Peace Covenant Presbyterian

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JOHN 15:1-18|BEYOND A BRANCH

April 30, 2018
Posted by Office Staff

BEYOND A BRANCH

JOHN 15:1-18

APRIL 29, 2018

 

A FORMER COLLEAGUE IN MINISTRY WHO HAS SINCE LEFT THE PCUSA USED TO SIGN BENEATH HIS NAME IN ANY AND ALL CORRESPONDENCE – “JUST A BRANCH.”

 

THE REFERENCE, OF COURSE, WAS TO THE IDEA PRESENTED IN THIS MORNING’S PASSAGE: “I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES.” AND WAS MEANT AS AN ATTEMPT TO SUGGEST HIS HUMBLE SERVANTHOOD AS A MINISTER.

 

UNFORTUNATELY, FOR HIM AND HIS CHURCH, HIS EGO WAS HIS EVENTUAL UNDOING.

 

(THIS MIGHT BE A LITTLE BIT OF THE POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK, SINCE I’M GOING TO SPEND THE LARGER PART OF THIS SERMON TALKING ABOUT ME.)

 

BUT I’M NOT ALL THAT SURE HE HAD IT RIGHT TO BEGIN WITH: IN FACT, IN SPEAKING OF CHRIST AS THE VINE, AND WE THE BRANCHES, I WOULD SAY WE ARE: BEYOND A BRANCH.

 

THIS IS NOT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE CENTRAL IDEA THAT CHRIST IS THE VINE, AND, CUT OFF FROM HIM, WE CAN DO NOTHING.  THAT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL.  JOHN HAS IT RIGHT HERE SPEAKING OF JESUS AND US.

 

BUT IT IS THE BRANCHES, AS WE ARE TOLD HERE, WHO ARE TO BEAR MUCH FRUIT.  WE ARE MORE THAN JUST A BRANCH – WE ARE THOSE WHO ARE TO BEAR MUCH FRUIT FOR CHRIST AND FOR CHRIST’S KINGDOM.

 

THEREFORE, OUR ROLE AS BELIEVERS IS ESSENTIAL.

 

SO MUCH SO, THAT JESUS SAYS, IN VERSE 8: “MY FATHER IS GLORIFIED BY THIS, THAT YOU BEAR MUCH FRUIT AND BECOME MY DISCIPLES.”

 

WE GLORIFY GOD BY WHAT WE DO!  WE ARE NOT JUST A BRANCH; WE ARE BEYOND A BRANCH!  MORE THAN JUST A BRANCH.

 

AS MOST OF YOU ARE AWARE BY NOW, I ANNOUNCED TO OUR CONGREGATION MY PLANS TO RETIRE AS YOUR PASTOR IN SEPTEMBER.  SEPTEMBER 11TH – IS MY 62ND BIRTHDAY AND THE DAY I WILL RETIRE FROM FULL TIME MINISTRY.

 

AND, WHILE I’M TALKING NUMBERS, AND YEARS, FOR A MOMENT, LET ME SHARE A FEW OTHER NUMBERS WITH YOU PERTINENT TO MY RETIREMENT.

 

IN SEPTEMBER, I WILL BE 62.  AT THE TIME OF MY RETIREMENT, I WILL HAVE SERVED PEACE COVENANT 9 YEARS AND 7 MONTHS.

 

WHEN I RETIRE, I WILL HAVE SERVED 36 YEARS IN ORDAINED MINISTRY;

 

AND WILL HAVE BEEN WORKING AS AN INTERN MINISTER, STUDENT SUPPLY PASTOR, AND/OR YOUTH DIRECTOR FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS.

 

50 YEARS AGO – I WAS SITTING IN MR. JOHN DEAN’S (NOT ONE OF THE PRESIDENT’S MEN) SEVENTH GRADE SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS AT WINTER PARK PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, IN WINTER PARK, FLORIDA.

 

WHEN HE ASKED EACH OF US WHAT WE WANTED TO BE WHEN WE GREW UP, MY FELLOW CLASSMATES GAVE THE USUAL ANSWERS: A FIREMAN, A NURSE, A DOCTOR; – MY BEST FRIEND, WHO STILL IS ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS, AND RETIRED FROM THE AIR FORCE, WANTED TO BE A FOREST RANGER.

 

WHEN IT WAS MY TURN, I PROUDLY ANNOUNCED THAT I WAS GOING TO BE A MINISTER (WHAT A SUCK-UP; TEACHER’S PET) BUT IT REALLY WAS THE FIRST MOMENT THAT I FELT GOD’S CALL TO FULL TIME CHRISTIAN MINISTRY, AND HERE WE ARE, 50 YEARS LATER.

