NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR DECEMBER 17, 2017 THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

This week we observe the Third Sunday of Advent. It’s one of two Sundays when the liturgical color is rose … okay pink. We will light the third Advent (Pink) candle which symbolizes joy; the joy we feel to welcome Jesus in Christmas.

The assigned Gospel text is “The Magnificat,” Mary’s prayer/poem/hymn of praise found in Luke 1:46-55. “Magnificat” simply means magnify, exalt, or glorify. So, these scriptures are a poem of praise to God, praising God for God’s blessing to Mary and faithfulness to her people.

One of the most popular Christmas songs of the last 30 years is “Mary, Did You Know” written in 1991 by Christian comedian and singer Mark Lowry. The song is a series of questions he’d like to ask of Mary, like these from the opening lines:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary’s response to being told that she, a teenage engaged virgin would conceive a child fathered by God, was “The Magnificat.” It begins with these words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This tells me that while Mary may not have known all the details of how things will come to be; she knew the answers to Lowry’s questions.

It also tells us that for a peasant teenage girl to be rejoicing at this news means she knew “The Secret to Joy,” a joy she had deep within her that could not be overcome by her desperate circumstances. And we can too!

Join us at Covenant this week for Pink Sunday. We will light the third Advent candle for Joy. I will be preaching on “The Secret to Joy.” The scriptural texts are Isaiah 61:1-4 and Luke 1:46-55.

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR DECEMBER 10, 2017 THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Todd Deatherage writes “We are each image-bearers of God in a beautiful but broken world.” One hymn of the season, “beckons” Emmanuel to rescue us with this haunting plea. “O Come, Desire of Nations, bind – In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad division cease. And be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”

I thought of these words on Thursday, when in the land where the Prince of Peace was born, the news cycle was of the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis resorting once again to violence in their decades-old conflict. This time in response to the declaration of US plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It makes one wonder if peace is possible? Maybe not; but we certainly should not contribute to the lack of it. As followers of Jesus who said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” we each have a role in seeking peace for ourselves and others. Peace and peacemaking in our world today comes to us most powerfully on this Second Sunday of Advent, knowing that the very Prince of Peace has come to us in that place between what theologians call the “now, but not yet.” Where is that? It’s the place where we each must decide to be about the business of helping to bring peace in the broken places of our lives and our world.

A prayer request to Covenant this week was comfort for a young man who was not permitted to attend his own mother’s funeral. I can’t help but wonder what restoration could have occurred in that family had one person decided to bring peace in that broken situation. We are to contribute to the efforts of peace in whatever situation we can, while living in hopeful expectation that one day all things will be made right when the Prince of Peace returns.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as we light the Second Advent candle representing peace. My sermon will be “Preparing the Way for Peace” based on Isaiah 40:1-5 and Mark 1:1-9

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, NOVEMBER 19, 2017

Hyperbole is speaking in an exaggerated manner to make or emphasize a point. It is often used in the writing of scripture. Of the gospel writers, Matthew uses hyperbole the most often in the telling of Jesus’ parables. Failure to recognize the hyperbole being used, people often read into the parable things that were not intended.

In the Parable of the Talents assigned for this Sunday, Matthew has an extreme way of saying God has given each of us talents in service to the realm of God, so “Use It or Lose It.” Failure to recognize this use of hyperbole can make it a struggle to properly understand the point of the parable being made. This parable ends with these words in reference to the servant that did nothing with talent entrusted to him. “Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’ “People, there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.” Seems awful harsh in light of what we know about our God of love and new beginnings, don’t you think?

I invite you to look past the hyperbole Matthew uses to see the message Jesus was conveying with the parable. It might help if you think of talents in a light of this parable. Talents are like the muscles in your arm. If you never use your arm so that it gets the exercise needed to maintain strength in the muscles, your arm atrophies. It declines in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect. The result is you’ll lose the use of that arm. So “Use It or Lose It!” This same principle applies to the talents and spiritual gifts God has given us. If we do not use them; we lose them.

Join us this Sunday at Covenant. We will consecrate 3 new deacons who have chosen to use their gifts in service to God at Covenant. My sermon will be “Talents: Use It or Lose It” based on Matthew 25:14-30.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2017

Years ago, I saw a rather corny bumper stick; but it stuck in my memory. It said, “Christians are not perfect, we are just forgiven.” I really liked the bumper sticker and it made a positive impact on me at the time. However, over the years since first seeing it, I’ve come to realize that like many clichés pressed into a few words, the message on the bumpers was only a partial truth on forgiveness. The total truth of forgiveness takes more than seven words to explain or to understand.

I think the first lesson we need to learn in understanding God’s forgiveness is to know what it does for our own dignity and self-esteem. The explanation of forgiveness by the late gay Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, won’t fit on a bumper sticker; but it does explain forgiveness in a way that is very understandable and easy to comprehend. He said, “Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.” We all have felt broken at times in our lives and this describes what God’s forgiveness and unconditional love does to make us whole again.

Understanding this forgiveness as making us whole again helps us to accept this reality the Apostle Paul shares in II Corinthians 5:17, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” I can only imagine how incredibly different our lives might be if we believed in, acted on, and lived as if we are new creations and whole in Christ.

Join us in worship at Covenant this Sunday. Deacon Jeanette Horne will share her story and I’ll share some insights in my sermon, “We Are Not Perfect. We are Just Forgiven.” These insights are on how essential forgiveness is knowing God’s unconditional love as new creations in Christ, based on II Corinthians 5:17-21.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR REFORMATION SUNDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2017

This Sunday, many churches around the world will observe the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. It will be done to commemorate the act leading to what is called the Reformation when on October 31, 1517, German Monk Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther took this action to protest the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church. The act of selling indulgences was the church getting people to pay for forgiveness of their sins, sometimes even before one committed the sin. Seemed like a good deal; except God’s grace and forgiveness is free.

In 2017, the Christian Church has returned to the selling of indulgences. This time, the indulgences is not for forgiveness of sin to raise money to build a basilica as before. Instead, today, craving a thirst for power and favor with modern day pharaohs; the church is now selling the indulgences of cruelty by siding with the powerful and rich; turning a blind eye as politicians perpetrate disastrous and harmful polices that hurt the very ones Jesus, who they claim to follow, advocated the strongest for in His earthly ministry; “the least of these.”

In reading the assigned gospel from Matthew 22 for this week’s observance of Reformation Sunday, a familiar saying came to mind. It was the connotative definition of “insanity,” which is “doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.” That’s what we see in yet another incident in which religious leaders try to match wits with Jesus. Just like last Sunday, the same group of religious leaders try twice, this time, to trap Jesus with questions! And Jesus ‘drops the mic’ on them again!

Join us for worship this Reformation Sunday. There will be no sale of indulgences; only a sermon about loving God and loving others; and where we will find, once again, that forgiveness is free. My sermon is “When Jesus ‘Dropped the Mic’ – Part 3,” based on “Matthew 22:24-46.”

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.