NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, MAY 5, 2019

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Easter. The assigned gospel from John 21 shares that events before and during Jesus third appearance to the disciples after the resurrection. In the previous two appearance, Jesus did lots of miracles that John 20:30 says, “which are not written in this book.” Even having witnessed these things, these five disciples, former fisherman, felt the need to retreat to their comfort zone and went fishing.

Desiring to live and worship in our comfort zone is nothing new. Last Sunday, our congregation voted with a supermajority to move to a new location for worship and church life. While it was an overwhelming vote, there were some very opposed to this decision. Both side’s reasoning must be respected for both are valid. I believe those on both sizes of the vote were choosing hope. I think maybe, it was even for the same reason; everybody wants to be in what they consider their comfort zone.

Those voting no; find where we current worship to be their comfort zone. While those voting to move see this as best for the future of Covenant, they too desire to be in the comfort zone of being close to the people our ministry tries to serve. I believe the gospel text assigned this week helps us to understand that following Jesus mean moving beyond our comfort zone.

After these five disciples had gone fishing all night without positive results, Jesus comes to them and performs another miracle in their presence resulting in them catching 153 fish. Jesus cooks for them and then teaches them the lesson that all of us who like to retreat to our comfort zone should learn going forward. He says to them, “Follow Me.” “Choosing Hope,” means “Following Jesus.” “Following Jesus,” means “Moving Beyond our Comfort Zone.”

Join us for worship on this Third Sunday of Easter. My sermon will be “Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zone by Choosing Hope” based on “Psalms 30:1-5, 11-12” and “John 21:1-14 & 19b.”

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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 2019

This Sunday is called Low Sunday. It’s so named because, after larger than average attendance on Easter Sunday, this Sunday suffers from low attendance. I saw a picture of a church sign this week that every pastor desires to put up. It says, “Pretend it’s Easter and Come back This Sunday. After all, He’s still alive!”

Sometimes I wonder if we really believe that “He’s still alive.” Perhaps that’s why when so many face difficult situations, they lose hope. On Facebook this week, a person I know wrote, “…At this point in my life I have lost all hope and faith and prayer in God.” It broke my heart to read this. Someone responded, “I have given up on me a million times but not God. It may not seem to make sense right now, whatever “it” is but I promise… This too shall pass. Fortunately for me, God never gave up on me and through the storms He brought me to a better place…” I could only echo that comment and added, “Even when you feel like giving up on you and God, God has not given up on you. Try to hold on especially when it’s hardest.”

Later, I wrote a private message to the person letting her know that “I’m thinking of you and sending loving vibes and prayers that you regain hope and faith even in what seems to be an impossible situation for you.” We are now in dialogue that I hope will help and encourage her.

In II Kings 7 that will be read at Covenant this Sunday, there is a group of 4 people facing what seems to be an impossible situation. They have 3 options before them; only one offers hope. So, they ask themselves, “Why do we sit here till we die?” They responded by choosing the way of hope! God’s desire is for every individual and faith organization to “Always Choose Hope!”

Join us for worship at Covenant this Sunday and stay for our Spring Cook-Out to follow. My sermon will be “Always Choose Hope!” based on II Kings 7:1-16.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 21, 2019

This Sunday, Covenant will join with Christians all over the world in “A Celebration of the Resurrection,” we know as Easter. After an intense week that began with much joy, promise and hope on Palms Sunday; we have traveled the road of Holy week recalling the betrayal, trials, death by crucifixion and burial of The One Who was the reason for such Palm Sunday excitement.

But this Sunday, our Palm Sunday emotions are back and greater because it’s Easter! Peter, one of Jesus’ first disciples, writes years later. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Easter, our Celebration of the Resurrection, is the answer we give to the reason for our hope.

In my sermon last Sunday, I said that resurrection and hope is more important than crucifixion and death; but you would never know it by the symbols we use for Christianity. I noted the 3 crosses up front in our own sanctuary and then, I raised this question: “Where are symbols of resurrection? I pointed out that they were there; we don’t readily recognize them because we spend so much time on crosses and death.”

Since “God shows no partiality; Resurrection means in the words of a great Easter hymn, “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today, … He Lives! You ask me how I know He Lives. He Lives within my heart!” If we have said yes to walking in relationship with God, then we acknowledge that Jesus lives in us. Therefore, we are the symbols of resurrection! Of course, implication here is we should live as symbols of hope and resurrection.

Join us this Easter Sunday morning for A Celebration of the Resurrection. My sermon with be “Living in Resurrection Power” based on Acts 10:34-43 and Luke 24:1-6.

COVENANT’S SCHEDULE FOR EASTER SUNDAY:

7:30 AM Sunrise Service (Sanctuary)

8:00 AM Easter Breakfast (Fellowship Hall)

10:00 A Celebration of the Resurrection (Sanctuary)

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, APRIL 7, 201

 

In our 2019 Lenten Journey, Easter is only 2 weeks away. Reading Judas’s criticism of Mary in assigned Gospel text and my own experiences this week, have both reminded me that every one of us experience dark times that are hard to release. Grief, shame, despair, death, disappointment, anger, depression, and addiction can keep us from practicing resurrection. These ‘shadows’ over our lives can even make us forget that resurrection is possible or that it should be natural for the people who claim the name of “Christian”. In these times, Covenant being “an inclusive community of faith – Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy” is crucial because it might be the only avenue for some to be able to walk from “death” into the new life God has for them.

