We conclude tonight our preaching series Breaking the Word where we have been examining several theologically complex words popularly used by the Church, but not always fully understood, and we have tried to break them open in understandable ways so that they may be more helpful in our conversations, but also in our concept of God and the ways in which we pray.
My word for tonight is “Passion”; a concept that is no less difficult to grasp than the others such as ‘conversion’ ‘forgiveness’ ‘grace’ and ‘redemption’ and perhaps even more difficult because of the popular way in which it is used both in our culture, but also in Scripture.
For most of us, and interestingly enough for most of Scripture the word ‘passion’ is connected mostly to the emotions of anger and lust. If you do a word search of the Bible, that’s what comes up.
- For the Lord’s anger and passion will smoke against them.[i]
- Then Judith came in and lay down. Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her.[ii]
- Do not fall into the grip of passion,* or you may be torn apart as by a bull.[iii]
- Evil passion destroys those who have it, and makes them the laughing-stock of their enemies.[iv]
- But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.[v]
I’m sure by now you get my point that passion in Scripture is not always regarded as a good thing, and some uses of the word might even make us blush if we used it in certain company. I joked last week that this sermon might have to be posted with a triple X rating if I used a couple of the passages that use the word ‘passion’ in them.
When his hour came, the eternal Son consummated his obedience to the Father and expressed his love for us to the uttermost, by offering himself on the cross. That all people may know that God loves them even as God loves Jesus, let us pray saying, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.
On our own we are powerless to act in self-less freedom in response to all that you desire. That we may spend our lives abiding in Christ, who came to do your will, and give ourselves up to the attraction of his glory, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.
The testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved has a special power for those whom you call into his fellowship. That the one closest to Jesus’ heart at the supper may be an icon of the relationship we enjoy with your Son through prayer, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.
Christ’s gift of enduring love called the Church into being from the cross when he gave Mary and John to one another as mother and son. That we may have grace to risk all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.
Through the mystery of self-giving love you open our hearts to the pain and weakness in the lives of our brothers and sisters. That we may know your presence in sharing one another’s experiences of suffering, grief, and loss, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.
Our sexuality, power to love, and creative energy for relationship are of your making and belong to the heart of our humanity. That by offering these gifts to Christ to bless, shape and use them, we may mirror your passionate love for all creation, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.
Following the example of Jesus, we learn to listen to you intently, and to support each other in the struggle against all that resists your gracious will. That we may burn with Christ’s desire for your justice and peace, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.
With hearts set aflame by your passionate love, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns that you have placed in them: (Silence)
O passionate God, you so loved the world that you gave your only-begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Tonight I want to talk about redemption. It’s also the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, so as I begin my reflection on this theme my mind turns to Ireland, with thanksgiving to God for the work of redemption which has happened over these past years among the people of Northern Ireland.
I spent three summers working in Belfast at the height of the troubles. I saw the ravages of broken relationships, divided communities, fear, suspicion and despair. But I also met extraordinary people who gave of themselves sacrificially to offer reconciliation, hope and redemption to a people in great pain. There have always been such people in Ireland who have given of themselves in order to mend what is broken, to redeem what is lost. In those months when I lived in Ireland I heard time and time again a story which is very dear to me, and speaks to me very profoundly about the deep mystery of our subject this evening. It’s a story which took place in the 15th century in Dublin. Two clans were locked in bitter conflict: the Ormonds and the Kildares. There was a lot of violent killing, and there came a point where the leaders of the Ormond clan locked themselves inside the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to escape death. For many weeks the Kildare clan waited outside, swords drawn, besieging them. But one day something amazing happened. The Earl of Kildare “came to himself,” and said to himself, “This is foolish. We are two families: we believe in the same God, and here we are acting foolishly.” So he walked to the cathedral, approached the great door of the chapter house, and shouted. “Let’s call this off. Let us shake hands.” But there was no answer.
What he did next has gone down in Irish history. With his sword, he began to gouge a hole through the wood of the door. When the hole was big enough, he thrust his hand and his arm through it. (On the other side there were desperate men with swords.) And his hand was grasped by the hand of the Earl of Ormond. They shook. The door was flung open, and the feud was over.
This was an extraordinary act of courage, risk and sacrifice; a great act of redemption; an image of the redemption wrought by God. For in Jesus Christ, God thrust the divine hand of friendship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption, through the great door separating us from God. And we grasped the hands of Jesus, those hands of love, and hammered nails through them, and hung him on a cross to die. To those looking on it seemed that this man’s life and mission were a miserable failure. Yet, and this is the heart of it, a deeper mystery was silently at work. Through the death of Jesus Christ a far deeper and cosmic act of redemption was actually taking place – the redemption of humanity from sin and death. As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Eph. 1:7
God sent the Son into the world to heal and raise us up so that, empowered by the Spirit, we could surrender our whole selves and be reunited in the love of God. Looking forward to that day when God will gather all for the eternal banquet, let us pray saying, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.
You draw each disciple into that particular expression of community needed for the working out of their salvation. That together we may change and mature, in response to the Spirit who makes all things new, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.
From your fullness we all receive grace upon grace. That we may be brought into harmony with the very being and Triune life of God which is boundless sharing, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer,fulfill your salvation in us.
You call us to be of one heart and soul through our baptism into your death and rising and so give us a foretaste of the communion of saints. That we may be set us free from self-centeredness as members of one Body, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.
