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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Blessing of the Animals
Thanksgiving for Creation, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 30, 2018

Genesis 2:18-20; Psalm 148; Matthew 6:25-29


‘Do not fret’

Our reading from Genesis 2 is about common ground – human and nonhuman “people” created from the same soil. In some important way language, too, is identified as a place of encounter, mystery. An early biblical picture of the kindom of God.

So it’s no surprise to find Jesus the poet (the Word of God) teaching on common ground between disciples, birds and wildflowers. He makes an imaginative appeal, employing poetic exaggeration to teach an attitude to God. Seek first the kindom. Do not fret about food or clothes. Do not be preoccupied with food and clothes. Give radical priority to the kindom, and experience every ordinary thing as the gift of a loving God.

In other words, Jesus invites attunement to natural beauty, connectedness – what some religious thinkers call the “symbiotic real” or “inter-being”. Compassion, solidarity, common ground, “our common home”. God be with you …

There are so many ways to receive and understand this teaching.

There are some coloured pencils on each pew that you might colour the image of St Clare, perhaps highlighting her habit, hands, face, halo, book of gospels or background …

I imagine Jesus saying something like: “Do not fret over which shape to colour, or over which colour is best. Experience the simple beauty of blue, green, red, orange – colours already perfected in creation – each one the gift of a loving God. Enjoy taking part in colour – you already take part in it. Your eyes have evolved in the light, with the sun and earth, and already are attuned. Enjoy creativity with your neighbour.”

Saints Francis (1182-1226) and Clare (1194-1253) of Assisi drew close to Jesus and to the God of creation. Eschewing the false promises of wealth and power, they embraced a gospel of kinship and friendship. A radical witness, yet (like every one of us) step by step.

Francis learned to love by way of romantic yearning, military ambitions, disappointment, illness, estrangement and frustration, exposure to the elements, emotional conflict – first repulsed by lepers then led to show kindness, the daunting aspects of institutional religion, the urgent need for peace, interfaith respect and cooperation.

Clare learned to love by way of trusting a God-given passion, renouncing wealth and privilege, assuming responsibility for an order, caring for the sisters, illness, writing the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman, insisting on “Franciscan” values despite opposition.

There are stories of invading forces disarmed by nonviolent means; living nativity sets replete with animals; communion with the birds; roses and lilies; a companionable wolf; mystical visions; leprosy/stigmata; song-writing and letter-writing; hard labour; begging in the streets; long nights in contemplation.

The orders they founded transformed the medieval church in Europe and have continued to transform our understanding of the gospel, God, the world and each other.

Wherever thinkers – Christian or otherwise – engage ecological themes, the work and witness (the haunting spirits) of Francis and Clare are close by.

In relation to an incident in 2015 which saw an American dentist hunt and kill a lion called Cecil in Zimbabwe – the ensuing grief and moral outrage – philosopher Timothy Morton writes: “Everything in existence has a tattered, lame world. You can quite easily reach through your tattered curtain to shake a lion’s paw, and the lion can do the same. An owl is an owl … We don’t need her to be a brick in a solid wall of world, we need to take care of her, play with her.”

Eight hundred years before this, Francis wrote his “Canticle of the Creatures”, in praise of God (Laudato Si’) and kinfolk – Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Sister Mother Earth, Sister Death … It’s quite extraordinary.

In terms of today’s Gospel – inviting attunement to creation and to simple beauty – here’s another quote from Timothy Morton: “Mindfulness means allowing awareness to happen.”

Morton is a strong critic of Christianity, but enthusiastic about meditation. “Perhaps meditative awareness is the human version of being a tiny crystal,” he writes, “or a massive glacial rock face.”

I also really like this: “Love is not straight, because reality is not straight. Everywhere, there are curves and bends, things veer … En-vir-onment … from the verb ‘to veer’. To veer, to swerve toward: am I choosing to do so or am I being pulled? … I do not make decisions outside the universe and then plunge in ... I am already in …”

And I imagine Jesus saying: “Do not fret over which shape to colour, or over which colour is best. Experience the simple beauty of blue, green, red, orange – colours already perfected in creation – each one the gift of a loving God. Enjoy taking part in colour – you already take part in it. Your eyes have evolved in the light, with the sun and earth, and already are attuned. Enjoy creativity with your neighbour.”

In the name of God – Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver. Amen.