NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR PALM/PASSION SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 2017

I love modern day parables. I noticed one this past week, in watching the UConn Huskies’ women’s basketball team play the Mississippi State (MSU) Bulldogs’ team in a National Semi-Final game. A year ago, MSU had lost to UConn in the tournament by the largest margin ever in a NCAA tournament game, 60 points. UConn entered this game on a 111-game winning streak, the longest in NCAA Division I history, boys or girls. UConn was expected to just cruise to another victory. But MSU played a masterful game. Yet, UConn managed to tie the score at the end of regulation to send it to overtime. As overtime came to an end, MSU’s Morgan Williams at 5’2”, the shortest player on the court, made the game winning buzzer beating shot over one of the tallest. It was a shot heard around the world! The mighty UConn Huskies had fallen to Mississippi State. The cheering was loud! The feeling was unbelievable. There was talk of the parade that would greet the MSU Bulldogs when they came back home to Starkville, Mississippi. But like Palm Sunday, it was a short-lived joy; two days later, Mississippi State lost in the championship game to South Carolina.

This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday. It’s when we remember Jesus’ victorious entry into Jerusalem to the cheers of the people. They were shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is The One who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But we know that victory was also a short-lived joy. A few days later in that same week, Jesus would be arrested, beaten, tried and crucified. The events of Palm Sunday were not a real victory of any lasting duration in light of His passion on Good Friday. It was a tragic kind of victory.

This happens to us as well when we fail to realize the true victory in the Palm/Passion story. For the followers of Christ, the real victory came when they were willing to leave the safety of the crowds and follow Jesus with a commitment that went past the cheering of Palm Sunday. And so it is with us.

Join us this Palm/Passion Sunday at Covenant. We will celebrate with palms waving and also a baptism by immersion. We will also be challenged to make a “Commitment Beyond the Cheering of Palm Sunday.” That’s my sermon title based on Psalm 118:1-2, 19-26 and Matthew 21:1-11.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MARCH 5, 2017 THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

“An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That’s an old saying often used when people are referring to an uncanny likeness of a son and his father in appearance, habits or traits. In many ways, this saying applies to me and my Dad. However, in other ways, the differences between the two of us leave me feeling like I need a DNA test to prove that I really am the son of Jack Finney.

When it comes to carpentry skills, mechanical or electrical knowledge, my apple may have fallen close to the tree; but it quickly rolled a long way down the hill out of sight of the tree from which I fell. Daddy was astutely adept in all three mentioned areas. The services of a carpenter, an electrician and/or a plumber were never needed at our house when I was growing up. Daddy took care of all of those needs himself.

Me, on the other hand, I’m about as clueless in these areas as they come. So, it might be a little surprising that my sermon title for Ash Wednesday was “Time for A Spiritual Tune Up” and my sermon title for this coming First Sunday in Lent is “Flying Instructions for Lent.” With both sermons, I use my very limited knowledge of mechanics to explore important spiritual truths that can help us make the most of our Lenten journey for 2017.

Join us this week for worship on “The First Sunday in Lent.” At Covenant, we call it “Purple Sunday.” We ask that if you can to please wear something purple.

When it comes to mechanical knowledge, I may have rolled far from the tree of Jack Finney. Nonetheless, I will still use my limited knowledge of mechanics and my memories from my days in the Air Force to explore some important truths about “Flying Instructions for Lent” based on “Psalm 32:6-8” and “Matthew 4:1-11.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR, FEBRUARY 26, 2017 “TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY”

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. Every year just before the beginning of Lent, the church goes mountain climbing. We spiritually, as Peter, James and John physically did, follow Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration. Up there we get to see Jesus as He really is as the brightness of God’s glory shines on Him and through Him. The event of course is “The Transfiguration of Jesus,” that signals the end of the season of Epiphany.

Epiphany Ends as it began with a bright light shining. Jesus, the Day Star, the bright and morning star, shines on the Mount of Transfiguration just as the light from heaven shone above His cradle in Bethlehem 30 years or so earlier.

        But why do we all these years later, still spiritually climb this mountain to see this light? Why do we take valuable time out of our busy lives and devote ourselves to climbing the mountain where God’s glory is revealed? Aren’t there hungry folks to be fed? Aren’t there jobs to be done? Aren’t there bills to be paid? Aren’t there children to be fed and clothed? Aren’t there sick to be healed? Aren’t there those grieving that need to be consoled? The answer to all these questions is yes! So, why did Jesus take this time away from His mission? And why do we do it each year right before Lent begins?

