Nature Series: Animals
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 29, 2020
5th Sunday in Lent
The Vicar of Dibley is a British sitcom set in the fictional village of Dibley. The series begins when an elderly Vicar dies, and the chairman of the Parish Council, David Horton, sends for a replacement. David likes to be in charge and assumes he is and always will be. He’s a Cambridge educated, upper-class, multi-millionaire, who longs for the status quo and tradition. So, when the new Vicar turns out to be a woman, let’s just say—the feathers fly.
In one episode, Vicar Geraldine Granger realizes how upset people are when their pets die, so she decides to hold a special service for everybody to bring an animal to church for a blessing. David is outraged by the idea of having an animal church service and puts it down to Geraldine being a woman and a bit crazy. Before long the local and national news get wind of it and a tabloid journalist turns up to belittle the event and the village. The heat is on and before it’s all over, the Vicar, David, and a few others are feeling it. So, imagine their surprise, when on the morning of the service, traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see—and the church is packed. It seems that the Vicar hit on an age-old truth: people adore their pets.
The love that people have for their animals has brought a special joy to my heart—particularly these past few weeks when bad news seems to be the only news available to us. It is been like a breath of fresh air to see someone post on social media a picture of their new puppy, or newly hatched chicks, or videos of turtles and ducks, or cat memes that make fun of people for finally catching on to the importance of social distancing.
When our children were little, a stray dog showed up one day at the edge of our lawn. She stayed there watching us for two days. On the third day, she appeared on our front porch and never left. We did not choose Copper. She chose us.
One day, a couple of years after Copper adopted us, Kinney and I were playing ball with Samuel in the backyard when a man stopped his car on the street, got out, and came toward us. While I don’t remember what the gentleman wanted, I do remember how Copper behaved. As soon as the man approached, she kept her eyes on Samuel. More than that, she kept herself between Samuel and the stranger. If Samuel went to the right, Copper went to the right. If Samuel went to the left, Copper went to the left. Finally, it dawned on me. Copper was guarding our child. If I did not love her before, I did then!
Until the day she died, Copper was a beloved member of our family. She was loved by a lot of other people, too, so much so, we began to call her the community dog. Every day she made her rounds. When she greeted Doug Stuart on his daily walk, he was as eager to see her as she was to see him. Copper dropped by Miss Jenny’s because Miss Jenny made a fresh, scrambled egg just for her. Mr. Burgin was known to provide a bit of hamburger meat on occasion. Wanda and Jimmy were sure to have some tasty leftover. Copper was even known to drop by the drug store, peek in on Kinney, and stand guard if she felt the urge.
Animals—God’s creatures—oh, how they enrich our lives. They raise our spirits, they make us laugh, and they teach us. This sermon series on nature has given us a chance to reflect on how that God communicates through all of nature. Regarding the animals, when I think about how a stray dog buried herself into the hearts of our family, I realize God still speaks through her today, if I will only listen. Allow me to suggest three lessons we might learn from an old hound dog named Copper.
As I said earlier, Copper chose us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples,
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.[i]
Did you hear that? We did not choose Christ. Christ chose us. The knowledge of such great love should comfort, encourage, and empower us to seek do the will of our Abba Father—as Jesus did; to seek to bless others—as Jesus did.
Another thing that we might learn from one of God’s creatures is God’s constant love and care. When the stranger showed up in our yard, Copper went into protective mode. She wasn’t about to let anyone get in between her and her little boy. What a picture of God’s love. We worry and we fret. How could we not during these times of distress? Maybe we fear COVID-19 is too big for our God. Maybe we feel God has gone away for a while and may never return. If so, the Apostle Paul’s words might encourage us:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[ii]
Of course, this does not mean that it will always FEEL like God is near. How could it, when even Jesus felt forsaken by God as he died on a cross. Yet, in three days, victory! No matter what we might feel, we are God’s chosen in this life and in the life to come.
Finally, through a beloved pet, we might learn another important lesson. Copper had a way of “sharing the love.” She went out into the community, and while she brought smiles to many faces, she also benefited from the love and care of others. This picture of being in relationship might remind us that God made us to be in community just as God is in community as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus demonstrated the importance of community as well, by recruiting 12 disciples for the ultimate seminary experience. Afterward, he promised them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth and show them the way ahead.
But when so many of us are practicing social distancing and remaining in our homes as much as we can, community seems nearly impossible. Yet, day by day the Spirit is opening new doors of learning. While we may curse the Coronavirus, we give thanks for highspeed internet. Just this week, I held the Confirmation Class using Zoom, an audio/video conference call platform. While the video quality was poor (likely because of the increased use of the internet right now), we still got to “see” each other, and it was good. The Administration, Finance, and Property Committee met on a Zoom conference call, and I hope to try video conferencing for a virtual Bible Study Monday. While we continue to offer worship through Facebook Livestream, we are also livestreaming Centering Prayer on Wednesdays. Our Administrative Assistant, Katie Altman, is emailing the bulletin, sermon, and livestream service to help those who are not on Facebook so they can still worship with their church family, and Session members are making weekly phone calls to folks without email to share pertinent information—all in order to help us stay connected as a community of faith. And I am hearing from many of you that you are staying connected to friends and family in creative ways—like taking ballet and yoga via ZOOM and reading stories and sharing videos with grandchildren through FaceTime.
No matter what is going on in the world, we are never alone. The God who designed the creatures, designed us for the sake of love and relationship—in this life and in the life to come. Amen.
[i] John 15:12-16a.
[ii] Romans 8:35, 37-39.
*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission