October 15,  10:00 a.m.

10-8-17 Blessing of Animals (Pent. 18)                                           St. John’s Church

Rev’d Jennifer Phillips                   Ps. 104:24,28-30; Num.22:21-35; Mtt 6:25-31

  In this fragile, fleeting, precious, challenging life, the animals which closely share our lives remind us to be gentle, to act with consistent kindness , to be faithful in providing and caring even if we are rushing through our days. Maybe after this past week’s turbulence, they – as much as any of our own human kind - teach us that simple love is possible. That forgiveness is a better and happier path than holding onto resentment and fear. That God’s creation is good, even though it is smitten with suffering and mortality, and so are we – mortal, and made to be good.

  This morning we have heard a funny story, though one with an edge. A minor prophet gets strong-armed into going with some VIPs to work for a king who wants curses on his enemies and not blessings. Or maybe he is confused about what really would be a blessing for his people. God warns Balaam off, tells him to stay home. He goes anyway…not so much for the money as because he finds it hard to say no to the convoy of aristocrats who arrive at his door.

  He’s in a bad mood from the start.

  It is the donkey that saves the prophet’s bacon. It is the donkey – only the donkey – that sees the Angel of the Lord blocking the path and so tries repeatedly to get Balaam’s attention.  The frustrated prophet beats his poor animal instead.  The donkey has to lie down in a ditch to convey God’s message to his master, and get him to talk to God himself. The trip is doomed to failure from the start – the king and his warring people won’t listen to Balaam or to God. Finally they have to listen to their enemies who invade. You can’t curse what God blesses. The story asks us who is the real ass in the tale.

  Our ancestors knew theologically but not really scientifically that the created world around them was a cohesive whole, a gift from God designed to sustain life, every part of it brought into being by the divine intention. God made the planet and heavenly bodies, the rocks, the seas, the air and moisture, the plants, the fish and birds, the animals with scales and feet, all of it, and finally the human beings. God declares it all good. It makes a whole, complete, sufficient. And the humans are to tend and steward it as God’s overseers. In return for this labor and prudence, its bounty will feed and sustain their lives.

  The animals with which we live humanize us. If we are have it in us, if we are paying attention, if we have compassion to begin with, they make us gentler and more capable of devotion and wonder; they carry us beyond ourselves. In this week cracked open by such inexplicable violence, how many people buried their face in the fur of their dog just to be soothed by the warmth of a companion heart? How many stroked their cat and felt that purr that reverberates through our bones and reminds us that something, at least, is well? How many sat on a porch and watched birds revolving on the updrafts or listened to them twittering in the maples and found anxious minds at rest for awhile?

  Our ancestors could never have dreamed that there would end up being so many of us. They could not conceive of the big world being overrun with people determined to extract from their home world not just sustenance, not just enough, but as much as they can squeeze out of it, more than the natural systems can replenish. So quick to demand our individual rights that we forget the simple need all people, all creatures, have for life and commonweal.  So maybe our historical moment is a bit outside what the Bible could envision. Though saying that, our ancestors wrote lots about human greed, selfishness, the dangers of appetite and arrogance, and our capacity to wreck good things because of them – even to destroy ourselves in the process.

  Maybe some others of you besides me see the patient donkey of nature crushing us against a wall, knocking us into a ditch, and finally collapsing under us, while we beat  and beat it trying to make it conform to our own will…when in fact, it is speaking for God. Ceremonies and sacrifices on all the high places aren’t going to change reality. Bullying nature will do not good.

  Today we remember a medieval Italian saint, Francis of Asissi, a young man from wealth and privilege who got fed up with the waste and pride and extravagance of his life and his folk. He saw the poor who were starving outside their gates. He had a heart for the suffering of animals that he knew to be God’s own. He listened to them – birds, a wolf, a bear - and they spoke to him of God. He gathered a small band of other men and set up a community built on a different set of values: simple living, a sharing economy, peace and reconciliation between brothers, compassion to people and to animals, and great appreciation and gratitude to the whole natural order that is God’s gift and creation, full of beauty and mystery, and reflecting the divine splendor.