Jesus was preparing Himself for the long journey to another mountain. Jesus knew that ahead of Him was the long walk to the cross. And Jesus took this time to focus Himself on the journey that lay ahead of Him.

Mark Twain once said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” We get so caught up with the living of our daily lives that our spiritual imagination often gets out of focus. So, we go mountain climbing each year at the end of Epiphany to spiritually prepare ourselves for the discipline walk of faith and devotion through Lent. It is our way of taking strength from Christ’s strength, as we prepare to walk our Lenten journey. With this, we remember that “Our Need for Transfiguration” is why the glory of God calls us to go this mountain climbing trip.

Join us at Covenant this week as we observe “Transfiguration Sunday,” followed by our February Birthday reception. Then join us again for our “Ash Wednesday” services with communion and the imposition of Ashes.

This week my sermon is “Our Need for Transfiguration” based on “II Peter 1:16-21” and “Matthew 17:1-9.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBUARY 19, 2017

A lot of folks don’t like buffets, but I do, especially, if the restaurant has a reputation for good food. As a child, about once every other month, we’d go to eat as a family at a restaurant inside a Mom and Pop Store owned by a dear friend of my Mom. The owner, “Miss Ann” as we called her, was a great cook and always had a terrific buffet. When we got to the restaurant Mama would also say to us, “don’t let your eyes overload your stomach.” It was her warning not to waste food by filling our plates with more food than we would eat. But it seemed like I just couldn’t help myself. No matter how hard I tried, my eyes always overloaded my stomach because there was just so much from which to choose.

I sort of felt that way reading the lectionary scriptures assigned for this Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany. As I read them, I took a little time with each to absorb the message in it trying to decide on a preaching angle for the sermon this Sunday. These passages seemed like a scriptural buffet to me. Not that they were any of my favorites scriptures, they are not! However, they do offer a plethora of preaching options.

Finally, I looked for the common thread in the four assigned passages and found it in Matthew 5 (A part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.) It takes us back to the basics of our Christian faith; our Judeo – Christian tradition of compelling us to love. And not just those that love you, you like or those that treat you well. In verses 43-44, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You should love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s a very difficult teaching by Jesus and a bitter pill for most of us to swallow; but it does bring us back to the basics of the Christian Faith – Learning to Love!

Join us at Covenant this Sunday morning for worship, I will preach from that buffet of assigned lectionary scriptures for this week. The sermon is called “BACK TO BASICS – LEARNING TO LOVE” based on “Matthew 5:38-48.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBURARY 5, 2017

On Sunday, February 12, 2017, Covenant will celebrate our 36th Anniversary. As I said last Sunday, the founding of an opening, affirming and inclusive congregation like Covenant 36 years ago in Birmingham was prophetic and radical. As we prepare to celebrate our congregation’s birthday, it’s important that we understand that we are still called to the prophetic and radical in our openness and inclusiveness and not just to the LGBTQ community if we are going to be faithful to why Covenant came into being.

Here’s where the lectionary Gospel text for this Sunday encourages us. In it, Jesus said that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”. Being salt and light is not optional. Jesus did not say “you can be…or you have the potential to be…” As followers of Christ, we are! But it up to us whether our salt loses it flavor or our light loses it brightness.

The value of salt, especially in the ancient world cannot be under estimated. Roman soldiers received their wages in salt. The Greeks considered salt to be divine. The Mosaic Law required that all offerings presented by the Israelites contain salt. (Lev. 2:13) So, when Jesus told his disciples that they were “the salt of the earth”, (Matt. 5:13), they understood the metaphor. While the universal importance of salt is not as readily apparent in our modern world, the mandate that Jesus gave to His first disciples is still relevant and applicable to His followers today, especially for those of us at Covenant.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells His disciples, “You are the light of the world”. As “salt”, we as followers of Christ are to counteract the power of evil and sin. As “light”, we are to illuminate or make visible the truth of God’s inclusiveness. Our lives are to be on-going witnesses to the reality of Christ’s inclusive presence in our lives, our church, our community and our world! When we worship God with pure hearts, when we love others as ourselves, and when we do good without growing weary, we are lights shining. It is important, however, to know that it is not our light, but the reflection of the Light of the world, that people will see in us.

