NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 18, 2019 THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

In reading the assigned Gospel text for Sunday, I thought of my Mom. Knowing her character, temperament, and ways as I did; I could almost always predict how she was going to react to a situation. Often, I could anticipate the very words she would use in her reaction. And while her words could have an edge to them, she’d always try to leave you feeling better if not wiser. But every now and then, her response would be so out of character that it would leave me thinking “I did not expect this from Mamma!”

Reading the assigned Gospel text this week, I found myself thinking the same thing of Jesus. Jesus is often referred to as “The Prince of Peace” because we believe He was the ultimate example of the way to bring peace and reconciliation into situations in our lives and into the world. After all, did Jesus not come to bring peace? Was Jesus not the “savior” of Zechariah’s prophecy, the messianic figure who would “guide our feet into the way of peace?” (Luke 1:79)

Yet in this passage Jesus says, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division.” This passage suggest that the opposite of peace is not “war” but “division,” a division of a specific kind; and, that Jesus’ coming has created much conflict within families, synagogues, and the larger public arena.

His words seem to be from what author Juan Carlos Ortiz calls “The Fifth Gospel.” My study and reflection on these words offer a reason, an explanation for the “Prince of Peace” saying them. And while the explanation left me as Mamma, a little wiser: “I didn’t NOT expect this from Jesus!”

Join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday. I’ll share the reasonable explanation of these words from Jesus. I’ll also explain what is “The Fifth Gospel.” My sermon title is “I Did ‘NOT’ expect this from Jesus!” based on “Luke 12:49-56.”

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NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 11, 2019 THE NINTH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST

Visiting the Chicago History Museum this week was an opportunity to “seek” out the history of “The Second City”. The word “seek,” (an attempt to find something), stood out to me because of assigned gospel text for this Sunday from Luke 12.

Jesus begins by saying don’t worry about the things you need to sustain your physical life. After all, the God who made you already knows you need these things. The implication is by making your priority one of “seeking” these things as your priority, often cause you to lack them. So, Jesus says, “But seek God’s Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well … for God has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” Using great hyperbole, Jesus is trying to get us to “seek” after the right things and we will get the other things we need.

In “seeking” God’s Kingdom, Jesus says “Don’t be afraid,” … “for God has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” God’s Kingdom includes the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control right now. If you make taking care of the spiritual side of life with these fruits active in your life, the by-product is it helps you get all the other things God knows you need to sustain your physical self like food. But you must “seek” them and “‘Seek’ is an ACTION verb!”

In “seeking” to know more about Chicago’s history, I was reminded of some commonly unknown truths: (1) The first permanent settler in Chicago was black, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable; (2) The great migration of blacks from the south to Chicago was very welcomed because of the need for labor as white men served in WWI; and (3) “NO, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow did NOT start The Great Chicago Fire!”

It’s amazing what one discovers when one takes the time to “seek.” Join us for worship this Sunday, when the sermon will be “‘Seek’ is an ACTION verb!” based on “Luke 12:29-36.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 4, 2019

This Sunday is the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. The weather is hot; and the assigned teachings of Jesus and Paul are even hotter. However, learning the lessons they teach will provide some much needed “air conditioning” for our spiritual journeys.

Positive self-help, life enrichment and physical-mental-emotional healthy living industries are mega annual billion-dollar businesses. But I wonder; why is it that they have such poor track record for success? Where can one find a less expensive way to healthy wholesome living?

Colossians 3 offers some much-needed insight. It begins, “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, … Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

While we are all children of God, not all of us choose to walk in relationship with God. So, when Paul says, “…if you were raised with Christ;” he’s speaking of those who have made a choice to walk in relationship with God. Such a person has chosen to die to a life of trying to live without God’s help. Remember therefore, that in your relationship with God in Christ, you have access to all you need for a spirit led as well as a healthy wholesome life.

When he says, “…think of things above and not things on earth,…” he is not talking about “being so heavenly minded that we do no earthly good.” Rather, Paul is encouraging us to seek and rely on the wisdom we have access to, through, our relationship with the Divine rather than the whimsical nonsense we often get from the mega-billion-dollar self-help industry.

With that in mind, I invite you to join us at Covenant for worship this week, in the heat of summer, for more spiritual “air conditioning” for your spiritual journey. I will use Jesus’ parable of “The Rich Fool” to discover more wisdom to healthy wholesome living in my sermon titled “Don’t get so busy making a living; that you forget to make a life” based on Luke 12:15-21.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JULY 21, 2019

This Sunday is The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. The assigned gospel text is yet another very familiar passage from Luke. It’s the story of two sisters that were dear friend s of Jesus, Mary and Martha.

Jesus enters their home and Martha welcomes Him hospitably. Mary also welcomes Him by sitting at His feet soaking up His words as living water. Mary’s actions create a tension between these sisters as Martha is upset that Mary is not helping with the chores needed to demonstrate of physical hospitality she is trying to provide.

Preachers have often used this story to create a win-lose scenario between these two sisters. What if we reimagine this story to be a win-win situation between them despite the tension? What if Mary and Martha presented two different forms of hospitality?

