The story is told of the man who was rescued from a desert island twenty years after being shipwrecked. As he proudly showed his rescuers around the island they came to three grass huts. Our Robinson Crusoe pointed out that one of the huts was his home, and the other his church. When asked what the third hut was he replied, with a note of disdain, “That’s where I used to go to church.”
We can’t get along, and the reason is simple enough- we are sinners. Now let’s break that simple answer down a bit, working back to front. What do we mean by sinners? I don’t, of course, mean unsaved. Of course believers, in the eyes of God, are just. That’s what we mean by “justified,” to be declared just. But Luther himself affirmed that Christians are simul justis et peccator, at the same time just and sinner. That sin causes us to believe things that are false. It means we have appetites and desires that are dishonorable. It impacts what we think, feel, say and do.
“Are” of course, reminds us that this is presently true of us. Sin is not behind us yet. We still struggle with it. A day is coming when we will no longer be sinners, but for now, while here, we are.
But what do I mean by “we?” Because we are sinners we are tempted to conclude that the reason we can’t get along is because people are sinners, and by people we mean, other people. “I” could get along with “you” if you would stop doing what you are doing. This process, stay with me as we get grammatical here, happens in the plural as well. That is, “we” could get along with “you” plural if “you” plural would quit doing what “you” plural are doing.
Now the truth is that the other guys, whether we are talking to or about them, are sinners. There are heretics in the land, wild elephants let loose in God’s vineyard. There are also sheep who think it wiser to calm the elephants down, rather than drive them out of the vineyard. To be more clear, one reason “we” can’t get along is because sometimes we’re not we together. Wheat doesn’t and can’t get along with tares. To profess the name of Christ is not to possess the name of Christ. Because they are sinners, wisdom means recognizing that. It means some appropriate level of skepticism, some fruitful usage of shibboleths.
But we must not lose sight of the hard truth that I am a part of we. I too am a sinner. I need to be skeptical most of all about myself, and my motives. My moral indignation over your error, or your refusal to confront evil just may be a smokescreen to keep me from having to confront my own evil. A necessary consequent of “We are sinners” is “I am a sinner.” And as a sinner my desire is, if I must confess my sinfulness, to forget that confession as quickly and as deeply as I can.
There is a right perspective on the Elephant Room 2. I’m happy to confess that host, questioner and answerer all badly dropped the ball. The problem is that I’m happy to confess this is because it distracts from all the balls falling on my own feet. Because they are sinners, we need to call out sin. Because I am a sinner, I must always confess my own sin, to be on guard against proclaiming before our Lord, “I thank you Lord that I am not like other men. I roundly condemn heresy wherever I see it, and in turn condemn those who won’t condemn heresy. I read all the orthodox blogs. And tithe only to the purest coalitions.” Instead, may we, those who name the name of Christ, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, cry out, “Lord, be merciful to us, sinners.”