"The Pope, The Planet, and the Blessing of Pets" – Matthew 6:25-33
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Pope Francis Fever isn’t lost on me, I have to say. And I feel like we should talk about the Pope today, since he’s on tour and all, and since his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, often gets the credit for blessing the animals and for services like what we’re up to here. So, knowing some of what it’s all about, I decided to look more into Pope Francis’s recently published encyclical, Laudato Si’. (1)
I imagine most of us haven’t read the whole of that encyclical, and I’m not pretending I’ve read it word-for-word. It’s beautiful in lots of ways and places, believe me, but it’s not exactly a page-turner. Still, I hope you’ve at least heard the sound bites and seen the headlines about the pot the Pope has stirred with his words.
In what I have read, it’s clear that the pope’s encyclical acknowledges – from a faith’s perspective – what scientists have been teaching and warning about for quite some time, when it comes to global warming and climate change and ecological crises and care of creation. Where the Pope preaches and where scientists teach, of course, politicians and pundits argue and debate and deny and throw stones. But I don’t think we have to go there today.
What I read in the Pope’s Laudato Si’ isn’t hard for me to swallow, from the perspective of a fellow Christian. I believe it’s true…that he’s correct…that the earth – “our common home,” as he calls it – and all of its creatures – are in trouble. That is hard to swallow. But, unlike some people, I think he has every right and calling and authority as a man of God and as a follower of Jesus to write about and teach about and preach about all of this from his position of leadership and authority in the Church, for the sake of the world.
The reason people are upset about his suggestions and criticisms and warnings and calls to action, is because too many of those politicians and pundits have co-opted climate change, minimizing it into an “issue.” For Christian people, like the Pope and you and me, though, what he’s getting at isn’t new. And it’s not a political issue. It’s nothing more and nothing less than a call upon our lives that’s as ancient and holy as that creation story from Genesis, we just heard.
I’m under the impression that our connection to this call to care for creation is a direct reflection of the spiritual state of our souls, as individuals, and it’s a direct reflection of the spiritual state of our collective soul as a sea of humanity on the planet. In other words, if you ask me, the reason the planet is in the pickle it is…the reason we aren’t taking care of it as we should…is because we aren’t taking care of our own souls – or taking care of each other – as God wishes we would.
So, thinking about today’s Gospel, I couldn’t help but wonder if things have changed for the birds of the air and for the lilies of the field, since Jesus was around. I mean, I kind of wonder if the birds and the lilies have more to worry about in 2015, than they did back in Jesus’ day. I’m being facetious, of course. I know that’s not what Jesus meant and I’m not sure that lilies can worry, anyway.
But I can. And, like the Pope, I am worried. And I looked up some numbers and statistics so that you all might worry along with me, some.
I saw on National Geographic, that 90% of the oceans’ fish populations that were around in 1950 are no longer, and that the world’s stock of fish may very well run out by 2048. (That’s within my lifetime, if I’m lucky. I’ll only be 75 years old. My son, Jackson will be 44. Max will only be 41, younger than I am now.) That was a new kind of perspective for me. (2)
And it’s not just the fishes in the deep blue sea, either. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there was a 52% decline in wildlife populations between 1970 and 2010. In just 40 years, more than half of something like 3,000 species of not just fish, but mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and “birds of the air” have been decimated thanks to global warming, pollution, and disease. (3)
And then there are the “lilies of the field,” if you will. There were once 6 million square miles of tropical rainforest in the world. Now, thanks to deforestation and other human dis-interest, there are only 2.4 million square miles left. Between 2000 and 2012 – in just 12 years – 888,000 square miles of forests around the world were cut down. That's roughly the size of all of the states in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. (4)
And we can let these statistics scare us, I suppose. I can be afraid for the future of the planet and for the safety and well being of it all for the sake of my kids and grandkids, and I guess that’s something – if it causes me to make a change for the sake of it. We can even buy into the politics of this – or not – and address it, or ignore it based on our political persuasion if that’s all it is to us.
But that’s not all it is or all it should be for children of God. Pope Francis says, “We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”
And this has been God’s call for us and God’s claim upon us since our days in Eden’s garden, at the beginning of time – to recognize ourselves as the stewards, the care-givers, the babysitters, the custodians, the crown of God’s creation – and to live differently because of it.
So let’s do that as much as we’re able. Let’s do the “earth-day-every-day” thing. Let’s plant a tree. Let’s recycle our paper and our plastic and our cans and our bottles. Let’s find out what a difference one day a week without eating meat stands to make for the environment. Let’s stop drinking bottled water and pretending it’s any better than what comes from our kitchen faucet. Let’s be honest – a couple days out of the summer – about the fact that central air conditioning is a luxury we really can do without. Let’s walk instead of drive every once in awhile. Let’s support and vote for policy and legislation and leaders that consider the planet’s future and well-being in responsible, faithful, loving ways.
And let’s do these things, not because the Pope or the Politicians or Pastor Mark say so. Let’s do these things because the planet – “our common home” – is groaning under the weight of our selfishness and apathy. Let’s do these things because it is the poorest of the poor on the planet who suffer first – and most – when the earth struggles. And let’s do these things – let’s strive for righteousness on behalf of the planet – because we are grateful for God’s charge to care for this gift that is ours to defend and preserve and enjoy with grace and gratitude; and because God’s kingdom will thrive through and among us, in every way, when we do.
2 http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/declining-fish (“Big-Fish Stocks Fall 90 Percent Since 1950, Study Says” National Geographic News. May 15, 2003)
3 “Humans To Blame For Major Decline In Wildlife Populations, WWF Report Finds.” By JOHN HEILPRIN. AP. HuffPost. 09/30/2014