The American poet Robert Frost once said: “A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday, but never remembers her age”. That may be true – but there are exceptions to this generalisation. Today is one of those days. Today we rightly celebrate the 90th birthday of my mother, Ruth Beasley-Murray. And what a celebration it is. I am sure you must be quite moved by the presence of so many family members and other friends – a sign that you are loved by many.
And that it seems to me is the key to your life. Over 90 years you have shown love and friendship to countless people. If father were still with us, he would talk about your loving support over 57 years of married life – without that support, for instance, father would never have been able to have written the books he did. As children we would want to speak of all the love and encouragement you have given us over the years. The wider family would speak of the way in which you took on your mother’s baton and became the lynchpin for family relationships
Although at heart an essentially shy person, you have always taken the initiative and shown friendship to others – not least in the offer of hospitality. One of my memories as a child is that we were always having guests. There were, for instance, student teas at Zion, Cambridge, and the wives’ and fiancees soirees at Spurgeon’s College. You were always making meals – I think of the international club at Bloomsbury, the mid-week chicken suppers in Louisville, the lunches at Holland Road’s ‘Hand of friendship’. In moving to Alexandra House, there have been fewer meals – but the offer of friendship has continued – not least to the lonely on the edge of the crowd. It was only last week that I discovered that your name ‘Ruth’ in Hebrew means ‘companion’– and what a great companion you have been to so many.
I wonder: do you feel 90? The story is told of a lady who was looking through the kitchen window at dusk, and saw an old woman looking in. Suddenly the light changed and she realised that the old woman was herself. The fact is that although on the outside we do age – limbs become stiff, seeing and hearing become more of a challenge – on the inside we often feel we don’t change.
Hopefully, however, we do change. Hopefully as we grow older, we do mature; we do become wiser; we do become more gracious. Sadly none of these things are inevitable – I can think of some older people who become more crotchety, more unforgiving, and more self-centred.
Thank God, however, we can say of you, that like a good wine you have gained added depth.
Thank God, the words of Pope Paul VI apply to you: “The older the fiddler, the sweeter the tune”. Or as Bardot, the pin-up girl of the 60s, once said: “What could be more beautiful than a dear old lady growing wise with age? Every age can be enchanting, provided you live within it”
But enough of human wisdom. As a preacher, I said to myself, is there a Scripture which is apposite to the occasion? My mind went to Psalm 90. In some ways it is a bit of a miserable Psalm, because it focuses on the frailty of life”. On reflection Psalm 23 is better. Let me read some of it to you:
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me went strength. He guides me in the right paths as he has promised. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me… I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life, and your house will be my home forever.
I feel a sermon coming on – but I will resist the temptation. Instead, let me lead you in a prayer.
Father God, thank you for all that my mother celebrates to each one of us – thank you for all that she has been to us down through the years. And thank you too for all that you have been to her – for your goodness and love which has followed her, in tough times as well as happy times. Thank you for today’s celebration – and for the opportunity it presents us all to renew and deepen ties of love. This prayer we make in Jesus’ name.