NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR March 26, 2017 THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

As I write this, I have just returned from Virginia where I attended and spoke at the funeral of my brother, Larry’s oldest grandchild. When “Kaci” was three weeks old, a fast-growing cancer was discovered on his spine. The surgery to remove it, along with the chemo and radiation seemed to take care of the problem. But it left him with weakened bones that required him to wear leg braces for seven years. It also left him with many other challenges, one was a pronounced limp. He had been in otherwise good health until he started experiencing pain in his back in late summer 2016. At first, he didn’t tell anyone, especially his Mom, my niece, Melanie, as she suffers from a rare form of MS. When the pain got unbearable, he asked his great grandmother to pray for him, and she told Melanie about it. A visit to the doctor discovered he had stage 4 spine cancer after having been cancer free for 18 years. He died early in the morning of Friday, March 17, when his heart gave out.

All along the way, Melanie, has been his rock. She has cared for him when he was sick, consoled him when his challenges made him unable to run and play like the other children. She encouraged him when he was down, and she helped him build a faith in God that he used to help sustain them in his dying. She is a remarkable woman.

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Lent but it’s also the last Sunday in Women’s History Month. Perhaps you have heard the term “Women are the weaker sex.” Don’t you believe it! Melanie reminds me of many of the wonderful women I’ve known who can handle “The Unexpected” of life better than most men. Women like her seem to know how to experience the most severe darkness life can throw at a person and still overcome it to live as the light of God. How? Well, when faced with “The Unexpected,” Melanie’s faith has always caused her to simply give it all to Jesus. The results were that on Wednesday at Kaci’s homegoing services, she was able to do a tribute to her son and also sing the lead on his favorite song with their choir. The weaker sex? Don’t you believe it!

The good news is that overcoming “The Unexpected” is not just for women. It’s for all of us; us men too. Join us this Sunday as we observe Women’s History Month. Deacon Shun Reddock will preach on “The Unexpected” from Ephesians 5:8-14.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MARCH 19, 2017 The Third Sunday in Lent

One of the wonderful memories I have of my Mama is remembering many of the bits of wisdom and expressions that came from her lips. I’ve come to know that many of those things were not original to her; but they were living water for my thirsty soul growing up and they are still precious to me, even today.

I thought of one as I stopped by the grocery store this week to pick up a few items. Walking down the aisle where the bottled water was, I remember how she frequently said: “When I’m really thirsty, nothing satisfies my thirst like a cold glass of water.” I may have thought of that saying of hers because I had read that day the lectionary scriptures from John 4 assigned for this Third Sunday in Lent. In it, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus asked her for a drink of water and when she at first hesitated, Jesus told her of living water that could satisfy her thirsty soul for all eternity. Jesus was saying to this woman, “I know you are really thirsty to satisfy a very strong need in you; but nothing will satisfy the deepest longing within you, but the “Living Water” that I can give you.”

Mama, like the woman at the well, was speaking of satisfying a physical thirst. But God knows that for most of us, our greatest thirst isn’t physical, it’s spiritual. The season of Lent is a time of inner spiritual reflection examining the thirst within our spiritual self; then preparing for the “Living Water” God offers. God desires for each of us to be “A Thirsty Soul That Finds Living Water.”

Mama knew what she thirsted for physically and she knew what would satisfy it. I’m thankful that she also knew what she thirsted for spiritually and her legacy helped me and many others to be thirsty souls finding “Living Water.”

Join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. It’s the day before Spring. We will satisfy your physical thirst and hunger with a cookout following morning worship where we will first try to help you be “A Thirsty Soul That Finds Living Water.” That’s my sermon title based on John 4:1-26.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MARCH 12, 2017 THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

I grew in a fundamentalist, Pentecostal tradition with no liturgical observances other than Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. This included the sermons. Preachers preached most only their favorite scriptures. Growing up, I don’t ever recall hearing a sermon from the Songs of Solomon where the lover says to the beloved in (4:5) “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.” Nor did I hear one on the beloved’s response to her lover in (4:16) “Awake north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.” I guess this was not one of their favorite passages of scripture.

Because we were African Americans growing up in the civil right era, I do recall hearing preaching from books like Amos which says “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” and from Micah which says “what does the Lord require of thee, but to love mercy, act justly and walk humbly before our God.” But mostly, it was the favorite scriptures of the preacher spouting “Turn or burn” condemnations. It is surprising I developed the love for God and church that I did listening to this stuff.

