Sunday, December 20, 2009

RENEWsletter for December 27, 2009 - Holy Family

Hi, folks--
I hope you're all enjoying a safe and restful holiday season. The Christmas Season in the Church begins at Christmas and continues till the Baptism of our Lord. So while the retail outlets are ending their "Christmas" season, we are just beginning. The Sunday after Christmas celebrates the Holy Family, somewhat of an atypical Jewish family: pretty young Mary, still a teenager... kind, understanding Joseph, not yet officially married... and both of them now parents of the infant Jesus, a baby physically helpless yet destined to become the single most influential personage on this planet for all time.

I wonder if Mary knew that this child she just delivered would one day deliver all humankind from sin.

There are two sets of readings for this Holy Family Sunday. We'll use the first set. Both sets can be found on the Web at:, and in your Bible at:

Sirach 3.2-6, 12-14
Psalm 128.1-2, 3, 4-5
Colossians 3.12-21
Luke 2.41-52

The First Reading expounds on the spiritual benefits of love within a family. The entire book of Sirach extols Wisdom as part of the family of Yahweh and our present selection shows the wisdom of honoring our family relationships. Parents have been put in charge (Sir 3.2) and when kids honor and revere their father and mother, they reap atonement for sins, stores of riches (vs. 3-4), the joy of grandchildren, answered prayer (v. 5), long life and obedience to God (vs. 6, 7). The last part of this reading deals with the time when the roles almost reverse. When our parents get old and feeble... when they're as helpless as we were when we were babies... it's time to take care of them (v. 12). It's especially important to continue the loving care if their minds fail (v. 13). God will not forget (v. 14)!

One of the benefits of a loving family, as we have just seen, is obedience to God. The Responsorial Psalm picks up on that theme and runs with it. Obedience to God, fear of the Lord, walking in his ways, does indeed bring blessings and happiness (Ps. 128.1). What our hands provide will please us and we'll be happy (v. 2). Our families, when we honor our heavenly Father, will be functional rather than dysfunctional (vs. 3, 4). That's the ideal, of course, and because we are human, ideals are hard to achieve. Maybe that's why God sent his son to save us from our failure to reach his ideals. So let's read verse 5 and hang onto that: May the LORD bless you and may you see prosperity all your life!

The Second Reading describes the ideal family of God. As brothers and sisters in Christ we need to "put on" compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness (Col 3.12-13). And the thing that makes these traits possible is love. Love is a choice (v. 14). When we choose love, the peace of Christ, who is the Prince of Peace, soaks into our hearts and we are thankful (v. 15). The best way to remember the words of Christ is through poetry... psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (v. 16). If you can't sing, then chant. If you can't chant, then just recite. But whatever you do, whatever you say, do it thankfully in the name of the Lord (v. 17).

This next part of the Second Reading goes with the first part. We've been talking about how we should treat each other as brothers and sisters in God's family. The Greek word translated "be subordinate" has a deeper meaning. It means "sign up with", or "cast your lot with", or "join in teamwork". Husbands and wives team up to raise children in love (vs. 18-21). And where there is love, there is a peace that comes from above.

The Gospel Reading is a story of when Jesus was a pre-teen... was I just talking about peace? Well, maybe the teen years are an exception. Mary and Joseph always went up to Jerusalem at Passover and naturally they brought their 12-year-old (Luke 2.41). There's a lesson here... don't assume a 12-year-old will do what you expect him to do. Mary may have assumed Jesus was with Joseph. Joseph prob'ly assumed Mary was watching him. Then they touched base and, well, Jesus must be with his cousins. Nope, aunts and uncles had not seen him (v. 44). It was getting dark. Where could he be? Panic set in and the worried couple headed back to Jerusalem first thing in the morning (v. 45).

Finally they found him in the temple (v. 46). Did Mary scold him? No doubt (v. 48). Did Joseph punish him? Prob'ly not... one look at that honest, peaceful, forthright face and he knew this was no ordinary boy, and he was indeed about his Father's... his Heavenly Father's work (v. 49). But you can bet there was a lecture, because Jesus was obedient from then on, or at least all the way back to Nazareth (v. 50).

Jesus's Father is the God of the Universe, yet God entrusted his rearing to that Hebrew couple from Nazareth. God entrusts a lot of things to us. One of our most awesome responsibilities is raising kids.

Happy New Year everyone. Let's see what God will entrust to us this coming year.

Randy Jones
"Those who do not honor their parents will get no honor from their children!"

Monday, December 14, 2009

RENEWsletter for December 20, 2009 - 4th Advent

Dear Renewing friends--
Christmas is getting very close. Our anticipation of the coming Joy is heightening. Remember when we were kids and believed in Santa Claus? The magic and mystery of Christmas Eve was almost unbearable and it was nearly impossible to get to sleep. It wouldn't have been hard to stay awake all night and watch for the arrival of that much anticipated person. And that's because we were looking forward to the gifts and the excitement and the joy of Christmas morning. It's only easy to go to sleep when you don't care what's going to happen in the morning, or when you just have to get up and repeat the drudgery of every other day. No, Christmas is different.

The readings for this Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect the joyous anticipation of Someone's coming. Someone who will come surrounded in glory, who will set things right, who will bring peace. These readings are found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Micah 5.1-4a
Psalm 80.2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Hebrews 10.5-10
Luke 1.39-45

The First Reading is from the prophet Micah who prophesied during the last years before the kingdom of Israel fell to invaders. Most of his book foretells the destruction of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom. He himself was from Judah, the southern kingdom, where Bethlehem was nestled. Tiny, insignificant Bethlehem would be the source of a new king (Mi. 5.1). This king has his origin in ancient times (still v. 1), but will not arrive "until the time when she who is to give birth has borne" (v. 2). Anticipation! It's coming, be patient! When this promised king does arrive, it will be worth the wait. He will be a strong shepherd, guiding his flock by the strength of the LORD and in his majestic name (v. 3). His greatness will extend throughout the world and he shall be peace! (v. 4).

The Responsorial Psalm could have been sung by the people who heard and heeded Micah's warnings of dire doom. It is a plea to the Shepherd of Israel to come back, to guide and save his people (Ps. 80, 2-3). The response is from verse 4: "LORD, restore us; Let your face shine upon us that we may be saved." There was much more to look forward to than a jolly elf in a red suit. The people needed help desperately and they promised not to withdraw from God anymore, but to call on his name (vs. 15-16, 18-19).

The writer of the Second Reading in Hebrews is preaching from Psalm 40 (q.v.). When the promised one came into the world he came with the vision that God was not interested in the sacrifices and offerings of the letter of the law, but in the presentation of one's whole self (Heb 10.5). Jesus came not to lead us in sacrifices (v. 6), but to do the will of God (v. 7). There are four major types of offerings spelled out in the first 5 chapters of Leviticus: peace offerings, cereal offerings, burnt offerings, and sin and guilt offerings (v. 8). But these are not what God is looking for. What God wants is for us to do his will (v. 9). The only One who was able to do that is Christ, the Promised One, the Savior, who offered his body, once for all, to consecrate us (v. 10).

In the Gospel Reading we catch up with Mary who has just been visited by the angel Gabriel and told she was going to have a baby and that her older relative Elizabeth was already pregnant. So she took off to visit Elizabeth (Luke 1.39). Now from Nazareth, the hill country of Judah where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived was a pretty good hike, but she made it and when she burst in on Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth's womb jumped (v. 41). Elizabeth knew immediately what was happening because she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Talk about anticipation!

Elizabeth knew all about her baby. He was to be named John and he was to lead many to repentance (see the earlier part of Luke 1). She knew that John was going to prepare the way for the Messiah. What a wonderful surprise to learn that her sweet little Mary was going to give birth to that Messiah (vs. 42-45). I'm sure those two women, neither of whom had carried a child before, talked well into the wee hours that night. Who could sleep with such momentous events on the horizon?

Who can sleep when Santa Claus is coming? Dare we sleep when the King is coming?

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot stay awake say no one's coming!"

Monday, December 7, 2009

RENEWsletter for December 13, 2009 - 3rd Advent

Hello Renewed people--
Time flies when you're having fun. Time also flies when you need much more of it than you have. December seems always to be exceptionally busy with parties and gatherings, holiday planning, Christmas shopping, working full time, and of course wondering what the next year will bring. I can't tell you where the time goes... it just flies away. :-)

Next Sunday is already the Third Sunday of Advent. Time is flying, yet the readings for next Sunday are joyously comforting. They proclaim something very important to me. The message is "Fear not!". Look them up on the web at: or in your Bible at:

Zephaniah 3.14-18a
Isaiah 12.2-3, 4, 5-6
Philippians 4.4-7
Luke 3.10-18

The First Reading is from the "minor" prophet Zephaniah. His book is only 3 chapters long, and he makes his point quickly. "Fear not!" is the point (Zeph 3.16). Unfavorable judgments have been removed, enemies have been repulsed, the King is here (v. 15). Do you know that fear is the source of every negative emotion a human being can have? Anger, sarcasm, apathy, depression, haughtiness, argumentativeness, conniving, double-crossing,... you name it. If it's negative, you can trace its roots back to fear. Fear of death, fear of pain, fear of embarrassment, fear of not getting your own way, fear of losing face... et cetera, et cetera, et cetera... Joy, on the other hand, is what arrives when fear is banished (v. 14). With God's arrival, fear departs, gladness reigns. God's love and ours is renewed (v. 17). It's time to party (v. 18a)!

The Responsorial Psalm is from the "major" prophet Isaiah. His book is 66 chapters long, but this 12th chapter is short and sweet. He sings of the confidence, strength, and courage that comes from the LORD (Is. 12.2). And here's that word joy again (v. 3)! Our response to this joy of salvation is to tell the world how great God is (vs. 4, 5). With fear gone, exultation and praise come forth like a fountain (v. 6).

The Second Reading is from the apostle Paul. His message is just like Zephaniah's and Isaiah's: "Don't worry. God will take care of you" (Phil 4.6). When the Lord is near (v. 5) fear disappears. When fear is gone, peace replaces it (v. 7). Now isn't that something to rejoice in? Paul thought so. He said it twice (v. 4). Easier said than done? Well, maybe...

