Aging and All Saints
All Saints Psalm 90:12
Normally, I never
have a sermon title printed in any of the church bulletins, but
after I go home today, I will sit at my computer and type the sermon
that I have just given. In
that computer, I will type a title for the sermon. Today’s computer title is “Aging and All Saints.”
Today is All Saints
Day in the life of our church.
That means, we commemorate those in our parish who have died
this year. Their names
are printed in the bulletin; we will read each name slowly; there
will be a pause; and we all will remember that person and pray for
their memory and family. Also
on All Saints Day, we remember those of our loved ones who have
died: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents,
aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors.
All of have been touched by death this year or years past,
and All Saints is that time when we specifically remember our loved
ones. In some ways, All Saints Day is like the Memorial Day of the
church in which we remember the people sacred in our lives.
There are two Bible
verses that I have selected as the basis for today’s sermon.
The first is from Psalm 90:12, and in which are asked to
“remember that God teaches us to number our days so that God will
give us a heart of wisdom.” That
is what we all want as we grow older:
hearts of wisdom, and we shall learn about hearts of wisdom
today. The second Bible
verse is from James where the author says:
“True religion is this:
to visit the widows in their suffering and to remain
unstained from the world.”
There are three
resources that I used for today’s sermon.
The first is the Bible.
I looked up “aging” in a Bible dictionary and studied the
Bible verses about old age and aging. Secondly, I visited all the shut-ins from our parish.
I am now working as the “visitation pastor” and have been
having a wonderful time visiting the shut-ins of our church.
Please do not feel sorry for me in any way that I am
overworked. I am not,
but I am enjoying my visits with these people.
The third resource for the sermon is our American culture and
our awareness that we are growing much older in America.
culture. There is no
doubt about it that Americans are living longer these days.
You read all about this in almost every magazine.
Dan Rather, on his television report, said that the
“hundred year olds” are the fastest growing section of our
population. We have all
read the astronomical figures of how many Americans will live to a
hundred by the year 2005. Similarly,
the other day, I visited a shut-in, Zella Dallas Patton, over at her
home at Wesley Terrace and she told me that the Terrace had a party
for 90 year olds and sixty-six people showed up. Only two were in
wheelchairs. The same thing happens in our own parish. We have an
annual party for those in their 80s and the room is now jammed.
It would have not been crowded many years ago.
So from our reading and life experience, we all know that
Americans are living longer.
We are aware that
we are living longer, but we are not so aware that we are living
lonelier. Today, in our
narthex, you will notice a poster for the Friend-to-Friend program,
which matches a volunteer visitor with a resident in a nursing home.
You will read the dramatic statistic that 60% of the people
who live in retirement homes in King County do not have an outside
visitor such as a family member or friend.
That boggles your mind.
60% do not have someone visit.
Mother Teresa visited our country a few years back and she
said that a chronic disease in America is our degree of loneliness.
Maybe our loneliness has to do with our increased mobility
and the deterioration of our family relationships.
We as Americans have this huge challenge before us in the
coming decades: to minister to millions upon millions of people who will be
aging into their late 80s, 90s, and 100s who at the same time, are
suffering from increasing loneliness.
But I also examined
the Bible about aging and I would like to share with you some of the
results of my study. I will share with you a study of three sections of Scripture.
The first is Deuteronomy 30:26, and I have preached on this
verse before. Deuteronomy
says: “Chose life not death.” That is the verse I focused on, and I remember someone quit
the church about that sermon a short time later.
But the verse continues:
“Love the Lord your God, obey his voice, cling to his
commandments that you may have life and length of days.”
God says, “Love me and walk in my ways and you will have a
better life and a longer life.”
Most of us agree with the Bible’s observations that a
person has a better life and a longer life if you love God and
follow in God’s ways. So
many different Bible passages say that we are to love God, walk in
God’s ways, and it will go better with you. We
read our current books and magazines and the results of social
surveys say the same thing: love
God, walk in the ways of God, and you will have a happier life, a
better life, a more fulfilled life.
