Sermon Text: Dog Story
It’s unprofessional for a preacher to give a shout-out during a sermon.
But, hey, you know I’ve never been much of a professional! We all owe a big shout-out to Andy Pierce for getting my sermons on video, and working with our website and Facebook page. I am internetly-challenged, but people tell me they really like it all. Andy keeps people in touch.
But, wait! There’s more! Andy gave me this sermon, too.
I got an email one time, with these words: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and I’m wearing Milk Bones underwear.”
It’s a quote from Norm on the old “Cheers” TV show. Andy sent it to me, along with a story. The story he sent is a good one, and I try to tell it whenever I can.
There was a Native American tribal leader. He told another member of his tribe, “There are two dogs inside me. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.”
So the other person asked which dog usually wins. The leader thought a minute, and said, “The one I feed the most.”
It’s true. It really is like there are two dogs inside me. One is good, the other is mean and they fight. The one who wins is the one I feed the most.
Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. You can tell which dog inside the rich man won — the mean one. Now, this rich guy isn’t just rich — he’s super-rich. By the words used, we can tell that it would take an ordinary working person a couple years’ worth of wages to pay for the rich guy’s clothing alone!
In a time and place where most people were lucky to eat meat even once a week, he has a feast every day. This was before forks and napkins were common. In wealthy homes like this, the rich diners would clean their hands by wiping them on hunks of bread, and then toss the bread away.
That’s what Lazarus is hoping to eat. This rich man is obscenely rich, and Lazarus is obscenely poor. And Lazarus isn’t even strong enough to fight off the dogs. One of those dogs is a mean dog inside the rich man, and it is winning.
The terrifying part of this story is that the rich man never notices Lazarus. I’ll bet you that the rich man would say Lazarus is poor because he is lazy and would not work. If you are poor, you deserve it. God gives wealth to the people who deserve it. That’s the mean dog talking.
What scares me is that I can be as blind as the rich man in this story. Compared to the vast majority of people on this planet, I am incredibly rich.
I have food every single day. I have a warm, safe place to live. I have clothing. I have a lot of luxury: a car, a computer, books, enough money to go to a restaurant once in a while. I am nothing like Lazarus— I am a lot like the rich man, because I am rich.
And as a rich person of privilege, I have to make a real effort to see poor people. As a rich person of privilege, I have to work at seeing the institutional racism and classism that keeps people down. As a rich person of privilege, it’s easy for me to think I got what I deserve, and don’t owe anybody anything.
The prophet Amos has a word for me and everyone who has more than enough: “Woe to those who are at ease and lounge on their couches and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the stall, who drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with fine oil, but are not grieved at the ruin of God’s people!”
A friend of mine recently gave me something he read: “When you have all you need, don’t build a bigger fence. Build a bigger table.” That’s pretty great teaching. When you have all you need, don’t build a bigger fence. Build a bigger table.
You and I each have two dogs inside. One dog is mean and evil. The other is good. The mean dog fight the good one all the time. The one we feed the most will win.
The Methodist Church looks back to John Wesley as the founder. But Wesley was an Anglican priest like I am until the day he died. He did not intend to start a new church. Trouble was, the Anglican Church of his time was so corrupt and dead, it took the split-off and creation of the Methodist Church to get the Anglicans to wake up.
John Wesley, Anglican priest and Methodist parson, said something very wise. “When I have money, I get rid of it as quickly as possible, lest it find a way into my heart.” That may not be a popular motto. I don’t feel like I have so much money that I need to fling it away to get rid of it. The monthly bills take care of that for me. But if I have open eyes to see the realities around me, and an open heart to be willing to do something about it, then I am in the place of the rich man.
But I don’t want to be like him. I plan to feed the good dog inside me. I practice giving some money away every month to someone who needs it. Sometimes it feels great. Sometimes it’s really hard. But it’s always worth it.
And when God looks me up and down, as God will do to each of us some day, I don’t want to be in a dog-eat-dog world wearing Milk Bone underwear.
Let’s feed that good dog who lives inside us!