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Lubbock, TX 79401
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Dr. Rodney Plunket

"Homecoming"

   a topical sermon

Several weeks ago, those of us who plan our Sunday morning worship services decided that we would wait until after Lynn Anderson’s weekend was over to decide what to do on the Sunday immediately following.  I was excited about Lynn’s theme.  Lynn, Bill Starcher, and I planned that theme together months ago.  We knew that God wanted this church to be a more vibrant family, a family/a community of believers that can serve to draw the lost into the Kingdom.  So we waited to see what kind of energy God would generate through Lynn’s weekend with us.

Lynn’s messages were right on target.  Bill gave the best summary of them.  He said that Lynn focused our minds on connection with God and community with one another.

Even though I would not have changed any of Lynn’s lessons, I wish that we had scheduled his time with us differently.  I wish we had changed the placement of his Saturday evening lesson.  I wish we had placed it so that more people would have heard it.  I think, and I know that several others agree, that Lynn’s Saturday lesson was the best; but only 78 people heard it.  So I want to begin this morning by allowing you to hear a story that Lynn told last Saturday night near the beginning of his message.  Lynn will begin by saying; “I remember hearing Fred Craddock tell a story about what it meant for him . . . .”  The “it” is fellowship.

I remember hearing Fred Craddock tell a story about what it meant for him over in Tennessee a few years ago.  Fred was a homiletics professor down at Emory University.

He said one time he was doing summer fill-in when he was a student at a little country church somewhere in Tennessee.  They had a custom that they would save up their baptisms, and once every two or three or four months they would have a baptismal service.  And they would go down to the river, and they made quite a “do” of it.

They would bring flat bed trucks down there and you know trailer loads of food and pile ‘em, fried chicken and everything, out on the flat beds as a table.  They’d light a big bonfire; and on toward evening, as it was starting to get dark, they’d gather down by the river on the sandbar with the people who were to be baptized, and they’d sing while they’d baptize one or two or three or four people, however many.

And then they would gather around the fire, and the singing would get quiet after a while, and then someone would step up and say, “You know I ain’t much for words, but you’re new in our family; I’m a fair hand at blacksmithing.  If you got any iron needs bent or straightened, that is what I got to offer you now that you’re in the family.”  And another little lady would stand up and she would say, “Well I can’t say much in public, but I do a fair job of sewing.  And if you need any stitching done, that’s what I got to offer you.”  And they’d go around the circle, and people would offer to those new Christians something out of their lives.

And then somewhere along in there, Bill, it was always Bill, he said, because he had number twelve boots.  And Bill would stand up and clear his throat and say, “Well, reckon it’s time to go.”  And people would start gathering up the food and scuttling toward the trucks, and he’d go over and start raking sand onto the fire.

And Craddock said he kind of slipped up behind Bill and stood there a minute; cleared his throat.  Bill turned around and said, “Well Craddock, folks don’t never get no closer ‘n this.

And Fred Craddock said, “They’ve have a word for that over in that part of Tennessee, they got a word for that.  They call it “church.”  That’s what they call it.

“They call it ‘church.’  That’s what they call it.”

That story takes me back to the Book of Acts.  It takes me back to Acts 2:44-45 where we read, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  It also takes me back to Acts 4:32-35.  Please open your Bible to that passage and follow along as I read it:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.  With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.  They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The sense of community closeness in these passages is impossible to miss.

And those passages cause me to think of many other passages throughout the New Testament (NT)––other passages which also paint a powerful picture of God’s dream for the community of faith.  In Romans 12:5 the apostle Paul writes, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”  Five verses later, in Romans 12:10, he says, “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”  In his letter to the Galatians churches Paul writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13).  One of my favorites is found in 1 Peter 1:22 where we read, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”  And then there is the passage that I have always considered a classic.  It is 1 John 4:7-12.  Please turn to that passage and follow along as I read:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

I could read more passages including the ones read as our Scripture reading this morning (John 13:31-35; Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:4-5), but I think these convey the picture––the picture of Christian community drawn by the NT.

