Eucharist & Evensong Sunday 7th October 2012

St  Margaret’s, Binsey

Eucharist on Sunday 7th  October  2012 [Trinity 18]

Revd. Professor  Martin Henig

Genesis 2. 18-24; Hebrews 1.1-4;2.5-12;Mark 10.2-16; Psalm 8.


So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field  and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

                                                                             (Genesis 2:19)


+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


In this second chapter of Genesis, mankind is seen as the centre of Creation. God brings  the animals into being in order to provide companionship for Adam, but because they do not satisfy him, he makes Eve out of one of Adam’s spare ribs. There is plenty here to arouse my indignation both as a feminist and as an advocate of Animal Rights! With regard to Creation as a whole both the Psalm and the passage from Hebrews tell of ‘putting all things  under the feet’ of humankind, though I am sure that our domination is intended here and elsewhere in scripture, to be exercised by way of stewardship, that is responsibly, with compassion and with reverence to the God who found  (in Genesis 1) all things he has made to be very good. Of course, while the pattern of Creation surmised by the writer of Genesis 1 has, at least. some relationship with the truths established much more recently by science, albeit each  ‘day’ has to stand for several millions of years, the much more anthropocentric account in Genesis 2 is simply a story set in  what native Australians would call the ‘Dreamtime’.  It is a ‘just so’ story of how things began.


  Human beings have, indeed,  given names to every species recognised, but the species all existed before they were named and the names are essentially merely our labels for an animal whether a goat, an ostrich, a tree frog  or a duck-billed platypus. People have encountered animals and reacted with them for a very long time and, as I may have mentioned before,  I  am currently working  with two books, the late Jocelyn Toynbee’s 1973 study of animals in the Roman World for a reprint to which I am supplying a new introduction, and Arthur MacGregor’s new book on animals in Medieval and Early Modern England  which I have been reviewing for ASWA’s magazine Animal Watch.[1]  In both of  these I have found myself to be as much concerned with morality and ethics as with history. For a Christian and a priest, how could it be otherwise? Yet the second of these books, entirely concerned with a Christian culture,  all too often mirrors the first in recounting so many cases of seemingly callous  disregard for animal suffering.We continued (and continue) to hunt wild animals for pleasure,  and have often tormented them out of bloodlust, whether in the Roman amphitheatre or the Spanish bullring. And to these we have added the ills of factory farming (treating creation as commodity) and despite brave Christian protests, especially in the 19th century, vivisection is practiced on an ever increasing scale.[2]


   I have three good and interrelated reasons for preaching on this topic today. First, today is designated ‘Animal Welfare Sunday’ and I hope many Churches will mark this in prayer and sermon. Secondly, today falls in Francistide, three days after the anniversary of  his death in 1226; yesterday I was professed as a member of the Third Franciscan Order, including as a major element in my life vows, a concern for all creatures, that is  for animal rights alongside human rights. St Francis, of course, always displayed concern and compassion , regarding all creation as springing from the heart of God.[3] Thirdly, Professor Andrew Linzey preached a much reported sermon at evensong a week ago in St Albans Cathedral concerned with the evil of gratuitous animal cruelty.[4]

    It is easiest to start with Professor Linzey’s sermon in which he detailed a number of distressing examples of sadistic attacks on animals or severe neglect, amongst the thousands of such cases reported to the RSPCA or the Police each year. ASWA has just published a pamphlet which details the cruelty to which dogs, supposedly ‘man’s best friend’ as well as cats are subjected: they may be kicked, starved, beaten and abandoned and in the case of dogs bred for fighting or in the case of bitches used as breeding machines in ‘puppy mills’.[5] Linzey suggests compulsory empathy training, comparable to sentences regularly given for other anti-social crimes which  involve community service. This seems entirely logical because in many cases sadism, springs from the perpetrator’s own experience of abuse and lack of love in early childhood. He or she must learn to be kind. Anyone who refuses such remedial action or continues to hurt animals would be placed on an offender’s register and  banned from keeping animals or having contact with them for life. If this sounds like some sort of copy of a sex offenders’ register it is. Indeed the link between the abuse of children and the abuse of animals was explored in great detail in an important conference held in Oxford a few years ago.[6] Just as a loving person will be compassionate towards animals as well as other humans, so when the violent tendencies which lurk within us are allowed to take control, they threaten vulnerable people, women, children, the disabled, the elderly) as well as non humans. There is plenty of evidence for such sadistic behaviour from reports published or broadcast in the media.


   Care for animals of course goes wider. The animals I see around me here in Binsey and in its vicinity , cattle, sheep, goats, horses, dogs and cats, as well as geese and other birds generally look well treated and happy. But there is no cause for complacency.   I have often spoken of the evils of Factory farming, of pigs in stalls where they cannot turn around, of chickens and turkeys in sheds where they do not see the light and now there is  unrelenting  pressure to build mega dairies to feed the insatiable market for cheap milk. In other countries conditions are often far worse and animal abuse is endemic. Just in this field of basic welfare that splendid organisation Compassion in World Farming has its work cut out to maintain decent standards. We are enjoined to reverence God through his creation rather than treating creation as commodity, as a source to be exploited for material gain.


