Psalm 98 verse 7 – Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause, with everything living on earth joining in (The Message).
I don’t know about you, but I always have found faith exciting. That doesn’t mean it is never a struggle. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the full range of emotions. Sometimes my faith makes me incredibly happy, joyful, overwhelmed by a sense of awe. But things happen too that challenge my faith, that make me sorrowful, frustrated or angry, or sometimes all three. But, even when that is going on, I know that God is with me.
Back in Old Testament times, the prophet Nehemiah persuaded the Persian Emperor to let him go back to Jerusalem to supervise the rebuilding of the city walls which had got broken down when the people had been carted off into exile. That was a pretty tough job. But they got on with it. And they did it. It was pretty emotional when they had a sort of grand opening of the walls. Actually it was all tied in with their celebrating a thing called the feast of shelters – a special opportunity to remember how God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They were all getting a bit sad. And so Nehemiah said to them: Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength. The joy of God is your strength.
Sometimes people ask me how things are in Eastern Synod, sometimes even how they are in the United Reformed Church. And sometimes I get a sneaky feeling that they want me to say that they are bad, or, at least, not too good – but I never do. Because I don’t believe that’s the case. We have a good God. Of course things are good! It doesn’t mean that there aren’t the struggles, the difficulties, but there are so many exciting things going on – churches relating to their communities as they offer a range of facilities, holiday clubs, all sorts of exhibitions, cafés and café churches, new and different ways of telling the message of Jesus, messy churches – though I believe that all true church is messy – and so on. And so we say with the psalmist: Shout your praises to God everybody! Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!
God doesn’t want us to do what we can’t. God wants us to do what we can. One of my favourite story-book characters is Elmer the multi-coloured elephant – and when my daughters got past the Elmer stage, I rescued our Elmer and he now lives in my study.
One day Elmer decided he didn’t want to be himself, He knew that elephants were supposed to be grey. And so he got some paint and a bit of help. And he turned himself grey – which was fine until it rained! His elephant friends felt sorry for him. And so they got paint as well – all different colours of paint. Bright swirls and squiggles, colourful lines and circles, incredible patterns in all sorts of shades appeared on the elephants. It was great – only they had the same problem when it rained again.
Elmer and all his friends needed to learn, as we do, that what matters is to be yourself. God loves you just as you are. Now, isn’t that something to celebrate. It’s there in verse 3 of our psalm – He remembered to love us, a bonus to his dear family Israel – indefatigable love. Now there’s something to celebrate.