NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 24, 2019

As I write this on Thursday morning: I feel, in the words of Thomas Paine, “These are times that try ‘men’s” souls.”

Sunday, I spoke at the Birmingham Islamic Center in response to the terrorist attacks last week in New Zealand. Tuesday, my family said goodbye to a beautiful 7-year girl, who died in a tragic accident. That day, another cousin died. Wednesday, I tried to encourage and prayed with a clergy colleague facing some very challenging and difficult times. The same day I prayed with a Covenant Deacon whose family is going through rough times including a loved one’s death that morning.

Reading the assigned Gospel text for this coming Sunday from Luke 13 was not exactly refreshing. It speaks of death and destruction. Then I read Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” It reminded me of God’s unseen presence with me always, especially the dark times of life.

The book, An Unseen Angel, was written by Alissa Parker, after her daughter, Emilie, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. She writes…

“In one of the last conversations I had with Emilie, she tried gleefully to help me see the connections in a stencil pattern on her wall. ‘Mom, do you see the connections? They are all around us!’ Through the years, those words have led me on a quest to find, recognize, and appreciate the connections that surround us all.” … “My hope in sharing our story is that others who find themselves in dark places can discover the unseen angels in their lives helping them turn to the light.”

As a Christian Pastor, I believe that’s my calling as well. “These are the times that try ‘our’ souls,” but I’m thankful for ‘The Unseen Angel’ with us, Christ.

Join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday. My sermon on this will be “God’s Steadfast Love is Better Than Life” based on Psalms 63:1-8 and Luke 13:1-9.

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2019

This Sunday is the Second Sunday IN Lent. It is also St. Patrick’s Day. Although the tradition is to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, for worship we will stick with purple, the Lenten liturgical color.

While some may go to a special worship service to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; other traditional celebrations include partying, attending festivals and of course, drinking. Since St. Patrick’s Day occurs during the liturgical season of Lent, historically, Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for that day. That’s unnecessary this year because St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday which is already a feast day, where such restrictions don’t apply.

Thinking about all of this, I was struck by how often religion focuses on Heaven and is a means of escaping from the realities of now. As such, we feel the need to go to great lengths to justify any enjoyment in this life on earth. However, in Psalm 27:13 from the assigned sacred text for this Sunday, the Psalmist says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord, in the land of the Living.”

The Psalmist possesses a faith that is not just eternal but imminent, meaning at hand, and about to happen while he was still alive. His is a faith that does not just hope for the best, it anticipates the realization of his hopes. What keeps the Psalmist faithful is the anticipation of hope and dreams that he expects to be realized in this life. Not just pie in the sky bye-and-bye when we die, but something sound, on the ground, while we’re still around – that is the faith of the Psalmist.

I believe in Heaven (a place where we are eternally present with God) but I also believe that God wants us to experience all that God has to offer us in this life we have on earth. Join us in worship this Sunday. We’ll explore this more in my sermon “Seeing the Goodness of the Lord, In the Land of the Living,” based on Psalms 27.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY, MARCH 3, 2019

This week we will commemorate Transfiguration Sunday, when Jesus was transfigured on a Mountain in the presence of three of His disciples. The Lectionary scriptures for Transfiguration Sunday this year includes II Corinthians 3:15-17, “Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their (our) minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Much attention this past week was focused on the United Methodist Church (UMC) debate on whether to recognize with full inclusion LGBTQ people. Since 2001, the UMC’s brand promise has been “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” I was saddened when the veil of homophobia was NOT removed for our Methodist LGBTQ siblings and they didn’t find the freedom they sought in the UMC as it voted to reject their brand promise this week.

The following is an excerpt from an open letter of the United Church of Christ (UCC) to the UMC. “We hold in prayer those whose past wounds have been reopened by the recent debates of the governing body gathered in St. Louis. The Body of Christ has, throughout its long history, not always been kind and loving to those who live outside its established norms and conformities. We confess to our own history and complicity with racism, misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia. Our hope is that we can and will continue to struggle with our closed hearts and minds as we seek to live more fully into the vision of God’s shalom for all.”

While the inability to live more fully in the freedom of God’s shalom is often caused by bad religion, as it was this week in St. Louis, sometimes it is aided by veils we allow over our own minds.

Join us in worship on this Transfiguration Sunday. In an effort to help lift any veil keeping us from God’s shalom, my sermon will be “Transfiguration – From Veil to Freedom” based on II Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2 and Luke 9:28-35.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY AND THE LAST SUNDAY OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH, FEBRUARY 24, 2019

This Sunday is the last Sunday of Black History Month. I’ve noticed a lot of wonderful renowned African Americans that has been highlighted in various situations during this month. I’d like to note one other, Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor.

Dr. Proctor was an African American minister, educator, humanitarian and perhaps best known as the mentor and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though I never met Dr. Proctor who died in 1997; I’ve heard and read many of his sermons from his time as Pastor of the 18,000-member Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem; where he spear-headed the building of 50 housing units in Harlem for needy families. His list of contributions to America and our community are too extensive to list here.