  As you know I would go very much further. In this sermon however I am mainly concerned to uphold the minimum standards of animal husbandry enjoined in the Torah and clearly embedded in the teaching and preaching of our Lord. Animal welfare is intimately connected with human welfare, and  we all need to do everything we can in maintaining these standards, not just by treating our companion animals well, not only in encouraging best husbandry practice, but in avoiding factory farmed animal products wherever possible.


  We are ‘Bible Christians’ so let us end with some signposts from scripture. The Hebrew Law (Torah ) enjoins the proper treatment of animals. For example  beasts of burden must not be overworked, you could not for example plough with an ox and an ass together; you were not allowed to overload you ass or muzzle an ox when attached to a mill, treading out the grain. The righteous man made sure the animals were fed and watered, before sitting down himself  and one was required  to let them rest on the Sabbath day. The story of Baalam’s ass in the book of Numbers, whatever else it is about demands kindness to one’s donkey. In short in the words of the writer of Proverbs, ‘A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel’[7] For the later rabbis, hunting came to be seen as an illegitimate activity, conflicting as it did with prohibitions against  causing gratuitous pain. The Creation-centredness of such Psalms as 50 ,104 and 147, suggests God has a similar care for all creation, including wild animals of all kinds, as he does for our species.


    Jesus’ own faith was clearly attuned to the Jewish   society of his day, and included  a progressive interpretation of the Law, in which pulling an ox out of a well would naturally  take priority over strict observance of  the Sabbath.[8] He reminds us of God’s care for the sparrows, and of the ravens who ‘neither sow nor reap.’[9]


   Of course there is more to be done in the field of animal ethics and in this aspect of theology , as our understanding develops. Until the destruction of the Temple in 70, animals were sacrificed on its altar by Jews and Jewish-Christians, but hopefully we have moved on from those days. The Jewish practice of ritual slaughter (shehita– and Islamic  halal) probably relatively humane in their day have rightly come under close scrutiny, though there are very much larger questions about the legitimacy of so much slaughter and ill-treatment of animals anyway, not only for food but for fur , for so-called sport, or in experimentation.[10]  Our understanding develops all the time. It was announced on the News only today that pig farmers were giving their animals toys because, they enjoyed playing with them and relaxed pigs meant better meat. But is not the real question to ask whether an animal with similar or superior cognition to a dog, and  an acute emotional life should be treated as meat at all?[11]


    Faith in Christ, faith that all Creation leads us to him demands  extraordinary and radical change. It is no longer enough to think or to say ‘but we have always done this or that’. Our enhanced knowledge of animal cognition has made that impossible if we are to continue to strive towards the harmony of  Eden, and share fully in God’s super-abundant grace. . The last chapter of Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok’s book is entitled ,’How animals can liberate Jewish and Christian theology’.[12] They write:We need a vision of God that is as big as the Subject.


  Let us pray for the welfare of all our fellow creatures and the unity of all creation under the One God, Father,Son and Holy Spirit.Amen.













St  Margaret’s, Binsey

Evensong  on Sunday 7th  October  2012 [Trinity 18]

Revd. Professor  Martin Henig

Jonah 4.6-11; Acts 19:11-20; Psalm 50

But the evil spirit answered them; ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

                                                                                                      (Acts 19:15-16)


+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


I  don’t really know whether I should be doing this. The readings on which I am preaching tonight are none of them those prescribed in the Lectionary for this evening. Two of them, the reading from Jonah and the Psalm have to do with animal welfare which was the theme of my sermon this morning, and we do well to remind ourselves at all times to be kind to our fellow creatures. But that sermon, like so many I have preached, has in it an element of admonition. And that is true even when in fact every single person in the congregation is on my side. ‘And what did Father Martin preach about today?’ The answer comes, pat. ‘He preached about sin.’ ‘And what was his attitude to sin?’ ‘He is against it’.

   The genesis of this sermon  came to me at morning prayer in Mary Mags during the second reading on Monday 24th September, which was  when this particular passage from Acts was prescribed to be read. Ephesus must have been one of the most vibrant places in the Roman empire with its enormous temple to that most exotic of deities Ephesian Artemis, and indeed Paul has a spot of trouble with the silversmith’s guild which made souvenirs and votives of the goddess. It had a rich religious life, and like any great cathedral city today was a very popular venue for visiting choirs.[13] It was also very much a home to magic arts, as our passage makes clear.

  Luke knows how to tell a good story, and his account of Paul’s visit to Ephesus displays a lightness of touch, indeed of humour. Sceva, the son of a High Priest, attempts to cash in on the exorcisms of  Jesus and Paul and  the response by the evil spirit made me laugh through the rest of morning prayer, while leaving in my mind the serious question; ‘who do I think I am?’ It is a wonderful bit of knockabout farce. Like the Sorcerer’s apprentice Sceva does not know what he is at, cashing in on the professionals as it were with dire results. He loses all his clothes to start with.

