Tuesday, August 17, 2010

RENEWsletter for August 22, 2010 - 21st

Dear Renewed People--
The readings this week will shake some of us up, but others of us will be comforted. For "narrow is the gate", and few will find it. The rest will be wailing and gnashing their teeth. Why? Because no one told them the way? Because they were tricked in to believing something false? No. Because they thought they knew better than God and considered the restrictions on entrance into Heaven as too... well, restrictive. They lobbied for looser criteria. But the border guards at the boundaries of Heaven are unerring in their accuracy. NO ONE gets in except by Narrow Gate!

This is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can read the following on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/082210.shtml, or in your Bible in:

Isaiah 66.18-21
Psalm 117.1, 2 (with Mark 16.15 as the response)
Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13
Luke 13.22-30

The First Reading has some very far-reaching implications. The references to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan (Is. 66.19) give the impression of far distant and very foreign lands. God will send "fugitives" or missionaries to those places and win converts. The missionaries will bring the converts to "Jerusalem, my holy mountain" (v. 20). I take this to mean these far-flung people will learn of God and be brought into his Family. That is the unique thing about Judaism... the God of Israel is not just a tribal God. He is God of all nations and every language. He hears and understands prayers made in Hebrew, English, Greek, Arabic, Farsi, Thai, Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese... Wycliffe Bible Translators has figures on the number of spoken languages on this planet. There are upwards of 5000 last time I checked. And God is fluent in every one of them!

The Responsorial Psalm is a short one, only two verses. But it embodies the underlying message in the other three readings. The Lord's love for us is strong and he's forever faithful (Ps 117.2). And not just to us, but to all nations! (v. 1).

But is this gathering at the holy mountain of the Lord going to be just a big party where everybody can bring their own beliefs? their own baggage? their own gods? No. The Second Reading tells us that whom the Lord loves, he chastens (Heb. 12.6). We are exhorted by the writer of Hebrews not to treat the Lord's discipline lightly. That is, we must learn from it (v. 7). We must learn that there is One God who allows no other gods in the hearts of his children. This chastening may seem painful to bear at the time it is being administered (v. 11), but God knows what he's doing, and he doesn't inflict us with anything that he didn't already inflict upon his own Son. Therefore, "Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees!" (v. 12). Physical therapy is good for an injured muscle... spiritual therapy is good for an injured soul.

And, according to the Gospel Reading, we dare not dilly-dally! The door to the Lord's holy mountain won't stay open forever, and even while it's open, it's narrow. We're not going to wander into God's house by accident. Jesus says, "Strive to enter in at the narrow gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." (Luke 13.24). Then there will come a time when the door is closed. It'll be too late then. People will knock and it won't be opened, because the Master will say, "I don't know who you are. Go away!" (v. 27).

So, yes, God invites all people to his house. He offers to personally make us worthy to enter into his presence. And we must RSVP by the deadline. But when is the deadline? No one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24.42). It'll sneak up on you like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3.10). No one knows the Day of the Lord, but NOW is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6.2). The good news is, once you're inside, you'll never be kicked out, no matter what (John 10.28).

So why wait? Introduce yourself to God now and be sure he knows who you are. Come to the mountain of the Lord and start getting better acquainted. And have a great week! :-)

Randy Jones
Those who cannot take discipline say the rules are bad!

Monday, August 9, 2010

RENEWsletter for August 15, 2010 - Assumption of Mary

Hi, folks--
Every year on August 15, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. Many people, I’ve discovered, think of Mary's Assumption in terms of Jesus's Ascension, where he was taken living into Heaven. However, it is recorded that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles between 3 and 15 years after the Ascension. It was about 400 years after that, according to John Damascene (St. John of Damascus), that the Emperor Marcian desired to possess the body of the Blessed Mother and sought out her tomb. When the tomb was opened, it was found to be empty. God had invited Mary to the Resurrection early, before the rest of us living and dead join them.

The readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are found on the web at:
http://www.usccb.org/nab/081510a.shtml and in your Bible at:

Revelation 11.19a; 12.1-6a, 10ab (It won't hurt to read through from 11.19 to 12.10)
Psalm 45.10, 11, 12, 16
1 Corinthians 15.20-27
Luke 1.39-56

The First Reading would make little sense without our knowledge of Mary. A glorious woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, a twelve-star crown on her head is about to give birth (Rev 12.1). A terrible monster awaits the birth to destroy the babe, but God intervenes when the Lady gives birth to a son, and saves the child (vs. 12.4-5). Later, this very Son conquers the monster (v. 10). When this passage is read with Mary and her Son Jesus in mind, it makes perfect sense.

The Responsorial Psalm is a love song, a "nuptial ode for the messianic king". The Queen stands at the right hand of God (Ps 45.10). She is to be wed to the Messiah. Tradition holds that this refers to the Bride of Christ, or us, the Church. Thus we take part in the royal feast and become part of the Heavenly Family of God.

The Second Reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians paints a picture of this Wedding Feast. Christ at last will "put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15.25), and the last enemy to be destroyed is Death itself (v. 26). When that happens our life together with God begins, and it will not be "till death do us part". No, it will be forever!

The Gospel Reading is filled with familiar words. Mary, with the Messiah Child already being knit together in her womb, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is also with child, a little farther along. Because Elizabeth's son starts dancing in her womb when Elizabeth hears Mary's voice, she knows that a very special event is coming. "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" she sings (Luke 1.42). It's all becoming clear now to Mary and she sings her timeless hymn. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed" (vs. 46-48).

We do indeed call Mary blessed, and have for these countless generations; and will for all generations to come. She is a type of God's love. A lowly handmaiden raised to the level of Queen of Heaven, not through her own merit, but through God's favor. Through this same favor and mercy of God, we too, who have put our faith in Christ, will be raised to the level of "relatives of the Boss", that is members of the Holy Family, brothers and sisters of Christ himself, heirs of the Living God.

With a perspective on the future like that, how can anything on this earth shake our faith? If things get tense or scary this week, remember what it says in the Bible.... "And it came to pass..." It didn't come to stay -- it came to pass!

Randy Jones
Those who cannot look ahead say the enemy is gaining on us!

Monday, August 2, 2010

RENEWsletter for August 8, 2010 - 19th

Dear Friends of Renewal--
The theme this time seems to be one of choices and promises. God has made a choice. He has chosen us. We can respond by choosing him... or not. By faith we can believe that God will keep his promise, or we can choose to doubt. Sometimes it’s a tough choice to keep believing. But it couldn’t be much tougher than it was for Abraham. He’d been promised that his descendents would become a multitude, yet Sarah had reached and passed menopause, and when she did conceive and bear Isaac, God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. Start all over again? At Abraham’s age? That was a very tough choice.

The readings for this coming Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found on the Web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/080810.shtml, and are in your Bible in:

Wisdom 18.6-9
Psalm 33.1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11.1-2, 8-19
Luke 12.32-48

The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks of God summoning his people through the Passover (Wis 18.8). They responded by following the instructions for being spared the loss of their firstborn. Even in one captivity after another some continued choosing to follow God's instructions. In secret they were offering sacrifices and keeping the law (v. 9), waiting for the salvation of the just (v. 7).

In spite of the hardships and setbacks those Hebrews faced and endured, the psalmist of the Responsorial Psalm still can sing, "Blessed are the people the Lord has chosen to be his own" (Ps. 33.12). These chosen people of God have put their hope in the LORD (vs. 18, 22). And he delivers them from death and famine (v. 19), helping and shielding them (v. 20).

The Second Reading from Hebrews carries this idea a little deeper. God chose Abraham to make a promise to (Heb 11.9). But Abraham had the choice of obeying God to claim the promise. And to obey, guess what Abraham had to have. Faith (vs. 8, 9, 11, 13, 17)! He had to believe in order to receive God's promise. Does this mean we have to earn our salvation? No, God chose us first. (See John 15.16.) But it means we have to believe. Believe that God will keep his promise, choose to obey his word, have faith.

The Gospel Reading in Luke makes this concept plain. Jesus says, "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (v. 32). There's the promise. What do we have to do? Obediently collect treasures in heaven (v. 33). And how do we do that? By making sure our heart is in the right place (v. 34). In other words, by having faith.

But faith falters, obliterating obedience, precluding promises. What if we're not ready when the "bridegroom" returns, or when the "thief" comes? Well, that's why Jesus came. He was perfectly obedient, had perfect faith, and God kept his promise and raised him from the dead. Because of Jesus' obedience, we are healed of our faithlessness, we are washed of our disobedience, and we become beneficiaries of the promise of eternal life.

A good way to stay close to God and ready for his coming is to talk with him every day. Here's an easily memorizable pattern for prayer based on the first letters of the days of the week. See what you think of this....

Monday: pray for Ministries and Missionaries
Tuesday: pray for people in Trouble
Wednesday: just Worship God
Thursday: give Thanks for all your blessings
Friday: pray for Family and Friends
Saturday: pray for the Sick and Sinners
Sunday: pray for yourSelf

Of course, urgent needs get prayer anytime regardless of what letter the day starts with! But remember, God is unbounded by time. He forgave all our sins 2000 years ago, and we hadn't yet committed our first one! He can answer prayers in arrears as easily. So pray, even when it's "too late." If you forget or miss a day, don't worry... what day is it? Pray for the corresponding item. Keep doing it. Pretty soon it'll become habitual.

Randy Jones
Those who cannot believe say the promise is bad!

Monday, July 26, 2010

RENEWsletter for August 1, 2010 - 18th

Hi, all--
The transitory nature of life and wealth wasn't lost on the writer of Ecclesiastes. And over the past few years here in Silicon Valley, it hasn't been lost on us, either. How many fortunes were lost in the "Dot Com" bust? How many lives are lost in senseless violence? How many hopes are ruined by disease, downsizing, and death? I guess there really is "nothing new under the sun!" (Ecclesiastes 1.9). But there's an alternative to putting all one's hopes and bets on earthly stuff...

