NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 30, 2017

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Easter. Because Easter moves around year to year, many of the assigned Gospel readings during the Easter Season are Resurrection stories. Such is the case with The Road to Emmaus Story assigned for this Sunday.

Even if you are not a country music fan, you probably have heard Willie Nelson’s famous song, “On the Road Again.” Here’s some of the lyrics: “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again. Going places where I’ve never been … I can’t wait to get on the road again.” While Willie romanticizes being “On the Road Again,” that’s not a happy experience for many people. Too often on the road again is a symbol of, loneliness, frustration, being lost with no direction with little or no hope.

That is an apt description of the experience of Cleopas and his companion in the gospel story about the Road to Emmaus. Dejected and in despair, they are leaving Jerusalem – “on the road again” headed to Emmaus, a seacoast village seven miles away. Fortunately for them, they have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” in their encounter with Jesus.

For many of us, our emotional and spiritual Road to Emmaus is a place we often travel in our frustration, confusion, grief and despair. It’s a long walk and it seems like we’ll never get there. If we do, we may still be doubtful, weary, frustrated, and directionless. The good news is that God wants us to have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” on our spiritual and emotional Roads to Emmaus.

Join us at Covenant in worship this Sunday. I’ll be preaching about what it means for us today to have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” based on Luke 24:13-35.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR “LOW SUNDAY,” 4-23-2017

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end results of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9)

This week, the Sunday after Easter is known as “Low Sunday.” That’s because this Sunday’s church attendance happens to be one of the lowest of the year. It seems that after attending “A Celebration of the Resurrection” on Easter Sunday, an awful lot of folks choose to opt out of attending worship the following Sunday. It’s almost as if many take the attitude that after 40 days of Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, they need a church break. I wonder how many blessings are missed because of such thinking. I must admit that I, myself, had originally thought of taking some time off this week but decided against it. As a result, I accepted a counseling appointment on Thursday morning with a young man. That encounter became a divine appointment for him and me. We were both incredibly blessed. We ended our time together with me praying with him. We held hands and as tears rolled from his eyes down his cheeks onto his pants, I felt so blessed and honored to lead this young man into a prayer where he opened his heart to walk in fellowship with Christ. This moment had been made possible because of his openness to me working with him through some problem solving steps aimed at hopefully addressing some serious issues in his life.

It was an encounter that brought me an inexpressible and glorious joy. You see, some real blessings just might be waiting for you also this week after Easter and on Low Sunday.

So, I invite you to join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday after Easter. I will be preaching a sermon titled “An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy,” based on “I Peter 1:3-9.” Afterwards, join us for cake and punch in the Fellowship Hall as we celebrate those born in April.

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 JR FOR APRIL 2, 2017 THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT

The assigned Epistle text this week talks about a resurrection of hope. The Old Testament and Gospel readings tell of two dramatic resurrections. Both story lines are so riveting that we often overlook the real point of the two stories which was the need for a resurrection of hope.

Many years ago, I remember seeing a seemingly impossible story on the TV news where the details were so dramatic and riveting most folks never saw that what was needed all along was a resurrection of hope.

The story spoke of how Shokoi Yokoi spent 28 years in a prison, not of walls, but of fear. When the tide in World War II began to turn, Shokoi was a Japanese soldier on the island of Guam. Fearing that defeat meant certain capture and death at the hands of the American forces, Shokoi ran into the jungle and hid in a cave. He later learned that the war was over by reading one of the thousands of leaflets that were dropped into the jungle by American planes. But he still feared being taken prisoner, so he remained in his cave. For over a quarter century, he came out only at night. He existed on frogs, rats, roaches, and mangoes. Then in 1973, some hunters discovered him and it was only after they sent to Japan for his aged commander to come and talk with him that they were able to convince him that it was safe to come out and return home.

It’s a riveting story and it’s easy for us to look at it and think: “Wow, 28 years living in a cave because he was afraid; 28 years lost because of fear. What a shame! How could a person be so foolish or so imprisoned by fear?”

While Shokoi needed a much earlier resurrection of hope, how many of us are also in need of one. Like Shokoi, the fear of death has many people in the same prison. Our stories might not be as riveting as Shokoi’s, but our fear of death has many of us in need of our own resurrection of hope.

Join us at Covenant for worship Sunday, two weeks before Easter, where the scriptures tell us “It’s Time for Your Resurrection!” The sermon is based on “Romans 8:6-11” and “John 11:32-45.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR March 26, 2017 THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

As I write this, I have just returned from Virginia where I attended and spoke at the funeral of my brother, Larry’s oldest grandchild. When “Kaci” was three weeks old, a fast-growing cancer was discovered on his spine. The surgery to remove it, along with the chemo and radiation seemed to take care of the problem. But it left him with weakened bones that required him to wear leg braces for seven years. It also left him with many other challenges, one was a pronounced limp. He had been in otherwise good health until he started experiencing pain in his back in late summer 2016. At first, he didn’t tell anyone, especially his Mom, my niece, Melanie, as she suffers from a rare form of MS. When the pain got unbearable, he asked his great grandmother to pray for him, and she told Melanie about it. A visit to the doctor discovered he had stage 4 spine cancer after having been cancer free for 18 years. He died early in the morning of Friday, March 17, when his heart gave out.

