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.