This coming Sunday is the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the readings can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/080110.shtml, and in your Bible in:

Ecclesiastes 1.2; 2.21-23
Psalm 90.3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17 with v. 1 as the response
Colossians 3.1-5, 9-11
Luke 12.13-21

In the First Reading, Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, has a dim view of life: "All things are vanity!" (Eccl 1.2). He laments that though we labor all our lives to build up a good, sound retirement, it is gone in an afternoon, like a vapor in the hot sun (ch. 2, v. 21). (The word translated "vanity" means "breath" or "vapor".) There are many people in the world, in this country, indeed right here in our own Parish, who have watched their retirement dwindle alarmingly. Gone in an afternoon? Some fortunes disappeared with the click of a mouse button! Have you ever lost any sleep worrying about the future... or the morrow? (v. 23). I have! Tell me about vanity!

The Responsorial Psalm gives God's perspective on the days and treasures of this world. A thousand years to the Lord are as but yesterday (Ps 90.4). This psalm was written as a general communal lament... perhaps after the stock market of 1000 BC crashed? Or invading hoards carried off all the brokers? The point is, there is nothing new under the sun. We need to learn to "number our days aright" (v. 12) to keep things in perspective. And "if today you hear his voice, harden not your heart" (v. 1). We may not hear his voice tomorrow.

Paul in the Second Reading admonishes believers to adopt a different perspective on wealth. Wealth is fine, but we should be thinking about what is above, not how our portfolio is doing (Col. 3.2). Our energy should be expended doing God's work. And what is God's work? It's our attitude, our perspective, our behavior when we've taken off the old self and put on the New Self (v. 9-10). In other words, when we've died to the old perspectives and risen to a new life in Christ. This can be very hard to do sometimes, and we might tend to rationalize saying "Well, the Lord helps those who help themselves!" But there's no reference in the Bible for that quote... we've made that up ourselves. In point of fact, God helps those who are helpless! See, Matthew 11.28, Proverbs 28.26.

Jesus, as recorded by Luke in the Gospel Reading, also dealt with retirement issues. Someone came to Jesus because he thought his brother was cheating him out of part of his inheritance, and he wanted Jesus to step in. (You suppose that guy's brother was the "prodigal son"?) Jesus dodged that issue by saying it wasn't up to him to arbitrate that kind of dispute (Luke 12.14). Instead he gave an illustration of God's perspective on inheritance. And what is God's perspective? God snorts and says, "You fool! Tonight your life will be required of you. And who will spend your retirement then?" (v. 20).

"Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God" (v. 21). If you are "rich in what matters to God" it won't matter if you have a good retirement or not. It becomes immaterial. And what are the things that matter to God? Go back and read the Colossians passage again. And remember, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16.26).

We can trust God this week -- and the rest of our lives -- to take care of us. So let's try to view things from an eternal perspective. But if we can't, we don't need to worry about that either! God does take care of us, even past the time our lives will be required of us.

Randy Jones
Those who cannot see past the end of their nose fear they’re going to bump into something!

Monday, July 19, 2010

RENEWsletter for July 25, 2010 - 17th Ordinary

Hello Renewers--
Well, the summer is flying by. Can it be the end of July already? Everyone has been flying away on this vacation or that visit. Relatives are coming and going. And many relatives will be arriving next month to attend Sally’s and my wedding in a little over 3 weeks. Then we’ll be floating away on a cruise up the Alaskan coast for our honeymoon! The sun is shining, the land is green, the sky is blue. I imagine the sun was shining when Abraham encountered the messengers of God on their way to find out what was going on in Sodom. So let's be on our way to find out what’s going on in the readings this week.

The readings for this Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are found on the web at http://www.usccb.org/nab/072510.shtml and in your Bible at:

Genesis 18.20-32
Psalm 138.1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
Colossians 2.12-14
Luke 11.1-13

The First Reading is the famous story of when Abraham bargained with God. The Lord was off to judge Sodom, and Abraham knew full well what the people there were like. His nephew, Lot, lived there, so he must have got regular reports of debauchery, crime, alcohol, drugs., prostitution, violence of all sorts... Abraham knew what the Lord would find. And so he persistently pleaded with the Lord to spare the whole city for the sake of a few. Fewer and fewer and fewer! You notice, God didn't complain or whine or even roll his eyeballs (Gen 18.26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32). His beloved Abraham was asking for a "fish", and he wasn't about to give him a "serpent".

This is a good segue into the Gospel Reading, so we'll take the readings out of order this time. Luke gives us first the small economy model Lord's Prayer (Luke 11.2-4) then illustrates that it isn't wordiness or eloquence or cleverness that moves the Lord, but persistence. What father would deny his son when he asks for food? What God would deny his children when they ask for help? (v. 13)

And that is a good segue into the Responsorial Psalm which fits in with the theme of God's love and patience with his children. When has there been a day when you called on the name of the Lord for help, and he didn't answer? "When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me" (Ps 138.3).

I can envision a scene in heaven where Jesus is pleading with his Father to spare the world. "What if there are 50 righteous people on earth?" says Jesus.

"I will not destroy the earth for the sake of 50 righteous," the Father responds.

"What if there are only 10 righteous?" Jesus persists.

"I will not destroy it for the sake of the 10," the Father concedes.

"What if there is only 1 righteous person on earth?"

"I will not destroy it for the sake of one righteous person, but you know what? 'There is none righteous, no, not one!' (Romans 3.10)"

"Then I will be that righteous person!" said Jesus and he humbled himself to take on human flesh.

And what of today? Christ has lived, died, was buried, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Why is not the earth destroyed now? Perhaps a clue is in the Second Reading. "You were buried with him in baptism... and he brought you to life... having forgiven us all our transgressions..." (Col 2.12-13). We are the righteous, through the work of Jesus Christ, for whose sake the world is not destroyed. We are the 10 righteous people in Sodom... not righteous because of anything we have done, but only through the work of Christ on the Cross.

All our transgressions are continually forgiven by God the Father. We are answered when we call upon the Lord. Because of Christ, the world is not destroyed. There's still time to reach our lost, unrighteous neighbor with the Good News of God's love for them. Think of this each time you recite the Lord's Prayer...

And have a great week.

Randy Jones
"Those who do not care say, Go ahead and destroy them!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

RENEWsletter for July 18, 2010 - 16th Ordinary

Hi, all--
"Preparation" seems to be one of the threads of a theme that stitches these passages together. In each case there is a result that brings the one being prepared closer to God. The Navajos have a concept called hozhoh: beauty, harmony, and the interconnectedness of the natural world. A person who experiences hozhoh walks in beauty with nature, their fellowman, and reality in general. Christians sometimes describe this state as the "peace that passes understanding".

This is the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the readings can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/071810.shtml, and in your Bible in:

Genesis 18.1-10a
Psalm 15.2-3, 3-4, 5
Colossians 1.24-28
Luke 10.38-42

In the First Reading, we find Abraham hurrying to prepare a meal for some visiting angels. These guys appeared as the day was beginning to get hot. That's why Abraham was sitting outside his tent under the terebinth tree. He was trying to keep cool (Gen 18.1). What's a terebinth tree? Maybe it was like an oak, because Mamre, where this story takes place, was famous for its oaks. Anyway, Abraham somehow knew that these three were sent from God, and so he went out of his way to feed them. And kept Sarah in the hot tent baking bread for them, too! But for their trouble they got the incredible news that elderly Sarah would get pregnant and bear a son (v. 10). More than anything, Abraham and Sarah wanted this. Peace descended on them and they experienced hozhoh.

The psalmist speaks of another kind of preparation in the Responsorial Psalm. If we do justice (Ps. 15.1) we will live in the presence of the Lord. Read the list of things the person needs to do to feel comfortable in the presence of the Living God (vs. 2-5). Some of the items on the list are easy, like not accepting bribes. Some might be a little harder, like thinking truth in one’s heart. But for your trouble you'll get to be comfortable hanging out with the Lord, and experience hozhoh.

In the Second Reading, we find Paul diligently preparing the body of Christ (the church... us!) to be wise and perfect in Christ (Col. 1.28). Perfect? Us? Yes! It is truly a mystery, but through Christ's work, we have hope of glory (v. 27) and all the rich spiritual benefits that go with that. Paul was a diligent steward, ministering to Jew and Gentile alike, striving to bring to fruition the mystery of God's love for his church. For his trouble he gets all the persecution, suffering, and affliction that there wasn't time to inflict on Christ himself. And he rejoices in it (v. 24) because it brings hozhoh!

In the Gospel Reading we find Martha in a flurry of activity trying to prepare and serve a meal to her guests all by herself. Can't you just see her, getting more and more exasperated as pots start to boil over, things fall to the floor, the table remains unset, and Mary, bless her thoughtless heart, just sits there at Jesus's feet (Luke 10.39), totally oblivious of what needs to be done. Martha finally can't stand it anymore and goes straight to Jesus. "Mary has left me to do all this work by myself," she expostulates (v. 40). "Can you please tell her to help? She won't listen to me!" For her trouble she gets a mild, loving rebuke from the Lord (vs. 41-42). Sometimes it's better to just sit and listen than to get all the trappings right and on time. Mary had found hozhoh.

Let’s try to keep in mind this week to daily prepare ourselves to live in the presence of the Lord, to hear him when he speaks to us through his Word, through the natural world, and through the Holy Spirit communing directly with our hearts. May we all live in harmony, walk in beauty, and know hozhoh.

Randy Jones
"Those who are unprepared say there is no harmony!"

Monday, July 5, 2010

RENEWsletter for July 11, 2010 - 15th Ordinary

Hi, all--
What do we have to do to inherit eternal life? Is it like the Twelve labors of Hercules? A dozen tasks so difficult only a super-human could accomplish them? Is it like Atlas who had to hold up the heavens on his shoulders forever? Or maybe it’s more like passing the Bar Exam…? Or getting your driver’s license. Nope. Nothing like any of those. Read on…

The readings for this coming Sunday, the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, are:

Deuteronomy 30.10-14
Psalm 69.14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 or Psalm 19.8, 9, 10, 11
Colossians 1.15-20
Luke 10.25-37
You can find them on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/071110.shtml.

