Bonus Round! The Secret to Long Life.
Today we bring to a conclusion our series of sermons on the seven simple truths of life. We’ve been looking at these over the last 7 weeks at some of those basic things that virtually everyone understands, almost intuitively, and they are written throughout the Scriptures. And if we live according to these truths then things go better for us and life is more rich and full. If we ignore these things, then we do so at our own peril, and life can become very difficult.
Today’s simple truths will have us looking at the key to longevity. What makes society work and allows generations to live longer and to be blessed their entire lives? This is God’s key to what life should look like for us as children, adults, parents and grandparents. We are going to talk about the truth of honoring our fathers and our mothers and the truth of caring for our children.
So we turn our attention to the generations and how we are called to care for one another.
Now the truth is when it comes to generations, each of us has a dual role. One the one hand all of us are somebody’s children and that calls for a certain response towards our parents or those who raised us. And as we grow older there are more responsibilities that we take on relative to our parents. When we are small, our parents or caretakers do all the giving and we do most of the taking, but as we mature we are meant to start giving back. And there comes a point perhaps for many of us where we do even more of the giving than receiving when our parents get older.
Then of course we’re in the role of parents, many of us to our children or grandchildren, or maybe you’re an aunt or an uncle to somebody else’s children. And in that capacity, we are investing in and caring for little ones and nurturing them and helping them grow. And that’s a task that continues our entire lives.
And every once in a while those two commitments come crashing down really at the same time and that can be very unsettling. We can find ourselves dealing with parents who have great needs and require us to be present and we have children who still have great needs from us and demands on our time and energy. And sometimes it can just really be unnerving. 1 in 7 people aged 40-60 in the United States are dealing with this reality.
It can be quite stressful when you’re in what we call the “sandwich” generation, when you find yourself giving intense care to both parents and children.
I want to recognize that we can’t take lightly the commitment to take care of aging parents or the commitment to take care of our own children. This is a very important part of life and its part of God’s plan and it’s one of the simple truths of life.
It’s captured in several ways in the Scriptures, like this passage from Exodus 20:12.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
So it’s interesting, and important to note that this is the only one of the 10 Commandments which comes with a promise. And it’s a promise for a long, full life if we are willing to care for our parents. The reason for this promise is because your children are watching you. And they are seeing how to treat you based on how you treat your parents. And if we care for the older generations what we find is that they live longer and their lives are fuller because they are being cared for. This was so important to God that it was the fifth commandment.
Now you might remember that of the 10 Commandments, the first four have to do with our relationship with God. We have no other gods before Him. We make no graven images. We don’t use God’s name in vain and we honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.
The next six Commandments have to do with our relationship with one another; how society is ordered. The sixth commandment is not to murder and the seventh commandment has to do with adultery. The eighth commandment is about stealing and the ninth commandment is about lying or bearing false witness against a neighbor or friend. The 10th commandment is about being jealous of someone else’s property or their spouse or their whatever.
But before you get to any of those, even the one about murder, the fifth commandment is to honor your father and your mother. More important for society as a whole and prohibitions against murder or adultery or theft is honoring your parents.
So let’s talk about this today and recognize there are two dimensions. The first is about what parents do for their children and the second is what children do for their parents.
Let’s begin by looking at what parents do for their children; the gift of parenting and the mission or call of a parent. Now being a parent is a calling from God. It is a gift to have a chance to raise up a child. We have always believed that our children belong to God before they belong to us, that’s what we say when we baptize children. These children belong to God before they belong to us; God forms them in their mother’s womb.
When I held each of our boys after they were born I realized, “This child is really God’s child. And our task is to love them well. Our task is to let them see the love of God in us. We are God’s hands and voice as we care for our children.”
And as the Scripture reminds us to train up a child in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it. That’s our task. Now the idea of having children is really romantic. At some point in your marriage you might start thinking about kids and thinking about how awesome and joyful it will be to have children. “It would be wonderful if we had children. It would be magical if we had kids. It would be bliss all the time.” And you know that’s sort of how it’s painted in society and they don’t really tell you the whole truth. People tell you how magical it will be and part the reason why is if they told you what it was really like then nobody would have children.
