Nature’s Lessons about God- Matthew 11: 25-30
Six years ago I did my internship at a church in Denver Colorado. My brother flew out to Minnesota from Connecticut and together we drove my car west, stopping at Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, and Yellowstone National Park, along the way. There’s something about seeing the Black Hills or Rocky Mountains that can take your breath away and stop your over-thinking mind in its tracks.
Just the other day I went to Heublein Tower in Simsbury for the first time. From the top of the mountain and from outlook points on the way up you can see for miles and miles. It’s a beautiful trail right here in the Farmington Valley. It’s another one of those places that can really draw you in to connection with God’s presence.
I think many places have a way of drawing us into connection with God: the rhythmic waves of the ocean, the majesty of a sunset, or a gentle breeze in the evening. We are so blessed to live in a spectacular world filled with beautiful landscapes and wondrous places for adventure.
The animals that inhabit this world with us are often much more attuned to the cycles of nature and their lives are directed by the rhythm of the seasons even more than our own. Animals are much more dependent on favorable weather and at the mercy of storms and natural disasters. They have a certain intelligence and connection with nature that humans seem to have lost as we’ve moved indoors. Wild animals also have raw survival instincts that have been tamed in most humans and domesticated animals.
In the psalm we read this morning we heard an ancient Israelite’s expression of the glory of creation. People in ancient cultures seem to have been more connected to nature than modern humans. It’s great living indoors and having modern comforts, but it means we need to be a lot more intentional about spending time outdoors. I definitely appreciate having running water and a refrigerator full of food, but there’s something we lose when we’re not as dependent on nature as our animal brothers and sisters.
St. Francis of Assisi lived close to nature. He preached to birds. He called the sun and moon his brother and sister—as well as animals and mountains and hills and bodies of water. He saw himself as part of one unified whole, all of creation living in God’s presence.
There are many things we can learn from St. Francis. Things that Jesus spoke about in the Gospel reading today. In prayer, Jesus praises his heavenly father for hiding certain things from the wise and intelligent and revealing them to infants. Are there things that babies understand better than adults do? Are there things that animals seem to understand that adult humans don’t?
One of these things might be that grown up human beings have a tendency to think of salvation as very human centered. We seem to be short-sighted when it comes to the biblical revelation that God is redeeming all of creation. Kids seem a little more aware of this, so do cats and dogs. God didn’t just become human, God became flesh. God became physical. God became matter. Again and again the Bible reveals to us that it is not just humans that are redeemed, but creation itself. God is God of the whole earth, the whole universe, not just human beings.
Whether it’s modern Near Death Experiences that report beautiful landscapes in the heavenly realm, or the Bible’s own description of a new heaven and a new earth with “the river of the water of life” and the tree of life which has “leaves for the healing of the nations,” it is clear that the natural world has a place in eternity.
Another thing that babies and animals seem to understand is that God is not a strict rule-enforcer. God is as playful as a dog, as cuddly as a cat, as easy-going as a gecko. I’ve seriously learned a lot about the joy and playfulness of the divine through having pets. Their way of being can teach us a lot about the joy of life. Modern spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle has discussed how pets can help owners be more mindful of the present moment and believes the phenomenon of having pets has spiritual benefits we don’t yet fully understand. In a way, relationships with animals help us connect with nature and teach us something about the nature of God.
And so today we are blessed to reflect on the glory of nature and the gifts that all animals and all nature are to us. There is a sacredness to this life that all creation reveals. So I encourage you this fall to spend more time outside. Look at the beautiful leaves this autumn, watch as birds fly south for the winter, or lay outside and look at the clouds. Reflect on what a miracle it is to be alive. Reflect on what a gift this world is. Reflect on how animals teach us about the love, humor, and playfulness of God. And reflect on what you can do to be a better protector and steward of creation. How we can protect clean water for all people and all life. How we can change our diets to be more loving toward animals and ecosystems. How we might consume less so that nature can thrive.
There’s a lot we can learn from the natural world. And we are blessed to be here. Thanks be to God for our animal brothers and sisters, both domestic and wild, and for the trees, rivers, mountains, sun, moon, and stars. For God manifesting Godself in the glory of creation. Amen.