Whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness. (Jeremiah xxiii. 6)
Last week you and I reflected upon a sick woman who pressed through the crowded, noisome business of this world, with persistent faith, to touch the hem of the garment (St. Matthew ix. 20) that Jesus wore, hoping that her effort would rid her of a persistent disease. That woman’s faith stirred her on to reach out to Jesus, the source of all transformation and betterment. That woman was stirred up. Her faith should have inspired us to possess a zeal and passion for the cure that Jesus alone brings into the world, so that even today, on this The Sunday Next before Advent, we should be able to persist in praying for the effects of His cure. Stir up we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people. With her, if we have reached out to touch Jesus, our faith is ready to be stirred up into something stronger and more spiritually serious. Advent is coming, and it is a season of repentance and preparation. Advent will call us to look within, that the Lord may stir up fuller self-honesty and then deepest repentance and perfect sorrow for our sins. Perfect sorrow will then enable us to know our need for Christ the Saviour, Christ the provider, who will begin His visitation again with us at Christmas time.
But before we are stirred up, we must refresh our memories with a few practical details about the condition of our spiritual lives. We must remember that God has made us for Himself, and that the chief created vocation and calling of human nature is the good of the soul and its realignment with the Mind and Heart of the Maker. Yet man’s subservience and acquiescence to God’s purpose is not instinctual or natural, but rather is rational and volitional. Man is made to be stirred up in mind and heart, to discover, know, love, and obey God. We are created to discover His necessary and omnipresent rule of the universe so that we might invite Him to dwell in us, that we might dwell in Him. (1 St. John iv. 13) We are created to know ourselves in God and then God in ourselves and all others. As the Bishops of the Church of England said in 1922: God’s revelation is a self-communication of the personal God to the persons whom he has made, and it can only be received through a personal apprehension and response. But men are capable of that apprehension and response only as God bestows on them, by creation and by the operation of Grace, the spiritual illumination by which to see…(DCE, p.43) Men are made to see God and to receive Him into their hearts and souls through an act of free will in cooperation with His Grace. Or, putting it another way, man is a capacity for God –homo est Dei capax. (CSDCC) Man’s nature is suited or fitted out to be a receptacle or container for the inwilling and indwelling of God’s truth and meaning. Man is made in the Image of God and so is capable of learning to know as God knows. To perfect his capacity to be like God, he must take what he knows and will it into habits of virtuous and godly living. But he can do this only if his desire, affection, and passion are stirred up to embrace the Grace of God as what is not his by nature but as the free gift of an all-loving Maker who intends his ultimate perfection in eternal joy and happiness.
So on this Stir-up Sunday, we are called to be stirred up. But we need to be careful not to confuse it with non-Christian forms of being stirred-up. In the past weeks we have been swept or stirred up by earthly demons that intend for us to become obsessed and possessed by immanent dangers and unpredictable disasters. The devices and desires of terrorists have cast a pall of doom and gloom over our world. Nations that have denied God long ago seem taken off guard and are surprised that anyone could oppose and threaten their nihilistic hedonism. Evidently, meaninglessness is related to something of value after all. If there is something that we must not threaten it is mindless men’s mania for meaninglessness! Thus we find that though outside forces are determined to annihilate them, they have been driven no closer to being stirred up to seek and to find God. People are as mad or insane after terrorist attacks as they were before with an unbridled passion and irrational fervor, minding earthly things and, quite frankly, forgetting to set their affections on things that are above. (Col. 3.2) So let’s be clear, despite earthly disasters that emerge from completely rational and predictable sources, that emerge from a sinful response to a sin soaked world, we are not called to be stirred up by the hungering and hankering after false gods who will only ever offer disappointing forms of deliverance from them. Rather, we are called to be stirred up to become the capax Dei, the capacity for God, as God fulfills what the world cannot.
I think that Jeremiah the Prophet, who knew only too well that the promises of this world are fleeting and unsure, can help to stir us up today. He lived some six hundred years before the birth of Christ, in a nation whose spirit had given way to unbelief, treachery, and despair. As a result of internal spiritual decay and disintegration, the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzars conquered Israel and Judah from the east with little resistance. Internal spiritual corruption generates a moral vacuum into which external invaders easily insinuate themselves. Israel abandoned all faith and hope and thus deprived herself of God’s protection and defense against foreign conquest.
And yet, in the midst of it all, Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah was moved and shaken, stirred up by the ever-present Word of God. The Lord stirred him up to consider the origin of his spiritual vocation. Before I formed thee in the belly I 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) God stirred up Jeremiah to remember that He was the God of Israel, the God of forgiveness and deliverance, the God of sanctification and redemption. So God reminded Jeremiah that he was made to become the capax Dei, a capacity for God, whose future could have meaning only in so far as he remembered and obeyed the God of his salvation.
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)
And so Jeremiah was stirred up to recall his people to the promises of God. Jeremiah would stir up the Jews to remember that they were made to know God, trust in God, hope in God, and wait for the promised Redeemer of Israel. He would prophesy and proclaim the coming of a King who would fulfill God’s promise and who would give them power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which [would be] born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (St. John i. 12, 13)
So how can we become capax dei –the capacity for God’s presence, like the Prophet Jeremiah? Perhaps in the coming Advent we ought to work on discovering our real spiritual need. Like the people in today’s Gospel, we ought to start admitting that we are hungry for something that God alone can give. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (St. John vi. 5) Jesus asks His disciples a rhetorical question, whose answer He alone can provide. God’s Word alone can satisfy man’s innermost hunger. Human nature is capax Dei. Earthly goods give off ephemeral and temporary sustenance that then passes away. Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. (St. John vi. 7)
To be stirred up to hunger for what is more than the earth can give, we might begin to sober up spiritually by reflecting with William Law in this way:
If my religion is only a formal compliance with those modes of worship that are in fashion where I live; if it cost me no pains or trouble; if it lays me under no rules or restraints; if I have no careful thoughts and sober reflections about it; is it not great [stupidity] to think that I am striving to enter in at the ‘strait gate’? If I am seeking everything that can delight my senses, and regale my appetites; spending my time and fortune in pleasures, in diversions, and worldly enjoyments; a stranger to watchings, fastings, prayers, and mortification; how can it be said that I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling? If there is nothing in my life that shows me to be different to the infidels and heathen…why should I think that I am amongst those few who are walking the narrow way to heaven? (Serious Call…, 29)
For the heart to be stirred up the conscience must be startled into deepest candor about what Christ expects of us. With Jeremiah we must see that the creation will not save us. The empty and desolate world can never fill and satisfy our forlorn and depleted souls. And so with the poet we must long to be stirred by the Heavenly Motions that come to us in the Birth of Jesus Christ:
Yet let my course, my aim, my Love,
And chief acquaintance be above;
So when that day and hour shall come
In which Thyself will be the Sun,
Thou’lt find me drest and on my way,
Watching the Break of thy great day.
(The Dawning: Henry Vaughan)
When we are stirred up with spiritual appetite for what God alone can give, we shall discover, with the hungry multitude in this morning’s Gospel, that just a few morsels of bread and a sip of wine, in the end, will be sufficient for an earthly hunger that is now wholly secondary to our primary zeal, passion, hunger, and thirst for God’s mercy and truth. Then we shall begin to perfect the capax Dei, the capacity for God, because our inner spiritual hunger has stirred up within us a desire for the knowledge and love of God in the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas time once again. Amen.