Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 7 April 2019
In the name of God, passionate creator, redeemer, sustainer.
Today is Passion Sunday. It’s traditionally about the beginning of the last two weeks of Jesus’ human life and the suffering which went with it.
But when we think of the word passion we don’t usually go to the word suffering. We think of things we care about very deeply, which we’re really, really committed to, and today I want to link those two meanings, of our deepest convictions and desires and Jesus’ suffering.
Passion v Enthusiasm
But when I talked to various people about the question of what makes them passionate we came up with the difference between passion and enthusiasm. People said they were passionate about things like curry or being in the mountains. I’ll talk travel or gardening or books with enthusiasm. But passionate? I wouldn’t go to the wall about whether Jane Austen is a better writer than J K Rowling. But I would take a lot of abuse if someone disrespected me or other women as a woman, or if someone disrespected a homeless person. Passion, we decided was something else. It’s when you would be willing to really fight for something, where you feel anger and massive delight and hurt and you can be illogical or cruel or be willing to be abused for it. That’s a bit different to enthusiasm. Passion is a kind of hunger. It’s about what is at my heart. And I could and do dream of being quite violent towards someone who has offended my passions and I can and do give way over the odds of myself to someone I am passionate about. Our passions, show us what is important to us, where we are wounded and where we laugh and love and feel alive and joyful and free.
We’re not often invited to think about either our passions in the light of our faith. But we do have longings and passions, because we’re made in the image of a passionate God.
Invitations to passion
There are some wonderful spiritual traditions which do ask us about our desires and passions. St Ignatius of Loyola has a series of quite gruelling exercises which are all about ‘what is that you desire’ and which take people into some very tough places. The author of the Song of Solomon celebrates our physical passions. Alan Ecclestone, a committed passionate Marxist priest, wrote that it is the job of prayer – and so the job of life – to refuse to be disengaged, to be constantly passionately committed.
So point one. Our passions show us where we are focused. What we long for. We are right to listen to our desires and to ponder what our passions are, where is the heart of us. If we could ask God to do one thing what would it be?
Let’s listen to a passionate fearless woman …
John 12 1-8
Jesus sorts out our passions
Mary was the one who went and listened to Jesus when Martha was cooking. She was passionate to know and follow what he said, to treasure time with him. Jesus said this was good and smiled at her and I bet in this story they also both enjoyed the wonderful small of the perfume – perhaps quite a sexy moment? Women must have loved Jesus passionately, even if he was unavailable – Mary Magdalene in the garden was desolate. But Jesus was there to show them that passion needs to be focused not on possessing but on giving. ‘Mary, he’s saying I know we like each other but there’s another way, a better way and you have learned this, which is why you have done this to me now…..’
And now a man of a very different type but with his head and his passions turned around 180’ by Jesus
Philippians 3 4b-11
Jesus ministry so often pinpointed people’s passions and challenged them. The rich young ruler – you think your passion is to serve God but let me ask you what you won’t give up, let me turn your passion for being a good Jewish man into being a follower of life? The woman at the well – you think you want security with a man but let me offer you a different more challenging kind of security and see if that’s what you want? To the fishermen – you want to fish – but let me make you different fishermen and see what happens… Zaccheus you want money, you think, but let me show you what can be done with money when you don’t want it more than anything. Then here to Saul – your passion is to make people keep the law, to explain it to them as a Pharisee would, but let me offer your passion a different direction, a direction of life? Over and over Jesus found the passion and challenged it to be turned from self-serving, feeding our own hunger, to the service of others and of God. He challenged people to lose their slavery to passions which hurt them and others to passions which freed them for love.
What we want passionately is so often not bad in itself but we can often try to meet those longings in wrong, self-focused, disordered ways. How can we find the good in our passions? We can want things – but not at someone else’s expense. Satisfying our passions at someone else’s expense leads to abuse. Often this happens because we are looking for security in the wrong place. We get scared and then we get focused on our own needs alone. Asking God to align our desires with hers, to trust her to make them rightly ordered, is the first commandment.
And it’s tough. None of these biblical examples found it easy to give up their scared passion and just go for the one which led to a more risky life focused on giving as well as receiving. Even Jesus was terrified in Gethsemane. He felt abandoned on the cross. Wanting to be aligned with his Father’s will was utterly awful for him. But as he had said all through his ministry, this way of loving passion to be about his father’s business, the business of the kingdom, was the only way.
So point two: Good passion is focused on the good of all, on the spreading of God’s love for all including ourselves, not on possessing others in any way. We need before God and with God, to sort out our orderly passion from the disorderly. NOT necessarily the right from the wrong. And it’s not easy.
I said we are made in the image of a passionate God.
So point three and most importantly: what is God passionate about. Because this is what enables us to be rightly passionate.
God is passionate about you, about me and about all creation. God is passionate about helping us to live as she wants us to live. That’s what connects our two meanings of passion, the joyful love which leads to suffering. Following the passionate way of Jesus is sometimes about suffering and abuse, as well as about freedom and joy because it’s not the disordered way of satisfying our own passions above others, of always in whatever way seeking our own passions. The two go together.
And we get managing our passions wrong. BUT God the passionate father/mother is always standing watching for us, day after day waiting for us to appear at the turn in the road leading back to the house where we belong. Always, all the time, God wants us to be in relationship with her, doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly and having fun. The passionate love shared between the trinity and all creation was what led to Jesus human passion, and suffering and then to resurrection. God trusts us to be passionate about being part of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, about loving fully and being alive to our passions. What are our passions and how can Jesus turn them for us into passions which free us rather than enslave us, get rid of our fears not feed them?
In the next two weeks we read with horror of the way in which political agendas were played out in first century Palestine to kill this man who stood for fearless passionate love, truth, life, and light? He was real and he was killed for it. And that still happens. We pray for peace but we pray also for those who are passionate about the way of Jesus and suffering for it to know God’s sustaining love as they hold to that passion. And we pray for each other to be challenges as we follow Jesus’ hard journey this Lent, and to be released into our own joyful passion for God.
Paul’s prayer: Ephesians 3 14 – 19