Fauna Sunday

‘Wisdom leads us to change our relationships with our animal

/brothers and sisters in God’s creation.’ Rev Dr. Leah Schade[1]

Today, the second Sunday in the Wisdom series for the Season of Creation, we are focusing on Fauna - the whole fauna family on Earth including birds, animals, reptiles and all earth’s fauna. God is revealed and praised through his creation, and the fauna is no exception in praising its Creator.

We remember from last week that we are being challenged to re-orient our relationship with creation and to try to discover and learn from the wisdom in creation. And we are invited to model what it means to answer Wisdom’s call to take responsibility for the health and respectful treatment of all Creation.

So, in the bible passages set for today, let us look for the wisdom that might open a conversation about what is worth knowing and valuing in the world, especially regarding animals. As we discover this, perhaps wisdom will lead us to change our relationships with our animal kin in God’s creation.

Both the passages in Job 39 and Psalm 104 set for today engage in a positive theology of nature wherein animals are not just passive receptors of God’s grace, but actively doing God’s work with their very existence. The processes of their life in the ecosystems God established testify to an enduring truth: God’s work never fails.

What does fail, however, is human willingness to recognize the intrinsic value of the animals and plants who share our home on Earth. Too often animals are seen as nothing but food sources, our servants (beasts of burden), entertainment, or subjects of scientific experimentation. The outcome of such an attitude is a disregard for the care and welfare of the Fauna of the world.

No doubt you have seen footage on the television of the conditions under which fowls and animals are forced to live and endure. You will have seen programs on battery hens, cattle feed lots, and other examples of cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. The cruelty to animals arising from the live sheep export trade is a very recent issue in the media. Another example is the cruelty inflicted upon dogs in ‘puppy breeding farms.’

Just before moving to Port Macquarie from our home in the Blue Mountains, Linda and I worked with a number of neighbours to get an illegal puppy breeding operation in a house in our street shut down by the local council. The conditions under which the breeding females were kept was disgusting.

Now, I am not wishing to be critical of our farmers today. Having grown up on a dairy and beef cattle farm, I am well aware that for farmers, the animals are their source of their livelihood and that they necessarily must have an emotional disconnect from the ultimate destiny of the animals in their care.

And I am certainly not advocating that we all become vegetarians, or vegans!

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that most, if not all, of us would, for example, never stop to think about what the plastic wrapped chook in the supermarket has been through to end up in our pantry. And we don’t stop to wonder what happens to the rooster chickens. We all grow up to have an emotional disconnect from the animal food items on the shelves.

So, what are we to learn from Fauna Sunday? Well, I suggest that the function of Wisdom in this week’s readings is to help us to perceive God’s Creation in a new way – a way that is not self-serving, but self-decentring; a way that understands the intrinsic value of the animals and plants, apart from humans.

Let’s first consider the reading from Job 39. This passage is part of the extended speech of God from the whirlwind challenging Job to understand the ‘ways’ innate in the design of each part of the cosmos. Chapter 38 focused on the design of the inanimate world; chapter 39 turns to the ways of the animate world, especially the kingdom of the wild.

In Job 39, God asks the man if he “knows” about the animals in the world around him. The Hebrew word used means to “know, learn to know, to use one’s mind, to be acquainted with.” So this is knowing in a much deeper sense then just that they exist for our benefit. It is knowing the wisdom behind and in their creation.

Job is asked by God whether he understands the ways of the mountain creatures or wild asses. The life cycle of these animals is governed by natural impulses that leave us amazed. They get no help from humans to give birth or raise their young.

Job knew of donkeys that had been tamed to become beasts of burden. The wild asses, however, are totally different beings. God set them free to roam the salt plains and steppes. They are not only independent of humans, they defy them and their noisy cities. We might wonder if it is really possible to grasp the ‘way’ of a wild ass?

It is helpful to appreciate one of the fundamental features of all domains in the wisdom literature of the Bible, whether inanimate or animate, namely the inner ‘way’ that each domain possesses. Or, if you like, the wisdom that created and is implanted into the creatures.

The task of the wise person according to Proverbs is to understand that ‘way’, the innate design that governs a creature or part of creation. That was the challenge to Job at the beginning of God’s speech.

Take ants for example. Proverbs 6.6-8 urges us to consider and learn from the wisdom creation of ants. Verses 6-8 reads,

Go to the ant, you lazybones,

Consider its ways and be wise.