We agree. Social
surveys also conclude that such people live longer, about seven to
eight years longer. We
agree. It makes sense.
A recent newspaper article stated that the longest living
people in America are older women living in southwestern Minnesota.
That’s where Jackson, my hometown is, and I agree.
The articles suggest southern Minnesota women live so long
because of the harsh winters they endure; these women are tougher
and also because of their Scandinavian heritage.
But these articles missed the mark because they said nothing
about these women’s faith. Southwestern
Minnesota has the highest percentage of church people and devout
believers in the universe. These
older Minnesota women believe in God; they are devout Christians,
and Deuteronomy 30:26 says that such belief results in better lives
and longer lives. There are no surprises here.
We pretty much agree and understand.
If you ask the question, why?
Why are they living better and living longer? My suspicion is that Christians are more apt to take care of
our health and we are more apt to take care of human relationships.
If you take care of your health and care of relationships, it
is no surprise that a person usually lives a better life and longer
life. Of course, there are always exceptions and situations, but for
the most part, we understand and agree.
Of course, in the midst of better and longer, there is much
pain…but we are coming to that.
The next Bible
passage I would like to examine is Isaiah 65, where Isaiah has a
vision of the coming Messianic era.
Most of his words are familiar to us:
in the new age, there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
If you read the Gospels and the Book of Revelation, these New
Testament books are filled with visions of the future new heaven and
new earth. These visions from Isaiah all see a New Jerusalem, and in the
New Testament, we hear often about this New Jerusalem. In Isaiah 65, he sees a time when there will be no more
tears, and no more crying and no more pain. Again, these words and
concepts are familiar. But
then in Isaiah 65, the prophet also talks about something I had just
skipped over: that
infants will not die young but live to 100 years and that adult
sinners also will love to a 100.
That’s the part of the vision I missed:
that we as human beings would live past the expectation of
Psalmist of three score and ten, 70 years.
We would live past the expected seventy years in order to a
hundred years. It is
interesting that at this time in modern civilization in First World
countries, with good health and good vitamins and good medicines and
good relationships, the human body is beginning to live closer to
100. This is not to
suggest we live in an era of a new heaven and new earth and New
Jerusalem, especially when so much killing is going on in Jerusalem;
but it is interesting to realize that Isaiah’s vision of the
coming kingdom foresaw long life as part of that vision.
The third Bible
passage that I would like to examine today is Leviticus 27.
Have any of you been reading Leviticus for your devotional
life recently? I think not. In
Leviticus 27, it is interesting to me that the value of a man’s
life is severely reduced when he crosses that invisible line of
sixty years old. From
ages 20-60, in Leviticus, a man’s life is worth sixty shekels, but
as soon as he turns sixty, his economic value drops to 15 shekels.
His age crosses to sixty and his value drops four fold.
is interesting about this is that in modern America, we have similar
values. If you cross
that line near sixty, something happens to you and you aren’t
worth as much to the corporation as you were when you were younger
and more productive. The
corporation wants to retire you, get rid of you, and move you out.
You are not worth as much anymore, especially if you try to
find a new job where you are sixty.
I am sixty this year, and am sensitive to these observations,
which are so, accepted in our culture.
It is interesting to me that the agrarian society of 3400
years ago and the contemporary society of today has similar values
of the working man and woman: their
value is severely reduced at about age sixty.
I would now like to
shift gears and share with you the results of the conversations that
I had with the shut-ins of our congregation.
Shut-ins are not the same as retired people, that’s for
sure. Basically, the
shut-ins have lost their wheels and can’t get out any more unless
someone takes them. I
first would like to share with you four general observations and
then what I learned from several individual conversations.
First, as a group,
our shut-ins live in very nice places.
Every one of them. We have twenty shut-ins.
