath it to die or the pool to start to mold, and then filled it up when Gwen wanted to use it again.

        And to fill it, we usually just stuck the hose in the pool and let it fill. And when the water got to a certain height, the end of the hose dipped beneath the surface. It was still filling up the pool, of course, but you couldn’t see the usual rush of water the comes out the hose. And Gwen kept asking, is it on? Is it filling up? Is it on? Yes, it’s on! Jesus is alive kinda like that hose is on.

        Poor analogy maybe, and it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of Jesus, but I think it’s important. Often, when we think of “alive”, we think of exuberance. When we think of someone who’s alive, we think, maybe, of someone out running each morning, or someone who laughs easily and heartily, or someone who’s fresh and open and just in love with life.

But, often, life looks a lot different than that. Life can look worn and dirty, like a baseball mitt that’s seen a lifetime of games. Life can look like a cookbook that’s covered in grease and cookie batter and grubby little fingerprints because it was used to make food that fed people. Life can be present in a hospital room, and it can be present at the grave. For we believe, we Christians believe, that Life Itself was hung on a cross and died, but that even such a death wasn’t strong enough to hold him back from rising to Life again.

Over the next week, from this Sunday to next, I want to give you a challenge. We all have things that fill us up. Some of us are gardeners, some of us love reading. Some have children or grandchildren who touch us deep in our hearts. Some of us may be filled by going to meetings, who knows, but we’ve all got things in our lives that we see as refuges, places of peace and comfort, of grace and love.

I want to challenge you, however, to seek out life elsewhere. Open your eyes and open your heart to life elsewhere as well. Reach out into places of your life that make you tired, or frustrated, or that rattle your nerves. And in these places, ask the question, Jesus, who was raised from the dead two thousand years ago, and who lives even now, where are you in all this? Holy Spirit, help me see the face of my Redeemer, because my Redeemer lives.

And if the answer is, Jesus isn’t here, then ask “How can I bring you more fully into this place? How can I make you, who are Life and Love and Hope, how can I make you more fully known in this place? How can I walk more fully as your disciple, as one who has been given Life by you? Help me see you, help me live you.”

Simplicity

the 18th day of Pentecost
Proper 23
13 October 2019

Today’s readings are:
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Click here to access these readings.
 
       I joked about this at our pet blessing last Sunday, but there really isn’t anything in my priest books that tells me how to bless animals. Actually, there’s not all that much in all my books that tells me how to bless anything, really. We’re supposed to make the sign of the cross, put our hand up or something, and often it’s best, when blessing a person, to put your hand on their shoulder or even hold their hand, but all this is really just best practices, not “how you do it.” And that’s because blessing someone is actually really just a simple matter: you pray with them. You turn with a person, or a group, or a little animal, towards God. We say to God, “Please, love this person or group, or animal with the fullness of your being.” And we believe God says, “Of course.”

        You can say the same thing about the liturgy, too. It’s very simple. I know, there’s a whole lot of stuff with our liturgy, and, like I said the other week, all this stuff is important. But even with all the bowing and chasubles and chalices, the whole thing is really very simple. We come together, we pray, we eat, then we head out. Everything else helps, and it helps immensely (again, it’s best practices), but the heart of the matter is a prayer to God. And, really, that’s enough as it is.

        Now, there’s a lot of things we can do to dress things up. The more I wave my hands at your when I’m blessing you, or the more motions I make while celebrating the Eucharist, the more it seems like I’m up to something. And something really is going on: when a priest blesses us, or when any Christian blesses someone, God is really present. God is really there in a special way. But it’s not because we wave our hands or make really heart-felt prayers. And in the bread and wine of Communion: God’s really there, really present, and that bit of wafer and sip of wine really do lift us closer to Heaven; but they do this not because I’ve got a chasuble on or because you’re kneeling. God’s there, God’s here, because God wants to be here with us. God loves us and hopes for us.

        At this point, you may say: Now, Father Tim. The other week you preached on how awesome stuff is in the liturgy and in our Christian lives. And now you’re talking about how awesome things are because they’re simple. So which is it?” Well, isn’t it both? There’s this beautiful simplicity in Communion, of coming to the rail as just us, no strings attached, even though we sin each and every day and just keep on sinning, even still we kneel or stand and say, simply, “Jesus, please come” and he does.

And that moment, that most glorious and humbling moment, is set within the liturgy that lifts that moment up, that focuses that moment, that helps us understand that it is Jesus coming to us and not something else. The liturgy helps us understand the coming of Jesus in Communion, something that is beyond words and beyond all human expectation and hope; and that moment when we meet Jesus, in turn, helps us understand all the prayers, the Scripture and the Creeds, our confession and that we truly are forgiven our sins when we confess them. The simple and the complicated, they work together, each and all together, and all so that we can take another step, however small, towards God, our Creator and our Redeemer.

Now, all of our readings this morning were on faith. And all of them remind us that, although it seems like a pretty complicated thing, faith is actually pretty simple. Not easy, mind you, but simple. I think of caring for a baby: you know, there’s not much to it. You feed them, you change their diaper, and you put them down to sleep. Pretty simple. But in that simplicity there is a depth that is often too deep for words. Because there is a love that you give to a baby, each time you feed them, lay them down to sleep, or even change their diapers. And that love means the world to them, and it is life for them.