Martha’s hospitality was very much in line with the cultural norms of the day. What if the source of tension between them is that Mary is demonstrating hospitality toward Jesus in a different way, by listening and absorbing Jesus’ teaching as living water for her soul? Mary’s form of hospitality is completely unhelpful in Martha’s plan for hospitality; thus, the source of the tension between them. Yet, both forms of hospitality are valid and equally important & perhaps why this event is included in scripture.

Both forms of hospitality were “celebrating the love of God” by “cultivating their relationship with Jesus.” I think it important to note that Jesus in telling Martha that Mary has chosen the better way doesn’t diminish the hospitality she is providing because the Good News is that Jesus is always with us, whether we are busy like Martha or attentive like Mary.

Join us for worship this Sunday as I conclude my annual sermon series on Covenant’s Vision and Mission. I will use the story of Mary and Martha to preach on “The Urgency of the Mission – Part 2: ‘Celebrating God’s Love & Cultivating a Relationship with God” based on Luke 10:38-42.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2019

Sunday is the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. The lectionary scripture focus of the Gospel right now covers Jesus’ teaching ministry. This month I’m using them as the basis for a sermon series which revisits our Covenant Vision and Mission statements.

I wonder how many of us remember “WWJD” or “What would Jesus do?” It became a popular phrase/question in the 1990s. It supposedly was as a personal motto Christians used as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through their actions. Associated with “WWJD” was a type of wristband that was very popular with folks to wear. I must confess I even had a couple.

However, nowadays, I wonder if that whole thing was just marketing ploy that was never really intended to discern what Jesus would do. I ask because why does one need to wonder what Jesus would do when Jesus in the scripture very clearly told us what He would do and even told us what to do.

Jesus said in the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the story of “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus defines who is our neighbor, how we are to respond to those in need, and instructs those listening (including us), to “Go and do likewise.”

Now, one can decide not to follow Jesus’ instructions, as many do; but there is no need to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus made that very clear. We at Covenant understand what Jesus would do as we seek to live out our mission that says we are to “Care about one another in Christ” and “Communicate Christ to all people”.

Join us in worship this Sunday to find out “what Jesus would have us to do?” My sermon is “The Urgency of the Mission: Part 1 – “Caring About Others & Communicating Christ” using the story of “The Good Samaritan” in “Luke 10:25-37.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY JULY 7, 2019

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost and just after the 4th of July. My hope and prayer is, it’s been a safe and blessed one for all.

Over this summer holiday much has been said about freedom and the urgency to maintain that freedom. At the UCC General Synod recently, much was said about the urgency of creating opportunities for all God’s children everywhere to experience freedom from political and religious tyranny. As such, much of the business of the General Synod was debating 19 witness resolutions that reflect I John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to also love one another.” This scripture speaks to the urgency of using UCC “3 Great Loves: ‘A love of Children,’ ‘A love of Neighbor,’ and ‘A love of Creation;’” in making “A Just World for ALL,” a reality.

As I pondered how all of these affects Covenant, 2 things came to mind.

(1) While the message of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and acceptance never changes, the ways we convey that message must continually be updated. In the UCC we say that with this statement, “Our faith is 2000 years old; but our thinking is not.”

(2) We must renew the urgency of our Covenant Vision of taking that message of hope and freedom to our community by “Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.” Resolutions are important statements of witness for the wider church; but the local church must use practical ways to make this a reality. Perhaps William Faulkner summed it up best saying, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” Practicing freedom helps others experience freedom.

The assigned scripture text for this week tells us how to practice freedom. So, join us at Covenant this Sunday after we’ve celebrated our nation’s independence and freedom. I will be preaching on “The Urgency of the Vision: Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy” using Galatians 6:1-10.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 30, 2019

This 3rd Sunday after Pentecost is also the Sunday before July 4th. There will be lots of parades, fireworks, picnics and much talk about freedom that America secured through military victories. I don’t have any problems with recognizing such freedoms, but do however, have a problem glorifying wars.

It’s amazing how few people in “the land of the free” experience the kind of freedom the scriptures tell us God intends for all humans. It is NOT that God didn’t provide a way; it’s because too many of us have bought into political and religious systems that lie to us, make us fearful of others, condemns us and makes us feel less than. They are systems that pit humans against each other that divide us as Americans, as well as dividing us against people from other countries into camps of “us” and “them.” The sad result is “we” think “we” must deny others their freedoms for “us” to experience “our” freedom; not realizing that such thinking keeps “us” from experiencing the freedom God desires for us.

We all need the freedom to express ourselves and excel in all aspects of life. But we must remember that to get that freedom, one needs to give freedom to others. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “To be true to one’s own freedom is, in essence to honor and respect the freedom of all others.” When you give freedom to others it means you respect their values and help them become truly free.

Galatians 5 teaches us that whatever holds us in bondage such as fear makes us slaves. It limits our potential and keeps us from living in the freedom God intends. The good news is that God call us to a “Glorious Freedom.”

As you prepare for the Fourth of July holiday, I invited you to begin the week with us at Covenant this Sunday in worship. My sermon reminds us, “God Calls You to Freedom” based on “Galatians 5:1, 15-25.” I’ll share how these scriptures helped me experience true freedom.