NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR PASTOR’S APPRECIATION SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 16, 2018

This Sunday I will celebrate my 18th year as the Pastor of Covenant Community Church. Over that span of time I’ve seen many changes including a change of location; I’ve experienced the coming and going of many different people; have visited untold numbers of folks in hospitals and their homes; preached too many celebrations of life services; baptized a whole lot of folks; lost way too many relatives, friends and loved ones in death; served on regional and denominational boards, while also shepherding Covenant through the triumphs and challenges that most communities of faith experience. In this time where we see increasingly shorter pastoral tenures, I must confess there have been times when I’ve second guessed my remaining Covenant’s Pastor for this length of time.

So why do I do it? Why am I motivated to keep at it? It’s simple. Despite any of the losses, changes and challenges, I love Covenant as much today as ever. I still have an incredible passion for preaching and teaching. And hopeful, that I’m making a difference in our community and the larger community of Birmingham.

Any time I’ve give thought to hanging it up, many of your encouragements at Covenant and a passage of scripture, Galatians 6:9-10 has been my inspiration to “Keep on, Keeping On” as Pastor of Covenant. The referenced scripture simply says: “Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.” So, I “Keep On, Keeping On.”

So, I invite you to join us at Covenant this Sunday in observing my Pastoral Anniversary. One of my favorite tenors, Paul Odom will sing one of my favorite songs. My sermon is, “Eighteen Years: And Still Encouraged… To Keep on, Keeping On.” The scriptural basis for it will be Galatians 6:8-10.

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NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2018

Today is PRIDEFEST and this is Pride Month in Central Alabama. To observe the occasion, I’m preaching a 4 Part Pride Series called “Unshakeable Assurances,” based on Romans 8:31-39. We can best observe Pride Month and every day by living out the Unshakeable Assurance that God gave us lives to be lived open and fully in every way, including orientationally.

This Sunday, “Unshakable Assurances, Part 2” is based on Romans 8:32 which says, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things.” This verse is often misunderstood by those preaching a prosperity gospel and those whose preaching does NOT include God’s unconditional love.

As such, one of the biggest fears that many of us face in life is the fear of the lack of provision. Often, we’ve believed and trusted God for our “salvation;” but we continue to live with this feeling of uncertainty that God’s not going to provide for my needs. To address this feeling that existed even among the earliest Christians along with addressing the question of God’s ultimate purpose for our lives, Paul offers this: “If God gave the incredible gift of God’s only Son; why would you think God would NOT give you freely all things, you need?”

An “Unshakeable Assurance” is that “God Will Give To Us.” Let’s take The Divine at God’s word and live in expectation that God will give us “ALL THINGS.”

Join us this Sunday as I continue with Part 2. I’ll be sharing what “ALL THINGS” mean and what we need to GIVE to the Divine to make this become a reality for our lives.

Then let’s join our community at Sloss Furnaces for PRIDEFEST where Covenant will have a presence and our Music Ministry will participate in the festivities. Invite people you meet and those you already know to join us the following Sunday, June 17th, for worship and a cookout.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 18, 2018

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.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 11, 2018

 

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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.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2018

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

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR BAPTISM OF OUR LORD SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 2018

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.

CHRISTMAS GREETING FROM PASTOR J R

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!