Welcome Back Sunday isn’t a church calendar fixture year like Easter or Pentecost. But the Old Testament’s most compelling story is Israel’s search for their home, the place where God wanted them, having been liberated from slavery. Retelling that story is what the Passover seder is about. If you found you missed something indescribable over the summer, if something was not quite right, maybe you missed your spiritual home, our First Congregational Church.
This Sunday is our Welcome Back Sunday. We will share a Jazz Sunday with our own Max Pakhomov, John Stuart, and the Dixieland style band we welcomed a couple years ago. We will welcome eleven new members into our fellowship. An ice cream social with face painting will follow. We hope you’re making plans to be with us as we feel this energy surge among us anew.
Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Mark Twain said that. So maybe it is fitting that my sermon theme on Sunday is authenticity. When people and places are real or genuine, we cannot always exactly put our finger on why. But our antennae are always out, searching and wondering, do they really mean it? Or are they just going through the motions?
So what does authenticity mean in a church? Will Willimon, of Duke University, shares this vignette. An irate father called him one day, exploding on the other end of the line. “I hold you personally responsible for this!” he shouted. He was angry because his graduate-school-bound daughter had decided to “throw it all away” in Haiti to do mission work with the Presbyterians.
“Isn’t that absurd?” screamed the father. “She has a B. S. degree from Duke and she is going to dig ditches in Haiti! I hold you personally responsible for this!” Willimon said, “Why me?” The father came back, “you ingratiated yourself and filled her up with all of this religion stuff.” Will didn’t back off an inch. He asked the father, “Sir, weren’t you the one who had her baptized?”
“Well…..well, yes.” “And didn’t you take her to Sunday School when she was a little girl?” “Yes.” “And didn’t you allow your daughter to go on youth mission trips back in high school days?” “Yes…but what does that have to do with anything.” “Sir, you are reason she is ‘throwing it all away.’ You introduced her to Jesus, not me.” “But,” said the father, “all we wanted was a Presbyterian.” “Well, sorry, sir, you messed up. You’ve gone and made her into a disciple.”
Since hearing that story, whenever I meet with the family before baptizing a child, I always tell the parents that by having their child baptized that if Jesus later wants or lays claim to her for any number of ministries, easy or hard, near or far, they must let her go. It’s a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace moment. They generally swallow hard and nod yes. In Colorado, a new member family told me a story some years after they had joined that First Congregational.
They joined wanting to baptize a child. I gave my usual spiel about the completeness of God’s claim upon his baptized. In the parking lot, the wife said, “Wow. That was a little over the top, don’t you think? Pretty intense.” The husband answered, “If he doesn’t really believe it, or only half believes it, then how much do you think we are going to believe it?” I am ok with that.
See you Sunday! One service only at ten am!