Tuning pianos is what I do. It’s an intense, grinding job that involves assaulting your ears and blunting your fingers for an hour or more per unit. Most times, the piano is so off, it really requires tuning it twice in a row to get a good, stable tuning. Many times conditions are less than quiet, you but up against other schedules, and, in the winter, you are in and out and hot and cold a lot.
Today was a typical assignment to tune a piano in a multipurpose area of a small school. However, because of miscommunications, it turned out that the room was the hub of several other activities. No problem. I’ve dealt with noise before, and I don’t have another time slot available to come back. As I approached the room, though, I heard a strange thudding sound over and over. I was told there might be basketball fans eating at the snack counter or teams coming and going. I wasn’t prepared, though, for the room to be turned into a basketball court.
The boys ranged from maybe 5th grade to 8th grade. Some were just mindlessly dribbling. Others were doing two on two drills. But then there was a particular pair who felt they had to chase each other over the tables trying to steal the ball. After a while, when they nearly broke two tables, I asked them if they could cut it out and they sauntered off.
But there was another persistent little group of four, younger, able to shriek at quite high frequencies and decibels, and very bad at not losing control of the ball into and onto almost anything, including, a few times, me. After putting up with this for fifteen to twenty minutes, and knowing that this was a Christian school that studied such things, I asked them a question.
“So, you’re in what grade?”
“So, then, you’ve studied the Lord’s Prayer?”
“Well, then, can you tell me the Fifth Petition?”
“Huh?” “I don’t know”
“go ahead and say it to yourself, and I think you can figure it out.”
“Whatever.” And back to playing they went without another thought about me, for another half an hour.
So, what is the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer? And why did I bring it up? The Fifth Petition is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” And I brought it up because there was a whole lot of sinning going on in that room and nobody even realized it.
I sometimes cringe when I think back to my childhood these days. Back then, me and Jesus were pretty tight. I was a very good boy, never did anyone any harm, didn’t mouth off or talk back much. But I realize, now, that I must have done a lot of things that drove my parents and many other adults up the wall. Not intentionally, I was a dirty rotten little sinner.
Back to the boys in the hall. Every single on of them was sinning against me. The snide remarks, to start with, pretty much go against honoring father and mother, which includes, by extension, elders and other in authority. Then there was the constant noise causing my blood pressure to soar and making it much harder on my tired ears. “You shall not kill”, by extension, means not to do anything that causes harm to a person’s body, like make their fingers hurt more or their ears ring more, or their blood pressure to soar. Finally, they were stealing my time. It took me at least another fifteen minutes to complete the tuning. Time is money when I’m on the job, so they stole from me.
Now, they weren’t only sinning against me. Crashing into tables, marking up walls and tearing up the carpet are all disrespect for the school’s property. Turning their nice game attire into sweaty messes reflects badly on the coach, the team, and the school they are representing. And then, there were, of course, the less than kind words they related to each other.
The point here is not to say that these boys were destine for death row, or that they were much worse than some other boys. The point is we are so utterly depraved and selfish that we sin all the time and don’t even know it. Some people would say that, after all, these were all such little things, that they didn’t really add up to much. Well, if you were not me, perhaps that is true. And, as the Fifth Petition says, I should forgive others as I have been forgiven. But you and I all know that we need ten dollar forgiveness for our little infractions, while others need million dollar forgiveness for what they do to us, right? Right.
You see a guy with car trouble on the side of the road. Doesn’t look serious, so you fly by. Can’t be late for that meeting. What you don realize is that the guy’s wife just went into late labor in the back seat and is suffering from preeclampsia. His flat tire means she will not get to the hospital in time to save her life or the baby’s. Just a little sin of omission. And you will never know the life-changing consequences. So, for you, it’s just a little meaningless sin.
Some guy gets agitated because you cut in a little close to him while changing lanes on the same busy freeway. He honks and you give him a nice gesture and zoom off your exit. He’s so angry at you that he doesn’t see the car stopped in front of him until it’s too late. Two cars totaled. Multiple injuries. Meanwhile, you are driving happily down a side street and thinking to yourself what a jerk the guy was. Then you change the station and forget about it.
So maybe those are two farfetched examples. But maybe not so much. Maybe all of us make it pretty hard all the time on all the people around us. Maybe even when the little Pharisee inside us kicks up a little and we feel we have to knock others down a peg. Point is, every sin has a consequence, and most sins have much bigger consequences than we even realize.
The Psalmist said, “There is no one who does good, no one who seeks God.” “The imagination of the heart is evil from youth.” James tells us that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet offends it in one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” After all, what is the first commandment? “Respect God above everything.” And what is the last commandment. “Do not envy other people’s things,” or “Do not want what you can’t have or should not have.” Well, there are the two bookends that are the beginning and ending of every other of the commandments. It’s the story of Adam and Eve all over again, every day, every minute of our lives. “God told me it’s not for me. But I want it. So, I don’t care what God says. If he really loved me, he’d want me to have it.” Disrespect God. Lust, covet, and then start breaking the other commandments to get what we want.
One day, when I was maybe six, I was out riding my bike and I saw a little ball on the road. I picked it up and began riding home with it. Another boy came out of a yard and announced “That’s my ball!” I said, “No it isn’t, I found it. Finders Keepers!” To this day, I think about that ball. I have no clue where it ever ended up. It wasn’t much of a ball and I hardly ever played with it. But two people were scarred the day I had to have that ball. I don’t know how deep the scars ran for the other boy. But this boy, fifty years later, still feels the guilt. And I can’t erase the damage.
We are all severely damaged. We are damaged mostly by our own natures. And we go around inflicting unknown and untold damage on others. There are no little sins. Not even one. They all come from hearts so black that, even while we raise the rafters praising the Lord on Sunday, we can barely contain the filth that’s seething out from inside.
If you are a Christian, I don’t have to tell you just how big is the grace of Jesus on us that he would pay for all the messes that our raw sewage-spewing hearts have caused against God and against his creation. It’s why I’m in church every Sunday and why I must bow to him every night, to remind myself just how much I needed forgiveness.
If you are not a Christian, I don’t know how you can face yourself, unless you live in complete denial. I guess that’s how we all manage to cope with each other every day. Some make-up and perfume, maybe a nice suit or dress, and some nice, flowery language, and we all can ignore that we are all just rotting corpses walking around with the smell of death on us.
You know what hope is? Hope is that there will be a time when I’m not dead in sin. Hope is something Jesus gives me. And love? Love is that he has forgiven me for everything I have done. And love is me forgiving the little sins against me because Jesus forgave my big sins against him.