Stir Up Sunday

Today is the last Sunday of the church year, next week the year begins with the first Sunday in Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Our collect today reminds us that it is ‘Stir Up Sunday’ a Sunday synonymous with Christmas puddings.

The great cry ‘stir up’ was a reminder to congregations to get the Christmas pudding made in plenty of time to mature before Christmas. An important addition to the mixture is a coin, whoever gets it on their plate on Christmas Day should get worldly riches heaped upon them.

However, the Stir Up prayer is actually asking God for something much more important. We are praying that God will stir up our wills, so that we might get on with doing the good works that he has planned for us to do. Then, as a consequence, we pray that we might receive our abundant reward.

In an age when so much is about how we feel, it is interesting to get another perspective. In the end, it is our will, rather than our feelings, that is the most important governor of our actions. Real love is not about feeling it is about choosing, by our wills, to do good to others even though we may not feel good towards them.

Our feelings should not dominate our wills. And so we pray that God will “stir up” our wills, so that they will be in charge of us, doing what we know is right. In this prayer we recognize that we need God’s help in order for our wills to function properly.

Because of the first words of the Collect for the Day, this Sunday has for a long time been called Stir-Up Sunday. Why is it so named?

Is it a day when the preacher is called upon to ask God to stir up his people, or is it just a quaint tradition where people take the first words, forget the message but remember to stir the mixture for their Christmas puddings, their Christmas cakes, their mince pies or whatever their tradition leads them to do?

Traditionally, the church was the focus of the respectable society, but that isn’t the case any more. To be honest, I’m not sure that our society does have such a focus any more. Perhaps that is part of the problem.

The other thing I put to you is the question of why are you here if your motivation is not to worship the God I have just described, and who completely overcame Saint John as he wrote “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins – to him be glory and power for ever and ever.”

That’s why we come here: to worship God, to learn more about Him and to share in prayer, in fellowship and in friendship with God’s people here. Without this fellowship and worship, we are as the grape, as it dries and becomes a raisin. Still good, but not as full of life.

It’s hard to be stirred up. If I may, for a moment, take the picture of a baking mixture, whatever it is, I know that it is hard to stir it up. You have to mix together the flour and the water and the sugar and the yeast and the salt and the butter and it’s not easy. The mixture is very stiff, and hard to move.

Stirring up the single ingredients to make a useful whole is not an easy task, and I guess that’s why we need to pray for God to stir each one of us up so that as a church we can make a useful whole.

These things take time. We look back from near the end of two thousand years to a church which has struggled against many things in many different ages. We look back to the Romans at the time of our Lord Jesus himself and just after, those who would execute people simply for being followers of The Way.

We look at the dark ages when the light of the Gospel burned exceedingly dim, when so much of God and of secular knowledge was lost or forgotten, to the times when Islam has been on the march and to our present age when the world is teaching principles so totally opposed to the clear Christian messages that so many people are turning away from the church.

Our Gospel reading shows Christ stirring up people too.

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.

And Pilate responds…You are a king then!

As time goes on, more and more people are stirred up and recognize who Christ is. Even at the crucifixion, one of the soldiers recognizes him and cries out “truly he was the son of God”.

Of course he’s a King. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. And we had better remember that, not just each Sunday as we come to worship God at our church. Not just when we are cooking or eating. Not just when we are doing good deeds or when we are praying.

We must be stirred up, aroused, excited, stimulated by our great God, not just on the last Sunday of the church’s year, but at all times, wherever we are.

23rd Sunday after Trinity

Church and State. God and Caesar.

“Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?” Jesus is the focus of a hatred so great in today’s Gospel, that the Pharisees, nationalists, and Herodians, sympathizers with Rome, have put aside their mutual antipathy and joined in an effort to entrap him and arouse the people against him.0

They think they’ve found the perfect ruse. Get Jesus to oppose taxes and earn the anger of the Romans and their minions. Get him to support taxes and arouse the ire of the nationalists. The object: eliminate this troublemaker from their midst.

As he does so often in the Scriptures, our Lord leaves his opponents and attackers stunned by his responses. He masterfully recognizes their “bad faith”, while teaching, as only God can, the simple truth that they, as desperately as all mankind, need to hear.

At first glance, one might think that Christ displays his wisdom only in throwing a plum to both sides in the national dispute. The Romans want their taxes, while the Jews want their religion and recognition of the kingship of God. Above and beyond this, our Lord speaks to them, and to men of every age, who become ensnared in competing loyalties and forget that kingship belongs to God omnipotent.

Men rule at God’s good pleasure. “You would have no power…unless it had been given you from above.” (Jn 19:11) Jesus Christ is universal king; men are blessed to share in his authority.

We have in our own day an abundance of conflicts between Church and state. Is a matter political or religious? If it’s deemed political, many believe, the Church should have nothing to say. Attempts to muzzle God go back to the beginning of salvation history. The prophets were put to death for speaking God’s truth long before the Pharisees and Herodians tried to entrap and silence Christ.

The abortion issue, many say, is a political issue, and therefore a matter for Caesar alone. Men of God, it is said, should be silent. Human life, in fact, is a moral issue, and when the laws of men are immoral, attacking the laws of God and the sacredness of human life, then Godly men should shout from every rooftop, priests should preach from every pulpit, every believing man and woman should speak out and protest.

