NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MAY 7, 2017

This Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” That’s because the gospel reading for “The Fourth Sunday after Easter” always includes passages portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The picture of Jesus as The Good Shepherd is meant to demonstrate the greatness of God’s unconditional love for us. It’s also meant to show the lengths to which God was willing to go to show God’s love for us.

In John 10:11 of The Message, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before Himself, sacrifices Himself if necessary.” God was even willing to take the sting out of death for us.

This story by Adrian Dieleman can help us to visualize this point. He writes: A boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon when a bumblebee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again, the father reached out his hand; but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.”

One of the biggest fears people have is the sting of death. We don’t’ need to fear death anymore because “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” has taken the sting for us. If “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” has done that for us, rest assured that His other claim in John 10:10 is true also. “I’ve come that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as I preach on “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” using the very family scriptures of Psalm 23 and John 10:1-11.

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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 FATHER’S DAY, SUNDAY, JUNE 19, 2016

This Sunday is Father’s Day. So, Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there and those serving in paternal roles.

I usually like using the sermon to commemorate these special days. However, with the events of last Sunday in Orlando; my heart is still sick over the senseless and tragic loss of life and injuries incurred by members of our LGBTQ community, so I’m feeling led in a different direction with the sermon this week.

To show my solidarity with the victims, I changed my Facebook profile to include “We are Orlando,” and by this Sunday I will have participated in at least 5 community events as responses to the tragedy. While I didn’t know a single individual victim personally, as the Pastor of Covenant, I feel like I have known each one of them too often by a different face and a different name. I’ve seen each face too often in random acts of violence toward our community.

I’ve felt like I’m supposed to have some words of wisdom to help others grieve and deal with such horrible acts; but I have felt stymied on this one. So, once again I turned to the scriptures for insight and comfort. It was there, in the lectionary scriptures assigned for this Sunday, that I finally felt some comfort. In Psalms 42 and 43, three different times the Psalmist raises the question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Each time he answers with these words: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.” As I reread those Psalms several times, I allowed my mind to think about that question and response. In doing so, the message became clear to me. In spite of the events of last Sunday in Orlando, “God is still God; even when people are going crazy!” At times like these, that just might be what we need to hear, remember and hold onto as we try to emotionally deal this terrible event or some other difficulty in our lives. “God is still God.” God still loves me, accepts me, forgives me, helps me, strengthens me, and encourages me, “even when people are going crazy” all around me. I need to remember to “Hope in God, my Help and my God!”

Join us at Covenant this Sunday after PrideFest for worship. The focus of my sermon will be that “God is still God; even when people are going crazy!” The scripture text is “Psalms 42:1-43:5.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR TRINITY SUNDAY, MAY 22, 2016

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. All over the world the lead song in most liturgical services will include the line “God in three persons, Blessed Trinity.” Preachers will follow with a sermon trying to explain just what the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) means and few will be successful.

I think we might communicate the Trinity and its importance more effectively if we used more inclusive terms to help people imagine the Trinity as “The Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.” After all, the “Trinity” is not an attempt to explain God but speaking of the 3 major manifestations that God chose to reveal God’s Self to humanity that we find in Holy Scripture. Let’s be clear: “God is still speaking!” But these are the 3 major manifestations of God that we find in scripture.

I attended the “Festival of Homiletics” this week in Atlanta and was inspired by some of the greatest preachers of our time. Though not one speaker spoke of The Trinity, I thought about it when one speaker encouraged us to (and I paraphrase) Know Your God, Know Your Body and Know Your Truth. In those 3 things I allowed myself to imagine a new way to think about the Trinity.

  1. Know Your God. The Creator created you and me to have fellowship with God because God loves us. If we come to know our God as the Creator who loves us and not some distant, non-relatable entity out there somewhere, we will discover that “God is for us!” Not out to get us!
  2. Know Your Body. The Christ, as our example, taught us to live our lives with balance. He demonstrated those things we need to do that strengthens us spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentality including taking the time to rest. If we follow Christ’s example, we come to know that “God is with us;” all the time. We are not forgotten and never abandoned!
  3. Know Your Truth – Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will lead, guide and direct us. Do you ever feel something inside you tugging at you to do the right thing, even when you want to do just the opposite? That’s the Holy Spirit. “Trust your integrity” and allow the Holy Spirit to be a constant reminder that “God is within us.”

These three things are “Examples of God’s Love,” and they go a long way in helping us to understand “The Trinity.” Join us in worship at Covenant on this “Trinity Sunday.” I promise I will have neither a long nor doctrinal sermon on the Trinity. I will however, be preaching about “The Trinity” as “Examples of God’s Love,” using “Psalm 8.”