STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by thee be plenteously rewarded… .
(Collect: ‘Stir Up’ Sunday)
Today we leave behind us the fertile green season of Trinity and prepare for the penitential season of Advent. This is Stir UpSunday,and on it, we are called to be stirred up, or aroused, awakened, alerted, and agitated, as God summons us to prepare once again for the birth of Christ the Word in the Church. Today we hope to continue our spiritual growth, the seeds planted in Trinity, by turningour gaze towards our spiritual roots. Christmas is about the birth and new life of God’s Word in our souls, so today is about being stirred up for Advent’s repentance and death. So let us see if we can discover how to be stirred upspiritually in order to have a clearer view of what lies before us on the road back to God’s Kingdom.
Our task does not seem easy. The world we inhabit surrounds us with ideas and notions that frustrate our faith in the Kingdom that is not of this world.These days, traditional Christianity seems to be somewhat regarded as an old straight-jacket that must be cast off for an opennesseither to all of the world’s other great religionsor to the prevailing winds of relativistic emotion that dogmatically insists that one way is biased. (To be honest, they mean the Christian way!)This is because what moves post-moderns most is feeling, emotion, and sensation. Post-modern man cannot abide the conflict that necessarily results from taking a stand, holding to a position, or believing whole-heartedly in one system and not another. The will to power is behind it all. It emerges frominterior insecurity which is fearful of any suggestion that one way might be right and the others wrong. Because he lacks inner authenticity and integrity, post-modern man lashes out at any challenge to the much easier accommodationof all.Post-modern man cannot stand to be challenged since then he might have to think! And because his real inner fear is free thought, post-modern man cannot be stirred upto find the faith in what he does not yet see. For faith is an argument about things unseen. (Heb. 11.1)And one needs this faith to see the absolute need for God and then to desire more and more of His rule, governance, and power in human life.
Of course, the need for God or the dependence of all life upon Him is neither an idea unique to Christianity nor inimical to reason. Long before Christ’s Incarnation, the ancient world found evidence that He alone creates, governs, and sets into motion the whole of the physical universe. Men followed the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, and galaxies in search of God and His truth. In the currents of the seas, the winds of the air, the power of fire, and in the earth’s good harvest they found evidence of God’s guiding wisdom and attentive love. They were stirred up, if you will, by the discovery of a knowledge they did not create and whose truth they never fully understood. They dug deep into the earth, sailed the seven seas, and climbed the highest mountain peaks testing the limits of their natures and hoping to find God. Ancient man was so stirred up by what he encountered in nature that he set about to govern the created order. Having tamed and redirected nature into the service of his needs, still, he was restless and stirred up by the longing to learn more about the God he was discovering. Ancient man was diligently determined to discover the divine mind and heart that lurked behind the curious complexity of creation.
But ancient man learned also that such a quest or search is never without its perils and dangers. It is always a temptation to settle for less when it is hardto seek for more. If the truth that we find is not fodder for a faith whose increasing curiosity and wonder always search for God’s will and way, we shall stop growing intellectually and spiritually. The great Greek hero Odysseus learned this the hard way. He could not return home to Ithaca from the Trojan War until he had learned much more of who he should be in relation to the gods. His detractors thought him a fool. But he was forever stirred up by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, to learn more in the hot and fiery caldron of adversity. Odysseus was stirred up because he dared to believe that there was so much more to know and learn to make him a much better man for his nation and for his people.
Like Odysseus, the Jewish prophet Jeremiah stands out as an example of one who is stirred upby God because he hankers, hungers, and hopes always for the more that God promises to offer to His people. Jeremiah lived six hundred years before the birth of Christ amidst a people who had given themselves over to unbelief, compromise, and despair. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Israel and Judah from the east. The Jews fell prey to their enemies without because their hearts and souls had failed to love and desire God from within.
Yet, in the midst of it all, Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, was stirred upby the call of the Word of God. Jeremiah was stirred up bythe nearness of God’s Word: Before I formed thee in the belly knew thee and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jer. i. 5) Like Odysseus, Jeremiah became startled and struck by the providence of God his maker. Over and against God’s persistent presence and power, he saw a people possessed by sin and unbelief. But, still Jeremiah heard God’s still small voice. What stirred him up was God’s desire for His people. God’s Wordwas calling Jeremiah forward to hope in a future when God’s promises would be fulfilled. Jeremiah would prophesy and proclaim:
BEHOLD, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David
a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall
execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be
saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he
shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jer. 23.5)
Jeremiah knew that man was made to find communion with God. Jeremiah knew also that human suffering was no reason to abandon God. He told of the coming of a King who would fulfill God’s promise by bringing salvation and deliverance. He stirred up Jeremiah to discern and perceive that God the Savior would save His people.
So Jeremiah was stirred up, shaken, and alerted to the need for God’s redemption of the world which lives, and moves, and has [its] being [in Him](Idem). Jeremiah had a vision of the eternal desire that makes and moves the universe. Jeremiah knew that the same God longs to save His people. He knew too that every human being is made to be stirred up to find God’s love in that infinite passion that will come down from Heaven in Jesus Christ to save us.
