Each year Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church conducts a joint Blessing of the Animals Service with the Richmond SPCA for the occasion of Saint Francis Day. The pet-friendly service is held outdoors in Monroe Park, facing the church across Laurel Street. It is a wonderfully joyous event for “all creatures great and small.”
At this year’s service, Rev. Bo Millner, Rector of GHTC, delivered a sermon from Luke 16:19-31, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Millner says that above all the passage is about love, and we so thoroughly enjoyed his message that we wanted to share it with the readers of our blog:
"Love of God; love of neighbor – that is what this parable lifts up. That is what it calls us to do. So ultimately it is not about the fear of hell, but it is a call to love, to listen to the challenge of scripture and love god, love your neighbor.
You see, this great reversal that is talked about in the parable, where the rich person is in torment and the poor man is consoled, that great reversal is already happening in the ministry and work of Jesus. This parable is addressed to Jesus’ critics on some level. People who were saying to Jesus, “Why do you hang out with prostitutes, corrupt and unpatriotic tax collectors, with the unclean.” Jesus is casting wide the net of love and gathering all those in who had been marginalized. Jesus wanted everyone to join him in that wide embrace
Now, I know that there is a strong tradition in religion that uses fear – fear of hell, fear of punishment – as motivation for people. And I know that there are times in scripture where hard punishments are meted out. Yet, when all is said and done, Jesus who reveals God to us most clearly is all about love. This parable is an urgent call to love God by loving those who cry out for help.
You all know this event is jointly sponsored by GHTC and the Richmond SPCA. The Richmond SPCA has a no-kill policy, but they also have a 'don’t kill the joy' policy when it comes to training animals. I was talking this week to Sarah Babcock who is in charge of teaching training. She told me that when she was growing up, training was all about choke collars and inflicting punishment. When it came time for training and she got the collar out, she said her puppy ran and hid.
Now she uses positive reinforcement techniques and teaches others how to do it. When she goes to get the dogs for training time now, they don’t run and hide. They are all saying 'Me! Me! Me! I want to try!'
You see, here’s the thing. Sarah agreed that you can get your dog to do what you want by using punishment, but what you lose is the relationship, the intimacy, the connection that the animal can have with its humans. Sure, there are times, just like with a toddler about to wander into traffic, where you do whatever you need to do to maintain safety, but as a general principle, the positive approach is the way to go.
There is gospel in this! God does not use a choke collar on us. God loves us and wants a relationship with us. When God shows up, he likes to be met with the uncontrolled joy that is so clearly seen in our beloved animals.
Let us celebrate that love today, with each other, with the world, with the feathered and furry members of God’s beloved creation who count on our love and care and kindness."
To read the biographies of our regular bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires a first and last name to be used as your screen name.