Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Pastor's New Tattoo (dealing with changes and pastoral transitions)

Scripture Reading                                        Hebrews 13:5-9

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food,[a] which have not benefited those who observe them.

Sermon             The Pastor’s New Tattoo            Maynard Pittendreigh

I’ve been thinking about how to celebrate my retirement.

I’ve thought about a small gathering at my house.  I’ve thought about a special trip somewhere.  But the one thought I keep coming back to is a new tattoo.

YES – I need a new tattoo. 

Philippians 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” would be a perfect one for me.

Or perhaps Leviticus 19:28, which says, “Do not put tattoos on yourselves.”

Or maybe the verse immediately before that one, Leviticus 19:27 – that’s the passage that says men are not to shave their beards.
What better way to celebrate my retirement than with a new tattoo?

How many of you think I should get a new tattoo?

How many of you think I should NOT get a tattoo?

Tattoos have been around for centuries.

I suspect I will NOT be getting a new tattoo.   I know a lot of you have tattoos.  Some of you got them when you were in the military.  Some of you have had a tattoo since World War II.  Some of you have had a tattoo for just a few months.

In recent years, tattoos have become increasingly popular to the point that I sometimes hear people complain about the proliferation of tattoos on people today – tattoos all up and down the arm, on the back, every inch of skin sometimes seems to be a target for a tattoo. 

Why would anyone complain about what someone else does with his or her body? 

Because it is a change in our culture.

It’s different.

“Back in my day,” someone will say, “women didn’t get tattoos.”  Or “back my day, you didn’t get so MANY tattoos.

It is a change.

And what about the music the younger people play?

Or the way people dress?

Or what about the….

Well, you can fill in the blanks.

Our world is changing.

And our world is changing more than ever before.

A lot of people do not like change.

We like things to stay the same. 

A few weeks ago, I decided to stop beginning the worship service by asking who is celebrating a birthday or anniversary.  I started that several months after I arrived at Grace Covenant because there were some people who asked me to announce certain birthdays.  I felt uncomfortable announcing some but not others.  So, I started asking about this during the announcements, thinking that if people wanted to share that, they could, and if they didn’t want to share it, they didn’t have to raise their hands.

But recently I stopped, thinking that little changes like this would help prepare you for bigger changes yet to come.

Wow – did I hear the complaints!   I stopped counting the emails and phone calls when I reached 40 complaints about stopping this sort of announcements. 

It turns out that a lot of you have very, very strong feelings about continuing this and do NOT want to see this change.

So I gave in, and I resumed asking about birthdays and anniversaries.

But guess what, that will probably change in the near future.

Change happens – we have to deal with it.

In a study, a group of people were given two pieces of chocolate.  One was described as a new recipe that had just been developed, and the other was described as using the same recipe and the same ingredients for 73 years.  The vast majority preferred the chocolate that had been unchanged for 73 years.

There are two things that are interesting about that study.

One is that it shows we like things to stay the same, without change. 

The other is that both candies, the one that had the new recipe and the one that used the 73 year old recipe – well, lo and behold, they were exactly the same.  No difference at all.[i]

But we have a bias against change.

We’ve always been that way. 

Let’s look at the Bible for an example.

In Exodus 14, Moses has led the people out of the Promised Land.  Now that is a good change, but it doesn’t matter, it is a change, and change brings grief over the loss of something that has been changed.

This is what happens in Exodus 14, beginning in verse 10: “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.  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’?”

Actually, let me stop there and say I don’t think the Hebrews ever told Moses, “leave us alone, we happy being slaves.”  Never happened, but now that the change has happened the people are reinventing their history.  The people are in grief.  And they are in fear.  And they re-write their history thinking that they were happy to serve the Egyptians. 

Picking up in verse 13, Moses says something really dumb.  He doesn’t say a lot of dumb things, but here, he does. 

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm (in other words, don’t change any more, but stay where you are).  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.”

In other words, Moses gets sucked into the attitude of the people about change.  They want the good old days of Egypt and slavery.  And Moses says “stand firm, no more changes.  Just pray and let God fix things.”

