International Year of Older Persons
Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Leviticus 19:32 You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
Matthew 18:1-6 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Mat 19:16-26 Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."
He said to him, "Which ones?"
And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?"
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."
[Direct Biblical quotations in this site are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]
I asked these questions of my congregation.
Who are the greatest users of home computers? [People were surprised to hear of a recent Microsoft survey which identified the over 60's.]
Who tend to be the most faithful and generous givers in parishes? Some people knew that in Australia it tends to be the Pensioners (and clergy)
In parishes who often are the hardest workers? Yes, we knew that it is the oldies!
Who are the hardest ones to get to accept change in a parish? Old people are often much more relaxed about life and change. The conservative people are the 30 - 50 year olds.
This doesn't quite fit our western society's prejudices does it? Are old people stuffy, stodgy, slow, silly, always sick?
My dad is 78, and gets more radical as he gets older!
In fact, older people play an extremely important role in passing on the enduring values in society, setting these into context and being a practical model of living those values. Everywhere I have lived, the older people have been hugely significant in keeping the place going!
And by contrast, some of the silliest, stuffiest stodgiest, narrow minded people I've known are young people in their teens and twenties and thirties.
Really, the only thing different about older people is that they are, well... older!
The other day I was walking through an office where I do some computer work. Three people were having an animated discussion... in fact, an intense discussion, around a computer. The program was Publisher 97, the page was complex, and they were deep in discussion about layout details for their journal.
They were not young male whiz kids, or the glamorous young female executives I see in another office. They were three old ladies... and I mean grey hair, lots of wrinkles and beginning to be frail, type old.
The fact this story has a little surprise at the end tells us how strong prejudice toward older people is -- as any older person can tell us.
This year is The International Year of Older persons... and this Sunday is Social justice Sunday. It follows the theme of the year, which is hardly surprising for justice and equity and respect for older people is a profoundly Christian issue.
As Christians, how do we relate to people older than ourselves? And how should we think of ourselves if we are old?
It tells us in the Ten Commandments: Honour your mother and father. It says in another place: You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God. Clearly, the bible sees older people are deserving of respect and honour.
But it is not simply because a person is old that we respect them. It is because they too are a person.
The least of people are valued in God's scheme of things: children and widows were the least in the society of biblical times... to care for orphans and widows was one of the marks by which the prophets judged the kingdom's adherence to God's law.
In the last few weeks the readings from Matthew have focused on the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not pie in the sky when we die, but has already come near to us. It is something we can already smell in the air sometimes.
The marks of the kingdom we have read and heard in the last weeks include things like:
honour and respect and care for all people, even the least... remember the readings about children and the story of the one lost sheep in the hundred.
The kingdom, God's way of doing things, requires a commitment to reconciliation, and to forgiveness. We saw that in the story of the unforgiving servant, and Jesus' other words about the need for reconciliation.
A kingdom life is keenly aware of the great danger of material things becoming idols that blind us to the presence of God, and keep us out of the kingdom.
he kingdom is about justice and a fair go for all. We see that in the story of the labourers in the vineyard.
These stories are not idle rules God made up for something to do, or to keep us busy. They are about principles and ways of living that make for a safe and wholesome society. They are about ways of living that heal us, and bring us closer to God, and make life richer and happier.
Respecting older people, or any people, is part of building a society which will respect us when we are old.
It also changes us inside and makes us more whole. It makes us more Christ like.
Older people who respect themselves and reject the prejudices of society strike a blow for their own freedom and happiness, and for the freedom and happiness of others.
Look at really old people you admire... often they have had terrible things happen throughout their lives, yet have a dignity and peace and power about them which is inspiring... and leaves me envious.
There is good news in the gospel. It's about life... life lived now in the beginning, or one the edges of the kingdom of heaven. We can begin any time: that is the gift we call grace. The richness of Christian Life is not about what we have done, but about where we are looking and going. It's not about whether we have done the right thing for the last 30 years. It's about whether we want to begin going God's way, and to begin reaping the benefits.
I remember a rubbish dump. It always struck me as a travesty of goodness to have put all that rubbish in such a beautiful place. Life is like a rubbish dump. We can stand and look at all the rubbish and be focused on that, and overwhelmed by it. Or we can look at the spectacular hills behind the dump. We are still standing amidst all the rubbish of life, but we are facing in a different direction. We see a different view of the world. And the rubbish of life loses its power.
This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whether we are old, or young, whether we have been good or bad, rich or poor we can turn around and live life as Jesus has directed us. And it will set us free. We are never too old... or too young.
One of the communion liturgies from Iona ends with these words:
No longer is what we have been important. It is what, with you, we can be, starting now.
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