The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
August 30, 2015

When was the last time you heard about passion in church?

For several reasons, the church has been reticent to talk about passion publicly for generations…

It could be the fact that passion is so uncontrollable… unpredictable… or the fact that since the mid to late 16th century the word became synonymous with sexual love, a topic that was easily dismissed as sin.

Regardless of the reasons, in a place and space in which we talk about love sooooo much…we rarely if ever talk about passion.

I would like to remedy that today, and I think the readings call for it.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of presiding at the wedding of Camilla and Gianluca, our finance administrator Simonetta Ciccolini’s daughter and new son-in-law.

I have had the privilege of presiding at several weddings and renewal of vows in my years of being a priest.

And over all those years of standing before couples and looking at the way they hold hands… the way they exchange vows… and the way they walk out together…

It has become quite clear to me which couples have passion, and which do not.

The fidelity in sickness and health… the willingness to forgive each other… friendship… all these are key elements that support and frame a successful marriage.

But without passion… without that all encompassing, uncontrollable something that draws two people to each other, it becomes difficult to sustain the marriage house.

Like the nails that bind one timber in the frame of a house to another, passion binds a couple… one to another… and makes them strong and able to withstand the winds of life.

It is beautiful to witness, contagious to an extent, and can inspire people to great heights.

So why don’t we talk about it more in church?

I think it may be because matters of the heart are so difficult to express and quantify.

Your experience of passion may be different from mine… perhaps you have been uplifted by passion or brought down by it… recreated or destroyed by it.

Maybe it is because we’ve gotten too used to making church and faith about our heads and thoughts rather than the matters of our hearts.

Maybe we’ve traded the real meat of the faith passed on to us, for a controllable, but not life giving, set of rules and norms.

It’s as if we thought we could thrive on hoarded and moldy manna, rather than searching out the banquet feast that God has prepared for us on the mountain of promise.

That sort of a “shadow” faith is not what the writer of the Song of Solomon had in mind when composing the book of the Bible most descriptive of passion and its reach.

It is a book that is meant to describe the ups and downs, the longing and fulfillment, and the appreciation and enthrallment that accompany passionate love between two people.

The lovers in Song of Solomon are so entwined with each other that they can barely stand to be apart, and when they are, they just find out more creative ways to stay connected through their thoughts of each other.

This is no rational enterprise for the two lovers, it is a matter of the heart.

If you have not read this whole book of the Bible, it is short after all, I would highly suggest you do so this week.

Especially if you need to be reminded about how passion can be a blessed thing, and about how it feels to be held in its sway.

Especially if you have forgotten that faith is not just about doctrine and dogma, but also about being swept off your feet into a life you couldn’t have imagined.

I confess to you that I have often let my head get in front of my heart on matters of faith and action.

I know that as we mature, and often after we get bruised or hurt by the tragedies of real life, it can become easier to close off the passionate part of our faith and our selves in favor of the safer space of the head and mind.

Thank God for reminders that this is not what we were created for, and especially for reminders that a safe faith and life is not what we have been called to pursue!

We see Jesus in Mark’s gospel today, in yet another debate with the religious authorities of his time.

They are the ones who have interpreted God’s word and law for others, and they are the ones who are in charge of safeguarding the rules and punishing those who live outside them.

Their question today is about the act of washing one’s hands before eating.

Is it ok to eat with defiled hands?

A simple yes or no will do for them…as befits most matters of the head.

But heart matters generally don’t adhere so neatly to black and white categories as do matters of the head.

Jesus comes down pretty hard on them for having reduced the whole connection between God, God’s people, and God’s marvelous creation to a formula.

For having crushed the passion that created the heavens and the earth into a narrow, restrictive code that, as it became more and more controlled and mediated by this smaller group of authorities, became oppressive rather than liberating….a new Egypt to replace the old that the people left behind so many generations before.

His criticism is firm and swift and straight out of the mouth of Isaiah, one of the major prophets that dealt with this dynamic in his own day: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The words that the Pharisees use are almost the direct opposite of the ones the lover in the Song of Solomon uses.

They are about control rather than freedom…about head rather than heart.

Jesus accuses those authorities harshly saying, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Many would like to separate passion and love from the religious equation and assign it to the human realm alone.

But Jesus won’t allow that.

In fact, if it weren’t for Jesus, we might not even have the word passion at all.

It was first used in Latin to describe the mystery of his loving action that led from his persecution and trial, to his crucifixion, and eventually his resurrection.

The Passion of Jesus Christ is what we read every holy week, and I would submit to you that the basis for Jesus’ saving action was more heart than head, and that if we want to follow him to the cross and beyond, we need to be willing to let his passion and our own flow freely through us.

Otherwise faith becomes stale.

Life becomes stale.

Love withers and dies instead of thriving.

Perhaps your passion is shared with another right now. Perhaps it is not.

Regardless, all people of faith are called to be people of passion.

To give our hearts to the core of God and put our hearts as a priority over our heads.

Don’t mishear me, heads are necessary and good…one of the main reasons I’m an Episcopalian!

But if we have lost the passion, lost the heart of the matter…then we run the risk of replacing a living faith with a dead one.

Trading the resurrection for a lifeless corpse in a cold tomb.

It is clear when passion no longer animates a couple…and likewise it is clear when it no longer guides and drives a person of faith.

Reconnect with your passion this week.

Go out and find it if you have lost it.

Live with it and let your heart inform your actions.

If you do, the church, the world, and this entire enterprise of God will be the better for it.

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