“Faith Passages – How To Stay Full of Sap”
Sunday, October 12, 2008
“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come. Amen.”
The Bible is not of one opinion about aging. The writer of Ecclesiastes has a poem in Ecclesiastes 12 which is not very positive about the experience of aging and what happened to people in his time when they got older. If you’d like to see it, it is on page 621 of the pew Bibles.
Ecclesiastes 12: 1 says: “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’”
Ecclesiastes is not very upbeat about aging.
Here are some of the images he uses in his poem about aging, in verse 3.
“In the day when the guards of the house tremble…”
What are the guards of the house? Our arms and hands and fists. Ecclesiastes is saying that when you get old, they begin to tremble. There was no medicine to slow down Parkinson’s or palsy in those days.
Another image: “And the strong men are bent.”
What are the strong men? Our legs. The strongest part of our body, but they become bent. No knee replacements in those days. No hip replacements, so joints became less flexible and stiff and people walked on bent legs.
Another image: “And the women who grind cease working because they are few.”
What does Ecclesiastes mean by the women who grind? Teeth. No dental implants in those days, so as people aged their teeth became fewer and fewer and they couldn’t chew anymore.
Another image: “And those who look through the windows see dimly.”
What are those who look through the window? Eyes. No glasses in those days. No contact lenses. No Lasik surgery. So as they aged they could see only dimly.
Lots of images in Ecclesiastes’ poem. We won’t go through them all but look in verses 4 and 5 Ecclesiastes uses these images:
“And one rises up at the sound of a bird.”
What is that about? It is about sleeping so lightly that even the sound of a little bird will wake you. When we get older, we don’t sleep so soundly as we used to. No Ambien in those days.
Here’s another image: “The almond tree blossoms.”
The almond tree had white flowers. The hair turns white. No Clairol or Grecian Formula in those days.
One last image from Ecclesiastes, verse 5:
“The grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails.”
No pill for that back then either.[i]
So Ecclesiastes has a pretty dim view of aging.
He encourages the young to take advantage of their youth because, in his opinion, it is sort of downhill from there.
“Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’”
If you ever have any of those kinds of feelings, understand that you are not alone. Ecclesiastes in the Bible felt that way before you did.
But the Bible is not of one opinion about aging. Psalm 92 tells a different
Here is what Psalm 92: 12-15 says. (It is on page 549 if you want to follow along.)
righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in
The writer of the Psalm 92 says that old age does not have to be depressing…that it is possible to age and still remain fruitful, green and full of sap.
It is possible to age, the Psalms say, and stay productive, open and flexible (that’s what green means) and vital and richly alive (full of sap).
But it doesn’t happen automatically, according to the Psalms. It is not all of us who stay fruitful and fresh and full of sap in old age.
The Psalm says it is the righteous who age without becoming uncreative and empty rather than fruitful, without becoming rigid and inflexible instead of green and fresh, and without becoming dried up and humorless instead of full of sap.
So for the Psalmist, being righteous makes all the difference in aging.
Here’s a question. I’d like you to raise your hand in response. How many of you have used the word “righteous” in a conversation in, say, the last week? Raise your hand.
I use the word “righteous” in ordinary conversation from time to time because I have a song on my iPod by the Righteous Brothers. That’s the only time I use it in ordinary conversation.
If we want to understand what the Psalmist is saying it is important to understand what the original word that is translated “righteous” from the Hebrew.
The Hebrew word is qyddc [pronounced tsad-deek' ]. It is a word that is used as a verb, noun or adjective 523 times in the Hebrew scriptures, which is a lot.
Since the 1950s and 60s there has been lots and lots of scholarship – articles and books – written about this one word.
Many scholars now agree that the best translation for the Hebrew word qyddc is just. And in its form as a noun, the best translation would be justice.
So the translation would say: “In old age the just still produce fruit; the just are always green and full of sap.”
But even the words just and justice are inadequate by themselves to catch the full meaning of qyddc.
A scholar by the name of J.J. Scullion has an article that summarizes the last 50 years of scholarly thinking about the meaning of the Hebrew word qyddc.[ii] There are three aspects of the word’s meaning that stand out in the article and help us understand how qyddc keeps us fruitful, green and full of sap.
The first aspect of qyddc according to Scullion is “community loyalty” – being part of and invested in a community of people larger than ourselves. Having a community.
One of the interesting parts of this is that the community has to be larger than our families. Qyddc doesn’t mean just family relationships. It means commitment to a larger community beyond our biological and familial relationships.
have been doing aging studies in
Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they said: "Discretionary relationships, with friends and confidants, as compared with relationships where there is less choice concerning interactions, with children and other relatives, have important positive effects on survival."
And one of the most important things about communities is that they change and grow over time. Dr Lorna Layward, one of the research managers for the study says: "As we get older we may lose friends, so it's essential to constantly build and maintain new relationships.”
So here’s a question for you to think about. How many new friends have you made lately? One of the dangers of aging is that we get so focused on our existing group of friends that we don’t make new ones. One of the functions of a community like a congregation is that new people join the community all the time.
The second aspect of qyddc is order…to live an ordered life.
It is important that our lives have order…that we sleep, eat, work, exercise our bodies and minds, and pray…and the order ought to be somethingbetter than Wolf Blitzer at 6 and Larry King at 9 and John Stewart at 11.
The order should be in harmony with the order of creation and nature. It is important that we stay connected to nature, spent time in nature, and that — like all the creatures in nature – our lives have an element of ritual.
Nature loves ritual – The seasons are an annual ritual. Animals live according to rituals. If you disturb an animal’s ritual, it puts them out of sorts.
The third aspect of qyddc is God’s action in the world that saves. The assumption of Scripture is that God is working in the world to increase justice. The idea of qyddc includes our participation in what God is doing to make the world more just, inclusive and loving. Part of qyddc is our commitment to tomorrow, including a tomorrow that we ourselves might not be around to see.
Three things keep us full of sap as we age – community loyalty, an ordered life, and our commitment to be part of what God is doing to change the world on behalf of justice.
They are all really about staying connected – staying connected with others, with nature, and with the God of justice, love, and peace.
No matter how young or old we are we are making decisions today that will shape our older age.
Listen, these things are more important than the size of our pension or 401K. They really are.
Social security and pensions are a blessing, and we need to make sure that old age never again means poverty in our nation, but there are more important things than money.
Ecclesiastes is attributed to King Solomon. He probably didn’t write it himself, but it is written to reflect his spirit. Solomon was the richest man in the world, but old age held no joy for him. The joy and the energy and the sap comes from community – love of others, order – love of life, and a commitment to a more just and inclusive world – love of God.