Last weekend, the Leadership Team shared breakfast with those in our Seniors Team. John Smith spoke about some of biblical values which underlie this ministry.
Today, there are more people over 65 than under 18-olds in our nation. By 2020 number of retired people will grow from 11 to 15 million. 1 in 20 of the population will be over 80. Eight years ago Time magazine ran an article suggesting we may soon be living to 125!.
The Bible is realistic about age. In the OT the very young and the old are not so valuable in economic terms to the hard life of a largely agricultural nation.
Thus, in Leviticus 27, we have a list of the redemption price of those dedicated to the Lord’s service at the tabernacle: the value of a child under five is five shekels of silver, the value of a young person aged five to 20 years is 20 shekels of silver, the value of those in the prime of life from 20 to 60 years is 50 shekels of silver, and then it decreases to 15 shekels for those over 60. That is biblical realism.
Four words which should feature in seniors’ ministry: INCLUSION: DIGNITY: PURPOSE: HOPE
Psalm 68.4-6 describes for us an important characteristic of God:
‘Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds — his name is the LORD — and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.’
That family may well be the local fellowship of Christians.
Respect of the elderly will not get better. Why?
* Because of the scattered nature of our families.
* Because the caring for the elderly is too often given to the most poorly paid.
* Because the relentless pressure of the euthanasia lobby seeks to convince us that the elderly ill should no longer have the right to live.
* Because a society driven by economic value will conclude that caring for the elderly is not productive.
It is an utterly false argument to say that we should care for the elderly because of their long and valued service to their country, many of whom fought for our freedom. That is a utilitarian argument.
What then is the value of those who seem to have achieved very little in their life? No!
In old age there are the creaking joints, the aching muscles, the breathlessness, embarrassing problems, deafness, poor eyesight. Or we become mentally confused, forgetful and slow. And our longstanding friends and loved ones fall off as leaves from the trees in autumn. But the dignity of old age is as great as the value of a new-born child.
Romans 14.8: ‘If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.’
The elderly deserve dignity simply because they have the value and dignity of a human being.
Of course there is often a loss of dignity with the paraphernalia of old age, as with any serious illness. We must demonstrate the value of life in a society that, for all its pretence, has steadily devalued life.
We have to show that we are guardians of that dignity.
James 1.27 ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’
Leviticus 19.32 ‘Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.’
Psalm 92.14: ‘The righteous… will still bear fruit in old age’.
Why have so many of our older people little else to talk about when we visit them than their arthritis and grandchildren? Because we allow them to close down their vision. But nevertheless great things can be achieved by the elderly:
* John Wesley claimed he was far more able to preach at 73 than when he was 23.
* John Newton, in spite of claiming that he was ‘packed and sealed and ready for the post’, was still preaching at 80.
*At 84 and 82 respectively, Peggy and Christine Smith, one blind and the other crippled with arthritis, prayed for revival on the Isle of Lewis in the 1940s — and it came.
We must continually work, not merely at maintenance mode for older people, but for the provision of positive activity and fulfilment for those who are capable of much more than sitting and dreaming all day. What a powerhouse of prayer and positive interest in the Lord’s work our older people could be.
2 Corinthians 4.16-17: ‘We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’
C.S. Lewis referred to heaven with the simple expression: ‘Term time is over, the holidays have begun’, and, meanwhile, this is term time, and we all have a lot to do — even in older age.