Ephesians 3: 14-22 & Mark 6:45-56
Are we passionate people?
I don’t know about you, but if a youngster walked up to me and asked “Do you live your life with passion?” I think I’d probably make some flip reply about being past that sort of thing at my age! But it’s not true.
Do any of you remember the Robin Williams film, “Dead Poet’s Society”, about an impassioned teacher who loved literature, as I do? He’d jump on the desks to recite poetry, to gain a reaction, connect with their emotions. He was the best kind of teacher - he inspired his young pupils to form literary societies and live life to the full. His motto was “Carpe diem – seize the day”, make the most out of life while you can, and for a long time after I tried to make it my guide to life too.
So are we passionate? Can we be?
How many of you believe that Jesus walked on the water? I’m sure I don’t have to ask how many believe that he died for the forgiveness of our sins. If you believe in miracles, if you believe in Jesus’ passion; that he opened his arms of love for us on the cross, and died that our sins be forgiven 2,000 years before we were born, then it is because you have a deep conviction. You can’t have a deep conviction without feeling passion.
So here’s the thing. We’re all passionate people here. We have felt at some point in our lives the conviction that faith brings.
What happens when we're passionate?
People of passion can do things. They’re full of life.
We’re not called to be bland and dull and boring as Christians. That’s not what Jesus was like – if there’s one thing that comes across, it’s how charismatic he was. In that reading from Mark, it shows how people loved him, they wanted to grab his clothes, people who were ill came or were brought to hear him speak. They even hoisted disabled people onto the roof to hear him speak (in that heat!).
Passionate people do things with all their hearts, with all their minds, with all their souls. That’s what’s attractive, that’s what makes people think, “yes, I want some of that”, “What’s going on in that church? Maybe I should go along and see”.
Passion is the driver that gets you up in the morning when your bones ache and it’s pouring with rain. It energises you, makes the impossible possible – think about “Chariots of Fire” and Eric Liddell. God wants us to live passionate lives.
Jesus said we’re called to love God - not just love him in a quiet, English, ‘C of E’ sort of way. We should love him with all our soul and mind and strength.
Passionate people aren’t afraid to step out in faith, do the unknowable. They might well feel fear, but so convinced are they that what they are doing is the right thing, that it overwhelms the ‘doubting Thomas’ inside them.
Rick Warren, the only other priest I've seen who shares a similar taste in shirts with Chris, wrote:
The creative force behind all great art, all great drama, all great music, all great architecture, all great writing is passion. Nothing great is ever accomplished in life without passion. Nothing great is ever sustained in life without passion. Passion is what energises life. Passion makes the impossible possible. Passion gives you a reason to get up in the morning and go, “I’m going to do something with my life today”.
Without passion life becomes boring. It becomes monotonous. It becomes routine. It becomes dull.
God created you with the emotions to have passion in your life and He wants you to live a passionate life. Passion is what mobilises armies into action. Passion is what causes explorers to boldly go where no man’s gone before. Passion is what causes scientists to spend late night hours trying to find the cure to a dreaded disease. Passion is what takes a good athlete and turns him or her into a great athlete where they’re breaking records. You’ve got to have passion in your life.
Are we called to be passionate?
Yes. Because that’s how we are supposed to live our lives in Christ. In fact in Revelation 3 it’s made quite plain that living a life without passion is not right. The thing that was wrong with the Laodician church was being lukewarm – verse 16 says,
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
C. S. Lewis said it like this,
The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.It deserves your whole life or nothing.
That’s what the power of his Spirit in your inner being, does: it fills us with an inner power – Christ dwelling in us. His power is at work in us, it says so in our first reading today in (Ephesians 3) verse 20,
his power that is at work within us,and if we don’t live big, if we’re not filled with the measure of all the fullness of God, we’re squashing that. Passion is the gift that Jesus bought for us by suffering the other kind of Passion for. Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians 3:16-18, says
...he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of ChristAnd in at Galatians 4:18
It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good
At the heart of Christian passion is love. Jesus put love at the centre of the only commandments that really matter. Matthew 22:37-39,Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.Nothing matters more than that. That’s the number one thing in life. “I want you to love Me passionately”, says God – He doesn’t want you to love Him half-heartedly. He wants you to love Him with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.
Do you?“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour.”Being passionate about God has nothing to do with your age. Our church is filled with lots of mature believers who have walked with God a long, long time and are still passionate. Look at our Queen. She may be 90 but you can see that though she lives in and respects the multicultural society the UK now is, what keeps her going is her Christian passion and duty to God.
Nor does it have to do with personality. Look around here – there are people with so many different passions – Rob for his worship and walking, Chris for music and poetry, Shonagh with her eye for design and flower arranging and gift for hospitality. It takes all sorts because we all have different roles, different ways and different purposes. But we're all fired with passion. Or can be.