So you go to the hospital and you get ready to have this baby and they don’t tell you how much pain’s involved. Of course I don’t know first-hand but I do know I almost passed out twice when our boys were being born.
And then after they’re born you bring them home and it all seems fine until they start crying which sometimes can last all night long. Don’t they understand that we have to sleep? But every 3 hours they start to cry, and sometimes it’s every hour. When they have colic they scream and scream and arch their back and there’s nothing you can do to get them to be quiet. So in order to keep your sanity, you know, you keep telling yourself you believe what the doctor told you which is that the ones with colic have a higher IQ.
Then you’re doing all of this; all of your energy and time is devoted to taking care of them and they don’t give you anything really in return. Actually that’s not true. Every 2 hours they leave you a nice stinky little surprise to thank you for your care for them.
They begin to grow up and they start tearing apart everything in the house as they begin to walk. They require your undivided attention as they crawl and walk into every corner and table in your house. You feel this huge weight of responsibility. They get a little bit older and they start getting active and involved in things. Because of course as parents we know we are bad parents if we don’t have them involved in everything. And so we start sign up for T-ball and soccer and gymnastics and dance and scouts and swimming and drama and choir and the youth group and church activities. And we end up giving up most of our weekends for those activities, and often times that includes worship.
And so there you are all day Saturday at the ball field with your video camera in your hand, waiting for that one moment where your child hit the ball or score that elusive goal. You have to edit out the part where they are laying on the ground picking the dandelions because we don’t want anyone to see that it’s actually more important for us to share our child scoring a goal. But of course you don’t really see it because you’ve got the camera glued to your face.
Then there’s just the cost of raising up these kids; daycare and diapers and food and all of the other things that our children require. You find by the time they’re 18 years old, the average parent in America spends between $180,000 and $210,000 per child.
Then you add on top of that, they start to a little bit older and when they’re small, they still think you’re pretty amazing as parents, but then comes that moment when they are embarrassed of you, they don’t even want to be seen with you. So you have to deal with the feelings of rejection until they need something and then they get really nice for a while, like before they ask for the keys to the car. They drive away and your stomach is in knots and you’re terrified about what will happen to them. And then they don’t show up right on time when they are coming home at night and they will pick up their cell phone, and all of a sudden you have images of them on the side of the road. Your hair starts to fall out and it turns gray.
And then along about that same time, they begin to say things to you like, “You are the meanest parents in the world.” After you spent your $200,000 and your hair’s falling out and it’s turning grey, they then tell you, “I can’t wait to get out of your house.”
That doesn’t sound like perpetual bliss to me? The truth of course is that rolled into the moments that really make it all worthwhile. And the times where you say, “What a blessing and how grateful I am to get to be your dad or your mom.” And the truth is despite all of that stuff the greatest joy in my life, and I will speak for Robin, the greatest joy in her life after being followers of Jesus Christ is being mom and dad to Robbie, Ricky, and Ryan.
And so there’s the joy and the frustrations all sort of rolled into one; and that’s parenting.
Now when they grow up and get ready to move away and all the sudden you begin asking yourself questions. Like, “Now what do I do? I’ve been a parent for 18 or 20 or 25 years (depending on how many kids you have and their ages) and now what am I? Is my job done once they move out of the house?”
And the truth is, the call to be a parent is never finished. The mission might change, but it’s never finished. When they are not in your home, they have more freedoms. They are often quick to point out how they are adults. And that’s mostly true. You know as long as you’re still on my payroll there’s going to still be a few rules to go along with it. But the truth is that we have given them all we can as parents and it is time to let them go. But is it over?
And I would say, I learned from my own mom and dad, it’s not over when they move away from home. And here’s what I’ve learned from them: my parents have always understood that their job was always to – isn’t wasn’t to tell me what to do anymore, but their job was always to love me; and to encourage me; and to be in my corner and to let me know that no matter what anybody else said or did they were was behind me.
And they’ve done a great job at this in a variety of ways in my life and they still do it. I’m almost 52 years old and I rarely miss a day when I don’t call my mom just to check in. We talk over the issues of the day. She is someone I can always count on to tell me the truth and to give wise advice on most any subject or issue I may be facing at home, at church, and just in life in general.
