NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBUARY 19, 2017

A lot of folks don’t like buffets, but I do, especially, if the restaurant has a reputation for good food. As a child, about once every other month, we’d go to eat as a family at a restaurant inside a Mom and Pop Store owned by a dear friend of my Mom. The owner, “Miss Ann” as we called her, was a great cook and always had a terrific buffet. When we got to the restaurant Mama would also say to us, “don’t let your eyes overload your stomach.” It was her warning not to waste food by filling our plates with more food than we would eat. But it seemed like I just couldn’t help myself. No matter how hard I tried, my eyes always overloaded my stomach because there was just so much from which to choose.

I sort of felt that way reading the lectionary scriptures assigned for this Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany. As I read them, I took a little time with each to absorb the message in it trying to decide on a preaching angle for the sermon this Sunday. These passages seemed like a scriptural buffet to me. Not that they were any of my favorites scriptures, they are not! However, they do offer a plethora of preaching options.

Finally, I looked for the common thread in the four assigned passages and found it in Matthew 5 (A part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.) It takes us back to the basics of our Christian faith; our Judeo – Christian tradition of compelling us to love. And not just those that love you, you like or those that treat you well. In verses 43-44, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You should love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s a very difficult teaching by Jesus and a bitter pill for most of us to swallow; but it does bring us back to the basics of the Christian Faith – Learning to Love!

Join us at Covenant this Sunday morning for worship, I will preach from that buffet of assigned lectionary scriptures for this week. The sermon is called “BACK TO BASICS – LEARNING TO LOVE” based on “Matthew 5:38-48.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2017 – COVENANT 36TH ANNIVERSARY

Have you ever had a stretch of time in your life when you just wondered what is going on? I have been in such a stretch since the first week of December. During this time, every week I have had to deal with a death or a funeral including the week before during and after Christmas. Two of those weeks I had to deal with 2 deaths. Then, this week, I’ve dealt with 3 deaths. On Thursday, I officiated and gave the eulogy for a dear friend’s Mother. I think you get my question about “What’s going on?”

Beginning this Sunday, I begin my annual journey of remembrance of my Mom. She died on the 12th, was buried on the 15th, the anniversary of she and my father’s wedding is the 18th and the anniversary of her birth is the 19th. After the last 2 plus months of dealing with deaths and funerals, you would think I’m certainly not looking forward to this next week. However, you would be wrong! You see, over the years, my grief over her death has become a time of rejoicing in remembering the most wonderful Mom, who loved me unconditionally and from whom I credit my learning to have a deep abiding faith and love for God and God’s word.

I no longer think of this week in February as a memorial remembering what was lost to me in her dying. It has become a time of rejoicing. I call some siblings and we remember this great lady fondly, with laughter and joy, who had this thing about singing every verse. We talk about many of her old sayings that contained significant life lessons; others that was just funny such as “A whistling girl and crowing hen, will never come to no good end.” Most of all, I take the time to simply be thankful for the gift God gave me in deciding that my Mom would be James Ella Reid Finney.

After the last 2 plus months, thinking of Mama this way will be my “balm in Gilead.” Remembering her love for me and our wonderful relationship will be my version of “Good News for Those Sick of Bad News” especially around death and funerals.

This Sunday will also be Covenant’s 36th Anniversary. So, I invite you to join us and help us celebrate with dinner to follow afterwards. We will also be introducing our new Covenant logo and presenting the 3rd Annual “Gwen Bowen Service Award.” Rev. Dr. Dave Barnhart, will be our guest speaker. His sermon title is “Good News for Those Sick of Bad News” based on “Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-22.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBURARY 5, 2017

On Sunday, February 12, 2017, Covenant will celebrate our 36th Anniversary. As I said last Sunday, the founding of an opening, affirming and inclusive congregation like Covenant 36 years ago in Birmingham was prophetic and radical. As we prepare to celebrate our congregation’s birthday, it’s important that we understand that we are still called to the prophetic and radical in our openness and inclusiveness and not just to the LGBTQ community if we are going to be faithful to why Covenant came into being.

Here’s where the lectionary Gospel text for this Sunday encourages us. In it, Jesus said that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”. Being salt and light is not optional. Jesus did not say “you can be…or you have the potential to be…” As followers of Christ, we are! But it up to us whether our salt loses it flavor or our light loses it brightness.

