NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 27, 2019

In the assigned Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Preachers mostly apply these words of Jesus to spiritual things. And, we love for the preacher to only talk about “spiritual things” and stay away from anything “political.”

Let me be clear! I DO NOT believe the church should be involved in partisan politics! However, if we are going to be followers of Jesus, following His teachings, His commandments and His examples; there is no way to avoid being political.

This week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was discussing the impact of the government shutdown. He said he didn’t understand why furloughed federal employees or those working without pay during the government shutdown would need assistance from food banks. He said they should take out loans to bridge the gap. Such an out-of-touch attitude is flies in the face of the mission and ministry of Jesus made clear in His first sermon. After quoting from Isaiah 61, Luke 4:21 says, “Jesus began to explain to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.’”

Often after Jesus taught an important lesson to His disciples, He would say to them “Go and do likewise.” Preaching the “full gospel” means that followers of Christ must do that which makes the mission and ministry of Jesus clear by “preaching good news to the poor, proclaim release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, liberating the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Join us in worship at Covenant this Sunday for a special time and location. Worship will be at NOON and held at Pilgrim UCC, 2817 6th Ave. South, Birmingham, AL 35233. We will be doing that with sermon “The Mission and Ministry of Jesus – Made Clear,” based on Luke 4:14-21

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 13, 2019

This week, Covenant will observe “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.” The assigned Gospel text includes Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.

Baptism is an act of “coming out.” It’s going public about who you are and your spiritual allegiance on your faith journey. At Covenant we describe baptism as an outward expression of an inward reality; a public acknowledgement of saying yes to being in relationship with God.

So, Covenant joins other churches in the Christian communion that offer an opportunity each year on this Sunday for reaffirmation one’s baptism. Deacon Frank Dodson reminds me each year that this is one of his favorite services. I admit it has come to be one of mine also.

Reading the assigned Gospel text this week, I took a new look at Jesus’ Baptism. I noticed that though His baptism was a coming out and public event for Him; there was a deeply personal and encouraging response from God to Jesus’ baptism. The scriptures say, “… and the Holy Spirit came down on Him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I dearly love: in You I find happiness.’ “

Perhaps the reason Baptism of our Lord Sunday is observed on the 2nd Sunday of the first month of the year is because early in the year, each of us need to be reminded that we are “a child of God and dearly loved by God!”

Join us for worship this Baptism of our Lord Sunday. My sermon will be “A New Look at Baptism” based on “Isaiah 43:1-5a” and “Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.” And we will offer the opportunity for you to be baptized or to reaffirm your baptism.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR EPIPHANY SUNDAY, January 6, 2019

Happy New Year!!! I hope and pray 2019 is a great year in your life.

Since 1970, the first Sunday in January has been observed liturgically as Epiphany Sunday although January 6th is “The Day of Epiphany.” This year they happen to occur on the same day and date.

In some places, January 6th is called, “Little Christmas” because it’s the 12th and last official day of the Christmas Season. I have often jokingly said that means this first Sunday of the New Year is not too late to give me a Christmas present. However, it might surprise some of you to know that January 6th is the day when most of the world, outside the United States, give and exchange presents, not December 25th.

In some places the day Epiphany is called “Three Kings Day,” because it is believed to be the day the Magi after following a light (star) found the Baby Jesus and brought The Christ Child gifts of gold, incense and myrrh”

The Merriman-Webster dictionary describes “epiphany” as “an intuitive grasp of reality through something simple and striking” or “an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure.” In our secular language, we say that “an epiphany is a new way of seeing or understanding.” It’s appropriate that we begin this New Year with an epiphany, a new way of seeing what our lives can yet be in 2019. Like the Magi of old, there are unlimited possibilities and opportunities if we will only open our minds, stretch our imaginations and be willing to follow the Light of Christ.

Join us in worship at Covenant on this Day of Epiphany, the First Sunday of the New Year. Isaiah 60:1 says, “Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

As has become my custom, I will be offering a special anointing as part of the worship experience. My sermon is titled “Epiphany: The Light For Your Life in 2019” based on Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2018

This Sunday, two days before Christmas, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The theme is Love. Many of us are busy with our last preparations for Christmas. Advent is meant to be a season of spiritual preparation. It seems that more than ever we need to be “Preparing for the Greatest Gift of Love” that came in the birth of The Christ Child.

A season of preparing for Hope, Peace, Joy and this greatest gift of love is paramount to our emotional and spiritual well-being. A Facebook post by Phyllis, a Covenant Board Member, highlights why our personal spiritual preparation and Covenant’s Mission to “Care about one another in Christ” are needed. She writes, “I want to recognize that Christmas isn’t so cheery for some of my friends: Estrangement from family, death of loved ones, and sometimes just depression and anxiety cause Christmas to be a tough time to get through. I’m saying a prayer and sending positive energy and light to my friends for whom this applies – you know who you are. You are loved, and you matter to me.”

