This Day and This Weekend


Here are my thoughts for Pentecost Sunday and Memorial Day.
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This is an interesting weekend. I don’t know how many times Pentecost and Memorial Day coincide but it probably occurs fairly often. But on this day and this weekend, we need to stop and think about what has transpired and what will happen in the coming days.

While Memorial Day is a day that we are supposed to remember and honor those who died in service to our country, it seems to me that we see this day and this weekend as sort of the beginning of summer. Everything, it seems, is focused on summer-based sales and summer time activities. Very little is mentioned about what this day really means.

Oh, yes, there will be many speeches by many a politician about the honor, service and sacrifice of those whose death we honor with this weekend. But no matter what side of the political aisle the speaker may stand, the speeches will take on the aspect of glorifying war and how vigilant we must be in the protection of our countries.

Now, my wife and I and our families have three flags that were given to us “with the thanks of a grateful nation” and neither of us want the honor, service, or sacrifice of our family to be dishonored or forgotten. But I think that anyone who speaks of war in the present and future tense is doing just so. The context always seems to be how we must fight future wars in order to honor those who have fallen on battlefields in past and present wars.

Yet, no one speaks of removing war from the vocabulary of society. It is always about using war to combat war and terrorism; nothing is ever said about eliminating the need for war by eliminating the causes of war and terrorism. And on this weekend when the early church came together and spoke with a common voice, the church today seems remarkably silent on the topic of eliminating and preventing war and terrorism.

And while our churches are silent, the voices of parents who have lost children and children who have lost parents grow louder each day. We are reminded of the quote first attributed to the Greek philosopher, Herodotus, “in peace, children bury their parents; in war, parents bury their children.” But we are finding that while parents are burying their children, children are also burying their parents. We have finally achieved an equal-opportunity war, as if death ever needed an equal-opportunity program. What we will find is that in a few years, there will be no one left to bury the dead for we will have killed an entire generation. And yet the churches of today remain silent.

Our politicians offer only words of fear, claiming that we must fight terrorism now before it strikes again. And if there are those who speak out against such language, they are quickly labeled cowards and/or un-patriotic. Politicians today, and I speak of those on both sides of the aisle, speak to our fears and offer very little in the way of removing fear from our lives. Could it be that if fears are removed, they have very little to offer that would make this world a better place? When this church began, those who watched its birth were fearful because of the changes that came over the people gathered together. But, as Peter proclaimed, there was nothing to fear for it was the presence of the Holy Spirit that brought about the change. Yet, today the church is silent about such changes.

When Jesus began His ministry, he spoke of bringing comfort to the afflicted, healing the sick and bringing hope and freedom to the oppressed. Yet, in this day and age, when thousands die for both the causes and outcomes of war, when thousands are without adequate shelter and drinking water, when thousands languish in jails of the body and the mind, the church today remains remarkably silent.

This is Pentecost Sunday (or the weekend of Pentecost); this is the birth of the church. This was the time that countless Christians came together and the divisions between peoples and societies that began with the building of the Tower of Babel were erased by the presence of the Holy Spirit. People of different cultures and different languages were able to speak with others; the presence of the Holy Spirit removed the years of division. Yet today, the modern church seems intent on division and discourse, not unity and conversation.

Are we able to say today that we are centered on the same things that were the focus of the early church? Are we able to say that we are bringing people to the church, or are we saying that because of your race, color, creed, status, or lifestyle you are not welcome in this church? Are we able to say today and this weekend that the church we have reflects the early beginnings that are the basis for who we are and what we do?

The early church was a community of believers, united in one common belief and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It was a community that made sure that even the least of its members were not forgotten. It was a community of love and sharing. Are these the hallmarks of the church today?

When we say that we are Christians, we say that we identify with Christ. We say that we are committed to the mission that Jesus Christ first announced some two thousand years ago in the synagogue in Nazareth. On this day and this weekend, when we honor the service and sacrifice of many and we celebrate the birth of our church, can we say that we are carrying out that mission? Are we speaking out against those who see war as the only answer? Are we speaking out to insure that all who are sick can be healed, that all those without shelter or clothes are able to find adequate shelter and clothing?

On this day and on this weekend, we should honor those who have died by seeing that others need not die. And we can do that by carrying out the mission that Jesus Christ proclaimed to the world. On this day and on this weekend, we need not be silent anymore.

