Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mature and Marvellous: Abraham and Sarah examples of faith in their senior years... (Hebrews 11:11-12, 17-19 and 12:1-3)

On Sunday October 4th we had a special service to celebrate seniors in our community... October 1st is the International day of the Older person... and it's strange how it seems to be more significant to me as each year passes... here is the message looking at Sarah and abraham as people who by faith expected new things from God and faced their greatst challanges in their later years.  

I’m only in my early fifties, but there are times when you notice you are slowly transitioning into a new life stage…Beards are back in fashion, you may have noticed it…I’ve had one nearly all my adult life even when they were not fashionable… I only shaved it off twice since leaving school both times to raise money for charity. 

But I had one of those life stage change moments when I saw this wonderful image of a t-shirt which measures the length of your beard and  identifies its length with different looks … sea captain, hillbilly, hippy, Professorial, lumberjack,  , kung fu master, right down to  Godly… But I realised that at a certain age a certain amount of grey and you cross a line and it simply becomes a matter of can you play Santa with some assistance, can play Santa, without any assistance, you probably are Santa and beyond that it just Gandalf or Dumbledore. And while that transmission takes a bit of getting used to the bible as we’ve seen this morning honours and acknowledges the importance of getting older, of becoming mature and marvellous. 

Our Bible reading this morning was from the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. The author had given a definition of the word faith and then gives a list of the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament, and finishes by exhorting his readers and us to run the race before us, with our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. If you look through the list they are people from all different life stages. The two that we chose to focus on are Sarah and Abraham, the father and mother of the people of Israel. If you read through their stories in Genesis you see that they had a life time living by faith trusting God to keep his promises to them of relationship, land, offspring, blessing and being a blessing to the nations. But the two instances mentioned in our reading this morning come from the later part of their lives. I think they speak to us today as we celebrate seniors, and acknowledge the mature and marvellous. Because for Sarah and Abraham it was in their later years they expected and received new things from God and also faced their greatest challenges. 

Now I’m not sure if many of you women here today would want to be expecting in the way Sarah was in her later years. She was way past child bearing age but God allowed her to have a son, Isaac. Isaac means laughter and comes from Sarah laughing at God saying she would have children because of her and her husband’s advanced age… Although with modern medical break-throughs we are seeing women have children in their sixties and even seventies. The world oldest women to become a mother is Rabo Devi Lohan at 74… Also because of the pressure on relationships and the need for two incomes for families to make ends meet in our increasingly expensive society, the number of grandparents taking on more if not total responsibility for the care of their grandchildren is on the rise.  But I think the encouragement and inspiration from this passage is being open to new things from God even in our later years.

On the screen behind me is the cover of Talking Heads album ‘little creatures’. It won the 1985 Rolling Stones magazine album cover of the year. It was painted by Howard Finster… who was responsible for introducing millions to outsider or na├»ve art. Finster was a Baptist minister and didn’t start painting till after he retired. He kept on painting into his nineties. In fact it was in his nineties that he became the most shown living American artist. He saw his painting as an extension of his lifelong passion of sharing the bible with people. He used to say that this album cover got more bible verses into more homes that any of the 4,625 sermons he preached. 

We often forget about the age of some of history’s most famous people… Michelangelo was appointed chief architect of the  St Peter’s in Rome at seventy one and continued till his death at eighty nine. Claude Monet painted the last of his famous water lilly paintings shortly before his death at eighty six… I wonder of that impressionist style wasn’t simply that he forgot his glasses that day? Frank Loyd wright designed his famous waterfall house at sixty nine and the fabulous Guggehiem Art museum at seventy six. He did his most productive work between age eighty and his death at ninety three. Colonel Sanders and Ferdinand Zeppelin didn’t start doing what made them famous until after their late fifties. I once heard a Chinese Christian leader talk about the spread of the gospel in the hard days of communist China and he said one of the reasons that the Christian faith grew in china was because of people like a little old lady in his congregation in Hong King who was was house bound. She lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building and had to rely on others to bring her groceries, but she spent much of her day knelling and praying for home country.

