Sunday, December 16, 2012

No Wake Zone???

Exodus 14:10-15

As Pharaoh approached,
the Israelites looked up,
and there were the Egyptians,
marching after them.

They were terrified
and cried out to the
They said to Moses,
“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt
that you brought us to the desert to die?

What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt,
‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?
It would have been better
for us to serve the Egyptians
than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people,
“Do not be afraid.
Stand firm and you will see
the deliverance the Lord
will bring you today.
The Egyptians you see today
you will never see again.
The Lord will fight for you;
you need only to be still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses,
“Why are you crying out to me?
Tell the Israelites to move on.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything
that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us,

 fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
As you know, I’m moving to a church in Orlando soon.  Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church is a wonderful church – it has to be to pull me out of Chapel by the Sea!

I really appreciate how supportive all of you have been in wishing me and my wife well in our new venture.  You have all been very gracious.  I know, a few of you are upset that I’m leaving, but I know you’ll get over it and you will love the next pastor who stands in this boat.

So here I am packing my office, cleaning computer files, and pondering the things that have happened the past few years. 

There are things I will never forget about Chapel by the Sea.

God’s Table has been a great experience.  Throughout the week days we serve breakfast here at the church for the needy and the homeless.  Every morning when I walk up to Chapel I look at what you are doing here and think about Matthew 25:
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Among the first members who joined Chapel after I came here were my wife and a woman who was a participant at God’s Table.  She had lived a hard life.  She had worked as a stripper in a night club.  She was an alcoholic.  But she joined our church and shortly after, as often happens with the folks at God’s Table, got a job and moved to another community.  I lost track of her until about a year ago.  She emailed me and said she had been sober for 3 years.  She was employed and living in a nice apartment.  She had just been elected an elder in her church. She said she found God at God’s Table.

Great memory.

Of course, not every memory about God’s Table is good.


Yep, those of you who know Kickstand can tell where I’m going with this.

A lot of the participants at God’s Table have these wonderful beach names – Cowboy, Tin Can, Taco Man --- Kickstand.

I guess Kickstand got that name because he had a metal artificial leg.  He came into church one Sunday morning carrying a big, big cup of vodka – from which he had already been drinking.  He sat on the front row.  He began to get comfortable and took off his leg, began to wave it around and started talking to himself.  He did a few other things and I was just about to stop the service.  But then Chuck came up and handled him ever so gracefully.  Chuck is a great sexton and this church is blessed to have him.  Chuck helped Kickstand pull himself together - put his leg back on and with the help of an elder, escorted him out of the sanctuary and into the office.

Yep, things like that are hard to forget!

            There are other things I’ll find more pleasant to remember.  When I arrived here at Chapel I found an engineer’s report on my desk about the crumbling foundation under this sanctuary.  Everyone told me we had years to deal with this, but not so.  Hurricane Charley may have hastened the deterioration of the columns under this building.  Things were so bad that one engineer said we were within six months of seeing this beautiful sanctuary collapse. 

            Talk about a challenge – how do you raise $300,000 in the depth of the worst recession in a lifetime, to fix something no one can see, and that no one will be able to tell was repaired after the project was done.  But we had a great team of elders and members who made that happen. 

            Good memory.

Last year, on Christmas Day we walked out of the Chapel and walked across the street where we had a baptism on the Gulf of Mexico.  Not every Presbyterian minister gets to do something like that.

And last summer, at the end of our Vacation Bible School we again walked out of the Chapel and crossed the street – this time to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion on the Beach.  What a great day.

And what other church would celebrate with such gusto my favorite holiday of the entire year?  Only Chapel by the Sea could hold those great parties on International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Vacation Bible School – whose idea was it that I had to become Pastor Pandamania?

A trip to Guatemala to visit our sister church.
All of the parades, the ways we’ve observed Veterans Days, all of the Chapel Chats, I could go on and on. 

But ---

I have a confession to make.

It has not always been a great day to be at Chapel by the Sea.

My most difficult conflicts came out of one of those decisions I didn’t think much of at the time.  We had an opening on our church staff, Personnel Committee interviewed some individuals, we made a recommendation to the Session.  That was a good decision, but giving that job to one person meant others did not get a job, and one of the people who did not get a job was an atheist.  A wonderful person, but one who did not believe in Christ, or God, or many of the things we hold dear in our faith. 

I thought that was a no-brainer in not hiring that person.  How could you hire an atheist to direct a Christian program?  And yet, I’ve never had people angrier at me.  It led to some serious conflicts.  Conflicts happen in the best of families, including the church, but I never saw that one coming.

We had a baptism this morning – what a great day!  I have loved every baptism I’ve done – whether it is in the Gulf of Mexico, or at the clam shell.  But I also remember the baptisms we did NOT do.  A year or so ago, I had a request to do a baptism.  The request came from a woman who wanted her grandchild baptized.  She was not a member of Chapel and had never attended here.  I asked her why she wanted the baptism here and not in her own church.  “I don’t go to church,” she said.  “I don’t believe in any of that God or Jesus stuff.” 

