June 15, 2008 The Rev. Dr. Charles L. Rassieur page 1
Senior Discount Disciples
Genesis 18:1-15; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
Preaching never happens in a vacuum, because God’s word always speaks to us in
a particular human context, that is to say speaks to you in your particular human context!
Here’s why I need to say that to you to get us started, because I was so aware of that fact
when I set out to prepare this sermon. God’s word, in case you’ve ever noticed,
especially in the Bible but always elsewhere, is always directed to a concrete situation.
God’s word comes to people in special or particular or unique settings, and more often
than not that setting is somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Likewise, Jesus
Christ is God’s Word, not found somewhere as a theory in a theology text book on a
library shelf, but found over there with harassed and helpless peasants, like sheep without
a shepherd, before taking its unforgettable place up on a gory hill between two thieves.
So, here’s our context, our situation, as I see it today and as plainly as I can put it.
I am preaching right now in the most unique church fellowship I have ever been part of.
I can’t tell you how precious you and our Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship are
to me! And especially precious to me is how, every Sunday afternoon and evening, you
take me back to my high school days when I gathered with my friends at the Presbyterian
church for youth fellowship. The minister’s daughter was always there, too, and I liked
that a lot! But, every Sunday night now you are my youth fellowship friends, and we
were pretty close then just as we are now. I hope you understand and don’t mind being
my youth fellowship friends. But, that’s a special part of this context for me.
But, obviously, we aren’t in high school any more. Every one of us here has a lot
of experience and has traveled quite a few miles. And we are pretty wise because of what
the scars from those miles have taught us, and some of them for all of us, quite painful
lessons. We are also pretty smart about the church. You have served the church for
many years, and you are still giving remarkable service to the church and to the
community. In fact, because of all your first-hand experience over the years, you very
well could have written for Paul his thoughts about suffering producing endurance, and
endurance leading to character, which finally undergirds our hope. You know that so
well, you can pretty much name the days and the years when those lessons left their
marks on your heart and your soul. It just all goes with being a senior discount disciple.
Outside these walls, our context includes the Presbyterians gathering in San Jose
the end of this week for our biennial General Assembly. And, beyond that fact is all the
very disturbing facts in a world where people still die from war and starvation and
sickness, while so many other people make it their business to get rich off of the suffering
of their fellow human beings. That, sadly and tragically, is all part of the context for this
sermon and God’s word to us today. And, need I add, there’s also your private context.
You know, like Abraham, where you sit right now at the entrance to your own tent in
these hot days. That was Abraham’s personal context at that moment, and when he
looked up he knew that the Lord had come to him that day. May the Lord and God’s
word come to you like that, so unmistakably, in your own private context today.
June 15, 2008 The Rev. Dr. Charles L. Rassieur page 2
And, oh, there’s one more thing that is part of our context today. Today is my
70 birthday. Yes, thank you. I can tell that you are shocked and stunned to hear that
news. You can just imagine how I felt when I woke up this morning. I’m still
recovering. To help us all feel better, there’ll be birthday cake and ice cream for desert if
you clean up your plate in a little while. But I can tell you that I was encouraged when I
was watching the Belmont Stakes horse race a week ago and I noticed in the crowd a
fellow wearing a tee shirt with the words, “Old guys rule.” Yeah, that’ll be the day.
But, in fact, did you know that when you Google 70 you discover that in many
medical circles and writings 70 is the first year for being qualified as elderly! My doctor
thinks I’m elderly now! I’m afraid I might have an accident tomorrow with my golf cart.
Can’t you just see the headline, “Elderly man hits mailbox with his golf cart!” I guess
most people reading such a headline would just say to themselves, “Well, what do you
expect, he’s elderly! He should have the keys to his golf cart taken away from him!
What is his wife thinking; what are his children thinking?” Actually, I’m glad to be
elderly now because you can get away with a lot that you couldn’t before. If you’re only
half dressed when you go out in the morning to pick up the newspaper off the driveway,
the neighbors just mutter, “Well, he’s elderly, what can you expect?” Which I know also
means, of course, that there’s no need any more to worry about matching my socks. But,
I’ve noticed now what I receive in the mail is changing. I used to get offers to send back
this post card by the 30th and win a free cruise. Now, I’ve received two offers to send
back this post card by the 30th and win a free cremation!