How do I know that? Because
we prepare twenty Christmas baskets for them, one per household.
And every one of them lives in a nice place. I personally,
when and if I get to that age, would be most pleased to live in any
one of their apartments, condos, retirement centers, or homes.
shut-ins are also well cared for emotionally.
Every single one of them is visited by family or friends and
frequently. None of
them suffers loneliness to the degree that happens in American
society; that 60% of the shut-ins in retirement homes are not
visited by anyone. I am
convinced that is why our shut-in members live so long; this is
because they live comparatively full, meaningful, and better lives
than the rest of society.
shut-ins were 100% devout, true believers, deep believers in God.
These were not young doubting Thomas, with skeptical
questions at every intersection of life.
These people had outgrown the questions and were now simply
waiting to die and meet their loving God face to face. These people
also loved their church and were deeply appreciative of you for
caring for them and remembering them in prayer.
characteristic of these shut-ins is that you have to be tough; that
“growing old is not for sissies,” as one of them said to me. You
have to endure much pain, illness, suffering, death of loved ones,
and transition. I one time heard that our seniors and shut-ins go
through more transitions and painful transitions that teenagers, and
I now believe it is true. My
next stories will illustrate this.
I would like to
share with you observations that I experienced during my recent
visits with our individual shut-ins.
Opal Dye is the
oldest person in our parish at 96.
Last Sunday morning, she fell and broke a hip and is at
Auburn Hospital where she is receiving good care.
She is doing well as possible.
I remember Opal greeting me at the door of her duplex at
Huntington Park, standing erect, blind, carefully walking to the
sofa and then chatting. Much
can be said about Opal but I want you to know that she is the
“best read person” in our parish and the best conversationalist.
She receives oral tapes from the library each week, and she goes
through dozens of tapes, listening to the classics and everything
else under the sun, since she can’t read due to her blindness.
Her mind is bright and alert, a continuing learner.
Zella Dallas Patton
is a young 91 year old, living over at Wesley Terrace.
When I think of Zella, I think of words like dapper,
dazzling, distinguished, “dressed to the nines.” She has the
tallest red spiked heels of anyone, and she looks great when you
visit her. I mention
this because all of our shut-ins take care of themselves physically. They look good and manicured and well kept.
Their manner of dress and self-care reveals a self-pride in
all of them.
Betty Elmore is
married to Don and they both live over at Judson Park.
Betty is about my age, slightly older, has been fighting
cancer for years, and wears a turban to church when she comes
because she has lost all her hair due to radiation.
Don, her husband, has Parkinson’s disease and has been sick
for several years. As I
mentioned previously, all these shut-ins deal with sickness,
disease, death, and transition and so do the Elmores.
The Elmores are people who still live life and even have fun
when they are seriously sick. Recently,
when I was thinking about imaginary plans for their death and
burial, they were traveling to Hawaii, took a helicopter ride over
the islands, returned home in time to go to Sweden the next year.
That’s the way the Elmore’s are:
they go even when they are sick.
Another thing to learn from the Elmores is how to ask for and
receive help. The
Elmores have no children and so the Dann’s in our church helped
them with the finances, find a lawyer, sell their house, and move
into a retirement home. Like
many of our shut-ins, the Elmores have learned how to lean
appropriately on their church friends when needed.
is great. She lives over at a retirement home in Kent. The doctors
seem to chop another inch off her spinal cord every time she has
surgery, and now she qualifies as by far the shortest person in our
parish. Lorraine is
another strong person, and like all the others I have mentioned, she
has learned how to live with enormous suffering and pain.
All the shut-ins do. What
I want to mention about Lorraine is that she does wonderful
ministry, even when she is sick.
Lorraine was the best telephoner in church for years, forever
calling hundreds of people. She,
too, does not have children, and Lavonne Sorenson and Jan Dann from
our church take good care of Lorraine.
Another footnote about Lorraine:
in her previous retirement home, the residents were having
trouble with the young handicapped people living there who had
electric carts and were speeding in the hallways.
