“Right in the Pit” Gratitude Part 3
Psalm 28; Romans 5:6-11
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
February 4, 2018
No one wants to “go down to the Pit.” That is how the psalm writer puts it. The Pit is the place where you are all alone and, at the same time, you are surrounded by enemies. The Pit is a dark place where God feels distant and the walls feel close. The psalm writer doesn’t talk about this part of the Pit but it is there that you also realize that, among the enemies, you are one of your worst. You too are an enemy—to yourself and to God—because of the sin you commit and because of your lack of trust and faith.
At one time or another, life itself can feel like the Pit. There are entire structures of belief, even Christian belief, based on this. That this place, this life, is a curse and blessing only comes in the next life. Of course, there is some truth to this. God does promise us amazing blessing in the next life, starting with the gift that there IS eternal life! But is this life just a hole? A Pit we must endure?
Paul has an opinion. He writes this in Romans 5: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Using the psalm’s language, this means Jesus justified us while we were still in the Pit. Christ didn’t wait for us to get out of it before he made us right.
There is a famous Jewish joke that goes like this: a grandmother and her grandson were enjoying a day at the beach. All was well until a giant tide of water swelled onto the beach and took the little boy. The grandmother immediately began to pray. She cast her eyes to the heavens and said, “Mighty God in heaven, you can do all things. Please, I pray, return my grandson to me. Please, I pray. Hear me and help me.”
Well, wouldn’t you know? Another great swell of water crashed onto the beach and, when it receded, there was her grandson safe and sound. The grandmother cast her eyes to the heavens and she said, “He had a hat!”
Of course, the joke speaks to the stereotypical temperament of Jewish grandmothers but it also has us wonder, Do we miss the big thing because we’re focused on the hat? Now I would never say that being saved for eternal life with God is “the hat”. Of course, it is far more but Paul wants us to know that Jesus did the BIG thing when he justified us. Saving us, he writes, is easy in comparison.
This is how he puts it: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.” “Saving” is a “much more surely” kind of thing once the great work of justification was done.
Christians talk a great deal about being saved. We wonder if others are saved. We wonder if we are saved. Paul says we are talking about the wrong thing. “Are you saved Paul?” If we asked him he would say, “Not yet” Not yet, for that will come on the day of wrath. “But,” Paul would say, “I am justified. I am reconciled with God.” Salvation from wrath, see, is the smaller of the two things for Paul. Being justified NOW, that is the miracle. Made right, even as we are in the Pit, that is the amazing gift Christ gives.
Our faith is more than insurance to be collected at a later date. There are benefits and blessings to be had now. Christ’s work changes life now. It’s like the beloved children’s story by Max Lucado about little wooden people called Wemmicks. Wemmicks like to put stickers on each other, gray dots when they want to punish and gold stars when they want to compliment. One of the Wemmicks, Punchinello, only gets gray dots. He gets them for accidentally tripping and he gets them for is own bad choices and he gets them because he is not as beautiful and smoothly made as the others. All of this means that Punchinello is covered in gray dots.
One day he sees another Wemmick named Lucia. Wemmicks try to put gray dots on her and Punchinello notices that the dots won’t stay on her. They fall right off. So he asks, “Lucia how do you do that? How do you keep dots off you?” and she tells Punchinello to go see the woodcarver Eli to find out. The small Wemmick goes to Eli and tells him about the dots. Eli says that if Punchinello will stay close to him then dots will no longer be able to stick. When Punchinello questions whether or not this can be true, Eli assures him he knows because he is the one who made him. As Punchinello walks away that first time he begins to trust that what Eli said might be true and, as he does, a gray dot falls off of him and onto the ground.
This idea of the gray dots can help us when we think of something as lofty as “justification.” Being justified by Christ could have reams of paper written about it but it really means two things. First, when Christ justified us he made us right. The sin in our life is forgiven, the distance and enmity between us and God is gone, it is amazing grace, how sweet the sound. The gray dots fall off. That is the first thing that Christ does when he justifies us. He removes the dots, the ones others have put on, the ones we have put on ourselves.
And the second thing Christ does when he justifies us is he announces to the world that there is good reason for us to be. In justifying us he says we are worthy. We have a right to life and blessings and a life near God. We may be one of the less smoothly carved Wemmicks and our paint may not be as beautiful but, in justifying us, we are shown worthy, here and now, to live where the dots start to fall off.
When we think about Christ’s work in this way then faith is simply living as if we have been made right, made worthy, already. Because we have. Faith looks like confidence, not in ourselves, but in Christ who says we are worthy. Faith looks like freedom that comes from believing Christ takes our forgiveness seriously and we should too. Faith does not look like allowing our same fears and regrets to rule our life. It does look like trusting the promise that the most amazing work has already happened: you are justified—made right, reconciled to God—even now.
We have talked about gratitude for the last few weeks—gratitude that life itself is a gift, gratitude as a practice of appreciating what matters most—and now we have heard again of this great miracle, one we look to the sky and pray for all the time—that has already happened. We have been justified by the death of Jesus, even while we were sinners. Faith looks a lot like gratitude as we live out the beautiful consequences of that gift.
Are you saved? Not yet, one day. But are you justified? Yes. Here and now you are reconciled to God. You are brought close to him and no dots will stick. Being reconciled to him means you can begin to be reconciled with others and even with that greatest of all enemies, yourself.
Life can be a Pit sometimes. But it is not something to simply endure. For we have been made right even while we are deep in it. This miracle of Christ’s work makes even the Pit a grace-filled place. May we, with our lives, also ensure it is a place filled with gratitude. Amen.