The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s099o03 16/3/03 Lent 2

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared .. and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me ...." Gen 17.1

Those who read my sermons on the internet rather than here at St Richard's will be unaware how frequently I ask people if they're managing to keep out of mischief :-) After all if no one sinned, I would be out of a job! Often people make some reference to their age when replying! To old to get up to much of that!

So I suppose it is not only me who rather marvels that God calls Abram at 99! If God tries the same trick on me, I suspect the Lord might be told where to go :-) Time for the youngsters to do their bit I will say - perhaps in not so many words however!

And I am not quite ready to scale back Abram's age. We are told he lived till he was 175 years old (Gen 25.8) - so scaled to an average age of say 80 today, Abraham might have been 80*99/175, or about 45 when he was called, which is a bit more reasonable.

But the reality is that God does use old people. I suspect that the Lord uses older people - but not to lug around trestles and the like - I'm sure that younger people can be found to do that.

It is the ideas and the experience of the elderly which is very important. I'm not here immediately thinking of the conservatism of the elderly, the oft expressed desire for things to stay the same. No, the things I'm thinking about are the perceptions of those who have gone to war which should not be lost. When service personnel return to civilian life and never talk about the war, we should take notice. When veterans return and become activists for peace, we should take notice. What is the phrase? - nothing is lost by peace - everything is lost by war. It's a pity that Saddam Hussein doesn't realise this.

Young people, and those who haven't been in the thick of conflict, cannot begin to appreciate the effects of war. I'm fairly sure that I would actually be entitled to become a member of the RSL (Returned Services League) with my service in the Army Reserve as a chaplain, yet I know that I cannot speak their language, simply because I haven't actually experienced armed conflict.

One of my favourite sermons is about building a fire. It gets brought out occasionally at Pentecost. Building a fire means gathering the wood, old *dead* wood. Leaves and green timber only produce smoke. And the wood needs to be stacked so that there is enough space for air to get to the flames, otherwise they will be smothered. And there are even lessons to be learned about striking the match - but I shall leave that to the appropriate time.

The mass rallies of Hitler and some pentecostal type gatherings jam packed the young - to be indoctrinated. There was no room to move both physically and mentally. This is the opposite way to how God acts. God gives us room to question, to reason, to be the individuals we were made in the beginning - rather than clones to follow the leader.

The Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in the "Advertiser" on Thursday the 27th of February had Calvin bringing a snowflake into class for "show and tell". As he wistfully contemplated the snowflake in a box, the dialogue had Calvin say: "Today for show and tell I've brought a tiny marvel of nature: a single snowflake. I think we might all learn a lesson from how this utterly unique and exquisite crystal ... turns into an ordinary boring molecule of water, just like every other one, when you bring it into the classroom ... and now while the analogy sinks in, I'll be leaving you drips and going outside." Needless to say the teacher put a stop to that idea, quick smart! :-)

We might laugh at "Calvin" yet I feel sure that Margaret Throsby was interviewing the violinist (Nigel) Kennedy a while back and he said that young people have it all in them and culture and convention lead to this being diminished. I am sorry if I've got the reference wrong - I only get to listen to snippets as I drive. I cannot listen to the radio in my office.

I saw somewhere a "humorous" critique of Anglicans who deliberately sit in church to maximise the average mean distance from other people and I would add - especially the priest! I am actually not "having a go" at this. It expresses a great truth, that we come to Church expecting both privacy and intimacy. We want to retain our independence. We demand the right to think for ourselves and not just "toe the party line". We want to remain that utterly unique and exquisite creation God made in the beginning.

I was interested to read that governments don't mind pacifists - those who conscientiously object - for those people would conscientious object to any war. Governments do however get upset when the church opposes a conflict on the grounds that the principles of a "just war" have not been met. This means that a particular conflict can be classified as immoral. Interestingly different Anglican theologians have applied the principles of a "just war" to an attack on Iraq and come to opposite conclusions.

The more elderly members of the congregation may care to realise that your voice will be heard more than even mine, despite my ordination. This is why I encourage all people to think, to reason what is the most important thing in your life and the effects of past conflicts on people. It was you who were around when Chamberlain was trying to appease Hitler. Why did he fail? Should he even have bothered? Should he have been supported more? My impression was that there was nothing that anyone could have done to stop WW2, and it seems there is little anyone can do to avoid a conflict in Iraq - except perhaps Saddam Hussein.

Similarly we need to listen to our Vietnam Veterans. Having gone, fought and returned not the conquering heroes they expected - what are their attitudes now? Would they join antiwar demonstrations now, remembering how hurtful they thought the demonstrations for peace were, when they were serving? For, of course, it may be their children who are enlisting and called on to fight.

A couple of weeks ago we read the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven, and Elisha who was to succeed him, doggedly following him despite all Elijah tried to do to rid himself of his disciple. I would one day like to spend some time examining the relationship between these two, but it might have to wait until I retire :-) In fact of course Elijah was told when he fled the wrath of Jezebel to Mount Horeb that he had come to the wrong place. He was to go back to Israel and amongst other things, to anoint Elisha to be prophet in his place. It always seems to me that Elijah was one of those who found delegating very difficult, and handing over the reins to someone else well nigh impossible - but this is what God called him to do. It never seems to me that he does it graciously. Even being one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, he found the word of the Lord as difficult as anyone else.

God does call some very individualistic people into the ordained ministry - and I do not exempt myself from this comment. And I suppose it is because the truths we hold are powerful, so they need to be mediated through the solitary and the weak, lest others get hurt. For in the end we exist for the benefit of all, not the magnification of a privileged few.

I have been asked on a couple of occasions to read the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 13 at the funeral of someone associated with Woodlands (girls) School. Apparently it was recited regularly. I have to wince inwardly when the words have St Paul put the words into the girls: "when I became a man, I put away childish things" - as if female perceptions are inherently immature.

So God has a call for all people, young and old, male and female, but the call is not to be the same as everyone else, but to appreciate the unique person we are and to move on and to allow us to appreciate the uniqueness of others. As older people we are called to do different things than when we were young. Older people will need to let younger people do their thing, not just replicate what a previous generation did. Older people will have time to read, to reflect, to meditate, to pray and to support, and these are hardly insignificant things.

I was reflecting some time back how the church changed in the time when I was ordained till the time I went to Somerton Park - 1977 to 1990. From a church where no lay person was permitted to read the epistle, we were on the verge of ordaining women as priests. We had moved from the old language of 1662 to services in the vernacular language of today. We began to accept that it is not good for any man or woman to be alone and so to marry people who had been divorced. These were major shifts in our whole outlook - and they came because you and I were allowed to think for ourselves. And perhaps it is instructive to reflect how the church has changed since 1990, though that period is probably still too new to evaluate. The church has changed - it has moved and "praise the Lord" for that. I would not want to go back to the Church as it was when I as first ordained!

The reality is that the Church (then as now) was composed of generally elderly people in Synods - yet these changes were made. The call of Abraham was a call to move and the senior members of our community continue to have a vital part to play in bringing this movement about.



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