The First Reading is one I love from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. God's commandments are not too mysterious for us (Deut. 30.11), they're not up in the sky (v. 12), and they're not across the sea (v. 13). They're within our own hearts (v. 14). Ancient mythology often sounds so remote and silly we can’t believe people as smart as the Greeks believed in it. The rituals of Tai Chi, or the claims of Scientology, or even some of the traditions of our own Church may at times make little sense. But the commandment of the Lord -- to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6.5, and Luke 10.27), and to love your neighbor as yourself -- is NOT hard to understand. It may be hard to put into practice, but it certainly isn't hard to understand.

The psalmist expresses the practical side of being close to God in the first Responsorial Psalm option. "Turn to the LORD in your need, and you will live" (Ps. 69.33). God loves us with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength as well! And in the second optional Psalm, expands on the practicality of God’s precepts. They refresh the soul and give wisdom (Ps. 19.8). They make the heart rejoice and enlighten the mind (v. 9). They endure forever and are true and just (v. 10). They are more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey (v. 11).

For Paul in the Second Reading, understanding God is possible through his son. Jesus is the spittin' image of God (Col 1.15). When we look at him, we see God! Everything on earth or in heaven, visible or invisible, was created by Jesus, and for Jesus (v. 16). The image of God is therefore right within us as we are part of creation (v. 20). And within our neighbor.

And who is our neighbor? As Luke relates in the Gospel Reading, the one who needs our help is our neighbor (Luke 10.29ff). Our neighbor may not look like us. May not practice our religion. May speak a language we don't understand. But no matter how different from us he or she may appear, it is the image of God we're looking at. God so loved the world, us and our neighbors, that he gave his only son... (John 3.16). How much will we give?

So, as Jesus told the lawyer, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, and you will live” (v. 28). Then he said, “Do as the one who treats his fellow man with mercy” (v. 37). And there we have the answer to the question, “What what do we have to do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25).

Have a good week.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot help say the situation is bad!"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

RENEWsletter for July 4, 2010 -14th Ordinary

Dear Renewers--
The readings for next Sunday speak to me of the Best that is yet to come. This is my mother's motto. It gives one hope for the future. Before we turn to the readings, look up Jeremiah 29:11 -- "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD , "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future". Keep this verse in mind.

The readings for this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time are found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/070410.shtml, and in your Bible at:

Isaiah 66.10-14c
Psalm 66.1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
Galatians 6.14-18
Luke 10.1-12, 17-20

The First Reading opens with the Jews in exile and Jerusalem almost deserted. It's not a happy place. But Isaiah brings the Word of the Lord which urges rejoicing. "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her. Exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her!" (Is. 66.12). Jerusalem is a symbol of God's people. In this present day, I see the Church, the Body of Christ, as the Lord's people, and so count myself among those who love "Jerusalem". The message of this passage is that things will get better. The Lord has promised. See v. 13: "As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort." The Best is yet to come!

The Responsorial Psalm expresses this confidence that by the Lord's hands, tremendous deeds are done (Ps 66.3, 5). God rules by his might forever (v. 7), past, present, and most importantly, future. The mighty works of God in the past convince us that the Best is yet to come.

The Second Reading is from Paul's letter to the Galatians. The Galatian Christians were mostly Gentiles and were confused by some of the Judahizers' teachings that they must conform to Mosaic Law in order to be saved. Paul refutes this with passion and conviction. Circumcism means nothing, uncircumcision means nothing (Gal. 6.15). Only the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is necessary (v. 14). Now Paul suffered some kind of ailment. In v. 17 he calls it "the marks of Jesus on my body". Yet, back to v. 15 again, the only thing that means anything, is the "new creation" that people become when they put their trust in Jesus. Paul was sustained by his belief that the Best is yet to come.

The Gospel Reading also confirms that for us who follow Jesus, the Best is yet to come. Luke relates how Jesus, in order to reach more people sent out a number of his more dedicated disciples two by two to cover the territory. He endowed them with power to perform miracles. When they returned they were bubbling over with awesome tales of blessings and healings and other miracles. Then Jesus reiterated his promise that nothing would stand in their way or harm them (Luke 10.19), but he also promised something else. Look at v. 20. "Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven." You see, even for the most victorious followers of Christ, the very Best is yet to come!

Sometimes we feel stuck in a gloomy room full of spiders, fearful, cowering because of the bad things happening. But if we open the blinds and look out, if we open the door and step out onto the porch, if we walk out into the bright sunlight through the green grass under the blue sky, things look less scary. But you know what? There are more spiders outside than there are inside. It's attitude that makes the difference. Keep looking up. The BEST is yet to come!

Randy Jones
"Those who count the spiders say the future is bad!"

Monday, June 21, 2010

RENEWsletter for June 26, 2010 - 13th Ordinary

Hi, folks--
Well, these readings are a little hard to understand... the First Reading is the story of how two dozen oxen are slaughtered and cooked with the wood of one plow. The Second Reading talks about how we should be careful not to consume each other the way we go on biting and devouring one another? And the Gospel has Jesus uttering some arcane things about dead people burying themselves..

Well, it's in the Bible, so it must be profitable for teaching, or reproof, or admonition, or growth (2 Timothy 3.16)... or maybe all of the above. The Holy Spirit is involved when we read God's word. So let's read prayerfully, asking the Lord to reveal to our spirits what he has for us in these words.

Sunday is the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are available on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/062710.shtml, and in the Bible at:

1 Kings 19.16b, 19-21
Psalm 16.1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Galatians 5.1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62

The First Reading is the story of the call of Elisha. Elisha is plowing a field with a team of 12 yoke of oxen (1 Kings 19.19). Now that must have been some very hard-packed sod, or Elisha had one humongous plow, because 24 oxen will generate one heck of a lot of power. Elijah the prophet (with a "j"), had been listening to God and he knew that Elisha (with an "sh") was to be his successor (v. 16). When he caught up with Elisha in the field, he didn't say anything. He just threw his cloak over Elisha's shoulders (v. 19 again). Now Elisha knew what that meant. His first response was, "Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye and I will follow you"; Elijah, enigmatically, says "Forget it! I don't need you!" (v. 20). But wait! Elisha did wind up succeeding Elijah. What gives?

Well, Elisha did more than just kiss his father and mother goodbye. He slaughtered those 24 oxen and cooked them in a fire made from the wood of his plowing equipment (it must have been an industrial-sized plow... and then there were all those yokes too) (v. 21). If the oxen were slaughtered, they wouldn't have to be cared for or fed any more. And if the field remained fallow, the meat of the oxen would sustain Elisha's people. So the delay in following Elijah was not for Elisha's personal benefit... it was for the benefit of those he was to leave behind. This might be significant. Let's read on...

The Responsorial Psalm was written by King David (Ps. 16.1), so it was around when Elisha was called. He could have taken assurance in the words of this song. "Lord, you keep me safe, no matter what happens" (v. 5) "I can sleep at night because you protect me" (vs. 7, 8) The call of the Lord is a call that touches body, soul, and spirit (v. 9). Following that call brings joy in life (v. 11).

The Second Reading talks about how dangerous it is to go on biting and devouring one another (Gal. 5.15). St. Paul has some serious problems with the way those Galatians were treating each other. He had preached freedom to these folks knowing that they were inclined to enslave themselves to one doctrine or another (v. 1). But, oh boy, they learned the lesson a little too well (v. 13). They must have been feeling free to castigate one another, because Paul had to slap them down and remind them that their freedom was not an opportunity to satisfy their fleshly desires and appetites. He instead told them they needed to use their freedom to serve one another (v. 13 again)! He may have been drawing on the philosophy of Plato a little, warning of the dangers involved in the flesh (v. 17). The Holy Spirit of God is to be the Guide for behavior (v. 18).

The Gospel Reading from Luke reports on Jesus uttering some hard sayings to an assortment of people he encountered. First of all, we have the people of a Samaritan village barring him from staying there because he was journeying to Jerusalem (Luke 9. 53). The disciples wondered if they should call down fire from heaven on these Samaritan infidels (v. 54). Jesus's answer, surprisingly, was to move on and let them be (v. 55). He had the freedom to let it go.

Then we have 3 examples of the Call of God. The first one said he was ready to follow Jesus. Jesus warned him that he'd be giving up the comforts of a place to live and spend the rest of his days on the road (vs. 57-58). The second claimed he had some duties to fulfill before he could follow Jesus. Jesus told him essentially that those duties were only important to him. Others could take care of them (vs. 59-60). The third, again, claimed all he needed to do was to say goodbye to his family, and Jesus brought up that plow analogy. If you look back, you're going to plow a crooked furrow (vs. 61-62). These guys all needed to satisfy their own needs before they could follow... unlike Elisha who made sure the people who depended on him were taken care of.

What I get out of all these passages is that it is awful easy to assign too much importance to the everyday duties, possessions, and "necessities" of this world. It is the "yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5.1). But in our freedom, we need to be guided by the commandment to love our neighbor. And to follow God's call to the ends of the Earth!

Mahatma Ghandi once said, "I like your Christ. I don't like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ." I wonder what made him say that?

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot be truly free say the yoke is heavy!"

Monday, June 14, 2010

RENEWsletter for June 20, 2010 - 12th Ordinary

Dear Renewed Friends--
Next Sunday is Father's Day. I remember my old dad who passed away about this time of year several years ago. So there's some sadness to this day for me, but I know Dad is up there in Heaven, no doubt banging away on the ivories of a celestial piano and jazzing up some old hymns with the angels singing along. So there's some rejoicing too in God's loving plan for us all.

The readings for this Sunday, the Twelfth Sunday of the Numbered Sundays, give an insight into what the fountains of God's love can accomplish. These readings are available at http://www.usccb.org/nab/062010.shtml on the web, and in your Bible at:

Zechariah 12.10-11, 13.1
Psalm 63.2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Galatians 3.26-29
Luke 9.18-24

The First Reading describes a scene of mourning. Zechariah has foreseen a day when the inhabitants of Jerusalem are devastated by the tragedy of their self-inflicted loss. They have pierced one whom they later realize was as a firstborn son to them (Zech. 12.10). The reference to the mourning of Hadadrimmon at Megiddo (v. 11) is obscure. Hadad and Rimmon are two names for the Syrian god of storms, or combined into one word could be the name of the place near Megiddo where King Josiah was killed. Megiddo was a fortified city on the main pass in the Carmel mountain range on the coastal trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Whatever it means, to the Israelites it painted a picture of pitiful, remorseful mourning.

