A Text That Should Haunt Us
I can remember many years ago now, the late David Wilkerson, preaching a message from this particular text from Hebrews chapter 5 which says,
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
I had thought very deeply about this very text over the years, and it’s lofty premise taught in the whole of scripture. I was then encouraged to hear this now very aged man now in his 70’s, of whom I had respected and admired over the years, take this subject where it needed to go: right into the hearts and minds of those his own age who by now should be teaching the class on things pertaining to an exemplary life on the narrow path, yet instead were found missing in action. I knew where he was headed. For he too had now also graduated from his own school of sufferings, and yet continued in dogged persistence and unshakable example of the Christian life to us all. And it is to this topic that I would like to talk about briefly this morning.
Reminders That Assist in the Haunting
What jarred me back into pondering this evocative issue is three-fold.
First of all, I live in a tourist area, but also a retirement community for the most part; where those in the twilight of their lives are not in short supply. Many are snowbirds and fly south for the winter to a comfortable oasis of some kind they’ve been able to acquire over years of hard work and savings. Those same birdies many times in their sunset years decide to take the leap and make it their permanent getaway. Others have built it from of a life of affluence that peacefully ends here with the house by the sea filled with great views, great restaurants, golf-cart living and an occasional hole in one. And who can blame them? After all, it’s a great place to be! And I guess I should also say that some of these birds are the salt of this particular part of earth to be sure, but mostly I’m afraid are far too consumed with the tail-end of their American Dream to notice any fuss I’m trying to make here.
Secondly, now at age 52, though my elderly friends even occasionally still tell me “I’m wet behind the ears”, I am now beginning to at least prepare for what the “back 9” of my own life is to look like. And though I cannot relate to those who have acquired this life for themselves in terms of dollars and cents and a life that has gone according to their financial plan, I am beginning to see that age bracket and the variety of difficulties and also opportunities it brings just outside my rear-view window. In light of that, I’m contemplating a lot of things. Things like whether or not I’ll be able to take care of my wife and I in the final years; if I’ll have anything at all to leave my children; whether or not I will be a mean old cuss or grow old gracefully; will die of cancer; and at least for me more importantly I’ve been asking: Will those I have known and loved pay true respect finally once I’m gone? And of course, for the purpose of this blog, I am also questioning if I will be a good teacher of a class to the next generation of what it means to walk with Christ with my eyes, mind and heart wide open in a world increasingly becoming hostile to it’s proposed peculiarity? It seems that since Rome, we have now come full circle. Perhaps the lions are now grazing outside.
And to be sure, I also think about the view, the great restaurants, my own golf cart (minus the hole in one), and other things that run through our minds when we think of how we’d like our life to be topped off, cherry and all. Yet as I mentioned last week, I’m learning to confront the phase of growing old early on. This way for me, I’m more prepared for it’s unwelcome entrance into my life, and so that perhaps if I have no money to leave after all, a spiritual legacy of some kind is perhaps still achievable. I think about that a lot. I reflect like the elderly Private Ryan, as he looks across the graves of the men who saved his life asking if he was indeed a good man, and if likewise his life has counted for something. It is somewhat of a continual diversion in my thoughts these days to which I reluctantly escape.
And of course there is the third reason. It happened just the other day as I came around the corner of the last isle in the grocery store to grab some sour cream for the dish my wife was feverishly finishing up at home. As I turned the corner, I saw a lady in her late 70’s or early 80’s, and her activity arrested me for a moment. As I looked out the corner of my left eye, I noticed her going through a carton of eggs feeling each egg with her fingers to check for the best ones. She would then pick up other cartons and do the same and pick some from one batch to put it in her crate, and then transfer others to another. I then had visions of her itching the crack of her butt or perhaps picking her nose just moments before, and this of course didn’t help where my smoldering frustration would then take me.
