NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39

Most people are not familiar with the word “Monophobia” but practically all of us are most certainly acquainted with what it describes. Monophobia or the fear of being alone, is a catch-all term for several discrete fears. Some people are afraid of being apart from a particular person. Some have the fear of living alone or being in public alone. Still, others are afraid of being alone at home. Nervousness while alone is surprisingly common, but I’m told a full-blown phobia is relatively rare.

One fear that many, even people of faith struggle with, is the fear that God will leave them. The above passage from Romans 8 is one of the greatest passages in scripture I know of to help us address this monophobia (the fear that God will leave us.)

As I read these words from the writer of Romans 8, I smiled as I could hear in my memory my Mother singing words to address this monophobia in a version of an old gospel hymn that echoed the emphasis of the Apostle Paul’s words this way:

“I’ve seen the lightning flashing, And heard the thunder roll;

I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, Trying to conquer my soul;

I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, Telling me still to fight on;

He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.

No, never alone…No never alone,

He promised never to leave me. Never to leave me alone.”

Join us at worship this last Sunday of Pride Month for the last of the “Unshakeable Assurances” from “Romans 8:31-39.” My sermon is “God Will Not Leave Us.”

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NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR FATHER’S DAY, SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2017

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

While I’m mostly known as a devoted Mamma’s boy; it might surprise you to know that I also had a great relationship with my Dad, Jack Finney. This wonderful man died (July 24th) 2 days before my birthday in 1995. It was Father’s Day weekend of that year that it became apparent to me that his life on earth was quickly coming to an end.

I know that not everyone enjoyed the kind of relationship I had with my father. Perhaps that’s why as a Pastor, I’ve always loved Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Capital of the World.” In it, he tells the tale of a Spanish father searching for his son who ran away from home after having a fight with the old man. The father so badly wants to reconcile with his beloved boy that he places an advertisement in the local paper, “El Liberal.” The advertisement reads, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love Papa.” The next day at noon, arriving at the Hotel Montana, the father is astonished to discover 800 young men named Paco waiting for the embrace of forgiveness.

This beautiful story is a modern-day parable of how we all yearn for forgiveness and to know we are not condemned. It also reminds us that God’s love is like that of this loving father. It is a love that is always reaching out to us with the message “All is forgiven! You are not condemned! Come home to My love!”

Join us for worship at Covenant on this Father’s Day. Part of the sermon will be a video clip of another loving father that helps us to remember God’s great love. Then join us for a cookout after morning worship.

This sermon is Part 3 of my Pride Month Series “Unshakeable Assurances.” The title this week is “Forgiven and Not Condemned” based on Romans 8:31-39.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018

June is Pride Month. I’ve been participating, first in civil rights struggles and then Pride activities practically all of my life. Along the way you get tired and frustrated by the seemingly slow progress that is being made.

Sometimes you just need to be reminded why you do equality, civil rights and justice work; why you fight for people who cannot fight for themselves; why you battle for rights for those who don’t and won’t help in trying to win those rights for themselves; why you take the mental and verbal attacks by those opposed to the basic human and civil rights for everyone. As a child of the Civil Rights Era and longtime activist for equality for the LGBTQ community, it’s simply who I am.

In 1965, Dr. King delivered a powerful speech in Montgomery, AL that included this resonant line: “The arc of the moral universe is long; but it bends toward justice.” It was first said by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, calling for the abolition of slavery in his 1853 sermon “Of Justice and the Conscience.” We continue to work for equality, civil rights and justice FOR ALL because we believe this to be true.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and marriage equality decision of June 26, 2015, made us think we had come so far. But now, every day it seems many of the hard-fought victories, we took for granted to be secure, are increasingly under attack or being undone. The efforts to undo equality and justices are being led by people who profess to be followers of Christ.

How can this be? So, where do we people of faith who hold these views of “Loving mercy, doing justice and walking humbly with our God” turn for answers to what seemingly are unanswerable questions? I suggest a fresh look at Holy Scripture.

I invite you to join us Sunday mornings during Pride Month for a special 4-Part Pride sermon series called “UNSHAKEABLE ASSURANCES” based on Romans 8:31-39. The sermon on this first Sunday of Pride Month will be “GOD IS FOR US!”

Then join us at 5 PM to help Kick Off Pride Week at 5 PM for the Central Alabama Pride Interfaith Service at Covenant, followed by a reception in the Fellowship Hall.

NOTE FOR PASTOR JR FOR TRINITY SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2018

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It’s also the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend (the unofficial beginning of Summer.) Many folks will be traveling this weekend or attending family outings. We pray for safe travels and good times.