 

45 YEARS AGO, WHEN I WAS 16, MY FATHER DIED, AND GOD CONVINCED ME ONCE AGAIN, THAT MY CALLING TO FULL TIME MINISTRY WAS GENUINE.

 

40 YEARS AGO, I ENTERED COLUMBIA SEMINARY, AND AFTER FOUR YEARS OF STUDY, AND A DOCTORAL DISSERTATION, I EARNED MY DOCTORATE IN MINISTRY.

 

IN MY 40 YEARS OF VARIOUS MINISTRIES, I HAVE SERVED SEVEN DIFFERENT CONGREGATIONS, AND, IN PART, BECAUSE OF DIVISIONS AND MERGERS WITHIN THE PCUSA, I SERVED IN FOUR DIFFERENT PRESBYTERIAN DENOMINATIONS.

 

I WAS A CANDIDATE IN THE SOUTHERN BRANCH OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH U S; MY FIRST CALL WAS TO AN OLD NORTHERN STREAM PRESBYTERIAN CONGREGATION – WHAT WAS KNOWN AS THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH; THEN MERGER CAME, AND I WAS IN THE PCUSA; AND JUST BEFORE COMING HERE I SERVED FOR SEVEN YEARS IN ONE OF THE LARGEST CONGREGATIONS IN THE CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.

 

FOR A PERIOD OF TIME, I ALSO DIRECTED A NON-PROFIT CRISIS HOTLINE AND COUNSELING CENTER, WHILE ALSO SERVING AS A STATED SUPPLY PASTOR.

 

SO, WHY RETIRE NOW?

 

YEARS AGO, I HEARD A STORY ABOUT A FAMOUS OPERA SINGER WHO RETIRED AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS CAREER FROM THE NEW YORK CITY OPERA.

 

WHEN COLLEAGUES, CRITICS, AND THE PUBLIC BEGAN ASKING WHY HE WAS RETIRING; HE RESPONDED: “ALWAYS LEAVE WHEN PEOPLE ARE STILL ASKING: WHY ARE YOU? INSTEAD OF WHY DON’T YOU?

 

I’M HOPING I’VE GOTTEN AHEAD OF THE CURVE OF YOUR ASKING: WHY DON’T YOU?

 

IN THAT SAME VEIN, WHEN I FIRST BEGAN IN MINISTRY, I HAD A COUPLE OF COLLEAGUES IN TOWN WHO HAD BEEN IN THEIR PASTORATES FOR MANY YEARS AND WERE REALLY PAST RETIREMENT AGE.

 

IT WAS OBVIOUS TO EVERYONE, INCLUDING THEM, THAT THEY WERE JUST HANGING ON UNTIL RETIREMENT.  I TOLD MYSELF THEN, THAT I WOULD NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN TO A CHURCH I WAS SERVING.

 

AND IN ANOTHER CIRCUMSTANCE, I FOLLOWED SEVERAL MINISTERS WHO HAD FOLLOWED A FOUNDING PASTOR WHO HAD REMAINED IN HIS POSITION FOR 40 YEARS OR SO; NONE OF US EVER QUITE MEASURED UP TO HIM IN THE EYES OF THAT CONGREGATION;

 

BUT HE STAYED WAY TOO LONG, AND IN THE END, THE CONGREGATION WAS FORCED TO GET RID OF HIM, AND IT WAS A BAD SITUATION FOR EVERYONE.

 

AGAIN, I TOLD MYSELF, I WOULD NEVER PUT A CONGREGATION IN THAT POSITION.

 

SO, MY RETIREMENT IS NOT ONLY WHAT I THINK IS BEST FOR ME, AND FOR KAREN, BUT FOR PEACE COVENANT AS WELL.

 

IN THE FIRST PLACE, WHO BETTER, TO UNDERSTAND OUR DECISION, THEN A CHURCH WITH ANY NUMBER OF RETIREES WHO LEFT THEIR PROFESSIONS IN THEIR LATE FIFTIES AND EARLY SIXTIES, TO RETIRE TO KEY WEST?

 

MANY OF OUR MEMBERS RETIRED FROM TEACHING, CIVIL SERVICE, THE MILITARY, PUTTING IN THEIR REQUISITE YEARS FOR RETIREMENT, AND THEN LEFT AT THE PINNACLE OF THEIR CAREERS.

 

MANY OF YOU TOOK YOUR GOLDEN PARACHUTE AND DECIDED TO GO EXPLORING WHAT WAS NEXT.

