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

Hyperbole is speaking in an exaggerated manner to make or emphasize a point. It is often used in the writing of scripture. Of the gospel writers, Matthew uses hyperbole the most often in the telling of Jesus’ parables. Failure to recognize the hyperbole being used, people often read into the parable things that were not intended.

In the Parable of the Talents assigned for this Sunday, Matthew has an extreme way of saying God has given each of us talents in service to the realm of God, so “Use It or Lose It.” Failure to recognize this use of hyperbole can make it a struggle to properly understand the point of the parable being made. This parable ends with these words in reference to the servant that did nothing with talent entrusted to him. “Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’ “People, there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.” Seems awful harsh in light of what we know about our God of love and new beginnings, don’t you think?

I invite you to look past the hyperbole Matthew uses to see the message Jesus was conveying with the parable. It might help if you think of talents in a light of this parable. Talents are like the muscles in your arm. If you never use your arm so that it gets the exercise needed to maintain strength in the muscles, your arm atrophies. It declines in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect. The result is you’ll lose the use of that arm. So “Use It or Lose It!” This same principle applies to the talents and spiritual gifts God has given us. If we do not use them; we lose them.

Join us this Sunday at Covenant. We will consecrate 3 new deacons who have chosen to use their gifts in service to God at Covenant. My sermon will be “Talents: Use It or Lose It” based on Matthew 25:14-30.

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR REFORMATION SUNDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2017

This Sunday, many churches around the world will observe the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. It will be done to commemorate the act leading to what is called the Reformation when on October 31, 1517, German Monk Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther took this action to protest the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church. The act of selling indulgences was the church getting people to pay for forgiveness of their sins, sometimes even before one committed the sin. Seemed like a good deal; except God’s grace and forgiveness is free.

In 2017, the Christian Church has returned to the selling of indulgences. This time, the indulgences is not for forgiveness of sin to raise money to build a basilica as before. Instead, today, craving a thirst for power and favor with modern day pharaohs; the church is now selling the indulgences of cruelty by siding with the powerful and rich; turning a blind eye as politicians perpetrate disastrous and harmful polices that hurt the very ones Jesus, who they claim to follow, advocated the strongest for in His earthly ministry; “the least of these.”

In reading the assigned gospel from Matthew 22 for this week’s observance of Reformation Sunday, a familiar saying came to mind. It was the connotative definition of “insanity,” which is “doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.” That’s what we see in yet another incident in which religious leaders try to match wits with Jesus. Just like last Sunday, the same group of religious leaders try twice, this time, to trap Jesus with questions! And Jesus ‘drops the mic’ on them again!

Join us for worship this Reformation Sunday. There will be no sale of indulgences; only a sermon about loving God and loving others; and where we will find, once again, that forgiveness is free. My sermon is “When Jesus ‘Dropped the Mic’ – Part 3,” based on “Matthew 22:24-46.”

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

In the 1980s, rappers and comedians came up with something called “drop the mic.” A “mic drop” is the gesture of intentionally dropping one’s microphone at the end of a performance or speech to signal triumph. Figuratively, it was an expression of triumph for a successful event and indicates a boastful attitude toward one’s own performance.

The microphone was invented in 1876 by Emile Berline as a telephone voice transmitter. Two years later in 1878, David Hughes invented what is the forerunner of various carbon microphones in use today. The microphone and the ‘drop the mic’ gesture were invented 18 & 19 centuries after Jesus had lived on earth for 33 years.

So, ‘dropping the mic’ is NOT a gesture Jesus would have ever used. First, because the microphone hadn’t been invented. But second, because Jesus never displayed traits of boastfulness. His only boast was always in God.

However, in the Gospels, Jesus often had encounters with religious and political leaders who tried to entrap Him with their questions. Many of Jesus’ responses to such questions would be considered by us today as “drop the mic” moments. Such is the situation in the assigned gospel reading for this Sunday. In it, Jesus is asked “Is it right for God’s people to pay taxes to the state?” It was a trick question. It was asked because they thought that no matter how Jesus answered, His answer would get Him in trouble with either government officials or religious authorities. His answer was “Give to Caesar (the state) what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.” That was a ‘drop the mic’ moment; because the next line in scripture is “When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.”

For you and me, Jesus’ ‘drop the mic’ moments speak some words of hope. So, join us in worship this Sunday at Covenant as I share words of hope from this story in my sermon “When Jesus ‘Drop The Mic’!” based on Matthew 22:15-22.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2107

“Old habits die hard” is an old saying I grew up with. I’ve noticed it’s a very true saying when it comes to legalisms we learned in church. One such legalism many of us learned in church was to be properly dressed when going to church. Even when legalism grew lax over time, it still was very strong on what is proper attire when participating in the service. This week’s assigned gospel reading ends with a parable about being properly attired for a wedding. That and something that happened to me this week, reminded me of this old saying.

Tuesday, I was honored to be one of the speakers for a “Unity Service” at Highland United Methodist Church. The music was performed by an ensemble of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. As enlightened as I think of myself, I nonetheless, found myself noticing the difference in the attire the two groups wore for the occasion. The Oakland Interfaith Choir was dressed in their beautiful robes reminiscent of those worn when I grew up in my black church experience. The SF Gay Men’s Chorus was dressed in rainbow color T-Shirts – some wearing jeans, others wearing shorts.

