Friday, July 31, 2015

The Celebration of Life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A mother writes:  “My four year old daughter Jennifer just loves her grandmother.  My mother likes to talk about God with my daughter.   For example she asked Jennifer: “Honey, who made the trees?""Who made the sun?"  “Who made the animals?”  "Who made you?”  “God did,” Jennifer answered.   They were having so much fun I decided to go for a walk and left my daughter with her grandmother.   When I returned, I asked how things went.  My mother said: “Fine.  I walked into the living room to find toys scattered everywhere.  I asked Jennifer, "Who made this mess?"  Looking at me with those big beautiful eyes, Jennifer said, "God did!"

Today we reflect upon the celebration of life.   I want to thank Mavis Qualsett, our Coordinator for Congregational Care for helping us recognize the 19 members of PBPC who have reached the exceptional age of 90 or older.   They have been on life’s journey a little longer than the rest of us.   But don't lose hope, keep breathing, keep moving, for one day we will be happy to recognize you in worship when you reach the age of ninety. 

The number of senior citizens, of which I am proud to stand among, is rapidly increasing in America.   By the year 2030 one out of every five Americans will be a senior citizen.   Life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was about 47.  Today, the average lifespan for men is 75 and for women about 80.  By 2040 its projected that the life expectancy for men will be 86 and for women 91.

We value, we cherish, we treasure life.  We try to extend it as long as possible.    Some researchers claim that red wine, in moderation, has been found to lengthen the human lifespan.

Our lifespan is of course dependent upon a variety of factors like genetics, over which we have no control.  It is also dependent upon social and environmental factors, which we can do something about, such as having access to quality health care, positive social relationships, maintaining a positive mental attitude, a healthy lifestyle, getting adequate rest, eating a balanced diet, and finding effective ways to cope with stress.  Studies also clearly point out the significant positive role that religious faith, prayer and worship play in our journey of life.

We gain wisdom about life's journey from modern psychology.  Erik Erickson, the noted 20th century American developmental psychologist constructed the classic theory of the Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development.  It ranges from the First stage - birth to 18 months to the Eighth stage - maturity to death.    Each stage faces four tasks - a psychosocial conflict, a major question, a basic virtue and an important event.

In the Eighth and final stage, which occurs during adulthood from age 65 through the end of life, the Psychosocial conflict is - Integrity versus despair, the Major question is - “Did I live a meaningful life,” the Basic virtue is Wisdom and the Important event is Reflecting back on life.    He writes:  “Older adults need to look back on life and come away with a sense of fulfillment.  Success at this stage leads to feelings of satisfaction and wisdom and the reassurance that they lived a meaningful life, while failure results in having many regrets and feelings of bitterness and despair over a life misspent and wasted.  Those who feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death.

Now let us turn to the scripture for some biblical insights about life’s journey?  What truths do we learn from the scriptures about life's journey from a theological perspective?

The Bible declares that human life is a gift from God, God is the creator.   We didn’t create ourselves, nor is our creation an accident, a fluke of nature, a primeval event where chemicals and gases bumped into each other and humanity spontaneously exploded into existence.  The book of Genesis says:  “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female God created them.”  Your life is unique, irreplaceable, matchless; there is no one else in the universe exactly like you. 

The Bible teaches that life is transitory.  Our lives have a beginning and an end.  The psalmist writes:  “O God, we are like a dream, like grass which grows up, that in the morning is fresh and flourishing, and in the evening fades and withers.”  Our lives are swiftly passing by.  The days and years seem to fly by faster and faster.  Can I get an amen to that.  Nancy and I are thankful and happy to be grandparents, but Wyatt and Haven are already 2 years old.  They are growing up fast, soon they will be off to college, getting married, having children of their own, well I might be getting ahead of myself just a little.

The Bible declares that suffering, pain, and disappointment are part of life’s journey.  Because of human sin and evil life is not always fair and not always just.  So we depend upon God, we depend upon Jesus, and one another to help us get through the unexpected detours and challenges of life.

The Bible declares that we were created for positive and lasting relationships with God and one another.  The role of the biological family, friends and the family of God, the church, is crucial along the journey.  The psalmist says: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing God’s praise in the assembly of his faithful people.  Worship the Lord with gladness.  For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.”

The Bible declares that life has seasons.  We need to recognize them, to grow in them, to learn from them, to be patient in them, to persevere in them, to maintain courage and a positive outlook in them, and to trust in God’s guidance in those seasons.  Seasons of childhood, youth, adulthood, seniors, marriage, singleness, parenthood, illness, seasons of success and failure, seasons of spiritual or health crises, and seasons of retirement.

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”  God establishes seasons or special times in our lives.  We need to seek to understand God’s timing, God’s lessons, God’s moment, God’s purposes and plans in the seasons of our lives.

Scripture says God wants to use us for His glory and purpose at all stages of life.  God is not finished with us when we grow older.   There is no retirement in the Kingdom of God, no not 65, not 66, in other words God’s plans and purposes for our lives continue until we take our last breath, and the last trumpet sounds, and we hear God's heavenly call.

