Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA


A Tale of Two Parties: A Sermon Based on Matthew 14:1-12!

A Tale of Two Parties: A Sermon Based on Matthew 14:13-21 (and Matt.14:1-12!)                     Preached by Mark Harper at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Athens, Georgia                           August 6, 2017

Most of the time around here, the scripture readings we listen to on Sunday mornings are suggested by the common lectionary. Not prescribed – no one in the national office in Louisville or in the local presbytery leadership is dictating what we read in worship. And most of the time, I’m all about following the lectionary since it keeps me from just picking out my personal favorite passages, plus over the course of a year it offers a broad sweep of the whole Bible. Read more

“Right in Front of Us!” (Mt.13:10-17, 31-33, 44-46 and Rom.8:26+) 7-30-17

We’ve all done it.  We reach for something that should be there, but it’s not, and we’re surprised & say, “But I always put it right there!”  And then we look for what’s lost, sometimes something we need or still want, and sometimes just because it’s missing.  We retrace our steps, remembering where we’ve been that day.  Could it be in the car?  Could I have dropped it in the driveway?  Did I leave my jacket on the chair?  Is my serving plate in the church kitchen?  Read more

Digging Deep

Digging Deep”        (Luke 6:46-49 & 1 Peter 2:1-10)                          5-14-17

I guess I’m a mountain girl at heart, having spent 46 summers in Blowing Rock, NC, growing up – at least for a month’s vacation, and sometimes lucky enough to spend 3 months.  And so, like you maybe, I had a rock collection when I was in elementary school – or maybe you had a shell collection if you grew up near the beach.  But I’ll never forget the Mineral & Gem Show in Spruce Pine that the whole family drove to, so that I could check off one project on my Girl Scout badge.  Read more

From Disappointment to Discipleship

From Disappointment to Discipleship: A Sermon Based on Luke 24:13-35 and Romans 5:1-5. Preached by Mark Harper at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Athens, GA on April 30, 2017 – The Third Sunday of Easter

Not long ago I was working with the Andrew Ministry team to re-write the letter we send out to folks who have recently visited Covenant. And to be honest I was a little uneasy about what I wrote. Here’s the first paragraph: Read more

It’s Up to Us Now

It’s Up to Us Now”        (John 20:19-31 & Romans 8:18-25)                        4-23-17
Today ends the first week after Easter Sunday, that glorious morning of miracles, at least that’s what we’re called to believe.  Jesus Christ is risen!  Can I get a witness?  We’ve heard the testimonies.  Peter & another disciple saw the empty tomb.  Mary Magdalene spoke to Jesus in the garden.  Read more

Yes, We Get a Do-Over: A Sermon Based on Matthew 28:1-15 Preached by Mark Harper at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Athens, Georgia April 16, 2017 – Easter

No one got to ease into Easter. According to Matthew, it wasn’t just the dawn but the earth itself that seemed to be breaking on the first day of the week.  The two Marys who had come to pay their last respects and tie up the loose ends of Jesus’ funeral must have held onto one another for dear life when the ground started moving under their feet. Read more

Simon of Libya: A Reflection for Maundy Thursday Preached by Mark Harper at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Athens, Georgia April 13, 2017

“Along the way they came on a man from Cyrene named Simon and made him carry Jesus’ cross.” Matthew 27:32

       I read somewhere that in England and Ireland there is a Christian ministry motivated by the image of the man who helped Jesus carry his cross. The Cyrenian Movement is named for Simon of Cyrene and its wonderful mission of compassion is to “share the burden” of the homeless poor. I know almost nothing about their work, but it sounds beautiful and commendable and certainly like something Jesus would do.

Unfortunately the name seems to ignore the fact that the original sharer of Jesus’ burden did not do so willingly or out of compassion. He did it by compulsion. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story the same way, saying that the Roman executioners pulled Simon out of the crowd and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross for a while. This was not heart-felt service motivated by pity; Simon did what Caesar said because he had no choice. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in the dirty work of empire.

I wonder why they singled out Simon? Out of all the people who had gathered to watch the passing horror of this legal lynching, this state-sanctioned murder, why him? Maybe because he looked like a foreigner and stood out in the crowd? Cyrene is in North Africa and very likely was the same region as present-day Libya. So Simon, who we also know was a parent of two sons according to Mark’s gospel, was certainly dark-skinned and maybe dressed differently than everyone else lining the road to Skull Hill. Maybe the soldiers on the crucifixion detail figured that this stranger living in a strange land would be the least likely to resist an order. After all, when the empire said jump, you jumped. And if there was any hint of resistance, then the empire would strike back. Hard, and with brutal cruelty. As they were doing at that very moment.

Not much has changed, I suppose. Empires still compel the poor and the most vulnerable to do their dirty work. The state of Arkansas is planning to execute seven people in 11 days this month, and my guess is that most of the prison guards and members of the strap-down team are people of color and on the low-end of the wage scale. Our endless wars are seldom fought by members of this year’s fraternity and sorority pledge classes. The fruit we will enjoy in our Easter salads most likely was picked by women and men with brown Mexican skin who happen to look a lot like the people who pick up my garbage and clean my hotel rooms. That may not be exactly the same thing as what Simon was doing without pay, but empires always seem to require the blood, sweat, and tears of those who have little other choice.

By contrast, the story we are listening to tonight is the story of a God who forces us to do nothing. He certainly does not compel our belief or devotion. Instead he invites us to join him in loving without condition everyone who is burdened by their own fear and sorrow and conflicted allegiances. He especially loves those who get singled out for the dirty work no one else will do because of their color or nationality or place on the economic ladder. He has come to be with them, to suffer with them, and to create a community for them where they will one day know dignity and respect and joy. He has come with the promise that one day their hands will be washed clean of the blood of the wars started by the powerful and greedy. And that their backs will be straight and strong enough to carry their own children and grandchildren, and not made to ache by the splinters of empire.  Amen.





The End of a Long Week

The End of a Long Week”        (Matthew 21:1-11 & John 11:45-57)                       4-9-17
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the High Holy days of the Christian church, when we hear again the story of Christ’s faithfulness & passion for all believers.  It’s been a joyful morning,  (((10:45 – with the voices of our children)))   singing Hosanna to the Son of David.  (I decided to give Milton the donkey a rest this season, but he always brings a smile – just wait till Christmas Eve.) Read more

The Messy Process of Learning to See: A Sermon Based on John 9:1-38

Preached by Mark Harper at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Athens, Georgia                             March 26, 2017 – the Fourth Sunday in Lent

I think I was in sixth grade when I got my first pair of glasses. It must have been about this time of year because I remember riding home from the eye doctor’s in the car and, since not all the trees had leafed out yet, for the first time I was able to see all the branches and twigs. The world that I had known looked different; it had definition and depth and patterns and nuances of color that I had missed up until then. It was wonderful. Read more

She Persisted. He Persisted. And the Story Changed: A Sermon Based on John 4:1-39

Preached by Mark Harper at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Athens, Georgia                                                          March 19, 2017 – The Third Sunday in Lent

One of my good friends likes to remind me that “there’s always a story.” Especially when it comes to people, none of us is simply a collection of cells and nerve endings and DNA. Who we are grows out of who we’ve known and what we’ve experienced. Or maybe what we’ve not experienced. We’re part of a narrative that we have played only a small part in writing. There’s always a story. Read more