“Facing Aging and Dying”
Genesis 25:7-11; Titus 2:1-6, 11-14
Rev. Sandy Johnson
April 3, 2016
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This morning we embark on a four week series about our pilgrimage into the last third of life. Some of us here today are smack dab in the middle of that last third, some of us are approaching at lightning speed, and some have many years to go before thinking seriously about this part of their lives. It seems to me that we spend a lot of time learning about our younger years and these later years seem to sneak up on us and we typically either endure them, embrace them, ignore them or flat out reject them. But you all know “De Nile” is a river in Egypt. There are many issues specific to our later years that I hope to preach about in the coming weeks and my prayer is that we will work together to embrace rather than endure; to experience joy together rather than ignoring these last years of our lives.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
“A couple in their nineties are both having problems remembering things. During a checkup, the doctor tells them that they’re physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember. Later that night, while watching TV, the old man gets up from his chair. ‘Want anything while I’m in the kitchen?’ he asks. ‘Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it?’ she asks. ‘No, I can remember it.’ ‘Well, I’d like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down, so’s not to forget it?’ He says, ‘I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.’ ‘I’d also like whipped cream. I’m certain you’ll forget that, write it down.’ she says. Irritated, he says, ‘I don’t need to write it down, I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream – I got it, for goodness sake!’
Then he toddles into the kitchen. After about 20 minutes, the old man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of bacon and eggs. She stares at the plate for a moment. ‘Where’s my toast?’” Growing older isn’t for sissies! Every day we come upon things that are new or different. Hair isn’t growing where it should be and it is growing in places that we wish it didn’t. I’ll let you figure out which is which! Life is a journey with ups and downs, from the time we were born until the time we die.
Many have described life as a journey, using the concept of a journey as a metaphor for the passing of our years. A journey describes movement, going from one place to another: “a march, a ride, a drive; an excursion, or expedition.” Although this is an apt description of what we are doing, we are in fact on a journey from birth to death. But from a spiritual perspective I would like to propose that we are rather on a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is described as “a journey or search for great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith…A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim.” Jenn, Chey and I are taking a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands a week from Monday and we certainly will be pilgrims. More than the term journey, the words pilgrim and pilgrimage imply a life of meaningful intent and spiritual intensity, a far more vital way of looking at the experience of the Last Third of life.”
We are all on a pilgrimage to God. The progression of years can be ignored and made to be a random series of events leading us toward the end, or we can become quite intentional about our own pilgrimage and enrich ourselves along the way. This pilgrimage should be a “purposeful, sacred search for our Beloved. When viewed in that light, whatever and whomever we encounter each moment of every day, becomes an encounter with the holy, an event that can transform us, a signpost that points the way, leading us to our ultimate leave, into God’s embrace at our death. So, in the Last Third, death becomes our sacred destination, not a place to be feared.”
Our scripture from Genesis tells of Abraham’s death, surrounded by loved ones. Abraham had lived an incredibly long life, 175 years. He was respected and give a proper burial by his children, next to his wife Sarah. Isn’t this how we all wish to see our own lives end? Peacefully, at home, surrounded by people we love.
A dear friend of mine lost his battle with cancer a few weeks ago. He was surrounded by his daughters and his sister. As difficult as it was for them to say good bye and let him go, there was someone waiting for him. In that moment of death I envision a handing off from this world to the next. As he breathed his last breath, he was able to let go of his family here and reach out and took his son into his arms. His son had died when he was a small child and at the moment of Steve’s death, they were reunited.
1 Corinthians 15:50-55 reinforces this. Paul says,
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
Today we live for Christ and in eternity we live with Christ. Not only with Christ but with our loved ones and those who have predeceased us.
Before we get to the last days, we have to successfully navigate this last third of our lives. Before we meet Jesus, we have to realign our way of life as everything changes. When we enter our 60’s or 70’s many take advantage of the opportunity to retire. Giving up the identities of our younger selves, we must then recreate and rediscover our purpose. Those who worked for 40 or more years in the field of their choice may find retirement a frustrating place as they are forced to reinvent themselves. Who am I if I am not the Vice President of ABC Corporation? Am I still a nurse, a teacher, an accountant? What is my identity now that my paid work life is finished? How has my usefulness changed? Is it fair to say that as I produce more gray hair others will recognize the great wisdom they represent?
Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Raise your hand if you’re a righteous man or woman with a crown of glory! Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” Perhaps that is because their bodies aren’t what they used to be?
“One day, a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes at the kitchen sink. She suddenly noticed that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast to her brunette hair.
The little girl looked at her mother and inquisitively asked, “Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?”
Her mother replied, “Well, every time you do something wrong and make me cry or unhappy, one of my hairs turns white.”
The little girl thought about this revelation for a while and then asked, “Momma, how come all of grandma’s hairs are white?”
Years ago I was at a training lead by Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. She was well into her 80’s when she was teaching our new directors class. She said that she wasn’t as young as she used to be and in fact she was thinking more and more about the “hereafter.” She said, “You know when I walk into the room I keep wondering, “what am I here after?!”
Our Titus scripture today tells us how we are to behave in our last third of life. It says the older men should be “temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.” Older women should be “reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink;”
It is interesting that the men are told to be serious and the women are told to stop drinking and gossiping! Both are told to be people of faith, and to demonstrate love to their families. What Paul doesn’t share with Titus is the need to keep a sense of humor. Sisters and brothers if we can’t laugh at ourselves as we age, we are in serious trouble.
As we embrace the pilgrimage we are on, this intentional movement toward God, there are several things we can understand. First we can “chose to realize that we no longer have to maintain the illusion that we are young.” Name it and claim it baby, that’s what I say! Be proud of your age. Next we can “acknowledge the limited nature of time; every moment brings us an opportunity to experience God more fully. As we grow older we can choose to believe that we are not only aging but we are following a divine call to advance – to go forward from the known and the comfortable into the unknown and often uncomfortable, and painful. We can choose not to retire from life but to re-fire into new life. We can choose to interpret all the physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual changes as new territory to traverse in our advancement. We may choose to see this aging process as our final pilgrimage – the one that will ultimately lead us to our Beloved, our source, our God. Finally we willingly and eagerly invite others to come with us and to help them along, just as we allow them to help us reach our sacred destination of heaven.”
2 Corinthians 4:16 says that we are not to lose heart. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” We must not short change ourselves. We must continue to seek God, every day of our life, asking him the question, “Where can I be a blessing today?”
A disciple once asked a Holy One, “Is there life after death?” The Holy One answered, “The great spiritual question is not ‘Is there life after death’ but ‘Is there life before death?’” Life and death form one process.” Paul said it well, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Sisters and brothers, let us go on this sacred pilgrimage together, supporting and encouraging one another to seek the meaning that life has to offer in our later years. I can’t promise it will be easy, in fact, I know it won’t be easy, but I do know that we do not travel the road alone. God is with us, every step; guiding and leading, making sure we are prepared for what is to come.
Let us pray, Gracious God, guide us in the last third of our lives. Give us the courage to bravely traverse the new territory of failing minds and bodies. Help us to keep a sense of humor in the midst of the challenges. Help us to keep focused on the ultimate destination, eternity with You in heaven. Amen.
 Thibault, Jane Marie & Richard L. Morgan. Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life. 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth. Upper Room Books, Nashville. 2012. Page14
 Ibid, 15
 Titus 2:2
 Titus 2:3
 Thibault, Jane Marie & Richard L. Morgan. Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life. 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth. Upper Room Books, Nashville. 2012. Page 15
 Ibid, 15-16
 Ibid, 30