29 August 2021
It’s all about passion this week! The Lectionary explores what it means to obey God’s law and to live a righteous life, and concludes that, if our faith is simply legalistic, outward observance, it is not authentic. Rather, it is about ensuring that our hearts are devoted to God, that we remain passionate in our commitment to Christ and to God’s Reign.
May our worship be passionate this week, and may it lead us into passionate service of God and of others.
Song of Solomon 2:8-13: The young woman celebrates her lover, admiring his strength and beauty, and remembering his invitation for her to join him as they enjoy the weather, the sounds, the fruits, and the beauty of Spring.
OR Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9: Moses exhorts the people of Israel to listen to the laws of God, and to follow them, not adding anything to them or subtracting anything from them. These laws give them wisdom and insight, and show Israel to be God’s special people, so the people should make sure they don’t forget them and that they teach them to their children.
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9: A Psalm in celebration of God’s appointed king as handsome in appearance, but also as just and righteous. The context is the wedding of the king, and thus the beauty and sacredness of this human union is also celebrated.
OR Psalm 15: The ones who are able to dwell in God’s presence are those who live blameless lives, speaking truth, refusing to harm or insult others, keeping promises, lending without interest and refusing bribes. Such people do not stumble.
James 1:17-27: God has given us every good and perfect gift. Therefore, we need to live God’s law, remembering it and putting it into practice. We are called to be good listeners who are slow to anger, who have a humble attitude and who care for the marginalised and vulnerable in our world.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: Jesus is questioned by the religious leaders because his disciples don’t wash their hands before they eat. In response Jesus warns against worship that is only lip service, and explains that it is not what comes from outside that defiles us, but what comes from the heart.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
We’re back in Mark’s Gospel and the Gospel-centred readings for this week all challenge us to live righteously and justly by following God’s law, living with humility and integrity and ensuring that we don’t focus on outward observance, but allow our hearts to be changed so that our service of God and others is a true, heartfelt response. In Deuteronomy, the people are called to value and listen to God’s laws, treasuring them as the source of wisdom. In Psalm 15, those who live blameless lives are able to enter God’s house and are assured that they shall not stumble. In James, those who hear the law but fail to live it out are compared to people who look at themselves in a mirror and then forget what they look like, but followers of Christ are called to put God’s law into practice. Finally, Jesus demonstrates that following the law is not about legalistic, outward observance, but is about being changed by the values and practices of God’s Reign so that our hearts are pure and connected with God.
In the semi-continuous Old Testament readings, we find a celebration of human sexuality and love. In the Song of Solomon, the lovers enjoy the beauty of Spring, which, for the young woman, is not unlike the beauty of her lover. In a similar way, Psalm 45 celebrates the king on his wedding day. It may seem like these readings are about as far from the others as it is possible to get, but two approaches bring all the readings together. In the traditional view, both of these readings can be interpreted allegorically, representing our intimate union with God, and calling us to live as true lovers of God – which is exactly what all of the other readings are saying as well. But, another approach is to recognise that our sexuality is not divorced from our spiritually, but is an integral part of it. From this perspective, the joy in our physicality, and the beauty and sacredness of our sexuality must be included in our quest to live godly lives. The Scriptures speak of this when they call us away from immorality, and when they challenge us to live as those whose hearts are pure, not just our outward actions. In a sense, part of the call to be lovers of God and neighbour, is to embrace eros and allow it to move us to passion for justice, peace, unity, and compassion – especially for the least. Our faith is not just about what we do outwardly – it’s about having hearts set ablaze by the values and purposes of God’s Reign, such that we practice “true religion” which liberates and restores others – especially, as James says, the weakest and most vulnerable.
What might it mean for us to learn to celebrate our union with God as lovers do, and to follow Christ with passion as well as obedience, noticing and enjoying life (like the enjoyment of Spring) wherever we find it?
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
The quest to follow Christ and work to bring God’s justice into our world can be tough, disheartening, and dehumanising. It is not easy to face the horrors of injustice and the very real impact of evil across the globe, and the challenge to confront and change these realities can harden us and desensitise us. In addition, once we have become committed to a cause, or have invested significant amounts of time, resources, energy and passion to serving our world in Christ’s name, we can get so caught up in the work, that we lose the meaning, the spirit, of our work, and it can start to become mere legalistic, outward observance. It is easy for passion to become cold institution – as it has in so many movements, denominations and organisations. When this happens, we can end up becoming as inhuman and destructive as the evils we seek to fight. That’s why, while celebrating the justice, ethics and morality of God’s Reign, and God’s law, the Lectionary also reminds us to ensure that our hearts remain committed and united with God. The passion that is described in the Song of Solomon is not just about our sexuality as expressed in relationships. As many celibates testify, sexual energy, when channelled into service of God’s Reign, can strengthen, impassion and guide our service in the world. When we live passionately in every aspect of our lives, including our work for justice, our creativity is inspired, our compassion is deepened, our ability to connect and collaborate is enhanced, and we have greater resources to combat burn-out and disillusionment. This week, as we strive to bring greater justice to our world, and as we confront evil in whatever form we find it, may we be careful to nurture our passion for God, for others, and for our world, ensuring that our hearts stay open and connected, and our lives reflect God’s Reign both inwardly and outwardly.
It is a pity that for too many people religion – especially Christianity – is seen as cold, institutionalised and heartless. It seems we have become more like the religious leaders who were concerned with keeping the outside clean than we would like. We have, too often, made following Jesus about excluding “sinners”, and keeping ourselves pure (read: obedient to the legalistic outward observance of our denomination or group). As such, our faith has driven wedges into families, set communities at odds with one another, and ignored real issues of justice in favour of asserting our own particular “rights” or needs. The passion that has characterised so many revival movements and justice movements in history has often been lost, and replaced with shallow emotionalism and glitzy, escapist worship gatherings. These are hard words for us to face, but until we do, we cannot restore our faith to the passionate, Christ-following, neighbour-loving, heart-capturing movement that it really is. As individuals and churches, we will never be effective in reaching our communities, our friends and our families with the message of the Gospel, until that message is the inspiration of our own lives. But, when our hearts are captured by the Gospel again, and when we become passionate lovers of God, of people and of the world, we won’t have to “preach” in order to be heard. The Gospel will be seen in our lives, and others will know the life-giving touch of God through us. As individuals and communities of faith, let us not underestimate the value of passionate hearts, both for our own spiritual health, and in bringing healing and restoration to those around us.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
The Song of Deeds
Law And Love
From Sanctuary to Street
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
What I Have Vowed
Lifesong (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy for Communion
Slow To Anger