Some of you may own property that you rent to others. Or, perhaps you can simply imagine owning property that you rent to others. You want to be a good, helpful, conscientious landlord so you fix the home or apartment to be well-functioning and in good shape. You rent out this space and expect the renters to take decent care of it, at the very least. Yet, they trash the place, literally and figuratively. You are understandably upset about this or maybe quite angry about it. Why didn’t they take care of your property?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… and God saw that it was good. Or it was good for a little while, at least until humankind started abusing and overusing it. God is like the landlord you are or imagine yourself to be. We are to be good caretakers of the property- the earth, the sky, the trees, the oceans, the animals, the birds, the people and all else in it. The Creator didn’t expect that whole forests would be stripped bare, that habitats for animals would be demolished, that oil spills would pollute the oceans and coat the feathers of flying creatures or kill the fish, that certain species would be hunted to extinction, that car fumes would infiltrate the skies, or that allergies would become a huge problem for almost a majority of people inhabiting the earth. The Author of all may be fairly upset with us and may think, ‘I created them to be good, why didn’t they take care of my property?’ Surely we must remember that the Lord God made us all!
A writer tells this story about a huge tree in her yard. “Well, 10 years is just a blip to a tree like this. It’s at least 100 years old,” an arborist told the writer. “With that comment, my concerns—over having too-long delayed caring for the tree, not getting much natural light inside the house, moss growing on the roof, the large branches that periodically broke off—suddenly seemed rather insignificant.”
“‘We can help the tree: cutting some dead branches or the lower, small ones so the tree will direct its growth to the bigger branches,” said the arborist. “We could even brace it if you’re worried about a main limb falling, but trees have a remarkable natural sway to protect themselves. Actually, architects model building sway off how trees respond to wind.’”
“Ten years prior, this large, beautiful tree was part of the reason we chose this house. But somehow, in the following years, it became the tree whose leaves we constantly rake, whose roots we trip over, whose abundant canopy is causing a leaky, greenish roof, whose branches I worry will crush the house and us in it. Then the arborist’s reverent description of this tree—how it continually adjusts root and leaf growth to keep itself healthy—restored my awe for the tree, and gave me a healthy dose of perspective on my place in the world.” The arborist was relieved we didn’t want to get rid of the tree.” We are all interconnected, she finishes, and ought to think about our place within the intricacies of this planet we call home.
Genesis chapter 1 explains that human beings, created in the likeness of God, are to be good caretakers of creation. That is an important part of our life. In the PC (USA) 2016 Earth Day resource, we read that in Genesis chapter 1 verse 26, humans are to work for the care, well-being, and freedom of God’s creatures. Unfortunately, in too many cases, humankind has engaged in domination, rather than careful dominion. There is a difference between domination that has little care for those being dominated, and dominion that actually translates better to ‘caregiver.’ We must work to restore right relationship with God’s creatures.
One the easiest ways to restore our relationship with God’s creatures is through our pets. If we truly care for them, we learn to respect them as part of God’s creation and meaning in our lives. We are reminded that they bring us happiness. I have heard many people who live with a pet say that their dog, cat or potbelly pig seems to sense when they are unhappy or not feeling well and hangs out with them, hoping to make them feel better.
“Accepting responsibility to feed, exercise, and maintain the health of another creature is one way to live out the Genesis call to dominion. Being the caretaker of a pet is a significant responsibility that lasts for the duration of a pet’s life. Yet, we get a lot from keeping pets. Pets can be educational as they teach empathy and other life lessons. They teach reciprocity of relationship. With pets we are reminded that we too need cared for and loved.” Pets are often therapeutic too. I know when the Howreys have taken Maggie Mae with us when we go caroling to shut-ins in December, she is a big hit with the elderly and infirm. It’s almost as if we are invisible they focus so much on her. A smile pops out on a face where previously there wasn’t one.
Psalm 148 explains, “Young men and women alike, old and young together” join in praise with “sea monsters and wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds” because “God commanded and they were created.” The voices in the chorus of praise include not only people but also all creatures and creation. In some ways, God’s animal creatures may demonstrate a characteristic we admire such as the industriousness of ants, the playfulness of dolphins, and the loyalty of an elephant. “We can (also) learn from ways creatures facilitate chemical reactions without emitting toxic pollution, or how ecosystems ensure nothing is wasted. Chemists and engineers are increasingly becoming interested in bio-mimicry, imitating nature’s solutions to technical problems.” When we are reminded that we can learn much from God’s animals, we may then reminisce that we are all a part of the web of life.
Meister Eckhart was a 13th century German theologian and philosopher and a Dominican friar. He stated this: “If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature—even a caterpillar—I would never have to prepare a sermon, so full of God is every creature. It is true that studying some animals can bring us to more virtuous behaviors and help provide a moral compass as we see on the news a mother dog running into a burning building and bringing out each of her puppies at the risk of her life. Or when we see elephants gathered around an injured baby elephant, regardless of whether or not they are the parent, in order to protect her. We hear birds having happy conversations with one another and see squirrels playing with one another as I often hear and see in my backyard. Much of this observation can lead to sermons about the lessons of life or, even stories about life lived in God for those of us who don’t preach.
In our Job passage, the much maligned and very unlucky Job is reminded that God created and cares for all things and will care for him in his affliction as people make of him a laughingstock. God reminds him to learn from the animals and other creatures of the goodness of the Creator, for the Almighty is wise and strong, freely offering astute counsel and continual understanding. The afflicted are not alone, even the animals teach us, for God is always there.
The author of our wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes reminds us that we are little different from other creatures, for all creatures die and return to dust. He says that we have no knowledge of what creatures go where upon death but has a sense that everything returns to God for the Lord wastes nothing. He states that we all will be judged by the Lord, the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Ecclesiastes reminds us to be humble and remember that we are only a part of God’s creation and like the rest of creation, we are meant to be good and please God. Meister Eckhart also said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. ‘Thank you Lord for the sea and sky and trees and walking, crawling, flying and swimming creatures.’
The beginning of chapter 3 teaches us that we humans, as well as all creatures, are caught in an endless cycle of the Creator’s doing for all things will occur in their proper time, according to God’s scheme. There is a time to be born and a time to die, to weep and to laugh, to seek and to lose, keep silent and speak. The cycle of life is God’s and we, as the good stewards of all of our Lord’s creation, are to be faithful and righteous in that cycle. “Furry, feathered, finned, four-legged, and winged, the diversity of God’s creatures inspires wonder and awe.” Diversity is a wonderful and necessary part of keeping balance in God’s good order or life will go spinning out of balance. The Creator’s creatures play an important part in the Bible whether it is helping humans to till the soil or to carry Jesus into an exuberant crowd on Palm Sunday or even, in rather bizarre stories, to speak words of wisdom. We are all interconnected and ought to frequently be mindful of that. For, as our Psalm 104 most appropriately expresses: “How great are your works, O God! You made them all with wisdom, the earth is full of your creatures.” May we praise the Lord, who made us all. Alleluia! Amen.