NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2018

This Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent. The assigned scripture from Genesis 9 talks about is about Rainbows. While rainbows are special to our community, they have a significance for all of God’s creatures. Who among us don’t remember:

“Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly. …

If happy little bluebirds fly, Beyond the rainbow.

Why? Oh, why can’t I?”

These words originally voiced by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” speaks to the longing in every heart for a life “where troubles melt like lemon drops.” The problem is none of us live “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We live down here on earth where we constantly struggle with life’s disappointments, setbacks, losses, cares and worries.

The good news is that God promised a covenant for all who live “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ the Rainbow.” Think of these words from Genesis 9:17, “Then God said …, ‘Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.’” Lent is meant to be a season of spiritual reflection where we take the time to explore this incredible covenant (commitment, arrangement, understanding, and bond) through deepening our relationship with God. In doing so, we discover the promise of God is not that we “OVER” the rainbow; but a covenant that includes God’s presence with us always as we walk together “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ the Rainbow.”

Join us at Covenant on this First Sunday of our Lent. It’s “Purple Sunday; wear something purple. Bring someone with you; it’s also “Bring-A-Friend Sunday.” We’ll be celebrating our church’s 37th Anniversary and presenting the “4th Annual Gwen Bowen Award.” Then join us for dinner immediately following the service.

I will be preaching a sermon called “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ The Rainbow,” based on Genesis 9:8-9, 12-17 and Mark 1:9-13

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR TRANFIGURATION SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2018

The gospel text assigned from Mark 9 for Transfiguration Sunday includes verses 2 & 9: “Six days later, Jesus took with Him, Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And He was transfigured before …” Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is My Son, the Beloved; listen to Him!”

Seeing Jesus’ transfiguration take place, along with the sudden appearing of Moses and Elijah, Peter decided, “Wow, I’m glad we didn’t miss this,” and suggested they stay up on the mountain to build 3 shelters dedicated to the 3. After all, confronted with a situation like this, one should not just stand there; but do something.

Most sermons I’ve heard on this passage always emphasized the need to NOT stay up on the mountains with our head in the clouds, but use mountaintop experiences like this one to empower us to go back into the valley of human need and do something about what we find there.

If we don’t merge both the mountaintop experience with our actions in the valley of human need, we will be “Missing the Point.” The Transfiguration supports the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. God speaking to the disciples saying, “Listen to Him” identifies Jesus as the messenger and mouth-piece of God. This means that what Jesus tells us is exactly what God wants us to know. And what would that be?

Jesus said that the greatest commandments are “loving God and loving others.” Jesus said, “I give you a new command that you love one another as I have loved you.” Any teaching contrary to this is not of God.

Emphasizing the importance of love in action, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Join us in worship at Covenant this Transfiguration Sunday. I’ll be preaching a sermon called “Missing the Point” based on Mark 9:2-9.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2018

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35, NRSV)

From the assigned reading for this Sunday from the Gospel of Mark 1:29-39, verse 35 above stood out to me. In the preceding 6 verses Jesus heals Peter’s Mother-in-law, along with healing all the various physical, emotional and mental illnesses of a huge number of people brought to Him immediately thereafter. After this, Jesus immediately felt the need for some time alone to replenish Himself physically and spiritually in prayer. When the disciples find Him, He doesn’t spend any time on the success of the ministry He had just accomplished but immediately lays out for them what is next on His ministry agenda.

As followers of Jesus, we love to proudly proclaim that Jesus is our example. Yet, we too often miss the lesson He taught us in how to live life fully, healthily and wholesomely for the long haul. The lesson in verse 35 is not an evangelistic message to the world but a life example that we all would do well to follow: “It’s important to take the time to replenish yourself physically and spiritually.”

It’s so easy to get caught up with doing things, even good ministry things, and forget this example of Jesus of frequently taking the necessary time to replenish our physical and spiritual selves. Failing to do will leave one burned out in every way. With the Season of Lent fast approaching, let’s use it as a time to replenish ourselves for the ministry to which God is calling us for the rest of 2018.

