When traveling, often there are places or people you make it a priority to see. While attending the UCC General Synod, in Baltimore, last summer with my best friend in the ministry, Rev. Richard Barham, and with both of us being history buffs, Fort McHenry was a must-see place for us. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore. Key was inspired by the large American flag, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort after the American victory. So, we took a ferry to visit this much-see sight.
Some Greek converts to Judaism had a must-see person in mind on their visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. John 12:20-21 says, “Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, … and made a request: ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus.’” This event in this week’s Lectionary Gospel text takes place on Tuesday of Holy Week. We are not told whether they were there for Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city 2 days earlier, but they had obviously heard about this preaching and miracle working Rabbi named Jesus. So, they made one of the most extraordinary requests in the entire Gospel to the disciple Philip; “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”
This scriptural phrase is engraved on many pulpits around the world because it is the essence of why we preach the gospel. It is so people will encounter the must-feel presence of Jesus The Christ. To experience the love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and acceptance of God that was found in Jesus has incredible power to make a real difference and to bring real hope into our lives.
Join us at Covenant this Sunday for a must-feel worship experience. My sermon “We Want to See Jesus” based on John 12:20-33 will be part of it.
Most of us are familiar with the snake on the pole seen in this image that can be found on many medical vehicles. This week’s assigned text speaks to the origin of it. It dates back to early 1400 BC when the Israelites were wandering around in the desert of Sinai. In Numbers 21, as Moses leads the Israelites the long way around Edom, they grew tired and irritated from the extra hike. God has cared for them by providing “manna” (bread) but they complained because it was too bland for their taste. So, they complained about their sore feet and limited drink and meal choices. As the story goes; their whining resulted in a sudden spike in the desert’s venomous snake population. The snakes were unavoidable and, as a result, many Israelites were getting bitten and dying. They repented and begged Moses to pray away the snakes. Moses appealed to God on their behalf and God gave Moses a little metalworking project. “The Lord said to Moses, make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (vs. 8-9)
The “look and live” symbol served its purpose for the Israelites, but in the assigned Gospel text this week, we learn of its ultimate purpose. In John 3:14-15, Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” This early symbol for healing amidst the plague of snakes was a forerunner image of Christ on the cross, who would be a remedy for the plague of sin. If we look (believe) in Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we too can live beyond the bites of the sin (anything that kills us to the healing power of God’s presence in our lives for now and all eternity). After all, it wasn’t the snake on the pole that healed the people; it was their faith and belief that God could heal them.
Join us as Covenant this Sunday. The liturgical color is PINK! And I will be preaching the sermon “Look and Live” based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.
The assigned scriptures for this Sunday are familiar passages, though most of us probably don’t remember their location in the Bible; “The 10 Commandments” from Exodus 20; and Jesus chasing folks out of temple in John 2.
“The Big 10” have been used for many centuries as the framework for all our ethical responsibilities and behavior. We can still learn a great deal from these Biblical laws. However, there is a danger when we view the “The Big 10” as laws to be imposed on others. In 2003, the Chief Justice of the AL Supreme Court was removed from office because he insisted on imposing his view of the “Big 10” by placing a huge monument of them in the Supreme Court building and refused to remove it when ordered to do so.
What he and people like him fail or refuse to understand is that while laws, even “The Big 10” may alter people’s behavior; it doesn’t alter people’s heart.
While they are called “laws,” God’s purpose for giving “The Big 10” was to provide a relational tool for treating others with dignity, respect and honesty. That’s why when Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment,” He didn’t reference any of “The Big 10.” Rather, He spoke about “The Bigger 2;” “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Later, Jesus gave “The New 1”, “love one another as I have loved you. By this people will know you are My disciples.”
God is not expecting us to live out some laws on a monument; but to live the law of love originally given in “the Big 10” through that given through “The Bigger 2” and “The New 1.”
Join us at Covenant this Sunday. My sermon will be on “Relationships: The Big 10, The Bigger 2 and The New 1” based on Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-17.
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.
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.
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.
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.