Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA

The Gift of Long Life (Psalm 92:12-15 and Psalm 1)

It’s May – a new season of fruit begins!  The strawberries are wonderful at Washington Farms.  Next are blueberries & blackberries & mulberries that you can pick at Buffalo Creek Farm on June 16 – sign up on the bulletin board.  Jubilee Partners invites you to come enjoy their berries too.  Raspberries are in the grocery stores.  Bananas seem to be year-round.  Then come cantaloupes & huge watermelons in June & July.  But for my mother who grew up in south GA, you have to wait & wait & wait some more – for the humid heat of August and the peak of fruit flies, to get the most luscious & lovely of all – the Georgia Peach.  The earlier ones may be sweet, but the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth ones come later on.  Our own Cliff Brock who works at the Botanical Gardens told me it’s true = older apple trees & grapevines & such are supposed to yield a better, more nuanced fruit flavor.  So there you have it – good work & preparation and then good patience & waiting, for the best crop to come in, late in the season or late in life.  We ripen as we mature, into the fullness of what God created us to be.

But then, someone else with first-hand experience has also said – don’t live past 90!  It’s too hard!  You won’t like it!  Of course there’s a down-side to living a long life, when health is a challenge & pain is incessant.  It seems all is loss, as you begin to lose your senses – yes, your memories but also the big 5 senses – food doesn’t taste the same – and why is it that everyone else is mumbling so?  Speak up!  And then you lose your independence, needing help around town and help with your checkbook.  Yet, the hardest loss is the number of friends & family gone, when you never thought you’d be the last one standing.  How do we rise above all that?  How do we see long life as a gift?

Especially on this Mother’s Day, I look to our oldest church member and see how graciously & wisely she continues to flesh out fruits of the Spirit in her long life, though no longer raising a family or working in the mission field.  There’s still great “worth.”  She accepts help from others so that we both can feel good by giving & receiving.  She’s open to new technology for better hearing & seeing & moving about, rather than just staying home in the dark.  She stays connected to friends by showing up regularly for Bible studies & worship & fellowship, always with a smile and a great curiosity about the world.  Last but not least, she attends to her inner strength & nearness to God, by keeping a song or a hymn in her heart & by stretching her prayer life to include those in the headlines, those who need an advocate, and those who are refugees, as well as her loved ones.  Surely she delights in knowing God’s ways so well after all her years of service & mission, planted by streams of water & flourishing in the house of the Lord.  And each new year, we see her still producing the best of all fruit, simply by being with us & showing us Christ’s peace, come what may, as she gathers up a long life of experience & perseverance, almost a century of resilience, finding joy beyond sorrows.

Such wisdom is all around us, shared by so many at Covenant, generation to generation.  For even as the body may diminish, the Spirit forever grows into eternity, a Spirit as tall as the ancient sequoias, as productive as 1000-yr-old olives, drinking in God’s gift of time, to nurture right relationships and spread the love of God as far & wide as the oldest of oak trees, so majestic, so strong.

You know it’s never too late, with God.  There’s always enough time, to start growing even from seed those fruits of the Spirit, in our later years.  But think of all you’ve missed, by settling for passing fancies.  So don’t wait any longer – don’t postpone your delight in the Lord. Find strength for the journey into long life, by following God’s guidance and sharing God’s goodness with others, in word & deed, through joy & sorrow, with a song ever in your heart.

It is said – the living Spirit of any religion shines through most clearly in its hymns, as in them, the people bring before God their troubles & fears, as well as their hopes and confidence – for us, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Be Thou My Vision, Lord of the Dance – and the Book of Psalms was such a hymnbook for ancient Israel.  Centuries ago, the lyrics of these psalms sung in worship affirmed their relationship with the God of covenant & steadfast love, the One who had blessed them so they could be a blessing to others, the One who gave them a Law to love and follow throughout their lives.

So it’s appropriate for the beginning – Psalm #1 in this book of deepest feelings and experiences – to meditate on life and the ways of the Lord, both for ancient Israel and for us as we continue to walk with God.  Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes – this Psalm celebrates the wisdom of Torah, not as a set of rules to obey, but rather the practice of a disciplined ethic to meditate upon, to study & engage & absorb – and also to interpret daily & courageously & even playfully in new situations unaddressed by Scripture, as we delight in embracing the moral shape God intends for our lives (Texts for Preaching, B, 339), for to do so brings fruitful & abundant life, well-rooted and in solidarity with others and productive, no better life to live.  Happy are those – peaceably content and satisfied, not necessarily by health or wealth, but by a life centered in God’s word, as in community we seek out its meaning together & so prosper.

Have you lived through a drought?  Have you walked an hour in the desert?  Have you thirsted for something unattainable?  Then you too can relate to the imagery of Psalm 1.  Most vegetation in the Mideast wilderness is scruffy, low-to-the-ground, and vulnerable.  Only in an oasis do you find the shade & luxury of tall, date palms, planted by streams, never to wither, drinking in the life-giving water that bears much fruit.  Without that flowing stream, plants dry up and blow away, just as those who would live without God’s formative word and community, unnoticed & uncared for, with no staying power, no strength of Spirit shared.

Picture the trees mentioned in Psalm 92, planted & flourishing in the house of the Lord, in a breezy, open-air atrium, protected from too much sun, fed & watered by helping hands, and for generations bringing joy to those who enter.  Covenant reflects that image, with all our glass & greenery, letting in the light and celebrating God’s beautiful creation in this house.  Yet even more important is the symbolism for our lives – as together after 50 years we are still bearing fruit, ever green & full of sap, able to bend & flow with the wind of the Spirit, leaning into that wind with resiliency & hope, come what may, because we know we belong to God, forever.

There’s a new name making the rounds for older adults.  The WW2 baby boom is shrinking.  I hear that recently the number of millennials has grown larger than the number of boomers.  And so the new imagery, the new name, is to call ourselves “perennials” (Parade, Apr.2018).  I like it.  It’s timeless.  Every generation of older adults can use it and grow into it.  It’s life-giving, almost resurrecting, as we continue to bloom in great diversity & color and continue to bear good fruit, year after year into the future.  And it doesn’t limit our beauty & productivity to some past shared experience in our youth, but focuses instead upon the present, this year, this time & place, celebrating what we can add to God’s garden right now, that will welcome all who come to visit, to feed, to admire, or to rest – and that will also nurture the next generation of flowers & berries, as they too will grow from their rootedness in Christ’s love.

So may our lives perennially sing praises, giving thanks for the gift of long life with God.

May the Lord bless us & keep us & give us peace.  Amen.                   Beecher Mathes