This is the Sunday of the year where I get the most competition for air space so I am going to keep this very simple. I want to turn your attention to the passage from Philippians – particularly the first part which teaches us how to be in relationship with each other.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
This is quite possibly the most beautiful piece of literature in the scriptures.
As I reflected on this this week, I thought about how pets really help us do this – to not look to our own interests, but to the interests of others. My dogs, Molly and Lucy, who could not be with us here this morning, help me with this lesson every day. Unlike children who grow out of their need to be completely taken care of by an adult – dogs and cats don’t, even though cats would like you to believe otherwise and that they are doing you one big favor letting you feed them, pet them, and clean out their litter box.
My dogs do not care one bit about how busy I am. Regardless of my schedule they need to be fed and walked, taken to the groomers, and the veterinarian. Unlike my son who is now twenty years old, who can make his own doctor’s appointments and get himself there, go to the grocery store, and get his hair cut on his own, and can walk himself to class without my assistance – Molly and Lucy obviously will never achieve that level of independence – and therefore they pull me out of my self-interest and my agenda on a regular basis.
St. Francis wrote on a similar theme, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”
On this note, if any of you are not animal people, the very fact that you are in the sanctuary this morning with about 65 cats and dogs, plus at least one ferret, proves you have no problem in overcoming self.
The Christian Faith teaches us that our ultimate happiness does not come from serving our own needs, but the needs of others, and our pets are daily reminders of that truth. And that is just our domestic reminder. Christ teaches us through his life and example that we are called to turn our attention outward, and that true meaning in our lives comes from the service of our fellow human beings.
But pets teach us also that we have to not only love others and serve others, we need to love and serve ourselves. We need to be nurtured and feel cherished. Pets help us with this too. No matter what kind of day we have had, no matter how many mistakes we have made, no matter what we have said or done, pets demonstrate to us unconditional love. The only beings in the world who get excited when you get the flu are your dogs – it’s like they rub their paws together and say, “goody – we have her all to ourselves!” And what is pretty great about our pets is that most of them will demonstrate that love to anyone who comes in the door with that tail wagging, enthusiastic love that seems to say to friends and stranger “I am so glad you are here, I never thought you were going to make it.” Or at least that is what goes down at my home. If you do not have a pet and need some unconditional love from a furry friend, I’m sure many of us would readily share our pets with you, (like for the whole weekend).
But what we can also learn from our pets is that the world badly needs us to be irrepressible enthusiasts for each other. We need each other, demonstrably, to value, affirm and love – because frankly, no matter how happy you are and how good you have it, life can be pretty hard and depleting.
I realize I am on borrowed time and may at any moment be barked, clucked, and/or meowed out. So I leave you with this thought from St. Francis, “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”
Let us be strengthened by God so our deeds are full of enthusiastic love and deep compassionate care and that through that love and compassion we are freed, healed, and loved.