Hancock Church Easter Sunday Sermon  http://youtu.be/mxkn1PHC9Co

Rev. Paul Shupe

April 14, 2013

Genesis 1:31-2:3

    This passage concludes the first of the great creation narratives from Genesis, and depicts God at rest on the seventh day of creation, fixing the Sabbath as a day of rest for both creator and the creatures.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

“Not the End, but You Can See It From There”  

    Jokes are told about Bangor, Maine.  If you’ve never seen Bangor, it is a small city, built on the river to power the mills that have long since closed.  At Bangor I 95 turns north, and once you’ve rolled past the University of Maine at Orono, the full size of Maine begins to be apparent, as the hills pass and the potato fields of Aroostock County stretch out as far as the eye can see.  It’s still three hours to Fort Kent, on the Canadian border, but now the deer and the moose outnumber the people, and you can drive sometimes for an hour or more and not see another car.  Bangor clings to the edge of the known world; hence the jokes.  “What’s the best way to see Bangor?” one goes.  “In your rearview mirror!” is the reply.  “Bangor isn’t the end of the world,” says another, “but you can see it from there.”  It’s not Bangor’s fault that it’s the last vestige of civilization; someone has to be.

    As our Faith across the lifespan series reaches now the age of retirement, I found myself thinking Bangor-like thoughts.  Retirement isn’t the end of life, but, as the story goes, you can see it from there.  This is the first stage of life that I’ve preached about that I am yet to have personal experience with.  I’ve not been retired, can’t really even imagine it, though I do find that I am increasingly jealous as colleagues not a lot older than I am step across that boundary: stopping work, and starting the pension.  I know from years of observation that retirement is not at all the end of life.  Indeed some of the most interesting people I know are retired, still vibrant, active, and often branching out into new ways of living.  I have a very good friend who retired in January, who just finished riding his bicycle from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon.  No.  Retirement is not the end of the life.

    But when I gathered a few retired folks to talk about what this phase of life has been like for them, one of the realities that came up quickly is the now undeniable fact that life is winding down.  More and more often in retirement, we watch as beloved friends die and leave us behind with our memories and our wonderings about where all the years have gone.  Often in these years we lose a spouse, or life partner, and suddenly for the first time since college, we are living alone, with no one present to share our lives with.  It is impossible not to ponder our own mortality then, as we go to more memorial services than we ever would have thought possible.  It is essential, these folks shared with me, that you have friends.  Not just family, though family is wonderful and important too.  But friends know us, and remember our vitality.  Our friends don’t feel pressured, as family does, to worry about finances and final arrangements.  Our friends can be with us, enrich our lives with the wonder of shared memory, and treat us still as they have always done.  Make friends, they all said, and keep them.  Cherish them, and then rely upon them.

    Being able to see the end of life coming brings with it pressure.  The pressure of new decisions to make, proxies and powers of attorney to assign, living arrangements that change and often doctors and nurses and caregivers poking and prodding and doing things for us that we never thought we’d ever be unable to do ourselves.  And hovering for most of us is concern about money, about outliving our wealth, and the fear of becoming a burden on our families.  “Old age,” the saying goes, “is not for sissies,” and surely it takes courage and heart and all the humor one can muster to thrive in these years.

    But this sermon has leapt too quickly to the end of retirement.  And most often before come blessings that are rich and powerful.  One man told me bluntly that retirement was like being given an entire second life.  He went back to school, leaving his engineering ways (which he had loved) and starting divinity school at 60.  For fifteen years he had a second career in counseling; something new and different and wonderful in the second half of his life.  Others celebrated with me the joyous freedom of being able to do what you want to do, filling the calendar not with what others tell you that you must do but only with that which you want to do.  Still others named the opportunity to heal regret, to walk back to paths not taken, and then take them, born again, as it were, to define for ourselves who we are and what we will be.  Many retired folks talk about discovering just how much our world depends upon the retired: some working, some volunteering, some reaching out and serving in ways new and old.

    And still other blessings abound.  Several whom I spoke with shared the joy of realizing how much they have learned, how much they know, and of their almost aching desire to share that accumulated wisdom with the young.  Sometimes, they said, the young are racing far ahead, so eager to see what comes next, that they don’t even know how valuable the old wisdom can still be.  And all spoke of the blessing of gratitude; there is something about age, about retirement that makes us mindful of all the help we’ve received, and that makes us truly grateful for the companions who walked with us, and the simple joys of parenting and grand-parenting and great-grand-parenting.

    Another blessing of the retirement years is learning to accept life as it now is, as it comes, instead of worrying constantly about how to shape events and make them conform to your ideas, and your plans.  All spoke of learning to laugh at ourselves for without finding the humor in these years, life becomes only tragic.  And at least one shared that in his latter years has come a new ability to acknowledge feelings to permit his emotions to rise and be recognized, without worrying what others will think, or being anxious that something ill is happening to you.  And several told me that they have discovered that they like a lot of people now that they wouldn’t have even known in years past.

    I hope that by now you understand how precious I regard the sharing that these good people did with me.  Truly, their reflections are a sign of the sacred, for each in their own way has found in retirement the opportunity to burst through the boundaries that once confined them, and to discover whole new worlds of meaning, of purpose, of friendship.  What a privilege it was and is for me to hear these reflections, and to be able to share them with you.  But I am a preacher, and preachers preach from Bible texts, and so, even though I was already surrounded by sacred wisdom, I went to the pages of my Bible for wisdom about retirement.  And I found nothing, at least nothing about retirement as we practice it.  In Bible days there was no stage of life like this one that we have.  One worked until one could not, and then one trusted family to care for you.  But as I looked further, I remembered numerous examples of God calling to the aged, and sending them off on new adventures: Noah was an old man when instructed to build the ark.  Abraham and Sarah were in their nineties before leaving the land they’d been raised in to go to the land that God had promised.  And it was the aged Anna and Simeon in Temple, who first recognized in the infant Jesus that the promises of God had been fulfilled.  The commandment to honor our fathers and our mothers is almost certainly not an order to rebellious teens to cut it out and do as instructed, but rather a warning to those of us in life’s middle years to remember our parents, and to provide for them in their age.   And I thought too of the verses from Genesis that we heard this morning, of God, even God, resting, when work was finished, and surely that is a model for what age can provide: rest for the weary.

    In the end, the thinking and writing of this sermon began to feel like a wonderful pot of stew: start with the Biblical assumption that one is never too old to be of use, and that God has purpose for all of us.  Add the essential commandment to rest.  Pour in the truth that if the generations do not care for one another, reaching back and reaching forward, then both are impoverished, lonely and sad.  Then spice it with the wonderful observations of contemporary women and men, some sitting here this morning, some whom we love in distant places, some of whom who have died already, and what emerges is a wonderful stew, rich and powerful for having simmered together for a lifetime.

    Those of us who have not yet retired can rejoice, smelling the stew as it simmers; those who have retired can eat their fill.  But before we eat, we all pause and give thanks to God, the great chef, who makes it clear that the fullness and richness of life is not merely for the young and capable, but also for the old and wise, and that together we can do more than any could do alone.  What a privilege to know the blessings of age!  May God bless those who also know its pains!  Amen.