Thoughtful words from Richard Mouw:
When, back in the mid-1980s, I told a retired Calvin College colleague that I was moving to Fuller Seminary, he responded: "I hope you will make a case there for more appropriate sermons preached at retirement communities!" He went on to explain: "Last week at the weekly worship service sponsored by our community, a visiting preacher warned us against a modalist conception of the Trinity, while also urging us to avoid tri-theism. But that was not as bad as the week before, when a seminarian-- addressing a congregation where at least a dozen of us were sitting in wheelchairs-- exhorted us to stand up for Christ in an increasingly secular society!
I have often wished since then that I had asked him about what he would consider to be a good sermon for that kind of community. But as I get closer to his age I think I could come up with some helpful answers of my own. Many of us have been giving considerable attention in recent decades to the importance of cultural context: you can’t preach exactly the same sermon in a suburban Omaha church as you would to a congregation in rural Thailand. But that kind of emphasis has to do with "macro-" cultural factors. There is also the "context" of different stages of an individual life. What I found exciting and helpful about Christianity in my twenties differs significantly from my present life as a septuagenarian.
Peter Berger understood that point better than many theologians and pastors-- certainly better than the preachers whom my colleague heard in his retirement community. In his The Noise of Solemn Assemblies (1961), Berger observed that the calls to reform the structures of societal life have little relevance to "many of the aged and the sick and the emotionally crippled in our congregations." Indeed, they can constitute "nothing but a threat to whatever spiritual solace the congregation has been able to give them." To be sure, he argued, it is certainly appropriate to show concern for "the vocation of Christians in industrial society," as long as we are aware of the fact that "there are some Christians whose one vocation remains to suffer and to face death in faith. It is certainly no minor accomplishment if a local congregation provides the communal support for such a vocation."
The entire post can be read here.