The Gospel Reading is from the author and biographer Luke and shows how to reach that place where you can trust God to worry about stuff for you. The message 2000 years ago was "repent". The message today is "repent". John, the Baptist Preacher, gave practical ways to repent... give up your extra coat to the shivering, share your food with the hungry (Luke 3.11), don't rip people off even if you can get away with it scott free (v. 13), be content with your wages (v. 14)...

Yup. Easier said than done. But John doesn't leave it there. We're not going to be on our own to accomplish all this repentance. " mightier than I is coming... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (v. 16). Well, that sounds a little overwhelming too, but it beats the socks off being afraid. Because like good wheat after winnowing, we'll be gathered into God's barn-like arms, there to be kept safe, starting right now, till eternity (v. 17). And, man, that is Good News (v. 18)!

The rest of our life starts now. Fear not! Rejoice, God is with us!

Randy Jones
"Those who are afraid say there's nothing to be happy about!"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

RENEWsetter for December 6, 2009 - 2nd Advent

Dear People of Renewal--
Happy New Year! A little early you say? No, actually a week late. The New Liturgical Year began last Sunday. Not all new years begin on January 1. The traditional Chinese New Year begins on the day of the second (or third) new moon after the winter solstice and lasts for 15 days. Rosh Hashanah, the main Jewish New Year, begins 163 after the first day of Passover. Muslims have a new year too, but it comes 11 or 12 days earlier each calendar year, so sometimes there are 2 in the same calendar year. You think it's hard to figure out when Easter comes...? try to figure these out!

But for us Christians (cradle and convert alike), Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas During this time we talk about the arrival of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Advent, as you all know, means "coming". Christ came once as a new born baby, he came as an adult to start his ministry, he'll come again at the end of the world as King. And he comes into people's hearts as Savior, bringing not just a new year, but a new life, a new hope, a new joy.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are found on the web at:, and in your Bible in:

Baruch 5.1-9
Psalm 126.1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Philippians 1.4-6, 8-11
Luke 3.1-6

The First Reading is the entire 5th chapter of this short book of Baruch written about the time of the rule of the Maccabees in Israel (~165 to 63 BCE). Baruch was scribe to the prophet Jeremiah. Baruch lived in a happy time for the Israelites. They had their independence and it was time to stop mourning and start celebrating (Bar 5.1-2). The glory of Jerusalem, bestowed upon it by God himself, could be seen throughout the land (vs. 3-4). Now God was bringing his children from the east and the west back to the holy city (vs. 5-6). To facilitate this homecoming, Baruch envisioned the rocky crags of impassable mountains being cut down, and the rubble used to fill the deep, steep-sided ravines and gorges (v. 7). "For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company" (v. 9). What a wonderful way to live!

One of the songs these happy Israelites were singing may have been our Responsorial Psalm. "The LORD has done great things for us! We are filled with joy!" (Ps. 126.3). The peoples of the world noticed this phenomenon and nodded to each other saying, "The LORD sure has done great things for them" (v. 2) The Jews have repeatedly, throughout history, been persecuted, sometimes, one might think, out of jealousy for the great things God does for them, but other times because God had to punish them. The same can be said of us. "Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines" (see Hebrews 12.6, 7). We may have sown in tears but we will reap with joy (v. 5). As the old hymn by Shaw and Minor says, "We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves."

The Second Reading gives some things to think about with regard to Advent, the Day of Christ (Phil 1.6, 10). Paul gives thanks for our partnership with him in the gospel (vs. 4-5). You see, God began a good work in us, and through blessing and discipline, will keep at it until the Day of Christ (v. 6 again). Paul prays that we will get better and better at loving, at perceiving truth, and at understanding it (v. 9). We are definitely a "work in progress", but God will make sure that we are pure and blameless for the Day of Christ (v. 10 again). Not for our own glory, but for the glory and praise of God (v. 11).

The Gospel Reading from Luke focuses on the time just before the coming of Jesus as an adult to begin his ministry. Luke is very meticulous and factual. He nails down the date precisely by naming the rulers at the time and pinpointing the year of their rule when this all began to happen. He even gives the first and last names (or 1st Century equivalent thereof) of the main character in this part of the story: John the son of Zechariah (Luke 3.1). John heard God's call and followed it out into the desert along the River Jordan. His message was simple: Repent! and then be baptized to proclaim your repentance (v. 3). His mandate came from the prophet Isaiah, from whom Baruch also drew: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God'" (vs. 4-6).

The road may be steep and winding now. There may be obstacles and pitfalls along the way. But the day is coming and now is here when the path will be straightened and smoothed. Don't give up. We will come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!

Randy Jones
"Those who don't sow won't reap!"

Monday, November 23, 2009

RENEWsletter for November 29, 2009 - 1st Advent

Dear Renewed Friends--
Late on the night of November 17, just as the annual Leonid Meteor Shower was ending, a gigantic fireball lit up the skies of the western US. Something about the size of a refrigerator hit the atmosphere and exploded with the force of a thousand tons of TNT. Witnesses in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and elsewhere say the fireball "turned night into day" and "shook the ground" when it exploded just after midnight Mountain Standard Time. Researchers who are analyzing infrasound recordings of the blast say the fireball was probably a small asteroid, now scattered in fragments across the countryside. This was a small one and it broke up before it hit the ground, but a larger meteor, say 300 or more feet in diameter, could make it all the way through our thin sheet of air and do a lot of damage. If one of those guys ever sneaks up on us and impacts the Earth... well, the "powers of heaven will be shaken".

The readings for this coming 1st Sunday in Advent discuss what we can look forward to and how we should be acting in anticipation of Christ's return. They can be found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Jeremiah 33.14-16
Psalm 25.4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3.12 - 4.2
Luke 21.25-28, 34-36

The prophet Jeremiah, in the First Reading, accentuates the positive. The LORD is going to fulfill his promises to Israel (Jer. 33.14). The one he's going to raise up will do what is right and just (v. 15). Finally, there will be peace (v. 16), not just in the Middle East, but worldwide. And the name of Jerusalem will be changed to "The LORD our justice". Something to look forward to, to be sure.

The psalmist David sings of this theme in the Responsorial Psalm. His refrain, "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul" (Ps. 25.1), speaks of looking forward to something wonderful. With him, we can look forward to learning his ways, his truth (vs. 4, 5). Even though we are sinners, he guides us (vs. 8, 9). If we follow his guidance, we'll have his friendship (vs. 10, 14).

The Apostle Paul explains in the Second Reading what it means to follow the example of the Lord. He prays that God will cause us to increase abundantly in love, not only for our fellow believers, but for all the world, believers and non-believers alike (1 Thess 3.12). Love like this will strengthen our hearts and make us blameless before God when Christ returns (ch. 3, v. 13). Paul really feels strongly about this. He earnestly asks and exhorts us to keep loving (ch. 4, v. 1). And to keep doing even more and more of it.

In the Gospel Reading, the good Doctor Luke relates what Jesus has to say about his own return. "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars" and a "roaring of the sea and the waves" (Luke 21.25). An asteroid impact at sea would cause some roaring, I think. And if people knew it was coming, if they saw the powers of heaven being shaken, they could very well "die of fright" (v. 26). But when our hearts are filled with love, there is no room for fear. We'll see these events as a sign that the King is coming! (v. 27). And we will look up in anticipation of redemption (v. 28).

So what shall we do in the meantime? Run off to some mountain top and wait? Crawl into some hole and hide? Or, maybe just "poo-poo" the whole thing and go on grabbing everything in life that we can and serving ourselves. Well, Jesus warns us not to "become drowsy with carousing and drunkenness," which is a poor way to deal with anxiety (v. 34). The return of the King is not something to worry about, but to look forward to. If we don't look forward to it, it will catch us by surprise like the sudden springing of a trap (vs. 34, 35). And it's not something that any will be able to escape (v. 35).

There will always be trials and tribulations, but God will supply us with the strength and confidence we need to stand upright and smile when we are reunited with Jesus, our Savior, our King... our brother.

PS... For further reading about Near Earth Objects (NEOs) see: - Wikipedia: Near-Earth Object - NASA: Near Earth Object Program

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot keep looking up will be caught by surprise!"

Monday, November 16, 2009

RENEWsletter for November 22, 2009 - Christ the King

Dear Renew friends--
The Scriptures for next Sunday kinda made me think about political Inaugural Balls that celebrate a new President or Governor, or even, I suppose, a new Mayor. Well you know, someday the Lord is going to recall all the heads of state of the Earth, and the Inaugural Ball for the King of Kings will be like nothing this Universe has ever seen in its 14 billion years (or so) of history. The heavenly coronation will be bigger than the Big Bang, brighter than all the galaxies combined, more beautiful than... well, we'll all ooh and ahh till we're hoarse! And the best part? Admission is free! And we are all invited! :-)

Next Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, the end of the Liturgical Year, the last Sunday before Advent begins. The Readings are found on the web at: and in your Bible in:

Daniel 7.13-14
Psalm 93.1, 1-2, 5
Revelation 1.5-8
John 18.33b-37

In the First Reading, the prophet Daniel describes the coming of the King of Kings (Dan 7.13). This is the Grand Recall when all the world's leaders hand dominion, power, glory, and kingship over the Son of Man (v. 14 first part). But strangely, this doesn't appear to be done grudgingly, or as a result of defeat in a military action, or a popular recall election. No, "all peoples, nations, and languages serve him" (v. 14 second part). It's like the whole planet is relieved to see him come.

The Responsorial Psalm describes that Great Inaugural Ball. "Splendor", "majesty", "holiness", "strength" (Ps. 93.1,2). These words describe how the people feel about this King whose decrees are worthy of trust (v. 5). Again, it's like the whole of mankind is glad to see Christ come and set things aright.

