Never too Old

I was asked to speak at a mid-winter dinner for the over-60s in our congregation and their friends.  What do I say to those whose years of living and studying the scriptures make many of them far more able to preach than me?  The one thing I really wanted to say was "Thank you" for being around for us young-uns. Here’s how I did it… 

When I came here

Nearly 15 years ago

I was flown up from Invercargill for a job interview

Had the interview

And was being driven back to the airport

 when I asked the social worker driving me to stop

just outside a pink-painted bungalow on Queen St.

And I ran inside to say a quick hello

 to my Great-Aunt Olympia

And to tell her what I had come for

And to ask her to pray for me and bless me.

And she did.

I knelt down beside her chair

And she put her hand on my woolly head

And prayed God’s blessing into my life.


I got the job,

moved my new family here,

We bought a house

And the rest is history.


But I’ll never forget the kindness

of that ancient old friend’s blessing.


Great-aunt Oly was someone I would drop in to see

To have a cup of tea and some macaroons

Whenever I was passing through.

She was kind and relaxed

and never minded me poking through her bookcases.

She died shortly after we arrived

Aged 95.

In those last few weeks I would try to visit her each evening

And we would read a psalm and pray together,

And she would try not to grumble

about how long and tedious this dying business was.

She was impatient to be with her Lord.


I doubt I will ever fully understand the impact

Of that old lady on my life.


Who knows how many prayers she prayed

 for me and my family?


Who can tell what difference she made

Just being there

A fabulous example of a Christian

Sharing tea and biscuits and devotion to God.


All I know for sure is that she certainly made a difference

And I praise God for her.


When Judith asked me if I would speak today

My thoughts immediately went to Aunt Oly.


She wasn’t my grandma.

She was the third wife of my father’s uncle Sam

Who used to sell Rawleighs in the district.

A distant sort of rellie really.


But very big on my personal horizon.


 And I remember Mrs Swain.

Died years ago

And not a relative at all.

But as a boy I used to deliver the paper to her house

All the way to the door

And she used to give me a glass of water.

Once she invited me inside

And showed me a magnificent collection of Toby mugs.

At Christmas-time she gave me a wrapped parcel

And I took it home and put it under the tree.

Christmas day came

And I opened it

And it was a book

Which I still have

Though it’s now in a great many pieces.

“Alpine Fugitives”

An adventure story in which a kidnapped boy forgives

And then converts, his kidnapper.

I’d never encountered Christian fiction before then

It was something new to me

And it had a different feel

to the adventure stories I usually read.


I wonder what difference that one gift made?

I wonder what impact it has had in my life so far?

I can’t really tell you

But it must have made some difference –

Because I still remember it.


Why am I telling you these stories?

Because these two –

And they are only two of many –

Fed into my life

In small, memorable ways,

And made a difference.


They were both what you could call ‘frail elderly.’


Neither was particularly outgoing or witty.

Neither was wealthy.

But they made a difference.


They practiced very simple virtues;

Kindness, generosity, humility, hospitality.

They didn’t have to

But they made that little bit of effort

And blessed me for eternity.


If I look into the media

I see that life is all about being young and active

Or being retired and pretending that you’re young and active.


I don’t think the reality is so simple.


I think that when we become sick

Or frail

Or just don’t have the savings to splash out

like the glossy brochures say we should

Then we can feel like we’re not much good.

We can’t do much

We’re just a waste of space.


Mrs Swain and my great Aunt Oly

Made a difference.

Though they were sick

And frail

And tired

And poor.


They were faithful to the God who loved them

And they passed on what love they could.


Even in church life

We tend to remember the saints who lived

(and died)

In spectacular ways

And the rest of us can feel a little second-class.


I want you to know that there are no second-class saints in heaven

And therefore there are none on earth either.


Every one of us

Will have opportunities to practice the simple, daily virtues of  Patience, faithfulness, kindness

And so on

That will touch the lives of those around us;

Your paper-boy,

Your great-niece

Your neighbour

your gardener.

And your Lord, Jesus Christ.


You’ll know the story Jesus told of the sheep and the goats

How those doing small acts of kindness to others

Discovered that they were, in fact,

doing them for Jesus himself,

and were rewarded accordingly.

“Do not be deceived,” says Jesus

“What you sow, that you shall reap.”

The little things matter.

Sow something as small as a mustard seed

Reap something as big as the Kingdom of God.

Sow a glass of water

Reap the rewards of Heaven.

Small acts of kindness

Small prayers

Lead to infinite outcomes.


I want to challenge you today;

You’re never too old

to make a difference in someone else’s life.


And I want to encourage you today;

You’re never too old

to make a difference in someone else’s life.


I will always be grateful for those gifts God gave me

From the frail, wrinkled hands

Of his faithful servants.

And I know for certain that today

They have their reward.

  1. #1 by Frith on August 1, 2007 - 10:35 pm

    I remember that book too, from before I destroyed it. Josef who ran away with his Uncle Henri\’s money, and Franz whom he met on the alp.  First time I ever saw Franz Josef glacier on the map of the South Island, all my eight year-old notions of fiction and non-fiction were blown out of the water.
    And I remember going to see Auntie Oly – I wore my Noddy hat. We went out the front door. She seemed like a massive woman to me, and I remember her as very vital. But then, all grown-ups looked invincible.

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