The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity


A revised version of this collection of commentaries, entitled Stir Up, O Lord, has been published in paperback format and as an e-book (for all major e-readers) by Sacristy Press. Buy now »


Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord,…
For the Epistle
Jeremiah 23:5-8
John 6:5-14

On this, the last Sunday of the Church’s year, we are presented with: one of the most memorable Collects which may stand as a summary for all its fellows, combining personal responsibility with a proper humility that we can do nothing of ourselves; a passage from Jeremiah which both promises The Kingdom and looks forward to Advent; and a Gospel Reading which elaborates the much simpler account of a feeding miracle (cf Seventh Sunday after Trinity).

Jeremiah, quite incorrectly caricatured as a pessimist (on the basis of Lamentations which he almost certainly did not write) is foretelling the end of the Jewish exile which has scarcely begun. Having spent so much of his spiritual and political capital foretelling the fall of Israel when the Kings and leaders wanted to hear no such thing, once the invasion was upon Jerusalem and the exile process under way, he adopted a quite proper prophetic heterodoxy by seeing the bright side in the shape of a reconstitution of the line of King David. The specific reference to the line of David was taken by all the Evangelists to portend the birth of Jesus but, at a broader level, the story of the Chosen People foreshadowed the establishment of The Kingdom. In this context John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 might be taken to foreshadow the Kingdom of Heaven where Jesus will reign.

Not surprisingly, Jeremiah and John disagree about essentials. From the outset of his prophetic career Jeremiah said that only a few of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, those who volunteered to go into exile and abandon their homes, would survive to form the nucleus of the return. The rest, those who refused to volunteer for exile, would be destroyed. John, on the other hand, in his account of the feeding miracle, does not stipulate any conditions for being fed, for entering The Kingdom.

On this day of summing up, of thinking of our Journey from awaiting the Christ child to contemplating The Kingdom, we might want to bear three things in mind. First, the story of Jesus which we have read in all four Gospels is born out of the soil of prophesy. To be a Christian is not simply to worship Jesus as Lord, it is to recognise the primacy of the Creator God who chose a people to be an special instrument of salvation, to be a kind of theological sounding board. Secondly, in spite of all the rhetoric of sin and judgment, of degrees of spiritual and social hierarchy, of ritual and righteousness, we should never forget that Jesus asked no questions of those who took his bread and fish. He had already been clear enough that the tax collectors and prostitutes were at the head of the heavenly queue. We are members of a Church of Jesus and not a church which simply looks to the Old Testament. Thirdly, the Church in which we live is not a static entity which can freeze its understanding of what God wants of us, seeking truth afresh in each generation. The Holy Spirit has not ceased to operate just because people are no longer writing documents to be included in Scripture. Just as the reformers of the 16th Century were not satisfied with the formulations of the Medieval Papacy, so we should not be satisfied with simply uncritically accepting and repeating the formulae of the reformers. Theology is not a rule-based methodology for determining right doctrine, it is a dynamic discipline which seeks to enrich the encounter between the created and the Creator.

Above all, as we consider Jeremiah and John, we may more clearly understand that whatever else it might be at both an individual and corporate level, the holy life is concerned with a direct, personal relationship with God in dialogue and silence. Jeremiah suffered for his encounters with God but he persisted because there was no alternative; faithfulness involved dialogue and communication. John, too, is concerned above all else with Jesus the communicator, with Jesus the intercessor, with Jesus who preached the coming of The Kingdom, who suffered for preaching a Gospel of encounter with The Father.

Jeremiah’s prophesy of return from exile foreshadows our ultimate return from the exile of earth to the peace of The Kingdom. This is not to say that the earth does not possess pleasantness (few of us are anxious to leave it when called) and, indeed, Jeremiah was at pains to point out that exile would have its pleasures. Yet perhaps the greatest danger we face is to separate the two experiences in too radical a fashion. The author who has taken up more space than any other in this collection is St. Paul who struggled against a Gnostic-derived dualism but often fell into the trap he was urging others to avoid.

Finally, we need to consider, in the light of everything we have thought and said, what we mean by The Kingdom. As a starting point, we might say that to be in The Kingdom is to be enfolded back into the perfect love of the Creator who deemed that we should live an earthly life that we might freely choose to love God. To be free to make that choice is the most amazing attribute of creatureliness and, living with that choice, we should consider our life on earth not as the occupation of a blighted waiting room outside the heavenly gates but as the enjoyment of a miraculous privilege.

Starting Points for Sermons and Discussions:

  1. Describe Jeremiah’s turbulent relationship with the Judean monarchy
  2. How far is the feeding of the 5,000 an attempt to depict The Kingdom?
  3. Has your journey from advent to the end of the Church Year been different from previous years?
  4. What events in Church and state have affected your view of salvation?
  5. Has The Kingdom come or must we go to it after death?

Want to read more? Buy Stir Up, O Lord (available in paperback and for all major e-book readers)