I want to tell you about my friend Cassie.
Cassie is a golden retriever. She loves everybody. She loves me. Whenever she sees me she hurls all 60-some muscular pounds of her wiggling, wagging self at me and ecstatically pushes her face into mine: I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!
Cassie also gives me stuff. The first time I met her, she excitedly offered me her teddy bear, an act that made my heart melt into a puppy-love puddle. She gives me her other toys. Very often she gives me my own stuff -- my shoe; my sock; my book. Sometimes she gives me stuff I don't understand, like a wadded-up page of newspaper. Whatever she gives me, she presents it with enthusiasm; a full-body wag, a bow, a growly chortle: I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!
Like I said, sometimes Cassie gives me stuff I just don't get. Sometimes she gives me stuff I'd rather not get, like used underwear. And sometimes, frankly, the gift appears to be a means to an end: I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! WILL YOU LET ME OUTSIDE NOW SO I CAN CHASE THE SQUIRREL?
But no matter whether her gift is endearing, perplexing, goofy or gross -- I love her. I'd love her even if she never gave me anything; but I love her gifts (or at least try to), because they're from her.
Let me tell you about another friend of mine. Many of you know him already. His name is Cody; The Codeman; The Codester. He doesn't bring me stuff. For one thing, he's not into carrying things around in his mouth except for kibbles and biscuits, and he ain't sharin' those with nobody. He's also never leapt into my lap and showered my face with kisses.
If Cody had words to live by, they'd be, "It's Hard To Be Little and Scared." For a variety of reasons -- his genetics, his past experiences, his age and its related ailments -- it's hard for him to trust anyone, human or fellow beast. He's hand-shy; he's a fear biter; sometimes when he is afraid he gets so upset that he loses control of his bowels, or throws up.
But when Cody greets me at the door with a "Wheeeee!"...or quietly inches closer to me to snuggle with me on the sofa, even on a hot day like today...when he walks up to me and ever so slightly wags his tail until I pick him up...when he does his crazy little "butt dance" up and down the hallway for no particular reason...when he cautiously starts to make friends with other sentient beings (including the irrepressible Cassie)...to me, those are gifts too, even if, like Cassie, sometimes the gift doesn't make a lot of sense, or has some obviously self-serving end. And I love the gift. But I'd love him even if he didn't do these things.
Many non-Lutherans have a hard time understanding the Lutheran approach to good works. Sometimes they think we think they don't matter; that we rest on the cheap-grace laurels of our baptisms. And sometimes we Lutherans don't seem to understand our own theology regarding good works. My father's family belonged to a Pietistic faith community where getting involved in, say, a worthy public service was likely to be seen, not as an expression of faith in action, but as a self-serving exercise in what Grandma called Augenschein, or vainglory, and people were constantly made to second-guess their motivations for doing good things. Which kind of made good works bad, in that parish.
Cassie and Cody are both loved, very much, no matter what they do. They've both been met and accepted where they are. And that love and acceptance stir something inherent, given, in each of them that wants to respond, somehow. Sometimes the response is sweet; sometimes not so much; sometimes it has to rise above some equally inherent unloving, ungiving, fearful impulse; sometimes it needs to be guided or corrected. But they're both still loved, cherished members of their households -- not because of what they do or don't do, but because of their humans' embrace of them; the humans' "Yes!" to the canine presence in their lives.
Do you think that maybe "going to the dogs" can tell us something about God, and something about ourselves?