‘Do All God’s Creatures Have Place in the Choir?’

This morning’s scripture passages are parts of the creation stories found in the Book of Genesis.  Center to our faith and to all faiths is the belief that God was the author in some way of creation.  In trying to understand this core belief and what our place is in God’s creation, the ancient Hebrews told a beautiful story or poem of the Creation.  God creates and then calls it good. God creates and somehow all of creation is linked to the human. Common to Hebrew poetry and song is the coupling of stories and phrases, so the fact that there is two accounts of the creation event is not surprising.  What we have here is a descriptive and powerful poem praising God for God’s creative work.

At the onset, we must see that the text is not a scientific description but a theological affirmation.  Modern science and creation and evolutionary theory shows that the world was not created in a week but that does not discount the scripture.  Just as we look at other passages which we cannot accept as factual, we must look at this poetry and ask what does it mean. What does it tell us about our life as a disciple of God?  What can we glean about God and our relation to God’s creation through these passages which were inspired by God?

Listen now to two passages found in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 which sing the song of creation.

The first is the very beginning of the Bible. It starts out, as we all know with the phrase, ‘In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…’  Important to note is that God was there before everything else…. God is pre-creation… God is the Is. This first poem, that we know so well, goes on to tell how God separated light from dark, water from land, created time as we know it by creating seasons and years, and each day as God created, God called what was created good.  Then God continued.

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.” 21So 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. 22God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24And 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. 25God 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.

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind[a] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[b] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

207So God created humankind[c] in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;[d]
    male and female he created them.

28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”  29God 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. 30And 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. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

It goes on to say that on the seventh day God rested.

Immediately after this first poem, its couplet is there in the second chapter, and although it has differences and things were created in a different order, the main message is the same.  God created. God had a plan. God was in charge. However, in this second creation story, God has already created the human and then creates the animals so that the human is not alone. Listen now to Genesis 2:18-20a. (Read scripture)

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 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. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man[a] there was not found a helper as his partner.

I love these passages.  I love the way we are not just a part of creation, but we have a special relationship with creation, with all living things, all the plants, the fish, the birds, and the animals.  And I thought I would pull out the phrases that are used in that relationship and see meaning we can glean from them.

First, all of creation was good.  And all of creation was a part of God’s plan.  It gives substance and purpose to every part of creation and makes it a whole.  Every part of creation, large and obvious or small and seemingly insignificant is important in God’s plan. God created an evolving eco-system with an interdependence which is like a symphony or a song.  So the sea turtle is as important as the coral reef, as the elephant, as the manatee, and even as important as we humans are. All are a part of God’s plan. All are in the choir of God’s creation.

So, God loves your birds, God loves your puppies and cats, God loves the snakes and the lizards, the fish and ….. even, I suppose we have to admit… God also loves the palmetto bugs which are really cockroaches with a fancier name.  And, here at Riviera a part of our mission and my calling is that you know without a doubt that God loves you.

And God has given us, the humans of creation, a special role.  We are created in God’s image and are able to use all the plants and the animals for our sustenance.  It is a balanced eco-system. Plants and animals can be farmed for our nourishment. But our role, is spelled out.  We are to subdue and have dominion over these things. For a long time, it was thought that those words gave us the authority to abuse and not care for God’s creation.  We misunderstood our role in creation and thought we were meant to be just the consumers of it. Walter Bruggemann suggests the meaning of subdue and have dominion over are better understood in the second creation story when God places the human in the garden and explains that the relation of the human to the rest of creation is to till and keep it.  In-other-words, we are to care for the creation…. make sure it thrives, as our job and our relation to all of creation is more of a gardener and shepherd.

And God gives us the creatures of creation, the wild beasts and the tamed house pets as our helpers.  We are not to be alone. The animals are created to be in relationship with us.

Interesting is the story of the human naming the animals.  In naming them, the human has created a bond with them. They are no longer things but have names and are dogs, cats, and other animals that evoke love and concern from us.

Bo’s and my daughter Nonie adopted a dog last week.  Her name is Vin and she came from China where she was rescued from being a meal for someone.  She has never lived as a pet so Nonie and she are working out how to be a domestic animal and an owner of one.  But, Vin has already guaranteed her safety as Nonie is smitten and in love. She feels responsible for her and we hear about her on a daily basis.  Nonie did not name her at first, and only took her with the understanding that Nonie was the foster home, but once Vin was named, I knew they had established a relationship with each other.  

So, it is right to bless our animals. The wonder of God’s creation is its diversity and that all is seen as good.  And when we choose to have a pet, we enter into a special relationship with them where we agree to feed and tend them as a shepherd cares for his flock.  When Bo and I brought Bosco into our home we entered into a relation with him. He is a part of us. When he joined our family it was with the intention that we would care for him throughout his life.  And in return he gives us an unconditional love which is rare and a wonderful privilege to experience. He is a special blessing to us as all your pets are to you. In blessing them this morning, we are thanking God for them and asking God to help us care for them. We are the keeper of the creatures of creation and the benefactor in the special relationships we have with all of creation.  All God’s creatures do have a place in the choir and it is our privilege to love and care for them as they give us unconditional love which can only come from God. Amen.

Rev. Martha Shiverick‘Do All God’s Creatures Have Place in the Choir?’