Now that sounds good – it doesn’t sound dumb at all, until you listen to what God says.

Moses says, “Stand firm.  Stay where you are.”

God says in verse 15, “Stop praying and start moving.”

Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.”

        We resist change, but God is always calling us to move.  To change.  To grow.

        You are getting ready for a change.  As I retire, you will have a new Interim Pastor.  I think the fastest a search for a new pastor takes may be as little as six months, but that is unusual.  It usually takes about a year before the new installed pastor is elected and arrives.  Sometimes it takes as long as 18 months.  I was looking back at the records of our church and found that after Bob Eckard left, it took 17 months for this church to conclude the search and to call me as the next pastor. 

So, you have a long process to come, and you need to get ready for changes.
And accept these changes.  Embrace them.  Remember that God is always calling us to move, to change, and to grow. 

        You don’t want to be like the Hebrews on the edge of the Red Sea, longing for the times of yesterday…
Oh, if we had stayed in Egypt.
In the Old Testament, there is a Psalm written by people who experienced the greatest of changes.  Their nation had been invaded.  The people were being forced into exile to Babylon.  And the invading army took the great Temple choir out of Jerusalem, which was the greatest musical choir of that generation, and on the way to Babylon, the invaders asked them to sing a song.  “Sing us one of the songs you used to sing in the temple.  Entertain us.  We’re in the mood for some good music.”

        And in response, this is what the Jewish choir sang:

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion (Jerusalem and the Temple).
There on the trees
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

In other words, in the midst of change, they have lost their homes, their work, their Temple, and even their identity – “how can we sing the Lord’s song?”

Change has that kind of impact on people. 

The passage continues…

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.
In other words, they are stuck in the past.  Change has come, like or not.  And they make a promise.  We will not forget the past. Our theme will always be, “back in my day…” 

And they do not know what Paul in the New Testament promised, that “in all things God works for good.”  On their way to Babylon, as they grieve about the loss of their past, they don’t know of the good God will work in them during the exile in Babylon:

 the creation of synagogues,

wonderful literature and prophetic teachings,

the creation of the Hebrew alphabet,

the beginning of the canon of Scripture – in other words, the realization of what was the holy Word of God of the Old Testament. 

All they see is their grief and fear in the face of change.

And then there is an awful passage. 
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is he who repays you
    for what you have done to us—
he who takes your infants
    and dashes those infants against the rocks.

Really?  That’s in the Bible?  Yes, because grief and anger are such close cousins.  We often respond to change in our lives with grief, and yes, with anger.

So what do we do?  How do we deal with change? 

And it is not just the changes in the church we deal with.

Folks here this morning are dealing with all sorts of changes.  Cancer, death, job loss, retirement, birth, good change, bad change – change is hard.  What to do?  What to do?

The Lord is my shepherd. 

That is the way we deal with change.

We trust the shepherd. 

We know shepherd.  He calls us by name.  And we trust in him.

The shepherd leads us into wonderful places.  Calm waters.  Quiet places. An abundant table with cups overflowing with good things. 

But the shepherd also leads us into places we would not choose to go – into the valley of the shadows.  Death, fear, loss.  Changes in the church.

But –
The Lord is my shepherd.
And we trust.

We live in a world that is constantly changing, and changing more than at anytime in human history.
And people don’t like change.

You’ve heard that.  Maybe you’ve said it.

People don’t like change.

But I don’t believe that.  We like change.  I like new movies I haven’t seen before.  I like new books from a favorite author.  I like discovering a new author.  I like going to places I’ve never been before.  I like meeting new people.

The issue is not that we don’t like change.  The issue is that we love to have something familiar and unchanging in the midst of all the other changes.  We desperately need something that will never change, even as we move into more and more changes, with new cell phones and changes in computers and different music, and tattoos on young people and pony tails on preachers, and cancer that invades our bodies and spouses that die, and memories that fade. 

And what is the one thing that we can count on to be the familiar, unchanging guide to lead us and comfort us in all of these changes?

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Or as the Psalm put it, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want”

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2019. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

[i] Heidi Grant Halvorson, “Why We Don’t Like Change.” November 5, 2011.

The Pas