  Unfortunately humour seems to be in short supply in the Bible. I said, ‘seems’ because sometimes one misses it. I have included Psalm 50, not solely because of the animals but because of the ridiculous way people seemed to think they could feed God with sacrifices; as though virtue could be demonstrated by killing creatures in order to give them to the God who had created them. The book of Jonah is the only completely humorous book in the Bible in which the whole of Creation including a big fish and a little grub gang up on a conceited and self-important prophet. And the cattle, God’s cattle, have the last word. I imagine that Jonah continued to sulk because God refused to do what Jonah wanted him to do, refused that is to kill a lot of people and animals which would have been so good for Jonah’s credibility and self esteem!

  Jesus certainly had a sense of fun. I suspect that he acted out the parables with gusto, using all the arts that Jewish rabbis both before and since have employed in their teaching, including irony and exaggeration. Jesus  clearly enjoyed the good things of life and riotous company, drinking with people who were notin the least  respectable but needed him and were drawn to his company.. Those who approach the Gospels, as though Jesus were some po-faced puritan who disapproved of  children playing games on the Sabbath have surely entirely misunderstood his mission. The Eucharist centres on a feast, a celebration, even though it ends in pain and betrayal. Our celebration of Maundy Thursday contains both elements, and I am glad that some Christian groups have taken to celebrating the Jewish Passover meal, the Haggadah, with its jollity and sense of fun, before confronting the agony of the Passion.  I am absolutely certain that the Jesus who rules my life would have been a wonderful person to meet in the context of his own time, and that when we indeed meet him in the context of  his heavenly kingdom it will be in joy.

Who do I think I am? Who do you think you are? We all have a mission to try to leave the world in a better case than we found it, but we should not take ourselves too seriously. On Saturday, when as I said this morning I took my vows to follow Christ in the light of St Francis’ devotion, I remembered that Francis had been a troubadour, a singer of light and often humorously erotic  songs,[14] some of which even  mimicked the sacred liturgy of the Church, and that part of my duty to follow in his footsteps means I should never take  myself too seriously, as the prophet Jonah assuredly did all the time, for God and all the angels are laughing, laughing, laughing in Heaven.

  Some people seem to find a problem with satire ranging from Alan Bennett’s  sermon on Genesis 27;11 [‘Behold my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man’] to Monty Python’s Life of Bryan, which mocks sanctimonious Hollywood epics such as King of Kings. I have always been bemused by the concept of blasphemy, which assumes that the Creator God is not somehow big enough to look after himself. It may well be an offense against good manners if we upset others, but laughing with God and taking the practice of  religion with a light touch is a sign of faith rather than the opposite. Incidentally do any of you  know why people expect clergy to be solemn? People uttering risqué jokes in front of priests are so often apologetic. Have they never heard of Laurence Sterne or Sydney Smith two of our finest English humorists, both of them Anglican priests? If you find yourself in a gathering of clergy, you will almost invariably find a jolly atmosphere, perhaps because we know life is not easy and we are exposed to unhappiness, illness, death and bereavement, and yet have faith that evil will never have the last word. Medical doctors tend to have the same faith and are likewise open to joy and laughter for the same reason. So what lesson do I want to give out this evening? It is simply this: Have fun; laugh without malice and you will be closer to the heart of the Divine, the source of all love .

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.






[1] J.M.C.Toynbee, Animals in Roman Life and Art (London 1973); A.MacGregor, Animal Encounters. Human and Animal interaction in Britain from the Norman Conquest to World War One (London 2012).

[2] Cf Chien-Hui Li,  ‘Mobilizing Christianity in the Antivivisection movement in Victorian Britain’, Journal of Animal Ethics 2 (2012), 141-61. John Henry  Newman’s sermon preached in St Mary the Virgin,Oxford on Good Friday 1842 is famous for comparing the suffering of a vivisected animal with the sufferings of Christ.

[3] Deborah M.Jones, The School of Compassion. A Roman Catholic Theology of Animals (Leominster 2009),66-71

[4] A Linzey, ‘a register for animal offenders’, The Church Times , 28  September 2012, p.15.

[5] R.Donovan, Raining Cats and Dogs. Cats Dogs and Humans (ASWA 2012)

[6] A Linzey, The link between animal abuse and human violence (Eastbourne 2009)

[7] Deuteronomy 22:10 and 24:4; Genesis 24:31-32;Exodus 20:8-11;Numbers 22:23-33; Proverbs 12:10.

[8] Luke 14:5

[9] Luke 12:6  and 24.

[10] A.Linzey and D.Cohn-Sherbok, After Noah. Animals and the Liberation of Theology (London 1997) is an excellent introduction to Jewish and Christian thought  and can be supplemented by  other works by Andrew Linzey, Creatures of the Same God (Winchester 2007) and Why Animal Suffering Matters (Oxford 2009)

[11] J.Balcombe, Second Nature. The inner lives of animals (New York 2010) includes a great deal on this theme. It is a book every theologian should read.

[12] Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok,chapter 6

[13] G.M.Rogers, The sacred identity of Ephesos. Foundation myths of a Roman City(London and New York 1991).

[14] There are many selections, for example G.F.Whicher, The Goliard Poets (New York 1949)