Sermon. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

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1 2 Corinthians 4 : 13 5 : 1 Sermon Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. Well of course our outer nature doesn t have to waste away not nowadays. We can fight against such decay. We can eat healthily, we can take the right kind of exercise, we can try to avoid the wrong kind of stress and strain. There is plenty that we can do to keep our outer nature, our physical appearance, just as smart and fresh as possible. But then such efforts at healthy living look a bit amateurish today when avoiding the wasting away of our outer nature has become such big business. I am old enough to remember the day when a pharmacy was a place you would go to to buy headache tablets or a cough mixture or some strange concoction to settle your stomach, or unsettle your stomach depending on your need. Now we seem to have different concerns as their shelves are lined with creams and balms each claiming to be the ultimate scientific discovery promising to get rid of wrinkles and melt away cellulite. Even as I was preparing these thoughts I received an informing me that the quest for eternal youth has always been an object of great interest before helpfully going on to tell me about the company which has developed a revolutionary new product which sounds as if it should bring the eternal quest to a successful conclusion. But what am I talking about. Mere creams and lotions are only for those who play around on the edges of the battle to avoid the wasting away of the outer nature. Surgery is where the real battle takes place. Having some bits removed and other bits just moved. Having some bits lifted and other bits smoothed out seems to be the order of the day. A recent article in the British Newspaper The Guardian reported that demand for plastic surgery continues to grow, despite the recession that has hit so many other areas of expenditure. But why am I bothering to mention this.

2 2 If you are serious about the battle to avoid the wasting away of the outer nature, cosmetic surgery is merely for beginners. Cryonics is what you need. Cryonics is the low-temperature preservation of humans and animals who can no longer be kept alive, in the belief that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future. So the hope is that cryopreserved people might someday be recovered once technology has developed sufficiently. There are several hundreds of people, and a slightly smaller number of pets, currently being preserved in the United States, and if you are interested there are also plans being developed for a multi-acre high security underground facility Switzerland. So perhaps Paul is wrong to state that our outer nature is wasting away. Maybe it is not as inevitable as he seems to assume. Or perhaps the efforts we make and the lengths we go to, and the money we spend, actually point to something quite different about our human condition. Perhaps this obsession with the physical and visible demonstrates some poverty with regard to the spiritual and the invisible. We would not have to work against the process of ageing and death, if the process which Paul describes were not fundamentally true and ultimately unavoidable. We can fight that fight as long as we want, or as long as we can, but we all know what the result will be at full time. Is that a depressing thought? It might be. The vigour and freshness of youth is a wonderful thing. It deserves to be to be appreciated and enjoyed, and as the saying goes it is a shame that it is so often wasted on us when we are too young to really appreciate it. But the obsession with youthfulness which pervades our culture actually suggests a failure to appreciate the wonderful gifts which maturity and faith can offer. So Paul, who knows a thing or two about the injuries and indignities which life can bring does not focus on what we might be losing but on what we might be gaining. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. Here is the claim that there is more to us than our physical existence and our outward appearance. Here is the claim that rather than gently fading away from a life which is full and rich we can discover fullness and

3 3 the richness of life more and more with the passing of the years. Of course that is not the case for everyone. The renewal of our inner nature does not come automatically with the process of time. Some people get to a good old age and still seem obsessed with the outer appearance of things, still never seem to have got beyond the youthful concern for collecting possessions and creating identity. And perhaps there is no sadder sight in the whole world that someone who has grown old but has never grown beyond the concerns of a youth. When we are young, when our outer nature is vibrant and energetic, we busy ourselves with all sort of experiences. We explore every new sensation and busy ourselves energetically in finding our place in the world, building our identity. All of which is wonderful stuff. But if that is all we ever do, there is going to be so much that we will miss out on. And this has much less to do with our physical age than it has to do with our attitude. So it seems to me that our efforts to retain the signs of our youth might be a symptom of our failure to move beyond the things of our youth. For just as there is a time for gaining new experiences there is also a time for making sense of what we have experienced, a time for integrating all of the different sensations, a time when we sift it all and sort it all recognising what is good and important leaving behind what has been bad and merely temporary. Perhaps we can say that just as there is a time for sewing, there is also a time for harvesting. The natural world offers us this picture. The processes of nature always involve decay. Some things just do grow old and die, and if some particular creature or presence has meant a lot to us that can be a very sad process to follow. But all along, at the same time, often unnoticed, other parts of our natural world are being renewed, new things springing in to life, young things maturing into usefulness. So it is with us. We may mourn the loss of certain aspects of our youthfulness, especially the outward, physical things; but we should surely welcome the arrival and the growth of certain other things, especially the inner, invisible things.

4 4 Perhaps the renewal of our inner nature is a natural process; something built into our being by a careful and caring creator, ready to unfold gently, day by day. Paul s words might imply that and if so it is certainly something to be thankful for, something to welcome and rejoice in. If, in any sense, we can ever be ready to spend eternity in God s presence, then our readiness will involve more than having gained the admiration of colleagues and a healthy bank balance, and a fine look to our bodies. For nothing is more certain than that all of these things are temporary, and will one day be left behind. Being ready to spend eternity in God s presence will rather involve our coming to understand the sinful tendencies in our nature and how marvellous is the mercy of God which allows us to face them and deal with them. Just as it will surely involve our coming to understand the people who have hurt us in the same light, and to how privileged we are to be given a role in extending mercy and in offering blessing. Perhaps the renewal of our inner nature is a natural process, yet Paul is saying more than that. Not just that this glorious process of inner renewal is possible for us, but that God is active in our lives to bring it about. For, he says, when this tent in which we currently live finely gives out, our new dwelling place will not be constructed by human hands but will be a house made by God, eternal in the heavens. And if we only ever focus our attention in the struggles of this physical life we will never know the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. If we only ever worry about what can be seen we will never know what might go on, unseen. If we get too concerned with things which are temporary, we will not understand that which is eternal. So perhaps we could all concern ourselves a little less with the evidence of ageing which shows itself in our outer nature. Perhaps we could all concern ourselves a little more with the wonderful work of God which takes place in our inner nature, as he comes to transfigure all of our worry and stress into peace and acceptance; something which may not be detected by our bodily senses, but which is altogether glorious.

5 5 Perhaps we could all concern ourselves a little more with allowing him to heal all that has hurt us as he removes all of our limitations and finally lets us see how wonderfully free we are and how marvellously we are loved. Perhaps we could all concern ourselves a little more with welcoming him as he gently allows us to discover who we have been all along, our true identity confused and hidden by our pride and our anxiety, as he brings us home to himself, the shelter of his presence which is eternal. We cannot see this going on any more than we can make it happen. But we can rejoice and be thankful and celebrate and learn to trust and humbly serve, all of which are worthy responses to so great a gift of life, and so wonderful a God, and so glorious a destiny.

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