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.
Reverend Billy Graham, whom I admired greatly, died this week at the age of 99. Growing up just north of where Dr. Graham lived, I joined in the admiration of him and his ministry by very diverse Christians theologically. I even thought of him as a role model. You always felt he was doing the work of ministry for the right reason. I always believed He had taken the words of Jesus to heart “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)
Years ago, a pretty famous televangelist was speaking in Portland, OR on a program when another role model of mine was also on the platform. The televangelist made statements like this: “Are you afraid to fly … well, come fly with me. Nothing will happen to the plane while I’m on it.” He said sarcastically to a woman in a wheel chair, “Why are you sitting there? Get up! … If you’re there, it’s because you want to be!”
My mentor got up and left the stage. The Program Coordinator caught her as she was leaving and ask where she was going. She replied, “I’m going home. What that man is saying is dangerous and is not the gospel. There is no cross in it and it damnable heresy.” Her answer may seem extreme by she was right.
Too often evangelical Christianity in America has become too much of “What’s in it for me?” It promises the fruits of the spirit without enduring the realities of life, nor does it reflect what Jesus said being followers of His would be like. During Lent, let’s allow our spiritual reflection to help us become disciples of Jesus who are committed to following Christ even during the cross-bearing moments of life that is surely to come.
Join us at Covenant for worship this Second Sunday of Lent for my sermon called “What’s in It for Me?” based on Romans 4:13, 18-24a and Mark 8:31-38
This Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent. The assigned scripture from Genesis 9 talks about is about Rainbows. While rainbows are special to our community, they have a significance for all of God’s creatures. Who among us don’t remember:
“Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly. …
If happy little bluebirds fly, Beyond the rainbow.
Why? Oh, why can’t I?”
These words originally voiced by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” speaks to the longing in every heart for a life “where troubles melt like lemon drops.” The problem is none of us live “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We live down here on earth where we constantly struggle with life’s disappointments, setbacks, losses, cares and worries.
The good news is that God promised a covenant for all who live “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ the Rainbow.” Think of these words from Genesis 9:17, “Then God said …, ‘Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.’” Lent is meant to be a season of spiritual reflection where we take the time to explore this incredible covenant (commitment, arrangement, understanding, and bond) through deepening our relationship with God. In doing so, we discover the promise of God is not that we “OVER” the rainbow; but a covenant that includes God’s presence with us always as we walk together “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ the Rainbow.”
Join us at Covenant on this First Sunday of our Lent. It’s “Purple Sunday; wear something purple. Bring someone with you; it’s also “Bring-A-Friend Sunday.” We’ll be celebrating our church’s 37th Anniversary and presenting the “4th Annual Gwen Bowen Award.” Then join us for dinner immediately following the service.
I will be preaching a sermon called “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ The Rainbow,” based on Genesis 9:8-9, 12-17 and Mark 1:9-13