When traveling, often there are places or people you make it a priority to see. While attending the UCC General Synod, in Baltimore, last summer with my best friend in the ministry, Rev. Richard Barham, and with both of us being history buffs, Fort McHenry was a must-see place for us. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore. Key was inspired by the large American flag, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort after the American victory. So, we took a ferry to visit this much-see sight.

Some Greek converts to Judaism had a must-see person in mind on their visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. John 12:20-21 says, “Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, … and made a request: ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus.’” This event in this week’s Lectionary Gospel text takes place on Tuesday of Holy Week. We are not told whether they were there for Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city 2 days earlier, but they had obviously heard about this preaching and miracle working Rabbi named Jesus. So, they made one of the most extraordinary requests in the entire Gospel to the disciple Philip; “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”

This scriptural phrase is engraved on many pulpits around the world because it is the essence of why we preach the gospel. It is so people will encounter the must-feel presence of Jesus The Christ. To experience the love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and acceptance of God that was found in Jesus has incredible power to make a real difference and to bring real hope into our lives.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for a must-feel worship experience. My sermon “We Want to See Jesus” based on John 12:20-33 will be part of it.




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Most of us are familiar with the snake on the pole seen in this image that can be found on many medical vehicles. This week’s assigned text speaks to the origin of it. It dates back to early 1400 BC when the Israelites were wandering around in the desert of Sinai. In Numbers 21, as Moses leads the Israelites the long way around Edom, they grew tired and irritated from the extra hike. God has cared for them by providing “manna” (bread) but they complained because it was too bland for their taste. So, they complained about their sore feet and limited drink and meal choices. As the story goes; their whining resulted in a sudden spike in the desert’s venomous snake population. The snakes were unavoidable and, as a result, many Israelites were getting bitten and dying. They repented and begged Moses to pray away the snakes. Moses appealed to God on their behalf and God gave Moses a little metalworking project. “The Lord said to Moses, make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (vs. 8-9)

The “look and live” symbol served its purpose for the Israelites, but in the assigned Gospel text this week, we learn of its ultimate purpose. In John 3:14-15, Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” This early symbol for healing amidst the plague of snakes was a forerunner image of Christ on the cross, who would be a remedy for the plague of sin. If we look (believe) in Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we too can live beyond the bites of the sin (anything that kills us to the healing power of God’s presence in our lives for now and all eternity). After all, it wasn’t the snake on the pole that healed the people; it was their faith and belief that God could heal them.

Join us as Covenant this Sunday. The liturgical color is PINK! And I will be preaching the sermon “Look and Live” based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.


This Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent. The assigned scripture from Genesis 9 talks about is about Rainbows. While rainbows are special to our community, they have a significance for all of God’s creatures. Who among us don’t remember:

“Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly. …

If happy little bluebirds fly, Beyond the rainbow.

Why? Oh, why can’t I?”

These words originally voiced by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” speaks to the longing in every heart for a life “where troubles melt like lemon drops.” The problem is none of us live “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We live down here on earth where we constantly struggle with life’s disappointments, setbacks, losses, cares and worries.

The good news is that God promised a covenant for all who live “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ the Rainbow.” Think of these words from Genesis 9:17, “Then God said …, ‘Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.’” Lent is meant to be a season of spiritual reflection where we take the time to explore this incredible covenant (commitment, arrangement, understanding, and bond) through deepening our relationship with God. In doing so, we discover the promise of God is not that we “OVER” the rainbow; but a covenant that includes God’s presence with us always as we walk together “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ the Rainbow.”

Join us at Covenant on this First Sunday of our Lent. It’s “Purple Sunday; wear something purple. Bring someone with you; it’s also “Bring-A-Friend Sunday.” We’ll be celebrating our church’s 37th Anniversary and presenting the “4th Annual Gwen Bowen Award.” Then join us for dinner immediately following the service.

I will be preaching a sermon called “Somewhere ‘UNDER’ The Rainbow,” based on Genesis 9:8-9, 12-17 and Mark 1:9-13


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.


I know that most of us will be busy this holiday weekend. Email and other social media will not be a big priority for most of us. So, I’m sending my Christmas Greetings a few days before Christmas.

While I wish you a very Merry and Safe Christmas, let me also share these Christmas reminders I ran across.

