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!"