Sermon preached at St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church on the Sunday next before Advent.
“Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Liturgically speaking, this week we bring another year to a close, and like the great company who came unto Jesus in our Gospel Reading (Jhn.6:5-14), we admit that Jesus has given and revealed more to us than we could ever hope to finish (We have had a full year, and we have taken in as much as we can take in). We acknowledge how even after we’ve had our fill, there is still even more that we didn’t get to. Now, we figuratively gather up the remaining lessons of Jesus’ Holy Scriptures, just as the disciples gathered up the remaining loaves and fishes, that nothing be lost. So, we can use them again in a new year.
But something else happens to us when we have gotten our fill. Many of us suffered from a form of it this past Thursday afternoon – the desire to sluff off, or postpone, all duties just long enough to ease the food coma. This too has a parallel to our themes for this Stir Up Sunday – and that is the spiritual settling that kicks in when all of our immediate concerns are satisfied. Over the past year as we have seen prophecies revealed, miracles performed, and parables expounded upon, we have discovered so many satisfying truths about Jesus but instead of going out into the world and carrying out the bounden duties those truths place upon our lives, we tend to say, “Oh man, that was good. I never knew that. That makes sense now.” Then, we walk off contented to our spiritual couches like Al Bundy in a Married with Children episode. And once we get good and settled, we know how much of an uphill battle it is to get going again.
Now we do not say this with any condemnation or shaming, we simply acknowledge a reality as common Thanksgiving Day Food Comas. But if we stay on these spiritual couches too long: our spiritual lives and faith can become like catchup that has sat on the shelf too long, if we are not careful: the good stuff settles. If we allow a settling-spirit to form in our lives, and we sluff off our duties too long, like catchup sitting on the shelf without use, the things that matter in our lives will begin to settle to the bottom. We’ve all had the experience of expecting to get a little catchup, only to squeeze out unwanted, catchup-flavored water. So, it is with a settled, Christian life. When life gives us a squeeze it won’t be the high-quality, Jesus-infused forgiveness, religious devotion, or thanksgiving that comes out, but some Jesus-flavored judgmentalism, perfectionism, or cynicism.
So, we pray this morning: O Lord, stir us up. Shake us up. Don’t allow our faiths to settle into ineffectiveness and unfruitfulness, as happened to the children of Israel in our Old Testament Reading (Jer.23:5-8). God had warned them long ago: When you enter the land and have eaten your fill, do not forget me or the bondage I brought you out of (cf.Deut.6:10-12). They got in, got what they wanted, and their active, Yahweh-infused faith settled onto a spiritual-coma they never recovered from.
By the time Jeremiah writes, the children of Israel were so spiritually settled that they had forgotten their identity and purpose. They had taken on the lifestyles and life-goals of the nations around them, and created a culture where God’s people had lost compassion for immigrants, the fatherless, and the widow (cf.Jer.7). In the Temple, worshippers had grown so content with going through the motions in their services on feast days, they felt no conviction for abandoning their children to hell every other day of the year (cf.Jer.19;32:35). Thus, the only way to stir up their rock-bottom faithlessness to God-infused faithfulness was by giving them a 490 year shaking.
“The days” that Jeremiah writes about are when that shaking would come to an end, and God’s people would be put back on track for fruitfully being His kingdom of priests, bringing heaven to earth, and a holy nation under the protection and leadership of God’s promised Messiah, the anointed King (cf.Ex.19:4-8; 1Pet.2:5,9-10).
Now, from our vantage point, we know that those days have come and that Jesus is that king, but we must also remember that this does not mean our purpose is fulfilled and that we can simply sit on our spiritual couches waiting for heaven to come. Remember the warning that Jesus gave the church in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev.2:4-5). This is why we pray our prayer now. Stir us up to plenteously bring for the fruit of good works before we ever get so settled that we lose our first love for Jesus. For “the hour cometh and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. For the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” Amen.