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.

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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 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 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.

NOTE FOR PASTOR JR FOR TRINITY SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2018

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It’s also the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend (the unofficial beginning of Summer.) Many folks will be traveling this weekend or attending family outings. We pray for safe travels and good times.

It’s been said that “Educators take that which is simple and make it complicated. Communicators take that which is complicated and make it simple.” If true, in talking about the Trinity in this Note and the sermon Sunday, I will strive to be a communicator instead of an educator.

In trying to explain the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit); many preachers use this term attempting to explain God. That only leads to misunderstanding and a lot of confusion. The term Trinity was never intended to be an explanation of God. It was meant to identify the three ways God chose to reveal the Divine nature of God to humanity. Since no one way reveals the totality of the Divine, the Trinity represents the three most important glimpses of God we have been given.

The Creator image represents a paternal glimpse of the Divine as all powerful and all knowing, the source and initiator of everything in creation. The Son/Christ image represents a glimpse of the Divine vulnerable to creation; taking on the form of humanity that we might realize the extent the Divine will go to in demonstrating God’s unconditional love. The Holy Spirit represents a maternal glimpse of the Divine as Nurturer, Sustainer and always present, loving guide to instruct us toward wholeness and fullness of life. Perhaps reimagining the Divine in these concepts of the Trinity can enrich our lives and help us to respond to God’s call on our lives as it did for Isaiah.

So, if you are not away traveling Sunday of this Memorial Weekend; join at Covenant in worship. My Sermon is “The Trinity – Three Glimpses of God” based on “Isaiah 6:1, 8,” “Romans 8:14-17,” and “John 3:16-17.”

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 JR FOR DECEMBER 17, 2017 THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

This week we observe the Third Sunday of Advent. It’s one of two Sundays when the liturgical color is rose … okay pink. We will light the third Advent (Pink) candle which symbolizes joy; the joy we feel to welcome Jesus in Christmas.

The assigned Gospel text is “The Magnificat,” Mary’s prayer/poem/hymn of praise found in Luke 1:46-55. “Magnificat” simply means magnify, exalt, or glorify. So, these scriptures are a poem of praise to God, praising God for God’s blessing to Mary and faithfulness to her people.

One of the most popular Christmas songs of the last 30 years is “Mary, Did You Know” written in 1991 by Christian comedian and singer Mark Lowry. The song is a series of questions he’d like to ask of Mary, like these from the opening lines:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary’s response to being told that she, a teenage engaged virgin would conceive a child fathered by God, was “The Magnificat.” It begins with these words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This tells me that while Mary may not have known all the details of how things will come to be; she knew the answers to Lowry’s questions.

It also tells us that for a peasant teenage girl to be rejoicing at this news means she knew “The Secret to Joy,” a joy she had deep within her that could not be overcome by her desperate circumstances. And we can too!

Join us at Covenant this week for Pink Sunday. We will light the third Advent candle for Joy. I will be preaching on “The Secret to Joy.” The scriptural texts are Isaiah 61:1-4 and Luke 1:46-55.