We were created to bless and adore God and to experience in worship our highest joy and deepest communion with one another. That the power of your word and the grace of feeding on you in the Eucharist may bind us together in love, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.
Our hope lies not in what we have done for God, but in what God has done for us. That we may offer our whole life to the glory of God, thankful for the mercy that has drawn us into the divine life, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.
All praise and thanks to the Father for the gift of the hope of glory. That the Spirit may open all that we are to the promise of eternal fulfillment beyond death, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.
With hearts enkindled by your redeeming love, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns which you have placed in them: (Silence)
O God, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
This evening we continue our series, “Breaking the Word”. We’re taking some of the great big words in church-talk and giving them a closer look. We’ve had now “conversion” and “forgiveness”. Next week we’ll have “redemption”; the following week, “passion”. This evening’s big word: “grace”.
The English word grace belongs to a large cluster: Grace, graceful,gracious, gratis, grateful, gratify, gratuitous, congratulate, ingratiate. All grounded in Latin gratus: pleasing, beloved, agreeable, favorable, thankful.
And in the hinterland of the Latin-derived words are a cluster of Greek words: chara, joy; chairo, to rejoice; charizomai, to give freely; charisma, gift; eucharistia, gratitude, thanksgiving; charis, grace. The core word in the Greek cluster is chara, joy. There’s something of joy in grace.
God loved the world and gave the only Son, the eternal Word by whom all things were created, to become flesh and live among us. Thankful that Christ has made known to us the grace and truth of the Eternal Father, let us pray saying, Gracious God, we thank you.
You strengthened the Beloved Disciple and Mary to stand at Golgotha, beholding the suffering of Christ. For that perfect love shown on the cross, by which we receive grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear, Gracious God, we thank you.
You broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of your Son, who emptied himself for our sake. For the graces and gifts by which you bring us to share in that same simplicity, obedience and self-offering love, Gracious God, we thank you.
Through the mystery of prayer you draw us to participate in your divine life, that ceaseless interchange of mutual love which unites your Three-Personed Being. For the graces of worship, meditation and your Spirit praying within us, Gracious God, we thank you.
You teach us to revere ourselves as those in whom Christ dwells, and you create us in your image as mysteries that cannot be fathomed. For the gift of the silence of adoring love for you which our words cannot express, Gracious God, we thank you.
You grant us grace in Baptism to surrender our lives to you through the vows which bind us to Christ. For the voice of the Spirit which never ceases to call us into deeper union with you and one another, Gracious God, we thank you.
For your Wisdom communicated to us in prayer and life, and absorbed into our hearts for ever; for your voice coming to us ever new, and bringing gifts beyond what we know now, Gracious God, we thank you.
With hearts emboldened by your gracious favor and love toward us, we now name before you, O God, the persons and concerns for which you would have us pray:
O God, you have given us the Good News of your abounding love in your Son Jesus Christ: So fill our hearts with thankfulness that we may rejoice to proclaim the good tidings we have received; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Lifted up from the earth in his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead Christ draws all people to himself. That we may be servants and ministers of the reconciliation which the Lamb of God has accomplished, let us pray saying, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.
The Beloved Disciple understood that the pouring out of water and blood from Jesus’ side signified the giving of the Spirit. That by that same Spirit we may be forgiven and forgive others, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.
Sinfulness originates in a deep wound to our humanity which hinders us from accepting love. That Christ’s healing touch in prayer may disable our self-reliant pride and make us depend on grace alone, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.
In our fallenness we continually turn in upon ourselves to seek fulfillment without self-offering. That the Eternally-Begotten One may heal us and raise us up to worship you in spirit and truth, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.
Through our biases and shortcomings, the life of your Church has been marred by many sinful failures. That in humility we may willingly learn all that you seek to teach us through them, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.
We cannot keep pace with the risen Christ who goes before us if we are encumbered by guilt. That by regular confession we may shed the burdens of remembered sin and move forward encouraged by the Spirit, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.
You teach us to confess our sins to one another, and call us to further the Church’s ministry of reconciliation. That we may reach out to the sick, the alienated and perplexed, those in prison, and the marginalized with your gracious healing and forgiveness, we pray, O God of forgiveness, grant mercy.
With hearts humbled by your gracious forgiveness, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns which you have placed in them:
Grant, O Lord, that as your Son Jesus Christ prayed for his enemies on the cross, so we may have grace to forgive those who wrongfully or scornfully use us, that we ourselves may be able to receive your forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
This evening we begin a five-part preaching series entitled, “Breaking the Word.” Each Tuesday in Lent we’ll be considering a different word. The words we’ve chosen – conversion, forgiveness, grace, redemption and passion – are words that we Christians use frequently but which we may not fully understand. We seldom take time to explore their meaning or to reflect on their significance for us. That’s the purpose of this series.
Tonight’s word is “conversion.” It’s a word that, for some of us, might have some mixed, or even negative, associations:
- It may elicit unpleasant memories of encounters with religious groups or individuals that make it their chief aim to convert others to their point of view.
- It may bring to mind a certain style of evangelism that strikes us as manipulative or intrusive.
- It may conjure up images of “hell-fire and brimstone” sermons, or of massive crusades in which charismatic preachers try to whip up the emotion of the crowd to affect a response to their message.
- It may remind us of people we have know who have been “converted,” but who bore witness to their conversion in remarkably unattractive ways.
As our bulletin notes, the word itself simply means “to turn around.”