What Are You Thankful For? 

Let’s Start with Our 2020 Pet Blessing!

During November we will be inviting you to share what you are grateful for in your life and through the ministry of this church!  We are also sharing what makes us want to join God’s generosity as we make pledges to support the ministry of First next year.  During our online All Saints Service on November 1st, we will also have a special message and slideshow from Lori Marquez to get our Fall Stewardship Appeal started. 

But I thought I would get things started with what I am very thankful for in my ministry here at First!  I am so grateful for all the well wishes and support I received during Pastor Appreciation Month in October and whenever I see the well wishes, care and prayer you share with each other, especially with our President Heidi as she recovers from Covid.  I am completing my first month as your synodically installed pastor after the service on September, but last week we held an event that filled me with gratitude for the opportunity I have through my role as pastor in reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ!

I was so grateful for an opportunity to preside at a Pet Blessing on Saturday, October 17th.  And apparently many of our neighbors in this community were grateful for that opportunity too. 

About 25 people took us up on the invitation to remember God’s presence in their relationships with pets and all creation, and God’s care and healing hand in their lives.  We put out an invitation and people responded, most of them first time visitors and with pets of all kinds.  There was a family in the back with two boys who seemed to shout out every type of animal you can imagine when we asked what they had at home.  I was wondering if they lived on an ark!.  We are grateful that God used our church to bring a blessing to their lives and the life of their pets!

Earlier this month for Pastor’s Corner I reminded us to celebrate the life of Francis of Assisi and to remember Francis’ desire to bring the natural world and creation into the life of the church.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean animals fit neatly into the roles or plans we make for them.  Nothing discombobulates human beings like an animal showing up in the middle of our supposedly neatly planned lives.  In fact, we often watch on the news, or on our phones and computers, videos of animals interrupting human lives, and I think we actually long for them to interrupt our lives!  It brings us joy and I believe it is God at work!

I remember being on my way to a meeting in busy Chicago rush hour traffic and coming to a sudden halt.  Wondering what was happening ahead I put my head out the window (like a dog absorbing the wind!) and saw a family of ducks slowly (and very cutely!) walking across the road.  I know every person in those cars was probably in a rush to get somewhere, but I remember looking across at the other line of traffic and seeing the smiles on people’s faces watching these ducks and ducklings interrupt those plans for a moment. 

A few weeks ago, at the Vice Presidential Debate, and during the most tense political season of most of our lives, a tiny fly landed on Vice President Pence’s head and completely stole the show!  The next day everyone was talking about the fly rather than who was right and who was wrong or who made a mistake, or lied more, and who won.  It was obvious:  The fly won!  To me that was a great illustration of one of God’s creatures showing up and interrupting the best laid plans of human beings.  Sure, those politicians wanted you to listen to their words, but I bet they couldn’t help but smile at the interruption and breathe a breath of relief and rest into their tense lives.  We all appreciated that fly giving us a break!  We were all more human and less divided for a moment, because of a tiny animal’s interruption!  Thank God!

At the Pet Blessing, I shared a story from the Bible about animals interrupting human plans and participating in God’s bigger plans for us and creation.  Jonah is called to invite his enemies in Ninevah to repent, but he runs away from the job…because he wants to take away their opportunity to repent and thinks he has the power to do that.  He gets on a boat and tries to sail as far away from God’s call as possible.  But after a storm at sea, God sends a giant fish to take Jonah back to the place God called him.  It may seem unbelievable, but we all know that God can use creatures to interrupt our lives, and remind us of our calls to believe in a God who cares for us and all our neighbors. 

And so, as we begin to think about gratitude and enter a season of Thanksgiving and stewardship messages, I am glad we had time to remember with gratitude the pets in our lives and the gifts of God’s creatures.  Not just that we are good stewards of what we have and what we own, but that we honor the big picture of God’s creation and message of love for us, and how animals are a part of that ministry in the biblical story and our stories!

Pastor Josh