Summary: Message for our first homecoming Sunday. This is a message to encourage a small church in decline.
We went with the theme this Sunday of a homecoming dinner. So I decided to take a break from our study on our spiritual armor and speak today about coming home.
There is something within God’s creatures that drives them to go back to a place they call home. We see it in salmon, which spend their early lives in rivers. Soon they swim out to sea and live their adult life. Once fully matured they return to the very spawning ground of their birth, swimming up river, up waterfalls, becoming a food source for bears, other animals, and fisherman. After they spawn, the adults will remain there and die.
We have the American Cliff Swallow that spends its winters in Argentina. But in the springtime, these birds make a 6000-mile trip to San Juan Capistrano often rebuilding the nests they had left behind.
The Pocossin Lake Wildlife Refuge is witness to thousands of Tundra Swan and Snow Geese that travels 4 to 5 thousand miles each summer.
When I delivered bread for a living, I could tell when winter was immanent by the arrival of the seagulls at the Waffle House parking lot. I would feed them bread during the winter months. There was one particular gull with only one foot that I saw for at least four years in a row. I am convinced these gulls returned every winter to their favorite feeding spot.
Even family pets seem to have this homecoming instinct. There have been numerous stories of pets lost on vacation or moved to a new location that have returned to their old homes.
There was the story of Skittles the cat. Skittles got lost while on vacation with his owners in the Wisconsin Dells. After a frantic search, the owners were resigned to give up and return home, certain they would never see Skittles again. But 140 days later after traveling 350 miles, Skittles showed up at the door. His paws were raw and his ribs were protruding from his side. He was nursed into a full recovery
The record for a lost pet goes to Jimpa, a Labrador/boxer cross. His owner had taken him with him when he got a job on a farm 2000 miles away from his original home. Although the owner had accepted the relocation, Jimpa undoubtedly hadn’t. Jimpa disappeared and was discovered 14 months later at his old home.
We also have that desire to return to our home. I remember when I worked I just looked forward to the end of the day and going home. It is seems like every vacation I say I had fun but I am ready to get home and into my own bed. Sometimes the place you were born is not your hometown. I was born in Charlotte but grew up in Parkersburg, W.Va. Therefore, I consider Parkersburg as my hometown.
Sometimes going back home just doesn’t seem the same. I had two found memories of Parkersburg. One was the floodwall. It was a huge hill designed to keep the Ohio River from flooding the city of Parkersburg. The other was Big Walker Lookout Mountain, a tourist attraction that we would pass on Hwy 21 when headed for Charlotte on vacation.
One year I decided to treat my children by sharing my childhood memories with them. They had heard the stories so many times that I was sure they wanted to witness first hand my marvelous experiences. However, 30 years later the floodwall was nothing more than a mound of dirt. It was nowhere near as high as I remembered it. In addition, Big Walker Lookout had been closed for a very long time. All the attractions were rotting and rusting away.
Sometimes church homecomings can be that way. We left our original church when we moved to Denver. We explained why and everyone prayed for us and blessed us. A couple of years later we went back for a homecoming Sunday and the reception was less than friendly. I was a bit confused by it.
But churches can be strange organizations. When I became pastor, 90% of the congregation left. However, I knew why they left and actually expected it. Those 90% were the other pastor’s family members. However, we parted ways with blessings and hugs.
The last five years, however, have been strange. We have had folks come, visit, and leave. I can understand that. It’s the ones who come, partners with us for a while, and then just disappears. Those bothered me somewhat. I invited all of those folks to our dinner today but none responded. I wondered why. If they felt guilty for leaving, I wish I could assure them that there was no reason to feel that way. If they were upset with us, I wish they had shared with me the problem. I want you guys to know I have no animosity toward anyone who left.