Monday, January 25, 2010

RENEWsletter for January 31, 2010 - 4th Ordinary

Dear Renewed Friends--
This week, as is the case every week, we have promises from God we can claim in order to make it a peaceful and triumphant week. The readings for next Sunday remind us that when enemies abound, God with his angelic host abounds also to keep us from being crushed.

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the readings can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/013110.shtml, and in your Bible in:

Jeremiah 1.4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71.1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 12.31 - 13.13
Luke 4.21-30

The First Reading has four points to make. 1) God knows us from before we were born (Jer. 1.5). 2) We must stand up and speak out all that he commands us (v. 17). 3) Our hearers won't like it and will try to crush us (v. 17 still). And, 4) they won't succeed (v. 19). God knew what he was doing when he called Jeremiah to be a prophet. If you read the verses in between the given selection, you'll see that Jeremiah had a good argument for not obeying God's call... he was young and wasn't eloquent. But God insisted on obedience... "Quit whining, get busy, and do what I tell you!" he says in verse 7.

The Responsorial Psalm makes the same four points, from the viewpoint of the singer of the psalm. 1) God knows us from before we were born (Ps. 71.5, 6). 2) We must stand up and speak out all that he commands us (vs. 15, 16). 3) Our hearers won't like it and will try to crush us (v. 4). And, 4) they won't succeed (vs. 1-3).

The Second Reading shows what makes all this spiritual opposition worth the hassle: Love (1 Cor. 12.31). While we know that God is with us, and while we testify to his love, even when the message isn't received, and then when success is on our side... throughout all this, if we aren't doing everything out of love, it accomplishes nothing (ch 13. vs. 1-3). We can't gloat in the victory that God hands us. Part of what God gives us to proclaim to our enemies is his love for them. And the way they can get the message is to see that love in us. Someday it will all make perfect sense, and now we can see the results of love, even if it is still a mystery how it all works (v. 12). If fear is the progenitor of all the negative emotions and behaviors, then love is the source of all the positive ones (v. 13).

The Gospel Reading makes these points also. We have no doubt that God was with his Son and knew him from before his birth (see Luke 1.26-56). We see that he stood up in the synagogue and proclaimed the love of God (Luke 4.22). But as he spoke, he mentioned some things his hearers didn't like (v. 28). They tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff (v. 29). But they didn't succeed... they lost track of him and he got away (v. 30)!

Personally, I really needed this message this week, especially that fourth point... my enemies won't succeed. So when there are some around us who don't like what we are and what we say, and when they try to discredit us or falsely accuse us, let's remember this. God won't let us be crushed. They will lose track of us and we'll get away. So we can be free to love them and continue to proclaim the love and salvation of God.

May the blessings this week fill you, overflow, and bless your enemies as well.

Randy Jones
"Those who have no love say the battle is going bad"

Monday, January 18, 2010

RENEWsletter for January 24, 2010 - 3rd Ordinary

Dear Renewed Friends--
Many things happen in our lives, "good" things and "bad" things. Sometimes we even see some of the good things as bad at first. And of course happenings that seem good at first can turn out to be bad. This Sunday's readings have something to say about how we respond when things, good or bad, happen.

Next Sunday is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time and the readings can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/012410.shtml, and in your Bible in:

Nehemiah 8.2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19.8, 9, 10, 15 (response from John 6.63)
1 Corinthians 12.12-30
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

The First Reading takes place after the captive Israelites were returned from Babylon to their homeland. The sacred Book of the Law of God was found and brought to them at the site of the Temple. Many "bad" things had happened to the Israelites, and many more "bad" things were in store for them. But...

On this day, the holiness of the day of the reading of the Book of the Law was brought home to them (Neh 8.2). As the men, women, and children old enough to understand listened to the reading of the Law, from daybreak till noon (v. 3), they began to weep with emotion. But His Excellency Nehemiah, Ezra the priest-scribe, and the rest of the Levites admonished the people: "Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep" (v. 9). They were urged to celebrate and to share what they had with those less fortunate. They were reminded that "rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength" (v. 10).

