NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR REFORMATION SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2018

This Sunday is known as Reformation Sunday in remembrance of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany that launched the Protestant Reformation 501 years ago on October 31, 1517. Luther launched this protest in objection to church practices that hinders people in their faith journeys instead of helping. This was not new to the times of Martin Luther, the great reformer.

We see this same thing in the gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday from Mark 10. A blind man is appealing to Jesus as He passes by for help, but the people following Jesus who should have helped the man get to Jesus; instead, scolded him to keep quiet; which would have kept him from getting the help he sought. In the end, Jesus heals the blind man; but this story of Blind Bartimaeus has much more than that to tell us.

You probably have heard the old saying, “The blind leading the blind.” That’s an expression used to describe a situation where a person who knows nothing is getting advice and help from another person who knows almost nothing. This saying is meant metaphorical, not literal. Almost every blind person I’ve met was gifted in many insightful ways despite not having physical sight. Mr. Homer Hairston was a blind man I knew growing up was one smart cookie. His daughter, I still communicate with often on Facebook. He ran a little store all by himself. There were many lessons we could and did learn from Mr. Homer. And so, it is with Blind Bartimaeus in the gospel text for this Sunday.

Join us at Covenant for worship on this Reformation Sunday for my sermon called “Lessons From A Blind Man” based on Mark 10:46-52.

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2018

“Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” “We can,” they answered. …Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give His life to liberate many people.” (Mark 10:38b-39, 45, CEB)

The scriptures above made me think of a hymn that begins “Are you able said the Master, to be crucified with me?” The Refrain begins with “Lord, we are able.” However, in our ever-changing world, I wonder if we are really committed to the words of the rest of the Refrain. “Our spirits are Thine. Remold them, make us, like Thee, Divine. Thy guiding radiance above us shall be, a beacon to God, to love and loyalty”

The reality is that, we all would prefer the easy life of living in privilege, with position and power. That was not lost on me this week as I left a mundane encounter reflecting on this Gospel text.

In passing, I casually asked a lady, “How are you doing?” She responded with “Blessed and Highly favored.” I used to think that was a great response. I’m not so sure anymore; because I suspect many folks mistake it to mean life is going to be great with no bad days, my health is always going to great, lady luck will always smile on me and my future is so bright I’ve got wear shades. For them, Jesus’ words must be a rude awakening because “blessed and highly favored” to Jesus means being a servant and helping others even when you are not at your best. Galatians 6:2 says, “But helping others with your troubles, you obey the law of Christ.” (NCV) The law of Christ is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what we commit to with baptism and following Jesus.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for a day of worship, baptisms by immersion and food. My sermon will be “Baptized: But Are You Willing to Serve?” based on Mark 10:35-45.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2018

October 11th was National Coming Out Day. Like many of you, I grew up in a very conservative Christian church tradition. And maturing in my faith journey over the years, I’ve come to know that many things they taught me about God and how God interacts with humanity is just not true, especially on issues of sexuality.

I’ve watched in horror as misinterpreted scripture has been the vehicle religion often uses to lead parents in abandoning and disowning their LGBTQ children. I’m thankful this was not so for me. My conservative Christian Mother responded to my proclaiming to her “I’m gay!” with “Well, am I supposed to love you any less?” I know what that moment of incredible grace did in influencing my life for the better. While it has gotten better over the years, I’m sad that every parent can’t see through religious dogma and respond to their LGBTQ children the way my Mother did. Yet, it seems religion has indoctrinated many to read the scriptures and default to any negative interpretation to be found.

The assigned gospel text for this Sunday is the story of a wealthy young man who is challenged with holding on to his possession or following Jesus. Every sermon I’ve ever heard on this text turned in guilt, condemnation and blame. But as I read it with fresh eyes this week, I looked beyond the easily assumed negative connotations to see the hope, love and acceptance from Jesus. Yes, Jesus did challenge this man’s attachment to his things; but prior to doing so, it says, “Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him.” Afterwards, Jesus says to him “And come, follow Me.” The point of this story is Jesus’ invitation to a life of love, hope, forgiveness and acceptance.

