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Making the most of retirement… 2 Timothy 4:1-8

August 29, 2011
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pensionersAgnus was a spritely 65-year-old! She had been running races for most of her life, she’d started with the 5 miles and rather enjoyed it, gone on to the 10 miles and got a feel for it, moved up to the 20 miles thinking she’d never finish it, and finally ran the big one, the marathon. Agnus had run a few marathon’s now and had always ended with a sprint to the finish. Now she had turned 65 she was going for the London Marathon. She had all the gear, she’d pinned on her number, tied her fancy trainers and had warmed up, which was particularly important now that she had reached the age of the free bus pass!

The race had begun well and she felt fine as she ran the first 10 miles, the second ten were a little harder, though as she crossed the 20 mile marker she had gotten her second wind. Imagine her glee as she approached the last few miles and still felt okay. Sure there were a few painful parts of her body, she wasn’t in quite the shape she started in but then who was after running 23 miles? The final part of the race was upon her, the part she usually left for the sprint, but this time her mind drifted to her age, she realised that she should be taking easy, and as one of the crowd shouted out ‘take it easy Grandma’, she slowed to a walk,and though she could see the finish line she stopped still in the road!

It seems a bit funny doesn’t it, slowing down in the final straight, being tempted to stop, even relax with the tape only just out of reach, and yet when it comes to retirement, this seems to be the message from our society. Press on till retirement, work your socks off, put the effort in while your young, so that when it comes to the final few years, you can relax and take it easy. Just like Agnus who gave up in the last straight, so the world says you should relax and take it easy on reaching 65. Working under the philosophy that when you die that’s it, the world quite understandably says that we have to have the most fun possible now and then we should use those last few years to have the most fun possible! So the thinking goes, work really hard putting money into pensions and then when you can afford to live the rest of your life comfortably, stop working and live an easy life.

Now as you’ll worked out from today’s passage from 2 Timothy, God has something very different in mind for His people. God doesn’t want us to give up in the final straight, He wants us to push on to finish the race, to end well, to finish what we started. Now before we get too worried, I don’t think this means that we have to work till we die, retiring from work is fine, BUT it’s retiring from serving God, retiring from serving His people, that we must reject. And this comes about because of course, God has a very different idea of life than the world does; something very different from the idea that we need to make sure we enjoy ourselves now because this life is all there is. Well not surprisingly given the resurrection of Christ, God wants us to see this life as more of a warm up for the next, a place from which, arthritis, blindness, aches, pains and death will have been removed forever. Given what is to come then, this life should have a very real direction. every person from the moment that we’re born has a purpose, and that purpose is to live for God, to praise Him to serve Him by serving His people, and to point people to Him so they can know Him as well. And this purpose, this calling if you like, doesn’t change when you hit 65, it doesn’t change when you can’t work anymore, or when you have enough money to live on, it doesn’t change when you get sick, and it doesn’t change when all we can do is to get up in the morning and little more besides. And so the picture of the marathon runner, that is of course a picture of the Christian running through life, that we find in our passage today, isn’t of one who gives up, look down at verse 7 with me:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…

Paul you see, understanding everything we’ve said, about God’s desire for our life, has pushed on, he didn’t quit because of abuse, or because of persecution, or because the threat of death, and therefore as Paul approaches old age, Paul doesn’t sort of hang up his preaching scarf, and say well its time for the younger ones now. He doesn’t say to the Romans, who are holding him captive, don’t worry guys I won’t be any more trouble, I’ve retired now and won’t be doing any more preaching, so you can let me go. No Paul, given what God has in store in the next life, pushes on even though that means execution, pushes on in pursuing the purpose of God, knowing that he doesn’t need to have tasted everything this life has to offer, that the life waiting for him and the God who He will see there face to face is all that matters, and so he pushes on; Paul keeps going He keeps serving God, and so can he be sure of receiving the crown of righteousness!

Now as we’ve said this doesn’t mean that Christians have to keep their jobs until they die, that’s to miss the whole point, and slip into valuing a job too much. Employment for the Christian is a good thing but for us it is only a means for living for God. Jobs are good, God has called on us to work, but they are not to be what we live for, they are not to be our identity, or our value. What this means is, that when we retire from employment we don’t retire from the main purpose of our lives; we don’t retire from living for God. Our ministry continues our living for Christ goes on, throughout the various jobs we have, throughout the different seasons of our life and this holds true when we retire from paid employment.

Polycarp

Now this is not to say the way we serve Christ stays the same, that if we’ve been a Sunday School teacher our entire lives, when we retire, despite the dodgy hip and bad back, we need to continue to chase 5 year olds around. No the precise ministry we are given will vary with different seasons in our lives, serving in different ways at various stages of our life. The important thing for us all, at whatever stage of life we’re at, is to have a focus on serving God and working out how we can do that, given our time, our physical abilities and our age. Perhaps an example, albeit it a fairly unique one may help her.

Abram (in the Bible) had worked hard all of his life, and was probably looking forward to handing things over to one of his extended relatives, perhaps he had a favourite nephew in mind but God had something fairly different in mind. When Abram, later Abraham, left his home and started out for a distant land he was 75, and had pretty much his entire ministry ahead of him. I think he would’ve been forgiven for thinking that perhaps he had done his bit and that maybe a younger person would’ve been better, but then God uses all of his people, not just the young ones.

