Stuart's Thought for the Day 

Pause for Thought

March seems so long ago now! Here we are seven months on, still wonderingVideos about what the future might hold. So far the worst of the ‘second wave’ has hit other parts of the country harder than the south, while many European countries are also struggling under various stages of lockdown. While we’re thankful for positive news of a vaccine, it will take a long while to make an impact on everyday life for most people – and this Christmas will be nothing at all like the one we celebrated nearly a year ago. And when we finally enjoy some long-term respite from the restrictions, how much rebuilding and reconstruction might be needed before we can say we’re ‘back to normal’? At least we’re still worshipping together as a community, and as a new week beckons take a few minutes to reflect in God’s loving presence with a candle alight and a refreshing drink. 

Discouragement and hope

The priest Ezra read to the people assembled by the Water Gate from the book of God’s Law. It took him all morning, though the people paid good attention. The Levites and others helped them to understand what they were hearing and what it meant for their worship of God and their daily lives. Many of them were distressed and tearful, but Ezra and Nehemiah, who was by now their governor, told them, “God has declared this to be a special and holy day, so please stop your wailing, go on your way, and enjoy a good meal with a glass of wine. Don’t forget, the joy of the Lord is your strength. Oh, and make sure you include anyone who doesn’t have the resources for a celebration.” (from Nehemiah 8)

In our previous parish, as we set about the unlikely challenge of completely replacing all the decaying, inadequate buildings along with our Methodist friends, we often felt in tune with the people Nehemiah had led to rebuild Jerusalem and make it a vibrant centre of life and worship once again. There were many discouragements along the way, plenty of voices

questioning the sanity of the project, and energy sapped away whenever another delay crept in. Making forward progress was gruelling at times, though that threw into sharp relief the hopeful ‘good news days’, and especially the great day when the whole congregation finally entered the newly finished building for the first time. It wasn’t at all what anyone had thought of to start with, but as always with God, far better than we could have ever imagined.

Nehemiah had overseen the reconstruction of a ruined city. Few houses were habitable, it was difficult to see how economic and social life could be restored, and yet he’d continued despite all the discouragements to lead the people into a new life and future. Now they were standing in the city centre, listening to God’s law read out, and realising how far short of its standards they had fallen. If it all seemed to come from a different era, there were teachers to help people make sense of these words for this new generation, but many were distressed. So, having made sure everyone had taken on board the implications of what they’d heard, Nehemiah instructs them to stop wailing and weeping. Instead he tells them to go and enjoy a good party! “God has declared this a special day of celebration,” he announced, “so go and enjoy it together!” I’ve often failed to celebrate God’s goodness as I should have, allowing my inner Eeyore to discolour my view of the future. Celebrating God’s love and grace today doesn’t negate the difficulties that might lie ahead but gives us new strength and resolve to face them in a clearer perspective. And Nehemiah also remembers the have-nots, those who won’t have the resources to lay on a celebration meal and could easily have felt left out of the rejoicing and fun.

We may not need to reconstruct too many buildings post-pandemic, but relationships and social life have taken as much of a battering as the economy. Church communities will play their part in rebuilding joy, hope and a better future for everyone – including those at the bottom of the pile. Despite current travel restrictions we’re all still conscious of our responsibilities to the global community too, not least as climate change and our care of God’s world come to the fore again. As we work together there will be tough days, but also joyful ones when we celebrate and look forward confidently, trusting God who is always there to guide us. Whatever today’s uncertainties, we’re nearer the end of the pandemic than we were a few months ago, and the good news we can share is that as we journey with God there is always hope and a future.

Before we finish, what signs of God’s love have you seen recently? How have you been aware of God giving you strength and hope for the journey ahead? And how should we celebrate as a community the good news day that will surely come? I’m taking a few days leave this week, so will join you again next Sunday.

Prayer for today

Hope-building God, open our eyes to every sign of your love;
joy-releasing God, open our hearts to celebrate your goodness;
care-bringing God, open our lives to all who need your good news,
especially those whose resources are negligible,
as we follow the way of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen. 

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