I’d sit on the edge of my seat watching as the fuse was ignited and raced toward its end.
“Good morning, Mr. Phelps” began a great adventure that could take a person anywhere in the world, tagging along with the I. M. Force as they rescued diplomats, shut-down would-be tyrants, and prevented what would have otherwise been world chaos.
We could always rest easy at night knowing that, were any problem to arise before morning, Mr. Phelps would go to some isolated pier, pull a rusty box out from underneath a canvas, open it and find a tape player and a manila envelope. The tape player would discuss an assignment from some semi-divine agency that always had the scoop on the world’s problems. The envelope always contained recent pictures of persons involved in questionable activity.
The tape always began, “Good Morning, Mr. Phelps ….” and then, somewhere in the message, as the tape rolled on, would come this challenge:
“Your Mission, should you decide to accept it,” always took the viewer from Mission Impossible to Mission Accomplished with a cast of diverse characters, ingenuity, luck, and masterful disguises.
A Mission Impossible was what confronted the shepherd Moses that day.
I imagine that the sight of a wildfire didn’t exactly catch this senior adult’s eye that day. Fires, in and of themselves, weren’t that unusual. What made this one different was that, as Old Moses rested his aching joints in the shade of a boulder, he had the opportunity to watch the fire for some time.
And somehow, the fire kept burning.
There was a seemingly endless supply of fuel for this desert mountain inferno and Moses couldn’t figure out why. “Maybe it’s that my eyes are going bad on me,” he thought, as he stood to go investigate.
And then the tape starts rolling.
I believe that, as we look at Moses’ experience this morning, we can find several ideas that speak particularly to Senior Adults about living life to its fullest in our older years. You see, Moses is about eighty when he encounters God in the burning bush (
But I also believe Moses’ experience says a great deal to all of us about how to live our lives with joy and purpose from beginning to end.
Moses provides us with several keys to living impossibly. What is Impossible Living? Abundant, active, on-your-feet, living for God when the world is trying to put you in a rest home. Serving, giving, sacrificial living when many of your contemporaries have died or decided to allow the younger generation to pick up the slack.
The Impossible Mission given to Moses is the same as is given to Senior Adults in every age — to live with a purpose beyond retirement age. To follow the path of God wherever it might lead our creaking, old bones.
The story is told that someone once asked the man primarily responsible for the Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept our country back in the last century, a question. The man wouldn’t stop. He was always going — to share with a person here about the love of God; to preach at a meeting there; visiting the prisons and hospitals. Always carrying light into the dark places of life.
Someone asked him, “Aren’t you afraid of burning out?”
His response typifies Moses’ life and the life of Mission Impossible Seniors of every day. He said, “I’d rather burn out than rust out.”
Our mission, if we decide to accept it, is to live beyond the borders of the possible, responding to God’s call at any age; allowing God to move us from sedentary lives of mediocrity and into action for Him. And don’t worry! No need to fear rusting out in God’s service!
What are the keys to Impossible Living? What can we learn from Moses about how we might embrace God’s call and live with purpose, joy, and gratitude?
I. The First Key Is Curiosity.
Don’t allow the years to dull your minds to the world around you. There are still things happening out there that are new, exciting, and possibly even life-changing for you. The world is changing faster today j than at any other time.
It’s tempting to close our minds when change comes too fast even to comprehend. We want to draw up our defenses around us, back up in our little corner, shut our doors, and hope we don’t get flattened by the “innovation train.”
Yet purposeful, meaningful life is found out there. Where the cars whistle by and the children scamper about underfoot; where the unknown lurks in every shadow that technology attempts to light.
That’s where Moses went, dragging his arthritis and colon troubles along for the ride, gripping the one thing in his life that had remained constant in his forty years of shepherding — his staff. Up the side of a mountain that would be as much trouble to descend as it was to climb.
Moses remained open-minded and eager despite his lined face and weathered hands. His face was a mirror of that mountain blaze — behind bushy, gray eyebrows burned another fire that could not be quenched.
It had almost died several years earlier. With the memories of a failed young adulthood. A leader of a people who refused to follow him. His attempt at delivering his people brought him to murder and forced his exit from his homeland.
It took years for that gusto for life to come back. But now, at eighty Moses relished every minute of life.
Sponging news from wandering herdsman about life in Egypt; debating around the cookfire the virtues and power of the God he followed; gleaning from his father-in-law Jethro any bits of knowledge he could.
There’s a commercial on television right now that urges, “Never stop learning.” Moses never did because he remained a curious person.
Curiosity moved Moses from his comfortable, placid, easygoing life into action. From the front porch and into the street. From lonely, rocking chair immobility to a man with a plan.
