sermon: Don't Stop, Keep Moving
Mike Ford (1955-2021)
Given 18-Jul-20; 35 minutes
Phyllis and I are sometimes able go on a 3-mile walk and from time to time we see a lady from who is maybe in her late 70s. She is always so happy and friendly. We feel better every time we run into her! Why are some people so full of life and others act as if they carry the weight of the world on them? It makes me think how, as a called out child of God, maybe I should have more of that kind of attitude.
Over the last some years, you have heard many messages about our youth and how to raise them, love them, and lead them. We have had many messages on Christian living that apply to us all, and sermons for the men and sermons for the women. Even “theybys” got a shout out! But let us talk today about those a bit older, the age group that I will be in someday. I am not going to define it with age parameters but let us just say those that are mature, physically and hopefully spiritually as well. I think what I have to say applies to all but the focus will be on those who have been at this a while.
Those in this world have developed an attitude that at a certain point in life you should stop pushing yourself and coast. “You deserve it,” they say. “Sleep in why don’t you”? There is certainly something to be said for taking time to refresh, to “smell the roses,” to broaden your horizons. And a nap is always a good thing! But is life over at 55 or 65 or even 80?
I doubt that most of you have ever heard of Anna Mary Robertson. But some of you might know her by the name Grandma Moses. She took up painting in her 70’s and got her first big break when she was 78! She started writing her memoir at age 92. You might recognize the name “Ray Kroc,” especially if you saw the movie with Michael Keaton called “The Founder.” He bought the original McDonalds at age 59 and then built an empire. How about Kathryn Joosten? She was a nurse, got married, had kids, got divorced, and raised her sons. At age 53 she was hired as a street performer in Disney World. 3 years later she moved to Hollywood and started getting work. At age 60 she became famous for her role as a personal secretary in the show West Wing. At 66 she won an Emmy for her work in Desperate Housewives.
This next example is particularly poignant. After 67 years of marriage Harry Bernstein's wife, Ruby, died. In the depths of his loneliness he began to write. His book, The Invisible Wall, was published in 2006 when he was 96! Let me throw in Gladys Burrill who completed her first marathon when she was 86. Or Harlan Sanders who found himself dead broke at 65 and a failure who was “fired from a dozen jobs,” and then he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Then there is Michelangelo, a true genius. A sculptor (think of the famous statue of David, which has probably been torn down everywhere), a painter (the Sistine Chapel ceiling), and an architect. In 1547 Pope Paul III appointed Michelangelo, then age 71, to take over as architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. This was at a time when most people died by age 45. He wanted to retire and return to Florence, but he felt he could not refuse the Pope. So he devoted the final 17 years of his life to St. Peter’s.
The job site he took over was a mess. The project had begun in 1505 and at the time Michelangelo comes in, had been under construction more than 40 years. It was the largest construction site in the world. It was a disorganized jumble of scaffolding, tools, stone, equipment, ropes, and so on. To make matters worse, after 40 years and a half dozen different architects, the designs were incompatible. Also the walls were not strong enough to hold the dome. How would you like to take on this ulcer-causing work? As William Wallace wrote in the Wall Street Journal, every day “he rode his horse to the job site, conferred with his foremen, designed better ways to build, and solved engineering problems that had confounded his predecessors.”
He did not live to see the completion of the building but the “clarity of his design and the solutions he engineered guaranteed the successful completion of the project.” Fifty years after completing the Sistine Chapel he was still working. It seems to me that he was more creative artistically when he was younger and, as an older man, he used his genius to organize and run the world’s largest construction site. Both were creative works but of different types.
That is what seems to happen in life. When we are young, we are more carefree and perhaps creative. Trying new things, seeking our way. As we age, we hopefully find what we are good at and pursue it. We develop skills and knowledge. Paul McCartney, at age 78, is still performing and doing lots of projects but he is not writing songs like he did when he was in his 20’s. Our minds change, our focus, our energy, our interests, they all change.
Think about Moses for a moment. His first 40 years were in and around the royal family of Egypt. A great nation at the time. He was well educated, trained as a general, and headed for great things. Then he spends 40 years herding sheep. Then at age 80 he takes on the massive organizational task of leading millions of slaves to the Promised Land. What about Noah? He was 500 years old when he started building the ark! He was 601 when it was completed. And you think you are tired?