Or think of caring for our friends or our family. What they need from us, most often, is just someone to be there with them. Yeah, sure, sometimes our families or friends get into some wacky problems that are complication upon complication upon complication, but what they need, most often, is simple, honest love: a friend to sit by them in the turmoil, a presence of love in all the confusion and anxiety, a word or even just a patient silence that does not demand, that does not press, that does not muck up the problem even more than it already is mucked up. They need just love: simple, honest love. Then, sure you can get down to fixing the problem or working out solutions or whatever. But all of that is founded on that simple love that we give by just being next to them and, well, loving them.

Faith can often be a tough thing. In the face of great adversity, in the face of darkness and sorrow and grief, and in the face of real and true loss, it can be hard to hold onto faith. Our faith can feel like sand slipping through our fingers, and doubt can loom large and ugly on the horizon of our grief. And when we hear “God is with you”, it can be easy to turn around and say, “yeah, sure, where?” But when we sit down and quiet our hearts, when we put to rest our worry and anxiety, when we open our eyes we see that there is a life in this world, a life that isn’t just a thing or a force or an energy but a living presence. In times of fear, it is a tenacious courage that walks beside us; in anxiety, it is a calm presence sitting very still and inviting us to peace; in hatred, it is a word in our ear that all is loved, even that, or especially that, which is lost, forgotten, and alone.

There is no simple way to define faith. There is no simple way to grow in faith. Nor should there be. A robust faith is often found at the end of a lot of heartache, a lot of grief, and a lot of darkness. Or, perhaps it would be better to say, we discover the reality of faith, the reality that God is with us, Emmanuel, that Jesus Christ loves us and died for us and rose for us, so that we could know what true life was really like, that this faith is what holds us and gets us through the heartache and grief and darkness. And each step forward brings us closer to Him: the one who Created us, the one who Redeemed us, the one who Sanctifies us, and the one who Loves us with the fullness of Being itself. And even now this Voice is calling you to turn to that Life.

God, Creation, and the Animals

Blessing of the Animals
Genesis 1:24-31
Psalm 148:7-14
Matthew 11:25-30

        I have a lot of books about ministry, and none of them tell me how to bless a animal.  None of them.  I’ve got the Book of Common Prayer, I’ve got the Lutheran book of worship, I’ve got commentaries on the Book of Common Prayer, and (I kid you not) commentaries on the commentaries of the Book of Common Prayer.  There are notes about how to bless water, about how to bless a baptismal font, how to bless people who are sick or dying, and all sorts of other things.  But none of it tells me how to bless an animal, much less a picture of one.  Maybe Pastor Gary’s got something up his sleeve, but I got nothing.

        But you know what, that’s fine.  I mean, I like all the ceremony and liturgy and words and all, but when it comes to pets and to Creation, I think simplest is often best.  Because that’s how Creation is in our lives, anyway.  There’s a sort of immediacy to the way animals and nature, isn’t it?  There’s a closeness, an intimacy, of the way a dog greets us when we come home, or how a cat sits on our lap (or our book) in the evening.  There’s an immediacy of the weather, of the gusting of the wind, of the smell of the ocean, of the coolness beneath a tree’s shadow on a summer day.  The blessings of God through nature come to us in this close, intimate way, and this closeness speaks volumes without ever uttering a word.

        I think St. Francis, whose feast day we remembered on Friday, knew this.  There’s a story about how, one day, in the middle of his home city, he stripped off all his clothes and handed them back to his father, saying that his Father in heaven had provided him with everything he really needed.  And while I really enjoy clothes and frown a bit on public nudity, I think I know what St. Francis meant.  There’s something healing about nature.  There’s something healing about snuggling with a dog, or the companionship of a horse, or the sunshine, or the rain.  And with all this stuff we fill our lives with, all this stuff we have to make our lives easier or more convenient or a bit more comfy, we forget all that.  We forget that God is there providing for us each and every day, each and every moment.  St. Francis who reminds us of this, which is one of the reasons we remember him.  And it’s our pets, other animals, and nature herself that remind us of this, too. 

        Now don’t get me wrong.  Nature isn’t always warm and cuddly.  I just moved from Tennessee where it was like a billion degrees from January 1st to Christmas (not really).  Dogs don’t just cuddle; they also bite.  The same wind that can gently ruffle the soul can also blow houses down.  And that’s why, as we enjoy and love Creation, we have to remember and pray for those who are in the path of it: those who are affected by everything from earthquakes to heat waves.  Sailors know this: the ocean isn’t just a nice thing you get to look at when you’re in the mood for some good brooding: it’s something that can give life, and something that can take it away.

        And that’s why we come to bless it.  For when we bless something, one of the things we do is look at it square in the face for what it is, not what we want it or demand it to be. For Creation isn’t ours. God gave it to us like a library book, and if we bring that library book back to the library with pages ripped out and coffee spilled on it, we’re gonna be in trouble. God gave us stewardship of Creation like a parent gives their teenager the keys to the car, and woe to you if the next time I see this car it’s in a ditch. Whether we are in efforts to conserve Creation, using its resources for the betterment of society, or just sitting down next to our dog after a long day’s work: we are to see that Creation is God’s, just like our bodies, our souls, and all of our love, hope, and joy that we have ever known.

        So, after some prayers and some singing, Gary and I are going to bless these animals. And tomorrow, I hope you’ll bless them, and continue to bless them, each and every day of your life.