A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rogation Sunday, 13 May 2012

She was sick for three days. On the fourth night her friends called the priest. She had lost feeling from the waist down and felt she was dying. Her priest came in the room, came to her side and asked how she was doing. She could no longer speak. Knowing she was near death, as was the custom in those days, he took out a small cross, lifted it up before her eyes, and said, “I have brought you the image of your Maker and Savior. Look upon it and be comforted.”

As she tried to focus her eyes on the crucifix the room grew dark. Though she knew the room was crowded with friends, but all she could see was the Jesus upon the cross. Jesus’ passion for her, his love for her from the cross filled her imagination.

Julian had lived in Norwich all her life. That’s all she knew. Now, believing she had died, she was ready to travel to heaven. That night her pain subsided and Dame Julian of Norwich had a series of intense mystical visions or as she called them, “showings”. She wrote them down. The rest of her life she spent pondering their meaning - sharing insights with anyone who would listen. Almost twenty years later she wrote out an extended account of her visions – calling them Revelations of Divine Love (ca. 1393). This, this gift, the fruit of her life, was to become the first book written in the English language by a woman.

Over the last couple weeks the church’s calendar has been crowded with a number of powerful women saints, Catherine of Siena, Monica, the mother of Augustine, and Dame Julian of Norwich. These women of faith have something important to tell us, something important in common. They all desired earnestly to follow Jesus. They asked God to help them become disciples and devoted themselves to prayer, worship, and service to those in need.

 Today is Rogation Sunday. Rogation comes from the Latin “rogatio” which means “to ask”. It’s found near the end of the Gospel reading for today where Jesus says to his followers, “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.” Whatever you ask, “rogare”, in my name.

There are three things I’d like us to keep in mind about following Jesus.

1) Jesus chose us.

Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” Earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus begins calling disciples. In the first chapter it says, “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”” (Jn. 1:43)

In the original Greek it says “on the next day Jesus θέλω willed and purposed to go to Galilee. It also contains shades of “Jesus desired, took delight and pleasure in the thought of going to Galilee. He εὑρίσκω searched for Philip and said, “ἀκολουθέω μοι,” which means “Follow me”; it also contains the idea “I’ll go ahead of you and look out for you, join me, become my disciple.” In other words, Jesus had a plan before leaving for Galilee, he was taking delight in choosing his followers, he knew where Philip was, went to him, and said, “I’ve been looking for you. Follow me, stay close.”

He also chose Nathanael and the others even before they knew him. Psalm 139 says that God searches for us and knows us, we are known and loved even before we are born. Jesus delights in making disciples out of very ordinary people.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he said to Peter, “If you love me, follow me and tend to those in need.” (Jn. 21:19) Don’t worry about what others do or don’t do, “Follow me, stay close.” Jesus delights in choosing us to become his disciples.

2) Jesus appoints us to bear lasting fruit.

“And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

What does he mean by saying, “I have appointed you,” but that you, me, all of us, are called by Jesus to do something. The Gospel reading today comes from a longer discourse where Jesus describes himself as the “true vine” and calls us to “abide” in his love, to follow his example, abide in loving action, to be “fruitful.”

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4-5)

In Twelve Step Recovery programs they say “you cannot give what you do not have.” How can I offer the love of Christ if I am not regularly abiding in the source of love?

For years I’ve thought about what it means to be a disciple: to follow God’s call on my life. I was, as Kierkegaard called it, merely an ‘admirer of Jesus’. Jesus calls us to something deeper; he calls to friendship, to develop an intimate relationship, one of deep trust. Jesus says, I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends, if you obey my commands. (Jn. 15:15)

The command to “go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” signifies a fruitful relationship with the one who is the source of all good desires and all good actions.  

And 3) If we ask, God will make us disciples.

“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.”

In the original Greek “to ask” is αἰτέω,v

1) to ask, beg, crave, desire

 Julian of Norwich asked God, begged God, to help her understand the Passion of Jesus, the depth of God’s love and compassion. God gave her the words, the Divine Revelations; she said she merely conveyed to others what God impressed upon her as she abided in God’s love.

