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:, 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 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:, 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:

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!"