This morning I want to tell you two stories. The first is from the Book of Genesis.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field.
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
The second is a legend of the life of St. Francis.
Once upon a time, Francis (later to become St. Francis) was visiting a small town called Gubbio in Italy. The villagers told him of a hungry wolf that had been terrorizing the town at night. Inasmuch as many of Gubbio’s residents were farmers, this wolf brought terrible hardships upon the town. He stole chickens and turkeys and even some mammals like goats and sheep. The wolf had even attacked people.
St. Francis was not known for being particularly brave, but he knew that he had to do something. He knew in his heart that he could help the town and small shop owners if only he found a way to communicate with the wolf about his feelings. But the wolf had never shown any interest in talking about his feelings. He was simply hungry and whatever he found to eat satisfied him. But Francis was a man of God, and his faith assured him that God would take care of him, watch over him, and not let anything happen to him. He also believed that God put us all on earth to care for animals and others in need. And so he was determined to find this wolf and to talk with him.
As he and a friar walked along the trail, it wasn’t long before the wolf appeared, teeth bared and growling menacingly, preparing to attack. Slowly he stalked Francis.
Francis saw the wolf and watched him carefully but did not back down. He faced the wolf and the two took one another in, sizing each other up, each for his own purpose. Francis acted first. He made the sign of the cross and the wolf immediately stopped growling and closed his mouth. Francis spoke softly, “Come to me Brother Wolf, and in the name of Jesus Christ I am asking you to not hurt us.” To the friar’s amazement the wolf lowered his head and walked submissively toward Francis. When he got to Francis, the wolf lay down at his feet.
Francis and the wolf sat down beside one another. Francis explained to the wolf that his hunting routine was hurting a lot of the townspeople. He told him that the animals he was killing belonged to someone who needed those animals in order to make a living. Francis respectfully asked the wolf to stop. The animal showed Francis that he understood by moving his body back and forth, wagging his tail like a dog, and offering his paw as a sign of understanding and agreement.
Francis asked the wolf to come to the town and meet the people so that they would no longer be afraid. The wolf agreed. When they got to the town, the townspeople greeted Francis and the wolf. They learned that the wolf had been killing their livestock for one simple reason. He was hungry. So they promised the wolf that they would feed him and care for him, that he would have a safe place to live, food to eat and that he would live the rest of his life as a welcome part of their community.
Both the wolf and the townspeople lived together peacefully as they had agreed until the death of the wolf, which was deeply mourned by all.
Who was this wolf?
This wolf is a symbol…a metaphor for all who are in need. The wolf is of whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 25. As we do unto the wolf we have done unto Christ…as we do unto God’s creation, all of it…the earth, the air, the water, the animals, plants and other human beings…as we do unto creation…we do likewise unto the Creator.
This morning we take a day of worship to bless creation. We bless the animals and the harvest of our community garden. The harvest is blessed, as are all partnerships between. With the sun and rain God sends, we have tilled the soil, planted seeds and have harvested the garden, dedicating it to the work of those in our community who feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit the lonely.
Likewise, we bless the animals, our pets, and our friends who have given so much joy to us. By this blessing we bestow nothing on these animals that God has not already bestowed. By this blessing we affirm our belief that they, like each of us, have a soul, a purpose and a life as important to God as any of our own.
We bless the animals gathered here today as a symbol of blessing all of God’s creation and re-committing ourselves to the covenant made with God that we humans will act responsibly as the stewards of the animals, the earth, the air and the water.