And God is passionate about us too
Remember, God is passionate about you – he made you to love you, he knew you before you were in your mother’s womb, he numbers all the hairs on your head
Now I’m going to ask you a personal question, &ldquo'when was the last time you felt passionate about something?”
Passion is about a strong, intense emotion, but above all it’s about feeling, feeling phenomenally enthusiastic. And we can do that about anything.
If there’s one good thing to come out of the politics over the last three weeks, it’s that suddenly people care about politics again. The inertia, disinterest and inability to care one way or the other, thinking they’re all a bunch of goons has gone, and everyone has an opinion on why people (or themselves) voted the way they did, and what has happened to all the leaders since. I know I’ve felt more strongly than I ever remember doing about the result of any general election, so perhaps that’s where my passion has been aroused.
God is so passionate about you, he so loved the world, that he sent his only son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not die spiritually. He suffered pain
He did what He did because He has a passion to see people saved (Romans 5:6-8)
- Scourged – Mark 15:15
- Beaten – Matthew 27:27-35, John 19:2-5
- Spit upon – Matthew 26:67, 27:30
- Beard pulled out – Isaiah 50:6
- Crowned with thorns – Mark 15:17
- He was crucified – Matthew 27:35
- He died – John 19:30; Matt. 27:50
- He rose again – Matthew 28:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
He has a passion for you (Romans 10:9 & 13)
And if we live without that passion is like being a spiritual pauper.
The Passion Killers: What happens when the passion fades
But everything conspires to dampen our ardour! Faced with everyday life, it is a challenge not to lose steam, even if you try not to. Why is that?
We are not by nature passionate about God. It’s a choice we make.
The disciples in today’s reading weren’t passionate. They should have been. It’s easy to look at them and think, “they’d just seen Jesus feed the five thousand, they’d witnessed many a miracle; casting out demons; healing; raising a girl from the dead; they should have been on fire for him and filled with faith, and when they saw him walk across the water to help them, it should have amazed them”. But how did they react? They thought they’d seen a ghost. They had fear in their hearts. They had all the evidence they needed to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be, but they didn’t really understand, even at this point. Until they saw the crucifixion, until they saw Him risen again, they didn’t understand.
So if we have lost our passion, let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Everything in life conspires to keep us from being passionate about God. There are some things in life that just seem to suck all the joy out of it, don’t you find? I think J.K.Rowling summed this up beautifully when she described the “dementors” in the Harry Potter books, that sucked all the warmth from around them and made you feel suicidal. It’s quite a good way of explaining depression to those who have been lucky enough never to experience it.
Don’t you just know some people who have the ‘dementor effect’ on you, you catch sight of them and you know all they are going to do is moan, or tell you some tale of woe. We need to counteract this internally.
Life can be pretty tough. We have all lost people we loved. Most of us have experienced rejection; in relationships; in the workplace; perhaps even in church; and we have all been hurt at some time or another. Some are more resilient than others, and bounce back but the overall effect is a gradual erosion of our passion; for the job; for the love of our life that doesn’t reciprocate; and of our passion and belief in Him.
There are passion killers out there, guys – and they’re not just the big knickers my mum once showed me!
To keep your passion going is a discipline that can be learnt. An attitude change. So how do we do it?
God’s plan for us is to spread the Good News wherever we can. If we can reach but one person and change their hearts for God, they we have altered eternity for someone; remember the starfish on the beach story? “I bet it made a difference to that one”.
How we reignite our passion for God
How do we reignite our passion for God which infuses every element of our life?
Let’s just look at three things that can be passion killers that stop us from burning with that constant passion for our Lord, and think about what we can do to help.
- Be Passionate in Prayer
An undernourished spirit will kill your passion. Lack of prayer
Life is tough and full of pitfalls and challenges. You have to nourish your spirit in face of adversity because no one else will do it for you. God is passionate about us. So much so that after trying several other methods, he was willing to send his son to die for us.
So what did Jesus do after feeding the five thousand? It must have been pretty draining. It’s where our second reading began today. Anyone remember? How did he regain his passion?
He went away on his own, up a mountainside, and prayed.
Jesus has a passion for prayer – he’s pictured in prayer no less than 25 times in the Gospel. No doubt he said thank you for God’s blessings on all those people. I bet he prayed that they would see beyond the miracle and be saved eternally and I’m pretty sure he must have sought His Father’s will for what he should do next.
He prayed because that was his communication with His Father – we could learn a lot from Him!
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is amazing and a good way to start.
He doesn’t ask for material things or healing. He asks for spiritual gifts that can only come from the Lord. Paul steps away from the usual formula for prayer, which goes, “bless me and mine and make us happy”, to “Lord, do whatever it takes to make us holy”.
Prayer is not about getting our will done in Heaven, but about getting God’s will done on earth. We make our plans and then we ask the Lord to bless what we have already decided to do! That is back to front. We should seek His will and direction for our lives and make prayer a priority in our lives if we want to have the right kind of life, a life filled with the power of God, and his passion.
