July 31, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalm 39: 4-7, Matt. 6:19-21
I’ll keep my remarks short this week, because we have a Mission Moment on an important issue and members of the Mission Committee thought that you all should know more about it as we consider whether to take it on as we look at Union Church’s global outreach.
An elderly man was critically ill when he asked to see his doctor, his minister, and his closest business associate. As the three of them gathered around the man’s bed, he said to them, “I know they say you can’t take it with you, but who knows for sure? So, I’m giving each of you an envelope with a $100,000 in cash, in case I need some spending money on the other side.” A few days later the old man died. On the day of the funeral, the doctor, the minister and the business man all slipped an envelope in the deceased man’s pocket. A few days later the three got together for coffee to reminisce about their friend. The doctor said, “I’ve got a confession to make. I treat so many people without health insurance that I took $20,000 from that envelope before I put it in the casket.” The minister, with a guilty look, said, “You know, we’re trying to open this homeless shelter and I took $50,000 from my envelope before I put it in the casket.” The business man, with a grin on his face, spoke up and said, “I can’t believe you fellows would do a thing like that. I took the whole $100,000 and wrote the old man a personal check.”
This joke started with the words, “an elderly man”. When I think about an elderly person, it’s always someone older than me. Then I remember that not that long ago, I considered someone who is my present age “elderly”. And, when I was just entering adulthood, you may remember this as well; we told each other not to trust anyone over thirty. Remember those days?
Today’s first reading, Psalm 39, reminds us that for most of us we have lived longer than we are going to live. When I look at how old I am, and how long most people live, I realize that the time that I have left on this journey is not really that long. Although we might be uncomfortable thinking about this, doing so allows us to make choices; to plan how to make the most with the precious time that we have.
Some say that robins are a sign of spring. For me I know that spring is really here when I start out on a Saturday morning to do an errand, and I have to stop time and time again for small traffic jams caused by yard sales. They go on all summer long up until the last of the tourists have gone. Now my predecessor and her husband love yard sales, as does my husband, who always is in hope of finding yet more good used books. I, on the other hand, hate clutter and the amassing of more stuff. We have had a couple of yard sales ourselves after waking up one day and discovering that once again we have a collection of good things, that we never use and that are just taking up space. It’s interesting that sometimes those things that we consider to be treasures when we get them end up feeling like a burdens; dead weight. Then there are those things that I have in the attic that, because I have so much, I’ve forgotten about, and am not using, am not enjoying.
(New topic:) As some of you know Anne Murray and I hold a prayer service once each month at St. Andre’s Health Care Center. Sometimes we have lunch afterwards. I always enjoy our time together. We often share what we are reading or talk about spirituality, but a few weeks ago we had a real girlie lunch. Ann was preparing for her cruise and we mostly talked about clothes and what she should bring for the journey. It was a change for us, and it was fun.
How and what we pack when going on a trip has changed over the years. Remember travelers’ checks? And before we had iPhones there were those fat little dictionaries with tiny, tiny print; English and whatever the language of the country we were visiting. And remember how we used to dress up when flying? Now it’s all about comfort. A few years ago Tom and I took a night flight from California to Australia. Before we took off, several of the passengers who were returning home went into the plane’s bathroom before take-off carrying their toothbrushes and came out a few minutes later having brushed their teeth and wearing their pjs.
Last October I traveled to France with a friend of mine for a couple of weeks. She wanted to make sure that she had just the right outfit for every occasion and plenty of room in her bags to bring back lots of stuff; so brought along two large roller bags. We did lots of walking and took several train rides and those bags were a burden not just for her and for me, but for everyone on the crowded trains.
These two images – the need for the occasional yard sale and useful items versus unnecessary baggage for a trip are metaphors that may be helpful to reflect on when considering life’s journey and the time we have left.
What are the things within myself that take up space, that are in the way, that I no longer need or want? Resentments? Old hurts? Regrets? Guilt? Can I consciously, intentionally throw them out? Let them go?
What about heavy baggage that I’m dragging around that slows me down; that prevents me from going where I want to go? Insecurity? Self-doubt? Perfectionism? The need to be in control? Maybe I can try leaving such things behind even on short trips.
So, what do I want to pack? What do I want to make sure I have with me on this life journey? Appreciation for every day, gratitude, attention to beauty and goodness, awe, hope, courage?
For me, one of the most important things I believe I need on this life journey is detachment. What I’ve been thinking about for the past few years is that we can’t grow old gracefully without developing detachment. The longer we live, the more wonderful experiences we have but also the more losses we face. We experience the loss of things through down-sizing or change in ability. I still have my sail board and my inline skates but the sailboard feels too cumbersome to set up and use and I’m a little leery of falling while skating. I’ve told myself that maybe when the settled pastor is in place, I’ll dust them off and use them again.
Then there are all of the losses related to aging; the loss of youth and all that entails: beauty, strength, flexibility, balance, memory. Whether it’s someone we know who is bitter and resentful or a celebrity we’ve seen who has had one too many face lifts we can all identify people who just can’t seem to let go of their youth that has passed.
Most painful are the lost relationships: People, who have moved away, died, had severe strokes, deteriorated with dementia. Without developing detachment, enjoyment without clinging, learning to let go we are doomed to a chronic state of anxiety and grief.
I think that an attitude related to detachment that is helpful to have in our backpack for our life journey is living in the moment – intentionally savoring the present. And like throwing a wind-breaker in our bag at the last minute it’s helpful to develop a sense of humor for our journey. Before joy can ever really be a part of our lives, we need a sense of humor. A sense of humor is a flexible way of being able to enjoy life.
As often happens here after the service, two women were discussing the state of their health. They talked of poor eyesight, hearing problems, and various other ailments. Then one woman asked the other, “Do you have a cataract?” The other woman smiled and said, “No, I have a Buick.” This is an example of how well a sense of humor enables us to look past the problems of life and experience life with a sense of joy.
So whether we consider the image of the yard sale of the soul; doing an occasional inventory to decide what needs to go and what we have that we’ve forgotten about and want to start using or the metaphor of items that we want to have on our journey through life as opposed to the stuff that is just making our travel difficult, it might be helpful this week to reflect on Psalm 39 and make some conscious decisions. If we get our treasure right, our hearts will follow.