Begin by joining us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. I will be preaching a sermon called “After Serving: I Had to Be Alone” based on Isaiah 40:28-31 and Mark 1:29-39.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 21, 2018

Have you ever had a change of mind about an issue that left you wondering … what was I thinking? The more I study scripture these days, the more that happens to me. I grew up in a very conservative Pentecostal Holiness Church. I’m forever grateful for the foundation it gave me in scripture, nurtured my love for God and taught me the joy of being part of a community of faith. Nonetheless, I also must admit that some of what I learn in church back then about God does NOT align with scripture.

Too often church scripture was used to emphasize negative stereotypes about who God is, what God is like, what God thinks about us or how God interacts with us. However, the more I study the scriptures, I find a very different God. I find a God whose love knows no boundaries, One who is always reaching out to us in innovative ways or taking drastic measures to get our attention. God loves us and knows “People Need the Lord.” We need the love, grace, forgiveness and peace that only comes from a loving God.

In the scriptures for this Sundays, God uses Jonah, an unwilling participant at first, who has to be convinced through extraordinary means to carry the message of hope to others. In the other scripture, God uses the power of Jesus presence to enlist help in spreading the message of love and hope by saying to them, “Come, follow me, … I’ll show you how to fish for people.”

God took these innovative and extraordinary actions because God knows “People Need the Lord.” But what leaves me wondering “What was I thinking” is how can I or others read these wonderful stories and portray a negative stereotype of God.

Join us in worship this Sunday, I will reinforce the message of hope and love that God desires for us to live in with a sermon called “People Need the Lord” based on Jonah 3:1-5, 10 and Mark 1:14-20

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR BAPTISM OF OUR LORD SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 2018

The Baptism of Jesus is commemorated each year on the first Sunday following Epiphany, January 6. This year that was the first Sunday of the New Year. At Covenant, we have chosen to commemorate it as we normally do on this week on the Second Sunday of the New Year. That also means following the lectionary scriptures assigned for this Sunday requires us to look at baptism with a depth that goes beyond baptism being an outward sign of an inward spiritual reality taking place.

Rev. Michael Piazza shared the following this week: “I have no idea what the sign actually said, but, driving to the airport … it seems it said, ‘Hope Repaired Here’. It was tempting to turn around and see what it really said and what they really repaired. The thing is, as someone whose hope has been damaged a bit during the past couple years, it felt better to think that there really is a place that repairs shattered hopes.”

As I thought about his words, it dawned on me that there is such a place. It’s called our hearts. The assigned text for this Sunday from Psalm 139 & I Corinthians 6 goes to great lengths to remind us that God who made us, knows us, loves us, is always present with us, and we belong to God! That reminder is where hope is repaired!

Being baptized or re-affirming our baptism is meant be a time when we are reminded in our innermost being, that hope is repaired right here within us. “Baptism” reminds us that hope is repaired “When We Say Yes” to a relationship with God.

So, join us on this “Baptism of Our Lord” Sunday at Covenant. We will commemorate the Baptism of Jesus with Baptisms by Immersion and reaffirmations of Baptism with sprinkling as part of our worship. My sermon will be “Baptism: When We Say Yes” based on Psalm 139, 1-6, 13-18 and I Corinthians 6:12, 19-20.

CHRISTMAS GREETING FROM PASTOR J R

I know that most of us will be busy this holiday weekend. Email and other social media will not be a big priority for most of us. So, I’m sending my Christmas Greetings a few days before Christmas.

While I wish you a very Merry and Safe Christmas, let me also share these Christmas reminders I ran across.

  • May the Christmas GIFTS remind us of God’s greatest gift, God’s only Son.
  • May the Christmas CANDLES remind us of The One who is the “Light of the world.”
  • May the Christmas TREES remind us of another tree where He demonstrated His love.
  • May the Christmas CHEER remind us of The One who said, “Be of good cheer.”
  • May the Christmas FEAST remind us of The One who is “the Bread of Life.”
  • May the Christmas BELLS remind us of the glorious proclamation of Jesus’ birth.
  • May the Christmas CAROLS remind us of The One the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
  • May the Christmas SEASON remind us of Jesus, the Reason for the Season!

