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 J R FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2018

This Sunday, two days before Christmas, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The theme is Love. Many of us are busy with our last preparations for Christmas. Advent is meant to be a season of spiritual preparation. It seems that more than ever we need to be “Preparing for the Greatest Gift of Love” that came in the birth of The Christ Child.

A season of preparing for Hope, Peace, Joy and this greatest gift of love is paramount to our emotional and spiritual well-being. A Facebook post by Phyllis, a Covenant Board Member, highlights why our personal spiritual preparation and Covenant’s Mission to “Care about one another in Christ” are needed. She writes, “I want to recognize that Christmas isn’t so cheery for some of my friends: Estrangement from family, death of loved ones, and sometimes just depression and anxiety cause Christmas to be a tough time to get through. I’m saying a prayer and sending positive energy and light to my friends for whom this applies – you know who you are. You are loved, and you matter to me.”

“You are loved, and you matter to me.” These are the same words that “The Greatest Gift of Love” was born into this world to bring from our Loving God. As I write this, I’m in Atlanta at Emory Hospital across the street from where I spent so much time a few years back with Savion. I’m here with a family member who has received a devastating diagnosis this week of an acute form of leukemia as did Savion. “You are loved, and you matter to (God and) me” are the words, along with my presence that I have come to bring my dear Cousin as she prepares to face an uncertain Christmas this year.

As you are making your last preparations for Christmas, I invite you to include “Preparing for the Greatest Gift of Love” Jesus, by worshipping with us at Covenant this Fourth Sunday of Advent. My sermon is “Preparing for the Greatest Gift of Love” based on “Luke 1:39-55.

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 THE PASTOR FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2018

This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent. A friend of mine wrote this week “Advent is the season of preparation. The church calls us to spend four weeks getting ready, not for Christmas, but for Christ. Is it possible that, if we do our work well, “The Prince of Peace” might come to us again? Could the choir of heaven again sing to us of peace on earth and good will to all?”

As we light the second candle on the Advent wreath for Peace, we are to seek God’s guidance for how to find peace. Luke 1:79 tells us that “The Prince of Peace” will, “Give Light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Since “The Prince of Peace” already came in the birth of the Christ Child, we don’t have to wait for His coming; but rather, we just need to follow as “The Prince of Peace” seeks “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

How tragic it is that in a season when cards and carols speak of peace on earth, our lives are filled with conflict, tension, and anxiety. As someone wrote “We are all stressed up with no place to blow.”

So rather than starting with “peace on earth good will to all;” let’s begin with preparing for wonderful peace to come in our own hearts. This happens as we recognize that peace on earth must always begin in us; with us deciding to walk in the ways of peace. It might be challenging to do so; but we’ll never know unless we try. Let’s try, starting with this Second week of Advent when the theme is Peace.

Begin with joining us for worship at Covenant this Second Sunday of Advent as we light the candle of Peace. As someone once wrote “The light of our Peace candle requires us to believe that we do not OWN the light. Instead, we are seeking to be owned by it.” My sermon will be “Preparing for Wonderful Peace” based on Philippians 1:2-6, 9-11 and Luke 3:2-6.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, APRIL 15, 201

This week, the first verse of the assigned gospel text references yet another encounter of the disciples with Jesus after the Resurrection. Jesus’s standard greeting right before and immediately following the resurrection is “Peace be with you.” I believe we miss many opportunities, gifts and blessings from God because we don’t take to heart this greeting by the Risen Christ.

Most people, even Christians don’t understand peace as a positive concept; but only know of the negative aspect of peace, which is merely the absence of trouble. But Jesus uses this greeting in a positive way.

The familiar word “Shalom,” or “Peace be with you,” in its purest sense doesn’t mean “I hope you don’t get into any trouble.” It means, “I hope you have all the highest good coming your way.”

Last week’s sermon was aimed to help us in having the highest good coming our way through “finding unity and peace in the resurrection.” This week it aims to help us to experience our highest hopes through “Confronting Fear and Doubt to Find Real Peace.”

Immediately following this greeting of “Peace be with you” by the Risen Christ, the next verse says of the disciples, “But they were afraid and full of fear. They thought they saw spirit.” Their reaction is typical of ours today. So often, we allow what we “think” to create fear and doubt which clouds our judgement, makes us feel insecure and holds us captive from many of God’s blessings. Jesus’ greeting tells us that we are to live in God’s gift of Peace. The only hope we have of experiencing the highest good coming to us is by “Confronting Fear and Doubt to Find Real Peace.”

Join us at Covenant on this Sunday morning. Let’s learn how to experience our highest good coming our way from a sermon called “Confronting Fear and Doubt to Find Real Peace” based on Luke 24:36-43.

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.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR AUGUST 13, 2017

Last Sunday I preached on Covenant’s Vision Statement. This Sunday I will preach on Covenant’s Mission Statement. People often confuse or don’t understand the difference between them. A mission differs from a vision in that the mission is the cause and the vision is the effect. In other words, if we accomplished the mission, fulfillment of the vision is the results.

If we live into our Covenant Mission, where: “We exist to:

Celebrate the Love of God,

Cultivate a relationship with God,

Care about one another in Christ,

Communicate Christ to all people.”

We will see the fulfillment of our Covenant Vision:

“To be an inclusive community of faith –

Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.”

Covenant’s mission statement is a formal summary of our church’s aims and values. It serves as a filter helping us separate what is important, from what is not. Following the example of Jesus, it also communicates a sense of the intended direction for our congregation.

When Jesus began His public ministry, He made it very clear what His mission was in Luke 4:18-19. Reading from the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus publicly affirmed these words for His Mission, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” To make sure that those present understood this was indeed His mission, Jesus’ commentary on these verses was “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for baptism and reception of new members who are committing to help us fulfill our Covenant mission to make our Covenant vision become more of a reality. My sermon title is “The Mission: The Lord Has Anointed Us To …” based on “Luke 4:14-21.”