This weekend


This weekend I am in Reno, Nevada, participating in my 30th consecutive United States Bowling Congress Open tournament. This is a special time for me as I get with friends that I have bowl with for the past 27 years.

I will have some thoughts about Pentecost and Memorial Day and will post them on Monday after I get home.

What Do You Know?


Here are my thoughts for this Ascension Sunday, 20 May 2007
(This has been edited since it was first posted)
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Consider the following situation – what if there was a culture where there was no concept of sin, badness, or evil? Now, the answer to this question is and has been the subject of many a debate in philosophical and theological circles. It is not a question that we will seek to answer today. But it does lead to another question that we can answer.

How do we know that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior? How is it that we know there is a reason for our existence in this world today and tomorrow? Is it because someone once told us and we sought to find out who Jesus Christ was?

Notice the opening words of Acts, the Epistle reading for today. (Acts 1: 1 – 11) Luke writes, “I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning.” We are not going to know who Jesus was or what He did unless someone else tells us. No one else is going to know who Jesus was or what He did unless we tell them. It is by what we say and do that people will ever know what we know.

Now, someone will say that the purpose of evangelism is to tell people about Jesus Christ and invite them to follow the path that we have chosen. The modern day evangelist will tell us that our sole role in today’s society is to save souls. But those who limit Jesus to the saving of souls or see Him as merely introducing new ethical principles are wrong.

The problem today is too many evangelists spend their time condemning people for what they do and they very seldom give them the alternatives that Christ gave. Too often, modern day evangelism offers Christ only in the negative, “either accept Christ as your personal Savior or be condemned to an eternal life in death.” The only problem with this message is 1) it is a negative message whereas the true Gospel message is positive and 2) we are condemned to a life of sin and death without Christ; so why should I listen to someone tell me the obvious?

The purpose of God in Christ was neither to simply redeem individuals from sin nor teach them new thoughts. God’s purpose in Christ was to create a new community that pointed to the plan of God in this world.

As we look at the world around us, our greatest need today is neither the preaching of the Gospel nor service on behalf of justice. Nor is it necessarily experiencing the Spirit’s gifts or even the challenging of the status quo. The greatest need is the call to be the church, to love one another and offer our lives for the sake of the world. If we work towards the building of living, breathing, loving communities of faith at the local level, then we are building the foundation that will answer all the above needs. (Adapted from The Call to Conversion by Jim Wallis)

This, I think, is why Paul can write to the church of Ephesus, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus.” (Ephesians 1: 15 – 23) Paul could not have heard of the faith of the people of Ephesus unless what they were doing was different from what had been happening. When we build a community of faith, when we show others what it means to express the love of Christ, others will see and they will wonder and they will ask and they will come to know.

We cannot simply expect others to know who Christ is or what He means unless we tell others and unless we show others. It does no good to say to others that they must change their ways unless we are able to offer through our words, our deeds, our actions, and our thoughts a reason to make them change.

John the Baptist spoke of repentance, of changing the path of one’s life because there was a better path coming in the manner of Christ. Christ announced that we must repent, we must change our ways but He also told why He had come to this world and what He was offering.

For three years Jesus taught and modeled the behavior that is expected of us. He showed us through His words, His actions, and His deeds what we are expected to do. He did not condemn; He did not challenge. But He did give an alternative. In calling for repentance, Christ calls us to change our lives and to lead a new life.

But, for the most part, these are not the words that are heard today; these are not the thoughts expressed today. Yes, the gospel message many preachers tell the world is a message of hope but it is a self-centered message. It is a message that focuses on keeping the status quo intact and ignoring the world around us.

It is quite interesting to contrast the life of the early church with the life of the church today. It is clear that what transpired in the days that Luke and Paul wrote about no longer take place. It is clear that the message of the Gospel that was first expressed at the synagogue in Nazareth is lost in the medium and message of today’s society. On this day, when Jesus Christ passed on the understanding of the Gospel message, should we not stop, pause, and heed the call to bring the Gospel message into the world?

We are called through repentance to begin a new life. We are called through repentance to reframe the discussion in terms of what we can do for Christ, not what Christ can do for us. Look around you today and ask if the community of faith and nurtures us in a way of peace or does it distract us from that peace?

Look around and ask if the community of faith frees us from bondage to material goods and security. Does our community of faith heal us of our hate, our fear, our selfishness, and our desire for power? Does our experience in the local church root out those things that are fundamental to the system of injustice and violence that so dominate today’s society?

