September 27, 2004

A Time to Rejoice
"A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn 
and a time to dance" (Kohelet / Ecclesiastes 3:4).

If we were to survey everyone who either reads or 
listens to this week's message, I am sure that we would 
discover that people are going through all sorts of 
life experiences. Some are having the time of their 
lives, while others are greatly burdened with grief. 
Maybe you have just lost a loved one, while others have 
just recently experienced the joy of a broken 
relationship restored. The news is filled daily with 
stories of loss and destruction from devastating storms 
and terrorist activities. You may have personally been 
affected by some of these things. Yet others are 
oblivious to it all due to a turn of events that might 
be their greatest dream come true.

Most people's mental and emotional state is greatly 
influenced if not controlled by their circumstances. 
When things are going well, they are on top of the 
world, but in the face of adversity, they are fit to be 
tied. This is normal. It is not for me to confront 
someone who is going through difficulties and glibly 
exhort them with "don't worry, be happy."

At the same time our lives are rarely composed of just 
one thing. I know both the good and the bad can be 
overwhelming to the point that it can seem that way, 
but most of the time, life is far more complex than 
that.

This week begins the Jewish Festival of Sukkot 
(English: Tabernacles or Booths, beginning Wednesday 
evening, September 29 this year). Sukkot is the 
culmination of a series of holy days, beginning with 
Rosh Hashanah (English: New Year) and Yom Kippur 
(English: Day of Atonement). These first two holidays 
are highly reflective and at times quite somber. They 
give us the opportunity to take stock of our lives, 
both individually and corporately and seek to re-align 
them with God and his ways. Five days after Yom Kippur 
the week-long celebration of Sukkot begins. It is a 
time to thank God for his care and provision.

Sukkot is part of the regular schedule of Jewish life 
as proscribed by God. It is not based on personal 
preferences or the quality of our circumstances. It is 
a time to give thanks and rejoice whatever frame of 
mind we are in or whatever is our current state of 
affairs.

Sukkot reminds us that whatever is going on in our 
lives, there is always a reason to give thanks. No 
matter how much grief we must endure or terrible our 
lives might be, if we would stop and think about it, 
there are things to thank God for.

Each major Jewish festival has a small book from the 
Bible associated with it. For Sukkot it is "Kohelet," 
which in English is entitled, "Ecclesiastes." Kohelet 
is a short philosophical treatise on the meaning of 
life. It is here that we find the famous words, part of 
which I quoted at the beginning, stating that there is 
a time for this and a time for that. Certainly our life 
experiences tell us that there is a time for sorrow and 
a time for joy. Sukkot reminds us that we should not 
allow our current situations to determine those times.

Choosing to give thanks or to rejoice even when I don't 
feel like it, doesn't mean that I am denying my true 
feelings. If things are going very well for me, I can 
still choose to grieve over someone else's loss. Many 
people earlier this month took the time to remember the 
loss of the people who died in the September 11 
tragedy. Some of those people I am sure were enjoying 
their honeymoon, or just received a clean bill of 
health after a long bout of cancer, or were happily 
welcoming their first child into the world. Yet they 
were still able to take the time to stop and grieve.

In the same way, though of course more difficult 
emotionally, we can also take the time to rejoice 
whatever else is going on with us. There is no need to 
pretend that our difficulties are good and wonderful 
when they are not. Yet we need to acknowledge that even 
in the midst of bad situations, God is still good and 
is worthy of our thanks.