As a Pastor, I encounter every week, many different things holding many hearts in our community in “death”. Making our Covenant mission of existing to “care about one another in Christ” and to “communicate Christ (God’s love) to all” is essential; for it has the power to open hearts to “resurrection” (new life). We must continuously strive to lead our community to the new life in which God is always inviting us to live. But before we can fully embrace that new life, we must let go of all that hold us back.

As we symbolically turn our faces toward Jerusalem for this next two weeks, let’s not get so caught of up remembering Christ’s story of betrayal, crucifixion and death that we forget to practice the resurrection that’s already presence in our lives. For this reason, my Sunday morning sermons have put an emphasis on living each day with hope; rejoicing in the assurance that “God’s Steadfast Love” brings into our lives.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday to experience resurrection (new life). My sermon will be “God’s Steadfast Love Brings Shouts of Joy,” based on Psalm 126 and John 12:1-8.

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR PINK SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2019

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday IN Lent. It’s also called Pink Sunday because the liturgical color changes from Purple to Pink or Rose.

This Sunday is also known by two other names. It’s often known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” as often the assigned scriptures include Psalm 23 (The Lord Is My Shepherd) and/or John 10 (The Good Shepherd). This year neither of those two are assigned.

Another name this Sunday is known by is “Laetare Sunday.” Laetare is a Latin word meaning “to rejoice.” Laetare Sunday is meant to be a day of relaxation and rejoicing from the normal rigors associated with Lent that may include fasting, abstention from the consumption of meat or other pleasures.

The 40 days of Lent are intended as a journey of spiritual reflection, recalling Jesus; time of fasting 40 days in the wilderness and temptations by Satan in areas of provision, privilege and power. And of course, we are to observe the events of that first Holy Week culminating on Good Friday with His Crucifixion. Therefore, we tend to think of Lent as a period of austerity and somberness. However, the Sundays IN Lent are intended to be spiritual pressure release values from all of that; a time of rejoicing.

Laetare Sunday is meant to be a day of hope when Easter at last is within sight. Knowing that Good Friday is not the end of the story and resurrection came on Sunday morning; this year, my Sunday sermon emphasis is on encouraging us to make our 2019 Lenten Journey a season of rejoicing and hope. I have concentrated on those assigned sacred texts that speak of the God’s steadfast love. My hope is that we as Easter people, will enjoy the journey knowing that resurrection is already a reality in our lives.

Join us at Covenant in worship on this Laetare/Pink Sunday. The next message in Lenten Sunday Series is “God’s Steadfast Love Surrounds Us,” based on Psalm 32 and II Corinthians 5:16-21

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 24, 2019

As I write this on Thursday morning: I feel, in the words of Thomas Paine, “These are times that try ‘men’s” souls.”

Sunday, I spoke at the Birmingham Islamic Center in response to the terrorist attacks last week in New Zealand. Tuesday, my family said goodbye to a beautiful 7-year girl, who died in a tragic accident. That day, another cousin died. Wednesday, I tried to encourage and prayed with a clergy colleague facing some very challenging and difficult times. The same day I prayed with a Covenant Deacon whose family is going through rough times including a loved one’s death that morning.

Reading the assigned Gospel text for this coming Sunday from Luke 13 was not exactly refreshing. It speaks of death and destruction. Then I read Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” It reminded me of God’s unseen presence with me always, especially the dark times of life.

The book, An Unseen Angel, was written by Alissa Parker, after her daughter, Emilie, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. She writes…

“In one of the last conversations I had with Emilie, she tried gleefully to help me see the connections in a stencil pattern on her wall. ‘Mom, do you see the connections? They are all around us!’ Through the years, those words have led me on a quest to find, recognize, and appreciate the connections that surround us all.” … “My hope in sharing our story is that others who find themselves in dark places can discover the unseen angels in their lives helping them turn to the light.”

As a Christian Pastor, I believe that’s my calling as well. “These are the times that try ‘our’ souls,” but I’m thankful for ‘The Unseen Angel’ with us, Christ.

Join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday. My sermon on this will be “God’s Steadfast Love is Better Than Life” based on Psalms 63:1-8 and Luke 13:1-9.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2019

This Sunday is the Second Sunday IN Lent. It is also St. Patrick’s Day. Although the tradition is to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, for worship we will stick with purple, the Lenten liturgical color.

While some may go to a special worship service to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; other traditional celebrations include partying, attending festivals and of course, drinking. Since St. Patrick’s Day occurs during the liturgical season of Lent, historically, Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for that day. That’s unnecessary this year because St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday which is already a feast day, where such restrictions don’t apply.

Thinking about all of this, I was struck by how often religion focuses on Heaven and is a means of escaping from the realities of now. As such, we feel the need to go to great lengths to justify any enjoyment in this life on earth. However, in Psalm 27:13 from the assigned sacred text for this Sunday, the Psalmist says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord, in the land of the Living.”

The Psalmist possesses a faith that is not just eternal but imminent, meaning at hand, and about to happen while he was still alive. His is a faith that does not just hope for the best, it anticipates the realization of his hopes. What keeps the Psalmist faithful is the anticipation of hope and dreams that he expects to be realized in this life. Not just pie in the sky bye-and-bye when we die, but something sound, on the ground, while we’re still around – that is the faith of the Psalmist.

I believe in Heaven (a place where we are eternally present with God) but I also believe that God wants us to experience all that God has to offer us in this life we have on earth. Join us in worship this Sunday. We’ll explore this more in my sermon “Seeing the Goodness of the Lord, In the Land of the Living,” based on Psalms 27.