In the Second Reading, St. John in his apocalyptic Book of Revelation describes some of the reasons why the coming of the King of Kings is such a joyous occasion. He loves us and has freed us from our sins (Rev. 1.5). He has made us into a kingdom of priests for God (v. 6). He will be "coming in the clouds" and every eye will see him (v. 7). Verse 7 then adds, "even those who pierced him". I look at this verse two ways. One, his coming will somehow be witnessed all over the world at the same time, so it won't be a physical arrival from some point in space. It will be a physical arrival from ALL points in space simultaneously. Two, his coming will somehow be witnessed all through time simultaneously, even by those who crucified him and have been dead a long time. Maybe Jesus's claim that "this generation will not pass away till all these things have taken place" (as we read in last week's Gospel, Mark 13.30) will turn out to be literally true, and history will be changed! It could happen. ;-)

Well, Revelation is often hard to understand, but the Gospel Reading isn't. Another or the same St. John describes Jesus when he stood before Pilate in about 33 AD, Earth time (John 18.33). The Grand Recall wasn't to occur at that time. And Pilate was a politician. He knew how to handle rabble rousers. He knew how to deal with emissaries from Rome. He knew how to manipulate the leaders of the Jews. But he couldn't figure Jesus out (v. 37). Here was this guy claiming to be a King, yet he wasn't even mildly upset by the fact that he was about to be executed!

A good example for us was set there that day. And it came at a time when reliable written accounts were being made of happenings. We can be sure that this actually did happen at about the time it claims to have occurred. Jesus's kingdom is not of this world, this physical planet in this particular time-stream (v. 36). His kingdom is outside of space and time, and yet inside our hearts and minds. This is what enabled him to stand before Pilate, mildly amused at the whole thing.

Can we approach the vicissitudes of life with the same calm, mildly amused demeanor of Jesus? Give it a try this week. And may God show us just how richly he can bless us!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot see beyond today say that hope is gone!"

Monday, November 9, 2009

RENEWsletter for November 15, 2009 - 33rd Ordinary

Dear Friends of Renewal--
It is written, "People don't live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4). The words in this week's readings are good words, though they speak of a time we cannot yet relate to. These are "apocalyptic" words... words that tell of widespread devastation... cosmic upheaval... the end of time and space.

Yet they are reassuring words as well. Take a look at the readings for the 33rd of the Numbered Sundays. You'll find them on the web at, and in your Bible at:

Daniel 12.1-3
Psalm 16.5, 8, 9-10, 11
Hebrews 10.11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

The Book of Daniel is one of those Scriptures that comes closest to the type of literature we today call "science fiction". The term "science fiction" is a misnomer and there have been many alternative suggestions for a name for the genre... "alternative future fiction", "speculative fiction", etc. But the First Reading, whether "science", or "alternative", or "speculative", is not "fiction". It's the Word of God.

Daniel was shown a time "unsurpassed in distress since nations began" (Dan. 12.1), a time of universal devastation.

This kind of cataclysm may have happened previously... that is before nations began. The dinosaurs were destroyed by the widespread devastation and cosmic upheaval caused by the collision of an asteroid or giant comet with the earth some 60 million years ago. And today NASA and several observatories are engaged in a search for "Near Earth Objects", objects whose orbits cross that of Earth, posing the threat of a potential collision event. There is a Twitter account called Asteroid Watch that monitors these NEOs. The latest one whizzed by us November 6 and was about 22 feet in diameter. It came within 8700 miles of us.

But, says Daniel, everyone who is found written in the Book, will escape (v. 3).

The psalmist picks up this theme of escaping destruction in the Responsorial Psalm. "You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor let your faithful one undergo corruption" (Ps. 16.10). No, the inheritance of the faithful is a future of joy in the presence of the Lord (v. 11).

That's all well and good for the "faithful", but... gee, we're human, we're sinners, we're unfaithful sometimes... a lot of the time! Don't worry. The Second Reading assures us that performance isn't a requirement. It's the attitude of heart. The desire to please the Lord, itself, pleases the Lord, as Thomas Merton once said. The writer of Hebrews asserts salvation is not our doing, but Christ's doing (Heb. 10.12). His one sacrifice offered for sins took care of the issue. He has made perfect forever those who are consecrated (v. 14)... those who are written in the Book.

The verses that are left out of the reading are especially comforting for us who may live to see the Apocalypse.
15 The holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying:
16 "This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord: 'I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds,'"
17 he also says: "Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more".

Sins that are no longer remembered, that are forgiven, no longer need to be paid for (v. 18).
The Gospel Reading carries Jesus' own words about the End Times. He speaks of cosmic disruption of the natural order: the sun will be darkened, as will the moon. He speaks of widespread devastaton: the stars (asteroids?) will start falling from the sky (Mark 13.24-25). Then the triumphant Jesus will be seen coming in the clouds (v. 26), coming for his people, the faithful, the ones written in the Book and made perfect forever not by their own effort, but by the consecration accomplished by Jesus' death and resurrection ages before.

We are not given to know when this will start occurring. Even Jesus himself was not informed (v. 32). But we can watch the signs. The illustration of the fig tree sprouting leaves when summer is near (v. 28) shows us that we will have a clue when the end times are near. When we "see these things happening" (v. 29), we will know. We have the technology to compute precisely the orbits of celestial bodies. We don't yet have the technology to change the course of several hundred cubic kilometers of rock and ice. The Asteroid Apophis, predicited in 2004 to have a small chance of hitting the Earth in 2029, is about 1,100 feet in diameter. Currently the chances of this rock hitting our planet have been refined to about 1 in 250,000. But should an NEO be discovered with an orbit that intersects Earth, and a size large enough to cause widespread devastation, we will know that the end is near.

The end? No, the beginning! The beginning of eternity in joyful fellowship with the God of all creation. Not something to fear. Something to look forward to. Those words that proceed from the mouth of God, that we live by, will not pass away, even though the heavens and the Earth will (v. 31).

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot see the signs say the world will last forever!"

Monday, November 2, 2009

RENEWsletter for November 8, 2009 - 32nd Ordinary

Hello, folks--
How many of you tithe? I don't. I try, but it's hard enough to make ends meet. Still.... the readings this week concern a few folks that had more trouble than you or I ever will making ends meet. And they gave much more than 10%... they gave 100%.

This Sunday is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are available at: on the web, and in your Bible at:

1 Kings 17.10-16
Psalm 146.7, 8-9, 9-10 (with vs. 1b)
Hebrews 9.24-28
Mark 12.38-44

The First Reading is the story of Elijah and the widow. Elijah had just arrived at Zarephath and at the gate of the city, he saw a woman gathering firewood. "Would you please bring me a cup of water?" he asked her (1 Kings 17.10). The fact that she immediately went to help him says a lot about her character. She was willing to help someone in need. Yet, when Elijah also asked for something to eat (v. 11), she had to stop and explain. She was at the end of her rope. She had only enough flour and oil for one more tiny loaf of bread and when that was gone, she and her son would begin to starve to death (v. 12). Elijah insisted that she make something for him first, and then take care of herself and her son (v. 13).

She had only one last chance for one more meal, yet she gave some of that to this stranger. That was far, far beyond a tithe! But Elijah promised her that the jar and the jug would not run dry (v. 14). How could she have believed this thirsty, hungry, nameless traveler? It didn't matter. He was hungry and thirsty, and she had a little something to give, so she gave (v. 15). And the LORD gave back by taking care of them for the next year, until the drought ended (v. 16)!

Perhaps this woman knew of the song repeated in our Responsorial Psalm. "The LORD gives food to the hungry" (Ps. 146.7). She also may have recalled verse 9: "The LORD protects strangers and sustains the orphan and the widow." Here was a stranger, hungry... with the LORD protecting him... surely the LORD would take care her and her son too. "Praise the Lord, my soul!" (v. 1)

In the Second Reading we can see some parallels in Jesus and how God protected him while was a stranger on this Earth. Christ offered himself, not over and over as human priests have to do with blood that is not their own (Heb. 9.25), but once, for all, with his own blood. And God took good care of him (v. 26). He's coming back, not to suffer any more, but to bring salvation to us who are eagerly awaiting it (v. 28).

The Gospel Reading is the familiar story of the widow and her 100% donation. Jesus was making an object lesson for his disciples in the way the rich and powerful behaved in the name of religion. Don't be like these guys, says Jesus. They make their wealth at the expense of widows and the helpless, and they'll get what's coming to them (Mark 12 40). Then he sat down where he could watch as people passed the poor box upon entering the synagogue (v. 41). People of all statuses came in, from the very rich to the very poor. Many of the rich people put large sums into the box (v. 41 still), but a widow came by and put in two tiny coins. Jesus sensed that she had given all she had left (v. 44), trusting that God would take care of her.

The widows in these stories gave their all. In Elijah's case, the widow did not even know God, yet the Presence of Lord in Elijah was evident to her. She trusted Elijah. The widow in the Gospel story knew God. The Presence of the Lord was in the synagogue. She didn't even need anyone to know that the couple of coins she dropped in the poor box were all she had. But Jesus knew. Jesus understands sacrifice. He gave his life, but... he got it back! How can we help but give, even sacrificially when we know we'll be rewarded? Full measure, shaken together, packed down, and running over (see Luke 6.38)!

Have a good week, folks!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot give all say they need to take care of themselves!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

RENEWsletter for November 1, 2009 - All Saints

Dear People of Renewal--
Toward the end of the Liturgical Year we encounter Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. All Saints, as you know, is a Holy Day of Obligation. How does Halloween fit into this holy time of year? Well, the word comes from Hallowed Evening and it is the eve of the holy All Saints Day. A characteristic of Pre-Christian celebrations was that they began the night before. I'm fascinated by the pre-Christian roots of some of our Christian Holidays. Many are close to the "Quarter Days" and the "Cross-quarter Days". The Quarter Days are the Solstices and Equinoxes and the Cross-quarter Days are the midway points between each Solstice/Equinox pair. All Saints Day is the Cross-quarter Day between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice.

Do you believe that God was around and relating to humans before Moses codified the Law. Of course he was! The readings for this Solemnity of All Saints Sunday center around the work that God does to sanctify those who love him, and whom he loves. Those readings can be found at: on the web, and in your Bible at:

Revelation 7.2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24.1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
1 John 3.1-3
Matthew 5.1-12a

Our First Reading comes from the last book of the Bible this time. Normally we hear from prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah in the First Reading. Today we hear from St. John the Devine, to whom five books of the New Testament are attributed: the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation. Revelation is the prophetic book in this list, and the First Reading customarily is prophetic.

The Revelation of John is a book that could keep a scholar busy all his life. If you were to Google "Revelation of St John the Devine", the readings proffered would keep you busy until your carpal tunnel acted up! There is some disagreement over authorship, but regardless of who actually wrote these words, they are the words of the Holy Spirit: 144,000 Jews, and a great multitude of believers from every nation, race, people and tongue will stand before the Lamb (Rev 7.4, 9). These people will have had their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (v. 14). When is blood a detergent or whitening agent? When it is blood shed by Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God for the remission of sins.

And why is it important to have remission of sins? According to the Psalmist David in the Responsorial Psalm, only the "clean of hand and the pure of heart" can stand before the LORD (Ps. 24.3, 4). God owns the entire Universe, including everything we humans have access to (v. 1): the whole of the planet Earth, the entire Solar System through spacecraft, manned and robotic, and the vast Universe through the eyes of visible, infra-red, ultra-violet, and X-ray telescopes! Seeking knowledge of the whole of Creation is seeking the face of God (v. 6).

The Second Reading comes from a letter attributed traditionally to the same St. John who wrote the Book of Revelation. In it he says, "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called his kids." Those of you who have kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, nieces, nephews, and so on... you know how easy it is to love kids. (Unless of course, the kids involved are teenages. Then it's hard, but still doable!) But we are God's kids, and he loves us, and he raises us. We don't yet know what we will be like when we are fully raised and full grown (v. 2). But we'll grow up just like him, our heavenly father. And we will someday be as clean of hand and as pure of heart as God himself (v. 3).

Now we come to the Gospel Reading. The famous, much quoted, and much loved "Beatitudes". This is the stuff that Jesus thought it was important to convey to the multitudes who came out to hear what he had to say. This is Jesus in a nutshell. Christianity in its purest, simplest form. Blessed are the poor in spirit (v. 3). Blessed are the mourners (v. 4). Blessed are the meek (v. 5). Blessed are the spiritually hungry (v. 6). Blessed are the merciful (v. 7). Blessed are the pure of heart (v. 8). (Where have we heard that before?) Blessed are the persecuted (v. 9).

Which one applies to you? Any? One? More than one? Well, if your robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb, at least the "pure of heart" one applies. Bottom line, none of these apply to any of us, but for Jesus and his act of love.

We are loved. We are loved! We don't need to be afraid. We are loved.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot love say it's not humanly possible!"

Monday, October 19, 2009

RENEWsletter for October 25, 30th Ordinary

Good morning Renewers--
Some time ago I attended a talk by a Nigerian priest about Patience. I came away with a sense of what God's timing requires of us in terms of patience. I'm sure all of us could name some condition, situation, or trial that we've been praying about for a long time. And all God seems to be saying is, "Yes, I know. Be patient."

The readings for next Sunday, the 30th in Ordinary Time, cut to the chase in this regard. They're about the joy that comes when prayers are finally answered with, "Okay. Now!" These readings can be found on the web at: and in your Bible in:

Jeremiah 31.7-9
Psalm 126.1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Hebrews 5.1-6
Mark 10.46-52

The First Reading speaks of the joy felt by the Israelites when they were finally set free of captivity and were allowed to return to their homeland (Jer. 31.7). The Assyrians had carried them away to Babylon in 586 BC and 52 years later, after the Persians conquered the Assyrians, Cyrus the Great allowed them to return. Not only that, he also made sure they had everything they needed to restore their worship of God and rebuild the temple. He had a policy of supporting conquered people's local gods. A good policy for an empire that didn't want a lot of religious wars on their hands.

But for the children of the One True God, this was almost too good to be true. Their prayers to return to Jerusalem were answered more favorably than any had dared to ask (v. 8). They weren't just turned loose; they were helped and encouraged and supported (v.9).

The Responsorial Psalm sings of the same thing the First Reading speaks of: "The LORD has done great things for us! We are filled with joy!" (Ps. 126.3). They couldn't believe they were going home... they thought they were dreaming (v. 1). But they weren't dreaming. They realized that those who "sow in tears", will in time "reap with joy" (v. 5). Just as in that old hymn by Knowles Shaw and George Minor, "We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!"

God knows that it is impossible for us to keep ourselves free of sin. We are constantly conquered by that "foreign power". As Paul writes in Romans 7.19, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do". So God provided a way, as we see in this Second Reading, for us to get back home. First there were the priests, descendents of Aaron, who could offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb. 5.1). Not only for the sins of the people, but for their own sins as well (v. 2,3). Then came Jesus, a priest after the "Order of Melchizedek" to offer himself a living sacrifice once for all sins of all people of all time (v. 6).

Now, there's a lot of mystery surrounding this strange Order of Melchizedek... but basically it's a spiritual order that God himself founded. A special priesthood set up so Christ, as our spiritual high priest could offer himself as a sin offering for all humanity. And through him, we are released from the captivity of sin.

The Gospel Reading speaks of another kind of setting free. Bartimaeus, the blind man (Mark 10.46), who wouldn't behave himself and keep quiet (v. 48), called out loudly, "Son of David, have pity on me!" (vs. 47, 48) He knew he was held captive by blindness and he not only longed to be free, he insisted on it. Jesus heard his plea and called Bartimaeus to him (v. 49). Bartimaeus didn't hesitate. He "threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and felt his way to Jesus" (v. 50). Jesus asked him what he wanted. "Master, I want to see," was his reply (v. 51).

That was a lot to ask. How often do we hesitate to ask for precisely what we want. Perhaps we feel we don't deserve the best. Bartimaeus could have asked for someone to take care of him and lead him around so he'd never be alone and hungry again. I'm sure Jesus would have granted that request just as readily. But he was willing to give sight if asked, and not only that, but forgiveness of sins as well. "Your faith has saved you" (v. 52). Bartimaeus was set free of his sin and his infirmity.

Can we ask God for release from our own personal captivity? Will he answer "Be patient"? Or will he answer, "Okay!" We won't know until we ask. See Matthew 7.11: "If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him." And now look at Ephesians 3.20, 21: "Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Ask God for good things this week... and see what happens.

Randy Jones
"Those who do not ask must think the answer will prob'ly be No!"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear Renewers--
Welcome to a new week. We are nearing the end of the Liturgical Year and Thanksgiving is barely a month away. If you're like most of us, the year has seen its ups and downs. The readings for this Sunday seem to me to proclaim that hackneyed but eminently pithy old adage, "No pain, no gain". If the past year brought pain, here's hoping there was something gained from it.

You can find the readings for this 29th Sunday in Numbered-Sundays Time, on the web at, and in your Bible in:

Isaiah 53.10-11
Psalm 33.4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Hebrews 4.14-16
Mark 10.35-45

The First Reading brings the "no pain, no gain" idea out clearly. Look at that first verse (Is. 53.10). "The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendents in a long life!" If you remind yourself that this is referring to two of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, you see that the pain and the gain were in the same place. God wasn't sitting up in heaven taking pot shots at some poor slob on earth. He was going through the pain -- and the gain -- himself. "Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many" (v. 11). Much has been said about this concept of the Suffering Servant, but it bears repeating so we never forget. We are the happy recipients of the gain, that is, justification, thanks to God's own Son's suffering.

So do we get the gain without the pain? Certainly not without at least a little pain! In the Responsorial Psalm the psalmist proclaims that we can count on the LORD. His word is upright, his works are trustworthy (Ps. 33.4). The eyes of the LORD are upon us "to deliver them [us] from death in spite of famine" (v. 19). To me this means we are delivered from eternal spiritual death, but not from trials and tribulations in this temporal life. We may still experience some famine. So, for us too, there is pain with the gain, but not unbearable pain.

The Second Reading acknowledges that there will be trials, tests, even failures, but we should not panic. "Let us hold fast to our confession" (Heb. 4.14), because we have a High Priest who understands our weaknesses... who's been there... done that... even got the t-shirt (think of that "t" as a cross!) Now, he was God -- he didn't slip -- but he knows what we go through (v. 15). Therefore it's okay to go to him when we slip and need some understanding, mercy, grace... when we need some TLC (v. 16).

The Gospel Reading relates the instructive incident of James and John Zebedeeson's bid for preferential seating in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10.37). Jesus talked to them about pain before gain. He said, "Whoever wishes to be great among you [gain] will be your servant [pain]. Whoever wishes to be first among you [gain] will be the slave of all [pain]" (vs. 43, 44). So there is no gain without pain. And that holds for us as well as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (v. 45). But the pain will give us perspective on the value of the gain. And always there is the Throne of Grace where we can be confident of receiving balm for our hurts, and help for our shortcomings.

Have a great, gainful week, folks, and let's not shy away from the pain of gain.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot take the pain say there is no gain!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dear Renewing friends--
The readings for next Sunday, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, center around wisdom. Wisdom is one of those things that I know when I see it, but how does one come up with a definition? More than that, how does one acquire that elusive quality? Let's see what the readings have to say. You'll find them on the web at:, and in your Bible in:

Wisdom 7.7-11
Psalm 90.12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Hebrews 4.12-13
Mark 10.17-30

The First Reading sings the praises of Wisdom (Wis. 7.9). More to be sought than power or riches (v. 8), more important than health, good looks, or even light! (v. 10). The writer of the Book of Wisdom claims that the way to acquire wisdom is to ask for it... To pray and to plead (v. 7) for wisdom. It's interesting to note that Wisdom is personified as feminine. This may be because the society back then, a hundred years before Christ, was male-dominated. If the society had been female-dominated, would Wisdom have been portrayed as a strong, handsome, devoted man? Pick your image. Wisdom is something highly desirable!

But what IS wisdom? The Psalmist sings "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart" (Ps. 90.12). What does it mean to "number our days aright"? Maybe it means to plan our lives with God's precepts in mind. Take a realistic perspective on the events and happenings in our life, good and bad. Not just float from day to day, reacting to events that impinge on our complacency, but to aim for something. The psalm ends by repeating twice, "Prosper the work of our hands!" (v. 17). With wisdom in our hearts we can take purposeful steps toward a prosperous goal.

But what goal? In the Second Reading the writer of Hebrews gives us something to think about when planning goals. "Everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account" (Heb. 4.13). We're not going to hide our aims from the Lord. We must pick ones that won't embarrass us when God taps us on the shoulder and says, "Ahem." The Word of God, that "living and effective ... two-edged sword" (v. 12) will help us discern the thoughts of our own heart and guide us to accountability.

Okay, so what must we do to ensure that our account-giving won't be disastrous? What must we do to inherit eternal life? Mark, in the Gospel Reading, relates the answer Jesus gave when asked this question by a rich young politician (Mark 10.17). The answer in this case was the one thing that cut to the man's soul, dividing his joints and marrow like the two-edged sword it was. "Give up your wealth to those who need it, and give up your career to follow me" (v. 21). Surely the guy knew the Scriptures, the Proverbs of Solomon, even that recent work, the Book of Wisdom. He knew that Wisdom was more precious than all the riches in the world. Yet... when push came to shove... Well, his face fell and he went away sad (v. 22). He thought it was too much for him.

But God never asks us to do something that is too much for us. See 1 Corinthians 10.13. It may look like too much, as it did to that 1st century yuppie in the Gospel, but God will be there. To clear the path. To help carry our load. To carry us when we can't go on!

This is Wisdom. We should set a goal that won't embarrass us when God reviews it. Then set out for it, give what it requires, rely on God to supply us with what we need. And don't forget that one of the things we need is joy. He supplies that too. Full measure, packed down, and running over! (Luke 6.38.)

Have a joyful, goal-oriented, and triumphant week!
Randy Jones
"Those who will not pay the price say the cost is too high!"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

RENEWsletter for October 4, 2009 - 27th Ordinary

Dear Renewers--
This Sunday's readings make me think of the spiritual importance of family. The idea that "it's not good for a person to be alone" has been a "given" since the foundation of the world. Yet today many people are alone. More than ever, even at work, there is little personal interaction. There's email and cell phones, and Facebook and Twitter, and they wouldn't be as popular as they are if it weren't for humans' desire, and need, to connect.

So let's connect by taking a look together at the readings for this coming 27th of the "numbered Sundays". They are found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Genesis 2.18-24
Psalm 128.1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Hebrews 2.9-11
Mark 10.2-16

Some people think the story in the First Reading is literally factual... Some think it's allegorical... Some don't think about it at all. There's an email joke floating around that humorously re-writes this story. Eve is lonely and God offers to create a companion for her. Says God, "He'll be proud, arrogant, and self-admiring, so as a condition of creating him for you, you'll have to let him believe that I made him first. And it will be our little secret... you know, woman to woman." :-)

Regardless of your take on the creation story in Genesis, you have to concede that it's not good to be alone (Gen 2.18). We need the animals, and all other life too (v. 19). We give names to our pets, we catalog and record the statistics of all the life we can find (v. 20). We even look for life on other planets! But nothing matches the companionship of our own kind (vs. 23, 24). Humans were made for community. We need each other.

In fact, in the Responsorial Psalm one of the blessings the psalmist is thanking the Lord for is his family (Ps. 128.3). It is in this way that we receive our greatest blessings (v. 4). Living to see our children's children, this is the greatest blessing of all (v. 6). May the LORD bless us all the days of our lives (v. 5)!

The Second Reading points out that "he who consecrates [Jesus] and those who are being consecrated [us] all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them [us] brothers [and sisters]" (Heb. 2.11). The Family of God is a happy family! Even when there's suffering (v. 9). God thought it fitting that his son should suffer in order to perfect our salvation, our adoption into the Family of God (v. 10). If we suffer in this life, we can know that our "big brother" Jesus suffered too, that we are saved by his suffering, and will spend eternity with him and the rest of God's family.

The Gospel Reading carries forth with the importance of family. Jesus deals with those pesky Pharisees, the "fundamentalists" of his day, when they come to him with a trick question. "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" (Mark 10.2). Well, the answer was Yes, it's lawful (vs. 3, 4). But Jesus explained that God allowed it because of the "hardness of your hearts" (v. 5). Jesus then repeated the creation story for them (vs. 6-9). They knew the story, but did the significance soak into their hearts? God makes the husband and wife one body; Moses allowed that body to be separated. The fact is, God hates divorce (Malachi 2.16). He hates it because of what it does to us, his children. Divorce is lawful, but it's awful.

I can imagine the disciples sitting through this is stunned silence, wide-eyed, perhaps for the first time considering the creation story and the law about divorce in the same sentence. They came to him later, after the Pharisees had gone, to ask him about it (v. 10). He put it another way: If a husband and wife get divorced and marry another, it's the same as adultery (v. 11, 12).

Yes, and if you're angry with your brother, it's the same as murder (Matthew 5.21, 22).

See, we all sin. But God made a way to reunite us with himself. Look at the Second reading again: "...that by the grace of God he [Jesus] might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2.9). How many times will God forgive his children? "Seventy times seven" (Matt. 18.22).

So let us soften our hearts... let God take away our stony hearts and give us warm hearts (Ezekiel 11.19 and 36.26). We need each other. We can't hurt another without hurting ourselves.

Have a good week, folks, and keep in touch!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot love say 'I am a rock... I am an island'!"

Monday, September 21, 2009

RENEWsletter for September 27, 2009 - 26th Ordinary

Good morning Renewers--
When Friday comes, those of us who work at a 40+ hr/wk, Mon-Fri job breathe a sigh of relief. The work load, especially these days, if we even have a job, is grueling. And those who don't have a job but desperately need one, are hard at work trying to find one. It sometimes gets to be too much to bear. Moses had a job like that and he needed to hire a much bigger staff. So did Jesus.

The readings for next Sunday put me in mind of ecumenism, sometimes a difficult concept to get across to the really zealous ones. But Jesus says "Whoever is not against us is for us." And Moses says "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets." Sometimes it's just not thinking clearly that causes us to try to hush others, or to oppress them. And sometimes it's just not thinking at all. Yet we can use all the help we can get!

You can find the readings for this 26th Ordinary Time Sunday on the web at:, and in your Bible in:

Numbers 11.25-29
Psalm 19.8, 10, 12-13, 14
James 5.1-6
Mark 9.38-43, 45, 47-48 (the official reading skips vs. 44 & 46 which may have been stuck into the Scripture later, but they don't add anything except poetic repetition)

Numbers chapter 11 opens with the Israelites complaining that they were sick of the manna and wanted meat. Moses had had it with them! He complained to the Lord, "I can't carry this whole nation all by myself. Strike me dead now and free me from this burden" (Num. 11.15). Just before the First Reading begins, God is saying, "I tell you what, Moses. Gather 70 elders and trusted leaders of the people and I'll take some of my Spirit which is on you and spread it around on them. Then you won't have to do it all by yourself" (v. 16, 17). (Gosh! Could I use something like at work!) When this happened the 70 elders began to prophesy.

I've been wondering what it means to "prophesy" (pronounced PRAH-fuh-seye). We usually think of prophecy (pronounced PRAH-fuh-see) as a prediction of the future. But it can also mean something akin to preaching. The thing is, prophets have a vision... see something... some truth... and start explaining what they see to those folks around them. That's what these 70 did, only two of them hadn't gathered at Moses's tent. They were still in the camp. Nonetheless, God knew where they were and shed some of his Spirit and them too. And they prophesied.

Now Joshua, bless his zealous heart, urged Moses to stop them (v. 28). This was irregular. They were supposed to come here to the tent. But Joshua wasn't thinking. He was taken up with the rules, not the intent of the sharing of the Spirit. What Moses said lets us see just what kind of man he was. "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that ALL the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his Spirit on them ALL!" (v. 29). No group has, or should have, a monopoly on the Spirit of the LORD.

The Responsorial Psalm and the Second Reading are two types of "prophecy". The Psalmist bubbles over with love for the LORD. "The precepts of the LORD give joy to the heart" (Psalm 19:9). The Second Reading has James predicting the doom of the those who are laying up treasures on earth at the expense of those less powerful. See, the lesson is: Joy comes when your soul is aligned with the precepts of God, but when you oppress others, you wind up weeping and wailing over your impending miseries (James 5:1).

The Gospel story fits very well with the First Reading. Here it is the zeal of Jesus's disciples that leads them to try to stop non-followers of Jesus from exorcising demons. Now, of course it was the disciples who made up the "one holy catholic and apostolic church". This other enthusiastic, spirit-filled group was prob'ly a bunch of Baptists. The disciples weren't thinking clearly. All they saw was a transgression of the rules. But Jesus set them straight. "Whoever is not against us is for us!" (Mark 9.40). Ecumenism! There are many different parts, but the same Body (1 Corinthians 12:20). There are many different denominations, many different liturgies, but the same Lord is worshiped.

Would that ALL people worshiped the Lord!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot abide diversity say those guys are doing it wrong!"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

RENEWsletter for September 20, 2009 - 25th Ordinary

Good morning Renewers--
Have you ever encountered someone who was irritated with you just because you were happy? That sometimes happens to Christians who somehow see the silver linings in the dark clouds more readily than those around them. A fan of Star Trek will remember the Organians who irritated both Capt. Kirk and the Klingon Cmdr. Kor with their insistence that there was no danger, no one had died, and both warring parties, the Klingons and the Federation, were welcome on their planet. They turned out to be all-powerful energy beings and really were in no danger.

Well, the readings for next Sunday, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, deal with Jesus's, and our, mission here on earth, what the forces of fear planned to do to him and us, and how we will overcome them. The readings can be found on the web at: and in your Bible in:

Wisdom 2.12, 17-20
Psalm 54.3-4, 5, 6, 8
James 3.16 - 4.3
Mark 9.30-37

"Let us beset the just one!" cry the wicked in the First Reading (Wis. 2.12). They've heard that God will defend him (v. 18), but they're going to put him to the test anyway. Kinda reminds me of the "frivolous lawsuit" idea... you have people who know they can't win, but they'll tie things up in court as long as they can just to be obnoxious. Have you ever been hampered by someone who knew you were right, but just resorted to name-calling or tale-bearing to try and get you to make a mistake, maybe? There are lots of stories like that in the political realm. Think of filibusters...

But the Responsorial Psalm gives the response we should take to heart when it happens to us: "The Lord upholds my life!" (Ps. 54.6). The opposition rises up against us, the ruthless seek our lives (v. 5). But God is our help (v. 6 again). Once the frivolous lawsuits are thrown out and the filibusters end, we can praise the Lord for his goodness (v. 8).

The Second Reading also maps out what our response can be when the wicked beset us. Be cool. Chill. Relax. Foster purity, peace, gentleness, compliance, mercy... and you'll bring forth good fruits of consistency and sincerity (Jas. 3.17). It is our passions... our negative passions, if we let those wicked ones stir them up, that cause conflicts among us and give the wicked the victory (ch. 4, v. 1). When we pray, we mustn't ask for the things and events that our fears, our anger, our pain, or our frustration demand. That's "asking amiss" (ch. 4, v. 3). We must instead ask for the peace of God to fill our hearts, and that will put all the passions and the attacks of the wicked in a whole new light.

The Gospel Reading gives another dimension to these concepts of dealing with high feelings. Jesus was letting his disciples in on what was to come in his own ministry. He would be killed. But 3 days later, he would shake death off and take up his life again (Mark 9.31). The attacks of the wicked would never bring lasting victory for them.

The disciples didn't understand and in discussing it among themselves fell to arguing (v. 33). But when Jesus asked them what the hubbub was, they didn't want to say, because they were arguing over who would wind up greatest in the kingdom (v. 34). The object lesson that Jesus gave them can work for us, too, when those "filibusters" of the wicked beset us. "If you want to be first, be last" (v. 35). In other words, change your perspective. Don't let your passions guide you. Don't covet someone else's position. Be as a little child (v. 36). Defenseless. Trusting. Dependent on God. This is scary only if you fear the wicked and their filibusters. Christ takes away all the fears we give him, and replaces them with peace. With that peace we receive Christ himself, and the Father who sent him (v. 37).

When the dark clouds roll in, and the enemies of peace say, "See? See? Dark clouds! I told you so!", then relax, trust God, and point out the silver linings. Bless you all and have a great rest of the week.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot see the silver lining say the storm is bad"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

RENEWsletter for September 13, 2009 - 24th Ordinary

Dear Renewing Friends--
I remember something from my early youth attributed to Davy Crockett. He reportedly said, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead." That pops into mind as I read this Sunday's selections. Isaiah, the psalmist, James, and Mark all seem to understand that motto in a heavenly sense.

Look up the readings for this 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time for yourselves on the web at: or in your Bible at:

Isaiah 50.5-9a
Psalm 116.1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
James 2.14-18
Mark 8.27-35

All the prophets, Isaiah among them, suffered consequences of their preaching. Whether, in this First Reading, Isaiah was describing his own life and troubles, or the Messiah's, or giving us exemplary messages for our own, the message is clear: Stay the course! (Is. 50.5). It tells us that "The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced" (Is. 50.7a)... He was sure he was right, because God is his help. And "I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame (v. 7b)... He went ahead, setting his face like flint. The rest of the reading is assuring. Isaiah invites his detractors to confront him (v. 8). He is confident, since he is on God's side, that no one will prove him wrong (v. 9).

The Responsorial Psalm has some examples of this same principle expressed by the response: "I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living" (Ps. 116.9), such is the confidence of the psalmist that he is in the right. This confidence comes from the psalmist's experiences and can come from our own experiences. We call upon the LORD and he hears us (v. 2). Death may be near and distress all around, and we call on him (v. 4). The LORD helps the helpless (v. 6). Since our souls have been freed from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from stumbling (v. 8), we can be sure we're right and go ahead. And walk before the LORD in the land of the living (v. 9)!

James, in the Second Reading, insists that we must try to be like God... try to give back some of the good the Lord has shown us. If we really trust God, we'll step out, take a risk, and do what God would do (Jas. 2.14). The psalmist knew that God would protect him... will we protect a fellow human being who is hungry and has nothing to wear (v. 15)? We can be sure we're right because we have faith, and we go ahead and demonstrate that faith by our works (v. 18). Since God has saved us, shouldn't we "pay it forward"? Okay, we should... but what will it cost us?

What did it cost God? Check out the Gospel Reading. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Jesus was sure he was right because he went ahead and died on the cross. But he wanted his disciples to understand what was going on, so he quizzed them. "Who do people say that I am?" (Mark 8.27). Well, people had their ideas... John the Baptist come back from the dead, the prophet Elijah, one of the other prophets (v. 28). Okay, next question: "Who do you say that I am?" Peter was sure he was right and immediately went ahead and answered, "You are the Messiah!" (v. 29). Correct. And guess what, the Messiah must suffer, be killed by the religious leaders, and then rise from the dead (v. 31), the way some apparently thought John the Baptist had done.

But Peter, still sure he was right, went ahead and took Jesus aside to explain how no one was going to kill him (v. 32). But Peter wasn't right. Jesus was and let him know it. "Get behind me, Satan!" (v. 33).

You know, it's easy to start thinking like human beings instead of thinking like God (v. 33 still). But how does God think? Look at verse 35: "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it." It sounds backwards. But God thinks on a higher plane and can see a bigger picture. The big picture includes eternity and eternal life.

Once we get that perspective, the trials and tribulations here on earth, where we're trapped by gravity and time, seem to lose their formidability. With that assurance, we can be sure we're right, and go ahead!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot go ahead say there's no way to be sure!"

Monday, August 31, 2009

RENEWsletter for September 6, 2009 - 23rd Ordinary

Dear Renewers--
The readings this week assure us that we have nothing to fear since God is with us. He heals, he repairs, he vindicates, he blesses and he cares for us. You can find the readings for this 23rd Ordinary Sunday on the web at:, and in your Bible in:

Isaiah 35.4-7a
Psalm 146.7, 8-9, 9-10
James 2.1-5
Mark 7.31-37

Isaiah, in the First Reading, quotes the LORD: "Tell those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God..." (Is. 35.4). The blind will see, the deaf will hear (v. 5), the lame will leap, the mute will sing (v. 6). The spiritual desert will drink of the water of life. When we go through our personal deserts, sometimes progress or relief seem a long way off. But the message of this passage, and for that matter, the message of the entire Bible, is often, "Fear not!" So, fear not. God will come and set things right (see v. 4 again).

The psalmist writing in our Responsorial Psalm, extends the list of things that will be set right. The oppressed will see justice, the hungry will eat, the captive will be set free (Ps. 146.7). The blind will see, those bowed down will be raised up, the just will be loved by the LORD (v. 8), and the stranger will be protected. The orphan and the widow will be taken care of, and the wicked will be "taken care of" in a different way (v. 9)! The God of Jacob keeps his word. So, fear not. The LORD reigns forever (v. 10).

In the Second Reading, James puts some definitions to the term "just". If we make distinctions among ourselves based on wealth and status, we become judges with evil designs (Jas. 2.4). That's putting it pretty bluntly. But when was James anything but blunt! This is not a "judge not that you be not judged" passage. This is one that says it's evil to respect the wealthy and disrespect the poor. James reminds us of what I like to call "the Principle of the Paradox". God chose the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the King (v. 5). I guess we can apply that to ourselves as well. Do we become too impressed with ourselves if we are wealthy? Do we look down on or condescend to, those who are poor? Do we lower our own self-esteem, if we don't have the best things and gobs of money? Let's try to become rich in faith, and love and respect God. Then we will fear not. God's entire kingdom is promised to those who love him (v. 5 reprised).

In the Gospel Reading, Mark relates how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy when he healed a deaf mute (Mark 7.31-35). Now this is only one instance of many, many healings. The Gospels, the rest of the New Testament, and the Old Testament as well, are filled with stories of healing. And those healings go on today. We hear often that a friend or loved one's tests came back negative, or that their cancer has gone into remission. Physical healing happens. But more importantly, spiritual healing happens, and is available to those who love God.

Spiritual healing? What's that? Jesus said, "Be opened!" and the deaf man could suddenly hear. James wrote, "Become rich in faith", and we suddenly see things in a different perspective. In Isaiah, God said, "Be not afraid!" and the faint of heart are suddenly strong. When we accept the healing of our fears, we suddenly have peace. We know God's word is good. He keeps his promises. He has promised to save us. We have nothing to fear. So fear not! Spiritual healing happens when our God replaces our fears with his peace.

Be fearless, folks, and have a peaceful week.

Randy Jones
"Those who have no peace say life is fearful!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

RENEWsletter for August 30, 2009 - 22nd Ordinary

Dear Renewers--
This 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time's readings are a really fragmented group of references. I suggest reading them on the web or from a lectionary that has all the chosen verses concatenated together. Or you could mark the pertinent verses in your Bible before you start reading. Or you could simply read Deuteronomy 4, Psalm 15, James 1, and Mark 7. :-)

The subject is the Law of God. More like the Law of Gravity than anything passed in a legislature, the Law of God is a natural law that works for humans and human societies. The readings can be found on the web at, and in your Bible at:

Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-8
Psalm 15.2-3, 3-4, 4-5
James 1.17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Moses emphasizes in the First Reading how important the Law of God is (Deut. 4.1). If you follow the commandments of the Lord, you'll show how wise and intelligent you are (v. 6). The Lord is close to those who follow his statutes whenever they call upon him (v. 7), and this is unique among the nations and peoples of the earth. No other nation has gods as close to them as our God is to us. No other nation has laws as just as our God's Laws (v. 8).

The Responsorial Psalm has David proclaiming that whoever walks blamelessly, following this list of do's and don'ts, will never be disturbed (Ps. 15.5). The way I see this, if we are truthful with ourselves (v. 2), avoid slandering, refrain from harming anyone, don't reproach anyone (v.3), shun the wicked and honor the righteous, remain faithful and true no matter the cost (v. 4), don't gouge anyone in need of a loan, or take any bribes, our conscience will never disturb us (v.5). A clear conscious is one of the priceless rewards of following the Law of God.

James, in the Second Reading, sees these good behaviors as perfect gifts from God himself (Jas. 1.17). And he's right. It's just not possible to lead a life totally above reproach without the steadfast help of God. This Word we have -- this Law of God -- is able, not only to give us clear consciences, but also to save our souls (v. 21). That is, if we do more than offer lip service to it. This is where being true to ourselves comes in... we delude ourselves if we are not doers of the Word (v. 22). James brings out the truly down-to-earth practicality of a religion that is pure and undefiled. He says it is, purely and simply, to care for the helpless, and keep ourselves unstained by the guilty conscience of the world (v. 27).

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus strips away the affectations of the Pharisees and scribes and accuses them of lip service (Mark 7.6). They had became hung up on the fact that some of his disciples ate without first washing their hands. He drew a sharp distinction between God's commandments and human tradition (v. 8). The Law of God is not concerned with what enters a person from the outside, but with those things that come out of that person's heart (v. 15). Caring for the helpless versus accepting a bribe against an innocent. Greed versus generosity. Reproach and criticism versus praise and encouragement. The list of evils in verses 21 to 23, versus a pure heart and a clear conscience. People look on the outward appearance, but God looks into the heart (1 Samuel 16.7). And only God can fix things there!

I hope your week is going well, and may the Peace that comes from trust in the Law of God abide in you permanently.

"Those who cannot sleep at night say it's someone else's fault!"

Monday, August 17, 2009

RENEWsletter for August 23, 2009 - 21st Ordinary

Dear Renewers--
The readings for this coming Sunday include a sticky, controversial passage from Ephesians -- the "wives be subordinate to your husbands" line. The context of that passage, though, and the theme of all the readings this time, is trust. Trust is sort of the opposite of fear. And while fear triggers anger, violence, remorse, depression... all those negative emotions, trust brings forth peace, joy, patience, hope, etc. The list of those positive emotions goes on and on. All the readings can be found on the web at: and in your Bible in:

Joshua 24.1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Psalm 34.2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21
Ephesians 5.21-32
John 6:60-69

The First Reading describes the Israelites after they had conquered and settled the Promised Land. Joshua was advanced in years and ready to step down as leader of the Twelve Tribes. So he called a meeting of all the officials and addressed them (Josh. 24.1-2). He recounted the history of his people from the time of Abraham's father Terah when they served other gods, down to the present day where they dwelt in a land that God gave them (the omitted verses: 3-14). Now Joshua challenged those present: "Decide today whom you will serve" (v. 15). You see, the trials were over. Their enemies were defeated. They lived in peace and plenty. And it was decision time: did they still need the LORD? The answer was a resounding YES! (v. 16). They had seen and remembered all that the LORD did for them and they would continue to trust him in the future (v. 17). When times were tough, they trusted him. And now that times are easy, they will still trust him, "for he is our God" (v. 18).

The Responsorial Psalm is the same one as we had the last two weeks, but we move farther into it this time. Good times, bad times, it didn't matter to the psalmist, David. He will trust the LORD at ALL times (Ps. 34.2). Because the LORD sees the just and hears their cry (v. 16). When those who trust in the LORD cry out, he rescues them from all distress (v. 18). The LORD stays close to the brokenhearted (v. 19), and though there are many troubles to go through, the LORD delivers those who trust him from them all (v. 20). This is a God who can be trusted.

This same idea of trust can be applied to the Second Reading, I think. Ephesians 5.22 says, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands..." For a wife to subordinate herself to her husband, it takes courage. Because "signing up with" her husband has the potential of being terrifying. It is a supreme matter of trust. Can husbands be trusted? It's a little different than trusting God, whom she knows will always be there for her. And by the same token, for a husband to shoulder the trust of his wife (v. 23) also takes courage. What if he makes a mistake? What if he fails? The consequences could be terrifying.

The only non-terrifying answer is a "co-submission" program. Both husband and wife bring a different set of talents and gifts to the relationship and together they make the union very strong. This passage is definitely NOT permission for men to abuse women. Christ does not use his power to abuse his bride, the Church. In fact, Christ loves his Church so much he would die for us. A husband in a right relationship with his wife and with God would die for her!

Paul Stookey, of the 60s folk singing group Peter, Paul & Mary, wrote a piece called "The Wedding Song". In it there's a line that goes:

Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.

It's not a one-way street. A marriage works when there is that synergy of trust and sharing of life and love. Just as it is in the relationship between Christ and the Church (v. 25). We as Christians draw our life from Christ, and give it back again in love, in service, in praise and worship.

The Gospel Reading gives another demonstration of this synergy that must exist in any relationship. Jesus explains that he has spoken words of Spirit and life but some have not believed (John 6.63, 64). When some turned back to the lives they left behind (v. 66), those who found the required commitment too much, Jesus turned to his Twelve and said, "Do you also want to leave?" (v. 67). Just like Joshua in the First Reading... "Decide today whom you will serve." But Jesus added a new twist: "No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father" (v. 65). Again, it's a two-way street. God reaches out to us and we respond in belief and trust.

I trust you will all have a great week, folks.

Randy Jones "Those who cannot trust say the odds are bad!"

Monday, August 10, 2009

RENEWsletter for August 16, 2009 - 20th Ordinary

Dear Renewers--
One of the most elusive and hardest to define concepts is "wisdom". Proverbs describes wisdom as something to be sought more fervently than riches (Proverbs 3.13, 14). The New Testament asserts that the wisdom of humans is mere foolishness to God (1 Corinthian 1.25). The Gospels talk about how the Light of Heaven illuminated the Darkness of Earth and how humans remained clueless (John 1.5).

Still, the readings for next Sunday, the 20th Ordinal Sunday, offer again the same advice: Seek Wisdom. These readings can be found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Proverbs 9.1-6
Psalm 34.2-3, 4-6, 6-7 (almost the same as last week)
Ephesians 5.15-20
John 6.51-58

The First Reading is from Proverbs. Wisdom is portrayed as a noble woman who serves her community. She invites all to "come, eat my food and drink my wine" (Prov. 9.5). "Forsake foolishness. Advance in the way of understanding" (v. 6). Okay, that sounds good. Sure, I'll take it! I'll eat the food and drink the wine of Wisdom. But how exactly do I do that?

The Responsorial Psalm gives a clue. "I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears" (Ps. 34.5). And again, "Look to God that you may be radiant with joy" and be unashamed (v. 6). That makes sense. It is surely wise to let God worry about my fears. And if I have no fears, I can be truly happy. But I still have the same question: How? What's the first step?

Paul tries to help in the Second Reading. "Try to understand what is the will of the Lord" (Eph. 5.17). He also gives some advice on how to accomplish that: Don't get drunk; Be filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 18); Sing a lot (v. 19); Give thanks constantly and for everything (v. 20). Hmmm... give thanks for everything?? Even the bad stuff? Is the wisdom of God really that foolish-sounding? Well, it does say (if you didn't stop at v. 6 in Proverbs) that "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9.10).

Jesus, in the Gospel Reading, makes no bones about it. "I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh..." (John 6.51). That's pretty straight-forward, but he didn't mean it literally, did he (v. 52)? Jesus's body is not within our reach today, is it?

Ah, but it is! The Eucharist! "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (v. 53). Hard to rationalize in the real world, but we also live in a spiritual world that is equally real. Real world foolishness can be spiritual wisdom. Not always... certainly some foolish things are spiritually foolish as well. Like letting ourselves be ruled by fears or false hopes. But laying down those fears and hopes at the feet of Jesus -- letting him wash the dust of our cares from our feet -- is spiritually wise.

So maybe true wisdom is a spiritual quality that can only be endowed if sought spiritually. Logic... analysis... worldly wisdom... don't help a lot here. We have to trust God. And he is certain to reward our faith.

May blessings abound for you this week. May the Lord answer and deliver you. May you understand the will of God. May your soul be filled with the spiritual food supplied by Christ himself. And may that give you wisdom.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot accept the spiritual say it is foolish!"

Monday, August 3, 2009

RENEWsletter for August 9, 2009 - 19th Ordinary

Dear Renewed People--
The theme this week seems to be about feeding. God makes sure we have enough food when we trust in him -- both physical and spiritual food. Sometimes, we 21st century people are too busy even to eat. Skipping a physical meal is not good, but may not be disastrous. Skipping too many spiritual meals, can be awfully hard on the soul.

The readings for this coming Sunday, the Nineteenth in Ordinary Time, are on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

1 Kings 19.4-8
Psalm 34.2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 4.30-5.2
John 6.41-51

Elijah, in the First Reading, was weary. Tired, hungry, thirsty, discouraged, he had given up. "Enough, already!" he cried. "I'm through, spent, no better than my ancestors. Take my life. I'm no good to you anymore" (1 Kings 19.4). Have you ever felt like that? I have. But God gives us what we need, not always what we ask for. Elijah needed rest, food, water, encouragement. And that's what God gave him. It took awhile... two naps... two meals (vs. 5-8). But it worked, and Elijah found the strength, and the heart! to go on (v. 8).

The Responsorial Psalm exhorts us to "taste and see how good the Lord is" (Ps. 34.9). This is spiritual food we're talking about here. Food that delivers us from all our fears (v. 5). Food that makes our faces radiant with joy (v. 6). As in Elijah's case, God doesn't force-feed us. But he offers. We can refuse to try a taste of his blessings, but if we taste, we find that the Lord is, indeed, very good.

We find in the Second Reading that some of the good "food" we are offered consists of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (Eph. 4.32). When we refuse, Paul says, we grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30). Christ offered himself to purchase our freedom from bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, malice (v. 31) -- all fruits of fear. When we accept his spiritual feeding, we find fear gone and ourselves living in love. Our template to follow in trying to live in love, is Christ himself (ch. 5, v. 2) who first loved us.

