Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sixteenth after Pentecost, and "Round Up" Sunday

Luke 14: 25-33 (Proper18C2)

“Round Up Sunday,” and what a great day always for us here at St. Andrew’s—every fall, and perhaps especially this fall.  

A thunderstorm at the beginning of the week on Labor Day, and some cooler northern air, summer mostly in the rearview mirror—new energy in so many ways.  Back to school, work, the pace picking up all around us.  Pirates marching toward October! 

And I say “especially for us this fall” mindful of the renewal and renovations that we are already experiencing here in this great place of worship and parish life.  Unseen but so important, the floors braced up underneath our feet now for another two or three centuries, and then these beautiful flooring surfaces of wood and tile, the restored doors, the recovery of what is traditionally called the “Bride’s Room” entry, as a companion to the Groom’s Room as it was developed a couple of years ago in honor of our good friend Fr. Bill Marchl as fully-accessible entryway.  

How bright the singing sounds in here now—our fabulous choir, after the summer break, and I think our congregational singing sounds fuller and richer now too.  O Lord, open thou our lips, and our mouth shall show forth thy praise.  

And we see all the construction going on next door in the Parish House--how much more we will have to celebrate as the year before us rolls along.  A welcoming entry, full accessibility to all floors, expanded meeting space for congregational activities and for our partners in the neighborhood.  My image has been to say that we are “increasing our bandwidth.”  Round Up Sunday always a day that points to great things in the life of this congregation in the year ahead, but especially this year, and I hope you feel it too.  The engines are revving up!

It is an extravagant investment of the precious resources of the families of this congregation and in our wider extended family.  I am humbled truly by the generosity and the enthusiasm and the vision that the people of St. Andrew’s are showing.  Past the million-dollar mark now, which is amazing, and well on our way to the goal.  Not there yet, but well on our way.  The confidence not just in the present moment, but the confidence in the important future that God has in mind for us.  This all so much about vocation and stewardship and above all mission.  I mean, read this leaflet this morning!  Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said that the Church is a unique institution in our society and our economy because it exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.  And I’m so pleased about what our Mission and Outreach leadership folks have prepared for us today.  Just hints in the leaflet, more outside at the picnic!  Building on the foundation of our work with Five Talents to expand our engagement with mission in Peru.  Beginning a new mission partnership with the redevelopment of the ministry of the Episcopal Church at St. James in the Penn Hills.  Godly Play and Tweens and Teens, Bible Study, Choir, Music.  In so many ways, putting God’s love into action for those in need both near and far.    Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

This Opening Doors Campaign not about what we will have when we’re done with all this construction, but about what God the Holy Spirit is going to do with us, with his Church.  Think about the first words of the Prayer of St. Francis that we pray together on Morning Prayer Sundays and so at the end of our service this morning.  Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Lord, use us to do your work.  Use us, use this church and our worship, these meeting rooms, ramps, elevator, all of it.  Use us.  Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.  That we might be witnesses to the life of the one who was promised, witnesses to Jesus, that we might be witnesses to his saving death on the cross, dying in our place, and then raised from the dead, as God’s first sign to us of what new life in him is all about.  Send us out to do the work you have given us to do.

That all might seem like a lot to read into a new floor and ramps and an elevator and some new restrooms and meeting spaces out here in our little East End neighborhood.  To equip us for the mission that Christ has called us to as his Body.  But I actually don’t think it is.  You know the story of the vocational moment of St. Francis of Assisi.  He knelt in prayer outside the ruins of the church in that little town and heard Jesus speaking to him, “rebuild my church.”  So he got the contractors and the bricklayers and all the rest, and that’s what he did.  But it turned out God wasn't finished with that project.  

More to do, with an impact of rebuilding and renewal not simply of an ancient church building—but of truly the character of Christian life across the world and over centuries.  Drop one stone in a pond, and the ripples spread out farther than we can imagine. I think and I believe that God has great things in mind for us beginning here also and beginning today.  Round up Sunday.  Opening Doors at St. Andrew’s.  Rebuild my church.  He’s doing those great things already, and there’s more to come.

Just right to hear the challenging word for us this Round Up Sunday from the Second Lesson, the reading from Luke 14.  Those startling words at the beginning about what can feel like the dramatic, painful costs of discipleship.  The question is, “how much can I keep for myself, Jesus, while following you?  And the answer that Jesus gives reminds me of conversations that I have with couples as they prepare for marriage.  To say, there is no “prenup” for this relationship, in our life as members of the one Body of his Church. Some of my clergy colleagues have an absolute policy that they will not preside at a marriage service for a couple if there is a pre-nuptial financial agreement.  

I’m not quite so absolute, and I know I have at least twice done so, when it seemed like family circumstances really required it.  But I’m sympathetic to those who are more absolute.  No holding back.  No days off.  We sometimes say that the Church is the Bride of Christ, that marriage itself is intrinsically related to the covenant between Christ and his Church, and here we get some of the details.  For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be faithful all our life long.  What Jesus is talking about here in Luke 14.  And the last line of the reading.  “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  An echo perhaps in the old marriage service, as the groom says to the bride: “with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”  In the new service, as rings are exchanged, “with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you.”  

All, everything.  What kind of a marriage would it be, if this were not so?   I commit myself to you, 88%.

There is something both scary and exciting about being all in.  Putting everything on the line.  Not holding back.  Not leaving anything on the table.  Deep breath, and then letting go. 

Jesus saying to his disciples here, and to us, let’s not underestimate what this is all about.  What we are together.  What we’re about here isn’t a hobby, a spare time special interest, an entertainment. 

It’s about him giving everything for us for the sake of the whole world, and about us giving everything for him, heart and mind and strength, as the saying goes, 24/7/365.  With all that I am, with all that I have.

Next Sunday young Max Kampmeyer will be baptized—baptism #14 in our Parish Register for 2013, which is a great and almost astonishing number for a little parish like ours--and what I’ll say to and for him as he is anointed with Holy Oil in the freshness of New Birth, dying with Christ and then rising in the power of the Holy Spirit—what I’ll say to him then is what I hope we will all hear this Round Up Sunday morning.  The story of Samuel anointing David in Bethlehem, so long ago.  Again and again, right here at this font and in this congregation and out these open doors and into the wide world.  God has great things in mind for you, for us. Great things!  

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