Sunday Next before Advent
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; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
6 Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. 7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Tim 1:6-9)
A strong counsel for the Christian of any time of persecution, and of those who live, as we do, in a world of watered-down faith and easy-believism. Regardless the number of Sundays in Trinity Season, this COLLECT must always be the COLLECT of choice on the Sunday next before Advent Season. (See rubric following the Gospel for 24th Sunday after Trinity in 1928 BoCP, or following the Gospel for 25th Sunday in the 1662 English BoCP). The title referenced above was not used by Cranmer but was restored to its ancient title by the 1892 American Prayer Book (from the Sarum Missal). The Collect was famous for its beginning words – “Stir up” – so much so that the Sunday of its use was popularly labeled, “Stir Up Sunday”!
The words, “Stir up,” summarizes the fullness of the Gospel preached in its entirety. It relates to that most powerful aspect of the human nature – the WILL! If it is the will of a man or woman to become rich in the material riches of this world, it is very likely that he or she shall surely become wealthy if that will is strong enough – even to the detriment of character and virtue! The WILL is that overt and compelling manifestation of what is hidden in the heart. The heart that belongs to Christ may, indeed, become wealthy in giving and caring, but wealth is never the superseding goal of such a heart. The problem with the rich young ruler was not his wealth, but that he allowed his wealth to blind his eyes to his duty to God. (see Mark 10 & Luke 18) When we take all virtue, all godliness, all compassion, all love, et all., that we have been granted in Christ, we need to ‘stir-up’ these qualities and devotions from time to time in order to bring them back up from the depths of forgetfulness and revive them to a fresh and lively currency.
The will of the sinner, while free of the godly restraints of righteousness, is a completely free will. However, when a heart is given over to Christ as Lord and Savior, it is that Mind and Will of Christ that takes possession of that former will of the world and transforms the heart to godliness. Do not preach to me of Calvin or Arminius – but only of Christ and His Word. Both these men were stellar scholars. Each ‘got it right’ at some point, but those moments of correct interpretation only followed learning of truth gained from Holy Scripture. So why not, instead of quoting some good man, go to the Fountain of Truth Itself rather than drinking downstream?
You may ask: “How do we ‘stir up’ our Godly wills of faithfulness to God?” We do not, but God DOES! He does so through the preaching and hearing of the Word! So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17) But wait! Suppose you have already heard the glorious Gospel and yet sleep? One of my favorite means to allow God to ‘stir up’ my faith is through the singing of hymns – whether alone of with family, or friends. Nothing touches my soul more than scripturally-based classical hymns. (You may keep your Gospel songs filled with pabulum, thank you!) But suppose my heart is closed to every means of being stirred up by conscious rebellion? How will God elect to ‘stir up’ my faith? But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. (Romans 10:18-19) I personally prefer the more gentle stirring of love and remembrance than to be stirred up by jealousy and anger. But God will use whatever mechanism He deems useful to stir us up.
Though God may use the wills of evil nations in bringing judgment, He only stirs up the wills of faithful people in service to Him. With what result does God stir up our hearts? With the results that our faith again becomes foremost in our daily living, and our fruits of righteousness and good works are multiplied over and over again. Such fruits are not ours, but belong to the Sower who sowed the Seed in our hearts at the beginning. When we are a useful vessel to God, He will use us more and more as a favored vessel in His Hand just as a loving mother may have an old iron skillet or stone bowl that she treasures above even more expensive and beautiful vessels in her kitchen. If we, as Christians, are able to hold our ‘heat of the Spirit’ as the heavy iron skillet holds its heat from the oven, God will be more disposed to use such a proven and useful vessel. Moreover, He will reward such a vessel by placing it is a favored place in the cabinet of Heaven. He will often clean and polish it even more for future use. Personally, I would rather be an old, blackened iron skillet than a beautiful, French porcelain vase on the mantle. If God will use me to prepare food for His Children, how much greater honor can I have?
