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Old Age Problem…Old Problem 1.20.19

Mark 7: 1-13
7Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” 8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’ 9 Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” 11But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— 12then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’
How do we care for aging family members? Here are three examples.
The first woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court was Sandra Day O’Connor. She was appointed by President Ronald Regan in 1981 and served on the Court until her retirement in 2006. At the time of her retirement, Justice O’Connor was only 66 years old. A veritable child by Supreme Court standards. Justice O’Connor was somewhat unpredictable and that made her a powerful force and swing vote on the Court. For lawyers, it really does not get better than that. So, with a lifetime appointment in a powerful position, why retire so young? Justice O’Connor did so to care for her husband, John, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. When first diagnosed, John was home bound, but anxious when Justice O’Connor was at work. She managed John’s anxiety by taking him to work with her where he could sit in her chambers. But then John began to wander and was no longer content in his wife’s chambers. Justice O’Connor had to make a decision. She could place John in a special care facility or resign from the Court to take care of hm at home. She resigned. Then, just a few months after Justice O’Connor’s resignation, John had become too difficult for her to care for at home. She was forced to place him in that same special care facility. Had Justice O’Connor done that a few months earlier, she would not have had to leave the Court. She might have stayed on the Court for another several years. She gave up a lot for the sake of her husband. There are many here with us this morning who sympathize with Justice O’Connor. We have or have had aging loved ones who have lost the ability to care for themselves and who have turned to us for care and assistance. It can be an overwhelming responsibility. It can be life changing. It can be painful.
Example 2. In 2010, my parents lived by themselves in Edinboro, PA. They were not very good at taking care of themselves. My Dad’s poorly controlled diabetes blinded him. He was also demonstrating signs of dementia. May mother had had a heart attack, a series of kidney stones and an undiagnosed abdominal problem. When I pointed out to them that their situation was untenable, that they were no longer capable of taking care of themselves, their solution was for me to quit my job, move to Edinboro and take care of them. As their child, they believed that was my responsibility. That is not what I did. I convinced them that they should move into an independent community, but they rapidly went to assisted living, then skilled nursing and dementia care. It was an emotional and physical drain for all of us.
Example 3. There is this story Tolstoy wrote. A grandfather had become very old. He lived with his son. When he ate, food sometimes dropped out of his mouth, so he was no longer allowed him to eat with the family. One day he broke a bowl when he was eating out of it. His daughter-in-law scolded him. She said that from that day on he would get his food in a wooden bucket. A few days later, the old man’s grandson was putting something together out of small pieces of wood. His father asked him, “What are you making?” The little boy said, “I’m making a wooden bucket. When you and Mama get old, I’ll feed you out of it.” Happily, I know few families like that, but the lesson is worth learning. How are we as a society, as disciples of Jesus, going to take care of our aging family members? Justice O’Connor quit her job to take care of John. I did not quit my job, but I did start on a two-year odyssey of managing my parent’s lives and trying to meet their expectation that I was going to solve all their problems. Others, just struggle. What is our responsibility? A couple months ago I talked about the 5th Commandment. Honor your Father and Mother. The Israelites understood that the 5th Commandment required more than just giving respect to mom and dad. The 5th Commandment required children to care for their parents in their old age. Patrick Miller puts it this way: The feeling of respect and honor cultivated in the growth of the child continues on into maturity and is the impetus for the necessary protection and care of the now-aged and weaker parents. Honoring father and mother is expressed in concrete actions that enhance and thus give weight to the parents in the most literal way possible: with respect to clothing, food, shelter and maintenance of general welfare. We are to care for them. We are to protect them. We are to provide for them. That is what moves us closer to God. OK, so we have that responsibility. How do we prepare and organize in 2019? It’s complicated. It’s hard. It’s expensive.
As Chair of the Board of Directors of Baptist Senior Services, I spent a recent Friday afternoon at a Board retreat talking about these three things.
1. What are the options? For most of us it means finding them a place to live where their daily needs can be met. Home care, assisted living, skilled nursing, dementia and behavior health care.
