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.
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