Sunday, 6 May 2018

Bearing fruit in due season
and conquering with love

‘Almighty God, whose will it is that the earth and the sea should bear fruit in due season’ … spring fruit ripening on the trees in Thessaloniki earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 6 May 2018,

The Sixth Sunday of Easter


9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Acts 10: 44-48; Isaiah 45: 11-13, 18-19; Psalm 98; I John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.

The White-Robed Army of Martyrs on the walls of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna … from left to right, Cornelius is the fifth white-robed figure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 10: 44-48), the Apostle Peter baptises Cornelius and his household. Cornelius is a Roman centurion stationed in Caesarea, and both he and Saint Peter have had visions, very different visions.

The baptism of Cornelius and his household is an important event in the history of the early Church. Saint Peter takes many risks in deciding to accept Cornelius and his household into the family of faith and to eat with gentiles. But Cornelius too takes risks.

Centurions were not only professional military officers, but they were also law enforcers and tax collectors.

Cornelius now risks losing his position, his social status, and his income. All his family are put at risk too, and so this conversion has implications for his household, his family and for generations to come.

What risks are we being challenged to take in the Gospel reading, in our own Baptismal promises?

A carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus … but the author of I John writes to the Church in Ephesus about more important signs of victory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When we think of military figures taking risks, we sometimes think of one verse in this morning’s Gospel reading (John 15: 9-17). It is familiar to many of us because of the way one verse in it is often quoted on war memorials in our churches and cathedral: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ (John 15: 13).

However, in this Gospel reading Christ is talking about death and victory in a very different context, as he continues the theme of us abiding in him and he abiding in us, which we discussed last week.

We are listening to him these Sundays as he continues to prepare his disciples for his physical departure from them. He has already told us that he is the ‘true vine’ (see John 15: 1), and that we are the fruit and the branches. We are to represent him in the world and to present him to the world, bearing fruit and acting in his name, loving one another as Christ loves us and as the Father loves him.

This kind of love leads to joy, the ultimate victory. Christ, who is the model for our behaviour, loves us so much that he gave his life for us, his friends.

One of the best-known symbols of globalisation is the Nike Swoosh logo. You find it on tracksuits, on sweatshirts, on trainers, on sneakers, on T-shirts, all over the world. There must be very few people who do not recognise the Nike logo, which has been sported by the likes of Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and Venus and Serena Williams.

The company takes its name from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and the ‘Swoosh’ was designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University. She met Phil Knight while he was teaching accounting classes and she started doing some freelance work for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS). BRS needed a new brand for a new line of athletic footwear it was preparing to introduce in 1972. Knight approached Davidson for some design ideas, and she agreed to provide them – at $2 an hour.

Carolyn Davidson quickly presented Phil Knight and others at BRS with a number of designs, and they finally selected the mark now known globally as the Nike Swoosh – an abstract outline of an angel’s wing that some people think looks more like a checkmark or the tick used on some essays to indicate a positive mark.

The company first used the logo as its brand in 1971, when the word ‘Nike’ was printed in orange over. The logo has been used on sports shoes since then, and is now so well-recognised all over the world, even by little children, that the company name itself is, perhaps, superfluous.

Carolyn Davidson’s bill for her work came to $35. Mind you, 12 years later, in 1983, Knight gave Davidson a gold Swoosh ring and an envelope filled with Nike stock to express his gratitude. It is surprising to realise, therefore, that Carolyn Davidson’s design was not registered as a trademark until 1995.

A logo representing victory is an appropriate and meaningful symbol for a company that manufactures and sells running shoes. The logo is used in tandem with the slogan, ‘Just do it,’ and the branding campaign was so successful in communicating to their target market that the meaning for the logo evolved into a battle cry and the way of life for an entire generation. A small symbol has brought victorious success to a once-small company.

What is said to be one of the earliest inspirations for the Nike tick sign is a carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus.

But when Saint John was writing to the Church in Ephesus, he expressed very different ideas about victory to his company of little children as he discussed love and told them to ‘just do it.’

In our Epistle reading (I John 5: 1-16), we are reminded of the connection between faith and love, the two great themes of this epistle, and to victorious faith leading to eternal life. I John talks about a very different type of victory than the victories associated with commercial branding, globalisation and the financial glory associated with brand names and over-commercialised sport. Instead, the writer emphasises the victories associated with faith and love ... faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the love of God and of one another that should be the victorious tick sign of Christians.

As we come towards the end of reading Saint John’s first letter, we are reminded that everyone who believes in Jesus as Christ and the Son of God is a child of God too. And so, if we believe in God and in Christ as his Son, we should love God and love his children, and this is the imperative for Christians to love one another.

But how do we know that we are doing this and showing that love? We know that know that we truly love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. Gestures of charity are simply not good enough – there must be a direct connection between loving others and living a life of holiness and sanctity.

Unlike the traditional observation and codification of the commandments, with their heavy-laden and burdensome listings and enumerations, the author tells us the love of God and love of others is not a great burden for the Christian. On the other hand, as the great German martyr of World War II Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, there is no cheap grace, there is a cost to discipleship.

I was saying at the very beginning that this is Rogation. But it is not just the land and the fields that are supposed to be fruitful. Christ says in our Gospel reading: ‘I appointed you to go and bear fruit’ (John 15: 16).

Nobody said it was going to be easy being a Christian. But, because we are children of God, we know that our faith is a victory (Nίκη) that conquers the world. Christ has overcome the world, and our faith in him enables us to bear fruit, the sort of love that conquers the world, and only through love.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ … John 15: 13 quoted on the World War I memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 9-17:

[Jesus said:] 9 ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’

‘I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (John 15: 16) … fruit on a market stall in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour: White.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Introduction:

This Sunday, the Sunday before Ascension Day, is known traditionally as Rogation Sunday. This is the day when the Church prayed, ‘Almighty God, whose will it is that the earth and the sea should bear fruit in due season’ and traditionally offered prayers for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labours of those who produce our food.

The word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin rogare, ‘to ask.’

Traditionally, the three Rogation Days – the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day – were a period of asking for God’s blessing on the crops and for a bountiful harvest. It is good to be reminded of our dependence on that work, on God’s blessing on that work, and of our responsibility for the environment.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (the Sixth Sunday of Easter):

God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
Grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect (Rogation Days):

Almighty God and Father,
you have so ordered our life
that we are dependent on one another:
Prosper those engaged in commerce and industry
and direct their minds and hands
that they may rightly use your gifts in the service of others;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said,
Peace be with you.
Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
May we also thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer (Rogation Days):

God our creator,
you give seed for us to sow and bread for us to eat.
As you have blessed the fruit of our labour in this Eucharist,
so we ask you to give all your children their daily bread,
that the world may praise you for your goodness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

‘As you have blessed the fruit of our labour in this Eucharist, so we ask you to give all your children their daily bread’ (the Post-Communion Prayer, Rogation Days) … fruit ripening on lemon trees in Platanes near Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

299, Holy Spirit, come, confirm us
39, For the fruits of his creation.
231, My song is love unknown

This sermon was prepared for Sunday 6 May 2018.

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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