All along the way, Melanie, has been his rock. She has cared for him when he was sick, consoled him when his challenges made him unable to run and play like the other children. She encouraged him when he was down, and she helped him build a faith in God that he used to help sustain them in his dying. She is a remarkable woman.

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Lent but it’s also the last Sunday in Women’s History Month. Perhaps you have heard the term “Women are the weaker sex.” Don’t you believe it! Melanie reminds me of many of the wonderful women I’ve known who can handle “The Unexpected” of life better than most men. Women like her seem to know how to experience the most severe darkness life can throw at a person and still overcome it to live as the light of God. How? Well, when faced with “The Unexpected,” Melanie’s faith has always caused her to simply give it all to Jesus. The results were that on Wednesday at Kaci’s homegoing services, she was able to do a tribute to her son and also sing the lead on his favorite song with their choir. The weaker sex? Don’t you believe it!

The good news is that overcoming “The Unexpected” is not just for women. It’s for all of us; us men too. Join us this Sunday as we observe Women’s History Month. Deacon Shun Reddock will preach on “The Unexpected” from Ephesians 5:8-14.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MARCH 19, 2017 The Third Sunday in Lent

One of the wonderful memories I have of my Mama is remembering many of the bits of wisdom and expressions that came from her lips. I’ve come to know that many of those things were not original to her; but they were living water for my thirsty soul growing up and they are still precious to me, even today.

I thought of one as I stopped by the grocery store this week to pick up a few items. Walking down the aisle where the bottled water was, I remember how she frequently said: “When I’m really thirsty, nothing satisfies my thirst like a cold glass of water.” I may have thought of that saying of hers because I had read that day the lectionary scriptures from John 4 assigned for this Third Sunday in Lent. In it, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus asked her for a drink of water and when she at first hesitated, Jesus told her of living water that could satisfy her thirsty soul for all eternity. Jesus was saying to this woman, “I know you are really thirsty to satisfy a very strong need in you; but nothing will satisfy the deepest longing within you, but the “Living Water” that I can give you.”

Mama, like the woman at the well, was speaking of satisfying a physical thirst. But God knows that for most of us, our greatest thirst isn’t physical, it’s spiritual. The season of Lent is a time of inner spiritual reflection examining the thirst within our spiritual self; then preparing for the “Living Water” God offers. God desires for each of us to be “A Thirsty Soul That Finds Living Water.”

Mama knew what she thirsted for physically and she knew what would satisfy it. I’m thankful that she also knew what she thirsted for spiritually and her legacy helped me and many others to be thirsty souls finding “Living Water.”

Join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. It’s the day before Spring. We will satisfy your physical thirst and hunger with a cookout following morning worship where we will first try to help you be “A Thirsty Soul That Finds Living Water.” That’s my sermon title based on John 4:1-26.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MARCH 12, 2017 THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

I grew in a fundamentalist, Pentecostal tradition with no liturgical observances other than Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. This included the sermons. Preachers preached most only their favorite scriptures. Growing up, I don’t ever recall hearing a sermon from the Songs of Solomon where the lover says to the beloved in (4:5) “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.” Nor did I hear one on the beloved’s response to her lover in (4:16) “Awake north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.” I guess this was not one of their favorite passages of scripture.

Because we were African Americans growing up in the civil right era, I do recall hearing preaching from books like Amos which says “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” and from Micah which says “what does the Lord require of thee, but to love mercy, act justly and walk humbly before our God.” But mostly, it was the favorite scriptures of the preacher spouting “Turn or burn” condemnations. It is surprising I developed the love for God and church that I did listening to this stuff.

Fortunately for me, my saving grace was a very loving Mother whose unconditional love toward me and others was the closest thing to God on earth that I’ve ever known. Then there was the music that I loved and treasured that took me to a place spiritually and emotionally that I still cherish to this day.

Along the way, I discovered the lectionary; a set of mostly four scriptures assigned for every Sunday in a 3-year cycle. In following it, you cover every major theme in the scriptures; plus it eliminates the need to only preach on your favorite scriptures. Every now and then, some of my favorite passages show up in the assigned lectionary readings. Such is the case for this Second Sunday in Lent.

One of those scriptures is Psalm 121. The opening 2 verses is all the encouragement and guidance we really need for Lent. It says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” (KJV) This passage encourages us to turn to God for the help and guidance we need in our lives and on our Lenten Journey. Not much more needs to be added to that.

Turn your clock forward one hour Saturday night and join us for worship this Sunday at Covenant. I will be preaching on another one of my favorites stories about Nicodemus in a sermon called “Preparing for A New Life.” The assigned scriptural text is also one my favorites: “John 3:1-17.”