Can you remember when you were at your most powerful?
Perhaps it was when you were working at the top of a company or a profession; perhaps it was when you were young and fit – and able to shift a huge amount of physical work in a day; or perhaps, it was when you were doing the superhuman task of bringing up a family.
When we are at that stage – for some in their twenties or thirties, for others in their forties or fifties, we achieve so much and we are so on top of our game that nothing seems impossible, nothing seems beyond our capabilities.
Its so easy to be arrogant, when we are young: we don’t need anyone or anything to help us. We can do it all ourselves! Ah yes it is great to be young!
But as we get older, our faculties start to fail.
First, in my case, it seems to be my memory, which is failing fast: I have found that
I have started to find that names that I know really very well just disappear…
Then I guess the aches and pains develop. And before long, people are standing up for us on the train (perhaps the ultimate indignity, until we really need them to) and soon we view whether we want to attend any event, on the basis of whether or not there is a loo in reasonable proximity!
As we get older, we feel less in control, less able to decide for ourselves what we want to do, altogether less powerful.
Jesus was well aware of the increasing sense of impotence in old age.
In John 21 Jesus says to Peter: ‘Very truly I tell you, when you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go’
Such are the challenges of old age.
And I don’t need to tell you what its like to be older – you know yourselves.
And of course we all try to get through it with as much dignity as we can.
But have you thought of what an amazing opportunity it is, to be old?
In fact, I would say, a God given opportunity, which can be seized with both hands
(however arthritic they may be): An opportunity which some of us may not have encountered at any stage in our lives before.
You see when we get old, it may be the first opportunity that we have to recognise
that we need God. Because it is only when we recognise that we are weak that we can turn to rely upon his strength; that we can find that only by prayer and reliance upon God
is there any possibility of our situation, whatever it is, being changed. Or there being any chance that we can cope with it, whatever it is.
So what has this got to do with St Paul and the passage we have just read?
Well, it is often thought that St Paul’s conversion to being a Christian was instantaneous: We talk about a ‘Damascus Road conversion’; a bright light in the sky; a voice from heaven and Paul becomes a Christian: Boom!
But actually what happens at that moment is that Paul is struck blind.
He goes from being at his most powerful, breathing out murderous threats against the Christians, to being led by the hand by his companions into Damascus, because he has gone blind. Not riding on a horse, as one of the powerful, but walking behind a servant, being pushed and shoved by the Damascus crowds trying to get through the City gate….
In fact, in that instant, Paul travels the path that we all travel, during the course of our lives from power to weakness. In an instant, he is humbled, he has to rely on others.
He has three days of blindness (before Ananias comes to rescue him) to think about what he has experienced. He then agrees to be baptised and is filled with the Holy Spirit.
But note what has happened: it is in the humility of his weakness; in the humility of his blindness, that he is able to turn to Jesus Christ and to rely upon him.
And of course his life is transformed, and by his writings, he goes on to transform the lives
of billions of other people over the centuries.
Likewise, as we get older, and our strength diminishes, we find that the scope of our power
gets narrower and narrower: we can no longer arrogantly assume that we can control every situation, or even the basic things around us.
But, mercifully, we can abandon our arrogance and cast ourselves on God’s mercy, to implore him and plead with him to help us to get through the next day, for the things that we need, and for the needs of our friends and relations,whom we can no longer help
in any other way.
As we get older and weaker, we can draw closer to God, and in doing so become the people
that he created us to be.