So I didn’t realize that I was going to have to make a speech during today’s festivities. It was actually on thursday that I said to my parents – so what’s the program for the open house on Saturday. My mom said, well there will be this and that, and then you’ll make a speech. And I said: “What, a speech? When was that decided?” My mom replied that it was decided at the family meeting back in February.
In our family, we didn’t usually have family meetings – until February of this year. At that February meeting we talked about this celebration of my parents’ 50th anniversary. It was so official that there were even minutes taken. So I went back and checked my email and the minutes from the meeting. Becky took the minutes, so I couldn’t complain about them. And there it was, in black and white: “Roland – Speech”. So, here we go – and just a warning, I’m a preacher – and that will be obvious here…
As I thought about mom and dad’s 50 years together – and about what I might say this afternoon – I first came around to that rather commonplace realization that we live in the rhythms of time. The only life we have as individuals is life in a particular span of years. The only life we have with others is in a particular span of time – whether it’s days we have with them or months or years or decades. So we live in this present moment with all of its possibilities and its decisions and its challenges. We look back on a past that has shaped us and has made us who we are. We look forward to a future that is, in a fundamental sense, unknown to us. To be human is to have our life in time.
Of course not every human culture has accepted our temporal existence as good news. Some cultures and religions have seen our life in time as constraint and limitation and restriction – those culture and religions have aspired to an escape from time – into the eternal – into a place away from the waiting and the growing and the persevering and the struggling that are a necessary part of life in time.
When I think about my parents 50 years together, my perception is that they received their time together, their years together, very much in the spirit of their Christian faith. In the creation narratives, God looks upon the creation he has made, with its sequence of days and nights – with its motions of time – and he declares it good. Equally important, in Jesus Christ, God enters into the flux and growth and struggle of human time. In the incarnation, God announces that it is good to live in time, and God comes to redeem our time.
So we have no life outside of the time that is given to us – and that life, that span of time, is both gift and grace. And that is very much how mom and dad, Aartje and Frank, have approached their 50 years together, as gift and grace. They have received their years together with gratitude. They have received their 50 years as the space within which they could be fully alive together as God’s children and as servants of the risen Jesus. In their growing and struggling and learning and becoming and loving – they have received their time as gift and grace.
I’d like to offer a few brief thoughts about what I have learned from my parents, whose 50 years together we celebrate today. But I should first of all qualify my words by saying this: There’s a lot I don’t know. First of all, I wasn’t even around for the first 10 years of their married life. But even beyond that, there is much in them and in their shared life that I simply wasn’t privileged to share in.
I observed many instances of their hospitality with congregation members and family over the years, but there were many such instances I never shared in.
I have seen mom and dad happily welcome new grandchildren into their world and lives, but I was nowhere but the mind of God when they welcomed, in quick succession, four unique daughters of their own.
I have gone camping many times with mom and dad, and camped with my own family, but I wasn’t with mom and dad when they camped together at a slower pace in later years.
Of course I know my parents – but relative to what I know of them, there is at least as much that I don’t know. I love them as I know them and I love them as I don’t know them. I believe that they have always loved us their children in just this way.
So here are three things (see, a sermon – even three points!) I have seen and learned in my parents in these fifty years that have been uniquely theirs as gift and grace.
The first thing is this: don’t take yourself too seriously – this is probably something Becky would say I need to learn, again. In our contemporary Canadian context, of course, this is a kind of heresy. But it’s a heresy that has been part of life in this De Vries family. In a quiet kind of way, we were encouraged: don’t take your ideas, your plans, your accomplishments, or yourself too seriously. The truth is that when we get this right – when we don’t take ourselves too seriously – it is a recipe for contentment in life, for openness toward others, and for patience with yourself and others. But more importantly, not taking ourselves too seriously is simply a feature of life in Christ – where his way and his will, and not ours, are decisive – where the glory of God is the goal, nor our self-importance – and where the life of the wider community of God’s people is decidedly more important than we are as individuals. Mom and dad have loved us deeply, but in these 50 years I don’t think they took us or anyone else more seriously than was helpful or faithful.
A second lesson – if mom and dad encouraged us to not take ourselves too seriously, the flip side of that coin was that they encouraged us to follow our own path. Which is to say that they didn’t take themselves so seriously that they thought they knew where we should be going or who we were to become. In their best moments they allowed us, and encouraged us, to discover our own vocation, to study what we wanted, to move where God seemed to lead, to share with whatever friends we encountered – and to have our own successes and failures along the way. I am slowly learning how much trust it takes to let children be free in this way. But I think that just such a trust has defined mom and dad’s relationship these many years – together they trusted in God, who through Jesus Christ has given us our time, and is Lord of our time. They have embodied and represented to us a trust in the God who is faithful through all generations.
A final lesson. You have gifts. Use them. Dad and Mom, Frank and Aartje, have embodied and encouraged us to realize: God in Christ has gifted us and called us to serve his people and also those who live in the community around us. That might mean playing the flute at the senior’s centre, singing a solo in church, helping to lead the youth group or teach Sunday School. It determines the kind of job you pursue. It determines what you do with your time and your mind and your heart. You have gifts – use them for God’s glory and the building up of God’s kingdom.
The final word for most of us today (I’m slipping in a fourth point, here!) can only be the word gratitude. There is mom and dad’s gratitude for the time God has given them together – gratitude for the love and life they have shared together. There is gratitude in all the rest of us for the way mom and dad, Aartje and Frank, have served us and loved us and shaped us. Within their 50 years, as we found our place within those year, it is safe to say that we have all had the time of our lives. Thanks be to God.