She said you had to look out your door before entering the
hallway to make sure it was safe.
She herself is an electric cart rider.
Sophie Word is also
96, younger than Opal Dye by some three months, and Sophie lives
with her daughter out in Federal Way.
Sophie has many friends from church as she taught Sunday
school here for years. She
is a charter member of our church.
She symbolizes a shut-in whose family really cares and looks
after mom. There are
several such people in our parish whose children are enormously
faithful to them in their old age.
It is important to
mention Bill and Hulda Benson because Hulda has Alzheimer’s and
recently Bill had to find a home for her out in Puyallup where Wilma
Knutson lives. Hulda
knows almost nothing, and the emotional pain is almost all Bill’s.
Bill is symbolic of those spouses who have to make the
painful choice of putting their mate in a specialized home.
This is always an emotional conflict for the one spouse, but
it is a choice that needs to be made. I remember Hannah Madland telling me to tell those retired
people not to ruin their health taking care of their mate, as Hannah
did. So faithful to
Hannah’s persistence, I told Bill what Hannah said.
Eventually, Bill had to make that painful choice. As all our
shut-ins personally know, growing old is not for sissies.
Murray Pierson is
here today, with his oxygen tank, sitting in the front pew with his
caregiver. Murray lives
over at Huntington Park, right near Opal Dye.
Murray is a fine man who has found that growing old is always
full of surprises. There
are so many doors with the word, surprise, written on them.
Life doesn’t go it as it was planned or was supposed to.
Murray had a stroke; his wife, Joyce visited him. He came
home and Joyce had a stroke, much to his surprise. She came home and
surprise, Joyce preceded Murray in death, and no one expected that
either. But when you
grow old, life is full of surprises.
When Opal Dye fell and broke her hip last Sunday, she was
surprised that there was no telephone within her reach; especially
since she has telephones are the entire house.
Life just doesn’t always work the way you planned, and if
you are a shut-in, you must learn to live with surprises.
The last couple I
want to mention are the Tronsons, Claire and Agnes.
They have been married for 65 years, the longest married
couple in our congregation. Claire
has prostate cancer; Agnes has Parkinson’s and fainting spells
that cause numerous falls. They
are a kick to visit; both are clear headed and spirited.
During our last visit, Tronson told me that Agnes’s
pharmaceutical bills cost $300 a month and that he feels that both
presidential candidates are liars, promising and implying that the
Tronson’s drug bill will be significantly reduced if they are
elected. Tronson is a
healthy cynic and believes that they will be paying high drug bills
until their dying day. As
a personal note, I hope that a collective will is developing in our
nation, so that our nation finds a way to significantly reduce drug
bills in the future.
One more comment,
and this is about our Graceful Seniors.
They are the most active group of people in our church.
I met with their leadership team, under the direction of Dale
Linebarger, and they plan a dynamic ministry, even when all of them
are sick and living with some disease.
They are awesome. Recently, they recently had some forty-five people together
at a Bible study and will have some eighty plus people on their
March retreat. This is
important. When I came to this parish many years ago, our seniors
were a collection of individuals, and I distinctly remember being
embarrassed that I had to call some of them when their friends were
sick or in need. They
were only a collection of individuals. That has all changed, and
under the leadership of Pastor Ed Ray, they have become a community
of caring people, with hearts full of compassionate wisdom for each
other, and that is what we have learned from all of them today.
And so we close
with the words from the Bible on this All Saints Day.
The Psalmist said: May
God teach us to number our days so that we may learn to have a heart
of wisdom. Today I have
shared with you some of the wisdom from the hearts of our shut-ins.
And James said: And
this is true religion: to
visit widows in their suffering and remain free from the stains of
the world. Today is
Friend-to-Friend Sunday, and I hope that you sign up to be a friend
to person living in retirement home, a person who is never visited
unless one of us does. Amen.