Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fifteenth after Pentecost: "Round Up" Sunday

 (Proper 18B2) Isaiah 35: 4-7; Mark 7: 24-37

Grace and peace and good morning on this festive day.  Doesn’t appear as a major observance on any ecclesiastical calendar that I’ve ever seen, yet perhaps one of the most universally celebrated, at least in the American Church, and across all denominations and with all shades of churchmanship.  Rally Day, Start-up Sunday, and here at St. Andrew’s for a number of years the “Round Up.”  A nice image as we move on into the fall and gather in the flock, or I guess the herd, to go with the cowboy-wild west vocabulary, after a long summer of grazing in the high country and in the mountains and at the shore and even on the sunny banks of the Highland Park Pool. 

We’ve had “back to school” pretty much everywhere by now, and so this morning too, and with thanks to Pete Luley for gathering in the strays of the choir and to Liz Buchanan and all for the work of getting a new year up to speed and to the starting line for our families and children and youth.  Should be a great picnic this afternoon, and as I look over the calendar for the fall of 2012 at St. Andrew’s I can say it will be a great year around here for all of us.  Thanks to all of you, and with prayers that God will receive and bless all the gifts and creative energies that are offered here at St. Andrew’s always to his honor and glory.

So good!  A short sermon, so we can get to the picnic.  And just to pause over these two readings this morning as background music for this Round Up day.  From Isaiah, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.”  How beautiful is that?  Isaiah sees the calamity that is to befall the nation and people, destruction, loss.  The harsh consequence of infidelity, failures of godly leadership, greed and corruption.  From the Covenant and marriage feast at Sinai, now the Chosen People forgetting, even choosing to forget, who they truly are.  Losing sight of the one thing necessary.  But Isaiah sees past that as well, to the long loving purposes of God, whose will and nature it is to love, forgive, restore, to heal and to bless.  God remains God.  Loving and true.  As present now as he ever was.  No life a wasteland too far gone, not for the Chosen People, nor for any of us. 

And so the New Israel is born in Christ Jesus, as this ancient vision of Isaiah is made manifest as Jesus in St. Mark moves in this stately procession, crossing ancient boundaries of custom and law to the Gentile Lebanese coastlands of Tyre and Sidon and then past the great new cities of Roman Palestine toward his home in the Galilee.  And you see what happens.  The unclean spirit haunting and inhabiting the daughter of the SyroPhoenician woman is cast out, the deaf and dumb man is healed as he is touched by the Savior.  “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”  How beautiful is that?

Every December our Hampton Street neighbors down at St. Raphael’s in Morningside put up a big sign that asks us to remember that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”  Of course true for Advent and Christmas, which can for many of us get to be such a time of distraction, in the whirl of holiday festivities and shopping and gifts and travel and special events.  But if it’s true for Advent and Christmas, it’s true for Round Up Sunday too, and the fall, for today and tomorrow and for every day.  For every day.  

Mark must have had Isaiah in the back of his mind as he shared these stories, and we would have Isaiah in mind too, and then as fulfillment these moments in Mark, as we gather here with our family and friends and then as we go forth into all the unfolding story of our lives this afternoon and in the days to come.

The call to remember that Jesus is the Reason.  His life, his death, his resurrection.  And what is he doing in the world right now?  What is he doing in your life, in mine?  Reflecting as our Choir has sung for us that wonderful setting of the ancient hymn.  He sitteth at the Right Hand of the Father.  We believe that he shall come and be our judge.  We therefore pray thee, help thy people, whom thou has redeemed with thy precious blood.  Make them to be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting.

The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame leap like a deer, the speechless sing for joy.  Streams in the desert, and the burning ground shall become a pool.  In him the impure spirits are cast out, and there is healing and forgiveness, blessing and peace.

So picnics in the Churchyard, songs in the Choir.  Round Up Sunday.  The kids upstairs learning new ways to tell the old stories.  How beautiful is that?  If they ask us why, we can say we read it on a sign down at St. Raphael’s, or we can invite them to read the message for themselves as it is written all around us in lives that are dedicated to him.  “Jesus is the Reason.”

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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