These are difficult questions to ask in today’s society and the answers are very difficult to obtain, let alone understand. They cannot be answered from the framework or view of today’s society because the answers society would provide do not offer solutions but only serve to exacerbate the condition. To find the answers, we must first repent and begin anew. We must open our hearts to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives. As it stated in the Gospel reading for today (Luke 24: 44 – 53), understanding came from the moment that Christ opened the minds of the disciples so that they could understand.

Today, we celebrate the Ascension of Christ. Forty days ago, Christ was crucified so that we could live. In ten days, we celebrate Pentecost and the birth of the new church. Today, we are given, if our minds are open, the understanding that comes from knowing Jesus Christ. We may know that Jesus came into this world and we may know that He is our Savior but we will never understand nor will others see Christ in us unless we repent and begin anew. We have that chance today. Let us take what we know and let us begin anew.
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How Big Is Your Church?


Here are my thoughts for this Mother’s Day, the 6th Sunday of Easter

(This has been edited since it was first posted.)
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I have been thinking about a comment that was posted on my blog the other week. It was that the United Methodist Church was a collection of small churches. I really wasn’t sure if that was a true statement, though most of the churches within the denomination that I have been associated with over the past forty years or so probably would fit that definition. But then I found that this is a rather nebulous definition.

One source told me that 67% of the United Methodist Churches in this country have 199 members or less. Twenty-two percent (22%) have between 200 and 499 members. (http://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Descriptions/USCLSMP.asp) The problem with this study is that it did not identify what the average membership was nor did it breakdown the membership into various sub-categories. I think that it would be nice to have a further breakdown of this information because it goes a long way to show how a church perceives itself.

One church that I was affiliated with considered itself a small church but it had over ninety members. The only problem was that only about one-quarter of the membership was active and, ultimately, one-half of the members were removed through charge conference action for inactivity. Physically, this church was a small church and I think it was this physical size that dominated the thinking of the church. There were also other problems in the church (which was part of the reason for the discrepancy between the active number of members and the total number of members).

A second study that I found indicated that at least 45 churches in our denomination can be considered mega-churches, that is, churches with an average weekly attendance over 2000. (http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/megachurches.html) The membership levels for these churches were not given but we can assume that the membership is greater than the attendance (the previous study indicated that there were ~1200 churches with over 1,000 members.)

It is interesting that we tend to speak of weekly attendance rather than membership.

Lyle Schaller, a noted consultant on the issue of church development, tells us that the number of churches with average worship attendance (not membership) less than 100 actually increased during the period 1972 to 2001. This is contrary to the plans and expectations that such churches would close.

During the same period the number of congregations reporting an average attendance between 100 and 199 decreased. And the number of congregations with average worship attendance over 200 remained essentially constant during the same period. (Adapted from “Two Choices”, presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, 16 November 2003; “What Should Be the Norm?” Lyle Schaller, Circuit Rider, September/October 2003)

That information raises several questions. First, what will be perceived as a normal sized United Methodist Congregation in 21st century? Since 1970, the median size for average worship has dropped from 67 to 55 with 72 percent of all congregations averaging less that 100 or fewer. This is in contrast to the national trend which show that a disproportionately large number of churchgoers born after 1960 worship in large churches. Are people deciding not to become members of the churches that they regularly attend, especially the “smaller” churches because they do not want to be a part of the entire church process?

A third study from several years back indicated what average attendance must be in order for the church to support a full-time minister. Perhaps this was the most telling of all the statistics one can find on church size, growth, and membership, for it suggests what the minimal level must be for a church to remain a church. In the 1930′s a church with an average worship attendance of 45 or more was able to have a full-time, fully credentialed pastor. In the 1950s it took an average attendance of between 75 and 80. Today, the number is between 125 and 135. Fewer than one in four United Methodist churches exceed 125 in their average worship attendance. If the ability to support a pastor is predicated on how many people come to church each Sunday and that number is decreasing, then we do have a problem with the church today.

Some years ago I met Dr. Rose Sims. She was the pastor of a small church in Florida that had been given up for dead when she was assigned to it. She is an expert in bringing back to life churches that have been written off. Brought in to preach the funeral of dying churches, she has found a way to bring such churches back to life.

For her, the two most important steps in reviving a dying church are to first have the people involved with the church do the work and, second, make sure that it was the Gospel that was the central point to the church.

Regarding the first point, there are certain things that only the pastor or the preacher can do but if the people are not willing to work towards the ultimate success of the church, nothing the preacher can do will stop its death.