Monday evening, I attended, the opening worship service of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Leadership Conference, held here in Birmingham at the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. I accompanied some friends I’m hosting from Saginaw Michigan: (one, Reverend Carolyn Mobley-Bowe, I’ve known 40+ years). It was a wonderfully affirming and powerful worship service. “The mission of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference is to nurture, sustain, and mobilize the African American faith community in collaboration with civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders to address critical needs of human and social justice within local, national and global communities.”

One such critical need is for people to experience real freedom. Former slave Harriett Tubman, leader of the Underground Railroad once said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Real freedom starts within; recognizing working to free oneself from those untruths, negativity and influences that keep a person enslaved to the kind of thinking that prevents them from experiencing the freedom God intended for each of God’s children.

Join us for worship at Covenant on this last Sunday of Black History Month. My sermon will be “Experiencing Real Freedom” based on “Genesis 45:3-9 & 15” and “Luke 6:31-38.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR – 38TH ANNIVERSARY SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2019

This Sunday Covenant will celebrate 38 years of Ministry. Our vision statement development very early on was and continues to be “To be an inclusive community of faith – Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.” It’s a timeless vision in an era of tremendous change. So much has changed in the last 38 years but the message of Covenant has remained the same.

Someone has noted that “the only constant today is change.” If you type “change” into the google search engine you will find a seemingly unending list of associated topics. So, with all this talk about change and all the changes people face in the daily life, where does one find an unchangeable constant to anchor their hopes and their faith.

Perhaps Hebrews 13:8, offers us a clue. It reads, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!” (CEB) If, as we believe, Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s self to humanity, then Jesus represents those things about God that are forever true and never changes. Chief among those things is God’s inclusive love.

There are hundreds of scripture text that speak to this but one of my favorites is Lamentations 3:22-23 which reads: “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!” (ESV)

When facing difficult and challenging changes in your life, make time to think about God’s love, goodness, and grace. Through them, God is still speaking hope into our lives. In I Corinthians 13, Apostle Paul says that when all is said and done “These three remain, faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love.” This is the 38-year message of Covenant that never changes.

Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Covenant’s 38th birthday as “Bring-A -Friend” Sunday. My sermon will include a skit by “The Joyful Souls Ministry” and is titled “38 Years And the Message Never Changes” based on “I Corinthian 13:4-13.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2019

On Wednesday nights in February, our Life Lessons are series on, “When God Get Your Attention.” We are using individual testimonies from Covenant members to illustrate that God is still speaking to get our attention today. Our scriptural example for this series is Moses’ encounter with a “Burning Bush.”

A “Burning Bush” experience is when “in the midst of a routine; when you least expect it; you are surprised by God’s invitation.” The metaphorical “Burning Bush” experience played out by other names and in different ways in the scriptures.

The assigned scriptures for this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany are two such examples. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah had his “Burning Bush” experience as a vision. In Luke 5, some men had their “Burning Bush” experience while fishing.

All 3 experiences, Moses, Isaiah and some future disciples were a calling to say yes to God’s invitation. It’s natural to have questions as all of them did. However, the important thing to remember from these 3 “Burning Bush” experiences is their answering in the affirmative to God’s invitation.

Moses went to Egypt and led Israelites out of slavery. Isaiah responded, “Here I am, send me.” As for the fisherman in Luke 5, their obedience following Jesus instructions resulted in “full nets.” Their response to Jesus’ invitation to become disciples was “they left everything and following Him.” (v. 11)

When we are willing to say yes to God’s invitation and serve God by serving others, we find the true blessing of love hope and peace, “filling our nets.”

Join us for worship at Covenant on this Sunday before Valentine’s Day when the sermon will challenge us with this question: “Are You Ready for Your “Nets” to be Filled?” The assigned scripture text is Luke 6:4-8 and Luke 5:1-11.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2019

As I prepared to speak at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa Thursday, I noticed a professor was trying to get the attention of a student on the other side of the auditorium. The student asked, “Who, Me?” and the professor responded “Yes. You.” Most of us have had this experience. Our initial response to a call came from the uncertainty that the call was for us.

As a pastor, I have watched this occur many times spiritually in people’s lives. We hear God’s call to hope, forgiveness and love… even a call to service and our initial response comes from our uncertainty that call is meant for us. So, we ask “Who, Me?” And God answers “Yes. You.”

In Jeremiah 1, God calls out to Jeremiah and his initial response is “Who, Me?” and God says “Yes. You.” Like us, Jeremiah’s “Who, Me?” moment comes from a failure to trust that God’s call to us comes because God knew us before we were born and is the results of God’s unconditional love.

The Apostle Paul’s best-known writing about love in I Corinthians 13 should also be considered a description of God’s love for us. Read these words out loud to yourself: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing; but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. “(vs. 4-8)

Perhaps if we think of this as Gods love for us, we would be less like to initially respond to God’s call on our lives with “Who, Me?” And there would be no need for God to respond, “Yes, You!”

Join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant, where the sermon will be “I asked God, “ME?” God said, “YES. YOU.” The assigned scriptures are “Jeremiah 1:4-10 and I Corinthians 13:1-13.