(A sermon I gave on Luke 2:22-40 that might offer some ideas for this Sunday, Dec. 28. Permission is granted to use any part of it – just make sure you use the citations for the non-original parts).
I’m learning that the older I get, the more important it is to carry a pen and paper with me so I can write down what needs to be done. That way I’ll be more likely to get it done, because I’m not trying to ask my brain to remember more than it is already processing. My memory is great, but sometimes it’s takes a little longer to find what I know is in there. Some of you might know what I’m talking about.
I found a poem on the internet that describes it in one way:
Shall I? – Or – Have I?
Just a line to say I’m living
That I’m not among the dead.
Though I’m getting more forgetful
And more mixed up in the head.
For sometimes I can’t remember
When I stand at foot of stair,
If I must go up for something
Or I’ve just come down from there.
And before the frig’, so often
My poor mind is filled with doubt,
Have I just put food away, or
Have I come to take some out?
And there’s times when it is dark out
With my nightcap on my head,
I don’t know if I’m retiring
Or just getting out of bed.
So if it’s my turn to write you
There’s no need of getting sore,
I may think I have written
And don’t want to be a bore.
So, remember…I do love you,
And I wish that you were here;
But now, it is nearly mail time
So I must say: “Goodbye Dear”.
Here I stand beside the mailbox,
With my face so very red,
Instead of mailing you this letter…
I have opened it instead….
Old age is dreaded by almost everyone because it usually means a decline in one’s physical health. As it progresses, one loses the ability or desire to overcome some of those hurdles that are necessary to overcome so they can stay active, socially and mentally. Some people tend to lose their enthusiasm for life. It takes positive input and effort to keep that enthusiasm up.
History shows us that many people made some of their greatest contributions to society after the age of 65. At 69, Hudson Taylor was still opening up new territories in Indochina on the mission field. Galileo made his greatest discovery when he was 73. The Earl of Halsburg was 90 when he began revising a 20-volume set of English law. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is generally thought of as one of the most outstanding justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Holmes sat on the Supreme Court until he was 91. Two years later, President Roosevelt visited him and found him reading Plato. “Why?” FDR asked. Holmes answered, “To improve my mind”. At 93 he was seeking to improve his mind instead of making jokes about it that might lead one day to believing the jokes are true. (What you say is what you get.)
When you look at these people, they continued to see important work to accomplish while they were here. Age didn’t diminish their opinion that they could make the world a better place. Retirement wasn’t an end to their contribution to life. Their work continued to fulfill what God had in store when He formed them in their mother’s womb. God never intends for us to retire from mental or spiritual activity or from bringing good into the world. The Bible says we can “still bring forth fruit in old age.” At a time when one’s wisdom from life experience has reached its peak, too many people decide they’ve done enough work, deciding they have nothing further to contribute. God has a worthwhile ministry for you as long as you are here.
It was Anna, the prophetess from our gospel lesson, that inspired this focus on old age today. Anna, who had married young, lived with her husband only seven years before he died. From that point on, she leaned heavily on her God to care for her. The lesson says she never left the Temple, day or night. Wow. That’s pretty unusual. How does that apply to you and me? I wonder how ‘literal’ we have to be in the way we interpret what the writer wants us to know?
I can imagine Anna was in the physical building of the Temple a lot, but to not leave it day or night makes me think she never let God out of her heart for a minute. Her heart was a permanent – a constant – dwelling place of the Almighty God. She never permitted anything else to take priority in her life. The peace and comfort of God was always with her, day and night, into and through her old age.
Anna reminded me of two other stories in the Bible of elderly people that God had given a special task in their old age. Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 when God asked them to leave their homeland…and then at 100 & 90 yrs., to have and raise another child. That’s asking a lot! And Zechariah and Elizabeth, after her child bearing years were over, were given the opportunity to be parents of John the Baptist in their old age. Sometimes, that still happens today. Some people are asked to be parents in their old age. Many times they are grandparents who are given the opportunity to parent and influence their grandchildren. Imagine what God might have in store – to raise and be the positive influence on a child for whom God has an incredible plan. God always brings good out of the things He asks us to do.
All this is simply to say, “God wants to use you, no matter how old or how young you are.” And God is able to use you, no matter how weak or small you think you are. For St. Paul said, ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.’ And he said, ‘whenever I am weak, I am strong.’ It’s when we recognize that we have no power of our own, it’s then that we recognize God is the one who multiplies bread to feed 5000, who calms the storms of life, who heals the sick, who comforts the hearts of those who grieve. We don’t have to have any strength to be God’s tool. It’s God who does the work.
You are never too young for God to use you. You are never too old for God to send you to help your neighbor, or welcome the stranger, or visit the sick. You only have to be willing to receive the gift of meaning and purpose for your life. Set a resolution or two for 2009 that you will pay attention to where God might want to use you to serve this year. Pray that God will teach you the blessing it is
to give of your time and talents and possessions in service to Him as you serve your neighbor. Let us give thanks to God for each day we are physically able to get up – and be of service to our neighbor.
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 Bits and Pieces, December 13, 1990.
 Adapted from Our Daily Bread.