The value of salt, especially in the ancient world cannot be under estimated. Roman soldiers received their wages in salt. The Greeks considered salt to be divine. The Mosaic Law required that all offerings presented by the Israelites contain salt. (Lev. 2:13) So, when Jesus told his disciples that they were “the salt of the earth”, (Matt. 5:13), they understood the metaphor. While the universal importance of salt is not as readily apparent in our modern world, the mandate that Jesus gave to His first disciples is still relevant and applicable to His followers today, especially for those of us at Covenant.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells His disciples, “You are the light of the world”. As “salt”, we as followers of Christ are to counteract the power of evil and sin. As “light”, we are to illuminate or make visible the truth of God’s inclusiveness. Our lives are to be on-going witnesses to the reality of Christ’s inclusive presence in our lives, our church, our community and our world! When we worship God with pure hearts, when we love others as ourselves, and when we do good without growing weary, we are lights shining. It is important, however, to know that it is not our light, but the reflection of the Light of the world, that people will see in us.

Join us for worship on this Sunday and again on our 36th Anniversary, Sunday, February 12, 2017. As we celebrate our past and prepare for our future, this week we will learn what it means to have “A Salt and Light Faith.” That’s my sermon title for this Sunday based on “Isaiah 58:1-3, 9b-11” and “Matthew 5:13-16.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 29, 2017

This is Sunday is the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. Today when we think of an Epiphany, it’s probably not about “The Epiphany” when Christ is revealed to the Magi. Rather we’re probably thinking about “an epiphany as a sudden or illuminating discovery or realization. I had that kind of Epiphany on a couple of things this week. One will remain untold. However, the other Epiphany I had was about my affinity for handwritten lists. I’m a very fast typist and even sitting in front of my computer I almost always handwrite my lists whether it’s things to do, outlines for sermons and teachings or whatever. I’m just prone to think I’ll better remember the things on the list if I handwrite them. Not sure about that though.

Have you ever noticed how much we’re into lists? Back in the late 70’s, (I’m told) one of the most popular books around was “The Book of Lists.” And there have been thousands of books published like it since. Someone recently did a search on Amazon.com and came up with 229,000 matches of books with the word “list” in their title. Let’s face it: we have a fascination with lists. Practically all of us have ongoing “To Do Lists”, whether we handwrite them on scraps of paper, in a day-timer or keep track of them on our choice of Personal Digital Assistants. It seems we humans come by this affinity for lists naturally as even God seems to all about lists (i.e., the 10 Commandments, the 2 greatest commandments, the 12 Apostles;) you get the idea.

This assigned Gospel for this Fourth Sunday After Epiphany comes from the beginning on one of Jesus’ most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus starts this sermon with a list we have come to know as “The Beatitudes.” It’s a list telling when and how we are blessed by certain virtues, attitudes and actions; not all of them we like or want to experience. As a preacher, this very familiar list normally makes for very easy sermon preparation; only, I’m not going to be using that list. Instead, I’m going to be using a different list; one from the assigned Old Testament reading found in Micah 6:8. It’s “God’s short list for a faithful life.”

Join us for worship at Covenant, this Fourth Sunday After Epiphany. Perhaps you’ll have an epiphany and leave with an illuminating discovery or realization about your life based on “God’s Short List for a Faithful Life.” That’s my sermon title based on Micah 6:1, 6-8 and Matthew 5:1-12.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 22, 2017

When I lived in Atlanta, during 1980s, I attended lots of matinee games of the Atlanta Braves. I considered myself a follower of the team of the city I lived in. I have since discovered that I was only a fan, not a follower, of the Braves. A follower is one is makes a commit that cost them something. A fan wants the benefits of a followers gets without the commitment or cost.

Maybe this will help you understand what I mean. During the 1980s, the matinee (afternoon games) ticket price for the nose bleed seats were very cheap, only $5. The attractiveness of attending matinee games was I paid only $5 for the tickets. During that time the Atlanta Braves was a dismal baseball team, so there was sparse attendance at any Braves games and even less at a matinee game. After purchasing a ticket for $5, we often were invited to sit in the box seats or those right behind the batter’s box so that there were people in camera view while batters were at the plate.

That sweetheart of a deal changed when Atlanta Braves in one year went from worst to first in 1990, and then became perennial winners during the rest of the time I lived in Atlanta. The ticket prices for a game, even the nose-bleed seats soared and I probably attended only 5 games after that happened; and that was because someone I knew had free tickets. So, all that time I thought I was follower of the Atlanta Braves, I was only a fan.

