October 4, 2015
Blessing of the Animals & St. Francis!
The Rev’d. Gretchen S. Grimshaw
Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA
Welcome! Today we celebrate St. Francis! And so it is fitting that this morning we begin to celebrate a season of preaching and teaching (at the urging of our Presiding Bishop-elect, Michael Curry) that focusses on the Care of Creation as a spiritual and ethical and theological and very Christian endeavor. The season is called A New Awakening: an ecumenical season of prophetic climate witness. It begins today, the Feast Day of St. Francis, and officially ends on February 7, 2016 – the end of Epiphany. Although, if we get it right, this Awakening will no longer function as a season in time, but will provide us with a foundation for our mission going forward. Because as someone said at yesterday’s diocesan resource event: preserving the planet is the work of the church.
But as the people of a God who leads us to life, we seem to have a very odd way of proclaiming our faith. Because we live in ways that often degrade life rather than respect it. Every week in this very space we thank God for creation, and yet every week we use more than our fair share of its resources…in this very space.
In May, Pope Francis released an encyclical, a letter containing an official statement about church doctrine. The theme of the letter is creation care, and the name is Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home. Pope Francis took the name for his encyclical from the Canticle of St. Francis, In English, Laudato Si means Praise Be To You, Yes. The Canticle shouts:
Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun….
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon…
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind….
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water…..
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire….
Etcetera. And so the first paragraph of the encyclical begins: “In the words of [his] beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” Today is a day to preach about the beauty and the bounty and the breaking….the heart breaking of Mother Earth and all that dwells within her realm.
Of the many points in this papal encyclical, I think two in particular provide a starting place for our thinking….and hopefully our doing. The first point is that science and religion are not at all at odds with each other, but rather compliment each other in ways that make each more powerful. As evolutionary biologist Stephen Gould said at every turn in his illustrious career, science is the how of things, religion is the why. They are complimentary rather than diametrically aligned. And so the folks who say that religious leaders should not be engaging scientific subjects are not only off base, but they forget that Pope Francis is trained as a chemist, and that our own Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori is a trained marine biologist. And both of them have made creation care hallmarks of their ministry. Science and religion are part of the same plan.
And the second point is that diversity, I think, may be both the prize and the problem. That is to say, the diversity that we so cherish is in some ways the crux of the problem. For before there was diversity in creation, there was no free and individual will to destroy it. That is, there was no need to preserve the self by destroying the other…..because there was no other.
Two and a half billion years ago, in the “Dark Ages of Creation,” so says Rabbi Edwin Friedman in his book Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix: A Failure of Nerve, the universe was simply and happily monochromatic. That is, it was filled with cells that had only one chromosome. These monochromatic cells, called prokaryotes [proh-kar-ee-ohts] marked the dawn of modern life. For these cells were the first to have the trifecta of life-giving ingredients: 1) they reproduced themselves, 2) they metabolized energy, and 3) they inherited the characteristics of the generation that reproduced them, their genetic traits could be passed from generation to generation. Heritability is the quality that makes sure that Truffle’s puppies will not only be canine, but at least part poodle, and likely chocolate colored, and very possibly brilliant…..like their father.
And so two and a half billion years ago, these single cell prokaryotes [proh-kar-ee-ohts] reproduced like rabbits…..they cloned each other at breakneck speed; reproducing exact replicas of their one dimensional beings. They filled the universe with the building blocks of life. They had all three of the essential ingredients for life. But they were missing one thing that might make the mere fact of life a life worth living. They had life, but they lacked spice. Because everything looked exactly the same. Everything WAS exactly the same. All forms of life were one form of life. Every cell an exact replica of every other cell. Life was easy, but oh so boring. Life was sustainable, but without flavor. No difference. No individuality. Every Facebook page exactly alike.
And so, after roughly two billion years of utter predictability, there occurred in our vast universe a Big, Big Bang. You may have heard of it. It was an “astronomical explosion” that changed everything forever. For with the Big Bang came a different cell structure, a new brand of genes, as it were. They were called EUkaryotes [eu-kar-ee-ohts]. Different than the PRO karyotes. The EU karyotes had all of the elements needed for life that the PRO karyotes had, but the EU karyotes also had a radical new feature called a nucleus. A nucleus filled with genetic content that offered a whole new horizon beyond mere sustainability. And with the nucleus came the concept of diversity. Rabbi Edwin Friedman says of this moment in God’s vast time: “the eukaryotes marked the beginning of individuality, as well as the struggle to preserve it.”
And so the dawn of creation as we know it was marked by the introduction of diversity as we know it. And with that diversity came the need to protect and preserve the self, which was now differentiated by the diversity. But that protection and preservation needed to be conducted in a way that honored the whole, or this new life of diversity would be headed down a path of destruction from the get-go.
Enter the concept of integrity. Integrity is from the word integer. And an integer is what kind of number? A whole number, that’s right. And so with the dawn of diversity came the struggle to maintain our wholeness: our individuality in the midst of the community.
The dawn of eukaryotes – with an EU, which is the Greek prefix meaning good – as in euphoria (good feelings), eulogy (good words), euthanize (good death), eukaryotes (good cells). And so the foundation of life changed from PROkaryotes, cells that are made to simply project forward, to EUkaryotes, cells that are made for goodness sake. And living into that goodness, that is the business of integrity.