So where am I going with this? As we age, things change. Our work and our interests become less physical and more administrative, you might say. Ball players become coaches. Line workers become plant managers.
On the spiritual side, it is the same thing. When we are new in the faith there is excitement as we learn things. We study and find a wonderland of knowledge that we did not know existed. We sometimes alienate family and friends trying to tell them about our new-found “discovery.” As we get older, we realize that our example sometimes speaks louder than words. Living a Christian life, teaching by quietly living a godly life, speaks volumes. We do not know it all, not by a long stretch. Our learning is different than when we were first called. We know the basics now and we are adding depth of knowledge. Peeling back more layers of the onion, so to speak.
But we do not stop. We keep moving. Physically, we slow down, yes. Physically we might retire from our jobs, but never spiritually. And our physical retirement just means we have changed careers! I remember John Reid telling me he worked harder after he retired than he ever did before.
But on the spiritual side, what a waste if, after decades of life in the church, of growing and overcoming, we start to coast? What happens when you ride a bike and you quit pedaling? At some point you lose momentum and might fall in a ditch. Albert Einstein once said “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Again, you might not be able to keep moving physically, there may be health problems that limit you, but as long as your mind is still strong, you can move forward.
We do not know when Christ will return and we do not know when our physical lives will end. But until the last breath, do not stop! Keep moving!
In the depths of his trial, Job thought he was about to die. In Job 17:1 he says, “The end of my life is near. I can hardly breathe; there is nothing left for me but the grave.” (Good News Bible) Yet he kept moving. He stayed true to the knowledge God gave him.
Job 17:9 Yet the righteous will hold to his way, and he who has clean hands will be stronger and stronger.
The word translated “hold” is the Hebrew “achaz” (transliterated aw-khaz) and it means to ‘take hold of,’ ‘grasp,’ ‘take possession of.’ It is a verb, it is a word of action! We are to grab hold of this “way”! This word “way” is the Hebrew “derek.” The ‘road,’ a ‘path,’ this ‘journey.’ Take possession of this way of life, this journey, and never let go. Job felt that he was at death’s door but made it through those trials and lived another 140 years. He did not stop, he kept moving.
I ended my last commentary on Father’s Day with some verses from Proverbs 4. I would like to go there again. Solomon says in verse 1, “Hear, my children, the instruction of a father.”
Proverbs 4:11-12 I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, when you run, you will not stumble.
This “way” we are going is a path. We are moving, sometimes running. But the path is marked, it is visible. Christ has broken the trail for us. Those not called do not see it but we do.
Proverbs 4:14-15 Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on.
Ours is not the only path and we are not the only ones moving. There are easier ways. To go back to the bicycle metaphor, if we are coming to a hill but there is a path off to the side that goes downhill, well, maybe we should go that way. Coast a bit—pedaling uphill is just too hard! The disobedient can be moving along also, they have made a path. We can see it. Solomon says, “avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on.”
Proverbs 4:18 But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.
The Good News Bible puts it, “The road the righteous travel is like the sunrise, getting brighter and brighter until daylight has come.”
Beautiful symbolism there. God’s people are traveling a way, a road. And as we move along, learning, growing, overcoming, the path becomes easier to see. The sun is coming up and its easier to see the way forward. But we have to keep moving along the Way.
Proverbs 4:25-27 Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil.
Some of you have been on this road a long time. 50 years or more. You get tired. “Let me stop and rest a moment,” you say. I would remind you of what happened to the Israelites. They stopped walking. That is the long and the short of it. They stopped walking.
Revelation 14:12-13 Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, "Write: 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them."
The saints keep the commandments of God, the faith of Christ, and their “works” follow them to the grave. Notice when the saints “rest,” when they die! That is when we rest from our “labors”!
I would like to look at the example of the Old Testament judge, Eli. He lived to be 98 and he did some fine things in his life but in his later years maybe he began to coast. You be the judge. Actually, Eli was a judge of Israel, the next to the last one before Saul became King. Samuel was the last judge.
We are introduced to Eli in I Samuel 1:9. I am not going to go into detail on the story of Hannah, I will save that for another time. My focus here is on Eli. He is seated at the door of the Tabernacle and sees Hannah praying. She is in deep anguish and praying out loud but silently. I think we have all done that. Eli watches her mouth (verse 12), and thinks she is drunk.
