Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:32
Grey hair is a crown of splendour. Proverbs 16:31
The righteous… will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green… Psalm 92:12-14
I preached recently in a church where there were some interesting visitors in the congregation. There were four of them, and they had the words “Street Pastors” emblazoned on their tee-shirts.
I had been asked in advance to give them a ten minute slot in the service, which I gladly did. One of them spoke very simply about the work of Street Pastors; she encouraged us all to support it – and to consider the possibility of getting actively involved in it.
Just in case you don’t know, Street Pastors is a Christian organisation which sends groups of volunteers out into city centres at weekends to make contact with the drinkers and druggers and clubbers. Their role is not out-and-out evangelism, but simply to be a Christian presence. They offer practical support and help – bottles of water, safe transport home perhaps, flip-flops for girls too drunk to walk in their high heels. Advice too, of course, if appropriate. A listening ear. Friendship.
Though not personally involved I have heard quite a bit about Street Pastors in recent years – and all of it has been good. They operate in full partnership with local police and other authorities, who gladly welcome their presence. Apparently it has a significant effect in lowering crime rates and bringing some peace and calm to situations that might otherwise get out of control.
So it was good to meet this little team.
But what particularly struck me – and the main reason for writing this blog – is that they were all… well, let’s not mince words, quite old. (One of them eighty-four, in fact.)
You might think this kind of ministry would be best exercised by younger people, people of the same generation as those they are wanting to help. In some places, for all I know, that might in fact be the case. But my impression is that older people form a real part of the backbone of Street Pastors. How refreshing is that!
We live, those of us at least in the western world, in a society that tends to dismiss and even mock the elderly: a society fixated on youth and glamour.
This is a total contrast to attitudes we find in the Bible – just take another look at the verses I have quoted. They prompt me to make two very simple pleas.
First, a plea to younger people: Don’t write off the old.
True, wisdom doesn’t come automatically with age – old people can be stubborn, stupid and infuriating (like members of any other generation). But the Bible makes clear that old people may still have much to offer. Just a couple of examples…
King Solomon’s successor, his son Rehoboam, got his reign off to a disastrous start by ignoring the wisdom of the grey-heads in the royal court. He sowed seeds of division in the nation which was never healed (1 Kings 12).
Luke’s Gospel introduces us to a quartet of deeply godly old people right at the beginning of the story of Jesus: Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist; and Simeon and Anna (not a couple), who greeted the new-born Jesus in the Jerusalem temple (Luke 1 and 2).
To ignore the wisdom of the old is not only disrespectful, but it is also to do yourself harm: you need that wisdom for your own growth and flourishing. Ignore it at your peril.
Second, a plea to the old: Don’t write yourself off.
It’s easy to fall in with the mockery of the young and start believing that you’re past your use-by date. But this is a big mistake. That verse from Psalm 92 is worth soaking up: you can “still bear fruit in old age”; you can “still stay fresh and green.”
You don’t have to volunteer as a street pastor to prove this in your own life, though that could be right for you. The fact is that ordinary, routine life affords opportunities to let the light of Jesus shine. None of this “Oh, I’ve had my day” or “I’ve got nothing to offer” nonsense, please!
After the service I spoke to another lady in that congregation. She was ninety-seven, and still going strong. We agreed that as long as God gives you another day of life, he has a use for you.
Yes? Believe it!
Lord, help me to cheerfully enjoy and serve you every day, whether I am a new-born baby in Christ or a grizzled veteran with the battle-scars of many years. Amen.