Join us for worship on this Sunday and again on our 36th Anniversary, Sunday, February 12, 2017. As we celebrate our past and prepare for our future, this week we will learn what it means to have “A Salt and Light Faith.” That’s my sermon title for this Sunday based on “Isaiah 58:1-3, 9b-11” and “Matthew 5:13-16.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 29, 2017

This is Sunday is the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. Today when we think of an Epiphany, it’s probably not about “The Epiphany” when Christ is revealed to the Magi. Rather we’re probably thinking about “an epiphany as a sudden or illuminating discovery or realization. I had that kind of Epiphany on a couple of things this week. One will remain untold. However, the other Epiphany I had was about my affinity for handwritten lists. I’m a very fast typist and even sitting in front of my computer I almost always handwrite my lists whether it’s things to do, outlines for sermons and teachings or whatever. I’m just prone to think I’ll better remember the things on the list if I handwrite them. Not sure about that though.

Have you ever noticed how much we’re into lists? Back in the late 70’s, (I’m told) one of the most popular books around was “The Book of Lists.” And there have been thousands of books published like it since. Someone recently did a search on Amazon.com and came up with 229,000 matches of books with the word “list” in their title. Let’s face it: we have a fascination with lists. Practically all of us have ongoing “To Do Lists”, whether we handwrite them on scraps of paper, in a day-timer or keep track of them on our choice of Personal Digital Assistants. It seems we humans come by this affinity for lists naturally as even God seems to all about lists (i.e., the 10 Commandments, the 2 greatest commandments, the 12 Apostles;) you get the idea.

This assigned Gospel for this Fourth Sunday After Epiphany comes from the beginning on one of Jesus’ most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus starts this sermon with a list we have come to know as “The Beatitudes.” It’s a list telling when and how we are blessed by certain virtues, attitudes and actions; not all of them we like or want to experience. As a preacher, this very familiar list normally makes for very easy sermon preparation; only, I’m not going to be using that list. Instead, I’m going to be using a different list; one from the assigned Old Testament reading found in Micah 6:8. It’s “God’s short list for a faithful life.”

Join us for worship at Covenant, this Fourth Sunday After Epiphany. Perhaps you’ll have an epiphany and leave with an illuminating discovery or realization about your life based on “God’s Short List for a Faithful Life.” That’s my sermon title based on Micah 6:1, 6-8 and Matthew 5:1-12.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 22, 2017

When I lived in Atlanta, during 1980s, I attended lots of matinee games of the Atlanta Braves. I considered myself a follower of the team of the city I lived in. I have since discovered that I was only a fan, not a follower, of the Braves. A follower is one is makes a commit that cost them something. A fan wants the benefits of a followers gets without the commitment or cost.

Maybe this will help you understand what I mean. During the 1980s, the matinee (afternoon games) ticket price for the nose bleed seats were very cheap, only $5. The attractiveness of attending matinee games was I paid only $5 for the tickets. During that time the Atlanta Braves was a dismal baseball team, so there was sparse attendance at any Braves games and even less at a matinee game. After purchasing a ticket for $5, we often were invited to sit in the box seats or those right behind the batter’s box so that there were people in camera view while batters were at the plate.

That sweetheart of a deal changed when Atlanta Braves in one year went from worst to first in 1990, and then became perennial winners during the rest of the time I lived in Atlanta. The ticket prices for a game, even the nose-bleed seats soared and I probably attended only 5 games after that happened; and that was because someone I knew had free tickets. So, all that time I thought I was follower of the Atlanta Braves, I was only a fan.

I think that true of Jesus. Many folks who think they are followers of Christ, are only just fans. They want all the benefits of being a follower of Christ without any of the discipleship, stewardship and commitment asked of followers of Jesus.

This week’s gospel text is about Jesus calling His first four disciples, four fishermen. These were men whose families, immediate or extended, no doubt were dependent on their skill and work catching fish. Yet, the left everything and followed Jesus. It was real commitment that cost them something. They were followers of Jesus, not just fans.

Join us in worship this week at Covenant as the scriptures confront us with this question “Fan or Follower of Jesus?” The way we answer it with our commitment says a lot about the kind of relationship we will have with God and others. As you probably have guest, my sermon is “Fan or Follower of Jesus?” The scripture basis for my sermon are I Corinthians 1:10, 17-18 and Matthew 4:18-23.