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An Affirming Flame - Sermon for Passion Sunday

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2016 11:59 am    Post subject: An Affirming Flame - Sermon for Passion Sunday Reply with quote

The following has been submitted by Rev Jo James of Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds.

An Affirming Flame – Sermon for Passion Sunday
March 20, 2016 Jo James

I saw on a tv programme a young woman being interviewed for a role in the customer services arm of a large corporation.
She said I’m passionate about customer services interface.

I wondered how we have come to a place in our culture where language can depart so decisively from its meaning?

I suppose what she meant to convey was: “I’m intensely enthusiastic about this part of the job and I’ll be very conscientious as a result”.

Which might actually be a fairly good thing to say in an interview.

There’s an advert on at the moment where the voice over says “we love your passion for the good things in life”

Your passion for the good things in life? Do they mean we love your commitment to attaining the good things in life? Not very loveable from my point of view anyway, but since when was a passion a commitment to attaining something?

“you’re passionate about your team” goes on the same advert

As if passion was a form of strongly held hobby?

Today is called Passion Sunday.
Its observed still by the Roman Catholic church and by some Protestant denominations, although not usually by our own.

It is the Sunday before Palm Sunday and is the moment in a religious journey intended to assist the person of faith recognise the emotional context of the journey of Jesus towards his death.

In our first reading Ed spoke words written by the critic Terry Eagleton in a response to the new atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Eagleton accuses the pair of missing the point of Christianity but he points out that they’re in good company there because so do most Christians. And one way in which most Christians do this is by focussing on such things as emotions and spirituality and avoiding context and reality.

In the reading Eagleton writes
‘Imitating Jesus means imitating his death as well as his life since the two are not really distinguishable’

Eagleton isn’t a theologian but a literary critic and his appreciation of the Gospels as literature is valuable. In one descriptive passage he writes:
‘Far from greeting his own impending death with stoical aplomb, the thought of it plunges him into a frightful panic in the Garden of Gesthemane.’

A frightful panic.

Thats a closer approximation to the deep meaning of the word Passion.

Passion is related to the word to suffer or endure and we use it to describe the period between Jesus arrest in The Garden and his death.

Elsewhere in his book ‘Faith Reason and Revolution’ Eagleton quotes very sound historical research that crucifixion was a form of punishment reserved for political troublemakers and revolutionaries. and he points out in the passage Ed read that; he “dies in an act of solidarity with what the Bible calls the Anawim – meaning the destitute and dispossessed.”


One of the foremost scholars of the historical Jesus the theologian John Dominic Crossan wholeheartedly agrees with this analysis and claims unequivocally that Jesus was a revolutionary radical.

He writes the heart of the original Jesus movement is a shared egalitarianism of spiritual and material resources.
Crossan writes “I emphasise this as strongly as possible that its activity and its spirituality cannot be separated” Crossan says of Jesus that “he preached taught acted and lived his vision of the Kingdom.”

Imitating Jesus means imitating his death as well as his life, his passion as well as his teaching.

His Passion, his suffering, his endurance.

How do we take this teaching so that it has meaning into our own lives?

Leonardo Boff writes that a dream is only true when it is translated into practice.

When Jesus calls the Poor ‘Blessed’ He insists that they are the first, the highest priority in the Kingdom, He shares their suffering and prioritises their relief.

One reason he may have called the poor blessed is that they are not complicit in the evils done by the system which rejects them. They have no investments in armaments and pharmaceuticals, no stocks in News international, no shares in Monsanto and no hedge fund derivatives.

We can only realise the dream of imitating Jesus by considering another closely related word.


Com passion is to suffer with, to suffer along side or to feel the pain of another, to empathise is related to the same root word patheo in Gk.

The revelation shared by Crossan, Boff, Eagleton, and the consensus of academic opinion is that Jesus was a practical radical who attacked the heart of the political system in which he lived. His culture his country was a theocracy, a religious state, so his political attack was focussed on the Temple.

His passion was compassion – solidarity for the dispossessed and oppressed and his action was to relieve them.

This relies on wisdom, discernment of scripture and strategy, and courage.

Jesus was extraordinarily brave to act as he felt right, and not as he felt safe.

Thats why I wanted to hear those lines that Sam read out today the lines from Walt Whitman’s poetry cycle ‘The Leaves of Grass’ come from a poem called The song of the Broad axe

Muscle and Pluck forever –
What invigorates life, invigorates death,
And the dead advance as much as the living advance,
And the future is no more uncertain than the present.

these seem very prescient lines at this Easter period when we consider the possibility that Jesus great advance was made beyond death.

Don't rely on the safety of the known strive instead for the truth of the vision – the action of compassion, says Whitman

“Where no monuments exist to heroes, but in the common words and deeds…”

Full Liberation writes Leonardo Boff is achieved in the practice of unconditional love…unconditional love is a single movement toward the other and toward God…

We are participating in a difficult time I believe, a time of the rise of unscrupulous politicians and the fall of liberal resistance, the rise of fanaticism and fall of rationalism. As inheritors of the liberal Christian tradition and interpreters of the free Christian word, the interpretation which “looks to a Power that is living, that is active in a love seeking concrete manifestation” and which has found a “decisive response in the living posture and gesture of Jesus of Nazareth.” (James Luther Adams)
I believe we have a responsibility to embody our passion, to live it outwardly so that we can be points of light here no matter how deep the darkness grows. ‘Points of light’ is WH Audens phrase written on the eve of the second war in his poem

31st September 1939

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming faith.
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