Regarding the second point, if the Gospel is not present in the message of the church, then the church really has no soul or chance to live. It does not matter how the Gospel is presented, but without the Gospel and what the Gospel means, the church will die.

There are many models for helping churches grow or revive. But many of these models, and I know you have heard me say this before, focus on the church helping people be comfortable with the Gospel. (Adapted from “And Now It Begins”, presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, 18 April 2004)

I do not believe that the Gospel message is meant to make one feel good but rather the Gospel message is meant to take Christ into this world. Peter stood before the crowd and reminded them that they were given the task of taking the Gospel into the world (Acts 5: 27 – 32). That is the same task that we are faced with today. If Christ is not taken into the world, then the problems and troubles that plague the world cannot be fought. If Christ is not taken into the world, if He remains hidden in a room, safely locked away where only a few, select individuals can find Him, then His death and resurrection are meaningless.

The problem is that many people feel that the church owes them something; that their being a member is all they have to do. They want the church to do everything and be ready when they call; they are not comfortable with a Gospel message that calls upon them to be the messenger. They are quite happy with a church that does not venture outside the room; they are quite happy with the safety it provides. But a church that does not go outside its walls will soon die and though it has not happened yet, I fear that churches that use the model presently encouraged will soon begin to die.

One way is to pay attention to what visitors to this or any church experience on Sunday morning. Will they experience warm hospitality? Will they get a palpable sense of the presence of God? Christopher Schwartz has stated that this is the single most powerful evangelistic outreach possible and through it church growth is possible without the presence or plan of an evangelism program. He concluded his discussion about church growth by noting that all growing congregations have eight traits in common:

1-Leaders who empower others to do ministry;

2-Ministry tasks distributed according to the gifts of the members;

3-A passionate spirituality marked by prayer and putting faith into practice;

4-Organizational structures that promote ministry;

5-Inspiring worship services;

6-Small groups in which the loving and healing power of fellowship is experienced;

7-Need-oriented evangelism that meets the needs of the people the church is trying to reach;

8-And loving relationships among the members of the church.

Schwartz maintains that if all eight of these characteristics are present, congregations will grow naturally and organically, without the need for an evangelist program.

This can be quite a challenge for many people. Some people think that the task of sharing the Gospel is harder than it actually is. It would seem that, as the humorist Dave Barry once wrote, the people who are the most interested in telling you about their religion don’t want to hear about yours.

Ben Campbell Johnson, of Columbia Theological Seminary, suggests that you ask people outside church “When has God seemed near to you?” There is nothing judgmental about this approach; it starts with where people are and it takes their experience seriously.

If you cannot or will not share your faith with others, it may be that you are in the midst of a crisis of your own. Often times, people use aggressive tactics because they themselves are insecure about their own faith and are anxious for others to believe and behave in the manner that they do so as to make their own faith more plausible.

The question then, is whether one believes in the efficacy of the Gospel — the Gospel that justifies so that we don’t need to earn our status before God or vie for position with others. It is the Gospel that gives shape and purpose to life, making us other-directed rather than self-centered. It is the Gospel of peace that can reconcile broken relationships and build communities. It is the Gospel of justice that advocates for the poor and the marginalized. It is a Gospel of good news, and how can one keep from sharing the good news?

The noted Baptist preacher and evangelist, Tony Campolo, feels that the decline of mainline churches in today’s society is because they have been so concerned with social justice that they have forgotten to place a major emphasis on bringing people into a close, personal relationship with God through Christ. The churches that are growing the most rapidly today, the Pentecostal and evangelical churches are doing so because they attract people who are hungry to know God. These individuals are not interested in knowing God from a theological standpoint, as a moral teacher, or as an advocate for social justice. They want God to be a part of their lives, to strengthen them, to transform them and enable them to better deal with the problems they have, both socially and personally. (Adapted from “Signs of Things To Come”, presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, 14 November 2004)

Mainline churches have done little in these matters. They believe it, they articulate it but it’s not where their emphasis is. It is why they are dying churches and why the Pentecostal or evangelical churches are growing.

Christianity has two emphases. One is social, the other personal. It is the responsibility of Christians to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society – to relieve the suffering of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. But it is also the responsibility to help bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ so that they can feel the joy and love of God in their lives. In today’s society, we see that fundamentalism emphasizes the latter while mainline churches emphasize the former. If we are not careful, we are going to find out that those who ignore the social ministry of the church are going to drive away those who seek God but they will have no place to go because the places that speak to the social ministry will have closed.

