Lisa Nichols Hickman
July 24, 2016
A Post-Modern Life Cycle?
Today, in worship, I want us to consider the various ages and stages of a life-cycle. Now, maybe you studied Eric Ericson in college, maybe you picture that when you consider a life-cycle, his very traditional view of a life-cycle. There are some who are saying that view no longer works because our world is changing is so much. Childhood is changing. Teenage life is changing. Teenagers are entering puberty earlier and earlier because of changes of chemicals and estrogens in our environment. The job market is changing. College students are graduating and sometimes moving home, gaining strength and support there before going back out to the world. And retirement is changing. We have longer and longer life-cycles and this is a good thing, but it takes some planning.
So maybe our life-cycle is changing. Can any of us relate to these changes in the life-cycle? We all are going through these. Because of these changes, some scholars are saying we need a post-modern view of the life-cycle that does not simplify life into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and instead allows for some nuances in between.
I care about this today because I care about the church and I care about Christian ministry and I believe that paying attention to what is changing in the life-cycle might better help us with Christian formation beyond Confirmation class, for better pastoral care in the various ages and stages of life, for evangelism and the ways we reach out into the world, and in light of the big prayers in our world, maybe help put us back together as Christians so we can go out into the world and serve.
Maybe you have read a news article about this. College students at Washington University in St. Louis were asked this past year to take a very interesting course, and the course was titled “When I’m 64.” We got it, the Beatles. I am sure there are few Beatles fans in here. Required curriculum that asked the students to think about the changing nature of the life-cycle.
50% of college freshmen will live to be 100 years old. And so the course invites them to start thinking when they are 18 about how to have a meaningful life, a meaningful retirement, how to plan financially and vocationally and spiritually for ten decades of life.
I wonder if it would be helpful for the church to consider such a course, the changing nature of the life-cycle. So much of our faith formation goes into that first two decades, compressing spirituality and service and social justice and mission trips and scripture learning into Sunday school, Confirmation, and mission trips. All before age 18.
But if we change attention a changing life-cycle in those ten decades, then maybe the church is called to think creatively about ways to minister to people across the life span.
Now this one scholar, Frederick Schweitzer, says we need a post-modern view of the life-cycle. But what I want to say, pushing back, is that we do not need a post-modern view because we have Philippians 4:13. Everything we need for wisdom and strength is right here.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Now this is Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, written while he was in prison. I appreciate my mother-in-law, who makes me appreciate Paul and who says he had so much energy and he was stuck and confined and he could not get the word out and here is this beautiful letter where he talks about “rejoicing the Lord” and “whatever is honorable and true and just, think about these things,” and “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.” Incredible wisdom and joy, topped only by this ten-word phrase, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
For Every Age and Stage of Life…
I believe these ten words reflect every age and stage of life, from that first word “I” to the last word “me.” “I” describes that first glimpse of that new child. When Leah was born out in Tuscon, Arizona, it was the best day of our lives. “I” — the unique identity and the miraculous life, knit together in the mother’s womb, blessed here in the waters of baptism. “I” is the beginning stage of the life cycle.
Then we get that great word, “can.” This is a toddler’s first steps, first words, first tumbles. It is why this church is so grateful when space is precious here in Princeton to have that playground right here because toddlers can do great things on that playground. “I can.”
Then we get the word “do.” And when I think about “do,” I think about my time here in youth ministry and all the amazing things our young people can do. They are creative, dramatic, athletic, faithful, and smart. They inspire our best leadership. Three thousand, 5,000, young people just met at Purdue, at Triennium, to think about what they can do in the life of the church in their communities.
As the life cycle moves on, we get to the word “all.” I think about our idealistic young adult days when all things are possible. The world is wide open, no constraints, a future to live into with hope and not cynicism, which comes sometimes in adulthood. Maybe that is why we all love to listen to commencement speeches, because it kindles that hope of all good things within us. Maybe that is why we love living in a place like Princeton where there is a university and a seminary where all things are possible.
I can do all “things.” “Things” might be what happens when you get married, when you have a full-time job, when the calendar starts to fill up, whether it is a written calendar or your digital calendar in your phone. Maybe things are the laundry basket or the routine. Things that take us from the extraordinary parts of life to the ordinary. Maybe technology and our iPhones add to that sense of the things.
Then we get to the fifth word of this life cycle from Philippians 4:13, that word “through.” I can do all things through. “Through” reminds of the resilience by which we get through the tough parts of life. Thanks to friends and churches and prayer we get through cancer treatment, we get through lay offs, we get through addiction, we get through the funeral, we get through relationships where alienation is painful and reconciliation impossible. I heard that prayer for “through” in that beautiful hymn of the psalm.
I think about getting through things when I think of “Going on a Bear Hunt” – I am going on a bear hunt, you can’t go under it, can’t go around it – you gotta go through it.
Thank God for the church, through whom we get strength in that time, in those places of difficult journey.
That’s when we need that next word, “Christ.” The only way we can get through all of that is through Christ who strengthens us, who saves us, who is a companion to us, who is redeemer to us, friend, nourisher, healer, teacher, who is with us to the very end.
