Last Sunday on my drive up Lynnhaven Pkwy to church, I saw a dog - still as a statue - along a tree line. From a distance away, I didn’t think it was a live creature because it was so still. As I drove by, I realized it was just the calmest dog, watching traffic go by on a Sunday morning, along a tree line, with no collar. I got nervous for it as I drove by - praying it would stay still and calm along the tree line and not go out into traffic.
Then, it dawned on me - I’m fairly certain I saw that same dog a day or two before, across the street on the corner at a stoplight with a man who was asking for assistance from people passing by. I don’t know for sure, but I would not be surprised if on that Sunday morning, the dog was essentially keeping watch for a man sleeping on the other side of that tree line, hidden among the trees. I don’t know it for sure, but it would absolutely make sense. It’s not out of character for a dog to do so.
This simple witnessing of a dog laying still by the roadside got me thinking more about the goodness of dogs - and animals in general. It’s so interesting to learn about which animals will follow the herd, which animals appear to be loners but really have a pack mentality, which animals are loyal to death, and which animals may literally bite your head off (not just figuratively as humans like to joke).
If you were here a few weeks ago for Benita’s awesome debut in preaching, you experienced doing the activity of naming your top three favorite animals and three character traits to describe them. It was not only a great exercise for individuals, but also revealing for the community as we talked about them afterward. For example, one of you mentioned naming “chicken” as your 3rd favorite animal; that 3rd favorite animal can represent character traits inside of you that need to be nurtured. The traits you described for matching a chicken were much different than what I would have used. (I think you used things like smart and life-giving. I would have said annoying because they peck at everything. It was a good shared, learning experience!)
I wouldn’t doubt if, in that exercise, dogs were one of the most named animals, simply because as a society we have grown to love their faithfulness as domesticated pets.
All this is to say, animals, not just dogs, can highlight our connection with the primal aspects of this world. They show us behaviors - ones we like and don’t like - that are inherent in their being, as God created them. Yes, humans have domesticated certain animals over the centuries. (or tried, in the case of cats) Yet, animals still remind us of a primal connection to God’s pure Creation.
Today is Blessing of the Animals. These sweeties that you have brought with you have likely shown you loyalty, shown you unconditional love, and shown you free expression of emotion. (How often do humans contain our excitement or disappointment? Yet, even well trained animals have a hard time hiding those emotions! Those tails wag or eyes grow big.)
Today’s Scripture reading is Psalm 111. Walter Brueggemann, a renowned modern-day theologian, calls this a “Psalm of orientation.” I love that description! Truly, this Psalm re-orients our contemporary minds to the core essentials of who God is and what God has done.
Similar to how our pets can ground us in God’s creation, this Psalm can ground us in God’s character.
The book of Psalms in the Bible is a collection of poems, lyrical writings, that express everything from lament to thanksgiving. This Psalm reminds us of who God is and that God is timeless. God has been around for forever and will be around for forever. God’s character endures through all time. The Lord ain’t going anywhere!
Psalm scholar Leslie Allen states, “Psalm 111 glories in the present...relevance of the ancient events of salvation...They are a signpost pointing to his enduring care and claim.” (Allen, World Biblical Commentary)
You can see this character of God in the works of God. The covenant made with God’s people; the laws and precepts that withstand time.
Remembering who God is and what God has done grounds us in perspective and humility. Look at all of God’s timeless creation: what happens in the ocean’s waters, how the earth shifts, inherent behaviors of protection in animals. Look at how God has acted in your individual history and the broader history of humanity...and know that God will do the same in the future. (Even in the midst of some terrible events humans have enacted upon this earth.)
That perspective and grounding leads to the “fear” of the Lord. Not a reaction of pulling away in fear of God, but of standing in awe and reverence. I love Stan Mast’s reflection on this saying, “What if the fear of the Lord isn’t first of all an emotion, but an action, or a set of actions? Fearing the Lord means simply living by his precepts, putting his will at the center of our lives and acting accordingly.” (Stan Mast, Center for Excellence in Preaching)
The best form of showing praise is practicing this fear of God - this standing in awe of God’s timelessness and living out those precepts that will never go away. Live out graciousness and mercy and trustworthiness and faithfulness. Those things aren’t trendy - they began with God in creation and will withstand whatever craziness us humans try throwing into the world.
Rolf Jacobson (workingpreacher.org) reminds us that “God may be beyond comprehension, but God can be known.” I believe we know God through remembering the Lord’s timelessness, through re-orienting ourselves in history, through living lives of godly fear, through seeing the reflection of God’s creation in the eyes of animals.
As Charles Darwin said, “The love for all living creatures is the most notable attribute of man.” Let us this morning be “well noted” and show our love for God’s creation, particularly in animals.
Scripture: Psalm 111