Friday, August 5, 2016

Celebrate the Journey (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

An elderly man had some serious hearing problems.  His family tried repeatedly to convince him to get a hearing aid.  Finally, he went to the doctor and was fitted for a set of hearing aids that dramatically improved his hearing.  A month later he went back to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor said with a smile, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again."  The old man replied, "Who said I told them?   It’s been fascinating just listening to their conversations.”

Welcome to celebrate the journey.  I want to thank Mavis Qualsett, our former Coordinator for Congregational Care, who due to health problems is not able to be with us today, but who organized this celebration of life and is still very involved in our caring ministry.  Today we are recognizing 17 members of PBPC who have reached the exceptional age of 90 or older.   Yes, they have been on life’s journey longer than the rest of us, but don’t despair, keep breathing, keep moving, keep praying, for one day it will be our honor to recognize you when you reach this esteemed age.

The number of senior citizens, a club of which I am a member, 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 life.  From diet to exercise, from advances in medicine to the finest hospitals and doctors, from cosmetics to plastic surgery, we strive to look and feel younger and extend our days upon this earth.  One’s lifespan depends upon several of factors: genetics, family history, social and environmental factors, health care, positive social relationships, a positive mental attitude, a healthy lifestyle, finding effective ways to cope with stress, the grace of God and more.

Yes we are getting older and living longer.  But are we also getting younger?  We constantly hear that today’s 70’s are yesterday’s 50’s.  Studies show that today’s 70 year old’s are performing physically, mentally and attitudinally the way 50 year old’s did in the past.  So it looks like we are getting older and younger at the same time.

Studies also point out the positive role that spirituality/religious faith, prayer and worship play in our journey of life.   Many books and articles have been published on the subject of retirement, aging, reaching the final years of our lives.  Some call it the twilight or sunset of life.  Now are sunsets beautiful or what?

Many articles focus upon the material aspects of growing older, encouraging traveling, spending your money on fun things, etc.   But often the literature excludes or downplays the spiritual values of aging, developing faith in God, service in God’s name, which brings joy, meaning and purpose as one ages.  I know our 17 special people today would all affirm how indispensable faith has been to their journey.  The spiritual realm is important for all people, but as one’s mortality and the reality of death draws nearer these questions often become more significant.  I believe God has placed this spiritual characteristic or instinct or need into our nature because we are made in God’s image.  God earnestly desires for human beings to be in fellowship, in a right relationship with Him, but sin, sin blinds us to it or buries it.

C. G. Jung, the famous 19th and 20th century Swiss psychoanalyst, wrote: “Among all my patients in the second half of life, that is to say, over 35, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not finding a religious outlook on life, and none of them has been really healed, who did not regain his religious outlook.  We grow old unsatisfactorily when our personalities are deprived of such a basic need.  To go through the later stages of life without any thought of the meaning of life and the author of our existence is a situation fraught with danger.”  St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, in the 4th century wrote: “O God our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.”

What insights do we gain from scripture about life’s journey and especially its final stage?   Human life is a gift from God our creator.   We didn’t create ourselves, we didn’t will ourselves into existence.  You and I exist by the grace of God.  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; there is no one else in the universe exactly like you.

Life is transitory.  Our mortal 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.”  When you look back over the years, don’t you agree.

Suffering, pain, and disappointment are part of life’s journey.  Because of human sin and evil life is not always fair and just.  So we depend upon God, we depend upon Jesus, and one another to help us get through the upsets, the hurt, the challenges of life.

We were created for positive and lasting relationships with God and one another.  The role of 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.  For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.”

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

God has given us physical bodies to care for.  I regularly see people in their 60’s,70’s and 80’s working out at 24 Hour Fitness as well as young people. We may not be as agile as we once were, or as strong, but that should never stop us.  An elderly husband writes: “One day as my wife and I were walking our two-mile course, I secretly determined to keep up with her--a feat thus far never accomplished.  I huffed and puffed most of the way trying to keep pace. I figured that with some effort, I could hold out until we got to her usual slow-down point. When we finally reached it, Deb kept right on walking at the same rate. Breathlessly, I asked, "Honey, aren't you going to slow down like usual?" She cheerfully replied, "Sweetheart, I never sped up!"

God wants to use us for His glory and Kingdom throughout our lives, yes even in the twilight years.   I think of people I’ve known over the years, like Bob, who started a prison ministry at a former church I pastored when he was 65, Katherine who was visiting Alzheimer’s patients in her eighties, Jan who in her nineties was writing letters to church visitors, and Virginia who in her nineties was active on the church prayer chain.  Such people are an inspiration.  We must always maintain a willingness to grow at whatever stage we find ourselves.

Some persons become bitter as they age and withdraw from those around them.   They isolate themselves, cut off ties with family and friends, and become virtual hermits.   Don’t do that.  Stay positive, stay connected, stay engaged.  Believe that God has something to offer others through you.

When John Quincy Adams, our 6th president, was an elderly man, a young friend asked "How is John Quincy Adams today?" Adams replied: “John Quincy Adams is very well, thank you.  But the house he lives in is sadly dilapidated. It is tottering on its foundations. The walls are badly shattered and the roof is worn. The building trembles with every wind, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out before long. But he himself is very well, thank you.”

God will let you know when he’s finished with you, but in the meantime keep moving, keep breathing, keep serving, keep glorifying and sharing 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 and appreciation and joy for God’s grace and mercy.

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.  God earnestly wants us to gain wisdom.  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.”

What is God’s purpose for the years before you?”  How and where can you put your experience, wisdom, talents and resources to use in God’s kingdom?  William Courtenay wrote: “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

Let us celebrate life’s journey in light of the one who is our dwelling place in all generations, from everlasting to everlasting, until the last trumpet sounds and Jesus welcomes into glory.   Amen!