Someone once said that wisdom is knowing the right path and integrity is taking it. And I think that sounds about right. So here we are on the advent of the season of a New Awakening: a season of caring for creation in ever deepening ways that reflect the substance of our prayer and our faith.
We know the right path. The question is, are we ready to take it?
We here at St. Paul’s have been committed to honoring God’s creation for many, many years. We have been leading the charge for a greener church since….long before I was your rector. We reuse and recycle. We take our coffee in ceramic cups. We change our light bulbs to LED’s. We got a green grant a couple of years ago and replaced all of the windows in the parish hall. Our most prominent bulletin board is devoted to the latest information on ways in which we can care for creation. Maeve Ward helped found the Newton group Green Decade, for goodness sake. Anne Goldman wrote the divestment resolution for diocesan convention in 2013, for goodness sake. And in our diocese, Bishop Bud has been preaching about the degradation of creation as the number one theological issue of our generation since before he was a bishop, for goodness sake. We in this parish and this diocese have been ahead of the curve, for years. But my dear friends and fellow creation carers, I think the time has come to ditch the curve. I think it is time for us to cease to be contented with leading the pack and commit ourselves to the much harder task of practicing what we preach.
And the truth is, the truth is, that despite all of our good effort and work around creation care, we do not truly act as a community that cares about creation, not on the bottom line. We do lots of things that show that we are aware and that we know there is a calling to this new way of life, but we have yet to make the big changes in our behavior that will appreciably effect our carbon footprint and confirm our integrity as a community that cares about creation with all of our being; changes that would serve as an example for the rest of the Body of Christ and the wider world.
It’s time to stop worshiping in a facility that dishonors God. Forgive this comparison, but it is not unlike preaching against prostitution in a brothel. Until and unless we lower our carbon footprint in this building, we cannot be taken seriously when we talk about creation care. It is that simple. So I am challenging us to make a couple of deep changes, and to make them now. Let us pledge to renovate our heating and ventilation system in this coming calendar year, 2016. Let’s heat our building in a way that honors the creation that we claim to adore. Let’s get rid of our oil guzzling furnace and seal up these leaky windows. Let’s zone our heating and cooling. And let’s take another look at the possibility of solar panels. John Swalboski has generously volunteered to lead this effort, and he is collecting a group of folks who are wanting to be part of this initiative, so if you are interested, please let Jon know.
Replacing the furnace will be a good start. But it is not enough. It is not enough for us to address our own use of fossil fuels and continue to be invested in the use of those creation killing carbon emissions in the wider world. So let’s get out of the fossil fuel business altogether. Let’s take the plunge and divest our funds from any corporation that abuses and imperils and dishonors God’s good earth, air and water. Let us follow the lead of our diocese. Let us divest every dime that assaults creation.
It’s a grand and a risky step. I know. We have heard all of the reasoned advice to be cautious, to be wary, to take our time in making such a drastic change with our safety net, our endowment, our future. After all, it was entrusted to us for future generations. But I can think of no better way to serve future generations than by divesting of fossil fuels.
And true, it may be a risky proposition. Some say that we will not get the same robust returns on our investments if we rule out this segment of the market. And although that may be true in some long run, the risk to our integrity is far greater if we do not take this leap of faith for goodness sake. Although, in the current market, those who divested their fossil fuel assets last year look like the geniuses this year. Because oil stocks are in the tank. But we will not do this because we are smart. We will do this because we have integrity, for goodness sake. Because we are faithful Christians who take our lead from the Gospels that we say we trust. When Jesus says, no fewer than 87 times, do not be afraid to put all of your eggs in God’s basket, we might want to listen with active ears. As Christians, we must trust Jesus that we have nothing to fear when we honor God, nothing to fear if we have the courage to walk our talk. And so my friends, we know the right path, let’s take it.
There are a lot of evils in this world that we cannot change…..at least in the coming year. We can’t stop the gun violence. We can’t accommodate the tens of thousands of displaced families from Syria. We can’t cure cancer. The list of things we cannot materially effect is long. But we can do this.
We can live into our faith and then we can be a beacon for our sister parishes and our community and our neighbors. We can be a living example that says: if we can do it, you can do it too.
This is the way….and it is the only way the world will change; one courageous act of justice and respect for the dignity of all that God has created……at a time. As Gandhi is famous for saying, let us be the change that we want to see in the world.
And so on this day when we count the many blessings that include this beloved community and these beloved animals among us, I hope that we will truly make this a season of New Awakening. Let’s just do it!
I leave you with a prayer from Michael Leunig, my favorite Australia cartoonist and poet:
We give thanks for the places of simplicity and peace.
Let us find such a place [here].
We give thanks for places of refuge and beauty.
Let us find such a place [here].
We give thanks for places of nature’s truth and freedom, of joy, inspiration, and renewal,
places where all creatures may find acceptance and belonging.
Let us search for these places in the world, in ourselves, and in others.
Let us restore them.
Let us strengthen and protect them, and let us create them.
May we mend this outer world according to the truth of our inner life,
And may our souls be shaped and nourished by nature’s eternal wisdom.
© October, 2015 The Rev’d. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw
 Friedman, Edwin H.,Leadership In The Age of The Quick Fix: A Failure of Nerve, New York; Seabury Books, 1999. Pp158-161.
 From Leunig, Michael, When I Talk To You: A Cartoonist Talks to God,pg. NB: I have replaced the words “within ourselves” with the word “here.”