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Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit sermon on the occasion of his ordination as bishop and installation as presiding bishop of the Church of Norway

Sermon of Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit on the 5th Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2020, Nidaros Cathedral. Ordination as bishop and installation as presiding bishop of the Church of Norway.

10 May 2020

Text: John 15:1–9
Faith, hope and love

There are not many vinegrowers among us, but some of us have tried planting apple trees in our gardens. I made my first attempt at the age of 10. Our neighbour in Åfjord here in Trøndelag was a gardener, and he wanted to give me something as a thank you for helping him with a task in his greenhouse. He probably realised that I did not quite understand what it was—to me, it looked like a wooden stick in a small plant pot. But he explained: If I planted it, added fertilizer and watered it, cutting off a few branches as it grew, it would eventually produce some fine apples. And it did, even if it took a few years.

Jesus speaks about bearing fruit. Our lives can lead to something. Something good—for others, something they need.

What kinds of fruit are we talking about?

There’s love, there’s hope, and there’s faith.

Today, can there be any doubt that we need those things?

We need words in which we believe, and people in whom we can trust. We need a hope that things will get better, that we can get through this. We need love expressed through words and through our actions. And like never before, we need for someone to take on the mantle of responsibility for the community, for solidarity between people, between different groups, between peoples and nations, out of love for all creation.

Faith, hope, and love. These are not trifles. They do not come cheap.

But today’s good message is this: They have been given to us. We have been given love through the source of life, so that we would be able to pass it on.

The blossom of fruit trees is a beautiful sight to behold, but the fruit itself is what sustains us. The purpose of a fruit tree is for it to bear fruit.

A lot of fruit is needed, the fruit of love, which gives joy, courage and strength to others. In this regard, we are all able to contribute, no matter who we are or how we are.

It is important to contribute, and it is important to acknowledge the contributions of others.

Love is all about relations, about one another.

Trees, branches, fruit: It is all about the coherence of life—indeed, life itself—and the source of life.

“Abide in my love!” Jesus says.

“Abide in me. Let my words abide in you.”

I am sure we have all experienced how words can create something within us when they abide in us. We can live our entire lives on the basis of words of love from another person. Or the opposite: Hurtful words can have a lasting impact. Words are not “just words.” Words travel from one person to another, from mind to mind, but also from heart to heart.

Such are the words given to us by Jesus.

They are the words of God’s love, that God still loves this world, all the others, you, and me. Therefore, we can love. Therefore, we shall love, through both words and actions.

Faith can be defined as the things that I am convinced of. But faith is more than just what I can make myself believe. My faith in God is not just something I have concocted in my mind. Faith comes to us because there is someone in whom to believe, someone in whom to trust. The faith in the words of Jesus comes through a community, known as the church, who shares this faith, here and in all parts of the world. The tree is the sum of its branches.

We need the hope, the dream, about that which we cannot yet see. What can happen and what needs to happen. Hope can be formed through prayer and anticipation towards God. Not in order for me to have everything I wish for, but in order to turn my attention to what God wants for this world, for the church, and for us. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven! That is how Jesus has taught us to pray: with hope and anticipation.

This is the church’s task in this world: to preach and demonstrate God’s love, so that we can get the strength and will and ability to love others. It can and should demand something from us, for it concerns the most important thing of all.

We can do this because we have been inserted into a relation with Christ. The clearest indication of this is the baptism, which is precisely an indication of our belonging to the tree of life, to Christ. It can hardly be stated in a more beautiful way than how we sang it just now:

“You put me on your branch when it was only my first spring.

With the dew of life, you gave me water, sun and many blessed years.

You will let me blossom and bear fruit for as long as I live.

Let me abide in you; let me take my last breath in you!”

*free translation

Grapes and wine in the Bible are an expression of community and joy. They are also an expression of God’s loving gift to us – Christ Himself. This is what we celebrate during communion in the churches.

We have not been able to do so for a while now. During these times, we have been forced to remember and learn that sometimes, love is best expressed through the things we do not do, because we care about and come to the aid of each other’s lives and health. Now, it seems like we will be able to do more things together, once again being able to enjoy what we have often taken for granted.

Our faith in Christ must be expressed through hope and love—boundlessly. That is how we abide in Christ, in His words. Faith, hope, and love encompass more than just my personal needs. Therefore, in order to bear fruit, we also need the critical—and self-critical—perspective which shows us what needs to be culled.

The tree is nature, and it is culture. It represents our Creator’s gifts and the compassion we should show for the things that grow on this earth, the things that are meant to sustain us.

Crises can make us selfish. But they can also be a call to action. We can see more clearly, so that we can see what threatens our one human family and the nature of which we are part. If we want to see.

Now, we need love’s willpower to help each other out and take care of our one earth. Without sacrifice and justice, love is superficial.

Roughly 75 years have passed since our liberation from war and foreign occupation. My mother never got done talking about the spring of peace, about the magical and bright days of May in her youth, when they dared walk outside with flags and burned the blackout curtains on bonfires in the streets. She spoke of “the peace that came,” as if a friend who had returned.

Many events, many people, as well as many nations in the east and in the west, all made their contributions so that peace could arrive here, bringing with it freedom and justice.

Right here in the Nidaros Cathedral, on 1 February 1942, the church’s role was brought into question in a very tangible way. It had come to the attention of Arne Fjellbu that another priest would be taking over the service that day, because the Nazi regime wanted Quisling’s appointment as Prime Minister of Norway to be celebrated, right here in this national sanctuary. He then proclaimed that High Mass would take place here in the afternoon. Many were prevented by the police from entering the building. That did not hinder the people’s expression of faith, hope, and love, as they stood outside in the cold and sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Following Fjellbu’s actions, bishops and priests made it clear that God had given the church a task—to bear true fruit. Fjellbu was expelled from Nidaros by Quisling, and in 1944, he fled to Sweden. Sami people helped him across the border in the north. At the end of the war, he was appointed as bishop for the liberated areas of Northern Norway, before being ordinated as bishop here in Nidaros in 1945. He remained in that role for 15 years, until the year when I was born. He is one of many names that are a sign of what we are preaching about: small and big actions that bear fruit, lasting fruit.

“Never again” became a prominent slogan in the wake of the war. There was a need for establishing international cooperation. The churches of the world needed to stand united in preaching the gospel, in the battle for justice and peace. That is still necessary. Many people today need to be liberated from conflict, occupation, discrimination, injustice and war. In 1948, Fjellbu—along with presiding bishop Eivind Berggrav—contributed to the creation of the World Council of Churches, which unites the churches of the world as pilgrims for justice and peace.

Pilgrims have come here, to this church of Christ, long before us, seeking the sources of faith, hope and love. In their time and in their way, in battle against disease and plague, during war and during peace.

When we exit from the church today, we can turn towards the western front wall and see the vine. There are the images of Christ carrying the sin and injustice of the world, dying for us, rising from the dead for us, showing us that love trumps death. There is Christ, who is above everyone and everything—therefore also being able to be close to all of us. Christ is the trunk of the tree with many branches, branches with many people who have borne fruit in various ways throughout history. They are the reason that we, too, have the gospel of God’s love and the commandment of love among us, here and in other churches all around.

Jesus says that without Him, we can do nothing. In saying that, He also says: Without us, He can do nothing.

Now is our time. Now, it is our turn. Now, it is we who shall bear fruit.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, our Creator, Savior and Giver of Life, both now and always, and unto the ages of ages.

Amen.