Curiosity. That characteristic that we all love in children, draws an elderly gentleman from purposelessness into life. From moseying about behind sheep to delivering God’s people from slavery.
Curiosity. Call it zest for life if you like. Moses had it and it’s a key to living the impossible life.
II. The Second Key to Impossible Living — Don’t Lose Your Sense of the Sacred.
Moses had lived many years. He’d seen a lot. He’d been disappointed a thousand times over. He’d been let down more times that he cared to remember.
He had every right to be cynical in his old age — bitter at the hand life had dealt him; soured by the circumstances that took him from a person of prominence to an insignificant grazer of sheep.
Why not be embittered? Once he had been a member of the Egyptian royal house. He had fine clothes, honor. He was appreciated for his education, his hard work; living in one of the most fertile areas of the world, the beautiful, green Nile River valley.
“And now look at me! The only clothes I own smell like a mixture of sheep sweat and excrement. No one here even understands all I can do. All they care about is moving these witless animals from water hole to water hole. And this whole country is a thirsty, dust-filled barrenness.”
Moses, once a handsome, sought-after social partner, is now a shriveled, old loner. At the end of his days, lower than when he began.
We all know people who have taken body-blows from life. In their later years, some of them become quite caustic in their outlook.
They’ve lived long enough to know that life is not fair. That good often doesn’t win. That hard work isn’t necessarily rewarded. That older people are often put on the shelf like a trinket — noticed only when company comes over.
Cynicism grows in many Seniors like kudzu. Swallowing everything in their lives in a short matter of time. And in the fertile soil prepared so carefully by long lives of hardship, unfairness, and ingratitude, cynicism flourishes.
Cynicism affects every aspect of life — even one’s religious life. God and His church become perpetrators of the Big Lie — that God is Love and in Him is no darkness.
“Love? You call it love when a beautiful woman like my Dorothy screamed in torment the last weeks of her life? What kind of God allows His children to suffer so?”
“Love? A God who seemingly ignores His people in their suffering is no God for me,” they say, and turn their backs to God and His Church.
The Church, instead of providing a home, is pictured as a money-monger, deceiving its moronic multitudes with promises of the by and by. Many Seniors become disenchanted with the church. They’ve lived long enough to see several pastors or church members turn out to be hypocrites. They’ve seen how imperfect are the people who actually run the church. Their cynicism runs over into their spiritual lives, turning them into sour, lonely, scrooges.
Moses had every right to be resentful in his Senior Years, to smirk mockingly at an invitation from God. But we find here a man who has retained a sense of the sacred. When encountering the presence of God in the fire of the bush, he covers his face, realizing that, for some reason, God has come to him.
Don’t lose your sense of the sacred, Seniors! Certainly you’ve encountered many disappointments and heartaches. But the God of the universe comes to you like He did to Moses–calling your name. It may not come in flame of fire yet the call is always personal. It may come on one of those sleepless nights, when wrestling with the aches and immobility of age, you’ll sense a New Presence in the pain. It may come on your daily walk or in the garden. A butterfly will flitter past; a dewdrop will catch the sun’s rays; the lilies never looked so beautiful. When all of a sudden, you’ll know you’re not alone. He is there.
Walking. Sitting. Telling you over and over again, like a mother to a crying child, “I love you, I love you.”
Then, we have the opportunity to either shrug it off as part of an old, fanciful imagination or respond like Moses, “Here am I.”
God’s presence and His call can come at any time, in any place. You’ll know it when the call comes and if we’re as wise as Moses, we’ll respond with the same sense of awe and wonder.
It’s a gift that God gives any of us His presence. We call that gift, grace. Amazing grace. We don’t deserve it and cannot take it for granted. Moses’ response is appropriate for every day and every age. He recognized his unworthiness of the presence and call of God.
But God calls anyway. And Moses responds well.
Even after all the years of disgrace and guilt in which he’d lived, after all the good intentions gone awry, through the acrid taste of the unfairness of life, Moses kept his sense of the sacred.
Don’t allow life to turn you into an embittered cynic. Keep a sense of the power and working of God in our world. It will surely be tainted by realism in your older years, but nevertheless, allow God the opportunity when He calls your name to hear your, “Here I am.”
That’s the second key to impossible living — don’t lose your sense of the sacred. When God does call, and He will, be ready to respond with respect and reverence to his unmerited gifts to you. Don’t lose your sense of the sacred.
III. The Third Key to Impossible Living Is to Accept the Mission of God (
It takes Moses a while to get to the point of saying, “Okay, Lord, I’ll do it.” He offers excuses right and left. Can’t you just hear him? “I don’t speak very well. I’m too old. I don’t have the energy to relate to the young people! I’ve put in my time, let someone else do it. They’re not going to accept me! It’s been too long! I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough.”