Another article that I read was about the turn around of a small church. In this article Shane Mize writes about the efforts of his church to turn around its decline and keep from closing its doors.

In 1995, his church had nineteen active members. During the first year, the membership did a number of things to change what visitors saw. Some of the things, like changing the name of the sanctuary to “worship center” and creating a songbook with praise choruses, I disagree with. Others, like explaining what doxology means, make some sense when you realize that many of the people seeking a church home are basically unchurched and do not understand the Latin phrases that dominate the worship service.

The success of the program can be seen in the fact that they had twenty-five visitors in the second year of their program and eighty-five visitors in the third year. Eleven of the visitors joined the church in the second year and twenty-five joined in the third year. But, the one thing that stood out as central to the success and growth of this church was the fact that the church made a visible and concerted effort to build an atmosphere of prayer, faith, and community.

He does mention money and he does mention that there were problems. Money was a problem because it was a small church. But it was never a problem, because the people knew that it was a necessity for success. What they did not anticipate and what caused the greatest problem was that with the growth of the church, in membership came change. Not everyone there at the beginning was open to the concept of change. Pastor Mize wrote that the church leaders had to deal with a lot of things solely empowered by their faith and that it was faith that empowered the changes and success that came.

He concluded his article with words probably inspired by Paul’s words today. A church that stops reaching starts dying. Faith, prayer, and love create an environment that produces disciples who live to fulfill the Great Commission. Paul was writing about those who had stopped working because they expected the Second Coming of Christ to be during their time. (“Small-Church Turnaround” by Shane E. Mize, from Net Results, December 1998.)

John wrote the Book of Revelation for seven churches in Turkey. He was writing about what their individual futures were. In a world where Roman tyranny destroyed any opposition (and the church was certainly the opposition), churches which did not focus on the Gospel message and the faith it took were doomed to die. For some of the churches, the temptation must have been very great to be a part of the secular community around them, insuring that they would survive.

The same is true today. The church is part of the community but it cannot allow the community to dictate its survival. For to do so would be to forget its faith, but if faith is protected at all costs, then the church cannot be a part of the community. Faith must be presented to the community, not hidden within the walls of the church.

On this Mother’s Day, 2007, we need to consider the size of our church and what it is supposed to be. Perhaps it is not a physical size that we should focus on and it is certainly not the number of people who come each week or the number of people who say that they are members. Rather, it is the size of the church in our heart that counts the most.

In the reading from Acts for today (Acts 16: 9 – 15), Lydia opened her heart to the Holy Spirit and invited Paul to stay at her home. In doing so, she was the mother to the first church. Those first churches were seen as communities rather than buildings; they were a group of people who worked together for the fulfillment of the Gospel, for the fulfillment of the Good News. Theirs were communities dominated by the love of each member for the others. This is what we need to be in today’s world, communities of believers united in common belief and supportive of each other’s endeavors.

This does not mean that we form social groups with common interests. Communities are diverse in nature and anytime you put people with common interests together, you remove the diversity.

John the Seer spoke of a new church (Revelation 21: 10, 22 – 22: 5), one that was always available to all the people. It was a community where sickness and death were no more; it was a community where the residents took care of each other.

There have been communities that tried to do this but they were communities that failed because they built walls and would not let people in. And church that hides behind its walls will always die, no matter how big it might be.

And a church that tries to fit into the world around it by changing the Gospel message to meet the demands of those in attendance will also die. As people come to find the truth in the Holy Spirit, as people come to find that keeping the Gospel for one’s self, they will find that they themselves are dying.

We hear Jesus’ words today – “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (John 14: 23 – 29)

It is not the physical size of the church that I worry about today; it is the size of the church that is in one’s heart. So, how big is your church?

Changing the Rules


Here are my thoughts for this 5th Sunday of Easter. (Edited on 25 April 2010)
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It is a matter of note that this Sunday is Mother’s Day or it is according to the Music and Worship Planner (The United Methodist Music and Worship Planner, (2006 – 2007) – David L. Bone and Mary J. Scifres). As noted in the Book of Worship, this day was first created by Anna Jarvis to honor her mother. But the current issue of Smithsonian (Smithsonian, May 2007) indicates that after having successfully worked to establish this day, Ms. Jarvis then spent the better part of the rest of her life fighting those who would commercialize and capitalize on the day.

