NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JULY 15, 2018

“To be an inclusive community of faith –

Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.”

This month, I’m revisiting our above Covenant vision statement in a 3-part sermon series. My hope is that we will live into every aspect of it. Last week, we revisited “Offering Hope.”

This week we revisit the 2nd part of our Covenant vision: “Showing Faithfulness.” One definition of faithfulness is “long-continued and steadfast fidelity to whatever one is bound to by a pledge, duty or obligation.” Too many Christians have limit faithfulness to honoring God through worship, church attendance, and making consistent monetary gifts to the church. Occasionally, faithfulness also includes doing a good deed for someone else along the way, if it doesn’t inconvenience us too much.

At Covenant we believe those things are important; but we also believe that “showing faithfulness” means so much more relationally with each other. Our Covenant membership rite includes this: “Therefore be calm self-controlled people of prayer. Above everything make sure you have a real deep love for each other, remembering how love can cover a multitude of sin. Be hospitable to each other without secretly wishing you didn’t have to be. Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each one of you as faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God.” (From I Peter 4)

Living into the vision of Covenant in “Showing Faithfulness” means we must have steadfast fidelity in living up to this pledge of our membership rite in being “faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God.” This means in our service to Covenant members, other Christians AND ALL OF THE HUMAN FAMILY.

Join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. In revisiting our Covenant Vision, I’ll share how I was called upon to be a “faithful dispenser of the magnificently varied grace of God” in a very heart wrenching situation this past Monday. The sermon is “Part 2: The Vision is Offering Hope and Showing Faithfulness.” The scripture text is Psalms 85:8-13.

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NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JULY 8, 2018

We have just celebrated and observed the 242nd Birthday of America, in which many spoke of the country winning its freedom from tyranny and oppression.

Yet, we all know that as much as we love our country, not everyone experienced freedom from tyranny and oppression with the signing of “The Declaration of Independence” in 1776 or ratification of “The Constitution” and “Bill of Rights.” Abolition of slavery, child labor laws, women’s right to vote, marriage equality, voting rights laws for all citizens are just a few of those things not addressed at the birth of our nation. Furthermore, we know that the letter of the law means nothing if we as a people don’t live into the spirit of the Law.

The same can be said of scripture. The scriptures say in Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.” Yet, there are many in the communities we serve not living free from the tyranny and oppression of those who claim to be followers of Christ. Misuse or erroneously interpreted scripture is used to justify their prejudices, judgmentalism and condemnation of others. Such actions are the total opposite of Christ’s command to “love God and love others.”

At Covenant, we believe we are called to help our communities experience the freedom of living life fully, wholly, and exactly as God created them and intended for them. That’s why Covenant’s vision is “We are an inclusive community of faith – Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.”

From time to time we need to be reminded of how and why our Vision is still relevant for these times in which we live. So, I invite you to join us at worship at Covenant for the next 3 Sundays as I preach a 3-part sermon series on Covenant’s vision. This Sunday the sermon will be “Part 1: The Vision is Offering Hope” based on Mark 6:1-5.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2018

On July 4th we celebrate the 242nd Birthday of America. Whatever your plans are for that day or this week, I pray for you and yours safety and peace.

Trying to connect the lectionary scriptures for this Sunday with the birth of America is difficult. After all, the assigned Hebrew Scriptures are David’s Eulogy of King Saul and his lamenting the death of his beloved, Jonathan. The assigned gospel shares the lengthy illness of a woman with leukemia. In both situations grief is a major theme. So, neither seem to be good July 4th sermon material.

Therefore, I will be doing a Special Note from Pastor JR for July 4th and my sermon this Sunday will be “Glorious Freedom: Getting Through Grief.”

The list would be too lengthy to name all those I’m personally aware of at Covenant and in our community experiencing either, the grief of the death of a loved one or the loss of their own health. Getting through grief may be one of the hardest things we do as human beings.

Late Monday evening I received a request to eulogize on Tuesday afternoon, a person for whom I had the honor of marrying him and his partner on their 35th anniversary just 3 years ago. On Wednesday morning, a man requested I eulogize his partner of 29 years on Friday afternoon. It has been quite a week dealing with so much grief all around me.

I found some much needed hope and inspiration from another Lectionary assigned text for this week; “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in God!” (Lamentations 3:22-24, NRSV)

Join us for worship at Covenant this Sunday as my sermon will be “Glorious Freedom: Getting Through Grief” based on II Samuel 1:1, 17-18a, 22-25.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39

Most people are not familiar with the word “Monophobia” but practically all of us are most certainly acquainted with what it describes. Monophobia or the fear of being alone, is a catch-all term for several discrete fears. Some people are afraid of being apart from a particular person. Some have the fear of living alone or being in public alone. Still, others are afraid of being alone at home. Nervousness while alone is surprisingly common, but I’m told a full-blown phobia is relatively rare.

One fear that many, even people of faith struggle with, is the fear that God will leave them. The above passage from Romans 8 is one of the greatest passages in scripture I know of to help us address this monophobia (the fear that God will leave us.)

