NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 2017

It’s that time of year when most of the assigned lectionary scriptures are on missions and service. This Sunday, Jesus uses an interesting example of “The Gospel and Hospitality Made Simple: A Cup of Cold Water.” This verse from Matthew 10:42 reads “Whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

To give someone a cup of cold water in that part of the world when in Jesus’ time a cup of cold water was so rare meant extreme hospitality was being offered. So, to give someone a cup of cold water is a metaphor for serving others as God would have us to do. Words from the song “Room in God’s Kingdom, illustrates this point.

“Just a cup of cold water in His name given; May the hope in some heart renew;

Do not wait to be told, nor by sorrow driven; To the world God has planned for you.”

There is an amazing analogy between the words of Jesus about offering a cold cup of water and in our serving/hospitality offered to others as Christians. Both the cold cup of water and our Christians hospitality to others are blessings from God. They fulfill a need, it refreshes them and us, and it aids in providing necessities of life.

The bottom line is that it’s important for us to use our blessings to the best of our ability to serve others. Jesus said this in one verse of scripture for this Sunday and it’s “The Gospel and Hospitality Made Simple: A Cup of Cold Water.”

Join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday. I’ll be unpacking this teaching of Jesus more deeply in my sermon, “The Gospel and Hospitality Made Simple: A Cup of Cold Water,” based on Matthew 10:42. Then share in our hospitality of cake and punch as we celebrate the birthdays of those born in June.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 2017

During the summer and autumn months, the lectionary scriptures concentrate a lot on missions. In the Gospel text for this Sunday, “Jesus said to His disciples, … Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received.’” To this end, the church engages in mission’s work. Often it involves traveling to some distant place trying to convert someone to our Christian beliefs and/or providing and meeting a critical need for others that they can’t provide for themselves.

I personally think that providing a critical need is a much more effective evangelism and mission tool of our faith in Christ than proselytizing. If we make it our goal to love people by providing for their critical needs, we might find them more receptive to our Christian message of living life in relationship with Christ.

As I write this, today is Thursday, June 15, 2017. Seven weeks ago, today, I had an appointment with a 24-year old young man named Matt, in my church office. He wanted to talk with me about some difficult challenges affecting him relationally and emotionally. After spending time doing some problem-solving around these issues, I said him, “You know that none of this will work without God’s help.” He said, “Yeah, preacher, I know.” So, I asked him, “Would you like God’s help? It’s a simple matter of saying yes to walking in relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” With tears streaming down his face, he said, “Yes.” So, we held hands and prayed for that to happen. You see, my efforts to help this young man with some difficult challenges he faced, made him receptive to the Gospel message that I as a Christian Pastor am called to proclaim. It was one of my “Godly Opportunities for Missions.”

This example of missions is heavy on my mind because, yesterday, Wednesday, June 14, 2017, I officiated and gave the Eulogy at that young man’s, “Celebration of Life” Service, following his death in a tragic car accident.

Join us at Covenant this Father’s Day for worship. I will be preaching on “Godly Opportunities for Missions” based on Matthew 9:35 – 10:8.

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.”