Here are my thoughts for this 5th Sunday of Easter. (Edited on 25 April 2010)
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?