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2018 Covenant Celebration Message

February 11, 2018

Many of us have noticed that theme for our Covenant Celebration this year is centered around the apple; as in “You’re comparing apples to oranges,” and “You’re the apple of my eye,” and “The apple never falls far from the tree,” or  “As American as an apple pie,” and “How about them apples?” and “She’s one smart apple,” and “You’ve really upset the apple cart now”.

The apple is rooted (no pun intended) in our language and humor. "Dad!" the little boy puffed, "is it true that an apple a day keeps the doctor away?" "That's what they say," said his Dad. "Well, give me an apple quick? I've just broken the doctor's window next door!" 

Or in the school lunch room, the rambunctious schoolboy asks indignantly: "What kind of pie do you call this?" "What's it taste like?" asked the cook. "Glue!" replies the boy "Then it's apple pie, the plum pie tastes like soap." 

It’s important to note that one of the principal reasons the apple is so deeply rooted in our culture is biblical. The oldest English translations of the bible have deeply left their mark on our literary heritage and the scriptures that use apple as a focal point have been faithfully translated.

 

The phrase “apple of my eye” first appeared in Old English in work attributed to King Aelfred (the Great) of Wessex, AD 885, called Gregory's Pastoral Care.

 

In 1307, William Tell, a Swiss folk hero, visited Altdorf with his young son and passed by the hat of the nobleman by the name of Gessler who had been placed in charge of the village. Publicly refusing to bow to the hat, Gessler had Tell arrested. Gessler—intrigued by Tell's famed marksmanship but resentful of his defiance—devised a cruel punishment. Tell and his son were to be executed. However, he could redeem his life by shooting an apple off the head of his son Robert in a single attempt. Tell split the apple with a bolt from his crossbow.

 

Shakespeare also used it in the 1590s when he wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Flower of this purple dye, / Hit with Cupid's archery, / Sink in apple of his eye".

 

The eyeball, or globe of the eye, with pupil in center, called "apple" from its round shape. Its great value and careful protection by the eyelids automatically closing when there is the least possibility of danger made it the emblem of that which was most precious and jealously protected. The Hebrew terms for it were, 'ishon, diminutive of 'ish, "man," little man or mannikin, referring perhaps specially to the pupil, probably from "the little image one sees of himself when looking into another's pupil". How beautiful the thought of seeing ones-self in the reflection of God’s eye?

 

The earliest recorded use in Modern English is in Sir Walter Scott's Old Mortality, 1816: "Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye."

 

The English Standard, and New International Versions, have let it stand.

The phrase is first found in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 32:10); In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye,”

 

It was God who seeks first, rescues.

 

It’s next found in the wisdom books.

Psalms 17:8 where Deut 32:10 and 11 are essentially repeated. “Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings.” Where David is beseeching God to Preserve him; guard him; defend him, as one defends that which is to him most precious and valuable.  

 

Not only does God seek first and rescues but He preserves and guards what He has found. He defends us because we are, to Him, most precious and valuable.

 

He encourages us to treat Him and His word just as He treats us:

Prov 7:2-4

Keep my commandments and live, And my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and to insight, “You are my relative.”

 

Make them intimate – part of who you are, part of you core, let them define who you are and who you are to be.

 

Apples are mentioned no less than 4 times in Song on Songs by Solomon in intimate love language.

 

And it is found in the prophetic books in Lamentation, Joel, Zechariah.

In Lamentation 2:18

Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease. Destruction of the temple, fall of Jerusalem, - the misery that has befallen the people is so fearful, that sorrow over it wears out one's life. The apple of God’s eye is consumed in fear.

 

Joel 1:12

The vine dries up and the fig tree fails; The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree, All the trees of the field dry up Indeed, rejoicing dries up from the sons of men.

 

Zech 2:8 (12) as he points to a messianic future for Israel as he describes in a vision the New Jerusalem.

For thus says the LORD of hosts, "After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.

 

The two scriptures on our bulletin board tell us that we are loved, guarded, and cherished by God. We need to hold his word to us close, to be intimate with his word in scripture and intimate with His Word made flesh. We need to see ourselves in Him as a reflection. And when other see us, they need to see their own reflection the same way – an image of love.  We really need to see ourselves, treat ourselves, and to see and treat one another as God treats us.

 

This is central to all else that we do. This is at the core.

 

There are over 7,500 different types of apples grown in the world. More than 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States, but only the crabapple is native to North America. It is thought that the apple has the most variety of any fruit. So many types of apple so much variety, but all still apples. We see this in our community. We are all so very different, yet we are related at the most fundamental and essential level.

 

This is a lesson for us and an encouragement. Like apples, we may look different and taste different – some of us are Granny Smiths, some Golden Delicious, others Macintosh, Gala, or Honey Crisp. Some us good for snaking, some of us good for baking, and others of us are just plain sour until we are boiled down to mush and a lot of brown sugar added. But we are all apples. I submit that we are being called to expand our identity recognizing our kinship in Christ and perhaps to set aside any pride we have in our particular variety if it keeps us from a meaningful relationship. I think this is important on an individual level and important for New Creation as a covenant community as we seek to partner with others who also seek to spread the kingdom of God. 

