Summary: To experience new life, even in the senior years, means using old knowledge to gain new knowledge; to set aside pride in order to learn; and to be fully open to Christ.
We had been talking about a mutual friend. We had laughed a little at how rigid he was, how staid. We had commented that he didn’t like change; he could easily be "all shook up" when something didn’t go his way. I asked the other person in this conversation, "How long have you known John? Has he always been like this? Has he always been obstinate, unbending, unyielding? Was there never a time before when he was not scared of change and put off by new ideas? The reply was, "No, I think John was just born old."
"Born old". Had you ever heard that expression before? Had you ever heard somebody described as "born old"? What does it mean to say that somebody was "born old"?
Well, let me tell you, it is not meant as a compliment! To say that someone was born old means that even as a child he had attitudes that we normally ascribe to elderly people. That even as a young person he seemed to be living in the wrong time, doing things in a way that seems all out of character for young people, out of date. "Born old". It is not something you give out Oscars or Emmys for! "Born old"
But, you know, that expression says more about the person who uses it than it does about the person to whom it is applied. If you slam somebody by saying that he was "born old”, you tell me more about yourself than you do about that other person.
You tell me that you think old means inflexible, rigid, hard to persuade. You tell me that you believe that old people are in the "been there, done that" mode. You tell me that you have decided that seniors can’t change or grow. You tell me that you have a negative view of aging. And that, again, says volumes more about the person who is speaking than it does of the person spoken about.
"Born old". We do have a flawed attitude toward age. We do have among us misconceptions about what it is to be senior. And so can we work together this morning to change a definition? Can we work to rephrase that old saw about being "born old"? Can we make it say, "born while old?" "Born while old?"
Two men faced off late one night. It had all the trappings of a shoot-out. It ought to have been a serious conflict. So much separated these two.
One of the two was an innovator. He had new ideas, he did things in new ways. He did things that had never been done before, and was often heard to say, "You have heard in the old days ... but here’s what I say." He was an innovator.
But the other man was a keeper of tradition. He loved old ways, not new ones. The other man was a solid, established member of a very conservative group, a group that carried the flag for ancient tradition, that stood for old values, that carried the banner for what they knew to be right. He was not an innovator; he was a conserver, a keeper.
These two men had every reason to be in conflict.
One of the two was a peasant, untrained, probably not especially literate, never having read many books. He had been a woodworker in a back country village, and had seen almost nothing of the larger world. Yes, he was putting himself out there as a teacher and a prophet. But where were his credentials? To what schools had he gone? Who were his mentors? This man was a self-made upstart.
The other man, however, was a fine, upstanding, solid citizen. He was a leader of his people, with a reputation in the community. They sought out his advice. He had spent long hours poring over the legal documents that defined his people. When he spoke, he spoke from a background of knowledge and experience, wisdom and prudence. He was not a self-made upstart; he was a man who had been trained carefully to fit in.
These two men, it surely seems, were about to do battle.
And most especially because one of them, named Jesus, was only about thirty years old, a young man. Bursting with energy, filled with hope, fired by a call to do something, he had all the unpolished dynamic of youth, did Jesus. And the other man, Nicodemus – well, we do not know his age, but it is certain that young men did not reach his position in Jewish life. It is certain that he was among the elder statesmen of the community, his status had been earned by many years of apprenticeship. We do not know Nicodemus’ age, exactly, but it’s clear he was senior to Jesus by a good many years.