We had a retirement seminar here recently and we had Marianne Hornberg, the chaplain at Selwyn village over in Pt Chev take a session and she talked of one of the big questions for people as they grow older was what kind of legacy were they going to leave. Author Leonard Sweet sums up the three stages of life for him revolving round the questions “where did you go to school?” what do you do for a living?’ and for the third age “what difference are you making for God?” In the Christian faith retirement is going home to glory, but finishing up paid employed is just a chance not to retire but to be retreaded, and allow God to show us new things in and for life. 

 The second thing is that for Abraham and Sarah they faced their biggest challenges in life as well in their older age. There is the perplexing story of Abraham being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, until God steps in and provides a lamb instead: A metaphor that Christians readily see pointing us to Jesus death on the cross. Scholars and people of faith have wrestled with this story for over two millennia. Abraham is seen as a hero of the faith for his willingness to obey what he felt God was saying, that he passed this test of faith where as others wonder if it wasn’t a test of obedience but rather of relationship and Abraham even after following and trusting God all his life failed to know what God was really like. Either way God actually came through in the end.

Our senior years are often when we face the biggest challenges of life. We could mention the obvious, Illness bereavement, coping with losing independence and having to rely on others. In our western society the car is such a symbol of freedom, it’s a right of passage getting your first car… right. Mine was a 1967 Triumph 2000… it was a real lemon but freedom… and I Remember my mum being aware that she was going to have to make some hard life style choices when at eighty four she was going to have to give up driving. These days’ people also struggle with having to work longer because of increased costs.  With longer life spans we have people retiring who are juggling looking after aged parents and the demands of stressed children and the needs of grandchildren. But more than that there are challenges of issues like identity, loneliness,   a rapidly changing world ( my kids laugh when I tell them we did computing at school using punch cards, and had a party line our phone number was Titirangi 5569M and had to go through the exchange to make a call from out west into the city). Significance, grief… I don’t want to bring people down, but it is when we are older that we can face those life challenges.

Abraham’s story both leaves open the fact that we can both succeed and fail in facing those challenges but also that as well as expecting new things from God; we can also seek and trust God in the mist of those challenges. Maybe the biggest ones come as we mature because we will find the wisdom to face them and he wisdom to know we can turn to God in them. 

 Now the world record for the 100 metres by someone over 100 was set by Japan’s Hidekichi Miyazaki when he at 103 does anyone know the time… 34.10 seconds…  he broke his own record for being the oldest competitive 100 meters runner  at the age of 95... Sadly he didn't run a personal best. Miyazaki has challanged Hussain Bolt to a race... I hope Hussain does not leae it too pong to accept the challenge.

The last thing today is an encouragement for running life's race. Abraham and Sarah are held up to us in the scripture as heroes of the faith. They are examples of people who lived their whole lives trusting God, even if they didn’t see in the end the fruition of what they dreamed of. Again at our retirement seminar Marianne Hornburg talked of many people in their senior years having time to think back through life and for many of them it was a time when they re-evaluated where faith stood in their lives. They took the time to seek and find what was important and endured. While Ex YFC director and TV and radio presenter Ian Grant says, "that most New Zealanders today have forgotten what church their grandparents were staying away from," many people of retirement age they have an enduring memory of church or Sunday school. The hymns we sing today may bring back memories. My mentor Jim Wallace says he often finds people who remember how much church and faith was a part of their lives when they were young. For many it’s a pleasant memory they simply found got pushed to the side in the demands of adult life, for others it was a conscious decision to walk away and others they experienced something negative, for many of you here it has been at the core of your lives every day . The sage advice from the writer of the Hebrews to his readers and us was that life’s race was best run with our eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. So this morning I would want to encourage us all young and old to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. For people who are here who are at that stage of re-evaluating where faith fits in to consider looking at Jesus Christ. It’s great being part of a church community where people will help and encourage you in that journey. Maybe for you it is part of those expecting new things in your senior years. Of course you don’t have to leave it till you are mature and marvellous to put your trust in Jesus.
Let’s pray

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