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.

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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.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JULY 16, 2017

As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.” Matthew 13:23

This is the time of year when the lectionary scriptures call us to live our discipleship as followers of Jesus. This month our 3-H “Happy Helping Hands” Ministry will take on an annual project in which we as a church seek to do just that. In collaboration with Greater Birmingham Ministries, we will feed 50 children in a day-care, for the working poor, lunch for a week. This is an excellent opportunity to sow some of God’s seeds of grace and compassion into the good soil of young children. So, I encourage you to find out how you can help in this ministry opportunity.

Yet, as I ponder the passage from Matthew 13:23, I wander how often I, as well as many of you, have misunderstood this passage when I personally didn’t seek to fulfill the premise of it while desiring the promise of it. It’s easy to read it and desire to see the promise of return and harvest in it be fulfilled in our lives. It’s also easy to lose heart when it doesn’t happen. We need to understand that the promise of return and harvest is premised on us being good soil. To see this promise fulfilled in our lives, we need to make sure our hearts are good soil. After all, the premise is “As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce …”

Join us for worship this Sunday. My sermon, “Seed for the Heart of Good Soil,” aims to help us develop a heart of good soil, fertile to produce the promised harvest and return. It’s based on Isaiah 55:10-13 and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JULY 9, 2017

Since July 4th came on Tuesday this year, I suppose either or both the Sundays before and after can emphasize freedom. The truth is that every Sunday sermon should be about the real freedom to be found in our personal relationship with God.

Unfortunately, what most of us learned growing up in Church does not lead to “real freedom” in this relationship with God. I’m convinced the biggest stumbling block to this real freedom resulted from the insecurity of church leaders that were threatened by questions. The strategy of such church leaders throughout the history of the Christian Church has been to have Christ followers check their brains at the door of the church and just accept whatever the leaders say. Again, this does NOT lead to “Real Freedom.”

A website called “Question for Jesus: Conversational Prayer Around Your Deepest Desires,” has profound questions most of us were never encouraged to ask. Questions like: “Jesus, what have you done this week to show me how valuable I am to You? What do You want to do together today? Jesus all these demands are really weighing on me. How did You deal with it when everyone around You was trying to get something from You? What were You thinking when You looked at me this morning?”

I’m convinced God welcomes our questions as they help us experience real freedom. John the Baptist “prepared the way for Jesus” and baptized Him. Yet, in Matthew 11, John is in prison and he hears about the things Jesus is doing and he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You The One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus is not threatened by John’s question. He responds by sending John the answers that those seeking relief from their struggles find in Him, real freedom. Later, Jesus invites all present to experience this real freedom in following Him and receiving the rest He gives.

Join us for worship at Covenant this Sunday after July 4th as we explore doing the same. I will be preaching on how “Real Freedom Has Room for Questions!” from “Matthew 11:2-6, 28-30.”

JOIN US AFTERWARDS IN CELEBRATING

MAMA DOROTHY SWIMS’ 82TH BIRTHDAY!