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.

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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.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR ASCENSION SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2017

Thursday, May 25 is the actual day of observance for the Day of Ascension; we will commemorate the Ascension this Sunday. The reading from Acts 1, asked this question of the people present for this event: “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” It’s a question worth exploring.

This is 2017, but an Englishwoman Michelle Philpots wakes up every morning thinking it’s 1994. She is literally stuck in the past because she suffers from “anterograde amnesia”, a brain condition resulting from a serious car accident. Her memory is wiped clean of current events, sometimes within minutes of them occurring. For 23 years, every morning, her husband has to show her their wedding album and explain that they are husband and wife. Michelle has finally learned to cope with her amnesia, leaving herself Post-it notes on the refrigerator and helpful reminders in her cell phone. Still, if she ventures away from home, she has to use her GPS to find her way back.

This woman’s condition may sound strange, but many in the church world is plagued with the same disorder. Often, we get stuck in memories of the past and give no thought to what God wants to do right now in us, through us and among us. God says in Isaiah 43, “See, I am about to do a new thing.” The new thing that Jesus promised on the Day of Ascension was the coming of the Holy Spirit to live within us to lead, guide and direct us in everything God has for us. Christians stuck gazing in the past have spiritual amnesia like Michelle Philpots’ physical condition. God wants us to learn to cope with it using Post-It notes from scriptures, and helpful reminders from preachers and others within our family of faith so that we keep finding our way to what God has for us right now.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as we celebrate the Ascension. My sermon will be “Don’t Just Stand There,” based on Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 30, 2017

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Easter. Because Easter moves around year to year, many of the assigned Gospel readings during the Easter Season are Resurrection stories. Such is the case with The Road to Emmaus Story assigned for this Sunday.

Even if you are not a country music fan, you probably have heard Willie Nelson’s famous song, “On the Road Again.” Here’s some of the lyrics: “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again. Going places where I’ve never been … I can’t wait to get on the road again.” While Willie romanticizes being “On the Road Again,” that’s not a happy experience for many people. Too often on the road again is a symbol of, loneliness, frustration, being lost with no direction with little or no hope.

That is an apt description of the experience of Cleopas and his companion in the gospel story about the Road to Emmaus. Dejected and in despair, they are leaving Jerusalem – “on the road again” headed to Emmaus, a seacoast village seven miles away. Fortunately for them, they have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” in their encounter with Jesus.

For many of us, our emotional and spiritual Road to Emmaus is a place we often travel in our frustration, confusion, grief and despair. It’s a long walk and it seems like we’ll never get there. If we do, we may still be doubtful, weary, frustrated, and directionless. The good news is that God wants us to have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” on our spiritual and emotional Roads to Emmaus.

Join us at Covenant in worship this Sunday. I’ll be preaching about what it means for us today to have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” based on Luke 24:13-35.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR DECEMBER 11, 2016 THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

The theme for this Sunday is “Joy.” Most people confuse joy with happiness. They are not the same thing. What is portrayed in all of the modern-day trappings of Christmas leaves most of us seeking “happiness,” NOT “joy.”

Think about the movies that we watch around Christmas: In “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge is all messed up and everybody hates him, but by the end everything is wonderful, it all works out and everybody is happy! In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we see that, in the midst of turmoil and hardship, in the end it all works out and everyone is happy. Even “Christmas with the Kranks” ends up that way because that is the way that Christmas is supposed to be. All it takes to be happy is finding that perfect love, that perfect gift, that perfect tree or that perfect relationship.

Think about the pictures that we always use around Christmas. They point to happiness not joy. The family is assembled and everything is perfect with the family. Everyone is at peace. Everyone is together and no one is left out. The fact is very few of us will experience that kind of family Christmas this year. The result is that we are left with this deep desire to find happiness during this time of the year instead of joy.

But Advent is about preparing ourselves for Joy. There will be much in our lives that will not lead to happiness this Christmas. It has not been a perfect year for any of us. Things haven’t always worked out right and just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean that all of a sudden it’s all going to work out for Christmas. There are wounds that still aren’t healed from the past; relationships that are still broken that we struggle with; and people who won’t be at that table. There are things in ourselves that we don’t like and those things remain.