I Samuel 1:14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!”
Notice the exclamation point, the emphasis, the rebuke. The Good News Bible renders verse 14 this way, “And he said to her, "Stop making a drunken show of yourself! Stop your drinking and sober up!"
He did not seek any background here, he made an assumption and jumped in with both feet. Was there a history of drunk women coming into the church? Was he being zealous for God and His tabernacle? To Eli’s credit, when Hannah explains everything, he says in verse 17, “Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.”
He calmed down quickly once he saw the truth of the situation. Hannah was exceedingly polite to him, as befits his position. I am sure you all know the story from here. Hannah conceives and gives birth to Samuel. After he is weaned, somewhere between 2 and 4 years old, Hannah brings him to Shiloh and presents him to Eli.
I Samuel 1:28 “Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD.” So they worshiped the LORD there.
While several translations use the word “lent,” a better word would be “granted” or “dedicated” to God. How did Eli feel about this? A small child is handed over to him, to raise as a Nazirite. I hope he felt honored and did his best. Hannah saw Samuel every year when the family came to Shiloh for the Feast of Tabernacles and maybe he went home from time to time to visit. That we do not know.
Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phineas, and you would be hard pressed to find two more worthless men in all the Bible. I Samuel 2:12, “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD” The King James says they were “sons of Belial.” That is literally what the Hebrew says, sons of Belial. According to Hebrew lexicons, they were evil, wicked, and worthless. God is not pulling any punches here.
I Samuel 2:13 And the priests’ custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling.
As to what they were doing, let me quote from Adam Clarke:
When any man offered sacrifice [That is, when a peace-offering was brought], the right shoulder and the breast belonged to the priest, the fat was burnt upon the altar, and the blood was poured at the bottom of the altar; the rest of the flesh belonged to the offerer. Under pretense of taking only their own part, they took the best of all they chose, and as much as they chose.
As bad as that was, let us go to verse 22.
I Samuel 2:22 Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
These were young women assigned to care for the shrine at Shiloh.
These two “priests” committed adultery with women “assembled at the door of the tabernacle.” They were using their positions of power to gain sexual favors. Here is what Matthew Henry says about this verse:
Eli shunned trouble and exertion. This led him to indulge his children, without using parental authority to restrain and correct them when young. He winked at the abuses in the service of the sanctuary till they became customs, and led to abominations; and his sons, who should have taught those that engaged in the service of the sanctuary what was good, solicited them to wickedness.
It said that Eli “heard everything his sons did” so,
I Samuel 2:23-24 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’s people transgress.”
Wow, he really chewed them out! I will bet they straightened right up! The actions of his two sons warranted immediate dismissal, at the least. But Eli merely says this “is not a good report that I hear.” This was not even a slap on the wrist. Do you really think this is the first Eli is hearing of the poor performance of his sons? They were all getting fat and lazy in their jobs. They were all coasting. Eli is old, he is fat and, it appears, he is just putting in his time. Phoning it in, we used to call it. In a moment we will see that Eli favored his sons over God and what his punishment was.
We do not know anything of Eli before his appearance in I Samuel 1. He was of the line of Ithamar, Aaron’s fourth son. Granted, he was preordained to be a priest because of his family. But he ruled Israel for 40 years as a judge and high priest. The man obviously had character and ability.
So what happened? Did he grow weary in well doing? Did he raise his sons alone? We see no mention of his wife. Did he stop moving? Both physically and spiritually? He judged Israel for 40 years and died when he was 98. So he took over the position when he was 58. Not an unusual occurrence I would think. It is when the position came open and he was next in line. At 58 he would be still physically active, hopefully, and mature as well—especially in his spiritual life.
Did he begin to coast when he brought his sons into the priesthood? Did he not correct them because they were grown men? That is possible yet he was also the judge of all Israel. He could not slow down or stop. He had God-given responsibilities, as do we all, however minor they might seem to us. We have a job to do and it never ends. Eli seems to have avoided making the hard decision. Removing his sons from office would have put more of a load on him as well, and that might have been part of his thinking in leaving them in place.
So, God had to step in.
I Samuel 2:27-34 Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer upon My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? And did I not give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?' Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: 'I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.' But now the LORD says: 'Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.’ [I will treat with contempt those that despise me. GNB]
‘Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. [In the future, none of you will live into old age]. And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever. But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.’
