NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

This week, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is known as “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The assigned texts always include a portion of John 10 in which Jesus declares “I am the Good Shepherd.” This year, Psalm 23, one of the most beloved of all passages in the Bible, is also included.

In Psalm 23, David equates the nature of sheep to our human nature. Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off and get lost. We humans tend to do the same thing. Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)

When sheep go astray, they are in danger of getting lost, being attacked, even killing themselves by drowning or falling off cliffs. Likewise, within our own human nature, there is a strong tendency to often go astray from purposes and good works God has created for our lives. This leaves us vulnerable to falling prey to things not good for us – things that do not reflect our relationship with the Shepherd (God). As such we make choices that often endanger our lives or cause us to fall off the cliffs in our health; as well as spiritually and emotionally. In doing so, we run the risk of getting lost in life and even forgetting the way back to God.

David, in Psalm 23, made this analogy because as a shepherd he knew sheep, and as an anointed leader of God’s people, he also understood how much he and the people he led were just like sheep. So, David sees in God our human need for a shepherd that meets our need for provision, rest, security and direction. How can we make this promise from scripture a reality in our lives? It’s simple: “Following the Good Shepherd.”

Join us for worship on this Good Shepherd Sunday at Covenant. My sermon based on Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18 is designed to help us in remaining close to and reaping the benefits of “Following the Good Shepherd.”

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 8, 2018

This Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Easter; but is better known as Low Sunday; as Christian churches collectively tend to record their lowest attendance of the year.

However, we find a very important message in the assigned text from John 20. In it, Jesus says to His disciples, “Peace be with you!” This is not a peace “as the world gives”, but a peace that provides relief in the face of persecution, the promise of new possibilities, and a confidence in God to overcome “the world.” In John’s Gospel, “the world” indicates a hostile and ignorant response to the truth of God’s peace.

Then, recalling the moment when God breathed life into the original earth person, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” making them new spiritual creations so they could engage the world. In receiving the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers receive nothing less than the fullness of God. So:

· Jesus bestows peace upon His worried followers. Great!

· Jesus fills them with the Holy Spirit. Great!

· Jesus tells them they can forgive or retain other people’s sins. Huh?

What is Jesus talking about? Well, it is for sure that Jesus is not appointing the church or its members as God’s moral watchdog. Nor is Jesus commissioning us to arbitrate people’s assets and liabilities on a heavenly balance sheet. In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about sin as unbelief, the unwillingness or incapacity to grasp the truth of God manifested in Him. So, to be living in sin is not about moral failings, but it’s an inability or refusal to recognize and receive God’s revelation in Christ when confronted by it; thereby remaining estranged from God.

God’s purpose in doing this on the evening of the first Easter is so that Christ’s followers will “Find Joy and Peace in the Resurrection.” It is so our lives can accomplish great things as Jesus did, if we are yielded to God’s Spirit that lives in us.

Join us at Covenant for worship on Low Sunday. I’ll be preaching on “Finding Joy and Peace in the Resurrection” based on Psalm 133 and John 20:19-23.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR PALM SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2018

The original March on Washington is known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. As a 9-year old, I didn’t realize the full implication of this March to advocate for the civil and economic rights of African Americans. I must admit I don’t even remember the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King because my attention was focused elsewhere by the time he spoke late in the afternoon. I do remember Mahalia Jackson’s rousing rendition of “How I Got Over.” To me the whole event was just a great big parade and “everybody loves a parade, until …”. For me, the ‘until’ was when I came to realize it was seeking relief against the injustices that had caused the March.

Saturday, March 24, the March for Our Lives will take to the streets of Washington DC and 500 other cities around the country to demand that kid’s lives and safety become a priority and serious efforts are taken to end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools. I wonder how many will not recognize the gravity of the event and see it as just a big parade; and, “everybody loves a parade, until …” the horror of gun violence strikes, victimizing them and theirs.

Then on Palm Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In an act of political resistance against the Roman Empire and their proxies in the religious establishment, huge crowds of people sang and waved palm branches to welcome Jesus into the city. Jesus went directly to the temple, the center of a corrupt system, threw out the moneychangers and reclaimed the space for the people. And “everybody loved the parade, until …” during this last week of His life, Jesus proclaimed a vision of a new society where there are no outcasts and everyone has enough.

Join us this Palm/Passion Sunday. We will celebrate with the waving of palm branches, special music and a sermon about 2 parades called “Everybody Loves A Parade, Until …” based on Psalm 118:1, 22-29 and John 12:12-16

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR BAPTISM OF OUR LORD SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 2018

The Baptism of Jesus is commemorated each year on the first Sunday following Epiphany, January 6. This year that was the first Sunday of the New Year. At Covenant, we have chosen to commemorate it as we normally do on this week on the Second Sunday of the New Year. That also means following the lectionary scriptures assigned for this Sunday requires us to look at baptism with a depth that goes beyond baptism being an outward sign of an inward spiritual reality taking place.

Rev. Michael Piazza shared the following this week: “I have no idea what the sign actually said, but, driving to the airport … it seems it said, ‘Hope Repaired Here’. It was tempting to turn around and see what it really said and what they really repaired. The thing is, as someone whose hope has been damaged a bit during the past couple years, it felt better to think that there really is a place that repairs shattered hopes.”

As I thought about his words, it dawned on me that there is such a place. It’s called our hearts. The assigned text for this Sunday from Psalm 139 & I Corinthians 6 goes to great lengths to remind us that God who made us, knows us, loves us, is always present with us, and we belong to God! That reminder is where hope is repaired!

Being baptized or re-affirming our baptism is meant be a time when we are reminded in our innermost being, that hope is repaired right here within us. “Baptism” reminds us that hope is repaired “When We Say Yes” to a relationship with God.

So, join us on this “Baptism of Our Lord” Sunday at Covenant. We will commemorate the Baptism of Jesus with Baptisms by Immersion and reaffirmations of Baptism with sprinkling as part of our worship. My sermon will be “Baptism: When We Say Yes” based on Psalm 139, 1-6, 13-18 and I Corinthians 6:12, 19-20.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT DECEMBER 3, 2017

The Season of Advent begins this Sunday. The theme is Hope. Christmas and the New Year of 2018 are just around the corner. Come, see Covenant beautifully decorated as we also light the first Advent Candle for Hope.

Advent is a season of waiting. It’s a time to be marked by urgent anticipation, longing for the fulfillment of what has been promised. Since Jesus was born 2000 years ago, the promise we are now waiting for is the return of Christ as described in the assigned scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent; referencing the second coming of Christ, instead of the birth of Jesus.

That’s all well and good except, too often, people don’t really spend enough thought on what we do while we wait. While the scriptures encourage us to look for Christ’ return, they also tell us to make the most of the present. Someone once put it this way: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you do no earthly good.” John Wesley said it even better with these words: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”. That’s making the most of the present.

In preparing for Advent, Christmas, the unknowable future of 2018 and beyond, let’s make sure we don’t ignore our most precious resource that allows us to make the most of the present. That is “The Shining Light of Hope,” of God’s presence in our lives. Let’s trust in God and seize the day.

Again, join us for worship this First Sunday of Advent as we continue our look for Christ’s return while making the most of the present. My sermon will be “The Shining Light of Hope” based on Psalm 80:7, 17-19 and Mark 13:24-27, 32-37

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.

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.