Summary: Why older folk are so important to a healthy family and a healthy church

Gray Is My Favorite Color

Leviticus 19:32

Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister

First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO

Introduction: Today I want to take the occasion of this Memorial Day weekend (or Decoration Day, as they called it when I was a kid) and the middle of our Season of the Family to honor the older folk among us. For our purposes today, I want to define older folk as anyone over the proverbial three score and ten, or seventy years old. How many do we have present today in their 70’s? In their 80’s? Anyone in their 90’s?

Seniors, we want to honor you today. That verse from Leviticus calls for respect and honor for those who are older. It says, “Rise in the presence of the aged.” May I suggest that for a moment we do just that? I would invite all of you under seventy to stand in honor of our older folk. Let’s give them a “hand” as a symbol of our respect and honor. Thank you!

That little verse from Leviticus 19 may seem strange and out of place to some. Leviticus, as you may remember, is named for the Old Testament tribe of Levi. Levi was the family group from which the priests and servants in the tabernacle were to come. The book of Leviticus contains the rules and regulations for the conduct of the Jewish priests, the construction of the tabernacle, and the various offerings and sacrifices that were offered to God. This particular chapter provides an overview of basic Old Testament morality. It is sort of a commentary on how to apply the Ten Commandments. Then in the middle of all of these assorted regulations, seemingly out of nowhere, verse 32 says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly…”

That “out of nowhere” admonition might be confusing enough, but note how the verse ends, “and revere your God." I am the LORD.” This little verse in the middle of this chapter reminds us that respect for our elders and reverence for our Creator often go hand in hand. I think it is demonstrably true. A people that appreciates and respects its elderly has a good foundation for its young. Likewise, a church that can honor its past has hope for its future. It is good that we honor our seniors today. I think that today and everyday in this church we ought to be able to say that “gray (hair, that is) is our favorite color. Why do we honor you?

We honor your perseverance. Gwen Chrisman reminds me almost every Sunday morning, “Growing old isn’t for wimps!” A lot of the young couldn’t handle it! Gwen and Floyd were both lying in bed one morning, having just awakened from a good night’s sleep. Floyd reaches over and takes Gwen’s hand. She immediately responds, "Don’t touch me." "Why not," he asks. Gwen answers back, "Because I’m dead." Floyd says to her, "What are you talking about? We’re both lying here in bed talking to one another." Gwen says, "No, I’m definitely dead. I woke up this morning and nothing hurts. I must be dead!"

As one seasoned saint explained, “Old folks are worth a fortune. They have silver in their hair, gold in their teeth, stones in their kidneys, lead in their feet and gas in their stomachs. I have become a lot more social with the passing of the years. Some might even call me a frivolous old gal. I’m seeing five gentlemen every day. As soon as I wake, Will Power helps me get out of bed. Then I go see John. Then Charley Horse comes along. When he is here, he takes a lot of my time and attention. When he leaves, Arthur Ritis shows up and stays the rest of the day. He doesn’t like to stay in one place very long, so he takes me from joint to joint. After such a busy day. I’m really tired and glad to go to bed - with Ben Gay. What a life! The preacher came to call the other day. He said that, at my age, I should be thinking about the hereafter. I told him I do - all the time. No matter where I am - in the living room, upstairs, in the kitchen or down in the basement - I ask myself, "Now what am I here after?"

Someone else has offered this David Letterman style list of the Top Ten Ways to Know You Are Growing Old . . .

1. Everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt, doesn’t work.

2. You have a party and the neighbors don’t even realize it.

3. You quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walks into the room.

4. You investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.

5. Your little black book contains a lot of phone numbers but they all end in M.D.

6. You finally get it all together and then you can’t remember where you put it.

7. Your pacemaker opens the garage door whenever you see a pretty lady go by.

8. You try to straighten out the wrinkles in your socks and discover you aren’t wearing any.

9. The gleam in your eye is just the sun reflecting on your bifocals.

10. You wake up looking like your driver’s license picture.

Despite the challenges of growing older, Proverbs says, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life” (Pro 16:31). “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old” (Prov 20:29). Seriously, seniors we honor you for your perseverance. You have gone through a lot in your life times. You survived wars, depressions, and changes the like of which few of us can imagine. You went from Model T’s to Space Shuttles, from party lines to cell phones. Most of you still live in the BC era—before computers. Your grandkids can’t believe you once lived without remote controls much less without television. Most of you can remember life before electricity and indoor plumbing. For some of you, the only running water was when you carried the bucket real fast. You lived with lead paint and leaded gasoline. You survived without seatbelts and airbags. You even stood up in the middle of the back seat or on a starry night laid in the rear window of the car and starred at the sky. You grew up with prayer in school and paddlings at home. You worked hard to raise a family. You lived and loved and sacrificed for the next generation. We owe you much. Truly the Scripture is right when it tells us to “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly…” Truly gray is our favorite color!

