Blessing of the Animals
Genesis 1:20-31, Psalm 148:7-14, Matthew 6:25-33 -
Sermon – October 6, 2019
Last week my wife, Sarah, and I watched a public television show about octopuses. That’s right, octopuses. Who would have thought? Turns out it was downright fascinating, and if you missed it be sure and catch it next time it airs.
So when I say the word “octopus” what thoughts come into your mind? Eight legs? Suction cups? Kind of slimy and squirmy? Well, we learned from the program that octopuses are highly intelligent, social, creative, and they can recognize different people, problem-solve, and remember past events! Yeah, amazing. The show featured a husband and wife team of biologists who adopted an octopus and kept it in a large aquarium in their living room to observe and study its habits.
Here’s what we saw on the screen, and compare what I’m about to say with those original thoughts you had when you first heard the word “octopus.” When the wife sat in the living room and turned on the large flat-screen television set, Heidi, (the name they gave to the octopus) would make her way over to the far upper corner of the aquarium, the only location where she could watch the program too. And then when the scientists played a video of other octopuses, Heidi would be glued to the set.
Before too long, whenever the wife opened the top lid of the aquarium to feed Heidi, she would reach out a couple of her tentacles to touch the woman. Not to attack, nor to grab hold with suction, but simply to make contact. There were other remarkable things to share about octopuses on the program, but in the interest of time I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that the animal kingdom is more sophisticated, more complex, and more intelligent than most of us were taught to believe.
You know that the universe is an extreme and hostile place. Most of the universe is either boiling hot or brutally frigid, and often lacks atmosphere and water, or is exposed to all sorts of deadly and harmful rays. As far as we know there are very few places in the universe where life as we know it could survive. So the fact that life even exists at all on planet earth is close to miraculous. What’s more, the fact that life has evolved into the vast diversity of species that inhabits the planet is as miraculous if not more so. Consider this: scientific explorers have found life in the deepest, darkest, and coldest parts of the ocean in places where the pressure is so great it would flatten any one of us in a moment – and, they have found life in the thinnest ring of atmosphere, higher than commercial airliners fly – and, everywhere in between. In deserts – life. In rainforests – life. At the poles – life. At the equator – life. Life has saturated this planet. It has taken hundreds of millions of years to do so, but evolution has been relentless.
The scientists on the public television show traced the evolution of the octopus back in time, and discovered that half a billion years ago, a large, flat worm lived, from which both the octopus and human beings evolved. The flat worm had no skeleton, and possessed only a handful of neurons for brains, but from that point we humans and the octopus began to diverge.
Following up on that statement gives me a chance to say how completely unnecessary the whole “creationism vs. evolution” controversy is. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Some of our more fundamental Christian companions rail against Darwin’s theory of evolution because, according to them, it contradicts the biblical truth found in the first chapter of Genesis, which I might point out, we heard part of that chapter as our first reading this morning.
Here’s what I’ve learned about truth from Walter Bruggemann, former professor at Auburn Seminary. Most truth is not “universal,” but rather “local.” What he means by that is that truth can only be understood within the discipline in which it is found. The bible contains narrative truth and theological truth. It does not contain, nor did any of its authors ever intend to express, scientific truth. The bible is not a science textbook. No one was sitting with a pad of paper and pencil on the first day of creation jotting down everything that was happening. Instead, about 3,000 years ago, a group of Jewish theologians reflected on the beauty, wonder, and graciousness of the world around them and wrote a story about how good and wise God is to have made it all. That’s the first chapter of Genesis.
So who’s right: creationism or evolution? Which one is the truth? Turns out, they both are. Creationism is true within the discipline of theological narrative, and evolution is true within the discipline of science. But they both demonstrate God’s goodness and wisdom.
And that’s what we have come to celebrate this morning. We ask God to bless the animals with whom we are companions as they bless us with their presence. But let’s not stop there, just with our own animals. Let’s bless all animals, everywhere on the planet, in every nook and cranny of the earth. Let’s bless all of creation, joining with St. Francis, and let us give thanks for the gift of this amazing planet we call home.
In God’s name, Amen.