Getting Older and Wasting Away

June 10, 2018

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Preached by Canon Mark Collinson using 2 Corinthians 4.13  –  5.1 at Eucharist on Sunday 10th June 2018, the Second Sunday after Trinity.

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Living by Faith

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Mark 3.20-35

 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30 for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

The True Kindred of Jesus

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters[c] are outside, asking for you.’ 33 And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

‘So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.’ 2 Cor 4:16

This year I celebrated my 50th Birthday. Now, I know for some of you, I’m a mere pipsqueak, but put yourselves in my shoes for a moment and remember when you turned 50 – it’s a significant moment in life! We all have to recognise that we’re getting older and what that means: I think it was Plato who said, ‘The whole life of a philosopher is a preparation for death.’

I was speaking recently with a friend from my Amsterdam days. He’s not much older than me, but is preparing for what he calls ‘active retirement’.  He plans to move to Winchester, and increase his existing exercise regime. He tells me that once you reach my age muscle wastage increases. You have to work harder with more exercise to stop your muscles wasting away.

I was talking with one of the members of the team who serve here on a Sunday and he said he does 200 push ups a day! Both these people inspired me to be more active so that I don’t waste away!

‘So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.’ 2 Cor 4:16

Last week I combined physical exercise with spiritual renewal. Every year for the past eighteen years I go away with six other guys and we have two days walking together. Last week we went, as usual, to the Lake District. We’re a motley crew of four vicars, two doctors and one other principal of a theological school.

We live it up in what’s known as a camping barn – a stone tent, with a dusty mattrass on the bare wooden floor, and we bring our own camping stove to cook breakfast on.

We call the group Men on Mountains, and normally, as the name suggests, we go up mountains. But this year, one of our number was recovering from a nasty break of the leg. The screws that fixed the titanium rod through his tibia had broken and walking downhill was out of the question. So we just walked around a couple of lakes. Outwardly we are wasting away.

Our outer nature may be wasting away as we get older, but is our inner nature being renewed day by day?

What makes our time away together as Men on Mountains, amidst all the bonhomie and banter, is that we have to give an account of ourselves to each other. We each take it turns to share how we are cherishing our wives, how we are bringing up our children, how we are being faithful to our calling in Christ, and how we bearing witness to Christ. And, yes, we even confess our sins to one another. One of the rules of the group is that we can ask each other absolutely anything.

Now, that might not be your idea of fun! Being accountable for our sins, especially ones that we seem to commit year after year, induces a sense of guilt and shame: one that we sure would rather avoid. But spiritual renewal doesn’t come cheap.

There is a spiritual battle going on over each of our lives. The enemy wants us to avoid doing anything that will help us encounter the overwhelming love of Christ.

And being loved, cherished and accepted by a bunch of friends, who every year, pray for me, is a physical, tangible and concrete demonstration of the love of Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, as we read in Mark, shows that Jesus is stronger than Satan. Jesus has tied up the strong man. The enemy has not won. Jesus is strong when we are weak.

Even though our natural bodies may be getting older, Jesus is preparing us for a resurrection body that won’t get older. Even though our muscles are wasting away, Jesus offers us inner renewal that defies even death.

Living as a Christan, from the moment of our baptism, means that we begin to live in the kingdom of heaven whilst at the same time living our normal lives on earth. Outwardly we are wasting away. But inwardly, when we exercise our spiritual muscles, we are being renewed every day.

Exercising our spiritual muscles means being willing to be accountable to Christian friends.

Now, listen to this: Jesus radically redefined who we’re accountable to. In his culture you were accountable to your family. Above all things your duty was to protect your family’s honour. That’s why we still hear in some cultures, that when a daughter has brought shame on her family, the brothers restore the honour of their family by punishing their sister. You are accountable to your family for your actions.

In our gospel reading, Jesus redefines who our family is. He asks, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’

The crowd around him say, ‘Well, they’re the one’s waiting for you outside: your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.’ Jesus says, ‘No. I have a new family. Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother and my sister.’ Whoever does the will of God.

Jesus is saying that we are accountable to him to do the will of God and he will protect our honour. He will take away our shame. He’s stronger than the strong man who seeks to destroy us, and he makes us strong by preparing us for the imperishable bodies that we receive in resurrection life. Our daily renewal happens when we recognise, as we get older, that life isn’t coming to an end – it’s only just beginning. We are renewed in our inner selves as we discover and do the will of God for our lives.

It sometimes takes Christian friends, in relationships of accountability, to help us work out God’s will for our lives. All the rest of life tells us a different story, of getting older, of muscle wastage, of demise, and of loss.  It takes our Christian family to help us recognise that renewal comes as we follow God’s will for our lives: that’s what we’ve been doing with each other on Men on Mountains – helping each other to work out God’s will for our lives – so that even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. So we do not lose heart.

I wonder what your spiritual life would be like if you took some new brothers and sisters into your confidence to help you discern God’s will.

What would it be like to be known fully by friends, as you are fully known by God?

God doesn’t want you to sin. What would it be like to receive forgiveness, not just through the prayer of absolution, but through the arm of someone who loves you, resting on your shoulder?

What would it be like, as you get older, not to prepare for death, but for life to be only just beginning as you recognise how you fulfil God’s will?

What would it be like for your sense of purpose and fulfillment to increase, as each year passes by?

This, this is what it means not to lose heart, though our outward nature might be wasting away, inside, inside our hearts are being aligned with the will of God. Getting older allows us to build up friendships for decades, and through those friendships, it’s as if we get to know Jesus Christ like we’re all in the same family.