In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.
The idea of “renewal” might seem churchy.
Organizations that increase church membership are called “renewal” movements. The council of bishops that occurred in the 1960’s known as “Vatican II” was intended to renew the Roman Catholic Church and bring it up to date.
Many congregations in the Church of England these days try to attract seekers by using something called the Alpha Program. Alpha offers talks and videos and weekly suppers in order to present a basic version of the Christian faith to potential church members.
But whatever our connection with the church, we all need spiritual renewal. Our souls demand it; without change, we stagnate.
St. Paul refers to this sort of necessary change in a moving passage in today’s First Lesson. He writes, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
Renewal isn’t just for churches; it’s for everyone. It’s for the person who feels the need to take some time off and get away from a crushing workload. Renewal is for the person who says, “I need to re-charge my inner batteries.” Everyone needs a shot of spiritual energy.
But in order to be renewed, we first need to avoid “negative energy.” And the Second Lesson today shows Jesus dealing with people who accuse him of allying himself with the forces of darkness.
As Jesus appeared to inspire people and heal them and turn them into enthusiastic followers of God’s Kingdom, the religious establishment questioned whether Jesus was really the Messiah he claimed to be.
Christ’s critics said that he had “gone out of his mind.” Some Temple officials who had come down from Jerusalem to investigate went so far as to accuse Jesus of getting help from the Devil. As the Bible text puts this charge, “…by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
Jesus couldn’t let such accusations pass. But he refutes them in a clever way. Instead of responding directly, he asks a question and tells a parable. He first asks, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”
And then Jesus observes, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” So, he concludes, “if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”
In other words, Jesus couldn’t be using demonic power to fight demons! An evil force won’t destroy evil.
Now when we apply this parable to our own lives, we are warned that we won’t find renewal if we are divided against ourselves. Negative energy will counter-balance any positive steps we try to take.
So, for example, we can’t let pessimism block our spiritual progress. If my default attitude is: “I have already tried that and it doesn’t work”—or if I say “I just can’t change”—or if I always look on the dark side of things, I’ll never be led toward the light.
Now this doesn’t mean that God expects us to be unrealistically optimistic. Superficial cheeriness only makes Christians look ridiculous.
Still, if we want to recharge our spiritual batteries, we’ll need, as St. Paul says, to “have hope in God’s call to us.”
I have a friend who is about as theologically and politically conservative as you can get. Yet despite his love of tradition, he is always looking to be renewed. He frequently tells me about an author he’s discovered, or a great film he has just seen.
My friend recently recommended to me a book on physical fitness for older people. The book is called, Younger Next Year and sets out in detail the hard work that people have to do to counter the inevitable effects of age on their bodies.
I admit that reading this book wasn’t fun. I found the nagging tone of the book to be irritating! I don’t like to watch my diet. And I find many exercise routines to be tedious and boring.
Nevertheless, I have been trying to take the book’s teaching to heart. I pay more attention to what I eat; I even wear a nerdy computer-linked pedometer that counts my steps.
I realize, though, that the key to my personal renewal is taking the challenge to heart. As I feel more comfortable in my body, I’ll be even more content in my soul.
As it happens, Younger Next Year commends religion for its health benefits. And there are indeed a number of scientific studies that suggest that religious practice has a physical effect. One recent article claimed that religion adds seven years to one’s life!
Though that claim seems a bit extreme, it’s easy to imagine that religious people profit from their personal discipline. St. Paul often used athletic metaphors when he talked about the life of faith. Maybe good habits are one reason that the faithful tend to be healthier.
But regular living isn’t the only way to spiritual growth. And as Paul observed, we’ll age anyway—our outer nature will “waste away,” however much we exercise.
Even our traditions of faith can acquire an inertia that resists change, instead of giving life.
Which is why above all we need God’s work in our souls–“So we do not lose heart… Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
One of the greatest joys of a parish priest is to see this renewal happening again and again in individual lives. Often people wander into church as a result of their spiritual searching. They look for meaning or purpose or answers to the important questions of life.
But, then, as the church begins to meet their personal needs, it also puts them in touch with others who wound up in the same parish family. And even though these others may be from quite different backgrounds, they find their common spiritual link brings them together. Social renewal is part of personal renewal.
So God can refresh the spirit of any person at any time. The most change-resistant heart can be moved. The most exhausted spiritual batteries can be charged.
If we resist negative energies and we expect God to act, we, too, may be given a renewed lease on life!
And now unto that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.