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.

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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.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2018

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

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2018

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

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR TRANFIGURATION SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2018

The gospel text assigned from Mark 9 for Transfiguration Sunday includes verses 2 & 9: “Six days later, Jesus took with Him, Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And He was transfigured before …” Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is My Son, the Beloved; listen to Him!”

Seeing Jesus’ transfiguration take place, along with the sudden appearing of Moses and Elijah, Peter decided, “Wow, I’m glad we didn’t miss this,” and suggested they stay up on the mountain to build 3 shelters dedicated to the 3. After all, confronted with a situation like this, one should not just stand there; but do something.

Most sermons I’ve heard on this passage always emphasized the need to NOT stay up on the mountains with our head in the clouds, but use mountaintop experiences like this one to empower us to go back into the valley of human need and do something about what we find there.

If we don’t merge both the mountaintop experience with our actions in the valley of human need, we will be “Missing the Point.” The Transfiguration supports the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. God speaking to the disciples saying, “Listen to Him” identifies Jesus as the messenger and mouth-piece of God. This means that what Jesus tells us is exactly what God wants us to know. And what would that be?

Jesus said that the greatest commandments are “loving God and loving others.” Jesus said, “I give you a new command that you love one another as I have loved you.” Any teaching contrary to this is not of God.

Emphasizing the importance of love in action, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Join us in worship at Covenant this Transfiguration Sunday. I’ll be preaching a sermon called “Missing the Point” based on Mark 9:2-9.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2018

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35, NRSV)

From the assigned reading for this Sunday from the Gospel of Mark 1:29-39, verse 35 above stood out to me. In the preceding 6 verses Jesus heals Peter’s Mother-in-law, along with healing all the various physical, emotional and mental illnesses of a huge number of people brought to Him immediately thereafter. After this, Jesus immediately felt the need for some time alone to replenish Himself physically and spiritually in prayer. When the disciples find Him, He doesn’t spend any time on the success of the ministry He had just accomplished but immediately lays out for them what is next on His ministry agenda.

As followers of Jesus, we love to proudly proclaim that Jesus is our example. Yet, we too often miss the lesson He taught us in how to live life fully, healthily and wholesomely for the long haul. The lesson in verse 35 is not an evangelistic message to the world but a life example that we all would do well to follow: “It’s important to take the time to replenish yourself physically and spiritually.”

It’s so easy to get caught up with doing things, even good ministry things, and forget this example of Jesus of frequently taking the necessary time to replenish our physical and spiritual selves. Failing to do will leave one burned out in every way. With the Season of Lent fast approaching, let’s use it as a time to replenish ourselves for the ministry to which God is calling us for the rest of 2018.

Begin by joining us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. I will be preaching a sermon called “After Serving: I Had to Be Alone” based on Isaiah 40:28-31 and Mark 1:29-39.

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

Have you ever had a change of mind about an issue that left you wondering … what was I thinking? The more I study scripture these days, the more that happens to me. I grew up in a very conservative Pentecostal Holiness Church. I’m forever grateful for the foundation it gave me in scripture, nurtured my love for God and taught me the joy of being part of a community of faith. Nonetheless, I also must admit that some of what I learn in church back then about God does NOT align with scripture.

Too often church scripture was used to emphasize negative stereotypes about who God is, what God is like, what God thinks about us or how God interacts with us. However, the more I study the scriptures, I find a very different God. I find a God whose love knows no boundaries, One who is always reaching out to us in innovative ways or taking drastic measures to get our attention. God loves us and knows “People Need the Lord.” We need the love, grace, forgiveness and peace that only comes from a loving God.

In the scriptures for this Sundays, God uses Jonah, an unwilling participant at first, who has to be convinced through extraordinary means to carry the message of hope to others. In the other scripture, God uses the power of Jesus presence to enlist help in spreading the message of love and hope by saying to them, “Come, follow me, … I’ll show you how to fish for people.”

God took these innovative and extraordinary actions because God knows “People Need the Lord.” But what leaves me wondering “What was I thinking” is how can I or others read these wonderful stories and portray a negative stereotype of God.

Join us in worship this Sunday, I will reinforce the message of hope and love that God desires for us to live in with a sermon called “People Need the Lord” based on Jonah 3:1-5, 10 and Mark 1:14-20