What Are You Doing Here?

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin at Fishkill UMC for this coming Sunday, May 19, 2019 (5th Sunday of Easter, Year C)

In August, 1739, John Wesley went  to Bristol, England to begin a Methodist revival. 

Joseph Butler, the  Bishop of the Anglican Church in Bristol and an adherent to orthodox preaching (i.e., the rule of law) told him,

“You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore, I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley replied,

“My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever, therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can –do most good here. Therefore, here I stay.” 

As a graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, Wesley had a commission to preach the Gospel anywhere in England.  To preach in Bristol did not, in his mind, break any human law.  He also understood that if he adhered to the orthodox and traditional view of preaching, he could not offer Christ outside the church walls.

We again hear the cry of the those who seek the church in orthodox and legalistic ways.  But as the inheritors of the Methodist Revival, are we not the inheritors of the unorthodox and irregular.  Shall we stay safe inside the walls of our sanctuary or trust, as did Wesley, that He will be there when we go into the country?

~~Tony Mitchell

A New Vision Of The World

A Meditation for 24 April 2016, the 5th Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 11: 1 – 18, Revelation 21: 1 – 16, and John 13: 31 – 35.

Here are my thoughts for this past Sunday.  Got a little bit behind in my work and struggling to catch up.

Let’s begin by expanding on the thoughts behind Peter’s refusal to eat certain foods. Peter was undoubtedly an observant Jew so he had grown up obeying those dietary laws, rules, and regulations.

But it was very likely that he and everyone else at that time what those laws, rules, and regulations were the way they were. There were foods that you could not eat with other foods and there were foods that you could not eat at all and that was they way it was. The reason or reasons for these laws, rules, and regulations was lost in the passage of time but were based on the early days of the Exodus when food storage and preservation were at a premium. The people who began the Exodus understood this but this understanding got lost over time.

How many of us hold onto attitudes and behaviors that we grew up without understanding why we do? How many times do our actions towards others reflect “old” thinking?

The problem for so many people today is that they remain locked in this “old” way of thinking, often times without realizing it. There are those who read the words of John the Seer in the Book of Revelation and see a fulfillment of the past, of the actions of a vengeful and hateful God. But the Seer’s words are a new vision of the world, a new beginning, an opportunity to begin anew and not a continuation of the old. The Seer’s Revelation was never, as President John Kennedy said in the concluding part of his speech to the nation on 22 October 1962, a victory of might but a vindication of what was right. The Book of Revelation is not a justification of the old ways but the knowledge of the new ways.

But how do we achieve the Kingdom the Seer foresaw? How do we establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth as Christ so many times proclaimed He had come to establish?

Do we create military armies that will destroy our armies? Do we create laws, rules, and regulations that echo our prejudices and hatred, which reap vengeance on those we hate and despise?

Or do we do as Jesus told those who heard Him that day two thousand years ago that we are to love each other as He loved us? Are we to act in such a way that when others see us, they will see Christ?

It is very hard to throw away the old ideas, the old ways. We heard that in Peter’s thoughts written in the Book of Acts. But Peter understood what he had to do.

The assurance and presence of God through Christ gives us the same comfort and strength that Peter received so that we can cast aside the old and claim the new, so that we can have a new vision of the world.

The Rules Change

I am at Dover UMC this Easter morning.  (Location of church)  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 11: 1 – 8, Revelation 21: 1 – 6, and John 13: 31 – 35.

(This has been edited since it was first posted.)


The first part of this message today is a little bit of a rant but I trust that you will allow me a few moments to speak out. Trust me, what I am saying does, I believe, have relevance and meaning to the Gospel for today as well as the other lessons and it speaks to the meaning of the Scriptures.

One thing that has amazed me about the past few years is the cry to upgrade science and mathematics education in this country. It isn’t that we are calling for more science and mathematics teachers right now; it is, if you will, nothing new. Back in December, 2008, there was report that called for more science and math teachers (see “Have We Learned Anything?”), And what I wrote then echoed some of the thoughts that I first wrote back in 1990 (see “The Crisis in Science and Mathematics (1990)”). We see the future but we view it with our eyes glued totally and completely to the past. It isn’t that we are afraid to look into the future; it is more that we are reluctant to abandon our old ways.

The other day, I examined a job announcement that I consider typical for today’s job market, especially in the area of chemical education. This particular institution is seeking someone who has the ability to effectively use all forms of audiovisual equipment (e.g., Power Point, Internet Resources, etc.).  It should be noted that Power Point and Internet resources are not necessarily audiovisual equipment. The successful candidate will also have expertise in curriculum design, technology, program planning, and student engagement techniques.  The qualified candidates will possess excellent computer skills; demonstrate evidence of a career that includes flexibility and willingness to change; open-mindedness, fairness and the ability to see multiple perspectives; a willingness to take risks, and willingness to accept responsibility for professional and personal growth.

