Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 17:6; Proverbs 23:22; Isaiah 46:3-4; Mark 7:6-13
The sermon title today is inspired by two realities of life here at Gordon United. One is the upcoming 60th anniversary, which will have a 50s theme – and what could be more 50s than the emergence of Rock and Roll? Many of you were teenagers when Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and others got the world rocking and rolling. The other meaning of “rock and roll” comes from the preponderance of people in our lives who are using wheels to get around these days – not hot rods or Tbirds, but wheelchairs and walkers. Lately when I take my mother out for a little jaunt I refer to it as a “walk and roll” – because I do the walking part and she does the rolling. The rocking part of that equation evokes images of Grandma’s rocker out on the front porch – but this is NOT the reality of life for most seniors in the Westshore and elsewhere. Many seniors – folk like you – remain active well into their late 80s and early 90s, despite needing a little more help to get around than once upon a time.
I know it’s not easy getting older, especially in a culture that seems to be in perpetual pursuit of youth. Some are fortunate and age with pretty good health. Others are faced with an array of ailments, indignities, or accidents that can really challenge the spirit. Scripture has something to offer all who are facing their later years. This is some of what the Bible has to say:
- Jesus cares for the elderly, especially those left alone and vulnerable or poor. The prophetic tradition speaks strongly against the abuse of older people, especially widows who could not support themselves and were often neglected by their families and their societies. Despite urging his disciples to leave their families behind when they follow him, Jesus himself echoes the prophetic stance in Mark 7, condemning the leaders of Israel for using their religious duties as an excuse for neglecting their parents financially.
- You can take your physical challenges, your frustration, your pain, your anger, even your despair to God. I have heard so often from people when they reach the extremities of old age – Why doesn’t God just let me die? Like the Psalmist on many occasions, one’s bones can feel like water, with no strength left, and one’s spirit can be weary unto death. This experience is as old as humanity, and it is right and proper to take that lament to God. Just as we cry out in pain when our bodies are hurt, we cry out in lament when our soul is hurt. The books of the Bible that contain the most such lament are Lamentations, the Book of Job, and the Psalms.
Sometimes God can seem distant: like we’re phoning God and keep getting voicemail. In some ways, this experience is a corrective to a naïve faith in which God is a vending machine that ejects the right answer as long as we put the right amount of righteousness in the slot. Lament reminds us that faith is about relationship. We cry out to God because there is something inside of us that tells us, even when we are full of doubt, that our relationship with God counts. Lament is actually an act of trust. It shows that we trust God to handle our toughest emotions as well as our praise and worship.
- God has a ministry for the elders in the land: to secure the future for succeeding generations. First Nations folk often speak about seven generations; the Bible too, urges us to work for the generations who will follow us. Remember the promise to Abraham of descendants who would number more than the stars in the sky? It was that promise that reassured him as he walked an unfamiliar road by faith.
Last week we talked about passing on the faith to another generation. There are other ways we can nurture and bless the generations that follow us.
For example, there are privileges that come for many with senior years. The “Greatest Generation” and the “Baby Boomers” are the two most influential generations in Canadian history. It’s important to use the financial, political and moral influence you have to bless the generations to come, not be in competition with them!
People will try to set us up, you know. They’ll try to make elders and younger people fight each other for jobs, government dollars, political power, health care, and more. I came across a website online that was designed to get the younger generation mad at the tax burden previous governments and, by implication, the generations who voted for them, had placed on them. But a wise young person knows that those taxes paid for their education – Millenials are the most highly educated age group in Canadian history! It paid for their health care, their public transit, and even things like sports and music through Family Allowances and special grants. Other organizations lobby for a system where only those who use schools (families with children) would pay school taxes. That might be seductive to a homeowner on limited income, but it’s pretty short-sighted. What next? Only sick people pay taxes for the medical system?
There are already enough tensions between the generations as different values and experiences shape different approaches to work, marriage, and family life. I pray that none of us will let anyone use our differences to their advantage!
One of the things I value about the church is that it is still a multigenerational community, even if that is less true than it once was. Here we learn to value each other despite our differences. We as young and middle-aged people promise not to forget you in your later years, and we ask that you not forget the succeeding generations, many of whom are going to have a difficult time with the cost of living, damage to the environment, movement of jobs overseas, and more. Please pray for us, think of us, care about us, as we pray for, think about and care for you.
- Those who have spent time and energy and emotion raising a family with love and care can receive the loving care of your families with grace, and without guilt. Scripture teaches us to honour our parents, and to respect those who are our elders, seeking out their wisdom and the experience they have to share. Yet I hear so many people say, “I don’t want to be a burden to my children!” Did you consider your children a burden when they needed careful tending, help walking, compassion and understanding? No! Neither do we, your children, feel that you are a burden. I’m not going to pretend we don’t get tired or frustrated. We do! Care-giving is a challenge at times – just as parenting can be – but it’s also a huge privilege to have the opportunity to give back to you the love and care you heaped on us when we were young. Please, lean on us. That’s what we’re here for, and it’s part of our calling as Christian people to be present to you and support you. We also promise to ask for help when we need it – because that too is part of living the Christian life – giving and receiving in mutual care.
- From a Biblical perspective, and the perspective of most of the world, old age is a gift from God! It doesn’t always feel that way, I know. Psalm 71: 9 reads: “Just as each day brims with your beauty, my mouth brims with praise. But don’t turn me out to pasture when I’m old or put me on the shelf when I can’t pull my weight.” Many people do feel like they’re on the shelf, especially if they are unable to get around the way they used to or participate in activities the way they’d like. Yet senior years can be a time of quiet, a time to stop running quite so much, to reflect on life, especially spiritual life, and share that wisdom and learning with others. It’s a time to downsize and simplify, to live with less and to enjoy each moment for what it is, instead of rushing on to the next and the next and the next. It can be a time of generosity, when you contemplate the legacy you want to leave the people and the ministries that matter to you. It is a time for the blessing of grandchildren and the special relationship that can develop between seniors and little ones.
Many, many people in our world do not get a chance to experience the gift of old age. I encourage you to treasure it, to take the good and the difficult together, and in everything, give thanks to God that you can still arise each morning and see anew the world God has made.
Whether you are “rocking and rolling” in the 50s sense and having a blast in your senior years, or whether your rocking and rolling is of a different kind, our shared faith has something to offer, something to teach, something that will bless you. The God of our ancestors in faith – the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Enoch and Noah, of Hannah and Eli, of Anna and Simeon – the God of seniors like you who saw God acting vividly and commandingly in their lives – this God is with you, and will bless you with insight, courage, strength and wisdom for the days to come, whether they be few, or they be many. So it has always been; so it shall be. Amen.