Growing Old Ain’t for Sissies

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Wasn’t it great to be a kid? I’ve heard many people say, “times were simpler then.” I agree.  As kids, we were free from adult responsibilities. Heck, the biggest stressor I can remember was which baseball cards to put in the spokes of my bike.  Being a kid was awesome.

But when I was still quite young, I remember seeing a plaque that read: “growing old ain’t for sissies” At the time that didn’t make any sense to me.  What’s so hard about growing up? I thought growing up would be the coolest thing in the world and I couldn’t wait to get there.

Today, however, I look at that plaque from a little different point on the continuum of life.  As the years pass, and gets a little harder to put my socks on in the morning, I can understand the wisdom of that plaque.  In fact, I have come to appreciate that growing old really isn’t a choice.  Growing older, and hopefully wiser, is unavoidable; it’s a part of life.  So, if growing older is a part of life, then it seems to me that our attitude about aging is important.  Do we fight the process with all our might or do we accept that “seasons change” and share the lessons that we have leaned along the way and the wisdom that we have gained with the next generation? In other words, is there an up-side to all these changing seasons of life.

Well, In the first text that was read for us this morning from the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes the author reaffirms for us the natural order of changing seasons.  He says that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He goes on to catalog for us the various seasons of life, 28 of them in fact, arranged in sharp contrast to one another and yet each as an undeniable part of human existence.

His list rings so true. It begins with what is most fundamentally true–that one day, we are born into this world, then, just as inevitably, our life in this world comes to an end. According to the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the universe unfolds according to its own inner logic and set of seasons. Only God knows why existence is set up this way. In the face of a mysterious world created by a transcendent God, one should not waste energy railing against life; instead, the author advises us to enjoy life and get the most we can out of it.

Now, that’s not to say you should abandon all your responsibilities and do nothing except eat, drink, and be merry. Instead, the point here is that your responsibilities (your family and friends, your job, your church, your civic duties) all these responsibilities are the things that are to be enjoyed.  And in the differing seasons of life, these responsibilities will change, our bodies will change, we will not be able to all that we used to be able to, but, and this is key, we are to enjoy rather than fear these changes. The point behind Ecclesiastes 3 is to encourage us to seek out the positive aspects of growing older rather than lamenting the things we can no longer do.

And I think this is theological advice at its practical best. Since there are so many things over which we have no control, it’s wise to be happy and to look for the blessing regardless of the circumstances.  Which brings us to “The Parable of the Fig Tree.” Luke, like Ecclesiastes, has something to say about the changing seasons of life.

Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves,  you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near. I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away. Luke 21: 29-33. (CEB)

First, a cursory reading of these verses in their immediate context reminds us that they come just before the Passion story of Jesus. A story in which we hear Jesus predicting the arrival of terrible times: destruction and war, suffering and persecution. He’s offering words of warning to his followers as he moves toward his crucifixion and death.

But in their historical context, we must remember these words were written 50 to 60 years after the passion story took place, after the Maccabean war, after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and in the aftermath of the political catastrophe that was first-century Palestine. These words were written for a people already molded by the suffering and fear and turmoil which these words predict. Luke describes events that took place after Jesus’ death; but he describes them through the eyes of Jesus, as if he were there–how he would feel, what he would say, what he would do. And thus, Luke gives to us a “God’s-eye” view of how to deal with the changing seasons of life. In fact, what Luke offers us is a big picture view of reality that we can all use as we find ourselves struggling with change; especially the changes that occur as we grow older and life continues to move forward. And that view of reality that Luke gives us is a view from “a perspective of faith.”

Ya know, I had an interesting first-hand experience of a variety of “perspectives on faith” while serving as a student chaplain.  The hospital to which I was assigned was in Davenport Iowa and despite Iowa’s reputation, Davenport is quite a diverse city; a diversity that was reflected in the patients at the hospital.  I encountered folks from a variety of religious backgrounds and faith traditions.  I ministered to people who were Catholic and from all different flavors of the Protestant world, a Jewish woman and Vietnamese man whom I guessed was some sort of Buddhist/Christian blend, and several people from the Fellowship of Baha’i.

The interesting thing, however, was that no matter what faith a person held, there was a certain sense of calm or peace about them, even in the worst of circumstances.  People who believe in something larger then themselves, God, are not as, I don’t know what word to choose here… lost maybe, as people who profess to have no faith at all.

Case in point. I was called to the room of a woman who had just received the news that her cancer was terminal.  As I entered the room and introduced myself as the chaplain, she immediately demanded that I not pray for her.  I could stay and talk and help her to share her diagnosis with her family, but she had given up on God many years before and didn’t want anything to do with faith or religion.  But what I remember most about that encounter was her sense of lost-ness. To her, beyond this life, after she was gone, there was nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for, and it was apparent that she had no sense of peace.

Now don’t misunderstand me here, as people of faith, as Christians, we too grieve.  We hurt when a loved one dies and we worry when faced with our own mortality.  That’s human nature.  But when we face the most difficult of circumstances, our faith lends us a certain sense of peace.  A peace, from my observations anyway, that is not present when faith is absent. Why?  Well, the Bible teaches us that beyond the end of time; time as we know it anyway, stands God, who has come among us in the person of Jesus.  Those who live faithful lives can live expectantly, filling each day with activity that is meaningful and in line with God’s purposes for human life.

So even as we grow older and the seasons of life continue to change, faith is what carries us through.  And that’s finally the lesson of the fig tree.  When you see the emergence of new leaves in the spring, you know that summer is just around the corner. The same is true of the Reign of God,” Jesus said to his followers, “because of all that is going on around you, all that you have seen, experienced, been a part of…  because of these things you know that the Reign of God is near.”

And that’s where we stand as well.  Because of all that we have seen, experienced, and been a part of, because of our faith, we know that the Reign of God is not only near, but that it’s already here. And the one constant throughout all these seasons of change is the love of God. A love that leads us, as the Apostle Paul would say, “into a peace that surpasses all understanding.”

So, my dear Friends, no matter where you are on the road of life, no matter what season of life you may be currently experiencing, remember that growing mature in days and in wisdom is for everyone; we’re all traveling this road together. And there’s a blessing in all this. As we continue down this road we don’t journey alone. We travel down this path, this path that’s embodied by the Reign of God, illuminated by the Light of God and smoothed over by the Love of God. And it’s a path, my friends, that intersects with many other paths, many other journeys, as we all move as one in the direction of a common goal: Peace.  Peace within our souls and Peace to all the ends of the earth.  May the light of God’s love illuminate your path through this life and on into life eternal! Amen.

 

 

 

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