The successful candidate’s duties will also include adapting existing chemistry courses for online delivery and then teaching those courses as needed. They should be able to incorporate the latest instructional technologies and interactive learning techniques in course delivery.

Now this is all well and good, except that whoever wrote this job description does not appear to have a clear understanding of the technology used in teaching today. In addition, while the candidate is to be flexible, open-minded, and willing to change, the instructions for applying for this position indicate that you can apply in person or submit your application by fax or regular mail. However, e-mail applications will not be accepted.

This college wants someone who is able to utilize various forms of technology but they themselves will not utilize the same technologies. I also suspect that this desire by the college to teach chemistry online is driven more by the academic numbers game of getting students registered. I was a participant in a discussion about teaching chemistry courses online and emphasized that one could not safely teach chemistry laboratories online. I did so primarily for safety reasons; you have to have laboratory work if you want to teach chemistry successfully and there is no way that you can monitor the conditions under which a student is conducting a laboratory exercise unless it is in real time and in a real place, not some virtual laboratory in cyberspace.

Now what does all of this have to do with the church today? The church today is operating under a set of rules that have existed for hundreds of years. The only problem is that no one understands, let alone knows, these rules. And what is worse, in attempting to “modernize” the church, they simply add on things like guitars and drums and begin singing new music without understanding the meaning of the music in the worship service.

Now, I am not opposed to including guitars, drums and other more modern musical instruments in a worship service. As I mentioned in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, I have laid out a worship service that utilizes several rock and roll pieces (see “A Rock and Roll Revival”). It is just that bringing in any new form of music without consideration for what you are doing is, to me anyway, the same as saying that Power Point is a form of audio-visual equipment.

The greatest problem the new church had two thousand years ago was that one group insisted that you had to follow Jewish dietary laws as a Christian. Peter was one of those who felt that adherence to the old Jewish laws was a necessary requirement for being a member of the new movement. But the vision that Peter received that night some two thousand years ago showed him what Jesus had told the Pharisees before; it isn’t what you eat that causes the problem, it is what you say and what you think.

In this month’s issue of Connections Barbara Wendland addresses the issue of belief and faith. She points out that many people believe because we were taught and told what to believe. If someone did not believe as we did, if their understanding of Christianity was not the same as ours then they were wrong. And we have come to equate faith with belief. And we do not necessarily understand either.

Karen Armstrong points out that the Greek word that is translated as “faith” means trust, loyalty, engagement and commitment. Yet, when we read of Jesus asking the people to have faith, we assume that He is asking them (and us) to believe. This is one of the exciting things about being a lay speaker because I have had time and opportunity to delve into what I have been saying all these years.

There is a person among us who probably hasn’t said that “faith is a belief in things unseen” which is a paraphrase of Hebrews 11: 1 from the King James translation, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” My favorite translator, Clarence Jordan, translated the verse from the Greek as “Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.” And the same verse as found in the Message reads, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” There is quite a bit of difference in the translation.

And it carries forth in how you understand what it means to be a Christian. If faith is a commitment, then Jesus wanted disciples who

… would engage with his mission, give all they had to the poor, feed the hungry, refuse to be hampered by family ties, abandon their pride, lay aside their self-importance and sense entitlement, … and trust in god who was their father. Thy must spread the good news … and live compassionate lives, not confining their benevolence to the respectable and conventionally virtuous.” (Karen Armstrong, quoted in the May, 2010, Connections)

Even the meaning of the word “belief” has changed over the years. When it was originally translated from the Greek into the Latin, the word that best described this life of faith was “credo”, a word that derived from the Latin meaning “I give my heart.” But when it was translated into the English for the King James Version, it became “I believe.” And even this word has changed its meaning over the years. In 1611, it meant “to prize, to value, or to hold dear.”

But over the years, it has taken on a more theoretical meaning, to describe an intellectual assent to a hypothetical and possibly dubious proposition. What it has done has made a statement of faith into a statement that we believe in things unbelievable. And it has caused people to turn away from the church because we demand correct belief as evidence of our faith.

Now, there are some today who are going back and looking at the life of the early church. Some are even learning Greek so that they can get a clearer understanding of what the Scriptures really say. You can imagine that this is not readily accepted by many in today’s church. For to go back and find out what was originally said two thousand years ago is in defiance of the authority of the church. But how can the church have any authority if it is based on faulty reasoning and logic; if it demands things that the early church never even considered?

We run the risk of making the same mistake that the religious establishment made when Jesus walked this earth and when the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation took place, of losing the people. But it need not be that way; we can heed the words of John the Seer who spoke of a new earth reborn in Christ and not destroyed by God.

