NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

This week, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is known as “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The assigned texts always include a portion of John 10 in which Jesus declares “I am the Good Shepherd.” This year, Psalm 23, one of the most beloved of all passages in the Bible, is also included.

In Psalm 23, David equates the nature of sheep to our human nature. Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off and get lost. We humans tend to do the same thing. Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)

When sheep go astray, they are in danger of getting lost, being attacked, even killing themselves by drowning or falling off cliffs. Likewise, within our own human nature, there is a strong tendency to often go astray from purposes and good works God has created for our lives. This leaves us vulnerable to falling prey to things not good for us – things that do not reflect our relationship with the Shepherd (God). As such we make choices that often endanger our lives or cause us to fall off the cliffs in our health; as well as spiritually and emotionally. In doing so, we run the risk of getting lost in life and even forgetting the way back to God.

David, in Psalm 23, made this analogy because as a shepherd he knew sheep, and as an anointed leader of God’s people, he also understood how much he and the people he led were just like sheep. So, David sees in God our human need for a shepherd that meets our need for provision, rest, security and direction. How can we make this promise from scripture a reality in our lives? It’s simple: “Following the Good Shepherd.”

Join us for worship on this Good Shepherd Sunday at Covenant. My sermon based on Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18 is designed to help us in remaining close to and reaping the benefits of “Following the Good Shepherd.”

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, APRIL 15, 201

This week, the first verse of the assigned gospel text references yet another encounter of the disciples with Jesus after the Resurrection. Jesus’s standard greeting right before and immediately following the resurrection is “Peace be with you.” I believe we miss many opportunities, gifts and blessings from God because we don’t take to heart this greeting by the Risen Christ.

Most people, even Christians don’t understand peace as a positive concept; but only know of the negative aspect of peace, which is merely the absence of trouble. But Jesus uses this greeting in a positive way.

The familiar word “Shalom,” or “Peace be with you,” in its purest sense doesn’t mean “I hope you don’t get into any trouble.” It means, “I hope you have all the highest good coming your way.”

Last week’s sermon was aimed to help us in having the highest good coming our way through “finding unity and peace in the resurrection.” This week it aims to help us to experience our highest hopes through “Confronting Fear and Doubt to Find Real Peace.”

Immediately following this greeting of “Peace be with you” by the Risen Christ, the next verse says of the disciples, “But they were afraid and full of fear. They thought they saw spirit.” Their reaction is typical of ours today. So often, we allow what we “think” to create fear and doubt which clouds our judgement, makes us feel insecure and holds us captive from many of God’s blessings. Jesus’ greeting tells us that we are to live in God’s gift of Peace. The only hope we have of experiencing the highest good coming to us is by “Confronting Fear and Doubt to Find Real Peace.”

Join us at Covenant on this Sunday morning. Let’s learn how to experience our highest good coming our way from a sermon called “Confronting Fear and Doubt to Find Real Peace” based on Luke 24:36-43.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 8, 2018

This Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Easter; but is better known as Low Sunday; as Christian churches collectively tend to record their lowest attendance of the year.

However, we find a very important message in the assigned text from John 20. In it, Jesus says to His disciples, “Peace be with you!” This is not a peace “as the world gives”, but a peace that provides relief in the face of persecution, the promise of new possibilities, and a confidence in God to overcome “the world.” In John’s Gospel, “the world” indicates a hostile and ignorant response to the truth of God’s peace.

Then, recalling the moment when God breathed life into the original earth person, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” making them new spiritual creations so they could engage the world. In receiving the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers receive nothing less than the fullness of God. So:

· Jesus bestows peace upon His worried followers. Great!

· Jesus fills them with the Holy Spirit. Great!

· Jesus tells them they can forgive or retain other people’s sins. Huh?

What is Jesus talking about? Well, it is for sure that Jesus is not appointing the church or its members as God’s moral watchdog. Nor is Jesus commissioning us to arbitrate people’s assets and liabilities on a heavenly balance sheet. In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about sin as unbelief, the unwillingness or incapacity to grasp the truth of God manifested in Him. So, to be living in sin is not about moral failings, but it’s an inability or refusal to recognize and receive God’s revelation in Christ when confronted by it; thereby remaining estranged from God.

God’s purpose in doing this on the evening of the first Easter is so that Christ’s followers will “Find Joy and Peace in the Resurrection.” It is so our lives can accomplish great things as Jesus did, if we are yielded to God’s Spirit that lives in us.

Join us at Covenant for worship on Low Sunday. I’ll be preaching on “Finding Joy and Peace in the Resurrection” based on Psalm 133 and John 20:19-23.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 1, 2018

This Sunday is Easter! We will be celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Now, you might think Easter must be the easiest sermon preparation assignment for preachers, especially those in long term pastorates. Wrong! After all, how many new ways can you tell the death and resurrection story of Jesus. Familiarity of having preached this topic for so many years to the same congregation, makes it harder to prepare the Easter Sermon.

Such familiarity with Easter often has a downside for Christians. We’ve heard the story so many times that over the years it ceases to have the impact it should on our modern lives. One might be tempted to ask, “Does the Resurrection Still Matter?”

