I was talking the other day with a friend who commented that cultures would do well to learn from one another. As an example, he spoke of how the Japanese revere their elders. If a man or woman has reached their seventies or eighties, they are held in high regard. Their age and experience has earned them respect. Their words are weighty. They matter. My friend then lamented that our American culture tends to see our senior citizens as a problem more than a prize. We’re addicted to youth and are in a never ending pursuit to stay and look young.
He got me thinking. Having been raised in a bicultural environment (Indian parents living in America), I’ve seen glimpses of the best and worst of both Eastern and Western thinking. One culture will often err in disregarding the elderly. The other will often err in worshipping the elderly. I have seen folks scoff their aged parents as though they didn’t matter. I’ve also seen folks hold their aged parents in such high regard that it seems like God didn’t matter. I’ve been guilty of both. Somewhere in the middle is a Biblical land where we honor our elders without worshipping them. Where we revere them without fearing them more than we fear God. Something like this verse: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32
Anyway, with all this floating in my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about Laura and Betty. Laura and Betty are first cousins, originally a part of St. Mark’s, and now the oldest members of Seven Mile Road Church. In obedience to the spirit of Leviticus 19:32, let me honor and encourage them by giving you five random things that I admire about these two beloved saints.
1. Everyone knows it’s never polite to talk about a woman’s age. But Laura has given me prior permission. Laura and Betty are New Year babies and on the first Sunday of this year, our church sang Happy Birthday to them as they celebrated their 85th and 84th birthdays respectively. Their age and experience has earned our respect and the Scriptures call us to encourage them as our own mothers (1 Tim. 5:1-2). We gladly do so.
2. They were members of St. Mark’s from birth. Laura and Betty have been a part of St. Mark’s before I was in diapers. Before my parents were in diapers! Laura has lived through every pastor that the church has had. Every Sunday, she sang Holy, Holy, Holy to open the service. They have worshipped at St. Mark’s their whole lives. And now, they worship with us. In case you’re unfamiliar with our churches, nothing about Seven Mile Road looks or feels like St. Mark’s German Evangelical Reformed Church (the official full name). St. Mark’s ended with an elderly congregation where Curt (in his 40s) was basically the youth group. Instead of drifting off into the sunset surrounded by peers, Laura and Betty are now with a crew of twenty and thirty year olds and a delightful mob of noisy-below-six-years-old-rugrats. St. Mark’s had a piano, organ, and full choir in robes singing at every service. Laura and Betty now sing re-done hymns with acoustic guitars and a box-drum. And I can only imagine what they think of how Siby (our worship leader) dresses. They sit on cushioned chairs instead of pews, in a room with a black ceiling instead of stained glass windows, reading lyrics off a Powerpoint screen instead of hymnals. Oh, and about 70 percent of the room are second-generation Indians. Different. Different. Different.
And yet Laura and Betty are happy.
They’re not sulking in a corner. They’re not secretly bad-mouthing our church. No gossiping. No second-guessing every decision. No insisting on their preferences. Happy. Genuinely happy. Laura said as much in our GCM last week. I’ve met Christians who have been in church for 10 minutes and are so committed to ‘their way’ of doing church that they can’t survive let alone thrive in other places. Yet Laura and Betty worshipped the same way for eight decades and have put every personal preference aside and humbly joined with us. I will never stop being grateful for that. That to me is even more generous than the $2M property they gave us.
3. Betty is sweet. She calls me “Pastor.” I genuinely don’t know how she doesn’t laugh every time. I’m young enough to be her grandson. I’m always taken aback by the respect she gives me. It never gets old. Laura’s the same way. I now preach from a portable pulpit that we move around. Previously, there was a big old sturdy permanent pulpit that you climbed into. Every Sunday before the service, Laura would make sure to put a cup of water for me there in case my voice grew hoarse as I preached. I know Jesus will honor them for the many ways they have honored me (Matt. 10:42).
4. Laura is a part of the Northeast GCM (gospel community on mission). Take that in for a second. She bought in to what we were doing so much that she joined a gospel community. I’d imagine she’d have a million reasons why being in a GCM is inconvenient – though I’ve never heard one from her. 85 years old and she drives herself over at night. Last week, she cooked a killer soup for dinner had the room rolling with laughter. We’ll be taking turns watching the little ones when we meet together. She volunteered to be in the rotation. I tried to use my executive privilege to exempt her and she would have none of it.
5. Laura and Betty are not marginally a part of Seven Mile Road. They’re all-in. The same thing is true for Diane and Curt, who also, as Curt likes to say, “came with the property.” Every time I think of that, I’m more convinced that the gospel is true. There is no way that these four folks should be worshipping with Seven Mile Road…if it weren’t for Jesus and His gospel. Jew and Gentile, male and female – one in Him. That’s what the gospel does.