 

There was a man named Chapman who was an orchardist and nurseryman, and by the early 1800s was working on his own. Frontier law allowed people to lay claim to land through development of a permanent homestead. Such a claim could be made by planting 50 apple trees. So, in his travels through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, Chapman would plant swaths of seeds to begin an orchard, then sell them to settlers once the land had grown bountiful. This made him quite the land baron as he traversed 100,000 square miles of Midwestern wilderness and prairie.

 

Early legend said Chapman wore a tin pot on his head. Chapman was often noted for his threadbare clothes and preference for bare feet.But these eccentricities may have been offerings to his faith, the Church of Swedenborg (also known as The New Church), a Christian denomination established in 1787. However his signature look—that sack of apple seeds—was most definitely accurate.

 

Because the Church of Swedenborg forbade its members harming God's creation, Chapman became a vocal animal rights activist and vegetarian and lived a celibate life. He also refused to use grafting to create his apple orchards. When he died on March 11, 1845 at the age of 70, he owned more than 1200 acres of land.

 

Although he didn’t seek attention, Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) got plenty of it.  His life, his words, and his actions were such a witness that he is the stuff of legends. One could argue that many of the  apple varieties in this country are a result of apple trees from Chapman's cider apple seeds taking the character of the soil and climate in which were planted over hundreds of years. The sour apples that he planted were referred to as “spitters” eventually morphed into the incredible variety we have today.

 

We have heard prophetically that we are called to strengthen our core. I believe that this is to bring us to a point of realization, and to strengthen that realization that we are wholly and completely the result of God’s creative nature. He has and continues to seek us and to love us. We are still becoming and will become more fully what he created us to be. When we treat one another with love and dignity, we help to create the conditions (spiritual soil and spiritual climate) in which His Creative Spirit works. He molds us into a garden of wonderful variety where variety is a tremendous strength.

 

I look to our individual members who go on Treasure Hunts and place themselves at the service of the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel, and those who serve in their parishes fostering opportunities for fellow Christians to find a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit through ChristLife and Life in the Holy Spirit seminars. I look to our Outreach Ministry Team and the most recent Night of Worship on 10/21/17, and David’s Tent on Jan 26 and 27, 2017, and their continuing plans to partner with David’s Tent.  I look to our service to and partnering with the prayer communities in Raleigh and Richmond, I look to the Servants of the Light who continue to bring Transformation Prayer to the body of Christ here in NCC and beyond.  I look to our members who partner with Hope Charitable services to serve the poorest of the poor in Portsmouth. I look to our partnership with the Greater Hampton Roads Diaper Bank who have, in the last 5 years, distributed 1.5 million diapers. This is on the local level. And, I look to our national and international relationships with the Body of Christ through the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships – many, many hundreds of communities and fellowships who love our Lord Jesus Christ and those He has gathered in the kingdom – each of whom have taken the character of the spiritual soil and spiritual climate in which they are planted and represent the creative the beauty of Lord. These are the many varieties of apples in this great orchard that is the Kingdom of God.

 

And now I have to go back to Mary Ann’s prophetic word about being poured into a vessel with others to help make the wine we are mixing with more mature. I wondered about this and how to bring this into my reflection. Well, by the time the U.S. government outlawed alcohol in 1920, Chapman had become an American folk hero. But this didn't stop the axes of FBI agents who mercilessly tore down orchards to prevent the making of apple “hooch”. This almost wiped out early twentieth century’s connection to hard cider.  

 

Now we live in a time when the connection between God’s children and God is in danger of being wiped out. When I think of what is to come, I often think it will be of all us apples all mashed up together and the heat turned on and the pressure turned up. Our variety may be a whole lot less important than the fact that we are all apples. Will we be able to take comfort from kinship in Christ even when we can no longer identify the marks of our variety? Even when we can’t feel the edges so to speak? What will be the result of – what will come from our willingness to be used together? My guess if that it will be very fine wine (or hard cider as the case may be). But first we must be willing to jump in the pot together. As a community this year, we need to individually identify and connect to ministry. We have heard prophetically that structures we have long relied on will be less defined, not stand much longer.  When we are in the vat together, the apple most important to us will be the one we know. Having close personal and accountable relationships have always been a defining mark of Christian identify for us – I believe that it is time to renew and strengthen that aspect of our covenant relationships.

 

Covenant is not just a noun. For God it is a verb; an action word and it needs to be that way for us. Renewing our covenant, remembering and reliving Christian personal relationships in the right context, operating out of a scriptural understanding of how God loves us and how we should love one another in community. This is part of strengthening our core. It is out of the strength of our relationships that our ministries have developed and continue to flow. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the connection. Our covenant relationships sustain us at our core and it is from the core that the seeds go forth.

 

And, our covenant relationships define us but need not limit us. I am not suggesting that we become myopic. As we strengthen our relationships with one another this year, let’s also resolve also to make new ones. Let’s individually look outside the row in which we are planted and see what fruit the Holy Spirit has brought about all around us. Let’s be resolve together to be a fruitful part of the work of the Spirit that is surely coming. We are on the verge. (It’s kind of interesting to look at the Latin derivation - a wand or rod carried before a bishop as an emblem of office.) Brothers and sisters, it is a privilege to be in relationship with you in service to our Lord. This is true joy! May He use New Creation Community for His service however He sees fit. Happy Covenant!

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