Monica prayed without ceasing for her husband and son. She wanted, deeply desired them to know Christ’s love. Her perseverance in love and prayer helped open the door to their faith. Her son Augustine eventually became an important leader of the early church in Hippo. Her fruit had a lasting effect.

Catherine of Sienna devoted herself to prayer and meditation even though her family tried to discourage. She took her call seriously. She became a nurse and cared for those rejected by society. She also visited prisoners condemned to death and worked for the unity of the church. Her life and writings have had a lasting effect on the church.

For a long time I’ve been feeling the need to deepen my relationship with Jesus, no longer just an admirer, I want to be his friend: to follow his call on my life. I had thought about it and thought about it. I had dabbled in a few committees at church, helped out at our church’s the homeless breakfast on occasion, and wondered what God might have me do.

Then I did something I was never really ready to do before, I asked God about it. I asked God for guidance and grace to follow him where ever he wants me to go. I listened to the deep stirrings of my heart and asked God to help me discern his will for me.

It’s a daily struggle to take up our cross and follow Jesus. This is impossible to maintain on our own will power. Besides, once in a while, we let something get in the way. We forget to abide in the source of our strength and power.

What keeps us from discipleship? What do you let get in the way? Jesus has already chosen us. Remember what Jesus said to the disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus will make us into disciples if we abide, if we but ask God for help. What is impossible with us is possible with God.

Yet, discipleship may still seem daunting. Someone will say, “The disciples were great men and women of faith. I can’t be a disciple; I’m not like them.” Jesus chose ordinary men and women, some fishermen, some with little education. John, the disciple that wrote the book of Revelation, was poorly educated, he was a poor writer and would have failed spelling and grammar, but his book is included in the New Testament canon.

Knowing that many of them would deny him, turn their backs on him, fail miserably, Jesus still entrusted them with the Gospel, knowing that they would eventually turn out alright.

If they continued to pray, to worship the living God, to seek and serve the outcasts and poor, if they continued to practice abiding in LOVE, they would turn out just fine. You see God trusts us. God believes in us. God would not call us to discipleship without provide the means to do it. If we ask God for help we will not be denied. If we crave and desire to follow Jesus closely and ask for grace, we will be given the strength we need. Jesus feeds us, like a mother, with milk of the word, and when we’re ready to digest it, the bread of life and cup of salvation, strength for our journey.

As we leave this meditation on what it means to follow Christ, it is important to remember that 1) Jesus chose us and delights in us 2) We are appointed to bear lasting fruit. Abiding in Jesus the “true vine” will keep us supple, sappy, and fruitful. And 3) If we ask, God will make us disciples. It is not up to us, all we need is the willingness to ask for help and abiding faith in God who will not let us down.

And God said to Julian, “I can make all things well; I will make all things well; I shall make all things well; and thou canst see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”

Additional Background on Rogation Sunday

Rogation comes from the Latin “rogatio” which means “to ask”. It’s found near the end of the Gospel reading for today. Jesus says to his followers, “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.

In the original Greek it is αἰτέω,v \{ahee-teh'-o}

1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire

In the 5th century Christians began to set aside certain days to fast and pray for the welfare of their communities. Some prayed for a fruitful harvest, others, living close to a volcano, prayed for protection from eruptions and other calamities. Days of Rogation were popular among Anglicans until they were suppressed during the early English reformations. Elizabeth I reintroduced the practice.

The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the local officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green branches, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them. Local parish communities would beat the bounds or boundaries of their community and ask God for blessings on their fields and livestock, and the general welfare of all inhabitants.

Maps were rare in those days so one of the benefits of making a formal visit around the parish boundaries helped hand down the knowledge for future generations – being within the bounds meant that you were liable to contribute to the repair and upkeep of the church, you had a right to be buried within the churchyard, and to voice your opinion in the local courts.

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