In this beautiful service, is that one of the things that caught my attention? Yes, it was, but only for a nanosecond. Having grown up with that old legalism about being properly dressed for church, it was an example that “Old habits die hard.” However, that experience also gave me a quick insight into the parable for this Sunday. Being dressed properly for the occasion is not about our outside attire, it’s all about properly dressing our spiritual and emotional selves.

Join us for worship this Sunday. Then join us for a potluck dinner immediately following worship. All members are asked to please attend for our Annual Congregational Meeting. I’ll be preaching a sermon on this parable called “Are You Dressed Properly for the Occasion?” based on Matthew 22:1-14.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2017

Sunday evening, America, once again, experienced the horror of an “unprecedented” mass murder, this time in Las Vegas. What seems to stand out this time is that as of this writing, there’s no known why to this killer’s heinous act. None of the usual markers – mental illness, radicalized terrorism, impending financial doom or relational strife seems to be the motive. One “expert” on TV theorized that the motive was probably some kind of rejection this person has experienced. Yet, so far, it seems that this was a person of privilege who had amassed all the creature comforts of life. So, with no explanation to offer a reason “why” behind this person’s actions, what rationale does one use to comfort the grieving, the injured and those traumatized?

All of this was fresh in my mind as I pondered a line from the assigned gospel text for this week. It says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes!” (Matthew 21:42) Watching the story of one American of Asian descendent, I thought of how her story could easily be your story or mine, but for the grace of God. Any of us can seemingly be sailing through life when we lose everything, suddenly & unexpectedly, including our lives.

As people of faith, we must offer those living with the effects of a tragedy like this one, the hope of Christ. As the Stone that the builders rejected, Jesus has become the cornerstone of our hope to heal from such tragedies. God made Jesus the cornerstone, so that we may get past the rejections life throws at us and live in God’s love, grace, mercy and acceptance. And as the writer of Matthew says, “it’s amazing in our eyes.”

Join us for worship at Covenant this Sunday. I’ll try to help us continue to live in God’s love, grace, and mercy in a sermon called “Rejection and Acceptance” based on Matthew 21:33-46

 

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR BACK-TO-CHURCH SUNDAY, 9-10-2017

I grew up learning to trust promises from God like “a peace that passes understanding” and “peace in the midst of a storm.” Over the years they have comforted me during difficult and troubled times.

Recently my heart has been troubled with the thought: “Is there no end in sight?” Houston and its surrounding areas of that part of Texas are trying to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey that left a trail of death, destruction and disrupted lives. While much of our attention as a nation has been properly focused on helping those whose lives were affected by Harvey’s record rainfall and flooding to our nation’s 4th largest city; Hurricane Irma is already causing death and destruction in the Caribbean. As I write this; the best projections have Irma headed for Florida and going up the east coast. Also, there are 2 more named storms, Jose and Katia, gathering strength out in the Atlantic. So, “is there no end in sight?”

Storms like these can’t distinguish between good or bad people. They ravage, damage and destroy anything and anyone in their path. The storms we face emotionally, spiritually and sometimes physically are like that as well. They don’t care if you are a good or bad person; they come to ravage, damage and destroy you. The assigned scriptures for this Sunday offer “Incredible Promises Despite the Storms.” From Romans 13:9, “The commandments … are summed up in this one word. ‘Love Your neighbor as yourself.” And from Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.” The affirmation of knowing that if we love one another and gather together in His name then God is present with us are “incredible promises despite the storms” we will have to face.

This Sunday is Back-To-Church Sunday across America. Join us at Covenant for worship. I’m back also; and I will be preaching on “Incredible Promises Despite the Storms” based “Romans 13:8-10” and “Matthew 18:18-20.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY AUGUST 6, 2017

The assigned gospel story for this Sunday is Matthew’s version of the feeding of the multitude. In reading this familiar passage of scripture again this week, I was struck by the abundance you find in the beginning and the end of the story.

The story begins with Jesus, while trying to get away for some down time, encountering a crowd following Him. The spiritual abundance is that Jesus knows the incredible issues of emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health needs among them. Jesus has compassion on them and cures them. This all-day healing service lasted over into the evening. By now, these folks are out here in the middle of nowhere, with no food to eat. This is when the physical abundance in this story takes place. Five loaves of bread (more like 5 biscuits) and 2 fishes are multiplied into enough to feed 5000 men, plus woman and children present. Not only that, but 12 baskets of overages were collected from this meal after everyone ate.

Many will theorize as to whether this story is real or not. Others, assuming if it’s in the Bible it must be true, will seek ways to explain how this happened. Both approaches miss the point of the story all together. To realize why this story of God’s spiritual and physical abundance is in the Bible, we need to consider two verses from the alternate Psalm scripture assigned for this Sunday.

Psalm 145:8-9, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made.” It’s pretty simple: “God is good. God is Love. God made and God cares for you and me!”

Jesus often challenges His followers to “go and do likewise.” Join us at Covenant this Sunday. I will revisit our vision statement to encourage us to “go and do likewise.” The sermon is “Abundance: A Vision of Hope, Faithfulness and Joy,” based on “Matthew 14:13-21.”