How unbearable it is when we suffer irreparable loss at our own hand! Yet the LORD says he will "pour out... a spirit of grace and petition" (v. 10), grace to accept the loss, and encouragement to petition the LORD for hope and strength to move through it. Not only that, but he supplies "a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness" (Zech. 13.1). He is eminently capable of turning our "mourning into dancing" (Psalm 30.11).

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist thirsts for God the way a parched desert, lifeless and dry, thirsts for water (Ps 63.2). His thirst is quenched: "As with the riches of a banquet, shall my soul be satisfied" (v. 6).

In the Second Reading, Paul speaks of our baptism in Christ which has lifted us up above the differences among us that the world sees and gets hung up on. We are beyond nationality (Jew or Greek), beyond social status (slave or free), beyond gender (male or female) (Gal. 3.28). We are one in Christ as we bathe in the fountain of his saving, cleansing blood, and become heirs of his promise.

The Gospel Reading puts forth a truth I have come to call the "Principle of the Paradox". We have seen in the First Reading how mourning is turned into joy by the fountain of God's grace. In the Psalm, a thirsty soul is watered with rich blessings from the Lord. In the Second Reading, our differences, divisions, and short-comings are washed away in the baptism of Christ. Here we see that the one who wishes to save his life will lose it (Luke 9.24). Jesus warns his disciples not tell anyone that he is the prophesied Messiah... his time hasn't arrived yet. But when it does, he tells them, he will suffer greatly, be rejected, tortured, and killed. Yet, as verse 24 also says, "whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Come the third day after his death, Jesus will rise from the dead triumphant, and the mourning of his disciples will be turned into dancing.

What do we want from life? Mourning? Or dancing? I think dancing beats mourning all to pieces, don't you? But to join this heavenly conga line (with Dad providing the accompaniment!) what does Jesus say? "If anyone wishes to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me" (v.23). It's the Principle of the Paradox in action.

Take up your cross with me this week and watch what fountains of blessing come our way.

Randy Jones
"Those who don't think they're thirsty miss the fountains of blessing!"

Monday, June 7, 2010

RENEWsletter for June 13, 2010 - 11th Ordinary

Dear Renewed friends--
Sometimes it's hard to forgive. Especially someone you don't know... and sometimes especially someone you do know! I wonder if anybody ever has had a tough time forgiving me. Just what is forgiveness, anyway? Well, the readings for this Sunday look into some of the answers to that question.

This week we return to Ordinary Time. It's been awhile since we had any "ordinary" times, but it doesn't mean "unremarkable" time. "Ordinary" comes from "ordinal" which means "numbered". This Sunday is the Eleventh Sunday in Numbered Sundays Time, and the readings can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/061310.shtml, and in your Bible at:

2 Samuel 12.7-10, 13
Psalm 32.1-2, 5, 7, 11
Galatians 2.16, 19-21
Luke 7.36 -- 8.3

Nathan, of the First Reading, was King David's main man in the Prophecy Department of his government, but Nathan was not a yes-man. He had some hard words for his boss. "Why have you spurned the LORD and done evil in his sight?" (2 Sam 12.9). David had become enamored with Bathsheba, but she was married. He committed adultery with her and she became pregnant (see 2 Sam 11.4). In desperation, when all other plans to cover up this intrigue failed, David arranged to have Uriah killed in a battle with the Ammonites (v. 9 again). What could have made David do such a thing? I don't know. What made Goering do what he did in WW II? What made Lt. Calley do what he did at My Lai? What made Spec. Graner and his girlfriend PFC England do what they did at Abu Ghraib? What made me let my brother take the rap for an act of vandalism that I committed? Our human, sinful nature, that's what (see Isaiah 64.6). But our same human nature allows us to repent. Repentance on our part brings forgiveness from God (v. 13).

It could have been right after this that David wrote our Responsorial Psalm. "Happy is the sinner whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven!" (Ps. 32.1). Repentance is what triggers this forgiveness. See verse 5. David confessed his faults to the LORD, and the LORD took away his guilt. You know, that's a good definition of forgiveness: removal of guilt. Forgiven means no longer guilty.

Our brother Paul, in the Second Reading, was raised a Jew, so he knew about the requirements of the Law of God. But being a Pharisee by education, he also knew that a person cannot be justified by keeping the Law (Gal 2.16). God forgives transgressions of the Law, yet not without a price. That's why God sent his Son: to pay the price. According to the Law, says Paul, we must die... be crucified, as it were, with Christ (v. 19). But still we live because Christ lives in us. He lives in us because he loves us (v. 20). So there we have another bit of information about forgiveness: it comes through love on the part of the forgiver.

Now we come to the Gospel Reading where Luke relates an object lesson Jesus had for the Pharisees. Jesus had been invited to dinner at Simon the Pharisee's house and Jesus came (Luke 7.36). So did one of the street women. How did she get in? Had she been there before? Perhaps as entertainment at other parties? Anyway, Simon knew who she was and assumed Jesus didn't (v. 39) This woman had brought some perfumed ointment, and, moved to tears by her encounter with Jesus, anointed his feet (vs. 37-38). Jesus knew what Simon was thinking and told a little story. Two debtors, one owing 50 days' pay, the other 10 times as much, had their debts forgiven. Which, asked Jesus, do you think would be more grateful? (vs. 40-42). Simon got it right. "The one who got the larger debt forgiven, I guess" (v. 43). This woman had had a much larger debt of sin forgiven than Simon... it was obvious by the way she treated Jesus compared to what Simon provided (vs. 44-46).

So here we have another piece to the puzzle of forgiveness: It produces love and gratitude on the part of the sinner (v. 47).

God has shown us how to forgive by demonstrating for us. Repentance is the acknowledgment that we need forgiveness. God's love for us provides it. Freed of guilt and sin, we respond with love.

Let's see if we can be more like that tearful, forgiven woman than smug Simon in our encounters with people this week.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot say those guys have it coming!"

Monday, May 31, 2010

RENEWsletter for June 6, 2010 - Body & Blood

Dear friends of renewal--
Next Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. There are several references to this guy named Melchizadek in the Bible. Who was Melchizadek? What was significant about him? Why do both the Old and New Testaments refer to him? Well, we'll see if we can discover the answers to these questions.

The readings for this most holy Sunday are found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/060610.shtml and in your Bible at:

Genesis 14.18-20
Psalm 110.1, 2, 3, 4
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
Luke 9.11b-17

The First Reading is the earliest mention of a priest-king called Melchizadek. He was the spiritual and political leader of a city called Salem (Gen. 14.18). This town is generally identified with Jerusalem. Abram had just defeated the king and allies of Elam, and Melchizadek made of big deal of this. "Blessed be Abram by God Most High... who delivered your foes into your hand," he said (vs. 19-20). The noteworthy thing about Melchizadek was that he was both priest and king. He had political power over his subjects' physical and social well-being, and he had power to lead their spirits and souls to well-being too, yet not through the line of Aaron. His priesthood came directly from God. He served bread and wine to Abram and his people (v. 18 again). Bread and wine. That sounds familiar. Abram responded by giving him 10% of everything he had. Abram knew the value of being blessed by God which is far beyond the value of a meal of bread and wine.

The Responsorial Psalm is one of the most important messianic Psalms. It is uniformly regarded as a prophetic picture of Jesus Christ. "The LORD [God] said to my Lord [Jesus]..." (Ps. 110.1). Jesus will wield political power: "Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool" (v. 1 again), plus he has his priesthood directly from God: "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizadek" (v. 4).

The Second Reading recounts the Last Supper. Jesus took bread and wine, and said plainly that the bread was his body, and that the cup of wine was his blood (1 Cor. 11.23, 25). Bread and wine. Body and blood. King and Priest? Does that follow? Yes, it does! The bread part is straight forward. Bread nourishes the body. The one who controls the bread, controls the physical well-being of the body. But what about the other part, the wine/blood? Let's look for a moment at Leviticus 17.11: "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." One can imagine that in those ancient times before people had all the scientific knowledge of the structure and function of blood, that they thought of it as some mystical force that kept the body alive. Drain the blood out of a lamb, and the lamb died. Blood had a spiritual quality. When it left a body, so did the life. The body remained behind, but quite dead.

Carrying this thought forward into the Gospel Reading, we find that Christ controlled the bread, and thereby controlled the physical well-being of the crowds that had followed him into the desert (Luke 9.16). Christ the King of bread, created bread for 5000+ hungry mouths and took care of them. And why did these folks follow this itinerant preacher out into the desert without bringing enough food along to take care of their own hunger? Because Christ the Priest controlled the "blood," the thing they found necessary for their spirits (v. 11). As much as their bodies needed bread, their spirits needed the spiritual blood of Christ.

There are several passages in Hebrews, chapters 5 to 7, that refer to Jesus's priesthood being of the "order of Melchizedek" as opposed to Levitical in nature. There were many Levitical priests "because they were prevented by death from remaining in office" (Heb. 7.23). But Christ is a Priest of the order of Melchizedek, not the Levitical order, and "because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away" (Heb. 7.24).

When we partake of the Eucharist, we partake of Christ himself, our King who protects us physically, and our Priest who protects us spiritually. Let's remind ourselves this week when enemies arise, and fears threaten our peace, that we have a Priest-King who reigns and serves forever, after the order of Melchizadek!

Randy Jones
"Those who know not the Priest-King say life is scary and death is scarier!"

Monday, May 24, 2010

RENEWsletter for May 30, 2010 - Holy Trinity

Dear Renewed folks--
Have you ever put something together that delighted you when you saw the result? When you've spent energy and diligence to produce something -- as mundane as a clean kitchen, or as esoteric as a beautiful painting -- have you stepped back and smiled at your own handiwork? Well, that's they way God felt when he got done creating the earth and its inhabitants, as we'll see in Sunday's readings.

This Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The readings deal with all three persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and they can be accessed on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/053010.shtml, or in your Bible in:

Proverbs 8.22-31
Psalm 8.4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (with v. 2a)
Romans 5.1-5
John 16.12-15

Our First Reading examines the origin and nature of God's wisdom. It appears that God had wisdom long before any of his creation existed (Prov. 8.22-26). Here's where the phrase "old as the hills" has some meaning. In fact, wisdom is older than the hills! In wisdom, the heavens were established (v. 27). In wisdom, the foundations of the earth were stabilized (v. 28). In wisdom the extent of the seas was mapped out (v. 29). Then God created people in wisdom, and he stepped back and beheld what he had put together... and found delight in us! (v. 31). This is God, our Father.

When we contemplate these truths, we can sing this Sunday's Responsorial Psalm. "When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place..." (Psalm 8.4). These days, in the heart of urban areas where most of us live, it's hard to behold the heavens. But a man named John Dobson invented a simple, inexpensive telescope mount and became known around San Francisco as "The Sidewalk Astronomer". He pointed his telescope at the Moon and other bright objects visible between the streetlights and the neon signs on the buildings and invited people to look. They were amazed. And we are amazed when we think that God is mindful of us and cares for us (v. 5)! Not only that but he has "crowned us with glory and honor" (v. 6), and given his creation to us to rule and care for (v. 7)! "How wonderful is your name in all the earth!" (v. 2).

The Second Reading shows how comprehensive the work of Jesus Christ was and is. By faith we have peace through him (Rom. 5.1). Through his grace, we have hope (v. 2). And all this happens because the love of God has been poured into our hearts (v. 5). Even in affliction we have joy because of a chain of results, naturally following one another: affliction produces endurance; endurance produces character; character results in hope; and hope never disappoints. (vs. 3-5). This is God the Son, our Brother.

The Gospel Reading reveals how all this comes about. Slowly, the Holy Spirit feeds us truth, a little at a time, at a pace we can handle (John 16.12). We grow, we learn, and eventually we possess the Truth (v. 13)! As we learn the Truth it becomes clear what glory and praise and honor is due the Lord. And now we're back full circle to Wisdom. This is what we receive from the Holy Spirit. This is God, the Holy Spirit, our Guide and Comforter.

The fingerprints of God are everywhere. On the trees that grow from the ground. On the clouds that form and float in the sky. On the waves that roll across the ocean. And on us. Those fingerprints show the love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for us, the work of his fingers.

Randy Jones
"Those who reject the Trinity have to do everything themselves!"

Monday, May 17, 2010

RENEWsletter for May 23, 2010 - Pentecost

Good morning folks--
This coming Sunday is an important one in the church liturgical year: Pentecost. Literally, its meaning leaves much to be added, since "fiftieth day" is a little vague. But what happened during those 50 days after the Lord's resurrection, fills history and our lives today with meaning beyond words. It's the time God made a gift of his Holy Spirit to those original disciples. But he didn't stop there, and as a matter of fact, he didn't even begin there. God has been gifting his people with his Spirit throughout history, and he continues to do so today, and will in the future.

The readings for this Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, are found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/052310.shtml and in your Bible in:

Acts 2.1-11
Psalm 104.1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12.3b-7, 12-13 (or Romans 8.8-17)
John 20.19-23 (or John 14.15-6, 23b-26)

The First Reading is Luke's description of the actual event. The disciples, including the Blessed Mother, were gathered in their usual place, the "upper room" where Jesus appeared twice after his resurrection (Acts 2.1). They may have been half expecting, hoping, Jesus would appear again. I imagine there was the usual low din of conversation. These folks knew each other well and there were exciting things to discuss. The main topic was probably the recent Ascension which they witnessed, and the angels that visited them reminding them of Jesus's promise to send a "Comforter" (see John 14.16, 26). When would this happen? Were they impatient? Wondering? Anticipating? Well, they didn't have much longer to wait because on that day, suddenly, the room was filled with the sound of a strong driving wind and tongues of fire coursed into the chamber and touched, enveloped each one of them (v. 3). Then it all became clear. This was what they had been waiting for. They were filled with a passion to let people know about the Love of God and how fulfilling and thrilling and wonderful it was. They went out and began celebrating and inviting whomever they found to join in the ecstasy of knowing the love of the risen Lord (v. 4).

No doubt this Sunday's Responsorial Psalm was on their lips, bubbling forth in joy and gladness. "Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!" (Ps. 104.1). The Lord had sent out his Spirit to renew the face of the earth (v. 30).

The Second Reading expands on the richness this gift of the Holy Spirit imparts. Paul explains how each member of the body of Christ receives a slightly different gift than his brother or sister in Christ (1 Cor. 12.4-6). Yet all these varied gifts fit together in God's divine plan to cover all the bases (v. 7). Some may wonder if there is a difference between a gift of the Spirit and natural talent or ability. The way I look at it, the Holy Spirit "activates" any natural gifts we may have been born with. I recall the time I applied for a new credit card. When the card came it was still useless, because it hadn't been "activated". I called the 800 number, identified myself and voila! the card was suddenly valid. In spiritual terms that volitional act of calling to activate our credit card is represented by our being filled with the Holy Spirit which results in our loving each other and our neighbor. The Holy Spirit continually bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (see Romans 8.16).

How can we truly, selflessly love people? Even an activated, valid credit card is dormant until we use it. Maybe it's not so hard to love those who love us, but loving our enemies is a little trickier. The Gospel Reading gives a clue to the answer. When we receive the Holy Spirit, peace settles in and resides in us. Peace is the absence of fear, and without fear, we can love our enemies, present ourselves defenseless before them, reach out to them and embrace them. This may seem foolish in the eyes of the world, but we are told that the wisdom of God often appears foolish to those who lack that "peace that passes all understanding" (see 1 Corinthians 1.23, Philippians 4.7). And it is Christ himself who breathes that peace into our souls (John 20.19). Not only that -- again let me utilize the credit card analogy -- while a credit card has an expiration date, and requires renewal periodically, look at John 14.26. Jesus says, "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."

So it is the Spirit who bestows gifts, activates them, and renews them continually for us as we in love present ourselves as available resources to radiate the love of God to all around us. Activate or renew your gift today and put it to work this week.

Randy Jones
"Those who do not use their gifts may discover they've expired!"

Monday, May 10, 2010

RENEWsletter for May 16, 2010 - Ascension of the Lord (7th Easter)

Dear Renewed friends in Christ--
This Sunday, here in the western US, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. Elsewhere it's the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Since I am writing from California, we'll go with the flow and do the Ascension.

The thing that is significant about Christ's ascension is that by it, and the eyewitness accounts of it, we know that Jesus is alive and at work at God's right hand. Now, while Luke wasn't an eyewitness himself, in researching his two books, The Gospel of Luke and its sequel The Acts of the Apostles, he interviewed eyewitnesses. That's why these two books are included in the Canon. Their content was authentic and verifiable.

The readings for Ascension Sunday are the same every year. You can find them on the web at http://www.usccb.org/nab/051610a.shtml, and in your Bible in:

Acts 1.1-11
Psalm 47.2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 1.17-23 or Hebrews 9.24-28 & 10.19-23
Luke 24.46-53

In case you're interested, the Seventh Sunday of Easter Readings are at http://www.usccb.org/nab/051610b.shtml, i.e. Acts 7.55-60; Psalm 97.1-2, 6-7, 9; Revelation 22.12-14, 16-17, 20; John 17.20-26.

The First Reading from Acts is a summary of the actions of Jesus after his resurrection and his promise that the Holy Spirit would be coming soon (Acts 1.1-5). Then follows an account of the Ascension itself (v. 9). Have you ever seen a shuttle launch (or a Mercury, or Gemini, or Apollo launch) in real life? Do you remember watching the launch vehicle get smaller and smaller (and quieter and quieter) as it rose into the clear blue sky and out of sight? How long did it take you gazing at the vast blue expanse to realize you couldn't see anything anymore? Well that's what happened to the Apostles when Jesus's "launch" took place. They watched him rise until they couldn't see him anymore (v. 10). Then those two guys in white robes drug them back to earth and the business at hand. "How come you guys are craning your necks at the sky? He's on his way to the right hand of the Father, but he'll be coming back the same way he left" (v. 11).

The Responsorial Psalm is a song about this "right hand of the Father" stuff. "God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy and a blare of trumpets!" (Ps. 47.6). From that command position God rules. "God is king of all the earth. God reigns over the nations" (vs. 8, 9). We rejoice with the psalmist that God is in control!

The two Second Readings not only reiterate the announcement of the two angels at the Ascension... that Jesus will be coming back to bring salvation to all who eagerly await him (Heb. 9.28)... but also that he is at work in the interim ruling over all the principalities, authorities, powers, and dominions of this world (Eph. 1.21). We therefore have the hope and assurance, not only that we will join him, but also that we will be washed clean. Clean. Sin gone. Doubts gone. Tears gone. As the Jefferson Airplane put it in a song titled "Starship": "A million pounds gone from your heavy mass, all the years gone from your age." I'm looking forward to that!

The Gospel Reading, from Volume I of Dr. Luke's 2-volume work, also describes the Ascension, but in less detail. The emphasis here is on what Jesus said to his disciples before he departed. "You will be clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24.49). He promised them (and us) that the Holy Spirit was coming. The Holy Spirit clothes us with power. While Jesus was on Earth, leading and teaching (and healing) his followers, he was definitely in the driver's seat. They were more or less passengers in that powerful movement.

But now he was leaving the reins of the new church in their (and our) hands. Sometimes the going takes us through the fog or the darkness, but with the Holy Spirit guiding, we'll be okay. The Navigator knows the way and if we don't try to wander off on our own, the trip will be exhilarating. And the destination beyond our wildest dreams.

There's a painting by Warner Sallman called "Christ the Pilot" showing a young man at the helm of a ship. Storm clouds roil in the sky above him. And behind him, with a hand his shoulder, stands Christ, pointing the way. Let the Pilot guide you this week and see where he takes you!