But God constantly reassures him. And Moses does accept the mission of God.
A mission impossible: to go back to Egypt is to die. Moses didn’t know that his own death sentence died when the last Pharoah died. A mission impossible: to convince a pure capitalist like Pharoah to release his human resources. A mission impossible: to lead a people that may not want to follow to a land none of them had ever seen.
Moses accepts an impossible mission because he knows that, as long as God continues to call, He must see something in me. Even at 80, God saw something in Moses that uniquely fitted him for the task of leading God’s people out of Egypt.
As Senior Adults there are some tasks that your years and life-experiences uniquely equip you to do. Those of us who are younger don’t have the background, the wealth of knowledge which you possess. God knows what He’s doing when he puts that idea into your head, that lien on your life.
As a Senior, you are uniquely outfitted to do certain things that others cannot do or will not do.
Moses accepts the mission from God because God saw him as capable of doing it.
Several years ago the tendency among Senior Adults was to view retirement as a time to rest, take it easy, to reap the benefits of all those years of labor. But it takes no genius to see that sitting around doing nothing is a waste of a life. Persons who do so tend to die earlier than those who find something into which to throw themselves.
Our older years are not a time of rest, relaxation, retirement. If Moses is any indication, our older years are a time for service.
In her early fifties my mother began getting mail-outs from this organization. They infuriated her! The very gall of such a group calling themselves the American Association of Retired Persons, the AARP, trying to recruit her! She was too young, she thought.
The AARP is a huge organization that supposedly provides its members with many benefits including lobbyists in Washington, discounts at certain hotels or restaurants, and information. And I think it probably does a lot of good.
One of these days I might even join the AARP.
But God does not have a CARP — a Christian Association of Retired People. He doesn’t believe in it. If you’re retired from your vocation, you have more time to serve your Lord, not less. You never retire from God’s service. You’re never too old, too infirmed, too arthritic, to disabled. God has no CARP.
What God does have are impossible missions lined up, waiting for His “people of the impossible” to take them. Who are the people of the impossible?
You are Senior Adults! When you were born, if anyone had told your parents that you’d live as long, as healthy, as productive a life as you’ve led, they would have laughed. “It’s impossible!” They might have said.
But you’re here. Continuing worthwhile lives at a pace your horse and buggy, horseless carriage, Model T parents probably couldn’t even comprehend.
You are the People Impossible that God calls on to do his Impossible Mission. Impossible because of your age. Impossible because of the circumstances. Impossible because of your physical condition. Impossible because of the sacrifice that God asks. Remember that, in calling Moses to go back to Egypt, God was calling Moses to his death. And Moses accepts the challenge knowing that his own life hangs in the balance.
The sacrifices God asks of His people do not grow smaller with age. The sacrifice God asks when a person becomes a Christian is “take up your cross every day and follow me.” That’s the sacrifice of our lives! The sacrifice remains the same for Seniors. God wants our entire life involved in His Impossible Mission.
Remember Mr. Phelps? When we last left him he was standing on a lonely pier with some photos and a soon-to-be-smoking tape player in his hands. If you remember the series, the final words on the tape were always the same. “If you or any member of your IM force are killed, the computer will disavow any knowledge of your action. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.”
Jim Phelps was left isolated. With an Impossible Mission and no one to back him up. With a ruined tape player, and a computer and agency that wouldn’t even acknowledge he existed.
Here’s the best news of all, Christians! The promise of God is that He doesn’t operate that way!
That’s not the way God works with His people. When God calls His people to do the impossible, He always ends His message the same way too. But His ending is not one of isolation.
God’s call to action always includes a promise. “Certainly I will be with you,” he says to Moses.
If you’ve been a missions minded Christian very long the way God assures Moses might sound a bit familiar. That’s because when God sends out His Impossible Mission Force to do His work, He also ends the message the same way every time.
He doesn’t send us off with a stoic, “Good Luck, Jim” or Suzy or Beth.
The ending of the message to God’s Impossible Mission force is the same in every age. To Jacob he says “I am with you.” To His disciples, in those verses we call the Great Commission He guarantees, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”
You have a great challenge, Senior Adults. It calls for enormous sacrifice. It’s still an Impossible Mission. There’s no way we could, as Seniors or even Young Adults, do everything that God calls us to do. It’s impossible!
But remember! We are God’s Impossible Mission Force and His promise makes the difference in accomplishing the impossible mission.
Remember, Seniors! Remember young people! Remember Adults and children of all Ages! The Mission is impossible!
Because, with men many things are impossible. But the same Lord that guaranteed His presence with us also declared, “With God, all things are possible.”
Mission Impossible becomes Mission Accomplished.