I recently realized that the subscription to a magazine we receive had expired.  I hurried to “renew” it in time so that we didn’t miss an issue.  We were joking at the recent Custer Lutheran Fellowship annual meeting (not your average annual meeting, but then again, not your average congregation either) that someone’s term on one of the ministry teams had “expired” – as if they were salami accidentally left on the counter – but fortunately the individual was willing to “renew” another term on the committee.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “renewal” since Custer Lutheran Fellowship was humbled to receive a National Clergy “Renewal” Grant from the Lilly Foundation.  Through the work of a four person committee (never think that a committee can’t accomplish amazing things!), Custer Lutheran Fellowship was awarded about $36,000 for “renewal” activities.  Much of the funds will pay for a sabbatical for me and my family this coming summer, however about one quarter of the funds are designated for congregational “renewal” activities.  Hopefully, you’ve heard about these activities – a Spanish language learning group; Dakota Road Music leading a workshop, concert and worship the weekend of January 21-22; and an exchange trip from Pastor Jairo Suárez and another lay leader from our sister church, San Pablo Lutheran Church in Bogotá, Colombia.

Our friend, Mr. Webster, suggests that “renew” means “to begin or take up again;” “to make effective for an additional period;” “to restore or replenish;” “to make, say, or do again;” and “to revive; reestablish.”  The bible too has a few things to say about being made new again.  Especially in the letters of the New Testament, it seems as though being found “in Christ” has to do with “renewal” (check-out for example: 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 3:9-12, Romans 12:1-2). Unfortunately the “in Christ” part reminds us of the difficult mystery that often renewal comes only after a “death.”

So what does “renewal” look like to you? …a day off? …a hike to Little Devil’s Tower? …a week at home? …or maybe in Jamaica? …a good night’s sleep? …a few uninterrupted hours with your partner? …or with a good book? …or just alone? …in silence?

There is often a sense of “getting away from” something or someone or somewhere as we talk about “renewal,” but sometimes it’s just as much about “getting in touch with” something or someone or somewhere that’s been lost.  In all of it though, there seems to be a simple reality that comes with a recognized need for “renewal” – we are people who expire.  We don’t “last” long without certain things.  We get thirsty and need a renewing drink of water.  We get hungry and long to be satisfied.  We work too hard and yearn for Sabbath.  We are dust and without the renewing breath of life, to dust we shall once again return.

The season of Lent begins with this reminder on Ash Wednesday.  This Lent, you might ask what ways you yearn for renewal? …in your life? …in your health? …in your body? …in your mind? …in your spirit? …in your relationships? …in your community? …in the whole cosmos?

Someone once told me: “Not working is part of your job too” and quoted the commandment regarding Sabbath-keeping to back it up.  May we remember that “renewal” is part of the fabric of who we are.  May we be reminded that God’s gracious gift of “renewal” is part of the fabric of salvation as much as anything else.  And may you be renewed like a salami sandwich left on the counter, which ends up in the compost heap and turns into new soil that feeds the seeds of spring.

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