2. How do we convince our aging loved ones to do it? That is hard, and requires patience, and persistence. Now the hardest.
3. How do we pay for it? Taking care of aging parents can be an economic disaster for a family. It can include everything from the increased cost of food if mom and dad move in, to the cost of remodeling a house to allow mom and dad to have privacy and a bathroom on the first floor, to a $10,000 a month fee to an assisted living or specialized care facility.
And this list does not include the emotional and physical toll placed on the primary family care giver. This can all be overwhelming for an individual or family. It is a much bigger issue than just a family matter. It is a societal matter. A societal matter where we, as disciples of Jesus, choose how our aging population will be cared for. How do we decide what to do? Today’s scripture might give some guidance. A bit of background. Jesus has been dealing with an endless stream of questions from religious authorities who are trying to discredit him. Today’s question is seemingly simple. “Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat?” This is not a question about good hygiene. This is about religious purity. This is ritual. This is the requirement to “keep Kosher”. This question irritates Jesus. These religious authorities are criticizing Peter, James, John and the rest for not washing their hands and so are not pure and so are far from God. Like ritual handwashing makes someone close to God. Jesus calls these religious authorities hypocrites. They think that they can make up some ritual that will make them “pure” when, in their hearts, they are far from God. Then Jesus uses an illustration that makes his point. God says that we are to honor our parents by caring for them in their later years. Honoring parents in this way brings people closer to God. But the religious authorities created a loop-hole. Dedicate what you have to God, and you don’t have to spend it on Anything but yourself and the religious establishment. It cannot be used to care for your parents. Why this loop-hole? The religious authorities wanted to free the people from having to spend money on taking care of mom and dad, so to free up money dedicated to worship. Jesus says that such loop-holes don’t work. Like hand washing, giving money to the religious authorities won’t make you closer to God. Caring for your parents will. So, how does this help us understand how we are to care for mom and dad, and so become closer to God? To some this is not a problem. Mom and dad might have enough money to cover the cost of one of more of the available options. Unfortunately, few of our senior citizens can afford private pay. Mom and dad might have bought long term care insurance. But long-term care insurance is basically unavailable or too expensive and does not cover the entire cost. Which means that we rely more and more on government services to help us care for our aging loved ones. Mom and dad might qualify for some type of government program such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or VA benefits which cover less and less of the cost these days. Have we as a society stepped into this gap to help? The answer, in my experience, is “No!” As a community, have we sought to make any investment into fixing this problem? Have we sought to re-prioritize our resources, whether they be governmental, communal or personal, in order to assure that we can care for our senior citizens? Do we educate people on these things? Do we encourage these things? When we ignore the responsibility to care for our parents, because we have some “more important” priority, does that make us like the religious authorities in Jesus day who ignored the command to care for aging parents so the money could go to some “more important” use? Maybe. What do we need to do? We need to get our priorities straight. It is a complex problem. The solution is not obvious. But what I am saying is that we need to approach our plans and decisions on the issue from a desire to live the Jesus way. Jesus does not tell us how to do it. Jesus basically says, to be close to God you have to do your best to figure it out! Figure it out as a society. Figure it out as a family. But figure it out. Which brings me to something I believe to be important. Caring for aging family members can be an overwhelming responsibility. Many of you have had that same experience. Some of you are in the middle of it now. Which is the last thing I want to talk about. When you are in this situation, who do you talk to” What is your source of ideas? Of support? Who cares about you? Who cares for you?
What I would like to have happen here at JMPC is for a group of people who have been in this situation, are in this situation, or anticipate being in this situation to form a support group. A support group, not unlike Al Anon, where folks can share, learn, vent and know they are not alone. We need that here. Let’s get together and see what we can accomplish. There is a sign-up sheet in the narthex. If you are interested and willing, please sign up and we will get organized. Let’s do what we can to live the Jesus way in terms of our aging family members. And when we do that, we: Honor our fathers and mothers. AMEN

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