All Creatures Great and Small

Some years ago, while pondering the summertime rhythms when folks are going and coming, the pastors decided to create a preaching theme for the season. The faces in the pulpit and pews change from week to week, but a series of sermons on a particular topic would provide a sense of continuity. One year, we polled the congregation and asked what theological themes you would like for the preacher to address. Two summers were spent preaching the Old and New Testament stories we teach our younger children. To our surprise there were texts to which a grownup member would say, “I’ve never heard that Bible story before,” and those summers took on the feeling of Vacation Bible Camp for adults!

The pastors have come to realize that a creative engagement with a summer preaching series allows us to explore significant passages of scripture and themes that don’t always fit into the church’s rhythms of the Fall Stewardship season, Advent, Lent, and Eastertide. While each preacher is free to choose what to preach about, we coordinate the series and work together with our musician colleagues to create a unifying offering of worship.

Earlier this spring, we brainstormed ideas and felt called toward Rachel Pedersen’s suggestion of preaching Biblical texts that feature animals. Now, lest you think this topic might be all light and whimsical, some of the most profound passages of scripture feature a diverse creaturely world. We find God revealed through stories from a serpent in the Garden of Eden to Isaiah’s vision of peace with the wild and tame together as wolf and lamb, calf and lion are led by a little child; from the birth of the Christ child in a stable to an adult Jesus imaging himself a Mother Hen and telling tales about sparrows, camels, and sheep. All the scripture stories of animals help us understand the depth and breadth of God’s desire for human welfare.

This Sunday, I will launch the series with a preamble, if you will, on the Genesis 1 account of creation and follow with a three-week series on the most famous fish story of all time, Jonah (which also includes cattle covered in sackcloth and God’s appointment of a very important worm). Then, the summer series will continue with my good colleagues taking up texts that further reveal the essential goodness of God’s creature-inhabited world.

For the theme's name, of course, we thank James Herriott for lifting the title for his heartwarming book, All Creatures Great and Small, from the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful. If you are looking for summer reading, the Yorkshire veterinarian’s books would be good companions, or you could enjoy watching his stories play on the recent PBS Masterpiece Theater series. One of Herriot’s more famous lines is, “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” That must be, at least in part, why the Bible is filled with stories, visions, and revelations that feature animals. This summer, I hope you will join us in delighting in the beauty and profound truths revealed through God’s creaturely engagement with the human family.