Thirteen years ago today, I got onto an airplane in Zurich, Switzerland to come home from a visit with Marco’s family. When I arrived at the airport and checked in that day I had the pleasant surprise of being “bumped-up” to business class because the airline had over booked economy. I enjoyed the extra leg and arm room, the linens, china and flatware the meal was served with, and the hand-scooped ice cream that was served during the movie. It was just as I was drifting off to sleep with my satin covered light blockers over my eyes, that I realized that if my grandfather had been alive it would have been his 100th birthday and that this cushy “bump-up” might just be his way of celebrating with me from the great beyond of God’s eternal realm.
He did live to a ripe old age of 98 years, and it hardly seems possible that he died 15 years ago. My sister and I were the only grandchildren he and my grandmother had and so we got the full dose of their grand-parenting – they were such important people in our lives, and so not an August 19th goes by that I don’t think of him – he would have been 113 today.
My grandfather was what they used to call a “salty old dog”. He had spent most of his life from age 14 to age 65 on various ships – at sea or on the great lakes – working his way up through the ranks from deck hand to captain. He sailed in the Canadian Merchant Marine through both world wars. He could tell a big fish story with the best of them, and as a child, I could sit and listen to his stories for hours.
My grandfather stood 6 feet 4 inches and had ram-rod straight posture, which he assumed everyone should have – especially my sister and me. Whenever he caught either of us slouching, he would run his finger down our spine and bark “stand up!” He also believed if you slept past 7 am you were wasting the day away. Needless to say in our teen years, when we were staying at their house, and our plan was to sleep until 10 or 11 am, his attempts to roust us out of bed at 7:30 – like a couple of sailors under his command – did not go over well with us.
But his was an enduring presence in our lives, and once we were old enough to be out on our own, we realized what an amazing man he was and what an amazing life he had led. His faith was not something he spoke much about, but it was clearly a steady current in his life. He surprised me by being my biggest cheerleader when I preparing to go to seminary, and he always insisted that whenever I wrote a sermon I send him a copy. In his last years he told me that he had felt throughout his life that he was leading a charmed existence. He said that he had faced hardship and calamity on shore and on the seas so many times – always escaping mostly unscathed – that he felt there was a special angel watching over him. He said he hoped I had that same experience in my life. What a gift that conversation was!
All of this came back to me this week as I was reading our scriptures for today – especially the 1 Kings reading where we hear of the transition from the reign of King David to the reign of his son, Solomon. The writer of 1 Kings could have taken many different approaches to writing about this transition. One angle would have been to describe the pomp and circumstance that must have surrounded the transition. Another could have been to catalogue the political intrigue that one imagines was likely going on in the background of the royal court. But the angle chosen was to focus on the connection between one generation and the next. The throne is briefly mentioned but the focus of the passage is on the establishment of a trusting relationship between Solomon and God, who had been so intimate to his father David. Could Solomon have made the wise request he did if his father David had not shown such abiding trust in God? It appears to me that David’s abiding trust in God was the spiritual doorway through which Solomon walked. I have to believe that watching David’s reliance on God influenced Solomon to do the same and to see that if he had any hope of leading his people in a faithful way, the source of that wise leading was going to have to be found in his relationship with God.
All of us eventually come to the place where the generation before us passes on to greater glory and we are moved into the position of being at the top of the family tree – or as a friend of mine says, into the position of becoming the roof on the family house. So how do we live when we are the oldest generation – How do we go forward? Hopefully with humility – knowing the generation that went before us did the best they could with what they had – they were neither perfect, nor fatally flawed – knowing the same will be true of us. So when we are the roof of the house, what do we ask for? What do we need from God to make the best choices and lead our families in good and life giving ways? I encourage each of us to think seriously about that and then to ask with heartfelt faith that God knows what we need even before we ask, and is just waiting for us to turn and invite God’s blessing and guidance.
In the Gospel Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” In Jesus we are given everything we need to live lives that will give rise to faith, hope and love in the generations that follow us. Just as the lives of the people in the generation above us have been part of the bread of life for us, so we too are to be part of the way Jesus feeds the generation that comes after us. Mystically, we all are the bread of life he has blessed, broken and given for the life of the world. The trick is to remember in each new day to turn and return to Him asking his leading and guiding in each moment for the fulfilling of his holy purposes through us.
I want to end with a prayer that made the rounds of the internet a few years ago and humorously brings home the point that we need to seek that divine guidance for holy living each day, and perhaps every hour:
I’m proud to say, so far today I’ve got along all right: I have not gossiped, whined or bragged, or had a single fight.
I haven’t lost my temper once, or criticized my mate, I have not lied, I have not cried or loudly cursed my fate.
So far today I’ve not one time been grumpy or morose; I’ve not been spiteful, cold or vain, self-centered or verbose.
But Lord, I’m going to need your help throughout the hours ahead, so give me strength Dear Lord, for now I’m getting out of bed.
May we each continually seek the wisdom and strength of the Lord, that we may live our days as bread for the life of the world, in our generation. In Christ’s name. Amen+