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The Tradition of the Elders


Text: 2 Timothy 4:7 "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."


It is always a great privilege for me to speak with you here at the Baptist home. I suspect this will be the last time I do it, since I am no longer a Baptist. But I am glad to have the opportunity to address you one more time. I hope I can give you something to consider in the time to come, something a bit more lasting than an afternoon's pleasant diversion.

I am quite sure that most of you find yourselves here looking back on a life full of faithfulness to Christ. You look back and ask yourselves whether you were faithful to him; whether he was faithful to you. And, while all of us would admit we were not quite as faithful as we might have been, I dare say many or most of you sympathize with the words of 2 Timothy.

You are pleased to look back at your long religious lives, just as you do your long work lives, and you are quietly pleased. You know you have something to be proud of, however much you would be quick to give the glory to God.

And others know this, too. Your very presence here is a way of people saying to you, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

But I'll bet you sometimes look back on earlier years and marvel at how seriously you once took things that you now see did not matter at all. Some thing, some possession, some honor, some distinction you tried so hard to get--now it seems like mere wood, hay, and stubble.

That thing you were so worried about for so long, now you look back and shake your head and ask yourself how you could have thought it was worth the effort! Or think of a grudge you held for so long against some person. Was it really worth it? Now you realize it wasn't. Too bad you couldn't see it as clearly at the time!

But don't blame yourself. These are things we can only see, or that only look clear in retrospect. You couldn't have had the same perspective when you were in the middle of the situation. So why blame yourself?

And in the last analysis, I suppose the best thing to do is to look forward.

We talk often about being "born again." We use that term is such a way that we think of it happening only once. And yet let's think of it in a different way for a moment. For I think that every time we pass from the end of one stage of life into another, we have come to the end of one life and entering into a new one.

The child dies as a child and is reborn as an adolescent. When he reaches the end of that, he dies as an adolescent and is reborn as a young adult. The past will never come back again except for fleeting moments. And you can never go back to it, any more than you could ever wear your own childhood clothes again. They simply will not fit!

You have died to a period in life when many things seemed to matter so much. You have been reborn into a period in life in which they seem unimportant, and you are very glad, very relieved, not to worry about them any more. So what's next?

I am thinking of the tradition of India where, when a man retires, he takes the opportunity to become a monk or a hermit and to seek closer communion with God. All his life up to that point he either was busy with the frivolous concerns of youth or preoccu­pied with the cares of work and family, and he could not leave these behind. But now he can. Nothing any more hinders him from seeking God. In many ways it is considered the highest culmination of life! Isn’t that where you find yourself right now?

It is as if he had for years heard the ricocheting echoes of the call of Jesus to leave everything behind and follow him, but he could not take the time to heed that call. One was too busy with life's challenges ands responsibilities to extricate oneself and follow Jesus into the solitary life of discipleship.

But suddenly one can! Now there is nothing to hinder, to hold back! And like Brother Lawrence, one learns that even the humble things of life, a set of monotonous chores, a long afternoon, a conversation with a friend about nothing in particular--all these things can become for us occasions for a true epiphany, an appearance of the grace of God. Everything comes to remind one of God. And one's life becomes a spiritual retreat.

One can afford to be indulgent when one considers the youthful follies of one's own earlier life. It is just like the way we can be indulgent parents or grandparents with young children. One wishes not to have to be severe with them. Childhood is the time for folly. Don't be too hard on yourself when you inventory your memories.

But don't be too easy on yourself now. Recognize that if you have run the good race, it is time to train for the next race! For deep speaketh unto deep. As the Psalmist said to God, "You said unto my heart, 'Seek my face.' Thy face, O Lord, I will seek."

God is an old friend. He has waited a long time for your undi­vided attention. He has waited for you to be done with your business and to have time for him.

And he has waited not for his sake but for your own. For in this last, long stage of life, there waits for you a depth of spiritual communion you have not known before. You can walk spiritually with an old companion, as Abraham did with his old compatriot Jehovah. And the memories of the years of past companionship will only enrich the remaining miles you will share together as you walk.




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