We have a mere four more Sundays before the blessed observance of Christmas. The Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as a precious baby at Bethlehem stirred the hearts of kings, rulers, wise men, and shepherds. Christ always stirs our hearts!
When God stirs up the wills of His faithful people, such a stirring can only result in greater production of fruit somewhat as life-giving rain on a parched field planted with wholesome seed. If we produce plentifully in good works, this gives the Father the opportunity to reward us with even more Rain of Blessing. Is there a smell of rain in your heart today, dear Reader?
THE HOLY GOSPEL
5 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? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
What a wonderful Season of the Church Year is Advent. All good things in the lives of men – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Apostles, and us – begins with the Coming of Christ, both spiritually and physically, to us. Having longed to see the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Seed of Promise, Abraham hoped in the Gospel of Christ and was blessed to see His Coming. Christ comes to us that we may be enabled to come to Him. We see this truth enacted in today’s Gospel sermon text. Those who hunger for Christ will find Him if even on the mountain heights of the Galilean coasts. Those who hunger for Christ will 1) discover (through the Word and Spirit) where He may be found; 2) they will leave the place where that are presently (sin and error) and GO to Him; 3) they will not give thought of what the morrow may bring, but trust in Him to provide their every need; and, 4) they shall be fed with the Bread of Heaven.
When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him This is most prophetic of that company of souls that will come, over the expanse of centuries and millennia, to Him in faith and trust. They shall come seeking that Bread of Life which will satisfy eternally and not temporarily. They shall, on the day of God’s own choosing – and not that of greedy spiritual speculators – come to meet Him in the air, and not a mountain, on His glorious Second Coming. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:16-17)
Christ often challenges the faith of His chosen vessels just as He tests that of Philip. Knowing the mind of Philip in His spiritual growth, Jesus asks: Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? A lesser prophet than Christ once asked the same question of God in the Wilderness: Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. (Num 11:13) It is certain that Christ wants us to know that a greater prophet than Moses stands before us. Without the presence and power of Christ, the world is in constant worry about this matter sustenance. Shall we have bread to eat and raiment to wear? Of course, the world takes the matter a step further: How can we enjoy the most opulent of cuisine and the most fashionable and elegant raiment – delicacies and raiment that will set us apart from the common people and that will exalt us in our pride? The starving child on the backstreets of Calcutta does not wish for delicacies, but only a morsel of bread to appease his gnawing hunger. It is so because the starving child knows not of delicacies or of elegant silken robes, but only his desperate NEED. So the sinner (rich or poor), when he comes face-to-face with his depravity, can recognize no righteousness at all in his feeble works, but starves for the Redemption made available in Christ. Rather than the bread of wheat, he starves for the Bread of Heaven. This Bread cannot be bought with money, so Christ gives Philip a thought to nourish his soul.
Philip’s mind has not progressed to that perfection of understanding, as yet, that might be expected from so close a disciple! Clearly, under the terms of the world, a small fortune would be required to buy sufficient bread to feed so many. There were many more than five thousand present for there were five thousand men alone, plus women and children. Has Philip forgotten that He who provides food and lodging for the sparrows of the field is in his presence? Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. Two hundred pennyworth of bread would cost two hundred days of wages – And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard (Matt 20:2) And even at such an expense, there would certainly be no leftovers for each would only “take a little.” All of our labors and wages from our birth until now will not purchase a single morsel of that Bread from Heaven. The combined wealth of the world would not do so. It is a gift of pure Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was one disciple among the lot who accepted that there was a mystery in the Person of Christ that enabled Him to provide plenty from little of nothing. He knew not the manner in which might do it, but he nonetheless believed that the mystery would be realized even in a meager amount. God takes our talents and multiplies them when we are willing to share them. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? What are five barley loaves among a multitude so great, yet, Andrew suspected that Christ would use even a small amount to supply a great need – and He did! Now, we must recognize the innocence of youth in this circumstance. The little lad had labored to bring his two fishes and five loaves over a great distance and even up the slopes of the mountain. Were he a mature man of wisdom, he probably would have refused to share so little claiming that it would not suffice so many hungers and, moreover, he had the foresight to bring them for himself and it would be consumed by him. But the little child has a heart that is closer to the Kingdom of Heaven and has not grown calloused by the world. The child willingly shared his small treat with the Lord. Though we have little, if we share what we have, the Lord will multiply the gift an hundredfold, or more!
