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!"