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Seniors’ and Grandparents’ Priceless Gift for the Family of God

October 20, 2012

Being part of the family of God is a blessing no less for the young than for the aged. At our Children’s Talk, I shared an excerpt from the wonderful story The Velveteen Rabbit, in which is a toy bunny asks the skin horse, the oldest and wisest toy in the nursery, how you become Real. Their conversation goes like this:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”  Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”  “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” “I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. “The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
“What makes you real,” the skin horse says to the velveteen rabbit, “is love.”

After reading this excerpt, I then asked our little ones who in the Parish reminded them most of the skin horse, and the velveteen rabbit at the end of the story. The answer, of course, was our seniors and grandparents. Our older members have wisdom to share with us from having made the decision to walk the path of love. They have made the choice to take up their cross and follow Our Lord as his disciples, paying the cost of love. And so, they show us what is Real – bearing witness by their words and their lives, that the way of love is the way of life.

When we combine the three accounts of the encounter between Jesus and the man in today’s Gospel, we learn that he was a rich young ruler. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if there had been an older disciple who could have taken him aside and said, “I know you think the cost is too high, but let me tell you, I’ve left everything to follow Jesus, and I’ve received back ‘a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.’ It’s worth all you can ever give to be a disciple of Jesus!”

This was the testimony we heard two years ago, when we read as one of our Grandparents’ and Seniors’ Day quotes an excerpt from the Martyrdom of Polycarp, which relates the true story of the death of Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna in A.D. 155. Polycarp was told that his life would be spared if he recanted his faith in Jesus. But he replied, “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Today’s Psalm speaks of this mentoring role of our older members:
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and grey hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might
to all the generations to come (Psalm 71:17-18).

Our older members can share with our younger the gift of their unembellished story of what it has been like to journey through life as a disciple of the Lord. They can share of the Lord’s faithfulness in the midst of all of life’s pain and struggle (remember the ending of the book of Job). They can share the experience of their lives that, as it says in today’s Epistle, “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,” who understands our weaknesses, our pain and struggle, and so we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

And, to those afraid of aging, of vulnerability, of weakness, they can share the truth of Jesus’ words in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness;” and then join their voices to Paul’s testimony, “whenever I am weak, then I am strong. … Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 12:10 and 4:16).

So it is that young and old are built up as we share life together in the family of God. Our younger members can especially share the gift of presence and care through the tough times our older members face. Our older members share their witness to the deepest meaning of life, through their lives of discipleship, following the Lord.

How awesome it is to belong to the family of God!

(This is adapted from the conclusion of the homily at our October 14 Services. The video embedded below is of “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” which was one of the traditional hymns we sang at our 10:00 a.m. Service in honour of Grandparents’ and Seniors’ Day.)

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