And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. The rubrics of the Prayer Book indicate when we are to kneel, stand, or sit, and we must comply with each and every rubric of the Prayer Book if we are able. The Lord expects all things to be done in good order and, here, He is about to feed the multitudes with His Bread. The Bread of the Prayer Book is the Sermon delivered from the Lectionary appointed for the day. So the people sit to hear the Word preached. It is the means by which faith is received and increased. So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17) Contrary to the Romanist approach, preaching takes precedence over every other act of worship including Communion for, without the Word, Communion is meaningless. So Christ asks that the men be seated to receive His blessing of Bread. When men receive from the Lord, they do not stand in their own power as if they contribute to His miracle. “Stop your labors, have a seat, and see the works of the Lord!”
The Lord will always comfort our needs in green pastures – He maketh me to lie down in green pastures (Psalms 23:2) Now there was much grass in the place (vv 10), So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Obedience before the Lord comes most surely when men realize their need. These men were hungry and were expectant that Jesus could, indeed, feed them. They obeyed Him.
And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks Here, Jesus gives us the perfect example to follow in returning thanks for the blessings of Heaven. He never failed to thank His Father in Heaven for every blessing of food and drink. Do we do so, Friends? “….he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.” Please observe a stark lesson here for us. We do not serve ourselves at the Communion Rail, but kneel reverently (according to the Prayer Book form of worship – and the Holy Bible) to be served the Cup and the Bread. We do not innovate and do according to what seems right in our own eyes, but serve according to the good order required. The Lord allows His servants to have a hand in assisting in His important work. They serve the bread, but the Bread is given by Christ – it is not their own. We, as ministers, preach the Word, but the Word is His and not OURS! Note also, that each person on the grassy slopes received as much as they wanted of the bread and fish. The cupboard of the Lord has no bottom of blessings. There will always be more than enough to satisfy our hunger. We must return to the Bread Table daily for our “Daily Bread.”
When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Notice that all were FILLED! You never come to the Lord hungry and go away hungry. He fills you with the desperate need of your heart. Another important lesson in this verse is the one of stewardship. We are to be good a faithful stewards in the economy of resources with which God has blessed us. We are to use His blessings of talents we receive in satisfying the hunger of those God has placed in our hands (parents included) but we are to waste nothing! When we travel field and forest to gather souls for Christ, our efforts do not end at the early confession of faith – we must continue to teach and nourish the soul in the Word so that the convert will grow strong spiritual bones and muscles. We must not lose a single flower from the bouquet….that nothing be lost!
Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Let us count the balance sheet of the Lord here: there were a mere five loaves at the start. Now the remnants taken up fill TWELVE BASKETS! Do you believe this is too amazing? Do you believe that the Creation of the stars in the expanse of space too amazing, or the earth with all of its wondrous beauty too amazing, or billions of people – all with different faces and features – amazing? What is so amazing that the Word which created all that has been created could multiply a few morsels of bread into such an immense supply? He is able to likewise multiply the smallest mite of the widow’s heart when given out of her need to Christ! He is able to multiply that love scattered abroad from that heart brimming over with the love of God so that the residue is always of plenty.
What is the result of receiving the blessed Bread of Heaven? How should our hearts respond to so mighty a miracle as salvation, forgiveness, grace, and faith? Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. Faith is confirmed from pillar to post when we have tasted the Bread of Heaven. The multitude recognized that Christ was a prophet of even greater miraculous power and virtue than Moses – their greatest prophet beforehand. The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken (Deut 18:15) Christ is, indeed, that Prophet! In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men…… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4,14) Friend, believest thou this?