Randy Jones
"Those who do not ask for directions may get lost!"

Monday, May 3, 2010

RENEWsletter for May 9, 2010 - 6th Easter

Greetings Renewers!
A little over a year ago we elected a President who promised Change. And then there's Mother Earth. Her surface undergoes change through earthquakes and volcanoes. And the volcanoes and other factors change her atmosphere. And people... people change too. Well, speaking of change...

Our readings for this Sunday talk of change. Nothing is so sure as change! as many a wise person has noted. Time passes. The earth shifts, mountains are built and then worn down. Stars blaze and eventually burn out. People are born and die. Some things change faster than others. Religious practices also change, sometimes very slowly, but sometimes more quickly, as we can see in the readings for Sunday.

Those readings, for this Sixth Sunday of Easter, can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/050910.shtml, and in your Bible in:

Acts 15.1-2, 22-29
Psalm 67.2-3, 5, 6, 8 (with v. 4 as the response)
Revelation 21.10-14, 22-23
John 14.23-29

The First Reading tells of the results of a council that might be called "Jerusalem I" (recorded in the skipped part, Acts 15.3-21). The issue at stake was circumcision. Gentiles had begun to embrace faith in Jesus and some of the higher-ups at Jerusalem and Antioch were anxious to have the men circumcised according to the Law of Moses. But after "Jerusalem I", that practice was deemed unnecessary because God had already filled uncircumcised Gentiles with his Holy Spirit. Thus the requirements were pared down to just: "abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage" (v. 29). The Gentiles were, of course, delighted to hear this (v. 31... outside the bounds of the reading).

The Responsorial Psalm could easily have been heard being sung by these happy Gentile Christians on reading the letter from the elders at Jerusalem. "O God, let all the nations praise you!" (Ps. 67.4) For some in the growing 1st Century Church, change was happening rapidly... but when they heard this psalm, they would realize that God has been God of the Gentiles for a long, long time (v. 8).

Change in a big way is what John is describing in the Second Reading. The New Jerusalem gleams with the splendor of God himself... the entire city shown like a precious stone (Rev. 21.11). And, guess what! No temple (v. 22)! Jerusalem without a temple?? No need for one anymore as God himself was there, in person. No need anymore for a sun or a moon either (v. 23). The glory of God lit it. That will be a change that will take some adjusting to.

The Gospel Reading describes another change, one that has already taken place for us. But the disciples who were following Jesus hadn't experienced it yet. Their beloved Teacher, Jesus, was talking about leaving them. But he promised an "Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send..." (John 14.26). He told them this "before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe" (v. 29). They believed, but didn't really understand what kind of change this would be.

We often view approaching change with trepidation. But change must occur if we are to avoid stagnation. (And even in stagnation, change comes about... putrefaction and death.) Now some change is pleasant, some is not, but change creates new outlooks, new experiences, new knowledge, new wisdom. And each minute that ticks by brings us closer to that New Jerusalem where we will bask in the love and glory of God with us. This is the peace that Jesus left with us (John 14.27).

And after that? Hmmm. You're free to speculate on what other changes may take place.

Randy Jones
"Those who hang onto the status quo will be disappointed!"

Sunday, April 25, 2010

RENEWsletter for May 2, 2010 - 5th Easter

Dear Renewed Friends--
I was using my laptop at work which I had plugged into its AC adapter and was computing merrily away when all of a sudden a window popped up telling me I should switch to AC power, or save my work and shut down because the battery was critically low. But... but... I thought I was on AC power already! I'd plugged the line into the back of the computer. Oh wait! The other end of that cable was not plugged into the wall. Once I got that corrected, the warning window went away and my computer was happy again. With a renewed power source to feed it, there was no danger of losing work.

Faith sharing groups, Bible studies, daily or weekly mass... these are all ways to recharge our batteries. I look forward to worshiping with my friends each week, and "plugging in" to that heavenly power supply. It is definitely a time of renewal for my spirit.

This Sunday's readings, coincidentally enough, are about that very concept: Renewal. Those readings, for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, are found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/050210.shtml, and in your Bible at:

Acts 14.21-27
Psalm 145.8-9, 10-11, 12-13 (with v. 1 for the response)
Revelation 21.1-5a
John 13.31-33a, 34-35

We pick up, in the First Reading, with Paul and Barnabus as they complete their First Missionary Journey. They had just left Derbe and made their way back through the cities where they had so recently started churches: Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in present-day Turkey (not yet to the Antioch in present-day Syria where they began this mission trip) (Acts 14.21). "They strengthened the spirits of the disciples" (v. 22) in each new church. This included Lystra where Paul had been stoned (mentioned in the earlier part of chapter 14) and left for dead! The new Christians were renewed in their faith by Paul's return and he told them "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (v. 22 again). Eventually they made their way back across the sea to the Syrian Antioch and reported to the disciples there on all the churches they had set up (v. 27) with their own local religious leaders along their route (v. 23). The official reading doesn't include verse 28, but there's where the missionaries' renewing takes place. They spent "no little time" with the disciples.

I can just hear Paul and Barnabus, as they walked along those Roman roads, singing this Sunday's Psalm... "I will praise your name forever, my king and my God" (Ps. 145.1), "and your dominion endures through all generations" (v. 13). The unending praise and the eternal dominion go on and on -- they are a source of constant renewal.

In the Second Reading we find that even the earth and sky will be renewed (Rev. 21.1). A loud voice proclaims "God's dwelling is with the human race... and God himself will always be with them" (v. 3). Then the One who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new" (v. 5). In that glorious time, nothing will get old, bones and cartilage will never wear out, boredom will never set in, and we will never again need recharging.

But what about enduring until that time? The Gospel Reading shows us how. Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another... as I have loved you" (John 13.34). Love endures. Love abides. Love forgives. Love constantly renews our spirits. With this kind of everlasting love in our hearts, we look strange to those about us who don't know Christ. And in fact, this is how they recognize us as disciples of Christ... by our love (v. 35).

This week why don't we leave our AC adapters (our "Alleluia Chorus" adapters?) plugged in. Plugged into the love of God among each other. That way we'll be constantly renewed and never have to run on batteries.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot love say their battery is dead!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

RENEWsletter for April 25, 2010 - 4th Easter

Dear Friends of Renewal--
This Sunday's readings are about sheep. Generally we don't like to be likened to sheep. Sheep are stupid, sheep can't find their own way, sheep are easy prey to wolves, sheep don't even realize what's going on when they are led to slaughter. Yet in the grand view of God's Universe, all we, like sheep, have gone astray (Isaiah 53.6).

The readings for this the Fourth Sunday of Easter can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/042510.shtml, and in your Bible at:

Acts 13.14, 43-52
Psalm 100.1-2, 3, 5
Revelation 7.9, 14b-17
John 10.27-30

The First Reading describes a scene like winter feeding time at a sheep ranch in Montana. Grazing is not an option during the cold months. The sheep need to be fed to stay alive. Sheep may be stupid, but they come as one when the food arrives. Paul and Barnabus arrived at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13.14) and were invited to speak in the synagogue on their first Sabbath there. Paul got up and made a beautifully logical case for Christianity being the natural follower of Judaism (the part left out, vs. 16-42, is this first recorded speech of Paul's). The synagogue officials invited him back to speak again next Sabbath.

Then word of his talk spread that week and next Sabbath almost the whole city turned out to hear him again (v. 44). The people, especially the Gentile visitors, were delighted to hear his good news of salvation. But the synagogue officials now saw it getting out of hand (v. 45). I bet they wished they had never asked Paul to talk in the first place! They didn't know a card-carrying Pharisee, which Paul was, would turn out to be such a radical! They gathered some cronies and ran him and his buddy Barnabus out of town (v. 50)!

But those synagogue officials should have read this Sunday's Responsorial Psalm! "Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands!" (Ps. 100.1). I take that to mean Gentile lands too. We are his people, the sheep of his flock (v. 3).

The Second Reading is another from John's Revelation. Here too, the emphasis is on diversity: "I had a vision of a great multitude... from every nation, race, people, and tongue" (Rev. 7.9). More folks than just Jews stood before the Lamb singing praises...

You know, when you think about it, the best kind of leader is one who can relate to what his or her followers go through. And here John describes our Shepherd as the Lamb who was slain, the One in whose blood we have washed our robes and made them white (v. 14). Jesus is the best Shepherd we could have because he's been a sheep himself. Led to the slaughter, he behaved just like a sheep, making not a move to resist. With Jesus as our Shepherd, we have nothing to fear. Not even death. We have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. He will shepherd us and lead us to springs of life-giving water, and he will wipe away all our tears (v. 17).

The Gospel Reading is short and sweet. The promises, for us sheep, in this short passage have eternal significance. "...they shall never perish" (John 10.28). "...no one can take them out of the Father's hand" (v. 29). There can be no wolf in our future.

Let us remember Psalm 23 this week: The LORD is our Shepherd. We lack nothing. We rest in his green pastures. He leads us to tranquil waters. He restores our souls.

May the Good Shepherd restore our souls this week.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot hear the shepherd's voice fear the wolves!"

Monday, April 12, 2010

RENEWsletter for April 18, 2010 - 3rd Easter

Dear Renewers--
This is a unique time of year. It is the only season of the church year when we read about things Jesus did on this planet after he rose from the dead.

The readings this week for the Third Sunday in Easter are found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/041810.shtml, and in your Bible in:
Acts 5.27-32, 40b-41
Psalm 30.2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
Revelation 5.11-14
John 21.1-19

We should take the story in the Gospel Reading first because chronologically it sets the stage for the reading from Acts. The Psalm fits neatly in there next. Then, while we may think of Revelation as coming last, this passage really shows what's going on constantly in heaven from the beginning of time. And it will still be going on when we get there. We won't miss a thing.

