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Aug 05, 2018

#9 Not Just Growing Old

Passage: Ecclesiastes 12:1-8

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: When You Need More Than a Band-Aid

Category: Not By Chance But By His Fatherly Hand

Keywords: aged, aging, belonging, creator, death, dying, ecclesiastes, elderly, gratitude, identity, purpose

Summary:

When You Need More Than a Band-Aid: All Things Come to Us Not By Chance But By Our Father’s Hand, Part 9 – Aging, Death and Dying is Not Just About Growing Old. Rev Dr Jacobs writes: There is a 100 percent death rate in our world. And yet, there is silence on the issues that surround people as they near death. We need to accept ourselves as unique human beings who have fears and concerns about living and about dying. And we need to begin to have conversations about our mortality while we are still healthy. Ecclesiastes 12 will help us. The word of God speaks the truth to us revealing all our fears and anxious thoughts about facing our mortality. The good news is that Jesus has already faced it perfectly and completely for us. Jesus didn’t embrace death, he faced it as an enemy and conquered it. So how do we live in thankfulness for this good news? That’ll be our theme for this service. It’s an important message not only for those of us who are struggling with the limitations of aging and all the fears that go with it, but also for caregivers, family members, friends and our church community.

Detail:

The preacher here in Ecclesiastes 12 says,

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. So if you’re listening this morning

it must be that you’re still young!

Good thing, right, because

these words from Ecclesiastes 12

don’t present us with

a flattering picture of aging, do they?

It seems as if when we’re young

we can hardly wait to be older,

but once we are we dread what lies ahead.

The preacher sketches old age

with word pictures that highlight loss

and fear and things breaking

and wearing out.

There is physical loss:

a loss of muscle strength and balance

and seeing and hearing:

‘the sun and the light

    and the moon and the stars grow dark.’

There is community loss:

friends and family pass away:

4 when the doors to the street are closed

    and the sound of grinding fades;

Then people go to their eternal home

    and mourners go about the streets.

There is a loss of safety and security -

3 when the keepers of the house tremble,

5 when people are afraid of heights

    and of dangers in the streets;

There is a loss of heart and joy as well:

‘when people rise up at the sound of birds,

    but all their songs grow faint’

‘desire is no longer stirred,’

‘and the years approach when you will say

I find no pleasure in them.’

 

And we’re meant to understand

that all this is a picture of our mortality.

Unless we are alive when Jesus returns

we will all face dying and death.

 

I know some age gracefully

and for some the last years are golden,

but not for all.

Dr Mary Pipher alerts us

to some of the struggles of aging:

Letter writers can’t write anymore.

Handwriting becomes shaky and illegible.

Avid readers can’t see well enough

to read or focus their minds long enough.

Hikers can’t hike; climbers can’t climb.

People no longer have the space or ability

to garden, cook, or dance.

They stop going to movies or concerts

because of low lighting,

hearing issues and unsure footing.

People stop getting their own groceries

or going to church.

It’s difficult to open packages and pill bottles,

and how come ‘I can’t get the TV to work again!’

All this to go along with loss of memory,

or having bathroom concerns become

the most important concern of the day.

Illness takes over conversation.

 

Late in life WH Auden introduced his lectures

by saying,

If there are any of you in the back

who can’t hear me

I know you won’t raise your hands,

but that’s okay because I can’t see you anyway.

 

But if all this makes you wish

you were young again

think about having to learn new math.

 

The scripture passages remind us

that tho death comes for us all

this is not our destiny.

We are made for something more.

We are made for Christ Jesus.

We give glory to the Lord

even as we age,

even when faced with the struggles

of aging, death, and dying.

 

Death is not just an enemy.

It is a conquered enemy

in the power of the cross of Jesus,

who by it conquered death,

took away your sin,

and broke open the grave.

The one day we know Jesus cried

was at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.

Then the next thing he did was to raise him

from the dead.

That is our hope,

our faith and joy,

we believe in the resurrection of the dead

and eternal life.

 

So these Bible passages bring wisdom

helping us look beyond

our physical limitations and struggles of aging

and respond in faith.

‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth’

counsels Ecclesiastes 12.

 

The main concern here when it comes to

aging, dying and death is not physical,

as troubling as that is.

Nor is the concern one’s heart and mind,

tho our passions

and our ability to reason and think

may be lost.

The main concern is your soul:

your life lived in relationship to the Lord God.

And the main reason for remembering

is that in God alone is hope, joy, and peace.

 

The body will fail.

We all have a shelf life.

Time is fleeting.

But God alone is the Lord of life

and death and resurrection.

