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From The Rector

Dear Friends---

As we contemplate the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ in this Holy Week, I have had that word, “passion”, on my mind.  The word can mean several things. At the root of the word lies the basic definition of “passion”, which is “to suffer”. In the context of Holy Week, passion refers to the suffering of Jesus. We derive many words from the root word “passion”, including being a “patient” in the hospital, definitely a reference to suffering. We also derive the word “patience”, which points to the sometimes painful experience of waiting for someone or something, either personally or even generationally. The use of the word “passion” to refer to deep excitement or commitment also carries with it the idea of suffering, for if you have a passion for world peace then you will suffer whatever it takes in order to see peace become a reality. 

I came across the following article in thinking about passion. The author takes the meaning for “passion” to be those things that give to us energy, that give to us meaning or purpose, the demonstration of our heart and soul through action, word, and thought. He asks us, What is a passion-filled church?

“What is my purpose? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?

These are all ancient, lifelong questions that are never definitively answered. One season of self-discovery and affirmation often leads to others filled with doubt and uncertainty. Still, these questions do not ever disappear and are always beckoning us to continue our search. Whether we acknowledge it or not, they are at the forefront of our lives each and every moment of each and every day. We’re always on a quest seeking the point of our existence.

Churches, as living organisms made up of other living organism, must answer these questions as well. No, I am not suggesting new campaigns in which savvy consultants craft catchy mission and vision statements communicating the reason for our congregation’s existence. Just like humans, those answers are fluid and always changing. Meaning and purpose in one decade may transform into an entirely different kind of witness the next. Still, a church must partner with the unique individuals who make up its membership in asking the most important questions of life: What is our purpose? Why are we here? What is the meaning of our collective life?

In the 12th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is asked just that. We all understand the setting. A scribe is attempting to trick Jesus into vilifying particular aspects of the law while praising others in hopes of finding reason to have him arrested. So this particular scribe comes to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest of all?” He wants to know, from Jesus’ perspective, which is foremost. What is the one thing someone might leverage their life for in order to make it count and be pleasing to God? Basically, this scribe is asking Jesus life’s most difficult question: the very meaning of it all. 

“Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’”

The exegetical possibilities for these few verses are really endless. Entire New Testament courses could be taught on the various implications of Jesus’ greatest commandment and that would all be very worthy of our time. There is always one aspect of Jesus’ response to the meaning of life, however, that I think is paramount for churches and individuals seeking to find their purpose and direction in life.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Though this will make my former homiletics professor cringe, I love the word choice of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message which calls us to “love the Lord God with all your passion.”

I have always believed that Irenaeus was correct when he declared, “Man fully alive is the glory of God.” God is most glorified in an individual when that individual is most passionate about life, trusting that her passions are truly God-given. Theologian Howard Thurman put it this way: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Both of these declarations echo Jesus’ words to love God with all of our hearts, to discover the activities and ambitions within us which call forth our truest selves and provide us with the most life-filled existence, and to love God and serve the world through those passions.

The most basic mission and purpose of the weekly ministry of a congregation is to create environments where congregants might truly meet with God, and as a result, discover their greatest God-given passions. This should be the cornerstone to every pastoral ministry. Churches should be passionate about helping others discover their own passions, believing that when they follow those passions, God will be most glorified and God’s work will be done on earth. This is the heart of ministry whether we are cultivating the passions of social servants or inspiring hope for the hopeless. By cultivating passion among those sitting in our pews, 21st-century churches can discover their own unique purpose by becoming Christ-focused servant centers in which individuals are free to discover their passions and find innovative ways to use those passions to bring about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

As the individuals in our congregations seek meaning and purpose in their lives, the mission of the entire congregation is always called into question. It is the role of churches to be a leader of leaders who prophetically inspire others to hope and passion, while pastorally equipping them for action and service. This is the meaning of life, and it is the passion-filled churches who cultivate it.”

So, how do we connect to our passion as a congregation? How do we answer the questions, “Why are we here? What is our purpose?”

Fr. Troy+