As I read these words from the writer of Romans 8, I smiled as I could hear in my memory my Mother singing words to address this monophobia in a version of an old gospel hymn that echoed the emphasis of the Apostle Paul’s words this way:

“I’ve seen the lightning flashing, And heard the thunder roll;

I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, Trying to conquer my soul;

I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, Telling me still to fight on;

He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.

No, never alone…No never alone,

He promised never to leave me. Never to leave me alone.”

Join us at worship this last Sunday of Pride Month for the last of the “Unshakeable Assurances” from “Romans 8:31-39.” My sermon is “God Will Not Leave Us.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR FATHER’S DAY, SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2017

This Sunday is Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads and to those serving in paternal roles.

While I’m mostly known as a devoted Mamma’s boy; it might surprise you to know that I also had a great relationship with my Dad, Jack Finney. This wonderful man died (July 24th) 2 days before my birthday in 1995. It was Father’s Day weekend of that year that it became apparent to me that his life on earth was quickly coming to an end.

I know that not everyone enjoyed the kind of relationship I had with my father. Perhaps that’s why as a Pastor, I’ve always loved Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Capital of the World.” In it, he tells the tale of a Spanish father searching for his son who ran away from home after having a fight with the old man. The father so badly wants to reconcile with his beloved boy that he places an advertisement in the local paper, “El Liberal.” The advertisement reads, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love Papa.” The next day at noon, arriving at the Hotel Montana, the father is astonished to discover 800 young men named Paco waiting for the embrace of forgiveness.

This beautiful story is a modern-day parable of how we all yearn for forgiveness and to know we are not condemned. It also reminds us that God’s love is like that of this loving father. It is a love that is always reaching out to us with the message “All is forgiven! You are not condemned! Come home to My love!”

Join us for worship at Covenant on this Father’s Day. Part of the sermon will be a video clip of another loving father that helps us to remember God’s great love. Then join us for a cookout after morning worship.

This sermon is Part 3 of my Pride Month Series “Unshakeable Assurances.” The title this week is “Forgiven and Not Condemned” based on Romans 8:31-39.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2018

Today is PRIDEFEST and this is Pride Month in Central Alabama. To observe the occasion, I’m preaching a 4 Part Pride Series called “Unshakeable Assurances,” based on Romans 8:31-39. We can best observe Pride Month and every day by living out the Unshakeable Assurance that God gave us lives to be lived open and fully in every way, including orientationally.

This Sunday, “Unshakable Assurances, Part 2” is based on Romans 8:32 which says, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things.” This verse is often misunderstood by those preaching a prosperity gospel and those whose preaching does NOT include God’s unconditional love.

As such, one of the biggest fears that many of us face in life is the fear of the lack of provision. Often, we’ve believed and trusted God for our “salvation;” but we continue to live with this feeling of uncertainty that God’s not going to provide for my needs. To address this feeling that existed even among the earliest Christians along with addressing the question of God’s ultimate purpose for our lives, Paul offers this: “If God gave the incredible gift of God’s only Son; why would you think God would NOT give you freely all things, you need?”

An “Unshakeable Assurance” is that “God Will Give To Us.” Let’s take The Divine at God’s word and live in expectation that God will give us “ALL THINGS.”

Join us this Sunday as I continue with Part 2. I’ll be sharing what “ALL THINGS” mean and what we need to GIVE to the Divine to make this become a reality for our lives.

Then let’s join our community at Sloss Furnaces for PRIDEFEST where Covenant will have a presence and our Music Ministry will participate in the festivities. Invite people you meet and those you already know to join us the following Sunday, June 17th, for worship and a cookout.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018

June is Pride Month. I’ve been participating, first in civil rights struggles and then Pride activities practically all of my life. Along the way you get tired and frustrated by the seemingly slow progress that is being made.

Sometimes you just need to be reminded why you do equality, civil rights and justice work; why you fight for people who cannot fight for themselves; why you battle for rights for those who don’t and won’t help in trying to win those rights for themselves; why you take the mental and verbal attacks by those opposed to the basic human and civil rights for everyone. As a child of the Civil Rights Era and longtime activist for equality for the LGBTQ community, it’s simply who I am.

In 1965, Dr. King delivered a powerful speech in Montgomery, AL that included this resonant line: “The arc of the moral universe is long; but it bends toward justice.” It was first said by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, calling for the abolition of slavery in his 1853 sermon “Of Justice and the Conscience.” We continue to work for equality, civil rights and justice FOR ALL because we believe this to be true.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and marriage equality decision of June 26, 2015, made us think we had come so far. But now, every day it seems many of the hard-fought victories, we took for granted to be secure, are increasingly under attack or being undone. The efforts to undo equality and justices are being led by people who profess to be followers of Christ.

How can this be? So, where do we people of faith who hold these views of “Loving mercy, doing justice and walking humbly with our God” turn for answers to what seemingly are unanswerable questions? I suggest a fresh look at Holy Scripture.

I invite you to join us Sunday mornings during Pride Month for a special 4-Part Pride sermon series called “UNSHAKEABLE ASSURANCES” based on Romans 8:31-39. The sermon on this first Sunday of Pride Month will be “GOD IS FOR US!”

Then join us at 5 PM to help Kick Off Pride Week at 5 PM for the Central Alabama Pride Interfaith Service at Covenant, followed by a reception in the Fellowship Hall.