Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Beauty of Aging

Guess what product has become a 1.8 billion dollar industry with over 3 million users?  Ten years ago, you probably had no idea what this was, but now, it has become a household name…BOTOX.

Botox is technically a neurotoxin, a killer of nerve cells, and it is tremendously effective in medical cases where muscles are overactive, such as in the treatment of crossed eyes.  But about a decade ago, dermatologists realized it made wrinkles disappear, and the people of the world, literally, have never looked the same since.

Not too long ago I was with a good friend, and I have to say, she looked beautiful, the best I had seen her look in years.  I asked her what her secret was and she whispered one word, “Botox.”  She was 41 years old.

The Botox boom simply confirms what advertisers and L’Oreal and Rogaine have known for years.  People will pay anything to remain beautiful and youthful.  The quest for eternal youth is all around us.  It’s as though growing old is a bad thing.  Don’t many of us think of aging as a bad thing?

But really, aging is a blessing because it means we are alive.  Do you remember my friend I talked about a few weeks ago?  She is the one who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in her mid-30’s and has fought hard to win the cancer war for a few years now.  Well, she just had a birthday, and this is what she wrote in her online journal:

“Thirty-seven, this is heaven.  I am so happy to be growing older.  When a doctor tells you with a sad face that you have a few months to live, each passing birthday is an event to cherish.  I don’t take the fact that I am getting older for granted because there are too many that don’t get this opportunity.” -Dayna Brown

I’m pretty sure prior to reading this journal entry, I was bemoaning the fact that I am getting older.  As you’ve probably experienced, it’s now harder to lose weight than it used to be.  Our skin is getting wrinkles and age spots appear where they had never been before.  And chances are, you have also had the doctor inform you that your blood pressure is high or your cholesterol is high or your triglycerides are high…or all three!  Aging does have its downfalls, but the fact remains, we are all so blessed, so lucky, so fortunate to even be alive, and we take this fact for granted every single day.

There is a great beauty to aging.  If we have lived well, we are now stronger than we were before, we are more loving than we were before, we are more understanding than we were before.  And so, the real beauty of aging is growing in wisdom.

Proverbs 19: 20 says,” Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.” 

What happens in our lives is how God gives us advice and instruction.  The day to day routine, the big events that occur, these are the moments that teach us and bless us with wisdom if we let them.  These are the moments that make us who we are. 

Now I know some of you may be thinking, what does she know about the beauty of aging?  She’s too young.  And I admit, I am by no means a wisdom guru, but I have learned some lessons in the last 35 years.  Today, I would like to share a few with you using Scripture as our guide. (I will quote ten verses from the Bible.  See if you can hear them all.)

We come into this world as babies, helpless and innocent, and God calls to us right then and there saying, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10).  From our birth, we must learn to be still so that we can dwell in the Lord’s presence and learn to trust in God’s mercy and grace.  We must learn to be still so that we can listen for the voice of God and hopefully to follow God’s instruction.

But as you know, life will shake us to the core quickly and destroy our once perfect trust.  We get hit.  We get knocked down.  We get sick.  We fall down.  We get laughed at.  We get put down.  It isn’t long before we start to experience the fear and anxiety of living in this sometimes cruel world.  There is so much to lose.  There is so much pain that is possible.  And that’s when the Holy Spirit whispers in your ear, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Matthew 6: 28-29).  The lilies of the field do nothing but be themselves, and still they are radiant.  They’re not toiling, they’re not spinning, they’re not stressing.  They are just living naturally as God made them, and so they are told, “Do not worry about your life” for God will take care of you.  We are told, “Do not worry about your life” for God will take care of us as well.

Good times will come.  Good times will go.  Bad times will come.  Bad times will go.  And through it all we will become wiser and stronger because “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1).  Everything we go through teaches us something.  Your struggles are not in vain.  Suffering is not the end of the story.  God takes the strands of our pain and weaves them together to create a beautiful fabric.  Or as Paul says in Romans, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8: 28).  God uses the dirt and the brokenness for good, to bring healing and newness of life.

In the opening chapter of the book of Job, Jobs loses his possessions, his wealth and his children.  Imagine his torment.  Imagine losing what is most important to you.  And so Job makes a declaration about life.  He proclaims, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord”  (Job 1: 21).  Job learned the lesson that we all must learn at some time or another in our lives…that nothing lasts forever.  And that holding on just makes the pain worse.  When the Lord chooses to take away, wisdom calls us to let go.  But rather than turn his back on God after the calamities, Job praises God.  In good times and in bad, blessed be the name of the Lord.  Can we proclaim in good times and in bad, when the Lord gives and when the Lord takes away, can we proclaim, blessed be the name of the Lord?  If we can, we are wise.

There is a plan through all of the ups and the down, you see.  “For surely I know the plans I have for you , says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29: 11).  Now, life is a mystery, and it can only be understood in hindsight, but the promise of God is that he does have a plan for our lives, a wonderful plan with a hope-filled future.  Even when we are lost and drifting, we need not despair because the Lord has us in the palm of his hand and has written our days for us in the book of life.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Abundant life means a full life.  It doesn’t mean an easy life or a life without hardship.  It means a life filled with the things that life is supposed to be filled with.   A life with family and friends and all that goes with it.  A life of work and all that requires.  A life of purpose and all that both offers and demands.  When Christ offers us abundant life, he is offering us the full spectrum of human existence, everything from laughing and loving to crying and losing.  But here’s the thing.  It’s all okay.  It’s all okay because we are not alone.

Christ’s parting words to the disciples in the gospel of Matthew are: “And be assured, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20).  These words have given me great comfort in my most trying times because there is nothing worse than struggling alone.  When we fight the good fight with Christ at our side, we cannot lose.  For “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8: 35, 37).

You see, my friends, Scripture really comes alive, that’s why we call it the living Word, as we go through experiences, as we live we really do learn.  We develop and mature as spiritual beings.

The beauty of aging is growing in wisdom.  It’s experiencing life on a whole new level: taking it in, learning from it, and then making peace with it in your heart, that’s the goal, that’s the hope.  I believe you are already wise because I know you have been through so much in your life, but the depths of wisdom can never be reached.  There is always further for us to go.

The invitation this morning is to appreciate living and enjoy growing older.  The invitation this morning is to know that you are wise for wisdom comes from God and life is our greatest teacher.

My final words to you on this day:  the beauty of aging is wisdom.  It is a beauty that never fades away.  We have so much life to live.  Enjoy it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Brief Communion Liturgy

Minister:           The Lord be with you.
People:            And also with you.
Minister:           Lift up your hearts.
People:            We lift them up to the Lord.
Minister:           Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People:            It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Minister:           It is right, and we love to do it, God of mercy and grace.  You are so wonderful for you have given us everything we need to live a blessed life.  You have given us sunshine and rain, water and food, shelter and care from family and friends. 
People:            We bless your name, O Lord.   
Minister:           Shine your light upon us today as we come into your presence through the bread and the wine.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we might grow in our faith, be healed of our sickness and made whole and holy in your sight.
People:            Jesus, you are the light of the world, our rock and our salvation.
Minister:           Holy One, pour out your Holy Spirit on us.  How we need your love and compassion.  Fill us with that same Spirit that we may be your love and compassion in this world and for your people.  All honor and glory is yours, Almighty God, now and forever.

People.            Amen.  
Prayer of the Day:

Holy One, our lives are pure wonder, and we await with joy the unfolding of our futures.  Assure us of your presence once again that we may trust the mystery of life and growth.  Amen.