Fortunately for me, my saving grace was a very loving Mother whose unconditional love toward me and others was the closest thing to God on earth that I’ve ever known. Then there was the music that I loved and treasured that took me to a place spiritually and emotionally that I still cherish to this day.

Along the way, I discovered the lectionary; a set of mostly four scriptures assigned for every Sunday in a 3-year cycle. In following it, you cover every major theme in the scriptures; plus it eliminates the need to only preach on your favorite scriptures. Every now and then, some of my favorite passages show up in the assigned lectionary readings. Such is the case for this Second Sunday in Lent.

One of those scriptures is Psalm 121. The opening 2 verses is all the encouragement and guidance we really need for Lent. It says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” (KJV) This passage encourages us to turn to God for the help and guidance we need in our lives and on our Lenten Journey. Not much more needs to be added to that.

Turn your clock forward one hour Saturday night and join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. I will be preaching on another one of my favorites stories about Nicodemus in a sermon called “Preparing for A New Life.” The assigned scriptural text is also one my favorites: “John 3:1-17.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MARCH 5, 2017 THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

“An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That’s an old saying often used when people are referring to an uncanny likeness of a son and his father in appearance, habits or traits. In many ways, this saying applies to me and my Dad. However, in other ways, the differences between the two of us leave me feeling like I need a DNA test to prove that I really am the son of Jack Finney.

When it comes to carpentry skills, mechanical or electrical knowledge, my apple may have fallen close to the tree; but it quickly rolled a long way down the hill out of sight of the tree from which I fell. Daddy was astutely adept in all three mentioned areas. The services of a carpenter, an electrician and/or a plumber were never needed at our house when I was growing up. Daddy took care of all of those needs himself.

Me, on the other hand, I’m about as clueless in these areas as they come. So, it might be a little surprising that my sermon title for Ash Wednesday was “Time for A Spiritual Tune Up” and my sermon title for this coming First Sunday in Lent is “Flying Instructions for Lent.” With both sermons, I use my very limited knowledge of mechanics to explore important spiritual truths that can help us make the most of our Lenten journey for 2017.

Join us this week for worship on “The First Sunday in Lent.” At Covenant, we call it “Purple Sunday.” We ask that if you can to please wear something purple.

When it comes to mechanical knowledge, I may have rolled far from the tree of Jack Finney. Nonetheless, I will still use my limited knowledge of mechanics and my memories from my days in the Air Force to explore some important truths about “Flying Instructions for Lent” based on “Psalm 32:6-8” and “Matthew 4:1-11.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR, FEBRUARY 26, 2017 “TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY”

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. Every year just before the beginning of Lent, the church goes mountain climbing. We spiritually, as Peter, James and John physically did, follow Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration. Up there we get to see Jesus as He really is as the brightness of God’s glory shines on Him and through Him. The event of course is “The Transfiguration of Jesus,” that signals the end of the season of Epiphany.

Epiphany Ends as it began with a bright light shining. Jesus, the Day Star, the bright and morning star, shines on the Mount of Transfiguration just as the light from heaven shone above His cradle in Bethlehem 30 years or so earlier.

        But why do we all these years later, still spiritually climb this mountain to see this light? Why do we take valuable time out of our busy lives and devote ourselves to climbing the mountain where God’s glory is revealed? Aren’t there hungry folks to be fed? Aren’t there jobs to be done? Aren’t there bills to be paid? Aren’t there children to be fed and clothed? Aren’t there sick to be healed? Aren’t there those grieving that need to be consoled? The answer to all these questions is yes! So, why did Jesus take this time away from His mission? And why do we do it each year right before Lent begins?

Jesus was preparing Himself for the long journey to another mountain. Jesus knew that ahead of Him was the long walk to the cross. And Jesus took this time to focus Himself on the journey that lay ahead of Him.

Mark Twain once said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” We get so caught up with the living of our daily lives that our spiritual imagination often gets out of focus. So, we go mountain climbing each year at the end of Epiphany to spiritually prepare ourselves for the discipline walk of faith and devotion through Lent. It is our way of taking strength from Christ’s strength, as we prepare to walk our Lenten journey. With this, we remember that “Our Need for Transfiguration” is why the glory of God calls us to go this mountain climbing trip.

Join us at Covenant this week as we observe “Transfiguration Sunday,” followed by our February Birthday reception. Then join us again for our “Ash Wednesday” services with communion and the imposition of Ashes.

This week my sermon is “Our Need for Transfiguration” based on “II Peter 1:16-21” and “Matthew 17:1-9.”

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.”