  • May the Christmas GIFTS remind us of God’s greatest gift, God’s only Son.
  • May the Christmas CANDLES remind us of The One who is the “Light of the world.”
  • May the Christmas TREES remind us of another tree where He demonstrated His love.
  • May the Christmas CHEER remind us of The One who said, “Be of good cheer.”
  • May the Christmas FEAST remind us of The One who is “the Bread of Life.”
  • May the Christmas BELLS remind us of the glorious proclamation of Jesus’ birth.
  • May the Christmas CAROLS remind us of The One the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
  • May the Christmas SEASON remind us of Jesus, the Reason for the Season!


I realize this Note from Pastor J R is longer than most, but because of the season I wanted to share this wonderful story. I hope you will be moved by it as much as I was when I read it.

Harriet Richie, a writer from Anderson, South Carolina, wrote a story about something that happened to her and her family late one night. They had been to a Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight. After worship, her husband announced that he was hungry and wanted breakfast. Of course, it was almost 1 a.m. on Christmas morning, so none of the usual places they might have gone were open. They made their way to the interstate where an all-night truck stop was still open.

A few big diesels rumbled outside. Inside a few truckers sat at the counter. A jukebox played country music. On the front window was a string of colored blinking lights. The place smelled like bacon grease and stale coffee. A one-armed man behind the counter nodded the family toward a booth.

Soon a waitress named Rita sauntered over, handed them their menus and asked what they wanted to drink. Harriet looked around. She felt a little bit like a snob and out of place. Her family had just come from a beautiful Christmas Eve service. And soon they would be heading to their lovely home for the night. She thought one day they would look back with a laugh and say to each other, “Remember that Christmas we ate breakfast at that truck stop? That awful music and those tacky lights?”

She was staring out the window when an old Volkswagen van drove up. A young man with a beard and baggy jeans got out, walked around and opened the door for a young woman holding a baby. They hurried inside and took a booth near the back.

After Rita, the waitress, took their order, the baby began to cry, and neither of the young parents could quiet him. Finally, Rita set down her coffee pot and held out her arms for the baby. “Hon, just sit there and drink your coffee. Let me see what I can do.”

It was evident that Rita had done this before. She began walking around the place showing the baby to first one of the truckers and then another. One began whistling a Christmas tune and make silly faces. Quickly the baby stopped crying and began cooing. Rita showed the baby the blinking lights on the jukebox. She brought the baby over to Harriet’s table. “Just look at this little darlin’,” she said. “Mine are so big and grown they don’t need me no more.”

The one-armed fellow behind the counter brought a fresh pot of coffee, and, as he refilled their mugs, Harriet felt tears in her eyes. Her husband wanted to know what was wrong. “Nothing,” she said, “just Christmas.” Reaching in her purse for a Kleenex and a quarter, she said to her own kids, “Go see if you can find a Christmas song on the jukebox.”

When they were gone, Harriet quietly said almost to herself, “He would have come here, wouldn’t he?” “Who?” her husband asked. “Jesus. If Jesus were born here tonight and the choices were our neighborhood, the church or this truck stop, it would be right here, wouldn’t it?”

Her husband didn’t answer right away, but looked around the place, at the people there. Finally he said, “I suppose either here or a homeless shelter.”

“That’s what bothers me,” Harriet said. “When we first got here I felt sorry for these people because they probably aren’t going home to nice neighborhoods where the houses have candles in the windows and wreaths on the doors. And listening to that awful music, I thought, I’ll bet nobody here has even heard of Handel. Now I think that more than any place I know, this is where Christmas is. But I’m not sure I belong.”

If you strip the story down to what really happened that night so long ago, you discover that God’s value system and economy are very different from ours. Bringing the Savior into the world in a poor country town, to an illiterate, unwed, teenage mother, and proclaiming the birth to lowly shepherds would not have been the auspicious rollout modern marketers would have designed, but it is precisely what God would do.

Maybe it’s only in recognizing our own poverty and need that we can really be open to the change Christmas can still bring to the world, our world.

As Harriett walked with her family to the car, her husband leaned over and said, “You know I heard something earlier at church. They said what the angels sang that first Christmas was, ‘Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.’ Maybe they meant us, too.”

I invite you to join us for two opportunities on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, when we will be bringing “good tidings of great joy.” The first one is at 10 AM, for our regular Sunday morning worship; and the second is at 5 PM for our Christmas Eve “Lights & Lessons: Carols and Communion” Services.

We hope to see you! But if not, please know that we at Covenant Community Church wish you a happy, blessed, safe and Merry Christmas!


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.