All Creatures Great and Small
Sermon by Dr. Terry Swicegood
August 30, 2020
When my daughter was a little girl, I would tuck her in every night and we would say our prayers together. We always ended our bed-time ritual with a song. Our favorite song was English hymn writer Cecil Francis Alexander’s “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
Here’s how the chorus goes:
All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all.
I was drawn once again to this wonderful hymn as I’ve been thinking about our pets, and how much they mean to us. A number of us have lost pets in recent months. Steve and Sabrina Burt lost Junior. Ethel McCarthy lost Nick. Pam Osgood her cat Sassy. Barb and I have had our cat, Kitty Bob, put to sleep. And Hyunmi and Hal have a sick English Springer Spaniel named Fitz.
Our pets become part of our families and an inextricable part of ourselves. Never is that more evident than in this time of pandemic, when all of us fall prey loneliness. Our pets help ease our loneliness and distress. They have the ability to make us feel that we are the most important people in the whole wide world.
Did you ever notice how central animals are in the story of creation from Genesis?
Here is a portion of the creation account from Genesis chapter one: Beginning with verse 20:
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So, God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the sea, and let birds multiply on the earth. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth 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 (Gen. 1: 20-25).
The Bible tells us that God loves and values the animals: the fish of the sea, the birds of the air; the slithery eel, the magnificent condor, and the cougars and crocodiles and the kookaburras. God created all of them on the 5th and 6th days of creation, and God looked out upon them called them good.
And then God blessed them and told them to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God created them huge swarms and in great diversity. God created the world for them, so that they would have everything they need to live.
God wants all of them to survive and to thrive.
Turn the pages of your Bible from Genesis, chapter one, to Genesis chapter 12. It’s the story of Noah and the ark. We know it from our SS days. Just before the rains came Noah gathered all the species of the earth placed them inside the ark. Although, as one wag put it, “Why did Noah allow mosquitos on the ark?”
The story of Noah and the ark isn’t just about the survival of the human species. It is about the survival of all species. They came into the ark two by two, male and female, so they could reproduce.
And when the ark came to rest on dry land after 40 days and nights on the flood waters, God made a covenant with all the species, not just human beings, but the fish and birds and all the other animals the animals on earth to protect them for the future (Gen. 9:8-17). I guess you could say that God authored the first “endangered species act.”
We human animals must confess to the Creator God that we have systematically mistreated the animals. We have depleted their numbers, slaughtered them, crowded them out, neglected them, dealt with them as commodities in our quest for comfort and ease. We have not seen them God’s valued ones. We have not shown them proper reverence or respect.
Our pets are fortunate because they have us to care for them. But so many of their cousins are threatened with extinction—snow leopards and timber wolves and green sea turtles and condors and paddlefish and fin whales among so many others.
More than one in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken.
At the end of Genesis one God gives human beings the responsibility to exercise dominion over the creation. What that means is that we are entrusted with the stewardship of the earth, to respect it and to care for it.
By all accounts, we have failed. We have failed.
We who are here today are fortunate because we have a relationship of love, care, and loyalty between ourselves and our pets. May we care about all animals as we care for our companions at home.
Many years ago a little 8-year-old in my church named Bobby asked me a question. He told me his cocker spaniel, Buster, had just died and wanted to know if his dog would go to heaven.
How would you answer that? I’ll give you my answer after I tell you this one last story. It’s true.
A beloved dog ran out into the street and was hit by a car. His owner, horrified, saw the whole thing. He ran out into the street, picked up the dog, and cradled him in his arms. As the dog lay dying, he licked his master’s face.
The loyalty of our animals is far beyond our deserving. I think that loyalty comes from the spark of the divine that is planted in our pet’s souls. They are created by God, sustained by God. And they return to God.
Yes, Bobby, I said, Buster will go to heaven.
All Creatures Great and Small