The Gospel Reading is another account of the resurrected Jesus revealing himself to the disciples. They don't recognize him right away (John 21.4). But that thing with the fish filling the nets after a night of no bites was a dead give-away (v. 6). Peter jumps out of the boat and splashes to shore (v. 7). I wonder if he thought he was going to run on top of the water. He didn't. He sank. But this time he was tall enough to reach the bottom. When the rest drew the boat in to shore, Jesus fed them with bread and fish he had cooked (vs. 12-13).

When breakfast as over, Jesus force-fed Peter with some spiritual food. "Do you love me?" he asked three times. If you love Jesus you will tell others about him. You will "feed his sheep" (vs. 15-17).

The story in the First Reading shows us that Peter did finally get it. (Read clear through verses 27-41... the part left out is really interesting!) He and his comrades were hauled up on charges of preaching in the name of an enemy of the synagogue, of pointing out that the rulers of the synagogue were responsible for getting him executed, and of general rabble-rousing (Acts 5.27-28). But if you read the section that is left out, you find that the Sanhedrin decide to let them go in hopes that it will die out the way the other rabble-rousers and zealous self-appointed Messiahs faded away before them. "If it is of men, it will come to nothing. And if it is of God, we don't want to be caught opposing God, now, do we?" (Acts 5:38, 39).

So Peter and the rest were let go, after a flogging, but I can just see them leaving that place laughing and leaping and clapping each other on the back ("Ouch! Got flogged there!" "Oh, sorry!"), rejoicing that they got to suffer some dishonor like Jesus their Lord had (vs. 40, 41).

This is a good spot to look at the Responsorial Psalm. Those guys had just been rescued from the Sanhedrin and one of them may have started singing, "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me!" (Ps. 30.2). The Lord had drawn them clear of danger and did not let their enemies rejoice over them (v. 2 still). Any mourning they had been doing was now changed into dancing (v. 11).

Well, guess what. The teaching the Sanhedrin wanted to stop wasn't of men at all. It was indeed of God. It didn't die out. And all the time, as the Second Reading tells us, countless numbers of angels and living creatures and elders, in fact the entire Universe, were crying out in loud voices, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! Worthy is he to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev. 5.11-13).

You think it gets noisy at a Sharks hockey game when the arena (the "Tank") is filled with screaming fans? Especially during the playoffs! But you should hear the Heavenly Host!

Listen for them this week, praising and glorifying the Lamb who was slain and who is seated at the right hand of God himself! It'll make this week truly great.

Randy Jones
"Those who hear not the angels think the believers mad!"

Monday, April 5, 2010

RENEWsletter for April 11, 2010 - 2nd Easter

Dear Friends of Renewal,
The Scriptures for Sunday jump all over the centuries from the evening of Resurrection Day to hundreds of years before when the Psalmist predicts a promotion, to the first few weeks after the Ascension of Jesus, to late in the First Century with a story about a time that is yet in our future.

The readings for this coming Second Sunday of the Easter Season can be found on the web at http://www.usccb.org/nab/041110.shtml, and in your Bible at:

Acts 5.12-16
Psalm 118.2-4, 13-15, 22-24 (with v. 1)
Revelation 1.9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
John 20.19-31

I'm going to take these readings in chronological order this time and start with the Responsorial Psalm. Look at Ps. 118.22. "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Science fiction writers have speculated what would happen if a rocket ship were swallowed up by a black hole. A black hole is a super-dense star whose gravity is so strong that not even light can escape and everything that falls into it is crushed into a very tiny space. But writers suggest that the object will emerge somewhere else in the Universe at a "white hole". There is no evidence for the existence of these white holes, but the idea illustrates what I like to call "the Principle of the Paradox". This is a concept that occurs in the Bible when something that happens is exactly the opposite of what one would expect. (For example, Luke 9.24. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.") Jesus was aware of this Psalm and knew that though he was to be crucified, God would raise him from the dead and make him a "cornerstone" of faith for millennia to come. For "his mercy endures forever!" (vs. 2-4).

Next we come to the time of the Gospel Reading. Jesus had been crucified the Friday before. It was Sunday now, and only some women had seen him. But now he showed up at the place where the frightened disciples were holed up. The doors were locked, and the disciples were worried about what to do next when they suddenly realized Jesus was standing there (John 20.19). Their joy was overwhelming (v. 20). At first they must have thought things would return to the way they were before that trouble with the Sanhedrin. But Jesus had news for them. "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you," he said (v. 21). Peace? With the chief priests out there getting people crucified? Send us? But we're all stones the builders have rejected.... Surely thoughts like that were going through their heads. But then Jesus breathed on them and the Holy Spirit entered them (v. 22). Suddenly the Principle of the Paradox made perfect sense. They were to become cornerstones.

The First Reading is next chronologically. Peter indeed has become a cornerstone of faith in the risen Lord. This scene takes place after Christ has ascended to heaven and there is no more physical evidence of his material existence. But the work of Jesus -- healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead -- continued to be carried out by the apostles (Acts 5.12). And great numbers of people, all without Doubting Thomas's hang up about "seeing's believing", came to a belief that the risen, no longer visible Lord Jesus was the healer of souls (v. 14).

Lastly we come to the Second Reading from Revelation. This was possibly written by the same John who wrote the Gospel. He was marooned on an island called Patmos and it was there that he received the visions and inspiration to write the Book of Revelation (Rev 1.9). Jesus appears to him in human form (v. 13), yet not merely human. Jesus is no longer riding the stream of time. He is in his eternal body and has access to all times, first and last, past, present and future (see vs. 17, 18). His command to John is to write about all the things that have happened, are happening at that time, and that will happen (v. 19). And he, Jesus, was just the one to show him all those things.

We humans walk through our lives one minute, hour, day at a time. We remember the past with nostalgia or regret, we notice what's happening around us in real time and smile or frown, and we look forward to or dread the future. But our Savior doesn't walk through time. He was around before the creation of the Universe, he'll be around long after the Universe is finished, and he's around today, now, this very second. He is in control and he says to us, as he said to John who was scared to half to death on that island, "Don't be afraid..." (Rev 1.17).

As we work through our lives day by day, we need not be afraid. Our Friend and Brother, our Savior Jesus Christ, is there beside us to turn disaster into blessing, mourning into dancing, and fear into peace. He truly is risen!

Randy Jones
"Those who give up too soon miss the chance to become a cornerstone!"

Monday, March 29, 2010

RENEWsletter for April 4, 2010 - Easter

Dear risen people--
This Sunday is a special one... like I really need to tell you! This Sunday we celebrate Christ's rising from the dead, the one event that will make it possible for us too to rise from the dead, as the Scriptures tell us.

The readings for this Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord, can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/040410.shtml, and in your Bible at:

Acts 10.34a, 37-43
Psalm 118.1-2, 16-17, 22-23, 24
Colossians 3.1-4 - or - 1 Corinthians 5.6b-8
John 20.1-9

One thing we have seen about St. Peter... the first disciple that Jesus recruited... is that he was bold, brash, and impulsive. He was also an excellent extemporaneous speaker as the First Reading shows. A Roman Centurion, Cornelius, commander of a cohort of Roman soldiers (300 to 600 men), was interested in Christianity and had been praying. God led him to send for Peter. There was a crowd of people there when Peter arrived and Cornelius, in typical military commander fashion, said, "Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord." Never at a loss for words, Peter went for it (Acts 10.34). He told the old, old story: Jesus went about doing good, healing, and forgiving (v. 38). Then he was arrested and executed (v. 39). But he rose from the dead (v. 40). Peter and his friends were eye witnesses of this and ate and drank with him after the resurrection (v. 41). Peter declared that, "he commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that... everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins!" (vs. 42, 43).

The Psalmist, too, is pumped and breaks out into spontaneous song. "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad!" (Ps. 118.24). Something really good had just happened and the psalmist was overcome with joy (v. 16). Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever opened a letter (or an email) from a friend or relative and received such happy news that you burst into song? Oh! happy day! That's what this Sunday is... a happy, happy day (v. 23)!

Paul, in the first of the Second Readings, explains that once we are raised with Christ, the conditions change. No longer are we occupied with mundane, worldly things. We have died! And our life is now folded into Christ's (Col. 3:3). In the other Second Reading, he talks some more to that "folded in" idea. When someone is making bread, the yeast needs to be folded into the lump so it leavens the whole batch. That's what sin does to our lives. But once we have new life in Christ, we are like a fresh batch of dough. The old yeast of malice and wickedness is gone are we are like the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:8).

The Gospel Reading brings us back to impulsive Peter. Mary Magdalene had gone to Jesus's tomb before dawn that morning with spices and oils to anoint the body of Jesus (John 20.1). Happily she noticed that the grave was open. But, oh my God! the body was gone! She ran back to where the disciples were holed up, woke Peter and told him (v. 2). Peter took off at once, but was outrun by "the other disciple" (v. 4). Although the other disciple got there first, he didn't go in (v. 5). Peter, however, didn't hesitate. He pushed past and went right in (v. 6).

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, it is said. Has that ever happened to you? Sometimes it turns out bad, but other times, when the Holy Spirit moves, we respond before we have time to listen to our doubts. What's your habit? Do the things you know about God pop out spontaneously like Peter? I was on the phone one day at work with a tech support guy who was located in India. When we found the problem, he burst out with "Praise God!" Knowing he was Indian, I asked what religion he embraced. "I'm a Christian," he said. Because that man had rushed in, foolishly some would say, and uttered a "Praise God", we each found a brother in Christ.... halfway around the world!

This week, let your joy in the resurrection fill you and overflow. Who knows what potential blessing you have for someone nearby?

Randy Jones
"Those who fear to tread say only fools do that!"

Monday, March 22, 2010

RENEWsletter for March 28, 2010 - Palm Sunday

Dear Renewed people--
Next Sunday we commemorate the Lord's Passion. "Passion" these days means something like "ardor" or "wild enthusiasm", but the word comes from the Latin where its roots are in passus which means "suffering". So... next Sunday we commemorate the Lord's Suffering.

