Chief of sinners though I be / Christ is all in all to me; / All my wants to Him are known, / All my sorrows are His own. / He sustains the hidden life / Safe with Him from earthly strife (Lutheran Service Book, 611:4).
“Safe with Him from earthly strife”?
Doesn’t quite feel like it, does it?
What is the Christian life if it’s not the constant struggle against sin and death, hate and fear, cowardice and anger? And the already and inevitable victory of Christ?
That’s a bit too abstract, though.
If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against sin and death, you might think: “Yes, it must be terrible for those who struggle against sin. I wonder which pew they sit in.”
If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against hate and fear, you might excuse yourself because you only “dislike strongly;” you don’t hate. You might think you have nothing to be afraid of because of your last name and the county you live in, or because you’re wealthy, or because you’ve spent a lifetime collecting gossip, like grenades, ready to be hurled at your enemies.
If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against cowardice and anger, you might retreat into a hollow, puffed-out chest and raise your voice, but posture and tone do not necessarily connote strength.
A puffed-out chest and loudness can signify cowardice.
I don’t mean to speak in abstract ways.
I don’t know exactly what the author meant when he wrote that we are safe with Jesus from earthly strife, because it never seems that we are.
Earthly strife has many forms. Here are a few:
Every one of you is a sinner, a poor sinner, a miserable sinner. And every one of you will die.
Every one of you fails to love his neighbor as himself. You know—your neighbor—the family with small children who annoy you, the loud-mouth, the drunkard, the know-it-all, and the poor visitor who didn’t know that your pew was reserved.
Do you patiently endure these tests of faith?
Do you love your neighbor as yourself?
Or do you love yourself as you would have your neighbor love you?
Sinners all—this is what earthly strife can look like.
And worse—our sins have consequences.
When you roll your eyes at the mother of small children, when you “comfort” her by saying that maybe someday her kids will be like someone else’s kids, when you have conversations about how other parents parent and how no one parents like you parent, when you make yourself feel better by comparing your embellished best day with someone else’s hastily-misunderstood worst day—when you do these things, you scandalize your brothers and sisters in Christ, your congregation, your family—and when you hide behind anonymous complaints, you make it much, much worse.
Sinners sin and are sinned against.
Hurting people hurt people.
None are spared from earthly strife.
So Jesus says to Peter: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).
Not once—but always—you forgive.
Because once—for always—you have been forgiven.
“Forgive us our [trespasses] as we forgive those who [trespass] against us” (Matthew 6:12).
For those who’re sinned against, there’s never a time when you can refuse to forgive, because there’s never a time when the Blood of Christ does not avail for all sinners everywhere.
Believe that you’re forgiven.
Forgive as you have been forgiven—because you have been forgiven.
And for those who sin—for you all—for us all—for sinners—poor sinners—poor, miserable sinners: let what parents say to children be said to you all: you are not the most important person in the world.
To you, Jesus tells this parable:
A king wished to settle accounts.
One servant owed him ten-thousand talents, an absurd, impossible debt. This servant begged for the time required to pay back the debt—an impossible task. But the king pitied him and forgave the debt, all of it.
Then, that forgiven servant sought out one who owed him one-hundred denarii—a real, but reasonable debt. And when this servant couldn’t pay, the forgiven servant put him in prison. Enter the king.
“‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord” (cf. Romans 12:19).
“God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).
The king came down, in force, and bound up the first servant and held him accountable for every penny of the un-payable debt.
Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
You are not the most important person in the world.
When you, even you, are sinned against—you must forgive.
In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19).
In Christ, by the Blood of God, you have been purchased and won from sin and death, hate and fear, cowardice and anger.
It’s impossible for a Christian to believe that he is forgiven but not his neighbor.
It’s impossible for you to believe that you’re forgiven but not your neighbor. Act like it.
In the forgiveness of sins—in the consolation of Christ and each other—our Lord Jesus Christ sustains us. He keeps us safe from earthly strife.
I think that’s what he meant.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 22, 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt