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!"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

RENEWsletter of July 12, 2009 - 15th Ordinary

Hello blessed friends--
Every time I receive a blessing from the Lord, I marvel a little bit that he should be so nice to me. And then recently an obscure Scripture passage was pointed out to me. It's called the "Prayer of Jabez". Buried in the middle of a long, boring genealogy, it mentions a man named Jabez who was "more honorable than his brothers". In 1 Chronicles 4.10 his prayer is recorded. "Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: 'Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! Help me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!' And God granted his prayer".

Did God grant his request for blessing because he was honorable? Well, in my own case I can't see that blessing is ever a reward for good behavior. Blessings are there for the asking for anyone and everyone. But God doesn't force them on us. He respects our ownership of our own minds. But when we ask for a blessing, he's there with an abundance of them. Incredibly more than we could ever imagine or even dream of (Ephesians 3.20).

Next Sunday, the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the readings are about being chosen to receive blessings from the hand of God. They are found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Amos 7.12-15
Psalm 85.9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Ephesians 1.3-14
Mark 6.7-13

In the First Reading, we see the prophet-without-portfolio, Amos, being confronted by Amaziah, the high priest of the temple at Bethel: "Get out of here, you hayseed! This is the King you're bad-mouthing. Go back to your farm." (Amos 7.12-13.) But, see, Amos didn't answer to the priest. He had raised his hand when God said, "Who will go to my people Israel and warn them about my impending judgment?" Why did he do that? Why did he volunteer? Well, he may have known about the Prayer of Jabez. Anyway, he asked God to bless him, and God chose him for blessing, and "extended his boundaries". Today, we still remember that shepherd and fig-dresser Amos! (vs. 14-15).

The Responsorial Psalm is a straight-up request to see the Lord's kindness and be granted his salvation (Ps. 85.8). You know, there is no "limited seating available" in heaven, and the tickets are free and without any "while supplies last" clause. God proclaims peace in this psalm (v. 9). He promises that "kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss, truth will spring out of the earth and justice will look down from heaven" (vs. 11, 12). The LORD himself will be handing out his blessings (v. 13). We have all been chosen to receive salvation, all we have to do is accept it.

Paul in the Second Reading talks about being chosen "before the foundation of the world", to receive every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1.4). Take a look at v. 13: "In him you also, who ... have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit...". The Holy Spirit, I don't think anyone would argue, is truly a blessing indeed. Everyone, through Christ's sacrifice, has been chosen by God to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit. And that is just the "first installment" of the richly blessed life God has prepared for us (v. 14)! Blessings are plentiful, it's just that quite a few of those "prizes" have gone unclaimed.

You remember from last week's Gospel Reading, what happened in Nazareth when Jesus swung through his home town. He met with a lack of belief and wasn't able to do much healing (Mark 6.5). This week Mark relates how, immediately after that, Jesus chose Twelve to go out two-by-two to heal and cast out demons (v. 7). Do you suppose they were more successful in Nazareth than Jesus was? Don't know... maybe not. After all, they were healing and casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Well, the point is, healing is available and it's guaranteed. But Jesus never forces anyone to accept it.

Oh, and do you think the two-by-two program was limited to just those twelve? Maybe that's all who chose to accept the call, at that time. But it hasn't been limited to twelve since then. Look at St. Paul, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Pope John-Paul II, and uncounted others, recognized as saints and unrecognized, except as members of the sainthood of believers (see 1 Corinthians 1.2). These made themselves available to do God's work and spread healing and the good news of salvation.

How about me? Can I get in on that? Can I pray the Prayer of Jabez? I may be a hayseed like Amos was, but I would like all the blessings God can afford. And I know he can afford a lot!

Have a blessed week, folks!

Randy Jones
"Those who ignore the call say the blessings are lmited!"