This week’s texts feature the faith of Abraham and Sarah. What was it about their faith journey of Abraham and Sarah that gave them faith to believe such a preposterous promise as becoming becoming father and mother of God’s people in their nineties? Oh, they certainly took the opportunity to laugh and argue at the idea: Genesis 17: 17 “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” A few verses later, we see Abraham, who has stopped laughing and arguing, taking a brave step of faith and circumcising all the men in his household as a sign of this covenant. Abraham also underwent the rite of circumcision. One can wonder; was he trying to make it even more challenging for God to provide them with an heir?
Whatever the case, we see in Abraham the resilient faith of a senior that has been tested by a lot of life.
1) Learning from seniors: This is the first way I learned to open my eyes to God’s imagination from our texts. Abraham and Sarah’s faith is not a faith without questions or arguments, or without humour, but it is a faith that is willing to act, even if it is costly and painful, on what he believes God requires of them and their household. That is an inspiring example of senior faith.
If we learn to act in ways that trust God through life’s crises, big and small, our faith can also develop that kind of resilience. That’s what inspires me about the faith of seniors. Even though I qualify for senior’s coffee at McDonalds and live with a man who gets a pension cheque, I’m not quite a senior yet, but I am glad to be headed in that direction.
One of the seniors who has really inspired me through her writing is Joan Chittister. Joan is a nun and an activist for peace and creation care. She also writes about aging: In The Gift of Years, a book you can easily borrow from our Common Word book store and Resource Centre, she writes: “Seniors can teach us how to die as well as how to live. They teach us how to make sense of the unity between life and death, how to love life without fearing death – because we know ourselves to have been always on the way, even when we did not know where we were going.”
2) Learning to let go: This opens our eyes to God’s imagination. In our Gospel text, in Mark 8:33, we hear Jesus challenging Peter to let go of his understanding of God’s salvation plan, as he rebukes him, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind, not on divine things, but on human things.” This is just one strong reminder Peter needed on his journey. Some of us are like Peter. We struggle with letting go of how we think things should be done, how we think things should be understood.
But all of us need to learn to release our hold on things and let go, especially when they clash with God’s imagination. Abraham had to let go of thinking his own way of producing an heir with the help of Sarah’s servant, Hagar, would produce God’s promised offspring.
As we age, especially when children and grandchildren make choices that seem wrong to us, we often need to let go as a way of staying in relationship with the ones we love. There are so many ways that we are called to let go as we age. Doing so in faith that God can still work in situations where we relinquish control opens our eyes to see God’s imagination at work.
3) Naming God’s presence: Once our eyes are opened to what is in God’s imagination, we see the world in new ways. New possibilities become less threatening, and hope rises up in place of the despair that was part of losing control. We need to name that hope, and recognize God’s hand in it. That’s what Abraham must have done as he talked to the men in his household about this new covenant. That’s what Peter did as he preached on the first Pentecost. They named God’s presence. But our faith journey is about a lot more than words and that leads us to the third basic ingredient, whatever our age.
4)Responding to God’s presence: We need to put our faith into action. Abraham did this as he circumcised all the men in his household. Peter did this as he led the early church. We do this as we live out our unique ways of being faithful and being “God with skin on” for the people in our lives. And then, as we are acting, sometimes we will lose sight of God’s imagination, and need to be reminded to let go, and let God, all over again.
5) Learning to waltz: Our spiritual lives are a journey that is full of this rhythm of letting go, naming God’s presence, and responding to that presence. As we get used to it, it can begin to feel a bit like a slow three step waltz. And as we learn to trust God as the one who is leading this process, we relax into the arms of the one who is leading us; the One who’s got the best imagination of all. Thanks be to God.