Her job’s not over. She’s not telling me what to do; she’s in my corner, encouraging me. And you know that’s our role once the kids are grown up is we continue to be that safety net. We continue to be those cheerleaders. We continue to say, “You know what, no matter what happens in your life, I’m going to love you. And I believe in you and I see the things that you can be. If you need something, I’m here for you.” And I think until I no longer have breath, that’s going to be part of my job; part of Robin’s job. I want our boys to know they can always count on us.
Now you may not have children, and if you don’t have children, part of what’s important to recognize is that God calls us to invest in younger people whether you have children or not – that part of being a human being is building into the next generation. And that may be for you your nieces and nephews. If you’re a grandparent, it’s your grandchildren. Maybe it’s in your workplace where you can mentor younger Associates or here in our children’s Sunday school program or maybe working as a youth advisor in the youth program. But God has called us to be involved in the generations. This is how God designed life to work. And so as you get older you invest in younger people.
So I would ask you this question. Are you investing in the lives of any younger people? Are you working with younger people at all, in any environment or in any place? Because not only is that a blessing to them, but in the end it becomes a blessing to you. Parents, if your kids are grown, are you sending them notes or giving them a caller letting them know you were in their corner no matter what? Because all of us need that; all of us.
So that was part of God’s wisdom was to provide parents and other adults who would care for us. But part of God’s wisdom was also to give parents children who are going to care for them. And we are called to care for the generations that have gone before us because we literally stand on their shoulders.
So as we are doing that with our parents part of what we do is when we’re little, we don’t realize that our parents need anything from us. We’re doing all the taking. But as we grow up, we are meant to emotionally and psychologically recognize the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around us and that the people who are in our lives, who have poured out their lives for us, need something from us too. That they are people who have feelings and emotions and needs and they need from us blessings; they need from us encouragement. And the more we grow, and the older they get, the more there’s that need.
So this is part of God’s plan as well, and it’s interesting how it works out that about the time that your kids move away from home you have more time and just about that time in life, your parents need more of our time. Almost like it was planned to be that way by somebody.
Now it’s interesting God’s plan for social security – you know before 1935 there was no Social Security; it’s a relatively new invention in the history of humankind. Up until that point, Social Security was generations caring for each other. It was parents caring for their parents or grandparents. It was people working until he couldn’t work anymore and when they couldn’t work anymore, the family took them in and they were cared for. That’s just how it was. There weren’t even any pension funds throughout most of human history.
And we can look ahead and probably anticipate that the day will come in which it will return to something like that. We know that in about 15 to 20 years, Social Security benefits will need to drop by about 20% in order for Social Security to stay solvent. 20 years after that they will have to drop by another 20 or 30%. And many pension funds will not be in existence in the future and at some point we have to ask, “How is this going to work down the road? And people are living much longer than they used to live and so how will they be cared for?”
Well part of how that works is we’ll be healthier longer, but there’s still going to come a time we we’re going to need help. It may not be financial help. You may be able to set yourself up financially for your retirement years and older age, but you will still need wisdom and physical care from younger generations. As we age, we will need people who will take us to the doctor or bring us home from the hospital and make sure that we are cared for or maybe visit us in the nursing home. God’s plan for Social Security is that our parents invest in us and that I will be investing in my kid’s lives for the next 40 years, giving encouragement and support to them in one way or another. But at some point the tables will be reversed.
A number of you in this congregation have brought parents to live with you. Some of you have them live in your home with you and others of you have them in care facilities nearby because they need constant care. It brings me great joy when I get to see all of you together and I see generations of grandma or grandpa with mom and dad and then with their children.
I saw this in a beautiful way a number of years ago I went to visit a member of our congregation who had brought their mother to live with them here in Sterling after their father died. Grandmother became weak after an illness and she was moved into hospice that was done at their home. They had a hospital bed moved into her room and I went over to visit them one evening just before she passed away. Grandma had already gone to bed and was sleeping. We sat down in the living room and we talked for a while. As I got ready to leave I said, “Can we pray for your mom?” I didn’t want to go in the bedroom to pray with her because I didn’t want to wake her up. But they insisted that we go in and pray with her. We left the light off in the room and turned on the light in the adjoining bathroom which bathed the room in a soft glow.