The Responsoridal Psalm demonstrates this idea. "The Law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul" (Ps. 19.8). "The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart" (v. 9). After refreshment, we feel strong again. After rejoicing, we no longer weep. Powerful stuff, this Law of the LORD! No wonder the Israelites were moved to great emotion.

The Second Reading brings each believer's situation into perspective. "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it. If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor. 12.26). We are all different people with different talents and different gifts, yet we are baptised into one body (v. 13). It's just like with a person's body. There are many different parts, all with different functions. When one part of a body suffers, the whole body suffers. It is the same with the body of Christ, us, when something "bad" happens to one of us, it happens to us all. And when something good happens to one of us, it also happens to all.

In the Gospel Reading, St. Luke relates in his reliable, historical style (Luke 1.1-4), how Jesus brought a good thing to the world. Jesus read from Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me"... to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captive, restore sight to the blind, offer hope and respite to the oppressed, and to announce a time acceptable to the Lord (v. 4:18-19). He gave the scroll back to the attendant and sat down (v. 20) Then he dropped the bombshell: "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (v. 21).

Now what about "good" things and "bad" things? I've been putting those words in quotes because things that happen to us are only "good" when they refresh the soul and rejoice the heart, and they can only be "bad" if we have lost sight of God our Salvation. We have the Word of God. We have Jesus the Living Word. When we hear the Word we can rejoice, and as mentioned earlier, rejoicing is our strength. These are "good" things. A "bad" thing can trouble our spirits, sap our strength, and sadden us individually, but we are part of the Body of Christ and in that we have comfort, strength, and... joy!

Have a good week and keep rejoicing in the Living Word of God.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot rejoice say the Word is bad"

Monday, January 11, 2010

RENEWsletter for January 17, 2010 - 2nd Ordinary

Dear gifted folks--
There's a story about a man named Jones who died and went to Heaven. When he arrived at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter looked him up in The Book and, sure enough, his name was there, and Peter welcomed him in. The Duty Angel then conducted him on a tour of Heaven. During the walk along the golden streets, they passed huge glowing glittering mansions, towering twinking crystal palaces, beautiful gardens and parks and met hundreds of smiling people. At one point they passed a dull grey cinder block building and Mr. Jones asked what it was doing there. "Oh, that's just a storage building. It's of no interest." Mr. Jones peered at it as they walked on.

A little later it happened they were coming back the other way and passed the storage buiding again. Mr. Jones could not contain his curiosity and insisted, "I must see what's stored in that building" and took off down the path to the building. The Duty Angel sighed and followed. Inside, there were rows and rows of shelves stacked tightly with boxes clear up to the ceiling. Mr. Jones noted that each box had a name on it and that they appeared to be arranged alphabetically. He began moving along the aisles looking for the 'J' row and his name. Sure enough, he found it. He opened the box and inside were promotions, healings, reconciliations, blessings of every sort. "These are blessings I could have really used?" Mr. Jones remarked incredulously. "Why didn't I get them?"

The angel sighed and said, "You never asked."

Next Sunday's readings are about gifts... the gifts that God has for us. It's the first "ordinary" Sunday in a long time, except because it comes in the second week of Ordinary Time it is dubbed the Second Sunday in OT. The readings can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/011710.shtml and in your Bible at:

Isaiah 62.1-5
Psalm 96.1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10
1 Corinthians 12.4-11
John 2.1-11

God doesn't give cheap gifts. Look at the First Reading. "Nations shall behold your vindication, and all kings your glory; you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the LORD. You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD, a royal diadem held by your God." (Is. 62.2, 3) "...you shall be called 'My Delight'" (v. 4) "... your God [shall] rejoice in you." (v. 5) There's nothing second-rate about any of this.

The Responsorial Psalm is a natural response to these blessings and love of God. Sing to the LORD a new song! (Ps. 96.1). Proclaim his marvelous deeds (v. 3). Give the LORD glory due his name (v. 8). The LORD is King (v. 9). The psalmist is just bubbling over with joy at all the blessings of the LORD.

