NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 2017

I must admit that Pentecost Sunday is one of my favorite liturgical Sundays. I guess it’s because growing up in the Pentecostal Holiness Church, we knew nothing about liturgical seasons other than Christmas, Easter and the Day of Pentecost. We always celebrated the Day of Pentecost! On this Sunday, you were always anxious to get to church because you lived in anticipation and with expectation that the music and worship to be extremely spirit-filled.

Unfortunately, with notable exceptions, too often what came during the sermon would dampen the spirit of the service. Rather than a celebration of the gifts of the spirit poured out on all, what came from the pulpit would be a rather narrow-minded celebration of spiritual provincialism of “We have the spirit and you don’t.” The was not limited to Pentecostal churches. Traditional evangelical churches were no better. The service may not have been as lively; but legalisms around who can and cannot be a Christian were the same. It’s sad to think that the claims of the presence of the spirit of God should be made the exclusive possession of any group, no matter what they called themselves.

As I read the Acts 2 scriptures assigned for Pentecost Sunday, God promised to pour out God’s Spirit “on all flesh.”

Contrast those sermons many of us grew with to the one I witnessed on Tuesday at the funeral of a transgender teenager, Jay Griffin, who had committed suicide. It was a remarkable sermon addressed to an incredibly diverse audience that amid this tragedy, proclaimed the good news that everyone is enough in God’s sight and all are welcome to God’s table.

Perhaps this Pentecost Sunday we should celebrate “The Dynamic Power of Pentecost” by loving one another, encouraging and affirming those who feel left out and proclaiming God unconditional acceptance of all.

Join us in worship this Pentecost Sunday. I will be preaching on “The Dynamic Power of Pentecost” based on Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR ASCENSION SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2017

Thursday, May 25 is the actual day of observance for the Day of Ascension; we will commemorate the Ascension this Sunday. The reading from Acts 1, asked this question of the people present for this event: “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” It’s a question worth exploring.

This is 2017, but an Englishwoman Michelle Philpots wakes up every morning thinking it’s 1994. She is literally stuck in the past because she suffers from “anterograde amnesia”, a brain condition resulting from a serious car accident. Her memory is wiped clean of current events, sometimes within minutes of them occurring. For 23 years, every morning, her husband has to show her their wedding album and explain that they are husband and wife. Michelle has finally learned to cope with her amnesia, leaving herself Post-it notes on the refrigerator and helpful reminders in her cell phone. Still, if she ventures away from home, she has to use her GPS to find her way back.

This woman’s condition may sound strange, but many in the church world is plagued with the same disorder. Often, we get stuck in memories of the past and give no thought to what God wants to do right now in us, through us and among us. God says in Isaiah 43, “See, I am about to do a new thing.” The new thing that Jesus promised on the Day of Ascension was the coming of the Holy Spirit to live within us to lead, guide and direct us in everything God has for us. Christians stuck gazing in the past have spiritual amnesia like Michelle Philpots’ physical condition. God wants us to learn to cope with it using Post-It notes from scriptures, and helpful reminders from preachers and others within our family of faith so that we keep finding our way to what God has for us right now.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as we celebrate the Ascension. My sermon will be “Don’t Just Stand There,” based on Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2017

I grew up hearing often an old saying that goes like this: “Don’t let your good be the enemy of your better and your better, the enemy of your best.” The idea is if we hold on too tightly to what we think is good, we often fail to let go to get to or achieve our better or our best. That old saying took on a new meaning for me this week as I read the lectionary scriptures assigned for Easter Sunday this year.

In John 20, after Mary Magdalene realizes it is the Risen Jesus talking to her, she evidently goes to embrace her dear friend, Jesus. But Jesus rebuffs her saying in verse 17, “Don’t hold on to Me, for I haven’t yet gone up to My Father. …” Why would Jesus do that to her? As I pondered that question, I began to let my mind wander. What if Jesus used this incident as a metaphor to teach Mary and us the lesson of that old saying of not “letting your good be the enemy of your better or your best.”

Obviously, Mary was overjoyed to see that Jesus whom she loved was alive. However, maybe Jesus wanted her and us to realize that though He was alive, His resurrection means that things have changed. To experience the fullness of God in our lives, we can’t hold on to the Jesus we knew before Good Friday. We must let go and embrace the wholeness of God in Christ that is only made possible by Christ’s resurrection on Easter.

Are you holding on to the good of only a pre-Good Friday Jesus? If so, perhaps only in letting go, as Peter did in Acts 10 while preaching at the Gentile Cornelius’ home, will you be able to embrace all of who the Resurrected Christ is and experienced God’s better and best.

Join us this Easter Sunday morning for a Celebration of The Resurrected Christ. It begins with the “Flowering of The Cross” at 7:10 AM in the foyer; then our “Sunrise Service” in the sanctuary at 7:30 AM; followed “Easter Breakfast” in the Fellowship Hall at 8 AM; and then “Easter Worship” at 10 AM in the Sanctuary.

My sermon will be “The Risen Christ: Hold on or Let Go” based on the scriptures from Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 8, 2017

This is “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.” This New Year of 2017 is still new enough that many are working on new beginnings for our lives. Perhaps that’s why the observance of Jesus’ baptism comes at the beginning of each new year … to encourage us to remember our own baptism and recommit to living out our baptism vows.