As we join hands and got ready to pray, I looked down and grandma was peaceful and asleep. She looked beautiful and at peace. She just looked so cared for. And we got ready to lay hands on her and to gently touch her and to pray for her and to commit her to God’s love and care. And I looked over at her daughter and tears were coming down her face and I wondered if maybe 60 years earlier, I could picture the daughter lying in her bed and this mother tiptoeing in to her bedroom not turning on the light where she was asleep in her crib and this mother laying hands on her and prying for her and committing her to God’s love and care. And this is how God designed things to work – the generations caring for one another and investing in one another.
And this is important for my kids to hear, because I’m counting on the fact that they’re going to get this by the time we reach that age.
We find that Jesus says this about this commandment to honor your father and mother. In Matthew 15:4-6 the Pharisees have said, “You know if your parents need help but you only have so much money you have to give to God and then you can give your leftovers to your parents and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.” And Jesus said, “Wait a minute. The most important thing you do is you take care of your parents.” Now hopefully, we are in a place where we can do both of those things, but this is what Jesus says to them.
“And why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say whoever tells father or mother whatever support you might have had from me is given to God then that person need not honor the Father. So for the sake of your tradition you make void the word of God. You hypocrites!”
We are called to care and sometimes that is financial and sometimes that is time, which is often more precious than money in our lives. Now when that feels overwhelming to you then you need help. There are times where you can feel overwhelmed when you are called to take care of aging parents, especially when Alzheimer’s or dementia is involved. If you are trying to do it long distance it can be very taxing. I want to suggest one resource for you if you are in that place. It’s a book entitled: And Thou Shalt Honor: The Caregiver’s Companion by Beth McLeod. It has all kinds of great advice about how you can go about caring for an aging parent who need a great deal of your time and energy. There are all kinds of resources in here and tips that I would not have thought of. If you are in that place, sometimes just knowing where to turn for resources can be very valuable.
And so we recognize that the mission of being a parent is lifelong encouragement, care, mentoring and helping our children see the love of God. We are to help them not only believe in God but believe in themselves. The lifelong mission of children is to love and honor their parents and adults who have been a blessing in their lives.
Interestingly the word “honor” in “honor your father and mother” is the Hebrew word kabbed, which means to consider them, “glorious.” It means to revere them and respect them and to consider them weighty and important in your life. The word can actually mean something akin to carrying a responsibility which is holy and sacred. That’s what it means to honor your father and your mother and this is part of God’s plan and a simple truth about life.
Now that leads to one last point which we find in our Scripture memory verse. This week it is found in Leviticus 19:32 and I’d like to invite you to say this verse together with me today.
“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.”
Let’s say that together one more time. When you go into a court of law, just before the judge enters the room, what happens? The bailiff comes in and says, “All rise.” And everyone in the courtroom stands up as the judge takes their place on the bench. Why do we stand up? Because to stand up signifies showing respect. It signifies honoring someone who is of great stature and who is worthy of our respect.
When the scripture tells us in Leviticus we are to rise in the presence of the aged it is saying the same thing. That you are to consider the aged to be those who are worthy of great respect. Interestingly enough the word here for aged actually is literally, “gray hairs.” So rise in the presence of the gray hairs; demonstrate this kind of respect for them.
Now the problem with this passage of scripture of course is for all of you who color your hair, you don’t get the special treatment. But for those of us who don’t turn to Just for Men or whatever it is you use, we still have a chance as the temples begin to gray to anticipate that there’s going to be a measure of respect; people are going to begin to look at you differently because you have lived and you have experience life. You have gained wisdom and you have built what is here today in our world.
And throughout the Scripture there is this idea that we care for our elders and we encourage them. This is not just about children towards their parents, but it’s about society. This is what we are called to do in our society; care for those who have gone before us.
I think back quite a number of years ago on one of our older married couples from our congregation who were living in their home until just before the wife died. She had begun to lose her memory and health was rapidly declining and she was not doing well and they had these great neighbors with young children who would come over and clean up their yard after a storm or shovel their snow in the winter. They would come by and bring cookies and just visit with them and they would be there for them, as this couple’s own children lived farther away. It’s not that their children didn’t care, but their children weren’t nearby and so this family who didn’t have any grandparents in their lives “adopted” them and were there to care for them. They honored and respected them, not because they were family, but because they were older and deserved that level of respect. When the wife passed and it came time for the husband to move to be closer to his children, one of the primary reasons he didn’t want to leave was because of the neighbors who had cared for them.
