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!"