As Marshall Berdan noted in his Smithsonian article, Anna Jarvis declared war on “the charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.” (Smithsonian, May 2007). She was referring to florists and candy makers; she accused the Associated Retail Confectioners of having “gouged the public.” It was her argument that Mother’s Day was never intended to be a source of commercial profit. Of course, now Mother’s Day is the single most popular day to eat out or make long-distance phone calls, and the third most popular day to send greeting cards. I don’t believe that is what Ms. Jarvis had in mind when she began her efforts back in 1905.

But, as is the case so many times, we take an event and we change it or modify it to fill what we perceive to be our own needs. Even the games that we are supposed to play as youth (baseball, basketball, football, and so forth) are dominated not by the thrill of victory but rather how it will lead to a professional career of some sort. Any young boy or girl who shows promise in any game is measured against their potential impact as a professional. The rules for drafting basketball players has changed over the years to the point where it is possible that a high school player can go almost directly into the professional leagues without having first gone to college.

It is not just in sports that the rules have changed. We no longer value thinking and critical analysis as part of the educational process. In our rush to make sure that no child is left behind, we teach our children how to pass tests but not how to think. We have taught our children that the answers for all questions have been answered and the answers are in the back of the book. Woe be the educator who should challenge that assumption and ask a question for which the answer has not been already worked out.

The rules have changed and it is not necessarily for the good. Even our thoughts about church and the message of Sunday morning have changed. Many, but thankfully not all, pastors spend their Sunday mornings telling people how Jesus Christ can help their parishioners better their lives. Other pastors, thankfully again not all, tell their parishioners that the problems of the world are other people’s faults and those who are good Christians have only to keep those people out of the church in order for the world to be a better place.

The rules have changed and somewhere along the way we have forgotten what the church is about and what we are supposed to do. We have gotten hung up on the little things and made them bigger, while ignoring the truly big things.

We embark on a global war on terror but we do little to remove the causes of terror. We speak of family values but we do little to help end childhood hunger or help families earn a living wage. The list could go on and on.

The passage from Acts for today (Acts 11: 1 – 18) is an example of such an argument. The church is in its growing stage and there are those who feel that the new church is simply an extension of Judaism. There were those in the early church, including Peter, who felt that in order to be a Christian, you must first have been a Jew.

But, as we read in this reading, Peter receives a vision which refutes the idea that one must be Jewish before one can be a Christian. It is a vision which changes the rules. These rules are human rules, not God’s rules. As we read, “who are we to hinder God?”

Even Jesus changed the rules. Each time that He confronted the authorities, he changed the rules. The rules of society back then had developed over time and were an expression of proper conduct and belief. But they quickly became the rationale and reason for life in society, where the rule was more important than the reason for the rule. Jesus sought to bring the reason for the rule or law and to follow the reason rather than the law.

It is why people came to Him. In a world where the rule was first and foremost the most important thing and where it was conceivable that one rule would contradict another, people became secondary. Obedience to the rule was more important than one’s relationship to other people. And in today’s Gospel reading (John 13: 13 – 35), Jesus will remind His followers that the first and foremost commandment, the first and foremost rule, is to love one another as they have been loved by Him.

In a world where Christianity seems to be more about exclusion and hatred, Jesus’ command for today echoes very loudly. Others will know that they are His disciples by the way they love one another. Isn’t it about time that we begin living by the rules of the One who taught us and not by the rules and laws of society that drive us away? Isn’t it about time that our churches be the ones calling for inclusion, not exclusion; isn’t it about time that our churches be the ones who call leaders to task when they speak of compassion and caring but then do nothing to carry out those thoughts?

John the Seer had a revelation of a world without sickness or disease; he had a vision of a new kingdom (Revelation 21: 1 – 6). This is a new world that one can only imagine will come true in Heaven but did not Jesus speak of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, and bringing hope and promise to the downtrodden.

If John the Seer were the beloved disciple of Jesus, then perhaps His vision is the fulfillment of Jesus’ very words. Even if John the Seer were not the beloved disciple, he would have heard those words and he would have wanted to see them fulfilled in his lifetime. Isn’t it time that we change the rules that say that this world must be one in which the sick receive no health care, the hungry remain unfed, the homeless without shelter, the oppressed locked away, and the downtrodden and forgotten shunted aside?

The rules changed when Jesus died on the Cross for each one of us. Isn’t it time that we follow the new rules?
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