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!"