NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39

Most people are not familiar with the word “Monophobia” but practically all of us are most certainly acquainted with what it describes. Monophobia or the fear of being alone, is a catch-all term for several discrete fears. Some people are afraid of being apart from a particular person. Some have the fear of living alone or being in public alone. Still, others are afraid of being alone at home. Nervousness while alone is surprisingly common, but I’m told a full-blown phobia is relatively rare.

One fear that many, even people of faith struggle with, is the fear that God will leave them. The above passage from Romans 8 is one of the greatest passages in scripture I know of to help us address this monophobia (the fear that God will leave us.)

As I read these words from the writer of Romans 8, I smiled as I could hear in my memory my Mother singing words to address this monophobia in a version of an old gospel hymn that echoed the emphasis of the Apostle Paul’s words this way:

“I’ve seen the lightning flashing, And heard the thunder roll;

I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, Trying to conquer my soul;

I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, Telling me still to fight on;

He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.

No, never alone…No never alone,

He promised never to leave me. Never to leave me alone.”

Join us at worship this last Sunday of Pride Month for the last of the “Unshakeable Assurances” from “Romans 8:31-39.” My sermon is “God Will Not Leave Us.”

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NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR FATHER’S DAY, SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2017

This Sunday is Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads and to those serving in paternal roles.

While I’m mostly known as a devoted Mamma’s boy; it might surprise you to know that I also had a great relationship with my Dad, Jack Finney. This wonderful man died (July 24th) 2 days before my birthday in 1995. It was Father’s Day weekend of that year that it became apparent to me that his life on earth was quickly coming to an end.

I know that not everyone enjoyed the kind of relationship I had with my father. Perhaps that’s why as a Pastor, I’ve always loved Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Capital of the World.” In it, he tells the tale of a Spanish father searching for his son who ran away from home after having a fight with the old man. The father so badly wants to reconcile with his beloved boy that he places an advertisement in the local paper, “El Liberal.” The advertisement reads, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love Papa.” The next day at noon, arriving at the Hotel Montana, the father is astonished to discover 800 young men named Paco waiting for the embrace of forgiveness.

This beautiful story is a modern-day parable of how we all yearn for forgiveness and to know we are not condemned. It also reminds us that God’s love is like that of this loving father. It is a love that is always reaching out to us with the message “All is forgiven! You are not condemned! Come home to My love!”

Join us for worship at Covenant on this Father’s Day. Part of the sermon will be a video clip of another loving father that helps us to remember God’s great love. Then join us for a cookout after morning worship.

This sermon is Part 3 of my Pride Month Series “Unshakeable Assurances.” The title this week is “Forgiven and Not Condemned” based on Romans 8:31-39.

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 SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018

June is Pride Month. I’ve been participating, first in civil rights struggles and then Pride activities practically all of my life. Along the way you get tired and frustrated by the seemingly slow progress that is being made.

Sometimes you just need to be reminded why you do equality, civil rights and justice work; why you fight for people who cannot fight for themselves; why you battle for rights for those who don’t and won’t help in trying to win those rights for themselves; why you take the mental and verbal attacks by those opposed to the basic human and civil rights for everyone. As a child of the Civil Rights Era and longtime activist for equality for the LGBTQ community, it’s simply who I am.

In 1965, Dr. King delivered a powerful speech in Montgomery, AL that included this resonant line: “The arc of the moral universe is long; but it bends toward justice.” It was first said by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, calling for the abolition of slavery in his 1853 sermon “Of Justice and the Conscience.” We continue to work for equality, civil rights and justice FOR ALL because we believe this to be true.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and marriage equality decision of June 26, 2015, made us think we had come so far. But now, every day it seems many of the hard-fought victories, we took for granted to be secure, are increasingly under attack or being undone. The efforts to undo equality and justices are being led by people who profess to be followers of Christ.

How can this be? So, where do we people of faith who hold these views of “Loving mercy, doing justice and walking humbly with our God” turn for answers to what seemingly are unanswerable questions? I suggest a fresh look at Holy Scripture.

I invite you to join us Sunday mornings during Pride Month for a special 4-Part Pride sermon series called “UNSHAKEABLE ASSURANCES” based on Romans 8:31-39. The sermon on this first Sunday of Pride Month will be “GOD IS FOR US!”

Then join us at 5 PM to help Kick Off Pride Week at 5 PM for the Central Alabama Pride Interfaith Service at Covenant, followed by a reception in the Fellowship Hall.

NOTE FOR PASTOR JR FOR TRINITY SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2018

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It’s also the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend (the unofficial beginning of Summer.) Many folks will be traveling this weekend or attending family outings. We pray for safe travels and good times.