 

MANY OF YOU DECIDED TO DO SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT WITH THE SECOND ACT OF YOUR LIFE.

 

AND MANY OF YOU ARE NOW DOING THINGS YOU NEVER DREAMED YOU’D BE DOING IN RETIREMENT – AND ARE LOVING IT!

 

SOMEHOW, WE JUST KNEW YOU’D UNDERSTAND.

 

OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS KAREN AND I WILL TAKE ALL THE WISDOM, WARNINGS, ADVICE, AND LEARNINGS YOU’VE GAINED IN RETIREMENT; SO, PLEASE, OFFER THEM FREELY!

 

IN RETURN, I WILL OFFER AS MUCH ADVICE AND COUNSEL AS I CAN, AND AS PRESBYTERY WILL ALLOW ME, WITHOUT MEDDLING OR MANIPULATING THE PROCESS OF WHAT HAPPENS HERE NEXT.

 

I WILL DO EVERYTHING I CAN TO MAKE THIS AS SMOOTH A TRANSITION AS POSSIBLE, AND HELP YOU, THE LEADERSHIP AND MEMBERSHIP, POSITION PEACE COVENANT FOR THE BRIGHTEST FUTURE POSSIBLE.

 

THIS IS AN EXCITING TIME IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH!  A CHANCE TO BEGIN ANEW!  TO DO THINGS IN NEW AND DIFFERENT WAYS; POSSIBLY IN WAYS THEY’VE NEVER BEEN DONE HERE BEFORE.

 

IN TENDERING MY RETIREMENT, I OFFERED THE SESSION THE CHOICE OF MY GOING SOONER THAN LATER;

 

BUT IN CONSULTATION WITH OTHER RETIRED PASTORS AND PRESBYTERY OFFICIALS, ALL OF THEM AGREED THAT THIS TIMEFRAME GIVES US TIME TO DO WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO READY THE CHURCH FOR A GREAT FUTURE AHEAD.

 

THAT’S WHAT WE HOPE YOU WILL SEE OUR LEAVING AS: AN OPPORTUNITY;

A NEW START; A FIRST STEP INTO THE FUTURE GOD HAS IN STORE FOR THIS CONGREGATION.

 

AGAIN, WE STAND READY TO DO WHATEVER WE CAN TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN.

 

WE BELIEVE WE ARE LEAVING PEACE COVENANT FOR OUR MUTUAL BENEFIT:

 

FOR WHAT IT WILL MEAN FOR US, AS WE BEGIN THIS RETIREMENT PHASE OF LIFE;

 

AND WHAT IT CAN MEAN FOR THE CHURCH TO GAIN NEW LEADERSHIP; NEW ENERGY; AND THE RENEWED ENTHUSIASM, A NEW PASTORATE CAN BRING.

 

SOME OF YOU HAVE ASKED – VERY KINDLY – WHAT’S NEXT FOR US?

 

IN JULY OF 2017 KAREN AND I PURCHASED A HOME IN DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA.

IT’S WHERE WE WENT IN HURRICANE IRMA, ONLY TO BE EVACUATED FROM THERE, AND WHERE WE RETURNED TO AFTER THE STORM, ONLY TO FIND WE HAD MORE DAMAGE THERE THAN WE DID HERE…

 

AND ONLY SIX WEEKS AFTER BUYING THE HOUSE!

 

DAYTONA IS AN AREA THAT WAS IMPORTANT TO BOTH OF OUR FAMILIES GROWING UP AS A VACATION SPOT; AND FOR US IN OUR FAMILY TOGETHER.

 

IT IS CLOSER TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

 

HONESTLY, IT’S ALSO A PLACE WE COULD AFFORD TO BUY.

 

OUR HOME IS A BLOCK OFF THE BEACH, AND FOR THOSE OF YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE DAYTONA BEACH AREA, WE ARE IN A NEIGHBORHOOD ADJACENT TO THE CONVENTION CENTER AND PEABODY AUDITORIUM; AND ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE HILTON AND THE DAYTONA BEACH BANDSHELL.

 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR US?

 

WE DON’T KNOW FOR SURE.  SOME SORT OF SECOND ACT WORK.  SOME WRITING.  SOME RV CAMPING AND OTHER TRAVELS.

 

IT’LL MEAN WALKING AND BIKING ALONG “THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS BEACH.”

 

MORE TIME WITH OUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS; OUR GRANDDAUGHTER, AND ANY FUTURE GRANDKIDS THAT MAY COME OUR WAY.

