Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

"Loving Animals = Awakening Souls" - Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if any member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” And Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all of his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’  Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

I heard a quotation, just last week, that I knew would be meaningful for today’s occasion:

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” The words come from a journalist, Anatole France, about whom I know next to nothing else. But this little gem was enough to make me believe I would have liked the guy. “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

I’ve told myself before – and maybe even said out loud more than once – that I’m inclined to like most people – to give anyone and everyone the benefit of the doubt. But, you have an even better chance with me, if you like dogs and can appreciate the music of the Indigo Girls. We’re good, either way, don’t get me wrong – and Jesus still loves you no matter what, of course – but for my money, a love for dogs and/or an affinity for the music and message of the Indigo Girls say a lot to me about the nature and character of a person. But since we’re blessing pets this morning, I’ll leave the Indigo Girls for another day.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

And, in keeping with the appointed Gospel for today, loving an animal – particularly, perhaps, a dog- or a cat- kind of animal – is good practice at the work of forgiveness, right?

Our house is filled with reminders of all the ways and reasons we have to forgive, Stella, the pound-puppy we rescued at Christmas-time about 8 years ago:

The kitchen chairs are still splintered enough to snag your socks from where she chewed them, that first Spring. There’s a bald spot on the carpet up the stairway, from another chewing fit she had sometime just within the last six-months. And, of course, there aren’t enough candles or essential oils or scented wax burners to convince Christa that our house doesn’t smell like a zoo, thanks to Stella. (Of course, I think Max and Jack are as much to blame for that as the dog is.)

Still, all of it – the constant reminders of Stella’s sins and the imperfection of life with a pet – is an invitation to either keep score and carry a grudge, or to let go and forgive her transgressions, with thanksgiving, instead, for the joy and companionship she brings, in spite of all the rest.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unwakened.”

Because we need all the practice we can get when it comes to forgiveness, don’t we? And animals like Stella give us practice for what really matters when it comes to forgiving our human brothers and sisters in the world. Just like Peter, we want to know how much forgiveness is enough. How little of it can we get away with? How much grace is too much grace, lest we be made a fool, or be taken advantage of, in some way?

Well, Jesus seems to say there’s no such thing as too much forgiveness. There’s no such thing as too much grace, where God is concerned. Which is easier for the Son of God to say, then it is for most of the rest of us, you have to admit. And he tells that story about the slave and the Lord and the debt he was forgiven, to remind us that each of us is, or has been, or will be forgiven prolifically in this life and the next, so that we might be inspired – if not commanded – to extend the same kind of abundant grace and prolific forgiveness to others as we go.

Back to that quotation: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

As much as I love that – and as true as I believe it to be – Jesus’ parable makes me want to turn it around to say even more:

“Until one has been loved by an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

What I mean is, I think the Gospel of God’s kind of grace and mercy and forgiveness is there, somewhere.

“Until one has been loved by an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Because no matter how much Stella, the hound at my house, is scolded... No matter how contrite and sad and shamed she feels when she has done wrong... No matter how guilty we make her feel for his misdeeds – or how long we make her wait for dinner; or how much time she spends waiting for someone to come home; or how boring it must be to be a dog in our house a lot of the time, Stella’s love for her people is consistent, constant, unconditional and unwavering in ways most of the humans I know are incapable of offering.

To be loved that way – to be loved by the cats and dogs and creatures that surround us now – is an image of the kind of love Jesus describes and lives and dies for and is raised to new life to inspire in those of us who try to follow him.

We are to receive the fullness of God’s grace and mercy – we are to know we are loved so fully by our creator – that we offer the same measure of that grace, mercy and love to the world around us.

And when we do – when we receive that kind of love in ways that inspire us to offer it up – not just to our pets when it’s easy, but to each other and to all of God’s people, especially when it is not – our souls will be awakened; our lives and the lives of others will be transformed; and our world will change for the glory of God, thanks to the grace we share in Jesus Christ our Lord.


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