Well, I became the pastor here in 2014. So it's been a little over eight years. And in that time, I have officiated more than a dozen memorial services here in the church, for church members who have died. And those services are always so sacred, so meaningful and so important. They're not only a way for us to honor and celebrate our loved one who has passed, but they also allow us to come together as a spiritual family, to support one another and to comfort one another during our time of grief. But you know, in all the years that I've been the pastor here, I've never once not one time, been asked to officiate a memorial service for a loved one who wasn't human.
I wonder why that is? In the years, I've been the pastor, several of you have lost your beloved pets. Why don't we have memorial services in the church for them? I shared with you the year before COVID, Greg and I said a tearful goodbye to our beloved cat, Oscar. And even though it's been more than three years now, in many ways, we are still going through the grieving process. Oscar was like our child. In fact, we refer to him as our son. I think it would have been really helpful for us three years ago to have had a memorial service for Oscar to share photos of him and stories of him and to honor and celebrate our love.
This morning, when I went on Facebook, one of our newer church members, Ginny Makita, posted something that I didn't know, that today is the National Pet Memorial Day. Many of you know that Ginny has been called to animal ministry. She ministers to people who are grieving the loss of their pets, and is currently studying animal chaplaincy, which is such a wonderful thing.
Next year, I'm going to have Ginny give the message on this Sunday. But Ginny, we're so grateful that you've been called to that ministry. Because animals are a gift from God. They are a way that we get to connect with the presence of the Divine.
Throughout the Bible, from the very first book of the Bible – Genesis – which Sue read from this morning, to Noah's Ark, to Jonah and the whale to even Jesus's stories and parables, there are so many references to animals. Animals help us to experience God's unconditional love and care.
A 13th century Christian mystic, whose name was Meister Eckhart, said,”If I spend enough time with even the smallest of creatures, I would never have to prepare a sermon again. Because so full of God is every creature.”
So full of God is every creature.
And Saint Francis of Assisi, who many of you know is the patron saint of animals, said that all creatures are children of God, and therefore, they are our brothers and sisters. Have you ever thought about it that way, that the animals are siblings? One of my favorite quotes in the whole entire bible that has to do with animals comes from the book of Job, and 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 the life of every living thing?”
God is in the life of every living thing. And that's why as I have grown in consciousness, in spiritual understanding, I find it harder and harder to swat a fly or to kill a spider in my house. That is true, because I've come to understand that the life that animates them is the same life that animates me, the life of the Creator. It's in them. It's in our cats. It's in our dogs. It's in the animals that we hunt for sport. And it's also in the animals that we eat for food.
Now, I am not a vegetarian. But I know some of you are, some of you for health reasons, and others of you for spiritual reasons. If you look at the life of saintly figures, many of the world's greatest spiritual teachers of all different faith traditions, were vegetarians, maybe even Jesus. A few years ago, the organization PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, put up billboards all over the country with pictures of Jesus, and it said Jesus was a vegetarian. And there is actual theological study that has looked into this. It is a possibility. When the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in the 1940s, we learned a lot about an early Christian group called the Ebionites. They were followers of Jesus’ brother, James, I know for some Christians, that's a surprise that Jesus had a brother. But the followers of James, Jesus's brother were the Ebionites, and the Dead Sea Scrolls told us that they were vegetarians. So it would make sense that if they are the first followers of Jesus, that they would be following his way of life.
And we know that Jesus followed John the Baptist, and John the Baptist did not eat meat. Now, I don't know whether Jesus was a vegetarian or not. But I know that he saw God in all of creation, that he would not harm anything that was a creation of God.
In our first reading this morning, from the book of Genesis, we hear the creation story in which God creates us in God's image, and then gives us dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all of the creatures.
And sadly, so many Christians have misunderstood that word “dominion.” They think that it means domination, that we could do whatever we want with the animals because God gave us dominion over them. But that is not what the word dominion means. The word means stewardship. God was calling us to be caretakers of the animals. And interestingly enough, if you read that reading again, God says to us, I have given you every seed-bearing plant and every fruit-bearing tree as your food. God doesn't say, I gave you all the animals for your food. It says I gave you every seed-bearing plant and every fruit-bearing tree for your food.
Now, Jesus, at the Last Supper– the last meal that he shared with his friends was a Passover Seder – but we don't hear about any meat being served. We know it's a meal of bread, and wine. And Leonardo da Vinci who famously painted that scene of the Last Supper said this, he said, “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 very first 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 also a great spiritual teacher said, “If the whole world adopts vegetarianism, it can change the destiny of humankind. Nothing will benefit human health, and increase 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 we all go out and become vegetarians today. But what I am suggesting is that we educate ourselves, that we become more aware and enlightened, especially in the treatment of animals. Many of you know that many animals are brutally tortured in food production. We need to treat all of God's creatures with dignity and respect, to treat them humanely. They are Gift from God.
As Eckhart Tolle wrote, in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, he said he believes that animals are closer to God than humans, because they are not caught up in the veil of the mind. And I think that that is really true. You know, I tell you almost week after week, the importance of prayer and meditation. What we're doing in prayer meditation is we're going beyond the veil of the minds beyond our thoughts, so that we can get closer to the source of the Divine. Pets help us to do that. Animals help us to become present. And still. And as Jesus said, in today's Gospel reading, “Look at the birds of the air, they don't worry about anything, God meets all of their needs.”
I guarantee you, your dog or your cat is not worried about what's going on in Washington, DC. They're not stressed about the stock market. They're at peace. So they are our spiritual teachers. And so today on this Sunday that we are celebrating animals, let us celebrate and honor the pets that are in our lives. Let us focus on the spirituality of animals that helps us to become more mindful and present, and to experience God's unconditional love and care for us. And let us recommit ourselves as a Creation Justice Church, of being good stewards of all of the creatures great and small that God has entrusted to our care.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
By Eckhart Tolle
I believe that animals are closer to God than humans. They are closer to the Source. Humans are more lost in the mind forms. “Be-ing” is more obscured to humans because of the overlay of ego and mental formation. Animals are at a level prior to thinking. They haven’t lost themselves in thought. So our pets keep us in touch with our innermost core: the “Be-ing” beyond thinking. I call animals “Guardians of Being” (especially animals that live with humans), because, for many humans, it’s only through their contact with animals that they get in touch with that level of Be-ing. For some people, it's the only relationship that they have where there's no fear and where they realize they are being accepted and not judged. I believe that pets are keeping millions of people sane who would otherwise become deeply neurotic in our alienated world. There are teachings that say every being is a spark of the divine of God. You can look into the eyes of animals and see that spark, that innermost core. You can see it sometimes more clearly in an animal than in a human being because the human being has the veil of mind: negative emotions and ego. I believe that our pets fill a vital function in the collective consciousness of humanity. I call them "Guardians of Being,” because they show us what we have lost and - once we realize that - they can help us in our shift into a deeper state of consciousness. Of course, we don't want to be confined to only deep relationships with pets, but they can teach us how to relate deeply to another being, and then we can learn to relate deeply to humans also. That has to be the next step.
What did you think?