A somewhat lesser known holiday in the Church falls on the last Sunday of the Church calendar, November 22 this year, Stir-up Sunday. Stir-up Sunday gets its name from the Anglican collect for the day:
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.
The holiday owes any popularity it might have to the fact that it is the day on which Christmas pudding is stirred together. Though the mixing of the Christmas pudding is a religious act in and of itself, that is not where I’m going today. Rather, I want to highlight that this is one of the ways the Church sees fit to close out the liturgical year. We are reminded of our duty and purpose, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works. On this day we are reminded both to close the old year strong and to open the new year with deliberate purpose. We are meant to respond in action to the world around us transforming it into God’s kingdom on earth. Stir-up Sunday is meant to awaken us to the reality that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, and that Advent is coming when this same Holy Spirit cleanses us in preparation for the Incarnation.
Why make a stink about a minor holiday celebrated almost exclusively by one denomination? Because this celebration, coming when it does, is a gateway to discuss how many Christians approach the world. Last week I posted thoughts on Christmas celebrations, and this is in some ways a follow up. In the wake of the Starbucks non-incident, I saw several people posting to social media comments aimed at pointing out how Christians should be about charity rather than complaining about cups. Then came the events of the weekend and a greatly renewed focus on the refugees displaced by the war in Syria. In short, over the last ten days the Church has been confronted and asked to respond; we have been forced to choose where we are going to focus our energy. We are forced to ask what is our mission. This is often a divide in Christianity what exactly is our mission?
It seems to me there are two major streams of thought within the Church; one says, preach to people tell them they need Jesus in their lives, and the other says we are told Jesus commanded us to show compassion to the poor and needy. I wonder if both of these trains of thought might be a little confused. Each of these ideas seems to imply that the focus needs to be outward, giving (either physically or spiritually) to those who are less fortunate. Both, recognize the need for Jesus in the world, but, sometimes it is easy to forget that I and We are first in line. Sometimes at the end of the liturgical year we need to be stirred up fresh, reminded that we are the ones in foremost need of God’s presence in the Spirit, pointing us forward to Jesus.
I think Stir-up Sunday points us in a great direction because we are asking the Lord to animate us. What happens when something is animated or agitated all of the dirt and debris rises up; we realize we need cleaned. Stir-up Sunday is appropriately placed, in part, because such animation and agitation by God will help us understand where we need cleansed during Advent so we can be truly ready to welcome Jesus during the Christmas season. Advent is about preparing the way, both in ourselves and in our churches, for the arrival of Jesus; and here we can mix all kinds of metaphors to help us be ready for Christ’s arrival.
Stir me Lord, and where I am dirty cleanse me. Stir me Lord, and where I am cold, warm me. Stir me Lord, and where I am dark, brighten me. Stir me Lord, and where I am tight and immovable, loosen me. Stir me Lord, and where I am slack and free, ground me. Stir me Lord, and where I am hard and calloused, soften me. Stir me Lord, and where I am weak and frail, strengthen me. Stir me Lord, and where I am bruised and tender, heal me. Stir me Lord, make me the perfect surface to reflect your love and compassion to all the world.
Where Does This Take Us?
I said above, that we often get stuck in preaching that people need Jesus or giving because Jesus commanded giving. What stirring up does for me is helps me to recognize, I cannot preach that others need Jesus. I must preach where I need Jesus and how my life has changed in knowing Jesus. I cannot give because Jesus commanded giving; I must give to open doors into love of neighbor.
I cannot simply tell people they need Jesus, or they are not celebrating the season for the right reasons. I must preach that I need Jesus and acknowledge how knowing him has led me to celebrate. I frequently contribute to Salvation Army kettles, but, I cannot understand this as generosity. Generosity and confronting poverty must be personal, “Money can’t buy you love.” Generosity must result not in things, even things those in poverty need, it must result in a bond of friendship and love. Jesus does not want us to tell others they need to repent; he wants us to preach what encountering him has done for us. Paul’s message was always what Christ had done for him. Jesus does not “Communism” where everyone splits everything equally; he wants “communalism” where people look out for and meet the needs of others. This calls for more than sharing money, it means knowing the people in need and helping them fill their needs. Going back to the opening examples, we cannot get too bent out of shape over how those outside the Church celebrate Christmas, we must focus on celebrating wholeheartedly focusing on Jesus; and, hoping that our celebration is leading others to question what makes us so different. With the Syrian refugees we cannot simply give them food and shelter and think our work is done, we must intentionally look for ways of strengthening bonds of love with these people which go beyond some token handouts. Charity is about bringing dignity and relationships not simply providing a meal and a roof. Let’s go into Stir-up Sunday ready for God to animate us with the Holy Spirit so we can start the n year right.
The hardest part about writing this is that the whole time I have been confronting myself with questions: “Do I look at my flaws or do I simply comment on society’s? Do I need to work on celebrating Jesus? Do I preach my own repentance? Do I simply give so I can say I gave and ease my conscience, or do I encounter the world in need of love?” Despite these questions I still pray, “Stir me up Lord.”