"My master could not afford to keep me, so he sent me away." replied the dog. "I have been an orphan ever since."
"You need be an orphan no longer." said the king. "Come live with me in my palace, and I shall adopt you."
The dog was overjoyed, and promised to come to the king at his palace. But he soon realized that he could not come to the king as he was. The first thing he did was to wash in the river. Next, he salvaged brush from the garbage and brushed his fur. He then thought that a king's dog should not walk about on all fours, so he spent weeks learning to walk upright. He then thought to himself that if he were to live in the king's house, he should be dressed in fine clothes. For months afterward, he did all he could to obtain a fine suit of clothes, but being a stray dog, he could not afford anything nearly good enough. In tears, the dog gave up. He simply would not go to the palace, because he would never be good enough.
Baffled as to why his new pet had never come home, the king went in search of him. As the kingdom was small, the search was over quickly. "Why didn't you come to me?" asked the king.
"I was ashamed." said the dog. "I knew I could never be good enough, no matter how hard I tried."
"I never asked you to improve yourself." said the king. "I only asked that you come to me. I already accepted you exactly the way you were." Then he placed a handsome collar around the dog's neck and led him to his new home in the palace.
As I was composing this sermon, there were a lot of thoughts going through my head, but I stared at the computer for the longest time just wondering where to begin. Let's start with a basic quirk of human behavior. When you get up in the morning and face your family, do you dress up in your Sunday-go-to-meetin' finery? Probably not. If you're lucky like me, that's not necessary because your family accepts you the way you are. They know what you look like without your makeup (or whatever your self-prettification involved) and they're okay with it. If, on the other paw, you were going to meet a king or president, you probably would. Why? I don't know. I honestly can't say, even though I'd most likely do exactly the same thing. Logically, I should not have to. My father is far more important to me than the president, and I do not dress up for him. If the president is a good man, he'd accept me as I am without judging me. If he is judgemental, then his approval carries little value to me.
How many people here can follow what I'm saying? Does it make sense to you? Now I am not saying that you shouldn't make a good impression on your nation's alpha. It is good to show respect, and taking care of your appearance is an important part of showing courtesy. What I am saying is that we should love as Jesus loved. He didn't care about external appearances (to his parents' chagrin, if reports are to be believed) but saw past the outward man to the person inside. He has always accepted people exactly as they were. It didn't matter who they were or what they had done or even if they had a disfiguring communicable disease. Jesus accepted them exactly as they were. Now he DID tell some people "Sin no more". You can't be Jesus' friend if you're actively disobeying God. But that was all. He didn't say "Go home and say fifty hail Marys and give two hundred dollars to a television evangelist." He never placed conditions on His love. The only things he asked of anyone were "Sin no more" and "Follow Me".
I have to wonder, then, why so many people shy away from Jesus because they say they're not good enough. I also have to ask "good enough to do what?" What is it that they hope to accomplish by being good enough? Are they hoping to be declared innocent? We know that this is impossible. Only babies are innocent. Verse three of our reading reminds us that we were once disobedient and spiteful. How well must a convicted felon behave to be declared not guilty? His behavior has no bearing on it. No matter how well he behaves, he will never be innocent of his crime. How then can we who are sinful hope to be declared innocent in the eyes of a holy God? It will never happen. You and I will never be innocent again. But we CAN be redeemed, and that only comes by the blood of Jesus.
Perhaps it is because they wish to impress God. Seems a silly thing to try. We are like glow-sticks, always casting a pale, green glow on our immediate surroundings, useful only in absolute darkness. God is like the sun. Nothing we do is ever going to impress him. What we CAN do is please Him, and that only by friendship.
Perhaps they hope to fool God by putting up a false front. Costumes and masks are nothing to God. He sees past, through and around them. Pretense is pointless.
Simply put, we can never be good enough to make God acept us on our own terms. It is pointless to try. But you don't have to! That's the beauty of it! The book of Titus tells us that even after we lived like trolls and ogres, the love and kindness of God was presented to us. It wasn't because of anything we had done. God didn't look at us and say "Ooh, I think it would be so cool to have those guys in my kingdom!" He looked down at us and said "Those people need me." God has nothing to gain from reflecting our dismal glory. It is by His own mercy that He chose to save us. He is the one who cleansed our souls and renewed us by the power of His own Spirit. If we are in any way cool additions to his kingdom, it is because He made us cool.
What do we have to offer God? We have no prestige, no glory, not compared to Him. We can't bribe Him. We have no power to offer Him. We're not even that attractive really. He wants only one thing from us. That is our love. All of it. That means we obey Him not because He's a despot, but because we love Him. He doesn't want your money, he doesn't care if you're wearing a tailored suit or your own fur, and He isn't interested in whatever mask you're wearing. He loves you just the way you are. All you need to do is come to Him as you are and love Him in return.
That means, of course, that we need to accept His plan for reconciliation. As Paul established in His letter to Titus, we are, if left alone, fools, disobedient, malicious and lustful. We cannot fellowship with a holy and innocent God. It is through the atonement of Jesus Christ that our sin is covered and we are made sufficiently righteous to stand in His presence. It is not by anything we can do, but by His efforts. What we must do is accept that plan of redemption, believe that Jesus died in our stead to reconcile us to God, accept that sacrifice as our own and acknowledge Christ as Lord. That's all we can do, and all that is required.
For those of us who have done so, it behooves us to live every day by giving of our best to the Master, knowing that our actions do not affect His acceptance of us. He has already accepted us exactly as we were. We do the best we can for Him in appreciation of His gift of love.
Today's Reading: Titus 3:3-7
3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.