You can find the readings for this coming Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/032810a.shtml, or find them in your Bible in:

Isaiah 50.4-7
Psalm 22.8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2.6-11
Luke 22.14 -- 23.56

If you want to experience the entire last week of Jesus's life on earth before his death, start with Luke 19.28. Verses 28-40 are actually the Processional Reading and take us through Jesus's triumphal march into Jerusalem. Each year the Processional and Gospel Readings come from a different Gospel: Matthew in Year A, Mark or John in Year B, and Luke in Year C, this year. But the First and Second Readings and the Psalm are always the same.

The First Reading from Isaiah is the core of the Suffering Servant passage. It describes what Jesus went through during his last 12 hours before his death. If you've seen the movie The Passion of the Christ of a few years ago, this passage will invoke vivid mental images of the original meaning of "passion". "I gave my back to those who beat me" and "my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting" (Is. 50.6). Jesus was obedient to the Plan. He had to go through this if he was to fulfill the plan of Salvation. So he set his face like flint and he was not disgraced (v. 7).

In the Responsorial Psalm, David sings of the Passion as well. "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Ps. 22.2). Jesus uttered these words as he hung dying on that Roman instrument of torture and death. Those watching sneer, "He relied on the LORD; let Him deliver him" (v. 9). Ever wonder why those people, who thronged around Jesus and sang his praises as he entered Jerusalem triumphantly, turned against him? Maybe they thought they'd been tricked. If Jesus were so close to God the Father, why could he not save himself? Why didn't he overthrow the Romans and give Israel back to the Jews?

The Second Reading has the explanation. Jesus chose not to save himself! Phil. 2.8 says, "He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death." Without the shedding of blood, without the death of the sacrificial Lamb, there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). But the "Principle of the Paradox" kicks in here. "Because of this, God greatly exalted him" (v. 9). Visualize yourself on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the midst of wilderness. Across the mighty canyon is civilization, people, gift shops, restaurants, rest rooms. You'd really like to get there. The direct route would take you down into the mile-deep gorge and back up the other side. Not an easy trip. Better go around. Christ didn't go around. He went through it. And because he did, every soul who ever lived, lives, or will live... every being in heaven or hell... will confess that Jesus is Lord (v. 11).

The Gospel Reading covers the Last Supper (Luke 22.14-38), the Betrayal (ch. 22 vs. 39-53), the Trial (ch. 22 v 54 through ch. 23 v. 25), and Christ's death on the Cross (ch. 23 vs. 26-49). Reading this long passage slowly and prayerfully takes us through the Stations of the Cross. Some are left out of Luke's narrative, but many are there. If you've seen The Passion, you have sharp images and piercing feelings as you read this account. It wasn't pretty.

The narrative closes with the mangled body of Jesus being laid in the new tomb of one Joseph of Arimathea (ch. 23 vs. 50-56), a member of the Sanhedrin, who didn't go along with the plan to kill Jesus. But because it was so close to sunset and Passover was about to begin, there wasn't time to properly prepare the body for burial. Thus the women who had followed the company from Galilee, gathered the embalming spices and oils and planned to do it after the Sabbath. Even they thought it was over and had given up. They hadn't really believed him when he said he would rise again.

Do we believe, truly believe, that there is a Resurrection? Slipping down the wall of the Grand Canyon, scraping our hands, tripping, falling, tumbling, cracking our bones against the rocks... do we really believe that there will be peace for us later? ...comfort? ...joy? Can our present pain, fear, and frustration succumb to faith, hope, and trust?

Life is a "passion" at times... in the Latin sense of the word. We suffer now, but we are promised a dawn, a resurrection after the horrible night. This week, if things get tough, set your face like flint (Is. 50:7) and look to the Resurrection. Believe that he will rise again!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot endure the night say there is no dawn!"

Monday, March 15, 2010

RENEWsletter for March 21, 2010 - 5th Lent

Dear Partakers in Renewal--
Next Sunday's readings speak of something new. Now Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, laments that "nothing is new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1.9). Well, there may be nothing new under the sun today, but tomorrow isn't here yet.

The readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/032110c.shtml, and in your Bible in:

Isaiah 43.16-21
Psalm 126.1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Philippians 3.8-14
John 8.1-11

Otherwise, if your church uses the RCIA readings, see the Year A entry for the Fifth Sunday of Lent: http://www.usccb.org/nab/032110a.shtml.

The First Reading finds Isaiah really pumped about what God can do. He can wipe out mighty armies (Is. 43.17). He can make a way through the desert and cause rivers to flow in the wasteland (v. 19). For his people he can make a happy and prosperous life in the midst of desolation (v. 20). Yes, the LORD is doing something new (v. 19 again).

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist as well sings of something new that the LORD has done. He brought back the captives to Zion (Ps. 126.1). This was unheard of in those days. When you conquered a nation, you hauled off the leaders so they couldn't incite rebellion. It was nuts to let them go back. Yet Cyrus did. It was something new that God had a hand in. This was not lost on the Israelites. They were filled with joy (v. 3)!

Paul did something new too, and he tells about it in the Second Reading. "I consider everything a loss" (Phil. 3:8). He gave up all his wealth, status, and power... "I consider them so much rubbish" (v. 8 again). Why? "That I may gain Christ and be found in him" (v. 8-9).

The Gospel Reading shows that Jesus was doing something new in Palestine circa AD 29. The Law of Moses, handed down from a millennium or so before, stated that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned. Have you ever been hit by a rock? I remember as a kid getting into clod fights. Dirt clods, as you know, can be pretty hard, and when they strike, they hurt. I took one in the temple once and the first thing I felt was an icy cold. A split-second later the pain exploded. I felt momentarily dizzy, then fear struck -- how bad was I hurt? Well, clods usually break when they land. Rocks don't.

John places this incident in the Temple where Jesus was teaching. The scribes and Pharisees brought this woman accused of adultery. The sentence was death... not by anything as "humane" as lethal injection, but by stoning. Yet, right there, in front of God and everybody, Jesus did something new. "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," he said (John 8.7). One by one, they dropped their rocks and turned away. When only the terrified, crouching, sobbing woman remained, Jesus spoke again. "Has no one condemned you?" (v. 10). I imagine that the woman, shaking uncontrollably, raised her head and slowly looked around. She was astonished to see no accusers... just a bunch of rocks on the ground.

"Go. And from now on don't sin any more," Jesus said (John 8.11). "Remember not the events of the past," God said through Isaiah (Is. 43.18). "The LORD has done great things for us", sings the psalmist (Ps 126.3). "...forgetting what lies behind," Paul said (Phil. 3.13). Something new will happen. We can hope. And what is that "realization of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"? It's faith (Hebrews 11.1).

Step out in faith this week and expect God to do something new.

Randy Jones
"Those who have no faith say there is nothing new under the sun!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

RENEWsletter for March 14, 2010 - 4th Lent

Good morning Renewable friends--
It's a good thing we are "renewable", because there are times when we feel worn out, used up, or just tired. If my car felt like I do this week, I'd take it in to see a mechanic. :-)

But... next Sunday's theme is one of renewal, old things passing away, and all things becoming new. Rest, a vacation, a trip to the doctor for some antibiotics, therapy, or even surgery, can make things new again. And someday, we'll "trade in" these old bodies for eternal ones and become really new. Meantime, we greet each new day with renewed hearts because of Christ's great sacrifice in hauling away our old trash in his own body on the Cross.

Again, some churches will go with the RCIA (Year A) readings. But here we'll go with the regular readings for this coming Fourth Sunday of Lent. They can be found on the web: http://www.usccb.org/nab/031410c.shtml and in your Bible at:

Joshua 5.9a, 10-12
Psalm 34.2-3, 4-5, 6-7
2 Corinthians 5.17-21
Luke 15.1-3, 11-32 (verses 4-10 are two other once-lost/now-found parables)

The First Reading takes place after the Israelites have passed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Josh 3.17). Moses had gone on to his reward (ch. 1, v. 1). Joshua had the responsibility of leadership now (ch. 5, v. 9). When Passover came, they celebrated by eating of the produce of the land (vs. 10, 11). It was a good time. They got to eat real food for the first time in about 40 years (v. 12). No more manna, no more sand. This new land was flowing with milk and honey! I imagine they felt renewed, and very, very happy.

The Psalmist was definitely happy when he wrote this Sunday's Responsorial Psalm. "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" (Ps. 34.9). Some of that goodness is expressed in verse 5: "I sought the LORD, who answered me, and delivered me from all my fears." As you know, fear is what triggers the "fight or flight syndrome". When we are afraid, we have one of two reactions: We either get angry and fight it, or we cower and run away... or some variation or combination of those two. But when we are delivered from our fears, we have peace. Peace triggers the "love-hope-joy-trust syndrome" (v. 6). I'll take peace over fear any day.

The Second Reading includes one of my favorite verses, 2 Cor. 5.17, "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; and look! everything has become new." New food, new tastes of the goodness of the Lord, new absence of fear, new trust, new faith. And how is all this brought about? By God, who did the work of reconciling us to himself through his Son Jesus (v. 19). But you know what? Someone told us about God and the work of reconciliation... Christ's death on the Cross for our sins. Someone was God's ambassador to us. Now, it's our turn to be ambassadors to those around us who haven't heard the Good News in a way they can understand it (v. 20).

We each have a unique story. Yours are all different from mine. And there's someone who will not understand the message of salvation until they hear it the way only I can tell it. And there's someone else that my story will be Greek to, but they'll understand your story. Jesus told lots of stories, and in the Gospel Reading there were those who had trouble understanding him (Luke 15.3). So he told the story of the Prodigal Son (v. 11ff). Which person in that story comes closest to relating to you? The father? The errant son? The faithful brother? When I hear this story, I wait for the part where the servant tells the faithful brother what the ruckus is about (v. 26). That's the one I relate to. He told it like it was: "Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound" (v. 27). Short, succinct, accurate. But it wasn't a story the brother could understand. He got angry (v. 28). That servant went for help: "Master, your faithful son is upset because you're having a party for his brother. You might want to go talk to him, sir."

When we run into a roadblock, we stop, back off, and go get help. But we keep telling our story. Let's try to think of ways this week we can share our story about the goodness of the Lord with those who may be trying to understand.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot tell their story may not have a story to tell!"