4th October is the feast day of St Francis of Assisi and for the past 10 years or so the Sunday nearest that has been designated animal welfare Sunday
It gives us an opportunity both to celebrate the diversity and sheer wonder of creation, but also to reflect on the often pitiful plight of animals in our own society and around the world. And perhaps to think how we might try and
follow in the footsteps of those through the centuries who have shown great compassion and concern for animals. And for those including organizations like compassion in world farming have tried to balance the welfare of the animals with the welfare of the
farmers, and the economic realities they are constantly up against. Transportation of live animals is one of the cruelties that must surely be eradicated from our way of life for as Mahatma Gandhi said ' You can judge the moral welfare of a nation by the way
it treats its animals'. 900 million animals die in this country each year i'm not sure what that says about us a nation. Whatever we feel, we can all agree that there is room for improvement!
John Chrysostom in the 4th century said “Surely we should show the animals great kindness and gentleness for many reasons but above all because they are of the same origin as ourselves.”
When I was a Deacon in Gloucester, whenever I could I used to go down to the Docks for some space and to watch the water and the birds. Seagulls, ducks,
pigeons, swans and even the occasional Canadian Goose. I had one particular friend, a brown and white pigeon, who came and sat on the seat by me, expecting to share my sandwich. Well actually he expected to have the whole of my sandwich, but we usually came
to some arrangement. Though patience wasn’t his strong point I have to say.
The thing I loved most was the sense of freedom, the sense that the birds were
just busy being birds, they were free to be fully themselves, on the water, under the water, in the air. There was a gloriousness about it. It is the most wonderful thing to be able to be fully the creature we are. A most precious things for as we know millions
of children, adults and animals are denied every kind of freedom and subject to every kind of abuse. And as we know from the daily tragic news many have their gift of life snuffed out violently and prematurely. We even in our relatively fortunate lives
are beset by all sorts of limitations and boundaries. The chance to fly doesn’t come that often. But the chance to bask in the gift of life does. That is what today allows us to do. To celebrate the gift of life in all its colour and all its diversity.
Christopher Smart, the rather eccentric but brilliant 18th century poet, who spent a lot of his life in Asylums, notably Bedlam, thought that every creature worshipped
God, simply by being itself, through its own particular and distinctive actions and characteristics. He wrote a poem about his cat Geoffrey, but also about mice being creatures of great personal valour, of flowers as the poetry of Christ. And before you say
Yes well he was obviously quite mad. Lets think about someone like William Wilberforce, who worked tirelessly to end slavery, but who was also on the founding committee of what now is the RSPCA. So you don’t have to be mad to think animals matter, and
you don’t have to care only about animals or about people. Compassion isn’t selective. I rage terribly at the needless and wanton cruelty inflicted on animals sometimes. But I rage terribly too when over zealous animal right activists dig up graves
and intimate those they disagree with. Going back to St Francis, he was no sentimental animal lover. He lived a hard sacrificial life – there are some wonderful stories about his encounters with animals and he has left us his great canticle of the sun
which celebrates all creation. But he sought first and foremost to be Christ like. And Christ is both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, One speaks of strength and faithfulness, the other of vulnerability. Animals spend most of their lives one way or another
at the mercy of human beings and in many ways we spend our lives at the mercy of one another. So lets together today celebrate creation, give thanks for one another, and reflect on how we can walk the road of compassion together.
I end with the words of The ancient mariner in the famous poem by Coleridge Farewell, farewell, but this I say to thee thou wedding guest. He prayeth well, who loveth well, both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small. For the dear God who loveth us, he made
and loveth all. Amen.