Isaiah 11. 1-9; Matthew 18:10-14
My first pet – my only pet to date,
was called Bino, short for albino,
since he was the one puppy in the litter
with pure white Labrador fur.
I loved him so much.
He and I would go on daily walks together,
he would sleep on my lap,
and I would sit there stroking him tenderly
without TV or any other distraction,
just caught up in the wonder
of this beautiful creature that trusted me so.
And loved me so completely,
accepted me so utterly,
and expressed his love so generously
with lots of licks to my face
and jumping up on his hind legs to give me a hug.
It would be wrong not to admit
that as a young person I was also unkind to Bino.
I took out my frustrations on him,
gave him more than the odd kick in bum,
and I know I let him down.
I know he deserved better from me.
However, his love for me was inexhaustible.
His forgiveness of me was immediate and complete.
His friendship was loyal and true.
Except when the bitch over the road was in heat,
but we won’t go into that now.
Bino grew old eventually,
and his hind legs once so strong
could no longer support him as he walked over our parquet floors,
his hearing faded,
and because his body ached,
he eventually spent most of his time
lying by the stove and resting.
Sometimes on his back with his legs splayed,
To ease the pressure on his hips.
His love never grew cold though,
and I knew he was always happy to see me.
In the end we decided that the kindest thing to do
would be to have him put to sleep.
He had always been my dog more than anyone else’s,
so I went with my dad to the vets,
and I held him in my arms as the drugs were administered,
and I kissed him and held him tight,
as he whimpered his last
and went to be with his God,
and his eternal rest.
To have known Bino was a great gift.
And though I didn’t always appreciate it,
his life was so precious and beautiful,
and spoke to me profoundly
of the precious and beautiful nature of life in general,
and of the character of our God
who created and made all things.
In the age we now live in
it becomes harder and harder for many of us
to treat the lives of animals,
but also plants, soil, rivers and the sea
as merely expendable,
as being there just for our use.
There is an increasingly strong sense
and perhaps particularly among animal lovers
that everything God has made possesses some form of consciousness.
That the world we live in is so much more than raw material
for us to fashion into products for our use.
Whether or not we point scientific theories such as Gaia,
For many there is a strong instinct
And for Christians a theological basis,
For believing that We do not live
on an inert rock floating through space,
but in a living, breathing, enchanted universe,
that is shot through with the divine which indwells all things.
This respect and reverence for all creation
is an established although extremely under-represented biblical theme.
Indeed the book of Genesis envisages vegetarianism
as the natural way for all creatures to eat;
and the first people are imagined
as having a stewarding or husbanding role in nature,
and not one of domination and exploitation.
As we wrestle with the impact we as humans are having on the natural world,
and as we begin to see and feel the effects of climate change
even here in the UK, never mind, for example,
in Island nations losing their land to rising sea levels,
our pets are, I think, one end of a golden thread,
that can lead us back to the wholeness and peace
the symbiosis and sustainability envisaged in Genesis.
Your dog, your cat, your parakeet, your horse,
He or she is a mystery you have come to love.
He or she is a presence you have learned to respect.
The relationship between us and our pets
Has the potential to be what the philosopher Martin Buber has called
an I – Thou relationship.
One of deep mutual reverence and respect, mystery and wonder.
Something he himself experienced
With a beloved horse he knew growing up.
In our pets we can learn to recognise the selfhood of all animals,
and extending from them,
we can learn to see the whole of creation
as possessed of a dignity and a mystery
that is worthy of our respect, our care and our stewardship,
and which deserves so much more than our domination and exploitation.
I think this is the sense behind Isaiah’s vision of the Kingdom of God,
which we all long for,
and which as Christians we seek to participate in,
where lion lies down with lamb,
where calf and cub play together,
where baby and adder are friends,
and where, to paraphrase the poet Wendell Berry,
the peace of wild things reigns.
And let us not be in any doubt.
This peaceable Kingdom is God’s plan for the world.
This indeed, is his priority,
and all his will is bent on achieving it.
It is the vocation of the church – all of us,
to participate in its growth and flourishing,
To be the stewards and husbands of Mother Nature
We were created to be.
And this Kingdom is the hope of the world.
And our animal friends are our way back to source.
They are our gateway to return to that respect
that reverence and wonder
for the whole of creation.
My prayer for all of us animal lovers here today
is that we can allow our love for our pets
to call us into a bigger, deeper,
more challenging love
for the whole of creation.
Yes, considering the oil we burn
and the carbon footprint we make,
but so much more –
for the bacteria and fungi that live in our soil,
to the health of the river Thames
and the cleanliness of our seas,
to respect for our built environments
and perhaps most profoundly for the people,
of all types and stripes who we live cheek by jowl with,
whether we agree with them or not,
whether they are leave or remain,
black or white, gay or straight,
animal lovers or not.
Because the God who made us, who created us,
is the love which holds us all in being moment to moment,
who is building a peaceable kingdom
where the whole of creation is respected and revered,
where enemies become friends,
where suspicion and fear give way to friendship and love.
Let us open our hearts to this Peaceable Kingdom
and allow our wonderful animal friends to lead us there,
because that is a future worth living for.