Sermon by James K. Wagner given at the United Methodist Church of the Master at Westerville, Ohio on June l1, 2006
In the Book of Genesis (chapters 37-50) is the inspiring story of Joseph, who as a young boy was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Many years later came a devastating famine throughout the world, except in Egypt, where there was a surplus of food.
As the story goes, the great Hebrew Patriarch Jacob, along with his many sons and their large families, made the long trip from Palestine to Egypt to buy food. In Egypt Jacob discovered, to his total amazement, that his son Joseph not only was alive, he was now the Governor of Egypt, a personal friend of the Pharaoh, and in charge of food distribution,.
Following a very tender and emotional reunion with Jacob, Joseph took his father to meet the Pharaoh. Notice how the introduction went. The Pharaoh did not say, “Welcome, Jacob,” or “Glad to meet you,” or “Make yourself at home.” But in customary, Mid-eastern fashion the Pharaoh’s first words of greeting to Jacob were: “How old are you?”
This may seem quite strange to us. It certainly is not the way we greet one another in Western Culture. However in Eastern countries the older a person is the more revered and honored that person is.
Joseph said, “O Great Pharaoh, I want you to meet my father Jacob.”
The Pharaoh asked, “How old are you?”
Jacob responded: “I am 130 years old.” And the two of them are off to a beautiful relationship. (See Genesis 47:7-10).
One of the interesting discoveries coming from the science of aging is that each one of us is three different ages all at once.
First is our chronological age. This is determined by the number of years we have lived since our birth. What year were you born? What year is this? That’s your chronological age.
When Pharaoh asked Jacob how old he was, he was inquiring about Jacob’s chronological age.
Second is our biological age. The condition or state of our physical health determines our biological age. My Mother who will be 92 on the 4thof July recently was told by her optometrist that she has the eyesight of a 50 year old. Chronologically my Mother is 91, but biologically her eyes are only 50.
Third is our psychological age: Is it not true that some days you actually feel older or younger than you really are? How you feel and how you act is your psychological age. Has anyone ever said to you, “Act your age?”
To these three related, yet unique ages that we all experience I want to add a fourth.
Our fourth age is our spiritual age. Our spiritual age is based on our relationship with God. Paying attention to the development of your spirituality influences your spiritual age. Some Christians I have met seem to be stuck in some kind of a spiritual nursery, and others I know seem to be very intentional about moving on to spiritual maturity.
Another way to look at this is that our spiritual age is not dependent on our physical age. The Apostle Paul said it well in his second letter to the Corinthian Church: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away (the aging process), our inner nature is being renewed day by day (by day by day)” (2 Cor. 4:16).
In other words: THERE ARE NO WRINKLES ON THE SOUL. As St. Teresa of Avila said: “The soul is capable of much more than we can (ever) imagine.” Or Catherine Marshall in her book, SOMETHING MORE: “God always has something more for each of us.
So I simply ask you some questions this morning: How old are you? How are you feeling today? How is it with your soul?
Perhaps you have read the story about our sixth United States President, John Quincy Adams (1825-1829). When President Adams was 80 years old, a friend one day asked him, “And how are you, John?” With a twinkle in his eye, he replied, John Quincy Adams is well thank you, but the house in which he lives is sadly dilapidated. I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out before long. But he himself is very well. Thank you.”
Recently I read in The Upper Room Devotional Magazine this attention-getting meditation by
Gerda M. Dahl from Illinois (July 8, 1999).
“I live in a beautiful retirement community where residents of all faiths are invited every other Sunday to attend an ecumenical vesper service. The young Pastor in charge is also the Chaplain at our local hospital. Through music, prayer, and preaching he lifts our spirits and adds zest and joy to retirement living.
Last Sunday the Pastor thanked all of us for all we had done throughout the years in our various churches and communities to make known the Good News about Christ. He actually called us “saints of God.”
Then he challenged us with these words: “Even though you now live in a retirement community THERE IS NO OPPORTUNITY GIVEN TO RETIRE FROM OUR FAITH. THERE IS NO OPPORTUNITY TO RETIRE FROM OUR FAITH’S CALL TO LOVE AND TO SERVE.”
There it is again. Did you hear it? NO WRINKLES ON THE SOUL. There is NO OPPORTUNITY TO RETIRE FROM ONE’S FAITH. God always has SOMETHING MORE for each of us.
Let me ask you a rather personal question that might help you get in touch with your spiritual age this morning: ON a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being “wow-wonderful” and l being “in-the-pits), What number rating would you give your relationship with God right now? How is it between you and God these days? Are you at level 3? Or 6? Or what?
From God’s standpoint, you and I always are a 10. However, from a human viewpoint, my relationship with God usually is less than 10. What am I doing, on my part, to keep my soul WRINKLE-FREE?
Now throughout this message, I have been using the word “soul” over and over. But what exactly is one’s soul? I know that different religions have different definitions. Let’s focus for a moment on “soul” from a Biblical perspective.
The word “soul” is recorded over 500 times in our English Bibles and basically has the same meaning in both the Old and New Testaments.
1. Your soul is the true you, the real you.
2. Your soul is the “self unmasked.”
3. Your soul is your inner self, your essential self that you often keep hidden from the eyes of other people, even sometimes hidden from yourself; and at times you may even try to hide your true self from the eyes of God.
4. Your soul holds all the motivations and dreams that drive what you do in life.
5. Your soul is that dynamic, powerful, life-directing influence that is within each of us.
And 6. It is within your soul that you encounter God’s grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. And it is within your soul you discover that “balm in Gilead,” that healing presence of Christ, “to make the wounded whole and to heal the sin-sick soul.”
As we leave here this morning and as we live into all of our tomorrows, I pray we will ponder that introductory question put to Jacob by the Pharaoh: “How old are you?”
What is your chronological age? Your biological age? Your psychological age?
But most significantly of all, what is your spiritual age? What is the state or condition of your spiritual health? Are you stuck in some sort of a spiritual kindergarten or are you moving onto spiritual maturity?
For Christians that means growing in the mind and spirit of Christ. It means taking seriously and
intentionally everyday, not just on Sundays, the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Don’t forget: There are no opportunities to retire from our faith. God always has something more for each of us. And there are no wrinkles on the soul!