NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 24, 2019

As I write this on Thursday morning: I feel, in the words of Thomas Paine, “These are times that try ‘men’s” souls.”

Sunday, I spoke at the Birmingham Islamic Center in response to the terrorist attacks last week in New Zealand. Tuesday, my family said goodbye to a beautiful 7-year girl, who died in a tragic accident. That day, another cousin died. Wednesday, I tried to encourage and prayed with a clergy colleague facing some very challenging and difficult times. The same day I prayed with a Covenant Deacon whose family is going through rough times including a loved one’s death that morning.

Reading the assigned Gospel text for this coming Sunday from Luke 13 was not exactly refreshing. It speaks of death and destruction. Then I read Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” It reminded me of God’s unseen presence with me always, especially the dark times of life.

The book, An Unseen Angel, was written by Alissa Parker, after her daughter, Emilie, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. She writes…

“In one of the last conversations I had with Emilie, she tried gleefully to help me see the connections in a stencil pattern on her wall. ‘Mom, do you see the connections? They are all around us!’ Through the years, those words have led me on a quest to find, recognize, and appreciate the connections that surround us all.” … “My hope in sharing our story is that others who find themselves in dark places can discover the unseen angels in their lives helping them turn to the light.”

As a Christian Pastor, I believe that’s my calling as well. “These are the times that try ‘our’ souls,” but I’m thankful for ‘The Unseen Angel’ with us, Christ.

Join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday. My sermon on this will be “God’s Steadfast Love is Better Than Life” based on Psalms 63:1-8 and Luke 13:1-9.

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2019

This Sunday is the Second Sunday IN Lent. It is also St. Patrick’s Day. Although the tradition is to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, for worship we will stick with purple, the Lenten liturgical color.

While some may go to a special worship service to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; other traditional celebrations include partying, attending festivals and of course, drinking. Since St. Patrick’s Day occurs during the liturgical season of Lent, historically, Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for that day. That’s unnecessary this year because St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday which is already a feast day, where such restrictions don’t apply.

Thinking about all of this, I was struck by how often religion focuses on Heaven and is a means of escaping from the realities of now. As such, we feel the need to go to great lengths to justify any enjoyment in this life on earth. However, in Psalm 27:13 from the assigned sacred text for this Sunday, the Psalmist says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord, in the land of the Living.”

The Psalmist possesses a faith that is not just eternal but imminent, meaning at hand, and about to happen while he was still alive. His is a faith that does not just hope for the best, it anticipates the realization of his hopes. What keeps the Psalmist faithful is the anticipation of hope and dreams that he expects to be realized in this life. Not just pie in the sky bye-and-bye when we die, but something sound, on the ground, while we’re still around – that is the faith of the Psalmist.

I believe in Heaven (a place where we are eternally present with God) but I also believe that God wants us to experience all that God has to offer us in this life we have on earth. Join us in worship this Sunday. We’ll explore this more in my sermon “Seeing the Goodness of the Lord, In the Land of the Living,” based on Psalms 27.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2018

One of the ultimate realities that challenge practically every person at some point is the question, “Do I matter to God?” Oh, we are not really confronted or bothered by this question during the high peaks and good times of life. But it’s a question that seems to be ever present when we find ourselves in the valleys of life; especially during the tough times when we are dealing with loss, with death, when we are sick, or lose our job or someone we love. Those are the times this question, “Do I matter to God” tends to continuously gnaw at us emotionally.

The assigned text this week is Psalm 8, one of my favorites. It begins and ends with recognition of the greatness of God, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!” However, in the middle of it, it addressed this question “Do I matter to God?” In verses 4 & 5 David writes, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the children of humans that You do care for them? For You have made them a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned them with glory and honor.” This passage should remind us, as it did David that we really do matter to God! In this Psalm, no doubt David was referring back to Genesis 1:26 where God created humans in God’s image and likeness. The late renowned Old Testament scholar Dr. H. C. Leupold said, “Nowhere is “human” dignity asserted more clearly and boldly than in this passage.”

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for worship and be refreshed with a message that reaffirms to each of us “You Matter to God!” My sermon title is ‘“What is Man?” or “A little Lower Than Angels!”’ It’s based on Psalm 8.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST, 12, 2018

This Sunday we will continue our sermon series on the Covenant Mission Statement as we think about the 2nd part of that mission: “To cultivate a personal relationship with God.”