This Third Sunday of Advent, with its theme of “Joy,” is meant to help us to understand that whether or not we get what we want, whether or not the events going on in our lives during this Christmas makes us happy, we can still have “Joy.” Joy is a fruit of the spirit and it comes with hope and inner peace. The scriptures assigned for this Sunday brings us the promise of “JOY” whether we have happiness or not.

So, join us in worship at Covenant on this 3rd Sunday of Advent as we learn to travel “The Road to Joy.” That’s my sermon title and I will be preaching it by using the scriptural texts of “Isaiah 35:1-10” and “Luke 1:46b-55.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2016

In the “Alabama News” this week, there was an article about Beloved Community Church, one of our sister UCC congregations, here in Birmingham, who hired Rev. Jennifer Sanders, a lesbian, as their new Pastor. She organized a day of silent prayer and meditation at their church for the following Saturday. The article says it didn’t stay silent for long. “A protester with a megaphone, along with his wife and baby, who are not members of the church, stood outside with picket signs, apparently to protest that the church had hired an openly lesbian woman as pastor. The man held a sign that said, “Repent or Perish.” I’ve often wondered how many folks bought into that violent message and really had a loving relationship with God.

Rev. Sanders noted that critics of churches like ours wonder if we just let anybody in church now. I loved her answer. She said, “We sure do. I don’t see how you can claim to follow the example of Jesus and do otherwise. Furthermore, we will accept them as they are. If people wait until they’re perfect before they come to church, they ain’t never going to get here or there or wherever it is that considers itself a church full of perfect people.”

She’s right! None of us are perfect, so why do we expect others to be? We all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes hurt others unintentionally as I did to someone this very week. As people of faith, we apologize and hope to reach out to everyone because people do not need a perfect church, but a place that welcomes them just as they are. They need a place where they can find unconditional love and meaning. A meditation from Richard Rohr this week has this wonderful line: “The body can live without food easier than the soul can live without meaning.” You only live with meaning when you have hope and you can only have real hope when you know that God really does love you just as you are!

So there is a reason we talk a lot at Covenant about God’s love for all of God’s children. It’s so important to us that we search and find it even in some of the oddest of Jesus parables. This week in The Parable of Pharisee and Tax Collector that went to the Temple to pray, we find yet another reason why God loves sinners; just like all of us.

So join us for worship at Covenant this Sunday morning when the assigned gospel lesson for this week comes from “Luke 18:9-14” and my sermon is “The Reason Jesus Loves Sinners.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2016

Years before the film series starring Tom Cruise of the same name, there was a very popular TV series airing for seven seasons called “Mission Impossible.” Each episode started with the receiving of a cassette tape (that should tell you how long ago that was). The tape would outline a very difficult covert mission subject to official denial in the event of capture, failure or death. After giving background on the urgent mission came this challenge “Your mission should you choose to accept it.’” The mission, of course, was always an urgent one. However, I always thought the show should have been called “Mission Possible” since no matter how difficult and challenging the mission was, they proved each time that it was possible.

So it is with our mission at Covenant. It is an urgent and challenging mission. Too many people, LGBTQ, those who are poor, disenfranchised, battered and bruised by life, all have been captured by a theology of an angry, hateful, vengeful God that does not love them because of who they are or perhaps because of some unfortunate station they find themselves in life. Such theology has caused or is causing too many to face the death of hope. Our mission at Covenant is an urgent one. It seeks to help each of God’s children come to know “The God” who loves them, cares about them, wants to be in a loving relationship with them and will never deny them no matter their age, race, social or economic status in life. That’s why at Covenant we like to say at the beginning of Sunday worship “No matter who you are, where you are on life’s journey or even who you love, you are welcome here!” At Covenant, we believe this is truly a “Mission Possible” and it is a mission we choose to take.

So join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant as we seek to fulfill our mission. I will be using the assigned lectionary scripture text “Luke 14: 1, 12-14” of the Amplified Bible to preach on the mission of Covenant in a sermon called “Mission Possible.” Our Mission statement says,

“We exist to:

Celebrate the love of God,

Cultivate a personal relationship with God,

Care about one another in Christ,

Communicate Christ to all people.”