Remember when the angels told Sarah, Abraham's wife, who by the way would have qualified for being on the list today, that she would give birth to a son?  What was Sarah’s reaction?  She laughed and said:  “Shall I indeed bear a child now that I am old?”  God’s plans will not be denied.  Sarah was 90 and Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born.  God had plans for Abraham and Sarah at their advanced ages.

God has so created us that we can be useful to God at all stages of life.   Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as grandma Moses, was 76 years old the first time she started to paint.  Tennyson was 83 when he wrote “Crossing the Bar;” Lucille Ball was 77, when she concluded her brilliant comedic career; Jack LaLanne celebrated his 70th birthday by towing 70 boats across the Long Beach Harbor while holding a rope in his teeth, being handcuffed and wearing leg shackles.  That gives me something to shoot for when I turn 70.  Sportscaster and Padre’s baseball announcer Dick Enberg is still going strong at 80.  He just received a prestigious broadcasting award at Cooperstown, New York.   There are many exciting volunteer opportunities in the church and in the community around us.  When God is finished, God will let you and me know.  But as of now, God is not finished and calls us to glorify Him in His Kingdom. 

The Bible speaks of the importance of  maintaining a positive and hopeful attitude along life's journey.  I Thessalonians says:  “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ for you.”    Life is to be lived in thankfulness for God’s grace and mercy.   It is to be lived with a sense of appreciation for one’s blessings and gifts.  Do you have an appreciation for life?

I quote from our friend, Rev. Dr. Jim Hagelganz, former interim pastor, guest preacher and teacher on many occasions, from his blog which I know some of you receive:

“God’s Lord’s Day Morning to my Fabulous Family and Friends…Some things to think about: Confronted with Choice.  I was recently diagnosed with a muscle atrophying disease for which there is no cure.   It can possibly be controlled but it is progressive. (and as you know, I’m not a progressive politically) Facing this, I am confronted with a choice. I can grouse, get depressed, feel down and complain that I’ve been given a raw deal, etc.; or take another route!

I chose to take the other route. Psalm 139:15-16 says God, (the Transcendent sovereign God) “made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. (God’s) “workmanship is marvelous.” (God) “was there while I was being formed in utter seclusion! (God) saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breath. Every day was recorded in your book.” (Wow, what an amazing statement).

I totally and deeply believe this.   It’s been basically a lifelong commitment. My life began with God.  God has been with me throughout my life.  Called me and granted me his salvation.  I’ve had a great life, marvelous times and tough times – cancer twice, Diabetes, heart problems when a child; now a heart pacemaker, other negatives with bumps and pain, but many great times with fabulous family, friends, sports, a calling in work that made it possible to interact and have positive impact on lives by sharing the gospel. O yes, some negative impact too… I’m not perfect. As I look back I see the leading of God in my life; he has led me through it all.

Now he leads me on another what appears to be a difficult trail.   It is difficult for me to walk; often with cane, now possibly a “walker” which my former doctor and friend used.  Hands are weak: difficulty using fork and knife at times while eating… deterioration is taking place.  My choice? Well, God has been good to me all these years. He has led me in the past. I believe he is leading me into a new adventure. Who knows what exciting living is ahead… new people to meet--- new doctors, nurses, and others, people to whom I may have a unique opportunity to minister. Old friends and of course family are near too… O there will be down times, possibly some depression, but I choose not to stay there.  I’m choosing to walk with God.

Also, there is a day coming when it will all be over here for me. But I look forward to that day. (no I don’t want to rush it) There is a spiritual that goes, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin through.” I remember that. (You are too! “The death rate is 100%.”) Jesus has gone on to prepare a place for me/us John 14:1-3. Wow, to be with him and also all my family and friends who are already there. I’m ready to go…

You see, I walk with God and it is an exciting walk… many new things are coming and I am going to experience them. Some good… some maybe not so good, but it is a new adventure and I’m not alone. God is with me and I am basically happy. Concerned, yes!  But living the adventure with joy. That’s my faith!  My choice! What’s yours? …something to think about…eh?  One of the meaningful and joyful experiences of life is to love… to love you all…yep, I sure do.  DAD/GRAMPA/GREAT-GRAMPA/UNK/CUZ/FRIEND/ETC.

I  love what Rev. Hangelganz wrote.   God wants us to gain wisdom in this life.  God wants us to glorify Him and love him and others.  God wants us to draw near to Him as God has drawn near to us in Jesus.   In psalm 90:12 we read: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”   Lord teach us to number of days, to think about them, to examine them, in light of our faith in God as we know Him in Jesus Christ.    Our motto in this journey is – “I belong to God.”  For how you spend your years matters, it matters a great deal to God.  The late Dr. Norman Cousins wrote: “Death is not the greatest tragedy which can befall a person; rather, the tragedy is in what dies in a person, while he or she is alive.”

Here are some questions to consider: “Will you glorify God in all that you do?”  “What is God’s purpose for the years before you?”   “Are you going to serve and care for others?”  “Are you going to be generous with your time, talents and resources?”  “Will you strive to gain wisdom?”

Let us truly celebrate life’s journey in light of the one who is our dwelling place in all generations, from everlasting to everlasting.   Amen!

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