We honor our seniors because of their perseverance and hard work. Just surviving what they have gone through matters. We also honor you for another reason. For those of you in this room, we honor your faith. Many of you have been in this place a lot through the years. Being in church, studying the Bible together, and lifting your voices in worship have been a weekly habit for a lot of you. Some of you may have come to faith later. Many of you worked hard to see that your children went to Sunday school and learned the principles of the Bible. Many of you have worked in this church or other congregations for years. You have taught the Bible, led youth activities, sung in the choir, or worked behind the scenes to make the church strong and effective.

You lived a life of faith while many around you did not. While others lived for self, or pleasure, or a vain attempt to pile up material possessions, you have chosen to make Christ the center of your life. You voiced that faith, attempted to pass it on to your young, and have lived to see the fruit of that faithfulness. We honor you. Most of all we honor the God to whom you have pointed the rest of us for so many years.

You have taught those who follow you that the God who made us loves us. You have taught your young the joy of obeying God. You taught them that God is loving and kind, but also holy and just. You have made sure that they know that sin breaks God’s heart. You have believed and taught that what Jesus did for us on the cross and that alone can pay for our sins. You have prayed for your young to accept Christ as savior. You have rejoiced at their baptisms and taken pride as they have grown up to be men and women of faith.

Many of you learned the faith from your parents and grandparents. Some of you didn’t have that advantage. You were the first in your families to take up the cross of Christ. But you have worked hard to make sure that you weren’t the last. That’s another reason gray is our favorite color.

We honor your perseverance, your faith and devotion to Christ. We also honor your example. You have not just talked the faith. You have lived that faith. You have left big footprints to follow. You have left an example of service. Many of you have sacrificed for others, reached out in compassion to those in need, and worked hard to make your church the best it could possibly be.

You have left an example of generosity. Your financial stewardship has made possible this church, a Bible college, and lots of worthwhile missions enterprises around the world. Because of you and your spirit of giving, thousands of people in countless places around the globe have been blessed by and know about First Christian Church of Vandalia. Some of you have lived below your means so that you could give beyond your means. You set the standard high. You have left a legacy that will live on long after you go on to your eternal reward.

We also honor your example of hope and optimism. You have come through a lot in your lifetimes. You have learned that even in the toughest of times God is greater. When others could have turned sour and pessimistic, you have insisted that the God who never let you down in the past will never let you down in the future. God is good all the time! We honor your hope.

I am constantly amazed at the positive attitude of many of seniors. I am sure they all have their moments. Anyone would. But who can help but admire the gentle spirit of Ruth Elzea? Who of us have not been amazed at Brooks Brandstetter’s confident faith in the midst of declining health? Everett Griggs’ quiet faithfulness? Dorothy and Ralph Brandstetter’s unstoppable energy? Or Mary Todd’s sweet smile? Murryl Morris’s passion for Christ? I could go on and on naming others who are setting a powerful example of what it means to grow older gracefully and faithfully.

I can’t recall some of these examples without thinking of the story I read of Maurine Jones, a ninety-two year old widow who was preparing to move to the nursing home. The nursing home director concluded her pre-admittance interview and began to describe the rooms. Before the director had finished, a smile broke across Maurine’s face. "I love it," she said with the enthusiasm of a child getting a puppy for Christmas.

"Mrs. Jones,” the director gently cautioned her, “You haven’t even seen the room yet." "That doesn’t have anything to do with it," Maurine replied. "Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged. It’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice. I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work. Or I can get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do.”

That’s the example many of you have set. That’s why gray is our favorite color. That’s why it’s easy for those of us around here to “rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly…”

Conclusion: Seniors, let me close with a special appeal aimed just for you. No matter what you may be tempted to think, God isn’t finished with you yet. Your sons and daughters and grandchildren still need a thing or two from you. The rest of the folk in this church are still depending on you.

We still need the same things you have always given us. We need your perseverance. We need you to encourage us to persevere. We need you to keep reminding us that “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” We still need your faith. You don’t know how much it means for us to hear you say that God is still faithful. We are tempted to think that God’s goodness stops when times get hard. Your faith tells us that the life of faith is worth the effort.

We still need your example. We know that you may not be able to do everything that you once did. A lot of you have earned a rest. But we need you to encourage those who are coming behind and picking up the slack. The young leaders and workers in the church need your pats on the back. They need to hear you say, “You’re doing a good job.” Our teenagers and children, those who are related to you and those who aren’t, need your warm embrace. They need you to put your arm around them and say so everybody can hear, “I’m proud of you!”

It is your perseverance, your faith, and your example of hope and encouragement that will enable the next generation and the one after that to some day say, even if they don’t know it now, “Gray is my favorite color.”

***Dr. Roger W. Thomas is the preaching minister at First Christian Church, 205 W. Park St., Vandalia, MO 63382 and an adjunct professor of Bible and Preaching at Central Christian College of the Bible, 911 E. Urbandale, Moberly, MO. He is a graduate of Lincoln Christian College (BA) and Lincoln Christian Seminary (MA, MDiv), and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin).