Romans 7:14-15, 24 NRSV
I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Psalm 16:11 NRSV
You show me the path of life. In your presence, there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Ezekiel 34:16 NRSV
[The Lord GOD says,] “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”
“Seeing Ourselves in Our Dogs”
Ann and I have had Golden Retrievers, Shauna, Benjamin, Andy, and Benjamin– they are big, loving, gentle dogs. I miss our golden retrievers – but they were an important part of our families lives. I am certain that you remember the qualities of your dog— loving, caring, mischief, running, messy and sometimes stinky.
We all have a short memory, so let me repeat what Art said last Sunday.
And Adam said, “Lord, when I was in the garden, you walked with me every day. Now I do not see you anymore. I am lonesome here and it is difficult for me to remember how much you love me.” And God said, “No problem! I will create a companion for you that will be with you forever and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will know I love you, even when you cannot see me. Regardless of how selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourself.”
And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam. And it was a good animal. And God was pleased. And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and he wagged his tail.
And Adam said, “But Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and all the good names are taken and I cannot think of a name for this new animal.” And God said, “No problem! Because I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him DOG.”
And Dog lived with Adam and was a companion to him and loved him. And Adam was comforted. And God was pleased. And Dog was content and wagged his tail.
After a while, it came to pass that Adam’s guardian angel came to the Lord and said, “Lord, Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock and he believes he is worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught him that he is loved, but no one has taught him humility.”
And the Lord said, “No problem! I will create for him a companion who will be with him forever and who will see him as he is. The companion will remind him of his limitations, so he will know that he is not worthy of adoration.”
And God created CAT to be a companion to Adam. And Cat would not obey Adam. And when Adam gazed into Cat’s eyes, he was reminded that he was not the supreme being. And Adam learned humility. And God was pleased. And Adam was greatly improved. And Cat did not really care one way or the other…
Today we’ll look at how dogs teach us something about ourselves. Take a look at the front of your bulletin: “When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.” Kristan Higgins (Author)
Here are several more sayings about dogs:
“I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons.” Will Rogers (Actor) – “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Harry S. Truman (33rd U. S. President)
“A dog can’t think that much about what he’s doing, he just does what feels right.” Barbara Kingsolver (Author)
“Many of the qualities that come so effortlessly to dogs—loyalty, devotion, selflessness, unflagging optimism, unqualified love—can be elusive to humans.” John Grogan (Author)
“A dog is grateful for what is today, which I am finding to be the soundest kind of wisdom and very good theology.” Carrie Newcomer (Singer; Songwriter; Author)
Let’s begin by recognizing that what we see in dogs, often in funny ways, is the same struggle the apostle Paul noted was true in him and is true in us. Paul described it this way: “I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” If dogs could talk, most would say the same thing!….
I thought this was unique to our Golden Retriever Andy but was the same for all of our dogs: My dogs managed to find things in the yard—rotting things, dead frogs from the stream, blowing trash, rotting grass, other animal’s feces—things that stink. And they roll in those things!… My neighbor’s dogs roll in the fresh deposits from my steers and then they run home – full of fresh wet cow manure.
Some think this behavior goes back to animals hiding their scent before they went on the hunt. Others that it is a way of bragging about their discoveries. But for me it was always a metaphor for sin. We go about rolling in the stink whenever we do things that we shouldn’t do, and this, our sin, separates us from God and often from others.
Whenever I’d wash our Golden Retrievers, I’d think of it as a metaphor for baptism. In our baptisms God promises to wash us clean so we can be near to him once more….
We all know what it is to want what we’re not supposed to have, to do what we’re not supposed to do, destroy things that were meant by God to be gifts for us. We’ve all rolled in the stink—made ourselves spiritually and emotionally dirty by what we’ve put into our minds, what we’ve done to others or what we’ve done to ourselves. Our sin has betrayed our master and done what was not pleasing in his sight. We’ve wandered away from home and found ourselves lost. I think of that powerful line in the hymn, “Come Thou Fount” when we sing, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
But here’s the good news. Just as you forgive your dogs for tearing up your favorite slipper, or stealing meat off the table, (explain Andy and the chicken breasts) and just as you are willing to give them a bath when they have rolled in the stink, just as, with tears in your eyes, you hang up signs on every street corner if your dog gets lost, so too does God forgive, and wash us clean.
I’m reminded how Jesus said in a passage I’ve encouraged you to memorize from Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are LOST.” So ponder this: In what ways can you relate to the behavior Paul described in Romans 7?I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
How has understanding God’s forgiving grace changed your perception of yourself and of other people? In what ways does the image of bathing a much-loved pet who has “rolled in the stink” give you a stronger sense of the value and significance of baptism in our lives? “Sometimes others have hurt us, or life has been hard for us. Sometimes there is cruelty and pain and we become damaged, wounded, and lost.
I thought of the millions of dogs that are born every year and not wanted. Three to four million dogs are destroyed each year. Organizations like the SPCA and the other organizations seek to rescue these dogs and find homes for them.
This paints a picture for me, too, of the gospel. We’re all strays, mutts, and at times we feel unwanted and unloved. Some have been rejected. And here’s what God does—God seeks to find to find and rescue us. Listen to how God says this in Ezekiel 34: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” This is what Jesus does in searching for the lost. The focus of his ministry was finding broken, rejected and wounded people and demonstrating God’s love and healing for them. And his love changes us.”
Ponder this: “We’re all strays, mutts, and at times we feel unwanted and unloved,” did you have a sense of identifying with those words, or did you feel a bit offended and realize that you think of yourself more as a registered purebred than as a mutt? How can even successful, respectable people qualify as “mutts” when it comes to our spiritual standing before God? Have you ever felt unwanted or unloved? In what ways did you experience God’s love finding you and rescuing you at a time like that?
One other point. All of us have seen dogs who morn the death of their master. We have seen pictures about a dog lying near a fresh grave of the dog’s beloved master. When our cat died, Benjamin was devastated. The two would sleep together in the garage. The two would spend hours wandering in the woods together, coming back exhausted. Benjamin would just lay down, no energy, no tail wagging. Just quiet! Sounds like a lot of us, when we lose a loved one.
I want to end with one final point. One of the things that our dogs seem to do well is to just enjoy life. They run, play, bark, they trust their masters, they eat, they sleep, some work, but they seem to enjoy life better than we humans do. Most forgive quickly.
They don’t worry. You can throw a tennis ball or a stick for them and they’ll enjoy fetching it again and again until we get tired
Some other things we can learn from dogs: take walks daily, make friends, and smile a lot—your smile might just make you happier. We often overcomplicate life. We allow worry to rob us of joy. And even in our faith, we have a tendency to see God as a task master and judge, rather than as a loving parent or even the animal owner who loves his dogs or cats with great abandon. God wants us to live a life worthy of him, for us not to roll in the stink, but God also wishes joy for us. Jesus said it this way: “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” The Psalmist said it this way: “You show me the path of life. In your presence, there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” “When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.”
Thanks be to God!