So that not only our living,

but even our dying,

belongs in the love of Christ,

and whether we live or die,

we belong to the Lord,

as Romans 14 promises.

 

Our response to the inevitable,

to our human condition,

our wholeness is found in that word:

Remember:

remember your Creator.

 

This is how we are to live now

because none of us knows our calendar.

Remember your Creator.

That phrase doesn’t mean

just remembering in our minds

that there is a Creator God.

It has to do with cultivating and nourishing

a living faith relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

It is about living in the assurance of

God’s saving grace

and redeeming purposes.

It is a reminder that God is sovereign

over life and death,

time and eternity,

so that all things, even your created being,

even the hardships of aging, death and dying

are provided for in our Father’s providential,

caring hands.

 

We can’t speak to each situation or sorrow

about aging,

but the wisdom and grace of the Lord

speaks here to four challenges of aging:

identity, belonging, purpose, and gratitude.

Facing these in faith will guide us both

as we age and as we care for the elderly.

With each one I will say a few words

to the aged,

and then a few words to those who love the aged,

which should be each of us,

for we each and all have grandparents

or great grandparents,

or aging parents,

or spiritual parents and grand parents here in church

or we have those aging in our community.

And the way for us to remember

our Creator in our youth

is to learn to love the elderly

with the love of Christ.

 

Identity –

if you are aging:

Remember your Creator,

means that your identity

is not based on the calendar

or human strength and vitality

or usefulness as humans measure usefulness

but on God’s grace.

 

You are a child of God.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Created in God’s image.

Redeemed in faith as a brother or sister in Christ.

No one and nothing

can take that away from you.

 

So your challenge is to exercise faith

now that the former signposts and boundaries

of your identity have moved and transformed.

For instance,

after you retire and you don’t go to work everyday,

you still are God’s workmanship

created in Christ Jesus to love and serve

and worship the Lord.

Or as a widow, you are still loved.

Or when the kids are out of the house,

you are a blessing to others yet.

Perhaps you are sick

or limited by your age.

You still are called to be a witness

and a person of prayer.

 

If you are caring for those who are aging:

remember your Creator means

that the elderly among us

are valued and still bear the image of God.

The elderly are not a problem to be solved,

but persons to love.

One struggle today is that altho

medicine has prolonged life and brought health

it has also prolonged the life of the unhealthy,

and we have not caught up with

the questions about about care,

living arrangements, suffering –

and we have not invested enough

into answering those questions.

Here’s something to remember –

everything we do to help the elderly now

will help us all later on.

The kindness and wisdom we learn to give,

or our indifference, ignorance, and judgment,

will be passed on.

The more we love and respect elders

the more our children will

love and respect their elders.

The more we think thru problems today,

the more structure and resources

will be in place to handle

the next generation’s needs.

Belonging –

if you are aging:

Romans 14 reminds us whether we live or die

we belong to the Lord.

Your challenge is that many of

your former blessings of belonging

are now being lost.

Kids move away.

Friends and family pass away.

Church and worship changes.

Maybe you move out of your neighborhood.

But because you belong to the Lord

you can exercise grace

and extend that belonging

in your new season and circumstance.

Instead of mourning loneliness

be a friend to those around you.

Be a person of prayer for your church family.

Take joy in the service and presence

of younger generations

and learn from their perspective.

 

If you are caring for those who are aging:

from synod 2000 - The gift of life

can indeed become a burden.

Our most appropriate response to suffering

is compassion,

reaching out in love to individuals in a time of need.

Motivated by God’s own compassion

for hurting people,

we must not allow those who suffer

to bear the burden alone. 

We must take seriously our unity

in the body of Christ.

Dr. Hessel Bouma III -

“Ask people where they would prefer to die,

and 80 percent indicate

they would prefer to die at home,

surrounded by family and friends.

Ask these same people

whether they'd be willing

to care for someone who is dying

in his or her home,

and a similar majority responds, No.

What we desire for ourselves,

we're reluctant to offer to others.”

Illness is isolating, and the sense of isolation

is heightened for those who suffer chronic

and terminal illness in

institutional settings away from home.

But often it is just not possible

to take care of our aged or dying loved ones at home.

When hospitals and assisted living facilities

are the only choice,

it is even more important

that we include the sick and dying in our lives.

When we visit, whether as

hospital chaplains, pastors,

relatives, and fellow believers

we help link the dying person

to the body of believers and to God.

If we say that life is so precious

that we may not end it,

we must give every life a valid—

and valued—place in the community.

 

Purpose –

if you are aging:

You are always a witness.