Yesterday was homecoming at Texas Tech, and I loved the homecoming item featured on the front page of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.  Many of you will have seen the picture there of Broadway’s own Norman Igo with two of his friends.  Those three guys were the top officers graduating from Texas Tech’s ROTC class back in 1943.  They all went on to serve in the Army during World War II.  They have a friendship that spans over 60 years.  They have a reunion every year on the Friday before Tech’s homecoming, and then they attend the homecoming football game together.  The article focuses upon the friendship of those three Tech alumni, and I love the final few lines.  Those lines refer to Norman’s friend, Robert Skinner, and report:

“It was the friendship forged by war that Skinner remembers the most, he said . . . .  ‘We were drawn together with a common bond,’ he said of his common friendship with Igo and Neel.  We get together and tell lies.  We could go on and on.  That shows you the connection we have” (October 19, 2002, p A11).

And connections like those were actually vital in winning World War II.

A few months ago, 21st Century Christian Magazine carried an article written by Clifford H. Swenson.  Swenson is a Professor Emeritus of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University.  His article was entitled “The Healing Power of the Group.”  Listen to what Swenson reported regarding the connections of soldiers:  “During World War II, the War Department commissioned a social science study of why soldiers fight.  After extensive study, they concluded that the main reason soldiers fight is for their group:  their squad, platoon, or company” (vol. 65 [March/April 2002], p 16).  What kept them slogging through the horrible conditions that many of them experienced?  What kept them battling on?  What kept them at it when friends died horrific deaths?  The main thing was their commitment to the friends who remained, their commitment to the group that was their community during those incredibly tough days.

Brothers & sisters, we are in a war.  I know we feel safe and protected in here.  There are no external indications right now that we are at war, but we are.  We are at war with dark forces that seek to damn us all.

I lived through the Viet Nam war, but I was never drafted.  I’m glad; but I’m fairly certain that if I had fought in that war and had never been accepted by my company, then I would have died.  I would have not found a reason to carry on, to avoid the bullets, to fight with the necessary commitment and passion.  I would have been little more than a sitting duck.

We want no one here to be a sitting duck.  We want everyone to have a genuine community in which they are cared for and in which they are able to care for others.

Without community, many of us will fall.  Some times the only thing that keeps us fighting this war is our love for one another.  We get tired.  Satan’s arguments begin to convince.  Our holy fervor begins to wane.  Then we look around at all the people we love.  We think about them falling into the black hole of ungodliness because of our spiritual treason.  We wake up; we open our hearts again to the righteous power of the Holy Spirit, and we battle on.  We battle on because of the community of faith.

I read a story this week about a hard-nosed army nurse in charge of an Orthopedic Ward during the Viet Nam war.  Most of that ward’s patients were soldiers who had experienced traumatic amputations.  She would not allow her nurses to cry.  She believed that those in care needed strength from their nurses.  There was no time for their own feelings to show.  One day a very young soldier came in who was badly injured.  There was no way he was going to make it.  He was so badly wounded, and he must have been in excruciating pain, but he never screamed or complained.  He asked the head nurse if he was going to die.  She asked him if he thought he was going to die.  He said that he did.  “Do you pray?” she asked him.  “I know now I lay me down to sleep.”  She said, Good, that’ll work.”  He asked her to hold his hand while he prayed, and when he did that something inside the nurse snapped.  She said that she would do better than that.  She knew that she would catch flak for it, but she got onto the bed with him.  She kissed him on the check and together they said, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  Then the soldier looked up at the nurse and said, “I love you, Momma, I love you.”  Then he died in her arms, peacefully and quietly, as if he really had just gone to sleep.  She got off of his bed.  With a scowl on her face she looked around daring anyone to give her a hard time.  But all the corpsmen and nurses were breaking her rule.  They were all crying silently with tears filling their eyes or rolling down their cheeks.  The nurse could not bear for the standard army telegram to be the only means of this boy’s mother being told about her son’s death.  So she wrote a letter, and let the mother know that in his final moments he had been thinking about her.  Mostly she wanted his mother to know that he boy had not died alone.

When he asked to hold her hand, something inside the nurse snapped.  I think that something inside of us needs to snap or break or soften.  We are in a battle, and people get wounded.  Their faith is injured.  Their love for God takes hits.  Their confidence in the power of the Spirit is almost shot off.  We must be there.  We must be there in community praying, loving, strengthening, healing, building up, and supporting.  We want no one to be a sitting duck for Satan’s missiles.  We are in this together.  We are members of one another.  We are a living church of the living God!

I hope we will all “snap.”  I hope we will all soften.  I hope our hearts will break.  I hope we will all put aside whatever is in the way and “love one another deeply from the heart.”

If you need to come home to the Lord this morning, the door is wide open.  Please, come to Jesus.  Come now as stand and sing.

 

  

 

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