Sermon – 17th March 2013

Notes from the sermon preached by Jan Betts

Philipians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

What are you passionate about?

Think about it. What has passion led you to do?  What does passion mean? We think of it in sexual terms but we have all sorts of passions. Bird watching for example – I met a man who was on a final warning for stopping on his rounds to look at birds. Imagine losing your job because you stopped to see the northern most sighting of a Dartford Warbler?

So stop and think.  Passion is illogical in our world. It’s about things that others just don’t get. What do couples see in each other? What are we a bit missionary about, a bit evangelical? A bit out of control really. Our passions rule us sometimes and I think are pure gold because of that. Passion is when we are lost to ourselves in something else, and sometimes that is when we most truly meet ourselves. We lose the defended, the polite, the expected, the normal and meet what is our deepest self, maybe are released into our deepest fears and possibilities, our deepest tapping of the person that is within us. Alan Griggs’ recently told us a story of those who stood up for Jesus – do you love Jesus? What does it take to do this?

In the readings this week we meet passion, passion for all sorts of things, in Jesus and in others. And the high points of the church’s year are about person, and relationship, not about teaching. They are about hooking our passion and compassion. They are about the person of God.

The story of the woman who anointed Jesus is told in three different ways by the gospel writers.

Once as today in the house of Mary and Martha and we assume it was Mary who did the anointing of his feet, maybe using a gift given or bought for Lazarus.

Once in the house of Simon the leper where she anoints his head

And once in the house of Simon the Pharisee where she is described as a rather dubious character no better than she ought to be – although presumably Jesus knew what she ought to be….and she weeps over him and anoints his feet.

What do they have in common about passion and what can we learn from it?

The woman – she was absolutely serious and devastated about Jesus. Somehow she knew he was going to die. She wanted to honour him, to signal her grief at what was going to happen. Was she in love with him? No reason why not. Jesus was clearly a really attractive personality. Had he indicated something to her? How did she know? Did she pick up something as people in love often do about his demeanor? Who knows? But she responded, with a passion which clearly was highly disapproved of by those watching.

(Did she know that he was going to do something wildly generous, and be ridiculed for it? He was scared and wanted to know he was loved not just respected? She wanted to show she understood? She was prepared to do the same, to be wildly generous without caring about the consequences, to be ridiculed. She wanted him to know he was loved. She asked nothing in return.)

In our buttoned up English way we don’t do passion. We are embarrassed by it and maybe these onlookers were as well because it broke lots of codes.

She broke the code of not touching a man in public. Of letting her hair down in public. Of giving this man a hugely expensive gift in public. Of weeping at an inappropriate time, when they were celebrating and feasting.  Ouch.  And where did the money come from? Was it earned from prostitution?

Jesus recognized passion and shared it. He broke codes too, codes about the place of the Sabbath, about the nature of condemnation, and who was able to condemn,  about trading, about legality, about making sure that nothing held you back and that if it did you got rid of it, whether it be money or relationships or power.

This transgression of codes also went with all he did in relation to women. Women financed Jesus – and the early church. The longest conversation we have recorded in the gospel was with the Samaritan woman at the well. We hear about the Syro-Phoenecian woman who was spirited enough to ask him for the crumbs which fall from under the table. Mary Magdalene announced his resurrection. Martha and Mary were his dear friends. He used a woman who gave a mite in the temple as an example of true holiness and charity whilst talking to men! Jesus enjoyed working with and being with women! Maybe he loved their passion.

In the story, what’s the response to such passion? Finger wagging. Lip curling. They thought they’d got her on Jesus’ own grounds and grounds of the law by saying she should give to the poor, BUT on this occasion Jesus tells the disciples that they have got it wrong. Not in general – the poor are always there, always waiting to be fed, and we have a duty to feed them. But this time, this time the mystical, the overpoweringly passionate, the extravagant, have got it right. We   do live among the poor and we are right to be reminded of it but we also live among the stars and our imaginings and dreams and passions and loves and longings and have to be reminded that we need to express these things sometimes, to give life to the passionate things in us as well as the sensible. God is love. Do we respond to someone we adore who gives us a rare and wonderful gift out of love with ‘you could have given that to a soup kitchen’?  I think not. The extravagant is too rare to despise.

The important thing about this example of extravagance is that it was appropriate. It marked a time and a season when something needed marking. Sometimes we just need to stop our serving, our being responsible, and just love, affirm someone, give them our passionate support. When? 

Well a couple of examples..

Guy (my son) and Mother’s Day. He forgot to give me a card and when I wept over preparing him lunch he made me stop and took the saucepan from me saying ‘never mind about this’ and hugged me. I needed a different kind of affirming from serving people. I wanted to be told I mattered.

Gabrielle – when someone is dying you stop rushing around and just sit with them. And this fits into John 11 where Jesus has been talking about how to approach death. He raises Lazarus to show that death, our great fear, does not have dominion over us. That he is the resurrection and the life.

Francis – the mad man – in court and stripped naked because he was passionate about being a child of God. Charles de Foucauld, St John of the Cross and so many others – a tradition which has gone  in that form. Paul – an extravagant man in his words and works but he only wants to be conformed to Jesus death.

Jesus accepts passion. His whole life was about it, suffering and being totally himself.

He can meet the depths of our passion, our suffering and our joy, in his own passion. When I pray the prayer of St Francis ‘..that I might die for love of your love, you who were so good as to die for love of my love..’ , I feel alarmed. Do I mean it? How passionate am I about the God who is that passionate about me?


But I want to add – permission to be passionate, in all and every legal and illegal way you can think of that reflects our passionate God. 

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