Then why have your child baptized?

Well, it’s a nice tradition.  You get the family together and Chapel by the Sea is such a lovely church and we’ve hired a professional photographer for this wonderful Kodak moment.  Besides, we have my great grandmother’s baptism gown and if we don’t do the service soon, my grandbaby won’t fit into it.”

I looked at her and said, “You know, when I baptize a baby I baptize in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It sounds like you’d be just as happy if I baptize your child in the name of ‘baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.’”

Without any hesitation she said, “Whatever.  One is as good as the other.”

We did not do that baptism.  It saddens me.  Not that we didn’t do it – that was a good decision.  But it saddens me that people would so misunderstand the Sacrament of Baptism.  It’s more than a simple little nice tradition.  It means something.

Now in case you haven’t noticed, there is a thread that weaves its way through all those memories.

The good memories are Jesus-centered.

The not-so-good memories are of those times when Jesus was left out.

The good memories have a focus on Jesus.  A baptism in the Gulf of Mexico was a neat and fun thing to do, but to see an 11 year old in tears and to listen to him thank me for that moment, moved me to tears.  That meant something to him.

To repair the foundation of this church was important.  After all, I’m standing in the place where the worst of the damaged columns was located and I would have been the first to go had this building collapsed.  Yes, that was important work, but to see the Capital Campaign Committee come together as a church, to see people in the community give donations because they believed in what we do here. 

We can look back at Kickstand and laugh and smile.  It’s not every day that someone comes into your church and begins to dismantle himself limb by limb.  But that is a good memory because a member of the church staff and an elder of the church not only escorted him out, but treated him with grace and dignity and love and spent time with him afterward.  It was a Jesus centered moment.

Even something silly like celebrating International Talk Like A Pirate Day was not just an opportunity to dress like a pirate and talk funny.  You can do that down at Time Square around the pier.  When we did it here we were the church getting together and enjoying a spiritual fellowship.  It was a Jesus centered moment, and that’s what made those parties so wonderful.

Pretty soon, I’m going to leave Chapel by the Sea.  When I pronounce the Benediction at the end of the 10:00 worship service on Sunday, January 20th, that’s it.  I will no longer be your pastor.  But I will be your friend and as your friend I hope I will hear that you continue to live the faith – that you will be Christ-centered.

I have three words to share to you as I prepare to leave.

First – be Christ-centered so that all of your future memories will be good ones.  Keep your focus on Christ.

Our New Testament lesson gives us good instruction:

Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything
that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us,

 fixing our eyes on Jesus,

It is easy to take your eyes off Jesus.

It would have been easy to hire an atheist to direct a Christian program.  It would have been easy to baptize someone who did not believe in God – it was hard to say no to any baptism.

And it was hard to treat a drunk with grace and love.  It was hard to save this sanctuary from collapsing.

But keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

My second word to you for your future is keep moving!


That is what we find in both the Old and New Testament lesson.  People of God have to keep moving.  You here at Chapel have to keep moving.

In the Old Testament, Moses has led the Hebrews out of Egypt.  They have gotten as far as the Red Sea.  That’s when the Egyptians come riding over the horizon.  It is a frightening moment. 

The Hebrews turn to Moses and begin to complain.  They tell Moses, “Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians.’”  Now of course, they did not really say that, but they are rewriting their own history to suit them in that moment. 

Moses speaks like a man of faith – “Don’t be afraid.  Stand firm.  The Lord will fight for you.”

Now that sounds like a great thing for a man of faith to say.  “Don’t be afraid.  Stand firm.  The Lord will fight for you.”

Sounds good – but that is NOT what God wants.

God tells Moses “Stop praying and get moving!”

With great faith, the people of the Old Testament had to move toward the Red Sea BEFORE the waters had parted.

To be a people of faith, you have to be moving.  Or in Hebrews, you have to be RUNNING.

As it says in the New Testament lesson, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…”

I have to tell you a story. 

I was visiting the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church to meet their search committee.  They showed me around their church and they took me into their Sanctuary.  They invited me to try out the pulpit.

I have to tell you, it’s not a boat.

And I shared with them that having preached in a boat for a few years, I’ve developed a bad habit – a mannerism.  I have tended to rock back and forth – almost like I’m at sea.  I’ve been trying to break myself of that for a few months, but I still catch myself doing that from time to time.

One of the members said that I should put a sign in the pulpit that said, “No Wake Zone.”  You’ve seen those signs – they are there to protect the manatees and to force the boating traffic in a congested area to move at a slow, safe speed. 

“No wake zone?”  I don’t think so – that’s NOT the kind of sign you want in a church where people might need a jab in the rib cage to wake them up!

I was thinking about that this week and I’ve decided I don’t want Chapel to be a No Wake Zone.  I want you to be on the move.  I want you to be running the race.

You’ve got momentum going here – keep it going.  Don’t stand still.

Keep yourselves alive and fit. 

To reflect from those words from the New Testament lesson, “Run the race, fixing your eyes on Jesus.”

Copyright 2012, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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