Here’s what I know. In your neighborhood and in our community there are all kinds of aged people, seniors, who may have no one to care for them. They have no children living nearby to see them. No one calls upon them and what they need is someone in your generation to call upon them and care for them; to befriend them and encourage them. And when you do that, I guarantee you that you will be blessed as you, the younger generation, invest in the older generation and discover mentors from whom you will learn a great deal. This is how God designed things to work; that the younger will invest in the older and show respect and care for them while the older mentor the younger and encourage them.
Several ministries here in the church: Transportation. Homebound communion. Senior citizen dinner.
We get calls all the time from older members who need some assistance and many of you volunteer and step up and do those things. We take communion to them, we take them to doctor’s appointments, take them shopping, read Scripture, we pray with them and we just listen. These are not paid staff but these are people like you, who hear a message like today and say, “Wow, that sounds really wonderful. I think I’d like to do that.” And I guarantee you, you do that, you will find your own life enriched by those moments.
These are profound and powerful ministries and I’m guessing that some of you should be a part of that. Maybe you don’t have grandparents or parents nearby or maybe they have passed on into God’s eternal kingdom, but there is somebody out there who needs you.
This is how it is supposed to work. Someday you may be the one who has Alzheimer’s or you may be the one who needs someone to walk with you and hold your hand and the other person’s hand will be love to you.
So are you investing in younger people? Whether it is your children or someone else, are you mentoring them and encouraging them and being somebody’s cheerleader?
Are you caring for the aged, rising in their presence, honoring your father and your mother and investing in and caring for those who have gone before you? This simple truth about life begs us to ask these questions as people of faith.
And there’s one last simple truth I want to mention as we close. This whole talk of generations is also meant to make us realize how quickly time flies. Life is constantly changing. At one point we were the children and then we become teenagers and maybe then we become parents. Someday we may become grandparents and then someday the recipients of care from our children. One day your doctor is going to be younger than you are, whether you like it or not.
You know there are moments when life seems to crawl, like just before you turn 16 and you can’t wait to get your driver’s license. Life seems to slowly eek by in those moments when we are younger, but right now it feels like my life is in hyper-drive. It’s hard to figure out how it is that time flies by. I go to the youth group and I see children that I baptized 10 years ago who are now in middle school and it freaks me out a bit.
I told you last week that Ryan, our baby turned 20 last week. Life is just moving so fast and constant change. I wanted to capture just a little of that change for you. I put together a few pictures of our boys into a little slide show, and guess what? I’m going to make you sit and watch it: Play slideshow
Here’s just a way of seeing just how fast life changes and moves.
Here’s the thing I want to leave you with. I love these boys more than my life: more than anything. I love them so much it hurts sometimes. I love them so much there’s nothing that they could say or do that could make me stop loving them. There is nothing that would cause me to turn away from them. I will love them as long as I live, and when I die and enter God’s eternal kingdom, I will still love them.
And here’s the last and most important simple truth. God loves you just like that. And even more!
God knows your name and he formed you in your mother’s womb. God has watched you every moment of your life and he loves you so much that it hurts sometimes. God will always love you and no matter how far you run, God is still going to love you. As long as you have breath, God will love you, and even after your final breath God will welcome you into an eternal kingdom.
And that’s the most important truth of all. If you can trust that and you can live in that truth and walk in that truth and you can share that truth with others, you have found life.
Will you bow your heads with me:
If you believe that, if you believe that God is and that He loves you, that God is a Father who loves his children more than they can imagine or believe, I would like you to simply say:
Thank you God for loving me…
I trust in your love…
Help me to love you…
Help me to walk with you…
Help me to honor you…
Help me to live for you… and with you…all the days of my life.
God, thank you for loving us. Help us to love our parents, to honor them and to care for them. Help us to love our children with your love and let them see in us your love. Help us to care for the generations who have gone before and to rise and the presence of the aged. And help us to invest in the lives of young people. We offer our lives to you, O God. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.