Of course there are sometimes in a Christian journey, and we wouldn’t be faithful if we didn’t say this, when we even question who Christ is. I can do all things through Christ, who? Who is this savior? Who is he calling me to be? Is he at work in this broken world today?
This is the place where we pray for belief beyond our doubt. We pray through our struggles and our questions and those places where God is working within us to form us deeper in our life of faith, even in the midst of our doubts and our questions.
Thank God for word number nine, I can do all things through Christ who “strengthens” me. We are allowed us to look back on a life’s journey and see the saving grace of Christ along the way who brings strength to sustain all things. This is the down in your bones faith – deeply engrained even in the strain of circumstance.
Finally, the tenth word comes full circle back to “me.” Our identity is made complete from womb to grave by the presence of Christ who continually saves. But here is where I want to be crystal clear. This is not a journey that is culminated in “me.” This journey is not ultimately about me. This journey is about Christ who calls each one of us into our very best selves so we can serve the gospel and bring about his kingdom. So we are turned loose in this broken world.
Maybe when you are thinking about this text today or on a walk or if you are exercising, if you are driving to the shore, if you are enjoying a quiet moment on a hot day in a hammock, Maybe if you are thinking about these ten words, you might say them slowly to yourself, and pay attention to where you pause. What word catches you today? Because I don’t think life is a linear journey. I think we keep cycling through. There are sometimes when we find ourselves journeying back to “all” or “can” or “I” and finding renewed strength there to continue along with this journey.
Power, The Life Cycle and Dunamis…
In any of those ten places along life’s journey the key word to remember is the word strength. In Greek the word is DUNAMIS. It is like dynamite. The Greek is explosive with what that power of Jesus’ strength means when it intersects a life. It literally means to intensify the sharing power and strength of that new ability Jesus Christ imparts to us. It is bursting forth. That dunamis strengthens every moment along life’s way. Not in a self-serving way, but in a self-sacrificing way, so we have the power to serve in Christ’s strength.
The prayer for the church is then is to contemplate the changing nature of the life cycle. I was thinking about this when I was sitting last week at my church, First Presbyterian Church of Sharon, sitting next a mom whose youngest daughter was entering high school senior year. I think that mom was a little fragile. I think about that when I think about the retirees who live in New Wilmington. So many of them live into their 90s, even 100, and they are thinking about ways to stay meaningful and connected to the life of the church and Christian community and being of service in this world.
And so it is a question that people might contemplate in a Christian Ed committee meetings and Session and worship committee, deacon meetings, and staff meetings, how are we reaching out to people and offering this dunamis of Jesus at every age and stage of life in our changing world? It is a prayer. It is a great question to wrestle with.
Confronted with the Strength of Christ
I want to close with one story introducing you to a great lady named Margaret Courtwright. Margaret Courtwright lives in New Wilmington. She is a 96 years old. She goes for her walk every day through town and if I haven’t had my walk that day, I go and put my shoes on, because Margaret has been out walking. Margaret grew up in India. Her parents were Presbyterian medical missionaries and she went to the Woodstock School and because that was such an excellent school Margaret had an unusual life cycle and instead of graduating at age 18, she graduated when she was 16 years old. She left India with a nanny, traveled by boat to London and then to New York City and then by train to Ohio, where she started college at Muskingham University.
Now before I tell you the really important part of Margaret’s story I want to set the picture of how cool Margaret is. So when Margaret is 16 and she gets to Muskingham and she unpacks her trunk from India, she pulls out a zebra skin and lays it out on the dorm room floor. She pulls out an alligator head and a snakeskin and hangs all of that on the wall. And one day after freshman orientation she is coming back into the room and she is opening the door and she can see her roommate there — and this is back in the ’20s — and her roommate is squirting something. I don’t know if they had Febreze back then, but she was spraying everything just to make sure.
You can only imagine how terrified Margaret was to make that journey from India to London to Ohio. And she tells the story of arriving in London on her sixteenth birthday — and this is now 80 years ago — and walking into the National Gallery with her nanny. They walked around, they had a lovely day. And perhaps you can picture Margaret back in the day. She was dressed in gloves and hat and skirt and heels, and they were out on the town. And when she tells of that day and how scared she was, she says that she turned a corner and encountered a painting. And the painting was called “Jesus Before the High Priest” by Gerrit van Honthorst. And when Margaret tells of that moment, she says, Jesus caught my eye that day and he has never let me go since.
If you met Margaret today, she would open her Bible and out would fall a postcard of that painting. It has carried her along in all of the changing ages and stages of her life cycle, for 80 years. What I appreciate about that moment in Margaret’s life stories is that it is really a call for us to keep thinking about the ways we put that Christ before all people. For Margaret it happened in a holy and spontaneous and an answer-to-prayer moment. It has blessed her along life’s way.
I think the work of the church, our call to us, is to think about that dunamis, that saving power of Christ and how that can enter in for anyone who is at that moment of a life cycle journeying through “I can do all things.” So that is my challenge and call to you this day. That you will prayerfully think about, as a church, how you might reach different folks in different places as this crazy world unfolds and as that affects the very nature of our lives.
How can we keep putting before folks that dunamis of Jesus?
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