Or how about an example from the early church, this time an old church leader named Polycarp! Despite being warned by his friends, and by a dream that his life was in danger, Polycarp stayed in his house and when the soldiers came for him he and went down and spoke to them plainly:

“All that were present marvelled at his age and constancy, and that there was so much ado about the arrest of such an old man.” He asked for permission to pray before being taken away. They allowed it, and he was “so filled with the grace of God that for two hours he could not hold his peace.”

Later having being arrested and being questioned the Roman pro-counsel said:

 “Have respect to thine age . . . ! Swear by the genius of Caesar . . . Repent . . . Swear, and I will release thee; curse the Christ.”

To this Polycarp gave his most famous response:

“Eighty six years have I served him, and he hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

Even at the age of 86 and being threatened by wild beasts, burning and death, Polycarp was determined to finish well, trusting and serving God.Retirement might be then end of secular employment for the Christian but it shouldn’t be the end of serving Christ and His people.

So what does this mean then for us, assuming God isn’t calling any of us here into the desert or to stand up to Romans and wild beasts, what does serving Christ in retirement, what does finishing well mean for us in the 21st century? Well firstly, and this is for those who remain healthy and active God may be calling us to do something radical for Him, and by radical I don’t mean working on our Golf handicap. Again an example may help and we need to think no further than members of our own church of St Andrew’s for this:

Derek and Nerina Harborne have just retired from their secular jobs, working for the health service which they have been doing for their entire lives not however, to take up Crown Green bowling, however good that may be nor to take long extended holidays, though travelling is on their mind. No the now retired Harborne’s, are selling their family home, and bought a smaller one in Buckshaw Village, so that they can help out with the church which has been planted there. However, this isn’t their long-term plan for their retirement either. No Derek and Nerina have gone back to school to learn some travel medicine, and a foreign language so that they can serve Christ in Africa, teaching, and serving with their medical skills in an African hospital. Retirement for the Harborne’s much like Abraham, has meant a whole new chapter of their lives beginning for them, God calling them in to a whole new ministry, you see the Harborne’s are planning to finish their race well.

For many of us at the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) service however, health is a very real problem and we will need to think through what WE can do to serve Christ, given the fact that WE can’t dash round as we use to. Firstly, it must be remembered that as the elder members of our church, you are often the ones who have followed Christ for the longest, and as such have much wisdom and advice to give which the church would ignore at its peril. But with such esteem and respect, comes the opportunity for members of our BCP congregation to be examples for the rest of our church. So a question for you to ponder is, ‘How can I demonstrate all the things which God has taught me, how can I show God’s love and patience to the rest of the church?’ Perhaps the best answer is in living a godly life being a good witness, showing, demonstrating, acting out, what it is to be a Christian for all to see. From such visible service our church would undoubtably benefit greatly.

Secondly, given the free time which retirement can give you, perhaps think about how you can best serve the church in practical ways. I know that many of you already do this with some of the women serving at crèche, and I know some of the men serve on committees for which their previous employment stands them in good stead. Again having so much experience the church needs your input and wisdom and will be weaker without it. Let the young ones run about but help them to run in the right way and in the right direction.

Finally, if not most importantly the ministry of those who, due to poor health, can do little else, there is always one of the most valuable if ministries left for you to take part in, that of prayer. I remember the first week of working for the church as an apprentice, David our Vicar, took us to meet Vic & Frances Marston. They struggled to get out and about, I remember Vic being on Oxygen and finding it difficult to move about the house let alone anything else. But I remember David saying that despite this they served our church greatly by daily praying for each and every activity which we put on. Prayer is SO often under valued and yet without God we can do nothing. I wonder if as we thought through possibilities of retirement, as we talked of the Harborne’s, as we’ve talked about serving in crèche or on committees, you’ve been thinking sadly ‘I can’t do that’, perhaps it has been slightly depressing as you’ve wondered what you could do, well if your body won’t let you serve in any other way, then you’re still left with one of the most important ministries of all, so please don’t feel left out, don’t feel useless, because perhaps God has given you the time and space just to pray, each and everyday to pray for an aspect or a ministry of the church, to pray for her people, for her leaders and for those in our town who don’t know Christ.

God has made us with a purpose, to serve Him by serving one another, He calls us all to serve Him with the gifts He has given, and our ministries and subsequent the gifts God will give us, will change as we go through life. The danger we face in our society, is the general understanding that when we get old, we are put out to pasture. This maybe in a positive way as we’ve outlined, living a life of leisure, or more negatively as some deem older people of less value, if even they wouldn’t put it quite like that. To either of these understandings God says no, seeing our inherent value in being made like Him, and in serving Him and His people as a great mission in life, God calls on His people not to give up spiritually, when parts of our bodies give up physically, not to be like Agnus stopping in the final straight, but to be like Paul pushing on to the end, and to finish with a sprint, to finish well. That way we can be assured of the crown of righteousness, and the words we so long to hear, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 4, 2011 12:25 am

    Great perspective!!!! How try that we need to press on for the prize. Stay busy, keep doing the ‘work’ God intends until He calls us home!!!

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