Thursday was National Coming Out Day. Join us Sunday for a day of coming out to worship with us and an invitation to find love, hope, forgiveness and acceptance. My sermon will be “And Come, Follow Me” based on Mark 10:17-31

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2018

“Whoever isn’t against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40, CEB)

It’s amazing how easy people develop an elitist mentality; and Christians are certainly not exempt for this behavior. The scripture above from this Sunday’s assigned Gospel text is Jesus responding to this attitude among his disciples. The disciples had seen some people doing ministry and because these folks were not part of their in-crowd (the 12 disciples and those traveling with Jesus), Jesus’ disciples’ trip to put a stop to the ministry these other folks were doing. Jesus responds to their attitude and behavior in what I’ll call a lesson on “The Stewardship of Allies.”

It’s truly sad when communities of faith make their beliefs and distinctives so narrow and confining that Jesus Himself would not be able to join their church or satisfy our membership criteria. Jesus never ask us to discard our distinctiveness or water down our beliefs and commitment to the lowest possible denominator so that we can all be together organizationally in one group. Instead, Jesus urges us to live out our convictions in love and to do so respecting the diversity of faith and beliefs of others.

For example, Covenant is in partnership through Greater Birmingham Ministries with 15 other Christian congregations, 2 Jewish Temples and a Moslem Mosque. While all the faith communities happen to stem from Abrahamic faith traditions we are each very different in our convictions about our faith. That’s true even among the 16 Christian congregations themselves. But in service to the vision and mission of Greater Birmingham Ministries (helping the least of these among us,) we remember in “The Stewardship of Allies” that “whoever isn’t against us is for us.”

This is Stewardship Month at Covenant where we are seeking commitments to fund our ministry vision and mission for 2019. However, my sermons have also highlighted other aspects of Stewardship. Join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. My sermon will be “The Stewardship of Allies” based on Mark 9:38-42.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2018

Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then He said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in My name welcomes Me; …”

Mark 9:36-37a

Have you ever written something but looking back at it, it seemed awkward to you? After reading and giving some thought to the above assigned gospel text for this Sunday, I decided on this sermon title, “Welcoming Others and Welcoming Jesus.” Immediately I sensed a feeling that there was something odd or a bit peculiar about that title, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. So, I left it as it was.

Then, very early Thursday morning, before daybreak, I woke up out a deep sleep with that sermon title on my mind. I had a clear sense of why I felt uneasy about the title. Somewhere deep inside me was a false sense of piety that I should have put Jesus first and the title should have been “Welcoming Jesus and Welcoming Others.” As I lay there mulling it all over, I felt a peace with the original sermon title based on this scripture from which I’d be preaching.

I thought how children learn a lot from their parents: they’re natural imitators. That means they often even pick of bad habits from their parents. Yet, for most of us, it’s still easy to see past little children’s mistakes, and still be very welcoming of them. So, in the text, Jesus uses children to teach us an important lesson. We are not welcoming of Jesus until we are welcoming of all of God’s children, even with their mistakes. Does that mean that we put up with anything? No, we are not to allow people to take advantage of us or destroy the unity of the local community of faith; but it does mean we don’t create barriers to be unwelcoming to any child of God.

Join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant for more on “Welcoming Others and Welcoming Jesus” based on Mark 9:33-37

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JULY 8, 2018

We have just celebrated and observed the 242nd Birthday of America, in which many spoke of the country winning its freedom from tyranny and oppression.

Yet, we all know that as much as we love our country, not everyone experienced freedom from tyranny and oppression with the signing of “The Declaration of Independence” in 1776 or ratification of “The Constitution” and “Bill of Rights.” Abolition of slavery, child labor laws, women’s right to vote, marriage equality, voting rights laws for all citizens are just a few of those things not addressed at the birth of our nation. Furthermore, we know that the letter of the law means nothing if we as a people don’t live into the spirit of the Law.

The same can be said of scripture. The scriptures say in Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.” Yet, there are many in the communities we serve not living free from the tyranny and oppression of those who claim to be followers of Christ. Misuse or erroneously interpreted scripture is used to justify their prejudices, judgmentalism and condemnation of others. Such actions are the total opposite of Christ’s command to “love God and love others.”

At Covenant, we believe we are called to help our communities experience the freedom of living life fully, wholly, and exactly as God created them and intended for them. That’s why Covenant’s vision is “We are an inclusive community of faith – Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.”

From time to time we need to be reminded of how and why our Vision is still relevant for these times in which we live. So, I invite you to join us at worship at Covenant for the next 3 Sundays as I preach a 3-part sermon series on Covenant’s vision. This Sunday the sermon will be “Part 1: The Vision is Offering Hope” based on Mark 6:1-5.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 11, 2018

 

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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.