But how can we get as stirred up as Jeremiah? Jeremiah’s needfor God became his deepest desire. Perhaps we too need to start discovering our real need for God. Like the ancients, like Jeremiah, and like the people in today’s Gospel, we ought to realize that suffering should not drive us away from God but to Him! We might not be suffering under the alien tyranny of a foreign power like the Jews. But maybe the alien power that rules and governs our society belongs to Satan. Maybe the Devil is moving us to worship gods who are strangers and aliens to God’s truth. They try to convince us that earthly and worldly gods alone can fulfill our spiritual hunger. Perhaps they are like the Sirens who tried to detain Odysseus with earthly lust and sensuality against his intended spiritual destiny.
Or maybe they are like the Apostles in today’s Gospel, who are too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good! Five thousand men have been following Jesus to hear His Word. They grow hungry and the Apostles, naturally enough, jump to an earthly reasoning. Then St. Philip comes to the conclusion thattwo hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. (St. John vi. 7)Philip had already witnessed so many of Jesus’ miracles. Yet, look here. He is notstirred up at allto have faith in God’s provision. Jeremiah says,I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light…. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of air had fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger. For thus hath the Lord said, the whole land shall be desolate…. (Jer iv. 23-27) Jeremiah saw that the creation could not help him. He realized that the creation is a desolate desert that flees at the presence of God because He alone can stir us up.
Today, we must be stirred up to see that only the Lord can foster and foment faith out of unbelief, hope out of despair, love out of hate, good out of evil, and life out of death.Today we bring our hunger and thirst, our wants, our needs, our sin, our sadness, our pain, and our suffering to the feet of our Savior. Let us be stirred up enough to prepare for God’s coming in Jesus Christ. The One who has taken barley loaves and fishes and fed the five thousand, what shall He do for us if we put our whole trust and confidence in Him? In our Collect for today, we pray, Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people. (Idem) God calls us to have a change of heart and to turn our attention to him in an act of will. We then pray that having turned towards Him, we might plenteously bring forth good works. (Idem) These are the works of watching and waiting for God, like the prophet Jeremiah. Watching and waiting might seem rather passive. They are not. They are active virtues that are stirred to eagerly anticipate the coming of God in Jesus Christ. They are active virtues that in all humility surrender to God’s power and wisdom. With them alone can we be plenteously rewarded because we have suffered to learn what God will do for His people.
Thy faith hath made thee whole…
In the course of the green season –when the Church emphasizes spiritual growth and fertility, we read much about the miracles of Jesus. Our English word miracle is a translation from the Greek word dunamis, and it means mighty work or power. Archbishop Trench says that a miracle is an outcoming of the mighty power of God, which is inherent in Christ himself, that great power of God. (Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. ) A miracle is a manifestation of God’s power, through Jesus Christ, His expressed Word, and by the power of the Holy Ghost. Most of the miracles found in Scripture can be traced to Christ in the days of His Incarnation. They are manifestations and revelations of God’s power, which are effected directly or indirectly through Christ himself. John Donne tells us that there is in every miracle a silent chiding of the world, and a tacit reprehension of them that require, or who need, miracles.(Trench, p. 16)
Miracles are offered from God to man in order to remind us of that power which we are habitually in danger of forgetting. This is the power that must, at times, startle and shake us out of an otherwise somnolent and sleepy spiritual sloth. Through miracles, God reveals Himself to the Jews. Through miracles, God reveals Himself, in Jesus Christ, to their descendants. Through miracles, we find that curative dynamism that intends to reveal a power that carries man from nature back to God. What is a man to be healed of, you might ask? Everyman is to be healed of anything that stands between him and his Maker. The particular instance of healing is not what is important. God intends His power to elicit from man a deeper consciousness of his absolute need for and dependence upon His Maker for his salvation and deliverance.
In today’s Gospel lesson we read of two miracles which should encourage us to seek out the power of God in Jesus Christ for our own lives. We read of one healing that is sought out personally by the sufferer and another vicariously through entreaty and prayer. First, we find healing that is sought out desperately on behalf of another. Second, we find the disposition of one who must interrupt and help us to better understand that disposition that seeks out healing in the first place. The second healing that we read about today in the woman with the issue of blood interrupts and instructs the ruler who seeks out his daughter’s healing. Thus the power of God is obtained by one who then teaches the other about what the spiritual nature ought to be that seeks out healing for the self and others.
First, of course, there is the ruler who comes to Jesus, honors him, and begs him to come down to heal his daughter who has just died. My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. (St. Matthew ix.18) And so Jesus arises and with His disciples follows the man to fulfill his request. Then something interrupts their journey so that Jesus can reveal to the ruler what should have preceded his intercession for his daughter. Remember, the order of the healings is all important. As Jesus journeys towards the ruler’s house, someone touches Him. Behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him and touched the hem of his garment: for she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. (St. Matthew ix. 20,21) Situated between the ruler’s petition and Jesus’ effective response to it, is another kind of character. Christ knows that the interruption will teach the ruler about a virtue that he needs.
