In my last post, I wrote about a sermon that I wished had been preached at the recent Maine Conference United Church of Christ Annual Meeting—but was not. The scripture was Sarah laughing at the prospect of having a child in her older age. At the time, I wished that the preacher had noticed the sea of gray hair in front of him and had offered some insight regarding the possibility of new life even in the midst of older people, perhaps even the older people who sat right in front of him. But, unfortunately, this reality failed to grab his attention.
So, I decided to preach that sermon myself on that very same weekend. For Sunday worship, I announced that I was not going to read or preach on Ruth, as the Narrative Lectionary suggested, but instead, I would focus on the Sarah laughing passage in Genesis (which had been part of the Narrative Lectionary in September, but on a Sunday when I was away).
The Maine Conference writ small, Old South is a congregation on the older side of things. On an average Sunday, there’s lots of gray hair, or heads with diminishing hair, and for at least a few of the heads with no gray hair, like mine, it is only because of the wonders of chemistry that the gray hair is hidden.
I preached my sermon on the possibility of new life in the midst of older age, and the promise that nothing is too amazing for God, and for those who trust God. I preached from what was, at best, notes. Mostly, I preached the sermon that had come to mind on the previous day, when the preacher didn’t go where I thought he should go. I felt like I was really on to something powerful, and significant.
The response I received was not what I had hoped. Not even close. I even think I spotted someone in the congregation scowling at me at one point during the sermon.
On that particular Sunday, the congregation included two grandmothers who spent at least part of the service trying to control their rambunctious toddler grandchildren. I used the situation to illustrate the reality of new life. New life is hard to control, manage. It doesn’t behave in the way we wish it or will it to behave. Yet, it is wondrous, amazing, and the promise of it exists even in the midst of our advancing years.
My handy sermon illustration probably didn’t help the situation.
One person came up to me after the service is said that if she learned that she was pregnant at this stage in her life, she wouldn’t laugh, or cry. She would do something else and then opened her mouth as if she were about to scream—or shout a string of expletives. Prophetic.
New life is hard to manage. New life has a habit of behaving in its own way. And, though we continue to say it’s what we want, we are, at the same time, making it plainly clear that it really isn’t what we want at all.
I had hoped that my sermon would inspire some head nods, a few faces lit up in acknowledgement. But, nothing like that happened. The silence was not the silence of thoughtful anticipation (which I have experienced from time to time), but instead, it was the silence of just hoping it would be over soon.
New life is possible in older age, when those older age folk grasp the notion that nothing is too wonderful for God when God is trusted. What does it mean for us to trust God, and to trust where God might be leading us? What does it mean for us to open ourselves to new life, even in the midst of our weary, older age?
I realize that the specter of rambunctious toddlers may give us pause when it comes to welcoming new life, but toddlers offer an valuable focal point for reflection—as they serve as an object lesson that leads us to consider the new life that God promises. We might laugh, or cry, at this reality. But, if instead we simply endure, or scream, we might as well admit that it’s over.
I’d like to think that I don’t hear the singing that signals the end, but the reality is that the singing is getting too loud to ignore. It’s decision time: change or embrace the sunset. It’s time to be honest—with ourselves, and with God.