“Render…to God the things that are God’s.” All human life is sacred, from the hands of the creator. “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful, wonderful are thy works!” (Psalm 139) When Caesar’s laws are an abomination before God, then it is Caesar who must change.

Whether opposing the culture of death or any tyranny of the political order, the Christian gives first allegiance to the laws of God. “The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.

Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ (Mt 22:21) ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29)

If a child was trapped under a car, an upright man would plow through any opposition to save the life of that child. Any infant lying helpless under the bloody scalpel of a doctor-turned-murderer deserves no less. Pray for those engaged in peaceful, prayerful and non-violent protest against abortion.

Pray also for those who heroically risk imprisonment, beatings and torture to meet and counsel mothers and fathers on sidewalks everywhere to turn their hearts away from the temptation to murder their children

CONCLUSION

I am a citizen in two kingdoms, the kingdom of earthly power, my government, and the kingdom of God, my church. I owe each everything I have. It all is a gift of God and belongs to Him anyway.

All Saints Day

All_Saints_of_Trier-TrevesAfter this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes”

There has been an All Saints’ Day from at least the beginning of the 3rd century, and probably before that, from almost the beginning of the Church. The Western Church settled on the present date, November 1st, in the 9th century, where that Anglican’s have always had it.

There is much modern confusion about the meaning of the word “saint.” This confusion is due, in part, to movies about the Roman Catholic “canonization of saints,” as well as to a resurgence of interest in books about “the lives of the saints” or painted pictures of the saints such as icons.

But in reality, a saint is simply a human being, living or dead, that God has chosen for eternal life, and upon whom God has lavished his grace. We are all Saints in the making. We should find comfort in the continuous keeping of a holy day this old, as we consider our God-given hope and our call to saintliness in Christ.

We should remember with joy and thanksgiving the generations before us that answered Christ’s call and received the grace to become his saints. When we are afraid, we can ponder the fact that there is no trial or tribulation that we can face in our own lives that some Christian before us has not conquered gloriously.

As we praise God for the victory that he has given to the saints now gathered around his throne in heaven, we can imagine some future All Saints’ Day, if our Lord does not return to end the business of this world during our lifetime on earth, when our descendants will praise God in heaven for the lives we are living now, and for the victory that Christ began to give us openly on the day of our Baptism, and continues in us today, if we are faithful.

Humility about ourselves is a great virtue, but humility about God is a great sin. We may be as humble and modest about ourselves as we like. In fact, there is probably something dreadfully wrong with us if we can’t find a great deal in our lives to be humble and modest about.

As Christians, however, God is the great, beating heart of our lives. God is our life itself. It is from God that our lives have come, and it is to God that our lives are going. Christians ought to boast about God: to boast about God’s greatness and mercy; to boast about what God is doing in our lives as he restores them according to his purposes.

This kind of boasting is not only permitted by our religion, it is actually required. This kind of boasting is a witness to the Truth: to the truth of God in the Church; to the truth of God in the Scriptures; to the truth of God in the lives of the saints in heaven and in the lives of the saints on earth

And lest anyone should get the notion that Christians are swell-headed for claiming to be witnesses to God’s Truth, it is worth observing that the word for “witness” in the original Greek of the New Testament is “martyr.”

It is frankly impossible to talk about God and his saints without also talking about blood—not simply because so many that we revere as saints have witnessed unto blood to the Truth of Jesus Christ, at the cost of their lives, but because holiness and blessedness are themselves matters of blood.

The word saint is the English form of the Latin word for “holy,” which comes from the same Latin word as sacrifice. These words translate the Greek word for “holy,” used before Christians spoke either Latin or English; and it is, itself, only a translation of the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament.

What all these words have in common is that whoever or whatever is “holy” is set apart for the exclusive use of God, is consecrated to him, is God’s possession, and is meant to be as separate from the fallen and profane world around us as God is.

While it is the action of God, the Holy Ghost, that makes a person or thing holy, the outward and visible sign of this spiritual reality is blood. Sacrifice means “to make holy”; and the word blessed, used so many times in this morning’s Gospel of the Beatitudes, comes from the English word blood, as a form of the English word bloodshed, and means literally “to consecrate with blood.”

The Old Testament tells us that the blood is the life (Deut. 12:23), and that it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul (Lev. 17:11). In the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews combines these facts to remind us: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). Blood, literally “washing with blood,” is the outward sign of holiness.

“Holy” isn’t something we become through our own good works, or through anything else we can do for ourselves. Holiness is a gift from God. We are made holy by Christ, as he pours out his own Blood to cover our sinfulness and weakness.

In the vision of heaven from the Revelation of St. John with which we began, there is one thing only that unites the saved multitudes of all nations, kindreds, and peoples, and tongues before the throne of God. All in that multitude have been washed in the Blood of Jesus Christ; all have been made holy by the grace of God; all are saints in Jesus Christ.

A saint, then, is only this: a human being who belongs to God, who has been set apart from the world by the Blood of Jesus Christ, shed on a cross and received in the Holy Communion. Nobody else is a saint, and there is no other qualification. We are holy because of God’s action in our lives, or we are not.

Please today, let us remember all of the Saints in our lives.