And as you age

you are often a pioneer in your family.

Your kids and grandkids

are watching you to learn

how to live and how to die.

You navigate thru your desire

not to be a burden,

so ask those caring for you

whether your expectations are realistic.

 

Walter Wangerin recalls

learning from his grandpa

at ten years old what to do

when someone is dying.

He was scared to visit grandpa in the hospital

until grandpa held out his hand and shook it,

once, twice, looking him in the eye.

So when he passed,

and his mother got the phone call,

Walter, tho only ten,

could walk up to his crying mother,

and offer his hand.

This is what we do when someone is dying,

we shake hands,

once, twice,

and then this hard thing

is not so hard anymore.

Walter was blessed by his grandpa.

 

Doctor Jacobs:

I believe that the greatest gift

we can give to our loved ones

is letting them know what our wishes are

as to how we want our bodies treated

as we near the end of our life.

Each person’s wishes are unique,

so we need to tell those who love and care about us

what our wishes are while we are still healthy.

Conversations need to happen

before we are wheeled into the ER,

when it is too late to have “those” conversations.

 

If you are caring for those who are aging:

Help your loved ones leave a legacy:

Kids, you may not wonder about it now,

so let me help your imagination:

Is there an important question

you’d like to ask grandpa or grandma?

Yes there is.

Maybe you can’t think of it right now,

 but I know your mom or dad

have questions they wish

they could have asked their grandparents

but never thought to do so.

So what might your question be?

Can you imagine what you would like to ask?

Then go ask!

Help the elderly leave a legacy:

are there words to preserve,

people to bring by for a visit,

a testimony to write down or record

for later generations?

Encourage questions about doubt, regret,

even envy.

Know that as the elderly give up control

over how they live,

any control over their lives you can maintain

is a blessing.

The goal is for the younger generation

to help without feeling trapped and overwhelmed.

And for the aged to accept help while

preserving dignity and control without demand.

 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

in order to navigate thru legal questions,

medical questions,

housing questions and the like.

In our country today

being old costs a lot of money

and old people don’t make money.

Do we just accept this?

Are we thinking about this?

Does it have to be this way?

 

Remember our aged need as much control

and connection as possible:

and that will be different

for different people and different times.

It’s important that they continue when possible

to attend their church,

see their friends, peers, family,

visit their favorite stores, parks, restaurants,

have their own piece of furniture,

pictures, books.

And as much freedom as possible.

 

Gratitude –

if you are aging:

while we should always be aware of our faults

we should be more aware of our defaults.

Some of our habitual reactions to aging are

to feel regret over roads not taken,

or choices in the past and their consequences,

or words said or more,

not said when they should have been said;

to be envious of those who seem to have it better;

or to live with guilt and shame about the past.

It doesn’t take much effort

to spend our last seasons of life

exercising these feelings.

Even tho you have heard your whole

life long that the gospel message

is that we are saved by God’s grace alone

and Christ completely forgives all our sin,

it is common for the aged to judge

they are not good enough for God or heaven.

 

So determine now to exercise gratitude instead.

To count your blessings

and then give thanks to God who gives them.

When there is enjoyment in the day

don’t worry about tomorrow.

Start and end your day in thanksgiving.

Continue to take time in prayer asking forgiveness,

and then gratefully receiving it.

 

If you are caring for those who are aging:

gratitude to the Lord for our salvation

leads us to love our neighbors,

even those who are aged.

Even a hard visit to one

who suffers from dementia

or cannot verbally or physically respond -

even those visits are worthwhile

as gratitude to God for this person

who suffers so.

I have had people in ministry

whom I visited regularly

and who would say each time I saw them,

it’s so good to finally meet the minister.

 

Continue to share in Bible reading and prayer,

remembering our salvation

in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Take time when you can

for a funeral visitation or service.

Let’s keep these community events,

not just family affairs.

 

And show your gratitude to the aged

by reminding them of the blessing

they have been to you.

The aged question their legacy:

how did my life matter?

was my time well spent?

what have I given, and what will last?

What can I look back on with satisfaction?

When we’re grateful for their lives

we will tell them.

 

Dr Mary Pipher reflects:

To learn from the old we must love them,

in the flesh, beside us in homes,

churches, parks, and schools.

We want the generations mixed together

so that the young can give the old joy

and the old can give the young wisdom.

As we get older,

we sense more the importance

of connecting old to young,

family member to family member,

neighbor to neighbor,

and even the living to the dead.

 

And God is with us:

for whether we live or die,

we belong to the Lord,

and all things are made for his glory.