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Psalm 71.17-18 ESV
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. 18 So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.
Our series, “I LOVE YOU. PERIOD.” has taught us the importance of loving without a comma, about how God’s love erases the conditions and provides an unconditional approach to salvation and healing. That love calls us to be family to one another; it calls us to witness the faith to our children; it calls us to be a reflection of holy love through marriages that are being made holy; and today we will talk about loving and caring for those who have loved and cared for us, looking at the importance of loving people through their life, especially in their mature years.
It’s no secret that we all worry about getting old or getting older. Most of our conversation revolves around the anxiety of parts not working the way they should. We worry about our backs, our knees, our hips, our eye sight, our hearing. But what about the general state of things? What about the relationship aspect of getting older?
Yes, there are many things, many advancements, that combat the wear and tear of the physical body. But is there a pill, a treatment, some sort of replacement that will fix the loneliness of the human heart? You see, what we find as being the most distressing part of growing older is the loneliness that comes with age. For many, family and friends have passed away. And when this happens the fear turns into to dread because there is no one to turn to.
Growing up, I was a part of a blessed mission project in my home town called Gainesville Aid Project. We built wheelchair ramps, tarred roofs, did endless yard work, cleaned homes. You name it, we would find a way to do it. But what was emphasized (and still is today) was the importance of putting down the paint brush or turning off the lawnmower in order to spend time with the clients.
The people we were serving weren’t so much in need of the help, that just brought a sense of pride and value back to their homes. What they looked forward to was conversation. They wanted to talk, to be heard, to tell us stories, and each time they did they passed on something priceless to the kids and the adults who were there.
Many of these folks saw two people each month: the mail person and the meals-on-wheels delivery volunteers. The mission kids would stay and talk for a couple of hours. Seeing their elders light up from sharing loving conversation lit up the youth. They would leave from that week looking for ways to continue such a ministry back home. They wanted more. And this is what happens when we spread the joy of the Lord to all those around us, especially those who are neglected.
What worries me most is how today’s Church retires people from their faith when they reach a certain age. Most churches today are geared toward younger and younger crowds. We’ve traded priceless experience and wisdom for market tactics and cultural connections. But what did the early Church do?
We read in Acts 6.1-7 that the apostles ordained a group of people to take over the ministry of caring for the neglected in their midst. They desired to make special provision for those who had no one. This is a direct expression of what God required of the Hebrew people all throughout the Old Testament and its teaching. Provisions were made for all people.
By reaching into the lives of the elderly, we are employing our youth into a sustaining work. Our young people begin to truly understand what it means to care for others. The early Church grew as a result of bearing the burden of others and a large portion of those people were the widows and orphans. I love the verse from the apostle James when he says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
This is how the apostle and brother of Jesus lived out the Old Testament teachings of God, to care for the neglected and to live in contradiction to the world. Look at what the apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 5.8 as he instructed believers in their ministry: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That’s a passage that doesn’t mess around. It’s extremely to the point.
We have a godly responsibility to do what we can as families and when we can’t, it is the Church’s mission to step in and help those truly alone.
This is the kind of culture we are to create as Christians, even if the world doesn’t get on board. This is the kind of culture our church has already created, and you might not know that. Did you know that Pastor Joey Hatchell, along with Pastor Barbara, visit many of our shut-ins and in-residence members all across the county? Did you know we have ministry called “Visiting Friends” who visit them, call them, and write them cards every week? There are tons of people you may have never met who actually long to get a prayer card, a phone call or a newsletter so that they can celebrate with us all that God is doing at the church they call home.
We cannot retire our people from faith. They’re not done yet and their hearts are saying to us, “We’re not done yet!” They have prayers to lift, stories to share, wisdom to impart, experiences in almost every area. Why would we retire such faithfulness? We need to take a hard look in the mirror and see that loving unconditionally means that we reach forward and backward, holding together those who have paved the way and those who are paving the way.
Love your elders. Honor them and their faith. Respect them and their journey. And know that you, too, will be where they are. You will desire that someone would love you, period. Amen.