We have been given a new commandment, a new set of rules if you will. We are called to love others as we have been loved.

This is the same love that was expressed that night two thousand years a go when the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room for that Last supper.

But, for us, it was the First Supper. And we come to the table this morning in a continuing expression of our faith and commitment to be God’s servants in this world.

We come to this place, this table because the rules changes two thousand years ago. We leave this place citizens of the New Kingdom, committed to the mission of Christ.

Who Sits At Your Table?

This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC on the 5th Sunday of Easter, 9 May 2004; it also happened to be Mother’s Day.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 11: 1 – 18, Revelation 21: 1  – 6 and John 13: 31 – 35. 


I know this is a strange way to start a sermon but I thought I would first discuss the fine art of setting the table. Now this discussion will focus on the simplest possible setting of one fork, one knife, and one spoon. I am quite capable, to the surprise of many, of setting an elegant table though I have yet to do the complete setting of salad fork, dinner forks, dessert spoon and fork, dinner knife, soup spoon, and teaspoon. I mention this because my mother insisted that I know how to do it. But for today, a simple setting will work best.

In the simplest setting, the fork is placed on the left side of the plate with the knife and spoon placed on the right side. This will work for every setting at the table unless someone at your table is like my youngest brother. When we set the table for dinner in our house, we had to take into consideration that Tim, the youngest of the three Mitchell boys, was left-handed. For him, we placed the fork on the right side of the plate with the knife and spoon on the left side. And to avoid collisions and conflicts with my other brother, we set Tim at the right side of the table and Terry on the left side.

Now, not every family has the problem but it was necessary if dinner in the Mitchell household during the fifties and sixties was to be quiet and peaceful. For the benefit of all the mothers here today and for my own mother, I use the term "quiet and peaceful" loosely. The seating of people at the dinner table, the cutlery used and how the cutlery is placed are critical social concerns. But the question of who would even sit at the table was a far greater issue for Peter and the early disciples of the church. At the time of the reading from the book of Acts for today, the church was divided between those who had become Christians after first being Jews and those who had first been Gentiles. Those who had been Jewish felt that one needed to hold on to the Jewish traditions and Jewish law of their forebears before they could be Christian. They insisted that those who were not Jewish first must become Jewish before they could be Christian.

But at the same time Paul was preaching to the Gentiles and telling them that it was all right to become Christian without first converting to Judaism. This difference was not a small difference of opinion; it wasn’t even a polite discussion of the issues. It was a major division, as emphasized by the fact that Luke, the writer of Acts, wrote about Peter’s vision twice, and it threatened to tear apart the church before the church had really even started.

Luke found it necessary to repeat the story because Peter had broken basic Jewish tradition by entering the home of a Gentile Christian and eating dinner with him. For many Jews, Christian or otherwise, this was forbidden by Jewish laws. But the Levitical laws upon which this judgment was based were never intended to teach ostracism. In repeating the account of Peter’s vision, Luke was showing how God had set him free from bigotry.

But, even today, some two thousand years or so after this occurrence in the early days of the church, we are a community of believers whose thoughts about the laws of God threaten to divide and destroy the church. It almost seems as if we have forgotten Jesus’ own words to us, the message of the Gospel for today to love one another just as we were loved by Him and God the Father.

The New York Times yesterday noted that the delegates to the General Conference in Pittsburgh voted against a call to split the church. It seems that conservative delegates to the General Conference had brought a motion before the floor that would split the United Methodist Church into two separate denominations, based on the views of the members on the issue of homosexuality. Though this motion was overwhelmingly defeated, those who brought the motion before the floor have said that they will spend the next few years meeting with disaffected congregations and will probably seek to form a newer and more conservative branch of Methodism. (The New York Times, May 8, 2004)

But even this single issue is but one reason why people do not come to church. They see in the church an organization that excludes people for any number of reasons. Even after forty years, the 10 o’clock hour on Sunday morning is still considered the most segregated hour in this country. It seems that despite all of our intellect, all of our claiming that we are God’s servants, we are not always willing to accept other people’s ideas. It is not to say that we should accept clearly evil or wrong ideas but we should realize that other people have ideas as well. Many of the today’s problems stem from an unwillingness of some to accept the notion that other people have ideas about God and Christ that may differ from our own ideas.

Perhaps instead of judging the worthiness of those who are different, we should look at our own lives and the opportunities that are presented to us each day. Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador who was killed by those opposed to his work with the poor and underclass, the ongoing process of conversion is itself the meaning of church: "One cannot be part of this church without being faithful to [Jesus’] manner of passing from death to life, without a sincere movement of conversion and of fidelity to the Lord." Both the disciples and Romero had to rethink their preconceived notions about what – and who – makes the church. (Adapted from "Living the Word", Sojourners, May 2004.)