Without having any chief or officer or ruler

It prepares its food in summer

And gathers its sustenance in harvest.

The ‘way’ of the ant is that code innate in ants that guides them to live in a unique way, in amazing colonies consisting of workers, males and queens. They have an extraordinary anatomy, with no backbone. They are social beings capable of living in harmony in colonies of up to a million ants. After the queen lays her eggs, ant workers care for them by licking the outsides to keep them free of bacteria. And so on.

I find these, and other things known about ants, just amazing! This is the ‘way’ of the ant - it is innate, part of the mysterious impulse implanted in them by God.

Every creature has its ‘way’, that governing feature Job is invited to explore in the main reading for this Sunday. The ‘way’ is the wisdom within the ant. For humans to explore that wisdom in the ant means to gain wisdom by observation of nature.

In the passage from Luke 12:22-31 Jesus urges the disciples and you and me to “Consider,”. The Greek word means to “perceive, remark, observe, understand, fix one’s eyes and attention on.”

Jesus’ point is that there is something more important than worrying about the usual day-to-day concerns that most people, including his disciples, worry about. In verses 22-23 he says, “… do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than (these things).” Rather we should “strive for the kingdom of God!”

And then he indicates that the wisdom required to live this way can be found in the flora and fauna of God’s creation. So, we might summarise his lesson in wisdom terms as saying: “Consider the ways of the kingdom of the wild and be wise! Because there you will find lessons on how best to live.”

We need to learn to live in harmony with the animal kingdom for two reasons: one is because we can learn much from the Wisdom in its creation; and the second reason is because the animal kingdom is part of God’s kingdom – which is to say it is more than a source of food, entertainment and labour for humans.

In a book entitled The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth, Thomas Berry suggests that the role of the Church in the twenty-first century is to help shape a future that is based on human-Earth relations. He writes, “The future of the other two relations [human-divine and inter-human] depends upon this third relation, our human capacity to recognize our place in the structure of the universe and to fulfill our role within this setting."[2]

Berry goes on to states that our “ultimate concern” must be “the integrity of the universe upon which the human depends in such an absolute manner" (p. 48). He would like to see an era emerge when humans "would be present to the planet in a mutually enhancing manner. We need to establish ourselves in a single integral community including all component members of planet Earth" (48-49).

This, Berry suggests, can only happen when humans come to see their place and role in the universe as completely dependent on the habitats, flora, and fauna of Earth, all of which have intrinsic value not dependent on human needs or wants. Accepting this limited role (he says) is the first, and most difficult, step that humans must take.

Berry discusses the need to create continuity between the human and the non-human in every aspect of human life, and concludes that if these two steps are taken, then we might find hope for humanity’s and the planet’s survival.

This is a new way of looking at the animal kingdom. At least, it is new to most people of today; but as we will discover on Sunday 29th, St Francis of Assisi was thinking this way back in the 12th Century. It is looking at the animal kingdom as having been created not for the benefit of humans; but for its own sake, and animals being partners with humans in God’s Kingdom. Most people of the world will probably see this way of looking at the animal kingdom as foolishness There is no surprise here. After all, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that the world sees the message of the cross as foolishness (1 Cor 1:18).

’But then verse 20 of the Corinthians passage states, ‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’ The fauna and flora have been created by God’s wisdom, and we know that God is revealed in his creation. Nevertheless, as verse 21 states, ‘the world did not know God through wisdom.

So today, Wisdom leads us to change our relationships with our fellow creatures in God’s creation. We are encouraged to look at the Fauna - the kingdoms of the wild, living creatures great and small that inhabit our planet in myriads of forms, shapes and designs – in a new way. Not as something created for our benefit, not as something over which we can have an assumed superiority; but as something created in God’s wisdom as a valued part of God’s Kingdom in its own right. And furthermore, we are encouraged to seek to know and learn from the Fauna about how best to live in God’s world.

“Consider the ways of the kingdom of the wild and be wise!” Amen.

[1] Acknowledgement: Much of the material incorporated into this sermon has been drawn from Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C by The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD; and from the Bible Study available on the website www.Season of Creation.com, copyright held jointly by Norman Habel and the Justice and International Mission unit within the Commission for Mission of the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania – used with permission.

[2] Thomas Berry, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim, The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2009), 46-7

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