"Nostalgia and Newness"

January 14 was my first Sunday and sermon at Sardis Presbyterian. Leading up to that, I had been wondering who would show up. Frankly, every Sunday I wonder if anyone will show up! These days there are so many other possibilities for a Sunday morning and most of them are more interesting than one of my sermons. (Thank God for sanctuary choirs and worship bands!) But on January 14, I figured the “new pastor bump” would come into play and that attendance numbers bolstered by curious members would be further augmented by the new pastor having a lot of family in town who would feel obligated to visit Sardis and maybe some old friends would be there, too. Members, family, and friends did, indeed, show up in force and it was one of the most exciting days of my life. 

It has been a wonderfully strange month as I have experienced in equal measure the excitement of newness and overwhelming nostalgia. Those two things do not usually happen simultaneously. God has been blessing me with causes for joy in new ways and old ways daily. 

To date, the most emotional I have been was when I looked out from the pulpit on January 14 and saw at least a half dozen visitors who had been my Sunday school teachers and youth advisors long ago at Covenant Presbyterian, where they are still faithful members along with my mother. It was no surprise that my mother was there. Maybe I should not have been surprised to see the others, either. 

When an infant is baptized in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the congregation is asked the question: “Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture (NAME) by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging him/her to know and follow Jesus Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?”

51 years after my baptism, those same people who honored that promise through my childhood and teenage years were continuing to make good on that sacred commitment. I still need that. I don’t think I realized it. They did. The influence of my childhood pastor, Doug Oldenburg had a great deal to do with my call to ministry, but back then and still now, those adult volunteers who chose to take the baptismal promise seriously and actively are the ones who showed me what the church is supposed to be. 

On Sundays at Sardis, I see the kids and youth gathering for Sunday school or youth group with an impressive group of adults who have made that same sacred commitment to God and to them. I wonder if any of them realize how much that matters? Will the younger ones come back home sometime after college and with their church peers scattered across the country see their former teachers and church mentors as the most important familiar faces in their home church the way I have on rare visits back to Covenant over 32 years? Do those adults recognize the extraordinary impact their volunteer roles play in young lives and that their devotion now will have bearing on Christ’s church in this and other congregations for generations? It took a new home within my old one to really see that. Now that I think about it, though I was a little surprised to see them a month ago, I bet that if you had asked me when I was 18 if I thought they would show up for my first week at another church in Charlotte 32 years from then, I would have said, “Of course. They always have been the ones to show up for me.”

Our ancient faith in Jesus Christ promises new life. Nostalgia and newness. It is good to be home and God is good.

Joe B.