Our instinctive response is “off course, it matters.” But then we might be hard pressed to give a short but convincing, impactful response of how that’s true in our lives right now.

Perhaps knowing why there are Easter egg hunts on the day we celebrate the Resurrection might help. The egg is a symbol of new life, fertility and rebirth; and Jesus’ resurrection represents for us new life, rebirth & bringing fertility of purpose to us our lives.

Last Sunday, “Glory” gave even a more impactful response than the story behind Easter eggs, when they sang these words:

They hung Him high. They stretched Him wide. He hung His head, For me He died; That’s love! But that’s not how the story ends, 3 days later, He rose again; That’s love!”

For me, that’s about as impactful a response as can be given to the question, “Does The Resurrection Still Matter?”

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for an opportunity to Celebrate with Fellowship the new life Easter brings. Sunrise Service is at 7:30 AM, followed by Easter Breakfast at 8:00 AM. Our Celebration of the Resurrection is at 10 AM with me preaching “Does the Resurrection Still Matter?” based on John 20:1-18.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR PALM SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2018

The original March on Washington is known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. As a 9-year old, I didn’t realize the full implication of this March to advocate for the civil and economic rights of African Americans. I must admit I don’t even remember the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King because my attention was focused elsewhere by the time he spoke late in the afternoon. I do remember Mahalia Jackson’s rousing rendition of “How I Got Over.” To me the whole event was just a great big parade and “everybody loves a parade, until …”. For me, the ‘until’ was when I came to realize it was seeking relief against the injustices that had caused the March.

Saturday, March 24, the March for Our Lives will take to the streets of Washington DC and 500 other cities around the country to demand that kid’s lives and safety become a priority and serious efforts are taken to end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools. I wonder how many will not recognize the gravity of the event and see it as just a big parade; and, “everybody loves a parade, until …” the horror of gun violence strikes, victimizing them and theirs.

Then on Palm Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In an act of political resistance against the Roman Empire and their proxies in the religious establishment, huge crowds of people sang and waved palm branches to welcome Jesus into the city. Jesus went directly to the temple, the center of a corrupt system, threw out the moneychangers and reclaimed the space for the people. And “everybody loved the parade, until …” during this last week of His life, Jesus proclaimed a vision of a new society where there are no outcasts and everyone has enough.

Join us this Palm/Passion Sunday. We will celebrate with the waving of palm branches, special music and a sermon about 2 parades called “Everybody Loves A Parade, Until …” based on Psalm 118:1, 22-29 and John 12:12-16

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 18, 2018

When traveling, often there are places or people you make it a priority to see. While attending the UCC General Synod, in Baltimore, last summer with my best friend in the ministry, Rev. Richard Barham, and with both of us being history buffs, Fort McHenry was a must-see place for us. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore. Key was inspired by the large American flag, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort after the American victory. So, we took a ferry to visit this much-see sight.

Some Greek converts to Judaism had a must-see person in mind on their visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. John 12:20-21 says, “Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, … and made a request: ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus.’” This event in this week’s Lectionary Gospel text takes place on Tuesday of Holy Week. We are not told whether they were there for Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city 2 days earlier, but they had obviously heard about this preaching and miracle working Rabbi named Jesus. So, they made one of the most extraordinary requests in the entire Gospel to the disciple Philip; “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”

This scriptural phrase is engraved on many pulpits around the world because it is the essence of why we preach the gospel. It is so people will encounter the must-feel presence of Jesus The Christ. To experience the love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and acceptance of God that was found in Jesus has incredible power to make a real difference and to bring real hope into our lives.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for a must-feel worship experience. My sermon “We Want to See Jesus” based on John 12:20-33 will be part of it.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 11, 2018

 

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Most of us are familiar with the snake on the pole seen in this image that can be found on many medical vehicles. This week’s assigned text speaks to the origin of it. It dates back to early 1400 BC when the Israelites were wandering around in the desert of Sinai. In Numbers 21, as Moses leads the Israelites the long way around Edom, they grew tired and irritated from the extra hike. God has cared for them by providing “manna” (bread) but they complained because it was too bland for their taste. So, they complained about their sore feet and limited drink and meal choices. As the story goes; their whining resulted in a sudden spike in the desert’s venomous snake population. The snakes were unavoidable and, as a result, many Israelites were getting bitten and dying. They repented and begged Moses to pray away the snakes. Moses appealed to God on their behalf and God gave Moses a little metalworking project. “The Lord said to Moses, make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (vs. 8-9)

The “look and live” symbol served its purpose for the Israelites, but in the assigned Gospel text this week, we learn of its ultimate purpose. In John 3:14-15, Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” This early symbol for healing amidst the plague of snakes was a forerunner image of Christ on the cross, who would be a remedy for the plague of sin. If we look (believe) in Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we too can live beyond the bites of the sin (anything that kills us to the healing power of God’s presence in our lives for now and all eternity). After all, it wasn’t the snake on the pole that healed the people; it was their faith and belief that God could heal them.

Join us as Covenant this Sunday. The liturgical color is PINK! And I will be preaching the sermon “Look and Live” based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.