Many of you know, last summer, Greg and I said a tearful goodbye to our beloved cat, Oscar. And although it's been more than year now, we are still grieving. Oscar was so very special to us. In many ways, he was like our child. In fact, we referred to him as our son.
Now, we have memorial services here in the church when our human loved ones die, and that gives us an opportunity to publicly honor and to celebrate their lives -- to eulogize them, to share stories and photos and memories of them. And that helps to provide us with a little bit of closure. And so I wonder why more of us don't have memorial services when our animal children die.
I think for me, it would have been very meaningful, and very helpful if I had the opportunity to publicly honor Oscar, to share stories and photos and memories of him with all of you, to really celebrate his life, and to honor the love that we shared.
Animals are so very special to us. They are a sacred gift from God. They are a way for us to experience God's love, firsthand. There are so many examples of animals in the Bible, everything from the Noah's Ark story, to the story of Jonah and the whale. And in the Gospel, Jesus referred to animals several times in his parables and spiritual teachings.
Animals are spiritual teachers for us. They help us to be more fully present in the moment. And they help us to experience God's presence right here and now. One of my favorite quotes comes from the 13th century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart who said, "If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature, even a caterpillar, I would never have to prepare a sermon, so full of God is every creature." And St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, said, "All things of creation are children of God, and therefore, are our brothers and sisters."
The word animal comes from the root word anima, which is Latin for "soul." Animals have souls, animals have spirits, and they help connect us with our own soul and spirit. They help connect us with God. One of my favorite biblical passages about animals comes from the Book of Job. It says, "Ask the animals what they think. Let them teach you. Let the birds tell you what's going on. Put your ear to the earth and learn. Listen: The fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn't it clear that they all know and agree that God is in every living thing?"
God is in every living thing. And I know that the more that I grow in spiritual consciousness, the more that I grow in spiritual understanding, I find it harder and harder to swat a fly, or to kill a spider in my home. Because I am beginning to realize that the life that animates them, is the same life that animates me, the life of God. Yes, the life and the light of God is in our dogs and in our cats. But it's also in the insects we refer to as pests. And it is in the animals that we hunt for sport, and that we eat for food. I find it interesting that many "Right to Life" people -- people who are so passionate about the sanctity of life -- I have no problem with hunting animals for sport.
Now, let me be clear, I myself am not a vegetarian. But so many of my spiritual teachers are. In fact, some of the world's greatest spiritual teachers were people who were and are vegetarians, not just for health reasons, but for spiritual reasons. A few years ago, the organization PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, put up billboards around the country which read, "Jesus was a vegetarian." And biblical scholars have theorized that Jesus probably was not a meat eater.
When we discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls back in the 1940s, we learned a lot about the Ebionites, a group of early Christians who after Jesus's death, were led by Jesus's brother James. And in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we learned that the Ebionites were vegetarians. And so it would make sense that if they were the earliest followers of Jesus, that they would be following in his way of life. We also know that Jesus was heavily influenced by John the Baptist, who also was not a meat eater.
Now, I certainly don't know if Jesus was a vegetarian or not. But I do know that he was a man of great compassion and non-violence, a man who couldn't harm another living thing. Our scripture reading this morning, from the book of Genesis, is the creation story, in which God gives us humans dominion over the birds of the air and the fish in the sea, and over all the creatures who roam the face of the Earth. But what many people don't understand is that "dominion" doesn't mean to dominate. Dominion means stewardship. God is calling us to be good stewards, to be caretakers of the animals. And isn't it interesting in the creation story, how God says, "I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plants on earth, and every kind of fruit-bearing tree. I have given them to you for food." Notice God doesn't say I have given you the animals for your food. God says I have given you the plants and the fruit-bearing trees for your food.
We know that Jesus's last supper was a Passover meal. But there wasn't any meat served. Just bread and wine. Leonardo da Vinci, who famously painted that scene of the Last Supper, said this: "The time will come when men such as I, will look upon the murder of animals as they look upon the murder of men." And one of the earliest Christians, St. Clement said, "It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals." And Albert Einstein, who was not only a great intellectual, but a great spiritual teacher had this to say: "If the whole world adopts vegetarianism, it can change the destiny of humankind. Nothing will benefit human health, and increase the chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. Man was not born to be a carnivore. Our task must be to free ourselves, by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature, and its beauty."
Now, I am not advocating that all of us go out and become vegetarians tomorrow. But I am encouraging us to educate ourselves about the treatment of the animals that we eat for food. Many of you know that in food production, animals are oftentimes abused and brutally tortured. If we are truly to be caretakers of the animals, as God has instructed us, then we must act in more compassionate and humane ways in our treatment of them.
In our words of integration and guidance this morning, we heard from the contemporary spiritual teacher Ekhart Tolle, who said that he believes that animals are closer to God than humans are. And he said that the reason is that animals are closer to the source, because they're not caught up in the veil of the mind. I've shared with you before one of the things that keeps us from experiencing our connection to the source, our connection to God, is that we're caught up in our minds in our worries and fears and in our negative thinking. I guarantee you that your dog or your cat is not stressed or worried. about what's going on in Washington right now, or in the state of the stock market. It says Jesus said in the gospels, "Which of you can add a single hour to your life by worrying? Look at the birds in the air. God meets every one of their needs."
And so my friends on this Creation Sunday, May we honor and celebrate the animals in our lives, and the animals in our world. And let us celebrate the spirituality of animals, which teaches us to be more present, and to experience the presence of God firsthand. And let us recommit ourselves to being better caretakers of all the creatures great and small, whom God has entrusted to our care.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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