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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Sunday 4 August 2019 – Evensong Trinity 7
Genesis 50.4-end & 1 Corinthians 14.1-19
I can remember my Granny saying to me, ‘Michael, I have a lot of time for Jesus, but he didn’t know what it is like to grow old!’ That’s certainly true and I think how we grow old is a very important issue that most of us tend not to address until it is too late. People pay millions of pounds for creams and unguents marketed as smoothing away wrinkles, the signs of ageing, and others pay even more millions to plastic surgeons to smooth and tuck and reshape bodies that are sagging or bulging to make them look as though they aren’t ageing. All of this suggests to me that we aren’t very good at growing old.
Some people do acknowledge that they are mortal and time is limited and their response is to make themselves a Bucket List – a list of all the things they want to do before they ‘kick the bucket’ or, to put it more clearly, all the things they want to do before they die. This is a really good thing to do, the only thing is that the kind of thing that gets written on lots of people’s Bucket List are things like, Sky-diving, swimming with dolphins and visiting the Taj Mahal!
I am a little sceptical about this kind of Bucket List. I hope I am not being a pious killjoy but the lists I have seen all seem to be about consumerism – unusual experiences and exotic venues are there to be consumed and then ticked off the list. Is this how we should be preparing for old age – binging on thrills and treats before we fall off the perch?
The important thing about all of this is what is on your Bucket List?
The first reading today is about the closing part of Joseph’s remarkable life. Having been his father’s favourite son and therefore the most unpopular brother, he had been sold into slavery as a young man by his jealous siblings. Assuming him to be dead they carried on with their lives. It transpired that Joseph not only survived but thrived in Egypt reaching a lofty position in the household of Pharaoh. When a famine started his brothers travelled to Egypt to buy food and were dealt with by Joseph (who they did not recognise). In the end Joseph’s identity is revealed and his brothers and father were welcomed into his household.
In today’s reading we saw Joseph dealing with his quite impressive Bucket List – he is in the process of fulfilling his late father’s wishes before he died. After a time of mourning Joseph took his father Jacob’s body to Canaan where he buried him in a cave which Abraham had bought as a burial site.
After he had buried his father Joseph then formally forgives his brothers the great wrong they had done him – with huge grace and generosity Joseph acknowledges that his brothers had wished him harm but that God had intended it for good and he promises to provide for and protect his brothers and their families.
At the end of our reading Joseph then asks his brothers to take care of his burial. There are no specific instructions recorded but the expectation would be that he would be buried with his father in Canaan.
With Joseph’s actions in mind I wonder if too many of us spend too much time on what might be called the ‘swimming-with-dolphins’ or the ‘binging-on-thrills’ Bucket List and not enough time on the ‘healing-relationships-and-preparing-for-our-departure’ Bucket List that we see Joseph addressing.
The truth is that whether we are young or old we should ‘Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts’ as Paul says at the beginning of our second reading – we can do this however old we are and I think that there is an argument that we should concentrate more on pursuing love and striving for spiritual gifts the older we get. For example, many of us take great care in leaving our affairs in order with a Will in place and maybe even some guidance about our funeral wishes, but how many of us plan to do what Joseph did and ensure that those we leave behind know that their relationship with us is in good order, wrongs forgiven, misunderstandings sorted, knowing that they are valued, appreciated and loved? These aims should be at the top of any Bucket List.
In addition, when failing bodies and minds mean that we have to be inactive and immobile how useful is it going to be that we can sky-dive or swim with dolphins? Maybe learning to pray and meditate, learning to use stillness and silence creatively, will be a little more helpful when old age comes calling, as it surely will.
St John writes (John 10.10) often about having life in all its fullness or life in abundance. It is a big mistake to think that is all about wealth or possessions or thrilling experiences – the fullness of life, abundant life is all about grace, truth and above all, love – there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth, possessions and thrilling experiences but they are all transitory and ephemeral – the only thing that lasts is love, as Paul says, ‘love never ends’ (I Corinthians 13.8) and nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8.39).
Of course we are all free to have whatever we want on our Bucket Lists but I think that at the very top of every list should be,
Let us bow our heads to pray
This prayer was written by Eric Milner-White, Dean of York 1941 -1963
O Lord God, who leavest us not nor forsakest in the time of age: shew me, as my strength faileth, an even fuller lovlier light of thy glory shining over and about me.
There in that glory, let me find mine. Grant me new store of gentleness, gratitude, patience; new learning of the Passion of my Lord; new dignity of Grace. Make my life wholly his life: his heart my heart; his breath my breath, breathing love to the very end.
My time is in thy hand. Be thou my support in weakness, my courage in the dark and in pain, mine aid, day and night, my company on loneliness, my rest.
For all that thou takest from me, thou givest what is better, and guidest to the best.
Be thy love my bed and covering, be thy Christ my living Bread; thy Spirit, my strength to the end. Bring me forth, forgiven, loved and loving, child and servant for ever, into thy joy. Amen
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