  Honoring Francis, our British ancestors developed a practice of thanking God for the animals on his feast day – livestock, horses, hunting dogs, pets, and by extension the wild creatures that are there and our relatives on earth. We bless mostly dogs, a few cats and bunnies, an occasional reptile, insect or bird. It is sweet, and a bit sentimental…a day that children love, including the inner children we adults are. These animals bless us by their companionship and we bless God for them and pray God’s blessing of health and contentment upon them. But what does this accomplish unless we are willing by our choices and actions, by our discipline and self-control and compassion and plain good sense, to bless- to value and conserve and preserve and repair – all the creatures, and the whole creation. What value has it unless we work diligently to curb violence and not just pray for peace and healing, but to do it. To make change in the direction of nonviolence in ourselves and in our neighborhoods, schools, towns, and nation! To want our neighbors’ good more than we desire our firearms! To love and protect the wild creatures in their habitats as much as we cherish the dog at the foot of our bed!

  The great founder of modern nursing and reformer Florence Nightingale had strong words about praying about things when action is needed. “It is a religious act to clean out a gutter and to prevent cholera,” she said, “It is not a religious act to pray (in the sense of simply asking God to take cholera away)”. As for those who say God will take care of everything if it is God’s will, Florence said: "God will do no such thing … [God] does not treat [us] like children; humankind is to create humankind. We are to learn, first, what is heaven, and secondly, how to make it [here]. We are to ascertain what is right, and then how to perform it".

  We people of faith must ask ourselves how it is that God speaks to us in our rather more sophisticated and secular time. How wise will we be as stewards of the earth and the creatures? How many messengers must come with warnings before we can hear and see what is in front of us? How will we care for all that has been entrusted to us – the earth, the animals, one another? How much will we just throw overboard as less important than our desire not to change? God does still communicate with us, even if we can’t see it. Are we waiting for the donkey to collapse under us?



WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Office Hours:  
Tuesday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Thursday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Friday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Sunday Worship:  10:00  a.m. 
Wednesday Eucharist: 10:15 a.m.

This is St. John's Episcopal Church... please click on photo below to see more photos of church life!

This is St. John's Episcopal Church, Westwood MA

Want to check on the readings for a particular Sunday or other day?  Click below to go to the Lectionary page...  all readings available for 2017:

Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips

Sunday,  October 15 :
Blessing of the Animals at 10:00 a.m. special Morning Prayer Service

Tuesday, October 16,  7:00 p.m.:
Bible Study in the narthex

Wednesday, October 17: 
10:15 a.m. Eucharist

Looking Ahead:
Saturday, October 21, 2017:
Barnstable MA, Tickets $20 allourchildren.org/2017forum

Many thanks to all those who helped fill these 7 five gallon buckets with cleaning supplies for hurricane victims. These buckets will soon be distributed through Church World Service.

Episcopal Relief & Development
815 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017
tel: (855) 312-4325
fax: (212) 687-5302
EIN: 73-1635264

Mail donations to:
P.O. Box 7058
Merrifield, VA 22116

Christian Discipleship in Action via St. John’s

Come join in:

Oasis Ministrieswe cook and serve a monthly hot chicken dinner to about 100 homeless neighbors in down- town Boston on 2nd Mondays.

Ecclesia outreachwe invite homeless and poor neighbors to Hale Reservation for a summer picnic and for a Spring bowling afternoon in Norwood.

Tutoring after-school reading and homework help for city children at Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan on Wednesday afternoons.

Pantry support for Westwood food pantry and Church of the Holy Spirit pantry in Mattapan – bring non-perishable groceries to church year round.

Habitat for Humanity home buildcoming soon, a St. John’s team to help build an affordable home in Westwood.

Prayer Shawlsknitting group prayerfully makes shawls for people facing illness or crisis.

Urban Promise Honduras missioners from St. John’s & CHS travel to learn and work with children at a school in Copan every few years.

Boston B-SAFE summer program our team works during a July week each year to provide meals and a field trip & picnic for this large city children’s program.

Eucharistic Visiting members are trained and take the Sacrament, offer healing prayer, and make friendly visits to people who are homebound, in hospital, or other institutional settings.

Speak to Rev. Jennifer if you’d like to put your discipleship to work in one or more of these parish ministries!