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR DECEMBER 24, 2017 THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS EVE.

I realize this Note from Pastor J R is longer than most, but because of the season I wanted to share this wonderful story. I hope you will be moved by it as much as I was when I read it.

Harriet Richie, a writer from Anderson, South Carolina, wrote a story about something that happened to her and her family late one night. They had been to a Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight. After worship, her husband announced that he was hungry and wanted breakfast. Of course, it was almost 1 a.m. on Christmas morning, so none of the usual places they might have gone were open. They made their way to the interstate where an all-night truck stop was still open.

A few big diesels rumbled outside. Inside a few truckers sat at the counter. A jukebox played country music. On the front window was a string of colored blinking lights. The place smelled like bacon grease and stale coffee. A one-armed man behind the counter nodded the family toward a booth.

Soon a waitress named Rita sauntered over, handed them their menus and asked what they wanted to drink. Harriet looked around. She felt a little bit like a snob and out of place. Her family had just come from a beautiful Christmas Eve service. And soon they would be heading to their lovely home for the night. She thought one day they would look back with a laugh and say to each other, “Remember that Christmas we ate breakfast at that truck stop? That awful music and those tacky lights?”

She was staring out the window when an old Volkswagen van drove up. A young man with a beard and baggy jeans got out, walked around and opened the door for a young woman holding a baby. They hurried inside and took a booth near the back.

After Rita, the waitress, took their order, the baby began to cry, and neither of the young parents could quiet him. Finally, Rita set down her coffee pot and held out her arms for the baby. “Hon, just sit there and drink your coffee. Let me see what I can do.”

It was evident that Rita had done this before. She began walking around the place showing the baby to first one of the truckers and then another. One began whistling a Christmas tune and make silly faces. Quickly the baby stopped crying and began cooing. Rita showed the baby the blinking lights on the jukebox. She brought the baby over to Harriet’s table. “Just look at this little darlin’,” she said. “Mine are so big and grown they don’t need me no more.”

The one-armed fellow behind the counter brought a fresh pot of coffee, and, as he refilled their mugs, Harriet felt tears in her eyes. Her husband wanted to know what was wrong. “Nothing,” she said, “just Christmas.” Reaching in her purse for a Kleenex and a quarter, she said to her own kids, “Go see if you can find a Christmas song on the jukebox.”

When they were gone, Harriet quietly said almost to herself, “He would have come here, wouldn’t he?” “Who?” her husband asked. “Jesus. If Jesus were born here tonight and the choices were our neighborhood, the church or this truck stop, it would be right here, wouldn’t it?”

Her husband didn’t answer right away, but looked around the place, at the people there. Finally he said, “I suppose either here or a homeless shelter.”

“That’s what bothers me,” Harriet said. “When we first got here I felt sorry for these people because they probably aren’t going home to nice neighborhoods where the houses have candles in the windows and wreaths on the doors. And listening to that awful music, I thought, I’ll bet nobody here has even heard of Handel. Now I think that more than any place I know, this is where Christmas is. But I’m not sure I belong.”

If you strip the story down to what really happened that night so long ago, you discover that God’s value system and economy are very different from ours. Bringing the Savior into the world in a poor country town, to an illiterate, unwed, teenage mother, and proclaiming the birth to lowly shepherds would not have been the auspicious rollout modern marketers would have designed, but it is precisely what God would do.

Maybe it’s only in recognizing our own poverty and need that we can really be open to the change Christmas can still bring to the world, our world.

As Harriett walked with her family to the car, her husband leaned over and said, “You know I heard something earlier at church. They said what the angels sang that first Christmas was, ‘Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.’ Maybe they meant us, too.”

I invite you to join us for two opportunities on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, when we will be bringing “good tidings of great joy.” The first one is at 10 AM, for our regular Sunday morning worship; and the second is at 5 PM for our Christmas Eve “Lights & Lessons: Carols and Communion” Services.

We hope to see you! But if not, please know that we at Covenant Community Church wish you a happy, blessed, safe and Merry Christmas!