- Be Passionate in Doing
Is there a lack of balance in your life? Are you under-worked? Or overworked?
If you’re overworked or over-committed you just don’t have the time and energy for everything and something gets squeezed out. Usually this is the thing that squawks least; your passion for God. But if you’re like my brother, who’s newly retired and doesn’t seem to have any hobbies, not even the ones he used to have, then you’re at the opposite end of the scale: too much rest leads to boredom, just as too much work leads to exhaustion.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”, says Ecclesiastes. There’s a rhythm and a balance to life. You need both action and rest in your life – do you remember the old jingle, “a Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”? Think of that to help you get your balance back. We need to be stimulated – but not overstimulated. When you go home, have a read of Revelation 3 verse 1-3. This is The Message version,Maybe there’s life in you yet. But I wouldn’t know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God’s work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God.Are you really doing what God wants for you? Whenever you forget why God put you on earth you’re going to drift toward apathy and lethargy. Who cares? Passion and purpose go together. When you have a clear purpose it’s going to give you a lot of passion. But it’s got to be God’s purposes for your life. If you’re only living for yourself, that isn’t going to make you very passionate. What is God’s purpose for your life? If you don't know yet, phone a friend, ask a vicar, come up for prayer. It is never too late.
We’ve all got gifts, things we’re good at. Sometimes we have to fail at a lot of things before we find out what our true gifts are. Some of us can give up trying, discouraged by the effort, scared of failing but our gifts are there, and they are given to us not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others.
I know how difficult this can be. I have been struggling ever since I took maternity leave some 20-odd years ago to find another career which feels right. I’m not there yet, but I’ll keep you posted. I'm hoping that there’s going to be a big breakthrough in the next year or two! But meanwhile we can feel drained. What I’ve discovered is that when the path that you want isn’t open to you for some reason, keep exercisingl; try another path. For the last year I’ve been volunteering one day a week at “Caring Hands”, a day care centre for homeless people in Chatham run by King’s Church Medway. I have never done so much washing up, peeled so many eggs or potatoes, or made so many cups of tea or coffee in my life, but it’s given me a completely new view of homeless people, and I hope I’m giving to them. I’m certainly getting a lot back from it.Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.I’d like a penny for every time at work I’ve had to think of that one to motivate myself!
But if you’re not using your gifts in the workplace, or haven’t found them yet, talk to someone about this – because feeling useless or rejected or lost in some way drains your passion. And there’s always someone who needs your gift.
But when you find something you’re good at, or are able to do something you want, suddenly you have so much energy. Even if it is hard work, it doesn’t feel like it. Because you're passionate about it.
Use it or lose it.
- Be Passionate in Church
To paraphrase J.F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your church can do for you, what can you do for your church”
Are you happy coming to church each week? Do you feel involved, a contributor, and not just ‘pew fodder’? Could you do more? There are some people here who are involved in so many of the church’s ministries that they are overburdened. Others of us (and I include myself) could do better.
Are you tempted to sit back and think, I’m really quite good at X but other people here do it better, and no one’s ever asked me. Perhaps this has made you doubt your gift, perhaps you’re struggling with a lack of confidence or direction.
Do you feel unsupported? Are you really rooted in your church? If you’re not able to spend enough time with other Christians for one reason or another, that can be a threat to the strength of your faith. There’s a predictable pattern; you stop coming to church; if you’re not getting into fellowship you turn not just lukewarm but stone cold. We blame God, it feels like He’s far away, and deserted us. Well, I think it’s probably the other way round. We need relationships to help us grow, to fan the flames of our passion for Him.
Make an effort to meet other Christians – new ones if you’re not clicking with the ones around you. ‘Two are better than one...’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9). We all need a little help from our friends. Are you in a Life (Home) Group? If not, is that because you’ve had difficulties in the past? Then try again – there’s a new group in charge and they are determined to get everyone who wants to be in a group placed with others they are likely to get on with.
We can’t choose or control as much as we might want to in our lives. But we can choose and control our attitude towards it. No one can take that away from us. Don't be a victim, fight back with passion.
Remember Jesus’ words to those fearful disciples across the water,Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.To which I would add, “Reclaim the passion! Don’t let the passion killers win.”
Over the next week, remember three things
- Be passionate in prayer
- Be passionate in doing
- Be passionate in church
Let’s pray for a re-invigoration of your passion for God, because it’s this spiritual power that should be at the heart of our prayers and our relationship with our Lord. It’s what makes life worth living
“Our Father, we thank You for the passionate love You have for us.
You couldn’t have said it more clearly in Your word.
You couldn’t have shown it more clearly than by sending Jesus to die on the cross.
Forgive our lukewarm attitudes. Help us to learn to love You back with a fierce passion. Reignite the passion in our lives and help us love you and our neighbours with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds.
Let us be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Your Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We ask this in Jesus’ name,