This is all our context today, because after reading the Bible passages for today I
have to tell you that in our context, in our situation and setting, you and I are senior
discount disciples, no less than Peter and James and John, and the other nine whom Jesus
called to do kingdom work for him. They weren’t senior discount disciples, but you and I
are senior discount disciples right here in this place, in this context, and in this situation
that includes all the rest of this hurting and desperate world where the harvest is so
plentiful and the laborers are still so few for all of God’s love and justice and peace!
You noticed, I hope, that God has no reservations at all about recruiting senior
discount disciples for important work. You heard, I hope, how that was all spelled out in
the story about Abraham and Sarah. I think we’d all agree that they were really old in
that story. They could have said, “God, I’m old and I’m tired. I’ve already done my
part!” But, God didn’t consider any excuses like that. And, before you leave that story,
just don’t forget that God can ask old people to do things that some would think are really
laughable! “You want me to do what, Lord? You’ve got to be kidding! I’m a senior
discount disciple, and I go to bed by 8:00 o’clock every night. Go find somebody else
who doesn’t need a nap in the afternoon and the T.V. volume turned up! You know,
somebody with energy to burn like those fifty-five-year-olds! They never need naps.”
I think I said before something about God’s word speaking especially to those
uncomfortable but all too common tight spots between hard places and rocks. I don’t
know when I heard it, but I’ve never forgotten the brief but accurate observation that
retirement has three phases, “go-go,” “go,” and “no-go.” You tell me, but I think one of
June 15, 2008 The Rev. Dr. Charles L. Rassieur page 3
the greatest problems for senior discount disciples is the threat of burnout. You know,
like that all-star horse, Big Brown, who a week ago yesterday apparently ran out of gas
well before the finish line. The jockey, Kent Desormeaux, simply explained what
happened when he asked the horse to turn on his patented acceleration, “I had no horse.”
Once upon a time I wrote two books on burnout, one called Stress Management
for Ministers and the other, Christian Renewal, Living Beyond Burnout. That was so
long ago I didn’t know anything then about senior discount disciple burnout. I can assure
you that I’m smarter on that subject now. My own view is that the three contributors to
burnout for senior discount disciples is doing too little with no purpose for getting out of
bed in the morning, or attempting to do too much and feeling exhausted most of the time,
or a pervasive cynicism that is paralyzed by the question, “What’s the use of it all,
anyway?” Having enough energy to get through the entire day is also an issue, much
more so, than it used to be. That’s a fact. I can still dream up a wonderful checklist of
things to do that looks like the daily lists I used to produce twenty years ago. But,
today’s list is enough to try to do for the entire week, and I still don’t get it finished!
And, you didn’t need Art Linkletter to write his book entitled Old Age Is Not for Sissies
to tell you anything. You remember back in the olden days when old people died when
they were 70. Now it’s young people who die when they’re 70. We live longer now, but
as you know all too well a lot of the parts need major renovation along the way. And, as
good as the practice of medicine is so they send us home from the hospital in just a
couple days, we don’t heal as fast as we used to. Our grandchildren bounce around after
surgery in a few days, and after a couple weeks we’re still looking for our bounce.
I think you know very well your own context where God’s word is looking for
you today. Even calling your name along with Peter’s and Andrew’s to be a Jesus
disciple out there exactly between those rocks and those hard places. So, some of us are
going this week up to San Jose to the General Assembly and the Presbyterian rocks and
hard places. While the rest of us will take up our disciple assignments at the rocks and
hard places that already have our names on them in the context of this hurting world and
in the context of our hurting communities and in the context of our hurting families that
need so much of God’s love and justice and peace. And each day this week, you senior
discount disciples, live happily and joyfully beyond your burnout because Paul was really
right: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been
given to us” in this precious Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship. Amen
June 15, 2008 The Rev. Dr. Charles L. Rassieur page 4