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 MOTHER’S DAY, SUNDAY, MAY 14, 2017

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, so to all Moms and those serving in maternal roles, Happy Mother’s Day.

I hit the jackpot when God decided that my Mom would be James Ella Reid Finney and my father, Jack Finney. While I loved my Dad dearly, I really was an extreme “Mama’s Boy.” It was Mom that shaped my love for God, church and the scriptures.

On special days like Mother’s Day, we tend to romanticize the past. However, being honest, I must I recognize that life was not perfect in the Finney family. There were moments they drove me to wanting to commit fratricide or patricide; but never suicide … I’m just not the suicidal type. But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day remind me how blessed I was in “Belonging to the Right Family.”

As their children grew up and left home, … me going into the Air Force … my parents, with usually Mama speaking, gave each of us the same emotional security blanket. They would tell us “No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you are mine. We love you and you can always come home.” I have never had to go home to my parents because I couldn’t make it in life; but perhaps, it was because I knew I could home if the need arose.

I realize that not everyone was blessed with the parents and family that I had; but the Good News is that everyone can still “Belong to the Right Family; God’s Family.” Even with our many character flaws, shortcomings, insecurities, and immaturity; we are God’s children. God loves us and accepts us as we are. And God invites us to come home with no conditions, nor restrictions.

Join us this Mother’s Day Sunday; if you can, bring your Mom, too. My sermon will be “Belonging to the Right Family; God’s Family” based on I Peter 2:2-3, 9-10 and John 14:1-3, 12-14.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MAY 7, 2017

This Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” That’s because the gospel reading for “The Fourth Sunday after Easter” always includes passages portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The picture of Jesus as The Good Shepherd is meant to demonstrate the greatness of God’s unconditional love for us. It’s also meant to show the lengths to which God was willing to go to show God’s love for us.

In John 10:11 of The Message, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before Himself, sacrifices Himself if necessary.” God was even willing to take the sting out of death for us.

This story by Adrian Dieleman can help us to visualize this point. He writes: A boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon when a bumblebee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again, the father reached out his hand; but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.”

One of the biggest fears people have is the sting of death. We don’t’ need to fear death anymore because “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” has taken the sting for us. If “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” has done that for us, rest assured that His other claim in John 10:10 is true also. “I’ve come that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as I preach on “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” using the very family scriptures of Psalm 23 and John 10:1-11.

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 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.”