 

SOME YEAR, IT’LL MEAN MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS, A FAVORITE CITY OF OURS; AS IT’S NEVER BEEN POSSIBLE AS A MINISTER TO BE OFF AROUND ASH WEDNESDAY AND THE BEGINNING OF LENT.

 

IT WILL MEAN THE OCCASIONAL TAILGATE, PERHAPS.

 

WORKING 48 SUNDAYS A YEAR FOR 40 YEARS DOESN’T REALLY LEAVE A LOT OF TIME TO ATTEND FOOTBALL GAMES, OR TAILGATE, EITHER AT COLLEGE GAMES ON SATURDAY, OR PRO GAMES ON SUNDAY.

 

RETIREMENT WILL INCLUDE SOME TIME AT THE DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY, AND SOME TORTUGA BASEBALL GAMES – DAYTONA’S MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAM.

 

IT WILL ALSO MEAN THE OCCASIONAL SABBATH – A DAY OF REST.

 

AND, IT’LL MEAN WORSHIPPING FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PULPIT AND CHOIR LOFT.

 

YOU THINK I’VE BEEN AT THIS FOR A LONG TIME…

 

KAREN HAS BEEN SINGING IN AN ADULT CHURCH CHOIR, NON-STOP, SINCE SHE WAS FOURTEEN YEARS OLD!

 

WE CAN PROBABLY COUNT ON TWO HANDS, MAYBE ONE, THE NUMBER OF TIMES WE’VE ACTUALLY WORSHIPPED SIDE BY SIDE IN A PEW.

 

IT WILL MEAN ALL OF THESE THINGS AND MORE; OR LESS; AS MANY OF YOU KNOW, RETIREMENT DOESN’T ALWAYS TURN OUT LIKE YOU PLAN.

 

SO, WHO KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT’S IN STORE FOR US.

 

THE NEXT FOUR AND A HALF MONTHS WILL BE FULL STEAM AHEAD; FOR THE CHURCH, FOR US;

 

PLUS, SOME MOVING TRIPS, SO THAT THE MANSE WILL BE AS READY AS POSSIBLE FOR THE NEXT PERSON WHO’LL HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF MINISTERING WITH YOU.

 

I STILL BELIEVE MY COLLEAGUE IN MINISTRY HAD IT WRONG; ALL HUMILITY ASIDE; WE BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST ARE NOT JUST A BRANCH. 

 

TO MY WAY OF THINKING WE ARE BEYOND A BRANCH.  WE ARE TO BEAR MUCH FRUIT.  GOOD FRUIT.  FRUIT THAT NOURISHES AND UPLIFTS OTHERS IN GOD’S NAME.

 

FOR 40 YEARS, ACTUALLY, FOR 61 GOING ON 62 YEARS, I HAVE BEEN PART OF CHRIST’S CHURCH, AND HAVE KNOWN, AND HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF SERVING WITH A LOT OF WONDERFUL BRANCHES.

 

FOR 9+ YEARS, GOING ON 10, WE’VE HAD THE TREMENDOUS PLEASURE OF MINISTERING WITH YOU: BEYOND A BRANCH BELIEVERS HERE AT PEACE COVENANT.

 

ONE OF THE PARTS OF THE ANALOGY I BELIEVE GETS LOST IN “I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES” IS THE WAY IN WHICH THE BRANCHES BECOME INTERTWINED WITH EACH OTHER.

 

THIS IS HOW IT HAS BEEN FOR KAREN AND ME, OUR LIVES INTERTWINED WITH YOURS, AND WITH OTHER WONDERFUL CHRISTIANS OVER THE YEARS, AND WHY IT’S ALWAYS DIFFICULT TO SAY GOODBYE, EACH TIME WE GO.

 

OUR HOPE AND PRAYER WILL BE FOR A WONDERFUL ENDING TOGETHER;

AND A BRIGHT NEW BEGINNING FOR EACH OF US.

 

IN THIS, OUR FATHER WILL BE GLORIFIED:

 

THAT WE BEAR MUCH FRUIT, BECOME HIS DISCIPLES, AND CONTINUE IN OUR VARIOUS MINISTRIES TOGETHER, UNTIL SUCH TIME AS WE DEPART FROM ONE ANOTHER.

 

IN THE WORDS OF SCRIPTURE, AND AS USED BY OUR PROPERTY AND GROUNDS COMMITTEE AT THE CLOSE OF EACH OF THEIR MEETINGS:

 

“MAY THE LORD WATCH BETWEEN ME AND THEE, WHILE WE ARE APART, ONE FROM THE OTHER.”

 

AMEN.

 

 

 

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