Now though I am not a germophobe per say, what I saw disturbed me, and my only proclivity was to look at her pointedly to let her know that someone saw what she was doing in broad daylight! As I gave my pointed stare, I then shook my head and walked towards the sour cream and then came back by her, this time not making eye contact with my new archenemy. And then as providence would have it, as I went to the checkout line and as I was making small talk with the person at the register about to slide my card and be on my way, I looked behind me and there she was warts and all in the same checkout line. Yes indeed. The lady that I had stared down now faced me head on like a boss! It was then that Cruella looked at me and said with a slithering tongue, “Do I know you”?
And so, here it was. The gloves were off, the cage was locked, and it was just me and Miss Deville–naked and unafraid. I then looked at her and said, “No ma’am”, to which she then said, “Well I thought you did by the way you looked at me”. I then retorted, “I don’t know you, but I did see what you did with the eggs”, as I then went back to my business at hand. It was then that she said something that wouldn’t have been so sad if it weren’t all too predictable nowadays. She said with all the selfish Grinch-like smirk she could muster up, “Well you know, you gotta look out for yourself”! It was then at that moment, totally unable to shut my big old mouth, that I quickly replied, “Well perhaps we are supposed to look out for others instead”. I then picked up my bags and walked away feeling the sharp edge of her death stare marking its spot on my juggler as I exited the store.
Answers that Lead to More Questions
Once in the car, I judgingly surmised that she was probably at church every Sunday, with her own seat named after her to be sure. I realized I shouldn’t go there, but the temptation was already too great to resist and had taken its own wings to fly. And then I thought to myself: Where are the older women and older men around me to show me the way as I soon enter into their place in this thing called life? Oh to be sure, there aren’t as many Christians around anymore in some circles of our country, but in my town they fill up pews everywhere in mega church fashion, and silver hair is the color of choice. And of course it got me to further ask: What kind of old man will I be? What kind of growing old-fart am I now, and am I teaching the class to my kids and to those who discern and critique my life as to what it means to live for Christ and for others? And for that matter, does anyone attempt at all to live as Christ walked anymore, and is anyone even listening to the conversation?
I then flashback and reminisce of the few choice words I’ve used in the presence of others that are now carved in their memory stone, or the occasional moments, that instead of avoiding a marital fight that I instead walk away from, I resort to finishing it instead and prevail the victor. Or perhaps the times I could have taught my child a valuable lesson from a lectern of graceful strength and wisdom, but instead choose to give him the chalkboard instead and take a seat in the back of the class. And then it occurs to me: What can I now do to prevent myself from feeling up on all the world’s eggs for my own benefit? And of course the logical accompaniment: Will I teach the class both now and beyond the grave of what it means to be fully engaged in this big world, yet clearly and refreshingly not of it?
As I deliberate more, I realize that though I have built myself a wall of stones for any passerby to pick up and throw at me from time to time, perhaps I am growing older and wiser just a wee bit. Perhaps I am also cognizant of my own human frailties, yet also seeking daily to build my treasure somewhere that both moth and rust do not exist. My heart also continually breaks for the poor all around me, both for the one’s whose fault is their own and the one’s that are not. In fact, I have many times squandered my own belongings on their and other’s welfare, though with none of these deeds still going unpunished. I’m then reminded that the Father desires obedience and there is often not a pragmatic happy ending for every gift I lay on the altar of sacrifice. The burning embers left in my hands are often the only reminder.
And as I muse a bit further, I also realize that I have given love to the unlovable many times, and I’ve never chosen to associate one’s holiness barometer by what they eat or drink, how many times they go to a church service, or how much they put in the offering plate–but rather in terms of what the eyes they look out at this bleeding world through cause them to be and do for it’s sake. I am also doing my best to love my wife and my children, and to be gentle and kind; and of course wish that it would be said of me that I am a man of humility and grace, and that my former sins will be forever drowned in the Ocean of the Father’s great love. And yet, to be sure, I have not yet graduated in order to teach the class I speak of I suppose just yet. Yet I do increasingly wonder as I look around me: Are there many left who are even on the path to persistently give it a college try?
 Hebrews 5:11-14