Lessons From God’s Zoo

Scripture: Job 12: 7 – 10
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
November 13, 2016

A couple weeks ago in staff meeting, I had second guessed the decision to hold the “Blessing of the Animals” service the Sunday after the elections.  I had thought that maybe it would be more important to preach on such topics as healing, grace, unity, hope and inclusivity, especially after a time of heart-wrenching division in our country during the elections.  But perhaps, this is a fitting Sunday to hold the “Blessing of the Animals” service because our pets heal us, sustain us, renew us.  “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Animals are messengers of the Divine.  Job reaffirms that wisdom as he instructs, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; and the fish of the earth, they will declare to you.”  What do the animals have to say to us in a time like this?

First, our animal friends teach us to trust in the goodness of our Creator and to live in the present. Animals know how to savor the moment.  They are not consumed with thoughts of the past nor do they worry about the future.  They live in the moment and fully appreciate what is happening in their lives right now.  Now is the only guarantee we have.  Right now, I am surrounded by people who I love and respect, people who inspire me and give me hope.  Right now, I am surrounded by God’s gorgeous creation:  Brother dog, sister cat, brother tree, sister rock.  I am immensely grateful to be right here with you right now.  Yes, animals teach us to savor the moment for each moment is a precious gift.

Secondly, pets don’t put conditions on their love.  The have the ability to love without reserve regardless of our political party, race, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability. Yes, they have much to teach us about inclusivity.   Jesus, likewise, says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Our pets are tangible models of what it means to love without restriction.

Next, animals know that when they are hurting it is important to take time to lick our wounds.  That is part of the healing balm.  Elephants know that it is important to take time to grieve when they lose a member of their herd.  Yes, elephants weep and grieve.  And animals know to rest when they are exhausted.  You won’t catch a cat going from dusk to dawn without any shut-eye.  Cats take catnaps as do most of the animals of the animal realm.  Animals give us permission to take time out when needed, to be gentle with ourselves, for that is part of the healing process.

The animal kingdom teaches us how to work together. “Ask the birds of the air,”  Job says.   Geese, for example, fly in a ‘V’.  By flying in a ‘V’ formation the whole flock adds 71% to the flying range.  Geese understand the importance of team work.  When a goose tires of flying up front it drops back into formation and another goose flies to the point position.  Geese understand the importance of sharing.  When a goose gets sick, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to the ground to help and protect it.  They know how to stay together during difficult times.  Geese understand the importance of empathy and understanding.  And when flying, geese “HONK” to encourage those up front to keep up their good work.  Geese know the importance of encouragement.

And finally, if you need inspiration to keep going, then look to the salmon.  Our fishy friends swim thousands of miles upstream in efforts to make it back to their birthplace just so they can spawn the next generation. Life sometimes feels like an uphill battle and sometimes it takes everything we have to keep going, but be assured the destination is worth it.  Yes, the journey of the salmon reflects the path of authentic living.  Don’t give up.

Of course, those are just a few lessons from the animal world. Job says, “Look to the animals, they will teach you.  Listen to the birds, they will tell you.  Look to the fish, they will declare to you.”  Scripture also says that one day the lion and the lamb will lie down together.  If there is hope for the lion and the lamb, then I think there is hope for the donkey and the elephant, too.

I am grateful for the gift of animals in our lives.  I would like to conclude with a short story about donkeys and elephants on this post-election Sunday.  My brother and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum.   He’s a really good guy – kind, generous, fair, honest, grace-filled, loving.  But our political views are very different, though ultimately, I think we want the same things – we just have different ways of creating the kind of world that we both want – a world of peace and kindness, a global community of fairness and harmony. The Saturday before the elections we did the unthinkable – we decided to get together and talk about candidates and propositions.  So, we sat in his living room with the official voter information guide in front of us.  There were actually a few propositions we agreed on whole-heartedly, a handful that neither one of felt too strongly about (maybe I leaned a little more in one direction and he leaned a little in the other direction – but nothing that got our blood flowing), and then there were a few propositions that we disagreed on vehemently and we certainly disagreed on our choice of candidates on the national, state, and local levels.  And when tensions grew thick in the air, it was his two dogs, his Italian greyhounds nuzzled in my lap that brought a sense of calm and peace to the room.  Giving us space to move from debate to dialogue.   Over the years, we both have been wild about our pets and care deeply about the welfare of animals. It may be a small thing, but it is something. I give thanks for pets who help my brother and me bridge party lines because we’ve got to start somewhere.

It is the animals who preach to us today on post-election Sunday, about healing, grace, unity, hope and inclusivity.  And so, we bless the animals this morning because of the many ways that they bless us.