God is serious and holds us to high standards. In His mercy He gave them plenty of time to correct course but when it became evident that they would not, He pronounced this punishment. This edict had two parts, a present and a future. In the present, both of his sons would die in the same day. Due to their own sins and also owing to the fact that Eli honored his sons more than God. God is a jealous God and will not allow us to put anything or anyone ahead of Him.
The future part of this prophecy is very interesting. Eli’s line does not end but no one will live out their full life. His descendants will “die in the flower of their age.” There “shall not be an old man in your house forever.” If we had time we could go through some examples of his descendants that died young. Eli did not take advantage of his “golden years.” He stopped moving, stopped growing, stopped standing fast for God, to mix my metaphors. Is this why God’s punishment is so specific? Eli wasted his spiritual maturity, it would seem.
Now let us go back to Samuel for a moment. When we left him, he was a small child left with Eli. As time passed, Samuel grew and was trained by Eli. When he was around 11, some say a young teenager, God spoke to him.
I Samuel 3:1 [Notice] The word of the Lord was rare in those days, there was no widespread revelation.
Parts of Israel were under Philistine domination at this time and as high priest and judge, Eli evidently was not “hearing” from God. In the following verses we have the story of God speaking to Samuel. I am not going to go through this in detail, I think we all know the story of how Samuel was going to sleep one night and a voice called him. Thinking it was Eli, each time he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.” After the third time, Eli realized what was happening and told Samuel the Lord was calling him. Notice verse 7:
I Samuel 3:7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.
This is an interesting verse inserted into the story flow here. Samuel was just a young man but he was being raised by Eli, at the tabernacle, and he did not yet know, perceive, recognize, or discern the Lord. What was his training I wonder? Is this yet another example of Eli possessing great knowledge and not passing it on? He has quit moving, become stationary. Our overriding purpose in life, every day, is to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33)! Quite possibly because of this, God is now working through the young man, Samuel.
I Samuel 3:11-12 Then the Lord says to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.”
Israel will be stunned by what God is going to do.
I Samuel 3:13-14 “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
God repeats here what we have already heard earlier. Eli failed to “restrain” his sons, he did not correct them, remove them from office, or work to change their “vile” behavior. He stood back and let them commit horrible sins.
Eli presses Samuel to tell him what God said to him and in verse 18 Samuel does so. Eli responds with, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.” A submissive and humble attitude. He had been previously told what was coming and perhaps a chance to correct course. Who knows if God, in His infinite mercy would have forgiven Eli if repentance had occurred? But it did not and now his sentence is confirmed. There will be no atonement (verse 14), the penalty will be carried out. Eli does not whine, he accepts it with grace. He knew that the decision of God was just and fair. This attitude, along with one other thing, leads me to believe that Eli redeemed himself at the end.
In chapter 4, once again the Israelites go out to battle the Philistines and 4,000 Israelites were killed (verse 2). So “the people,” in verse 4, sent to Shiloh for the Ark of the Covenant. Hophni and Phinehas went with it. I do not think Eli had any input into this, he was 98 and blind and probably ignored. You know the story, Israel was defeated with 30,000 killed! And the Ark was captured.
I Samuel 4:12-13 “Then a man from Benjamin ran from the battle line the same day, and came staggering into Shiloh with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. Now when he came, there was Eli, sitting on a seat by the wayside watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.
I Samuel 4:17-18 So the messenger answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has been a great slaughter among the people. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead; and the ark of God has been captured. Then it happened, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
It was not the death of his sons that killed him, it was the news that the “ark of God has been captured.” I want to give credit where it is due. At the end of his life, his focus was on God. He lost his way for a period of time, he coasted, he took a wrong turn on the road he traveled, whatever metaphor you want. But he accepted without rancor God’s judgement and, at the end, put God above his own.
Philippians 2:12-15 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
Even as we get older, we will always be the child in the relationship with God. All our lives we are “working” towards the final exam, you might say. This “work” does not earn salvation but is necessary for God’s plan to be fulfilled. God’s grace does not stop when we are baptized and forgiven. Trials do not stop with conversion. In fact, they get worse.
After decades of “walking the paths of righteousness,” it is only natural to be tired. Warren Zevon had a song “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” which most likely comes from Benjamin Franklin’s quote “There’ll be sleeping enough in the grave.”
Never stop, keep moving!