The Second Reading is explicit about the gifts of God. There is a long list of "gifts of the Spirit": wisdom, expression of knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12.8-10). Which one is yours? You have one, that's for sure. Look in verse 6: "God ... produces ... them in everyone", and in verse 11: " ... distributing them to each person as he wishes." Have you picked up yours yet? I tell you what, I don't want the concert to start with my ticket still waiting at will-call. I'm gonna pick up my gift ahead of time.

The Gospel Reading relates the account of the first "gift" that Jesus made in his ministry on earth. This First Miracle was the changing of water into wine. But that phrase doesn't tell the whole story. Read John 2.9-10. Jesus don't make junk. This was not Ripple Jesus turned the water into, nor was it any "two-buck chuck" you can get at Trader Joe's. (Not that Charles Shaw wines are bad, but they aren't Ch√Ęteau Lafite Rothschild either!) No, Jesus made some really good wine. Good enough to spark an incredulous comment from the head waiter who tasted it late in the wedding festivities (v. 10).

So, there are two points to these readings: 1) God gives really, really good gifts, and 2) ours are waiting for us. What say we go pick 'em up!

Randy Jones
"Those who don't have any gifts just haven't picked them up yet!"

Sunday, January 3, 2010

RENEWsletter for January 10, 2010 - Baptism of the Lord

Dear Renewed Friends--
Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. One wonders if it could be called the "First Sunday of Ordinary Time, since next Sunday will be the "Second Sunday in Ordinary Time". It's a little confusing to me, but it appears that the "First Week in Ordinary Time" starts on Monday after the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, thus making next Sunday the beginning of the "Second Week in Ordinary Time".

To add to the complexity, there are two choices for the First and Second Readings next Sunday, but they all deal with baptism in one way or another. The second choices vary from year to year in the liturgical calendar, but the first selections are always the same. I'll give both sets here, so you'll be prepared no matter which set your church uses. The web has both sets of readings which can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/011010.shtml and in your Bible in:

Isaiah 42.1-4, 6-7 or Isaiah 40.1-5, 9-11
Psalm 29.1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10, plus 11b as the response
Acts 10.34-38 or Titus 2.11-14, 3.4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

The prophecy of Isaiah, found in the first option for the First Reading, was fulfilled at the Jordan River when Jesus came to be baptized by John. This is God being the proud Father of his only son. "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit" (Is. 42.1). The passage paints a very strange picture of a conquering hero coming to establish justice on the earth (v. 4). It looks more like subversion! He will not lift up his voice (v. 2). He will not so much as damage a broken reed nor snuff out a smoldering candle (v. 3). It is a subversion of the power of sin and Satan. He will take us by the hand and lead us out of darkness into his own light (vs. 6, 7).

The second option for the First Reading is more often regarded as pointing to John the Baptist, whose public ministry began somewhat before Jesus's did. A voice cries out in the desert (Is. 40.3)!

The Responsorial Psalm for this Sunday speaks of a God whose glory thunders in the skies, twists the oaks and strips the forest bare (Ps 29.3 & 9). The voice of the LORD roars in the sea, wipes the edifices of mankind from the coasts (v. 3). The voice of the LORD rocks the desert, toppling the splendorous buildings humans erect (v. 8, not in the present selection). Is God a terrorist? There's no doubt his power is terrifying. But in his temple the voices of his people are lifted in praise of his glory (v. 9). And he will bless those people of his with peace (v. 11b)!

And who are these people who were languishing in spiritual darkness and now sing his praises, being led to the light? The Israelites, for sure, but also "whoever fears him and acts uprightly", according to Peter as quoted in the first Second Reading option (Acts 10.35). In some sense, as we all know, Christ is the Conquering Hero, come to bring a sword on the earth (see Matt. 10:34). But he comes that way to those who reject him. Seeking the Lord results in the healing of all those oppressed by the devil (v. 38).

There are many aspects to the symbol of baptism. It is a choosing: God choosing us and we choosing God. We are chosen because it pleases God to choose us, "not because of any righteous deeds we have done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3.5, 2nd option). But this is not forced upon us. We of our own free will choose repentance. As infants, it was the choice of our parents to dedicate themselves to our training and upbringing in the concepts of repentance. Later in life when we became aware and accountable, we had to make our own choices.