I talk to people a lot about their relationships. It’s just part of what a pastor does. There are those seeking guidance to find a good relationship, those seeking advice on how to better the relationship they have, and of course those trying to get out of a relationship.

A common trait that I have discovered in all of these conversations about relationships is that they also affect how people relate to God. And, of course, ninety-nine percent of the time that we conflate our human relationships with our relationship with God, God is shortchanged.

We project others’ failures as humans onto our concept of God’s relationship with us as humans. We begin to think that we have to put on our best face in our relationship with God as we do in our human relationships with others. We don’t!!!!

God loves and is interested in the real me and the real you, not the fake/perfect me or you that we so often try to project to others. God already knows the real me, with all my faults, challenges, struggles and foibles, and God still loves me. Same for you! And, most importantly, God invites me and you to say yes and cultivate a relationship with this God who loves and cares for me and you.

If we concentrate on saying yes to this invitation of a personal relationship with God; if we imitate Jesus’ example of service; and then if we share with others how to cultivate this relationship with God, we will indeed be living into this 2nd phase of our Covenant mission.

Join us this Sunday for worship at Covenant as we consider a more detailed way of living out our Mission. The sermon is “The Mission – Part 2: To Cultivate A Relationship With God,” based on Psalms 130:3-4,7 and Psalm 34:406, and I King

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, 2018

The consuming passion of a person or organization is defined by the mission to which they or it believes are called to do. The Merriman Webster Dictionary defines a “Mission” as “a specific task with which a person or a group is charged.” With that in mind, consider Covenant’s Mission.

“We exist to:

Celebrate the love of God,

Cultivate a relationship with God

Care about one another in Christ.

Communicate Christ to all people.”

We see each element of our mission in the life, work and words of Jesus as He walked among humanity. The writer of Acts 10:38 summed up Jesus’ mission by saying: “And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

We also see Jesus’ mission in His words. He shared it in a less conventional manner when He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus responded that, “The first and greatest commandment is to love God completely with everything you’ve got in your thinking, feeling, knowing and emotions.” I believe part of Jesus’ mission was to let us know that loving God in such an extreme way has profound benefit to our lives.

Let’s face it; we don’t have to go looking for ways to feel bad about ourselves. We encounter folks everyday glad to help us do so. Some of us are experts at doing that to and for ourselves. Covenant’s Mission is to do just the opposite. “Celebrating the love of God” is “a specific task with which Covenant is charged.” Fulfilling that mission for ourselves and others impacts positively our lives and those we serve.

Join us at Covenant on this first Sunday in August as we began a 4-part sermon series on our Covenant Mission Statement. This week the sermon is “THE MISSION – PART 1 – TO CELEBRATE THE LOVE OF GOD” based on Psalms 51:1-12.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JULY 15, 2018

“To be an inclusive community of faith –

Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.”

This month, I’m revisiting our above Covenant vision statement in a 3-part sermon series. My hope is that we will live into every aspect of it. Last week, we revisited “Offering Hope.”

This week we revisit the 2nd part of our Covenant vision: “Showing Faithfulness.” One definition of faithfulness is “long-continued and steadfast fidelity to whatever one is bound to by a pledge, duty or obligation.” Too many Christians have limit faithfulness to honoring God through worship, church attendance, and making consistent monetary gifts to the church. Occasionally, faithfulness also includes doing a good deed for someone else along the way, if it doesn’t inconvenience us too much.

At Covenant we believe those things are important; but we also believe that “showing faithfulness” means so much more relationally with each other. Our Covenant membership rite includes this: “Therefore be calm self-controlled people of prayer. Above everything make sure you have a real deep love for each other, remembering how love can cover a multitude of sin. Be hospitable to each other without secretly wishing you didn’t have to be. Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each one of you as faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God.” (From I Peter 4)

Living into the vision of Covenant in “Showing Faithfulness” means we must have steadfast fidelity in living up to this pledge of our membership rite in being “faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God.” This means in our service to Covenant members, other Christians AND ALL OF THE HUMAN FAMILY.

Join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. In revisiting our Covenant Vision, I’ll share how I was called upon to be a “faithful dispenser of the magnificently varied grace of God” in a very heart wrenching situation this past Monday. The sermon is “Part 2: The Vision is Offering Hope and Showing Faithfulness.” The scripture text is Psalms 85:8-13.

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.”