I grew up in a church tradition that confused baptism with being a one-time saving moment in which a person being baptized accepts the love and forgiveness of God. While that person may grow in their faith through the years, nothing experienced after Baptism will be as important as that saving moment of baptism. However, in studying the scriptures over the years I have come to look at baptism more broadly. Baptism indeed affirms a time of helping people experience God’s love and forgiveness; but we should also recognize baptism as a time of change. The approach I learned growing up isolates baptism as the most important moment in a faith journey; but I have come to understand that baptism is more of a beginning.

While it’s true that in the waters of baptism, we acknowledge and trust that God has laid claim on our lives; it is also true that we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means. Baptism too frequently has carried the notion that we have arrived. The danger in that thinking is what happens when we in our humanness fall short of living up to the fullest of how God’s love and forgiveness should be reflected in our lives. When we make mistakes and fall short of that as we all will, we begin to question our “salvation.” Have we still arrived? That’s why should never overlook salvation also as a journey which follows baptism.

Baptism is not a sign that we have found all the answers. Baptism is a beginning. It is the desire to see the world differently, to see each other differently, and even to see ourselves differently and to live lives reflecting that difference. At the beginning of each year on “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday”, we are invited to reaffirm our baptismal vows & commit anew to the journey of walking in the two greatest commandments throughout the year of living lives “loving God and loving and serving others.”

Join us at Covenant this “Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.” We’ll offer the opportunity to be initially baptized or renew your baptismal vows through immersion or sprinkling. My sermon is “Baptism: A New Beginning” based on “Acts 10:34-38 & 43” and “Matthew 3:13-17.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2016

Sunday is Pentecost. A friend of mine, Rev. Michael Piazza, took note this week of how unfortunate it is that churches don’t make a bigger deal of it; since it is a day so rich with meaning.   In Pentecost we find “The Key to Building God’s Family.”   After all:

  • It is the birthday of the church. On Pentecost, a scattered and scared bunch of women and men suddenly became a powerful movement that swept across the world.
  • Pentecost represents spiritual empowerment for ordinary people like you and me. Jesus did amazing things, but He was gone. In His place, though, was a devoted group of disciples working under the power of the Spirit to change the world.
  • It is a Holy Day that reminds us of how Jesus had been with us, but, now, in the person of the Spirit, God dwells in us. The fact is that we don’t appreciate that Pentecost is emblematic of how little awareness we have of God’s abiding presence in our lives.

Just think what would happen for our community if Covenant rediscovered and lived out these very things. Rev. Piazza goes on to say that “Churches around the world ought to pull out all the stops to get people to attend worship so they can experience the greatest gift of all – the very breath of life. In fact, the Gospel of John describes the event as the Resurrected Christ breathing on the disciples.”  He’s right of course. The reality is that Christianity has been underwater far too long. We need Jesus to come along, pinch our nose, and give us mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. We need the very breath of life breathed into our lungs causing them to swell. We need to feel the healing and empowering Spirit of Life begin to permeate every cell of our body. That is how we become the Body of Christ. We are only a vessel of clay until God breathes the breath of Life into us.

So join us in worship on this Pentecost Sunday at Covenant. We will be celebrating the birthday of the Church by hopefully rediscovering“The Key to Building God’s Family.” Come join us as if you are with Jesus and those first-century disciples in the upper room. As Rev. Piazza put it, “As you are there on holy ground, in the presence of God, breathe deeply of the Holy Spirit. Give your body over to the Spirit of Life, and, who knows, you may discover FIRE again!” The scripture text for my sermon is Acts 2:1-8, 12-18 & 21 and John 14:25-27.

 

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 24, 2016

           This Sunday, the featured reading from Acts is the story of Peter preaching at Cornelius, a gentile’s house. It is a story that speaks to us about what happens when we allow ourselves to be on God’s side and not in God’s way. The Gospel text concludes with Jesus saying: “A New commandment I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
            As I pondered these two passages, I couldn’t help but think how often we are so legalistic in following the letter of the law when it comes to the Bible that we fail to live and act in love; which is the greatest commandment. Don’t get me wrong. We need our laws. Laws tell us what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. That’s fine when it comes to our public laws. Those laws can dictate to us what we can and cannot do but those laws are powerless to dictate to us what we think and what we feel.
           Therefore, laws can only go so far in a faith journey. When Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you,” He is speaking those words within the context of community law. When the disciples, or the Jews, talked about commandments they were discussing laws for acceptable behavior in society. Maybe that’s why they didn’t get it and why too often today people of faith still don’t get it.
            Jesus says, “A new COMMANDMENT I give to you: LOVE one another.” Did you catch it? It’s a new law telling us, no, commanding us to love. Rev. Richard Daggett says “This laws invades the very depths of our being; this law presumed to have jurisdiction over the way we think, the way we feel, over our opinions, our prejudices and biases, our concepts of superiority, over the way every fiber of our being, both inward and outward, responds to the world around us.”  And then Rev. Daggett says this: “This law clarifies to us that while religion and law may exercise lordship over our actions, over the way we live, Christ wants lordship over everything we are. It is the law of the spirit and not simply the letter of the law.”
            As I considered what Rev. Daggett said, I thought: every time we allow traditions and legalism in the church to win over love, we are NOT on God’s side; we are just in God’s way! And that is not a good place to ever find oneself.
            So join us in worship this Sunday. I will be using this story of Peter preaching at Cornelius’s house, and this commandment of Jesus’ “to love one another” to preach a sermon that asks the question Are You on God’s Side Or in God’s Way?” The scriptural texts for this sermon is “Acts 11:11-18” and “John 13:33-35.” And remember the clue to which one is true for each of us is found in the last line of the Gospel Reading and in Peter Scholtes’ song “They’ll know we are Christians By Our Love.”