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!"