Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church

Homecoming at Carthage: A Celebration of Return

October 25th, 2010 by Pastor David Echelbarger

On October 10, Pastor Dave was invited to return to Carthage College to preach at worship in the Siebert Chapel on the occasion of homecoming.  He graduated from Carthage many years ago and this was a very special return.  The assigned text for the day was Luke 17:11-19, where Jesus encounters ten lepers and sends them away to show themselves to the priests.  On the way they discover they have been healed.  One of them a foreigner, immediately returns to thank Jesus in person.   Following is a transcription of Pastor Dave’s sermon.

Here we are at homecoming and I was thinking, I have never preached a homecoming sermon before – but then, upon further review, I realized that’s all I have ever really preached.  Coming together as a community we continue our journey – home.

Whenever we return home, it is a journey in reflection and today certainly is no different.   Some thirty-five years ago I left here and went to seminary.  Periodically through the years, I have come back for various functions, and even to watch my son run against Carthage as a member of another college’s track team (in terms of college selection – couldn’t quite get him to see the light).   Then two years ago, we moved back to this area to pastor Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church in Racine – and it has been amazing to come home to Carthage after a long journey.

Some of you have returned for this weekend, and some of you never left, while others are embarking on your college education and maybe one day will return here again, after a year perhaps or after thirty-five.   It is fascinating to return and experience this coming together.

When I walk on campus and pass the students walking where I once walked, when I see the lake, I am simply going back in time, and I expect to pass my former myself – the memories are that vivid.  Part of us never really leaves.  Homecoming is all I ever preach.

The ten lepers did not dare approach Jesus – they knew to keep their distance, but they cried out: “Jesus master, have mercy on us!”   And then Jesus gave them instructions.  He directed them to go and show themselves to the priests.  And following orders, they did just that.  Now that may have been necessary to receive a clean bill of health to re-enter the community – so they could go home.  They were doing what they were supposed to do and what they needed to do.     

Once upon a time, we graduated and we experienced the joy of that day and we followed the direction that has been set before us.  We were directed to leave.  As students we come in order to leave, to be sent – to use what we have received and to spread the values that we have experienced here into the wider world.  We are sent. 

The lepers were sent and were following instructions and on the way they were healed.  Chances are we have discovered the real meaning of what we have received here when we were on the way to other aspects of our lives.  The lepers discovered their healing when they were on the way – their sudden wholeness that became fully expressed on their directed journey by the one who healed them.  Nine of them were good at following instructions and they did exactly what Jesus said.  But there was one who could not contain himself, the gift was so real, the healing so unexpected (he was a foreigner), that he leaped outside of the box and he just had to go home – to continue the relationship.

An old translation from a Psalm puts it this way: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were digged.”  He spun around and he went home to the source.   He went home.

I don’t know if it was a premonition or what, but long before I moved back here, I had one of those reoccurring dreams.  Ever had those?  This one was that suddenly for whatever reason I had to repeat college as an adult.  I had to come back to Carthage and live in the dorms all over again –  as an adult. And this was not a good dream.  Now don’t misunderstand, I had a very good experience here.  I had incredible attention from faculty – and campus pastors – who were willing and eager to have a relationship with me outside of the walls of the classroom, and they opened doors for me into worlds and dimensions of thoughts and experience that I never knew existed.  They walked me through a faith crisis, and intellectual quandaries and most importantly gave me a love for education and learning that has been life long.  I remember the day, in an anthropology class my sophomore year, when said to myself, “I just love this. I’m not doing this just to get a degree so I can do something else, I love this in itself.” I have continued to discover this meaning as I have been on the way to where I have been directed.  It was great, but nothing I wanted to repeat – go to college again as an adult?  Room mates again?  Oh please.  Finals?  If I ever think I’m having a tough day, I remember finals and suddenly everything gets better.  The going through all that again – the ordering of a pizza to be delivered from Villa de Carlos (mistake) and when it arrived, it came with everyone else on your floor begging for just one piece!   No, we come back much different than we left. We come back to remember and to give thanks.  The return to give thanks allows us to become aware of our blessing: a coming together with friends, with a place, with our faith.  A coming home with thanksgiving continues the relationship.  

It is good to come back and open our eyes, and pass ourselves and let memories flow, and more importantly realize that the gifts received here were meant to be shared and if joy brings us home for a time to look at the quarry from which we were digged – well then maybe we want to become part of that joy – so others will experience what we have.   Perhaps we’ve suddenly come to realize that it’s time to stop the trajectory we’re on and go back for a moment return to the root: the faith, the values, the commitment, of what we experienced here.  To come together and simply give thanks.  This act of thanksgiving changes us, increases our awareness as it completes the journey, the great circle to home.   We have come together in worship, we have come home to grace, that opens the door wide to other worlds, intellectual freedom, the wonder of discovery – that is our heritage from this rock!

We were on our way.  Our Lord has sent us out.  On the way we discover the healing presence that is always part of us.  It is good to be outward directed – but be it a dream, or a call, or whatever – the moment comes and we return – to walk the steps of a former life, to come home.  Preaching homecoming is all I ever do, as we return again and again to the one who heals, and sends us out to do likewise.  Amen.

Space Ship Church