John, in the Gospel Reading, quotes Jesus. "I am the living bread..." (John 6.41 & 51). When he was on earth, he offered physical bread as well. This "free lunch" drew the crowds. It was truly a free lunch and it included both physical and spiritual bread. Jesus explained that the spiritual bread he offered was a thing God was trying to teach us (v. 45), that whoever believes in the One sent by God would have eternal life (v. 47). But, true to form, Christ never forced the living bread on anyone. That would violate our free will. When God created us "a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:5) and gave us free will, he tied his own hands behind his back. He lets us reject him, as some did in the present passage (v. 42). But if we, of our own free will, accept the living bread, our souls are nourished and never again have to face spiritual hunger (vs. 48-50).

I'd say that's a pretty good deal for a Free Lunch!

Hope you're all having a good, filling week.
"Those who refuse the Living Bread say there's no such thing as a free lunch!"

Monday, July 27, 2009

RENEWsletter for August 2, 2009 - 18th Ordinary

Good morning renewed people--
Another week is ahead of us. How will we make it through? What can we expect from this next week? The readings for next Sunday give some guidance on how to make it through each day.

Sunday is the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (already?!), and the readings are found in your Bible in...

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
Ephesians 4:17 and 20-24
John 6:24-35

...and on the web at:

Appetite! The Israelites in the First Reading had appetites for the flesh pots of Egypt. They expected to die of famine in their next week or so in the desert. And they grumbled (Ex. 16.2, 3). So God sent them meat and bread (vs. 4, 12-15). But further along in the passage we find there was a caveat! In the desert heat, the quail went bad quickly. The manna too would be wormy and rotten by the next morning. Except on the Sabbath. Then it lasted two days, and there was none to gather anyway on the Sabbath. So their physical hunger was satisfied each day for 40 years, but if they had a hunger for security or for hoarding more than they needed for the day, they were out of luck.

The psalmist wrote a song about this and we have it for our Responsorial Psalm. It is a "maskil" (a psalm that teaches you something) of Asaph and it recites the long and miraculous history of the Hebrew people. There is a pattern which that history follows: Gracious act of God - Rebellion - Divine punishment - God's mercy and forgiveness. We have here the condensed version. We keep the story alive for our children (Ps. 78.3-4). God graciously provided manna in the desert (vs. 23-24). We had plenty of heavenly food to eat (v. 25). And God brought us to the promised land (v. 54).

Paul, in the Second Reading, urges us to put away this hunger for worldly things and instead accept renewal of our minds. The old way of life is corrupted by deceitful desires (Eph. 4.22). Worldly desires are deceitful, they are hungers that are never satisfied. It doesn't matter how much manna we collect, we'll only be able to use it one day. Then it rots. It's the same story when we try to satiate our worldly desires. It may work for awhile, but the good feeling doesn't last. It becomes wormy and rotten, and we're left empty and still hungry, and probably addicted! But in renewing the spirit of our minds, we put on a new self, appetite-free and satisfied (vs. 23-24).

Christ pointed this out, as related by John in the Gospel Reading. "Do not work for food that perishes" (John 6.27). In other words, we must not expend all our energy gathering things that do not last. Instead let us hunger for Jesus who is the "bread of life" (v. 35). If we partake of the life that he offers, we will never need to go find something else. Our appetite for meaning, direction, peace, and joy will be sated. Everlastingly.

So how will we make it through this week? What should we expect? With the living bread in our hearts (v. 33), we can expect satisfaction... and peace that defies understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Exciting, isn't it? :-)

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot take one day at a time say we're all gonna starve!"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RENEWsletter for July 26, 2009 - 17th Ordinary

Dear Renewed Folks--
Summer is the time for barbeques, and picnics, and outings and get-togethers of every sort. Often when friends gather, it's a pot luck where everybody brings something to share. Everyone shares and everyone eats their fill. And always there's a lot left over.

Speaking of sharing... speaking of leftovers... guess what the readings are about this time. You'll find the readings for next Sunday, the Seventeenth of the Numbered Sundays, on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

2 Kings 4.42-44
Psalm 145.10-11, 15-16, 17-18
Ephesians 4.1-6
John 6.1-15

The First Reading talks about a miraculous feeding of a large group of people. Elisha was the prophet who took over for Elijah, and his stories are some of the most interesting of the Old Testament. One of his specialties appears to be getting rid of poison (2 Kings 2.19-22 and 4.38-41). He provided a widow with an abundance of oil (ch. 4, vs. 1-7). In the present selection, over a hundred men are fed with a mere 20 loaves of bread (vs. 42, 43). Not only is that enough, there is some left over (v. 44)! Just as though it were a pot luck.

The Responsorial Psalm is especially appropriate to the theme of these readings. "The hand of the LORD feeds us; he answers all our needs" (Ps. 145.16). We learn to rely on God for our sustenance (v. 15). We feel his nearness when we call upon his name in supplication and in thanksgiving (v. 18).

The Second Reading uses words like unity, bond, one (Eph. 6.3,4). A feature I notice about the miraculous feedings is the fact that the people receiving the food were all together in one place. Blessings come when we gather together. While it is important to meditate on the Scriptures in the privacy of our own heart, it is also important to share in the common blessings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we comply with Paul's urging... if we live "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love" (v. 2), then it'll be nice living together with God, the Father of all (v. 6). I think God likes it when his children play nice together.

The Gospel Reading is the familiar story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. What brought these 5000+ people together was their desire to see more sick people healed (John 6.2). They had rushed on foot around the lake that Jesus and his disciples had traversed in a boat. They must have been exhausted. They most certainly were hungry. Being a teacher, Jesus began to educate by asking a question. "Where can we buy enough food for these people?" (v. 5). Philip did the math. "We'd need 200 days' wages just to buy enough for each to have a little snack" (v. 7). But there was one boy who offered his sack with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish (v. 9).

That was enough for Jesus to get to work. He had everybody sit down and started distributing the bread and fish (vs. 10, 11). And, lo and behold, there was enough for everyone with 12 baskets of scraps left over! (vs. 12, 13). Now maybe everyone had a loaf and a fish or two in their sack. Maybe they all decided to share what they had after the example of the little boy. But, you know what? I doubt that. These people left in a rush to get around the lake by the time Jesus put to shore. They didn't have time to pack a lunch.

But the point is, they came together to be near Jesus. He's been trying to get us all together for a long time. What stops us?

Some of the things that get in the way of coming together are fear, mistrust, pride, anger... even the need to pack a lunch, that is, make all kinds of preparations till the moment passes. Sometimes even when we do unite, we do so because of the threat of a perceived common enemy. But remember, Paul admonishes, "I ... urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love..." (Eph. 4.1, 2).

Humility, gentleness, patience, love... the opposites of the things that keep us apart. Where do we get these things? Well, where do we get the loaves and the fishes we need to survive? They come from the Father above, because he loves his children and earnestly desires to see us all play nice together.

It's easy to play nice with folks who are like us and with whom we have a lot in common. It's harder when the other players are different. That's when suspicion enters in and breeds mistrust, misunderstanding, fear. But if we try to look at it from God's perspective we can see the commonality. We are ALL his creation. We ALL have needs and hopes and fond desires. Somebody has to start playing nice. Let it be us.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot trust say the other guy is bad!"

Monday, July 13, 2009

RENEWsletter for July 19, 2009 - 16th Ordinary

Dear Renewers--
Good shepherd, bad shepherd. There are examples of each... In the Bible. In the newspaper. In our own memories of our lives. We'll look at a few passages that discuss both varieties of shepherd in this coming Sunday's readings. When our shepherds are bad, we suffer from fear which will trigger the "Fight or Flight Syndrome" and foster violence, anger, apathy, depression. When we have a good shepherd, we experience peace which fosters confidence, tranquility, trust, joy.

The readings for this, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Jeremiah 23.1-6
Psalm 23.1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Ephesians 2.13-18
Mark 6.30-34

Yes, there are good shepherds and bad shepherds. Jeremiah, in the First Reading, warns those bad shepherds who "mislead and scatter" the Lord's flock that the LORD himself will intervene (Jer. 23.1, 2). He'll punish the evil shepherd and will appoint others to shepherd his flock. These others will gather all the lost sheep from all over the world and bring them back to their fold. There we, the sheep of the Lord's flock, will no longer fear and tremble (v. 4). Jesus, the root of Jesse, the righteous shoot of David (v. 5), is our Good Shepherd. Under his care and watchful eye we dwell in spiritual safety (v. 6).

The Responsorial Psalm is prob'ly the most quoted passage in the entire Bible: "The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing more that I need" (Ps. 23.1) It paints a beautiful picture of what life is like under the personal care and attention of a good shepherd. A key point here is in verse 4: "Even though I walk through the dark valley, I will fear no harm." When the Shepherd is the LORD, there is no fear to trigger any negative syndromes or negative emotions. And it will never end (v. 6).

Paul, in the Second Reading, talks about how Christ brings those of us who were once "far off" near to God by his blood (Eph. 2.13). He's talking about the Jews and the Gentiles, how the Gospel message brought both heritages together into one fold. Some side effects of this coming near to the Good Shepherd are: peace, unity, and ready access to the Spirit (vs 14, 16, 18). We are changed into new people by coming near. It beats the socks off being lost and alone... and fearful!

Jesus, in the Gospel Reading, demonstrates his role of Good Shepherd. The disciples were exhausted. They needed a vacation. Just a few days respite from the constant healing and teaching. Just a chance to sit down to a meal without an interruption. Jesus suggested they all take a boat across the lake and put to shore somewhere deserted (Mark 6.31). It was a good plan, but it didn't work. The throngs of people got wind of where they were headed and beat them there (v. 33). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was moved with pity, found new strength from somewhere, and graciously taught them many things (v. 34). A good shepherd's work is never done.

We are human, we get tired, we lose heart. When we are in this state we are more susceptible to the vile things that fear can stir up within us. But the Good Shepherd always has time for us. To meet our needs, to give us rest in green pastures, to lead us beside still waters, and to restore our souls. He does a better job at that than any vacation ever could.

So take heart, our Good Shepherd will ensure that our souls will dwell in peace.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot relax say something could go wrong at any time!"