Beautiful Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 Isaiah 61:1-3 Some time back, Tammy and I bought Greyson (our 2½ year old grandson) a bubble machine. Now, if you’ve never heard of a “bubble machine” - you haven’t lived. It’s a little mechanical device that you fill with bubble making liquid... press the button... and like magic... a little fan makes the machine blow out hundreds of bubbles - automatically. Our granddaughter, Shadow, had one that was literally worn out from use. But, anyway, Greyson loves to blow bubbles... and to play in the bubbles. He’ll run after them, with a stick, or a “sword” trying to pop as many as he can before they hit the ground, or trying to “catch” them before they blow away in the wind - laughing and jumping the whole time. Well... a few weeks ago, I was sitting in the living room, watching Greyson play while working on my laptop. After a little while, he came up to me and said, “Poppy, I want to blow bubbles.” “OK,” I said. “In a little while...” Which satisfied him for a moment... after all, I didn’t say “no.” So in a few minutes, he was at it again... “I wanta blow bubbles!” And again, I said, “in a little while.” To which Greyson said, “Let’s blow bubbles... It’ll be beautiful!” How can you refuse a toddler who says something like that? So I got up... took Greyson to grab the bubble machine... and off we go into the yard... to blow bubbles. And you know what? Greyson was right! It was a beautiful. A beautiful time. The weather was great, and I got to spend some time seeing him enjoy the gift we had given him, and hear his laughter and watch his joy... over something as simple, and easy, as bubbles. It made him happy and it made me happy, too! BUT... if I hadn’t accepted his invitation, I would indeed have missed out on a beautiful time. Which makes me wonder... how many beautiful times have I missed with God because I didn’t want to come along with Him? God calls to us... inviting us to be with Him every day. To talk to Him, to walk in His presence, to learn from Him, to simply enjoy life together. And in that everyday walk, he also calls us to be his hands and feet... his voice... his representatives, ambassadors in this life. If you regularly take advantage of the opportunities He offers you, great! I’m probably not talking to you! But if you’re anything like me, and you sometimes miss the chance to join in God’s plan because you’re too busy, or you aren’t paying attention... or you’re afraid... or you simply don’t want to go where He’s going - you may be missing out on something beautiful. Because, there’s always a beautiful component to everything God asks us to walk through with Him, in this life. NOW before I get mis-quoted, or misinterpreted... I DID NOT SAY that everything in the life is beautiful. Everything in this life is certainly NOT beautiful. But... there’s always a measure of beauty in everything God calls us to experience. Of course, we can’t always see the beauty... at least at first... so we shrug it off! “It’s too hard,” we whine, or “That doesn’t sound like fun,” or “I don’t have time for that.” Excuse after excuse... Even when we consider the opportunity to walk with God... if there’s anything at all perceived to be negative about it, we decline the invitation: we run the other way (like Jonah), we tell God all the reasons we can’t (like Moses). Of course, if we persist in our resistance, we may avoid some of the negative aspects, but we also miss the “something beautiful” that God wanted us to delight in. We may miss seeing “beauty instead of ashes.” How many of you have ever heard of Corrie Ten Boon? Boon was a WWII Nazi concentration camp survivor, who wrote the factual account of her experience called “The Hiding Place.” Anyway... in Boon’s book, she tells of the conditions in the concentration camp. The “dorms” were crammed into three-high “trough like” sleeping barracks with rancid hay as their bed. The cramped conditions and lack of basic sanitation lead to a lice and massive infestation of fleas. Corrie wondered how they could endure such a dreadful place. Betsy (Corrie’s sister) prayed and told her sister they must “give thanks in all circumstances”. But the filth and the fleas? Corrie wondered How she could possibly ever be thankful for the lice and the fleas? Several weeks later, one of the supervisors was called in their barracks to view something Betsy was working on. But, the supervisor refused to enter because the place was crawling with fleas. Betsy then reminded her sister that it was the fleas that had allowed them so much freedom to form a bond with and pray and teach about Jesus to their entire barrack with little infringement from their captors because neither the supervisors or guards wanted to be in their barracks because of the lice and the fleas. And that’s when Corrie realized how she could be thankful even for a fleas. God bestows beauty instead of ashes... What beautiful thing does God want to show you in the midst of something difficult right now? What beauty does He want to bring out of circumstances that are challenging or even tragic? If you’re life is anything like mine... you’re probably not looking for anything more “challenging.” Sometimes, I feel “challenged” enough. My life can seem as chaotic as anyone’s... But beauty is found in the chaos and confusion... in the uncertainty... and even in the grief and pain. Jesus used this very scripture reading from Isaiah in referring to his own mission and calling (in Luke 4:18-19), “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” What could be more beautiful than offering the oppressed, afflicted, downtrodden and brokenhearted the Good News of Life, and purpose, and hope in Christ? The beauty of God’s presence is HERE... in the midst of the poverty, and grief, and chains of this life. Beauty like the fact that we’re surrounded by people who love us, in spite of ourselves. Beauty shown through our church family... who encourage us; and pray for us; and walk with us THROUGH the storms of life... Maybe you’re struggling with health issues, with financial worries, with grief. Grief is a certainty for all of us in this life, in some form. Those things aren’t beautiful in and of themselves, but even in the midst of such things... God grants us “beauty instead of ashes.” Because when life leans on us, as followers of Christ, we lean on Him! I’ve never claimed to understand how God brings beauty out of ugliness. I only know that He does. Stay focused, Church. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus. Don’t stay focused on the negatives when God’s inviting you to experience beauty, when He says, “Come on! It’ll be beautiful.” Believe Him. He gives beauty for ashes.