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Jesus and the transformative work of aging

Light for the Way seriesWe invite you to take a peek inside our weekly Light for the Way devotional series provided for staff. Today Pastor Chris Wheatley concludes Active Aging Week with a sermon on Spiritual Wellness Day.

By Pastor Chris Wheatley, Senior Director of Pastoral Care Services

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV
active aging week spiritual wellness dayI come to you at the end of Active Aging Week at Presbyterian Homes & Services — seven days of focus upon the inevitable process of aging, and how we can engage with it thoughtfully, prayerfully and actively. Because while getting older is not a choice, how we get older depends a lot on what we do right now.

Reflecting on Active Aging Week

I hope you have walked with us all week, and absorbed the information shared, taken part in the activities suggested. I have personally gotten a lot out of the devotionals, all still available online if you missed one. On Monday, Pastor Keith reminded us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that temples require care. On Tuesday, Pastor Bob invited us to consider the deep waters of spiritual and social connection that we all abide in. Wednesday, Chaplain Steve suggested that intellectual communication can be a non-verbal, whole-body experience, which has serious implications for our connections to each other and God alike. On Thursday, Chaplain Jenny presented a plan of action to fully experience grief rather than turn away from it. Friday, Pastor Erik reminded us that we all have a vocation, paid or not, in that God needs every one of us to work together. And on Saturday, a different Pastor Kris proclaimed the Creation story as a witness to the work of God in everything around us.

Jesus and the spiritual dimension of aging

Today, as we end our week by considering the spiritual dimension of aging, the Church’s lectionary gives us a scripture that asks us to look at all of this again from a different lens, the lens of the person of Jesus.
Hebrews reminds us that we have a high priest who can sympathize with us in everything we go through in life, because he lived a human life alongside us. That he shared in our weaknesses, our strengths. That he was tested and tempted, and that he proved himself the same ways that we do. And that this high priest is more than a priest — he is the very God who created us.
And if that seems like a simple thing to understand and accept, it really isn’t. It’s very easy for us to create an image of Jesus who is so much better than us that he isn’t actually one of us. I have met many Christians, even many pastors, whose vision of Jesus is one who shares completely in the Father’s omniscience rather than human limitation. In other words, a Jesus who knows literally everything, even while here on earth. One who never has to learn anything. One who is never confused. One who is never even puzzled.
Which seems harmless, until you realize how much of the human condition is defined by how much we don’t know. To share in the human condition is to share our limited knowledge, to need to learn as we grow, to gain knowledge as we age.

An ancient heresy

There was actually an ancient heresy that made this claim. It’s called “docetism,” from the Greek word meaning “to seem” or “to appear.” It claimed that Jesus, because he was fully God, only appeared to share in our full humanity. Relevant to our example, they would have said that when Jesus was born, he could have instantly spoken any language, living, dead, or not yet created. Baby Jesus, because he was God, could have spoken perfect modern English when he was one day old, and was only pretending to need to cry and coo.
The Christian Church rejects this idea, because a Jesus that is only play-acting at being a baby would not have been a human like us. We teach and believe that Jesus Christ was born a helpless infant, completely dependent upon his parents. That he was taught how to walk and to speak, just like we all were. And that he had frustrations in learning, just like we all do.
That yes, Jesus eventually became perfectly wise and able to do things that are only possible by the Holy Spirit. He knew the hearts of those around him and foresaw his own death and resurrection. But that he was not born all-knowing. He was born a real human baby, with all that comes with it.

‘Jesus went through the transformative work of aging’

Which means, back to the theme of our week, Jesus went through the transformative work of aging. He grew up. And think about all the ways we’ve talked about that. Yes, Jesus had to study and grow intellectually. He learned languages and had enough of the Torah memorized to quote it to the devil when he was tempted in the wilderness. He grew socially, becoming a charismatic speaker and a deeply compassionate listener. He grew physically and had to worry about fitness. Can you imagine Our Lord doing jumping jacks? That is not an image that will fill any stained-glass windows, but can you imagine it?
I hope so because that’s what Hebrews is reminding us of today. That Jesus joined us fully in our humanity, so that when we pray, we know that he is not just imagining what we are going through. He endured it. He enjoyed it. He was tested by it and emerged victorious.
And that includes the spiritual dimension of life. There were times when Jesus felt apart from God, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There were times when he wanted to go and spend time alone on a mountain to feel God’s closeness more fully. He fasted and prayed for that connection. If even Jesus, who was God, felt the Spirit in greater and lesser amounts, how much more will we? “But Pastor Chris,” you might be thinking at this point, “Jesus didn’t experience everything we did, now did he? Jesus didn’t grow old.” And this is a fair point. I am preaching to an audience that has almost universally outlived the Son of God. Jesus died in his 30s, likely at his physical peak. He probably didn’t have to worry about reading glasses, arthritis, a walker, or a cane. Growing old, famously, is not for sissies. Jesus did not experience the unique trials or opportunities given to those who become elders.

‘What would Jesus do?’

Well then, it’s even more important, I would say, that you set a good example instead. If I can’t ask “What would Jesus do?” when considering life at age 70, I think about my grandparents. My grandfather, who started reading Josephus when I went to seminary, so that we’d still have new subjects to talk about. My grandmother, who did water aerobics even after she needed somebody to drive her to the pool. And just as importantly, I think about the residents that I get to meet at Presbyterian Homes. The communities that I see. The worship gatherings, the book clubs. The loving groups who come to talk about new subjects and continue to feed their minds at every age. I am inspired by the elders I see at Presbyterian Homes, and I want to be like them.

The most important journey

And finally, I would say, while it may be true that Jesus didn’t grow old, he did go before us in the most important journey of all. The journey that very few people get to talk about, because it’s the last journey on this earth. Jesus Christ died, really died, as a human being. And Jesus Christ rose again.
I don’t want to dwell on that subject too much, because I don’t know where each of you are in your preparations. But I would be shirking my responsibility if I didn’t remind you that every person reading these words or hearing my voice is going to die one day, and you could do a lot worse than to look to the words and example of the man who gave us his life willingly, and in so doing, gained life eternal. If you want to know more, please contact your campus pastor. They would love to talk to you more about it.
So, what does it all mean? Just what I said at the beginning. As we go through the act of aging, as we think about how we are going to do it, and what we want out of it, we know that God has been through it too. That no matter what our struggle, no matter how personal our situation, we can approach our Great High Priest, who has suffered and triumphed alongside us in our humanity so that he could sympathize with us now. And we can approach him in confidence, knowing that we will find grace and mercy in all our needs. Amen.
Find more spiritual devotions and all our Active Aging Week resources on our Life Enrichment website.
Pastor Chris WheatleyRev. Chris Wheatley serves PHS as Senior Director of Pastoral Care Services. He is an ordained Lutheran pastor and has served in hospice, eldercare, hospital, HIV/AIDS and congregational settings. He and his wife Nicole are perpetually outnumbered by cats and Dobermans.

The Light for the Way series provides staff with an examination of a biblical reading to deepen our focus on scripture. Thank you for engaging with this series as we seek wisdom through prayer and reflection as a Christian Ministry.
In addition to Light for the Way, you can find reflections, devotions, music and other resources on the Pastoral Care resources website

Find more in the Active Aging Week spiritual devotionals:

Monday: Physical Wellness
Tuesday: Social Wellness
Wednesday: Intellectual Wellness
Thursday: Emotional Wellness
Friday: Vocational Wellness
Saturday: Environmental Wellness

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