It’s been said that “Educators take that which is simple and make it complicated. Communicators take that which is complicated and make it simple.” If true, in talking about the Trinity in this Note and the sermon Sunday, I will strive to be a communicator instead of an educator.

In trying to explain the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit); many preachers use this term attempting to explain God. That only leads to misunderstanding and a lot of confusion. The term Trinity was never intended to be an explanation of God. It was meant to identify the three ways God chose to reveal the Divine nature of God to humanity. Since no one way reveals the totality of the Divine, the Trinity represents the three most important glimpses of God we have been given.

The Creator image represents a paternal glimpse of the Divine as all powerful and all knowing, the source and initiator of everything in creation. The Son/Christ image represents a glimpse of the Divine vulnerable to creation; taking on the form of humanity that we might realize the extent the Divine will go to in demonstrating God’s unconditional love. The Holy Spirit represents a maternal glimpse of the Divine as Nurturer, Sustainer and always present, loving guide to instruct us toward wholeness and fullness of life. Perhaps reimagining the Divine in these concepts of the Trinity can enrich our lives and help us to respond to God’s call on our lives as it did for Isaiah.

So, if you are not away traveling Sunday of this Memorial Weekend; join at Covenant in worship. My Sermon is “The Trinity – Three Glimpses of God” based on “Isaiah 6:1, 8,” “Romans 8:14-17,” and “John 3:16-17.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2018

Reverend Billy Graham, whom I admired greatly, died this week at the age of 99. Growing up just north of where Dr. Graham lived, I joined in the admiration of him and his ministry by very diverse Christians theologically. I even thought of him as a role model. You always felt he was doing the work of ministry for the right reason. I always believed He had taken the words of Jesus to heart “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)

Years ago, a pretty famous televangelist was speaking in Portland, OR on a program when another role model of mine was also on the platform. The televangelist made statements like this: “Are you afraid to fly … well, come fly with me. Nothing will happen to the plane while I’m on it.” He said sarcastically to a woman in a wheel chair, “Why are you sitting there? Get up! … If you’re there, it’s because you want to be!”

My mentor got up and left the stage. The Program Coordinator caught her as she was leaving and ask where she was going. She replied, “I’m going home. What that man is saying is dangerous and is not the gospel. There is no cross in it and it damnable heresy.” Her answer may seem extreme by she was right.

Too often evangelical Christianity in America has become too much of “What’s in it for me?” It promises the fruits of the spirit without enduring the realities of life, nor does it reflect what Jesus said being followers of His would be like. During Lent, let’s allow our spiritual reflection to help us become disciples of Jesus who are committed to following Christ even during the cross-bearing moments of life that is surely to come.

Join us at Covenant for worship this Second Sunday of Lent for my sermon called “What’s in It for Me?” based on Romans 4:13, 18-24a and Mark 8:31-38

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 DECEMBER 4, 2016 THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

The theme for this Second Sunday of Advent is “Peace.” Many preachers commonly refer to this Sunday as “John the Baptist Sunday” because the lectionary Gospel text on this liturgical Sunday always includes the ministry of John the Baptist.

As I prepared for this Sunday by reading the four assigned scriptures, I noticed that none of them really talk about “peace.” The word “peace” is only mentioned in one of them. I’m of the opinion that these scriptures were chosen for a Sunday when the theme is “Peace” because they point to the coming “Prince of Peace.” That got me to think that perhaps too often we talk about peace when really we should do more “practicing peace” and pointing to the “Prince of Peace.” By that I mean we should make every effort to “BE” the peacemakers first, rather than expecting or seeking peace efforts from others first. Remember, we are not responsible nor can we control others actions; but we can decide whether we will practice peace in our lives and situations we face.

Perhaps this can be illustrated from a wonderful story out of Florida, back when African-Americans in the south were not allowed to vote. During times of political elections, a certain community of African-Americans in Florida would rent a voting machine and go through the voting process. Now, they knew that their votes would not be counted, but they voted anyway. When asked by members of the white community why they did this every year, they replied, “Oh, just practicing; just practicing.”

They could not vote at that time, but they felt in their hearts that a new day was coming. They believed in a just God who had not forsaken them. One day they would vote. Right now they were “just practicing,” but one day the promise of freedom, dignity and justice would be realized.

Practicing peace and pointing to the Prince of Peace means that even when we are not experiencing peace, we still believe that God is at work in this world and our lives. We still believe in the promise of Peace and the Prince of Peace and we believe that peace begins with me. And so this week the scriptures encourage us on “The Road to Peace” saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Join us for worship at Covenant on this Second Sunday of Advent and let’s learn to practice peace. My sermon is “The Road to Peace” based on Romans 15:1-13 and Matthew 3:1-12.