I was a keen cyclist as a child. I loved the freedom of being able to ride around the suburbs and see my friends. Later on, cycling became a necessity as I rode to school, and then to university. Then cycling became a passion, and I started to ride seriously. I would head up into the Adelaide Hills for a couple of hours, enjoying the scenery, relishing the climbs, and loving the thrill of the descents.
Then life got busier. The study became more intense. I met Jodi. We got married. I graduated from Luther Seminary and the church packed us off to Tasmania for my first parish. That was an absolute whirlwind. Everything was new: marriage, Tasmania, being a pastor. I was so busy, so overwhelmed emotionally and physically that I just didn’t have time to get on the bike. It sat quietly in the garden shed, slowly falling into decrepitude.
That was a bad call, for a few reasons. Not only did I miss out on some fabulous road cycling in the most mountainous and traffic-free state, but I also neglected my physical fitness and over the years the stress built up to breaking point. When I moved to Melbourne, it caught up with me. I was now in my early 30s and couldn’t take my health for granted.
My doctor advised me to exercise, and so I got back on the bike. I had to take it easy at first. I was so spectacularly unfit. The smallest incline brought me undone. It took me a while to get comfortable on the bike again. But I stuck with it, and the bug bit me. I wanted to get out on the road again. So I purchased a road bike and then started to head for the hills. I got fitter and found a group of lycra-attired middle-aged men to ride with.
Every Wednesday morning, my day off, I used to ride with a friend some 17 years older than me. I can only just keep up with him even now. I often found myself thinking, “When I’m nearing 70, I want to still be riding. I want to keep fit. I want to remain active. I don’t want to lose this passion which does me a whole lot of good, physically and emotionally. Ride on.”
Cycling is an interest, a hobby, that I’ve maintained as I’ve grown older. My commitment to it has ebbed and flowed through different seasons of my life. It was difficult to get out when the children were little, and when they played Saturday sports, but now is a different season. I’m sure that all of us can look back at the ebbs and flows of our hobbies and interests, and how life gets in the way. It’s not easy to maintain a life-long passion, but if we can, it’s a wonderful thing.
Let's talk about something deeper than cycling now, something which is my true passion: faith in God, and God’s passion for us. For many of us, this has been a lifelong reality, or at least as long as we can remember.
For others, it’s something new, as we’ve come to know God in our adult life. It could have been because of a relationship, a traumatic event, or it may have been a slow burn. Whatever our story, I’m sure the same hope applies: that faith continues to grow and sustain us through all of life.
And yet, like hobbies, our commitment to faith waxes and wanes. Each stage of life has its particular challenges.
Churches have worked very hard at supporting the beginning years, and the latter years of life’s journey. We’ve dedicated time and resources to ensuring that the young grow in the love and knowledge of God. Parents make promises at baptism to help their children “learn the basic Christian teachings such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments so that they grow to ever greater maturity in Christ.”
As congregations, we provide learning opportunities such as playgroups, Sunday School, First communion, Youth Spaces and Confirmation. And many of us will remember similar opportunities that we’ve had when we were younger, which formed us in faith and prepared us for spiritual adulthood. But what then?
We’re not done with God once we’re confirmed, and God is certainly not done with us. Being a disciple is a lifelong call. Jesus used the word disciple over 200 times to describe someone who he called to follow him. The word itself means learner. There is so much we have to learn about God, and so much he wants to teach us.
In the gospel reading Luke 2:25-40 we meet Simeon and Anna, two aged disciples.
God has not forgotten about them, nor they him. Luke describes Simeon as “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel.” He had spent years on his knees waiting and praying for God to act. Faithful, and full of faith, across the span of his life. Faith kept Simeon going, God’s assurance that he would see the Messiah before he died. And Anna had known some hard things, widowed after only seven years of marriage, and now in her 90s, but every day worshipping at the temple, praying and fasting.
Imagine the scene.
The young parents bring their firstborn son to the temple, to carry out the religious rituals required by the law of Moses. These habits are critical-they give shape to life and allow us to frame our lives around God. Picture the scene: a baby, two parents barely 20, two elderly people, united around the worship of God and thankful contemplation for the gift of this baby, their son, but much more than that, “the Lord’s Messiah.”
This scene reminds me of what we see at worship each week. The old and the young, the middle-aged and the young adult worshipping together, at different stages on the journey of faith, but together to worship God, hear his word, receive the bread of life, the body and blood of Jesus, connecting with and caring for one another. And we taste and touch the Lord in the bread and the wine.
We continue to receive grace upon grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s not something we need at the start of life, and then toward the end, but at all points, as we deal with the stresses and strains of each life stage and find the faith to suit us well. This can only come from the resources that God gives us, not from within.
That’s why the Book of Hebrews gives us this practical advice:
- let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the assurance that faith brings…in regular worship of God.
- let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful…it’s God who is with us for the long haul.
- Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds…you can’t run the race of life alone. That’s one of the biggest lies of an individualistic culture. You are not God, you are not invulnerable. But you are loved and cherished by God and created for community.
- Let’s not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching - this world is run on principles in direct opposition to the good news of God’s love. We will be ground down and drained of hope if we don’t care enough about God and one another to worship together, pray together, read and reflect on Scripture together and care for one another. These are the simple habits that sustain lifelong faith.
Christians sing Simeon’s song after celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The service is drawing to an end, and we are being sent out in the world again. Christians also sing these words at the end of a funeral, as the coffin is processed out of the church. We sing in thanks to God for his faithfulness all life-long, and for the life which never ends, through Jesus, the light of the nations.
May this song be ours too, as life-long spills over into the eternal life we long for: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation…” Amen.
written by Pastor Andrew Brook, a friend of Grow Ministries.