According to the Gospel Reading, Jesus came, of his own free will, to John the Baptist, the one who was sent before to prepare the way (Luke 3.21). This pleased God and he said so audibly by the voice from heaven and visibly by the Holy Spirit descending like a dove (v. 22). After that Jesus went about the work of healing, bringing justice to the oppressed, and teaching the ways of God's Kingdom.

It pleases God also when we go about the Lord's work, in all the ways we are individually called to serve him. With the call, we receive the wherewithal to carry it out. Whether it's to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, free prisoners from the bondage of sin, or enlighten those dwelling in darkness (Is. 42.7), we have gifts from the Holy Spirit to accomplish our calling.

Recall your baptism this Sunday and enjoy again that "bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5 again). Renewal. That's what we're about with this newsletter. Renewal of spirit, renewal of mind, renewal of dedication to the Lord's work.

What better theme with which to begin a New Year! May it be a happy, exciting and successful one for us all.

Randy Jones
"Those who hear not their call think those who do are imagining things!"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

RENEWsletter for January 3, 2010 - Epiphany

Hello my friends--
Well most of us are back from vacation and in ramp-up mode for resuming the work-a-day schedule. The joy of giving and receiving Christmas gifts is over for another year, but there remains the joy of giving of ourselves all the year long. The joy of giving is something the Lord gives to those who will receive it.

Sunday is the Epiphany of the Lord in the United States. Elsewhere it is the Baptism of the Lord. In any case it is the last Sunday of the Christmas Season and the readings are very upbeat, hopeful and full of promise. They can be found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/010310.shtml and in your Bible at:

Isaiah 60.1-6
Psalm 72.1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Ephesians 3.2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2.1-12

The First Reading tells of the time when the veil of darkness will be lifted from the earth. All people will see the glory of the Lord and know that it is real (Is. 60.1-3). We already know this because we have raised our eyes above the mire of misdirection, confusion, and hopelessness (v. 4). But there'll come a day when everybody, living and dead, will see and rejoice in the glory of the LORD. They will bring their treasures, gold and frankincense, proclaiming God's praise and will pay him homage (v. 6).

The Responsorial Psalm sings to the Lord of the day when "every nation on earth will adore you" (Ps. 72.11). Not just grudgingly accept the Kingdom of God when it is established in power on this planet, but see how perfect God's just rule is and pay him homage (v. 10).

The Second Reading relates the first step in this world-wide worship of the Holy One of Israel. That step was the bringing of the good news of Christ's offering to the Gentiles (Eph 3.6)... all on earth who are not Jews by birth. There's no distinction in God's eyes. All the promises he made to Abraham, he makes also to all the peoples of the world. And all peoples of the world will pay him homage (vs. 2-3, 5).

The Gospel Reading reports the Epiphany of Jesus. Epiphany means "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something". When those Gentile dignitaries from the East arrived in Jerusalem looking for the newborn Jewish King, they were actually showing that God had already revealed himself to the rest of the world (Matt. 2.1-2). Why would they worship a king of another race? Human wisdom didn't lead them in this. It was a direct revelation from God, a sudden manifestation of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Their gifts represent profound depths of insight (v. 11).

Gold is the gift of kings... worldly wealth, means, evidence of prosperity... given back to the grantor of that wealth, means, and prosperity.

Frankincense represents the offering up of prayers to heaven... to the ruler who controls everything... an acknowledgment of and reliance on his ultimate power.

Myrrh represents the death that comes to every human, including the Human God. In death Christ would atone for the sins of humanity. And by his resurrection show that not even death has any real power.

These three gifts represent the highest activities a human being can offer in homage. Gold is our "stuff": our time, talent, and treasure we give to God. Frankincense is our worship of him, our prayers and our praise. Myrrh is our hope of salvation and eternal life with him.

We couldn't be more blessed and with all the peoples of the earth we will pay him homage!

Have a very Happy New Year. Make it fun and stay safe.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot give cannot receive!"