I think that true of Jesus. Many folks who think they are followers of Christ, are only just fans. They want all the benefits of being a follower of Christ without any of the discipleship, stewardship and commitment asked of followers of Jesus.

This week’s gospel text is about Jesus calling His first four disciples, four fishermen. These were men whose families, immediate or extended, no doubt were dependent on their skill and work catching fish. Yet, the left everything and followed Jesus. It was real commitment that cost them something. They were followers of Jesus, not just fans.

Join us in worship this week at Covenant as the scriptures confront us with this question “Fan or Follower of Jesus?” The way we answer it with our commitment says a lot about the kind of relationship we will have with God and others. As you probably have guest, my sermon is “Fan or Follower of Jesus?” The scripture basis for my sermon are I Corinthians 1:10, 17-18 and Matthew 4:18-23.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR, FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 15, 2017

Yogi Berra, the legendary baseball Hall of Famer, is famous for the quote “Déjà vu, all over again!” That sort of what this Sunday at Covenant will be like. We had intended to observe Baptism of our Lord Sunday this past Sunday. However, the weather made it impossible for many folks to get to church including some of those wanting to be baptized. So, we’ll try it again this Sunday, January 15th.

This Sunday is also the 88th Anniversary of the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday is the official observance (holiday) honoring his legacy to our nation. I love the fact that it has become traditional that we don’t think of the 3rd Monday in January as a Holiday, but rather a day of service. That certainly goes along with observing and renewing our own baptismal vows and what it means or should mean in our own lives.

Baptism, as I talked about last week in the Note from Pastor JR, is not a one-time event signifying that we have arrived. It’s the gateway to “A New Beginning;” A new beginning of recognizing and focusing on God’s call upon our lives. It all starts with obedience to the two great commandments that Jesus gave us, “Loving God; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Our baptism or renewal of baptismal vows this Sunday, along with the observance of Dr. King’s – a day of Service on Monday, is a great opportunity to love God by serving others in need through a cause in which you believe.

It, also, is a powerful way to reinforce our goals and dreams that we have for this New Year of 2017. Who knows what possibilities lay ahead for your life and for our church, if we are open to letting the Holy Spirit renew the power of our holy covenant with God symbolized in the waters of baptism.

So, join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. As Yogi Berra said, “it’s Déjà vu, all over again.” We will be offering the waters of baptism for those who desire it through immersion. We will also be offering the opportunity to renew your baptismal vows through sprinkling. And yes, my sermon title will still be “Baptism: A New Beginning” and the scripture text will still be “Matthew 3: 13-17.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 8, 2017

This is “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.” This New Year of 2017 is still new enough that many are working on new beginnings for our lives. Perhaps that’s why the observance of Jesus’ baptism comes at the beginning of each new year … to encourage us to remember our own baptism and recommit to living out our baptism vows.

I grew up in a church tradition that confused baptism with being a one-time saving moment in which a person being baptized accepts the love and forgiveness of God. While that person may grow in their faith through the years, nothing experienced after Baptism will be as important as that saving moment of baptism. However, in studying the scriptures over the years I have come to look at baptism more broadly. Baptism indeed affirms a time of helping people experience God’s love and forgiveness; but we should also recognize baptism as a time of change. The approach I learned growing up isolates baptism as the most important moment in a faith journey; but I have come to understand that baptism is more of a beginning.

While it’s true that in the waters of baptism, we acknowledge and trust that God has laid claim on our lives; it is also true that we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means. Baptism too frequently has carried the notion that we have arrived. The danger in that thinking is what happens when we in our humanness fall short of living up to the fullest of how God’s love and forgiveness should be reflected in our lives. When we make mistakes and fall short of that as we all will, we begin to question our “salvation.” Have we still arrived? That’s why should never overlook salvation also as a journey which follows baptism.

Baptism is not a sign that we have found all the answers. Baptism is a beginning. It is the desire to see the world differently, to see each other differently, and even to see ourselves differently and to live lives reflecting that difference. At the beginning of each year on “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday”, we are invited to reaffirm our baptismal vows & commit anew to the journey of walking in the two greatest commandments throughout the year of living lives “loving God and loving and serving others.”

Join us at Covenant this “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.” We’ll offer the opportunity to be initially baptized or renew your baptismal vows through immersion or sprinkling. My sermon is “Baptism: A New Beginning” based on “Acts 10:34-38 & 43” and “Matthew 3:13-17.”