It’s been said that “Educators take that which is simple and make it complicated. Communicators take that which is complicated and make it simple.” If true, in talking about the Trinity in this Note and the sermon Sunday, I will strive to be a communicator instead of an educator.

In trying to explain the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit); many preachers use this term attempting to explain God. That only leads to misunderstanding and a lot of confusion. The term Trinity was never intended to be an explanation of God. It was meant to identify the three ways God chose to reveal the Divine nature of God to humanity. Since no one way reveals the totality of the Divine, the Trinity represents the three most important glimpses of God we have been given.

The Creator image represents a paternal glimpse of the Divine as all powerful and all knowing, the source and initiator of everything in creation. The Son/Christ image represents a glimpse of the Divine vulnerable to creation; taking on the form of humanity that we might realize the extent the Divine will go to in demonstrating God’s unconditional love. The Holy Spirit represents a maternal glimpse of the Divine as Nurturer, Sustainer and always present, loving guide to instruct us toward wholeness and fullness of life. Perhaps reimagining the Divine in these concepts of the Trinity can enrich our lives and help us to respond to God’s call on our lives as it did for Isaiah.

So, if you are not away traveling Sunday of this Memorial Weekend; join at Covenant in worship. My Sermon is “The Trinity – Three Glimpses of God” based on “Isaiah 6:1, 8,” “Romans 8:14-17,” and “John 3:16-17.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MOTHER’S DAY, MAY 13, 2018

This Sunday is Mother’s Day; so, Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers and those serving in maternal roles. This will also be Ascension Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ Ascension into heaven 10 days prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. It’s interesting to note that the Greek and Hebrew terms for the Holy Spirit are feminine.

I have never had any struggle with the idea of God having feminine attributes. I have jokingly made that known on several occasions, saying “God is a big black woman. If you ever want to know what she looks like … I have picture of her hanging on my office wall.” That picture is of my late Mother, James Ella Reid Finney. She is without a doubt the closest thing to God in the flesh I have even known. So, I’ve always known that if God is real, if God truly loved me as a parent loves a child, then God was also “Mother” and not only “Father.”

The processional hymn we will sing this Mother’s Day speaks of “When God is like a Mother.” It says:

“Just like a mother eagle, who helps her young to fly,

I am a mother to you, your needs I will supply.

And you are as my children, the ones who hear my voice.

I am a mother to you, the people of my choice.”

It closes by saying:

“Our God is not a woman – our God is not a man.

Our God is both and neither, our God is I who Am

From all the roles that bind us, our God has set us free.

What freedom does God gives us? The Freedom just to be”.

As we honor Mothers and those serving in maternal roles, let’s stretch our imaginations to include images of God as the Divine Feminine, who loves, nurtures, and supports us; seeking to be a Mother to us.

Join us at Covenant this Mother’s Day and Ascension Sunday. If possible bring your Mom with you. My sermon is “When God is like a Mother” based on I John 5:9-13 and John 17:13-19.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MAY 6, 2018

Have you ever been listening to what you thought was a familiar story, about ready to “tune out,” but then were glad you didn’t because it had a surprise ending? The Scriptures this week have a surprise in them like that. It seems outlandish, far-fetched, maybe even crazy ~ one that you would hesitate to say out loud to another person. But Jesus is like that sometimes. It’s easy to reject some of His words, to assume maybe the Bible translators goofed, or that Jesus just went too far.

For example, in this week’s Gospel, Jesus states, “Then My Father will give you whatever you ask for in My name.” Don’t you want to say, “Yeah. Right. I can think of lots of things I asked God for that I didn’t get!” But if we read carefully, it had two caveats. One is the word “then.” We need to read what came before that to find out what “then” meant. Right before that, we are told that we need to produce “fruit, the kind of fruit that will last” as part of this promise God makes.

Bearing fruit was mentioned in last week’s sermon ~ the fruit that results from our staying connected to the Vine (Jesus). The end of the sentence, “in My name,” also needs to be interpreted in order to understand the promise of God. One way to clarify “in My name” is to think of it as “in accordance with God’s will.” God is not going to do something for us that is not in our best interest; God wants what is best for us. Like any loving parent, God gives what we need, not necessarily what we want, when we want it.

Do you want to know what the other message of hope is, which is an even more outlandish promise from Jesus? Do you want to know how to have more joy in your life? Do you want to know why “It’s your move”?

Good! See you Sunday! This week’s sermon topic is: “IT’S YOUR MOVE,” based on I John 5:1-4 and John 15:9-17.

This week’s Note from Pastor J R was written by Deacon Jamie Grimes