So the woman with an issue of blood twelve years interrupts the journey into healing for the benefit of our enlightenment. This woman is, as it were, another self, placed between our prayers for others and God’s response to them. She is really an alter-ego of the ruler who desires that Jesus will resuscitate his daughter. She is what he ought to have been before he sought out Jesus for his loved one. She represents that spiritual character and disposition which must interject itself into the occasion of prayer before a man becomes fit and ready to pray for others.
So what does this mean? Think about it. How can we possibly approach God with worries and anxieties about others until He has made us right with himself? No doubt there is nothing wrong with wanting the healing of others and our loved ones. The example of the ruler provides us with real humility; here we find a man honored in the earthly city who stoops down to visit Jesus for a power that he did not possess. Yet is it enough to humble ourselves before Jesus with supplication for others? The woman in this morning’s Gospel furnishes us with a faith that seeks out Jesus first for the healing of her own soul. She needs Christ’s healing. She has suffered physically for twelve years. She is not too proud to stand out from the crowd and confess her own weakness. She knows that she cannot supplicate Christ for others until she has supplicated him for her own sins. She knows that she is sick and she seeks a cure. She cannot help herself and thinks herself far less worthy than the ruler. So she surmises that she might just touch the hem of Jesus’ coat in order to be healed. She is not only sick but lowly in her own eyes. She has spent her last mite on physicians trying to find a cure. So she pushes her way through the crowd in order to reach Jesus. She knows that because of who He is the very garments that cover His skin will be sufficient for her need. She touches him. Jesus, perceiving that virtue has gone out of Him (St. Luke viii. 46), says to her, daughter be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Matthew ix. 22) Jesus has sensed that one member out of many in the crowd has reached out to Him with a special kind of humility and faith. She is one whose humility reaches out for what it does not deserve but must obtain. So the woman’s character reveals to us that humble sense of unworthiness that knows even some brush with Jesus will elicit a healing that none other can give. She is a sign too of one whose faith reveals such trust that a mere touch with no words will be sufficient to find the cure that Jesus carries to all men.
A sick and sinful woman in need reached out to Jesus Christ with faith. There can be no doubt that Jesus was thronged by a multitude of sick, diseased, and sorry people. But one woman’s faith reaches out to touch Him in silent humiliation. The commentators remind us that she might have touched His garment, been healed, and gone away with a healing and restoration that was as concealed and hidden as her original disease. But Jesus would have none of it. The kind of faith that the woman used to procure Jesus’ miracle must be brought out into the open so that its earnest goodness might inspire others to imitation. This is the kind of faith that must travel out of fear and trembling into the clear light of God’s healing embrace. The woman with the issue of blood would have been banned from temple-worship and from participation in the religious life of the Jews by reason of her illness. She concluded that her illness was a result of her sin and that the healing of the ruler’s daughter was of far more importance than her own inconsequential and forgotten existence.
She hoped to remain in concealment out of a shame, which, however natural, was untimely in this the crisis of her spiritual life; but this hope of hers is graciously defeated. Her heavenly Healer draws her from the concealment she would have chosen; but even here, so far as possible, He spares her, for not before, but after she is healed, does He require the open confession from her lips. She might have found it perhaps altogether too hard had He demanded this of her before; but, waiting till the cure is accomplished, He helps her through the narrow way. Altogether spare her this painful passage He could not, for it pertained to her birth into the new life. (Trench, Ibid, 150)
Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole. (Idem) Her faith has conquered Jesus’ heart and procured His virtue. Her entry into new life must be a public and not a private affair.
The world is full of well-intended men who seek temporary relief from their sicknesses from experts, seers, sages, doctors, and philosophers who have all kinds of earthly knowledge. Those seeking out their services have tended to put body before soul and flesh before spirit. And thus it must be with the greatest interest that we turn our attention to today’s miracle story. For today we must learn to turn once again to Christ first with all of our ailments, sicknesses, and diseases of body, soul, and spirit. We must approach Christ with the deepest faith in His power to heal. Christ brings out the faith of the woman with the issue of blood in order to make public what must never be concealed or hidden in us. Christ desires to elicit a humble dependence and persistent faith that can help others to find Him also.
Many throng Christ; His in name; near to Him; in actual contact with the sacraments and ordinances of His Church; yet not touching Him, because not drawing nigh in faith, not looking for, and therefore not obtaining, life and healing from Him, and through these. (Trench, Ibid, 149)
We must approach Christ with hearts stirred by deepest faith and trust. That faith must be informed and defined by a real sense of our own sickness and thus the need for Christ’s cure. It will do no good to think that the substance of Christ’s Redemption is for other people and then with the healing of their bodily ailments or the postponement of death. Our salvation was paid for by the blood of the Son of God. Faith is NOT Speaking into Existence what WE want, it's BELIEVING and OBEYING what Jesus Christ wants for us. (Martha Mac)
So today let us in all humility with a sense of our utter unworthiness approach our Saviour for healing. With St. Paul, let us be filled with the knowledge of [Christ’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that [we] might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col. i. 9,10) And all of this because a woman with an issue of blood has taught us to reach out and touch the hem of Christ’s garment. Amen.
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