“You are loved, and you matter to me.” These are the same words that “The Greatest Gift of Love” was born into this world to bring from our Loving God. As I write this, I’m in Atlanta at Emory Hospital across the street from where I spent so much time a few years back with Savion. I’m here with a family member who has received a devastating diagnosis this week of an acute form of leukemia as did Savion. “You are loved, and you matter to (God and) me” are the words, along with my presence that I have come to bring my dear Cousin as she prepares to face an uncertain Christmas this year.

As you are making your last preparations for Christmas, I invite you to include “Preparing for the Greatest Gift of Love” Jesus, by worshipping with us at Covenant this Fourth Sunday of Advent. My sermon is “Preparing for the Greatest Gift of Love” based on “Luke 1:39-55.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2018

This week we observe the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete in Latin mean “Rejoice.” As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, we also live in expectation of the second coming of Christ. This Sunday our focus includes joy and gladness and taking the time to think of all the good things life has given you.

I need to remember that especially this year. With additional responsibilities that came with being the SEC/UCC Conference Moderator, I haven’t found time for my usual preparation for Christmas. The oft asked question “Are you ready for Christmas, yet?” leaves me feeling a bit down because by now my house is completely decorated and I’ve barely started.

Then this week Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday comes into focus. While I’m not happy about my Advent Season so far, I found myself getting out of my pity party to have some “Christmas Joy”. It began with just reading the lectionary assigned scriptures for this Sunday. I noticed 2 things in all of them. First, they all deal with rejoicing in the Lord – “Christmas Joy”. Theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness. While happiness is dependent on external condition, joy is the “experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, ware or even death can take that love away.” This is a reminder that joy can be present in the midst of sadness. Second, the assigned scriptures speak eloquently to “preparing for great joy.”

So, I invite you to join us at Covenant for worship this Third Sunday of Advent. The theme is “JOY.” Instead of fretting about “all we still haven’t done to prepare for Christmas, let’s instead take some time for, as my sermon is titled, in “Preparing for Joy.” While my sermon will be based on Isaiah 12:2-6 and Luke: 3:7-18; I recommend you take the time to read two alternate readings assigned for this Sunday of joy; Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Philippians 4:4-7.

NOTE FROM THE PASTOR FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2018

This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent. A friend of mine wrote this week “Advent is the season of preparation. The church calls us to spend four weeks getting ready, not for Christmas, but for Christ. Is it possible that, if we do our work well, “The Prince of Peace” might come to us again? Could the choir of heaven again sing to us of peace on earth and good will to all?”

As we light the second candle on the Advent wreath for Peace, we are to seek God’s guidance for how to find peace. Luke 1:79 tells us that “The Prince of Peace” will, “Give Light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Since “The Prince of Peace” already came in the birth of the Christ Child, we don’t have to wait for His coming; but rather, we just need to follow as “The Prince of Peace” seeks “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

How tragic it is that in a season when cards and carols speak of peace on earth, our lives are filled with conflict, tension, and anxiety. As someone wrote “We are all stressed up with no place to blow.”

So rather than starting with “peace on earth good will to all;” let’s begin with preparing for wonderful peace to come in our own hearts. This happens as we recognize that peace on earth must always begin in us; with us deciding to walk in the ways of peace. It might be challenging to do so; but we’ll never know unless we try. Let’s try, starting with this Second week of Advent when the theme is Peace.

Begin with joining us for worship at Covenant this Second Sunday of Advent as we light the candle of Peace. As someone once wrote “The light of our Peace candle requires us to believe that we do not OWN the light. Instead, we are seeking to be owned by it.” My sermon will be “Preparing for Wonderful Peace” based on Philippians 1:2-6, 9-11 and Luke 3:2-6.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2018

Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. We will light the candle of Hope and remember that in the midst of darkness and fear, with the birth of the Christ Child, hope was born. We pray hope will be born in our hearts we prepare for Christmas 2018. Of course, we are also decorating our houses, shopping for presents, planning all the cooking that needs to be done while fitting in a few parties.

A friend of mine, Reverend Michael Piazza, wrote this week, “It is easy to forget in the busyness, that Christmas is a Holy day, not a secular holiday. As people of faith, we have an obligation to consider how we live during this season. Our lifestyle ought to be distinctive from those for whom this is simply an excuse for parties and gift giving. How we live may be an honest reflection of whether we have faith in the true reason for the season. Are we devoted to the One whose coming we celebrate, or are we like those just filling the malls and restaurants, drinking and toasting?” Reverend Piazza makes an astute observation while raising an important question? Advent is a season of spiritual preparation, so how are you going to prepare your soul? The Advent sermons this year will be my attempt to help each of us answer that question.

I know we have parties to go to or to host, but remember that worship is a spiritual party on Sunday mornings. Skipping church during Advent really does speak to what we value about the season. Someone said, “It’s like throwing a birthday party, but not inviting the One whose birthday it is.”

I invite you to join us in worship starting with this First Sunday of Advent. I pray I can help you prepare your soul for a renewed coming of the Christ Child. This week’s theme is HOPE and my sermon will be “Preparing For Hope,” based on Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44.