When we come to the communion table in the United Methodist Church, we are reminded that it is an open table. This means that anyone who is a member of any church, be it a United Methodist Church or otherwise, may celebrate communion with us. The only requirement for coming to this table is that one comes with a open heart, confessing of their sins, and receptive to the power of the Holy Spirit. There was some discussion at General Conference about closing the table in the United Methodist Church but I do not think anything came about from that thought.

And I hope that it doesn’t; because to do so would to take away the very essence of what the Gospel message is about and it is to say to some that they are not welcome in this or any other church. I certainly hope that we never close the table in the United Methodist Church; for to so would send a message of exclusion when openness is needed.

I do not know what your experiences with other denominations are but I have come close to being denied communion on two occasions. The first occurred when I was in college; the second just after I started my preaching career.

When I was in college, I would attend the Roman Catholic services at the Newman Center. I knew the campus priest through other church contacts and the services were very informal. This allowed me the "thrill" of attending church wearing blue jeans. Now, I must admit that I am wholly uncomfortable doing so now but college was a time of breaking away from the old and moving towards the new.

I asked the priest if he would give me communion. He replied that he would not, because I was not Roman Catholic. I also think that he knew that I was testing him and communion is not a test between you and the minister. He was right to say that he would deny me communion because my reasons for coming to the table were not the proper ones.

The second time was in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. The Missouri Synod closes the table to only the members of that church; Lutherans from other churches and others must get permission from the Lutheran minister before coming to the altar rail. In this particular church, the minister had students home from college pulled out of the line because they had not gotten permission before hand. Since I knew the rules and wanted to observe communion, I met with this minister before hand to get permission. Because he knew of my background, his questions went beyond the normal questions asked of others.

Here he was testing me in a manner that would not have been done to others. I knew the answers he wanted to hear and I was reluctantly granted permission. But I said that I would never go back to that church on a communion Sunday because the spirit for receiving communion was not there.

But, having described those instances where I would have been denied communion, I have to confess there have been times when I would have denied communion to someone else. Several years ago, a member of the congregation that I was also a member of was working against those who sought to save and revitalize the church. In one sense, it was a matter of power. For the revitalization of the church would ultimately strip this individual of the power they had gathered over the years. In the confession that is a part of the communion ritual, we speak of opening our hearts and confessing our sins. I could not see how, in light of this person’s actions, how they could come to the table or why they should be allowed to come to the table. But I was reminded that such decisions were not up to me nor anyone else in the church; if this person wished to have communion and not confess their sins or come to the table with an open heart, so be it. Judgment will be made but it will done by an authority more powerful than I.

Communion means three things to me. First, it is the essential reminder in my life that Christ died for my sins, even before I was ever on this earth. He died for my sins so that I would be free. It is a reminder that communion is a community event.

There is no way that one can have communion singularly. It has to be done in some sort of community, even if the community is only you and the minister.

I do not know the circumstances that put Thomas G. Pettepiece in jail but he wrote

Today is Resurrection Sunday. My first Easter in prison. Surely the regime can’t continue to keep almost 10,000 political prisoners in its gaols! In here, it is much easier to understand how the men in the Bible felt, stripping themselves of everything that was superfluous. Many of the prisoners have already heard that they have lost their homes, their furniture, and everything they owned. Our families are broken up. Many of our children are wandering the streets, their father in one prison, their mother in another.

There is not a single cup. But a score of Christian prisoners experienced the joy of celebrating communion — without bread or wine. The communion of empty hands. The non-Christians said: "We will help you; we will talk quietly so that you can meet." Too dense a silence would have drawn the guards’ attention as surely as the lone voice of the preacher. "We have no bread, nor water to use instead of wine," I told them, "but we will act as though we had."

"This meal in which we take part," I said, "reminds us of the prison, the torture, the death and final victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread is the body which he gave for humanity. The fact that we have none represents very well the lack of bread in the hunger of so many millions of human beings. The wine, which we don’t have today, is his blood and represents our dream of a united humanity, of a just society, without difference of race or class."

I held out my empty hand to the first person on my right, and placed it over his open hand, and the same with the others: "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Afterward, all of us raised our hands to our moths, receiving the body of Christ in silence. "Take, drink, this is the blood of Christ which was shed to seal the new covenant of God with men. Let us give thanks, sure that Christ is here with us, strengthening us."

We gave thanks to God, and finally stood up and embraced each other. A while later, another non-Christian prisoner said to me: "You people have something special, which I would like to have." The father of the dead girl came up to me and said: "Pastor, this was a real experience! I believe that today I discovered what faith is. Now, I believe that I am on the road." (From Visions of a World Hungry by Thomas G. Pettepiece)

It was the celebration of the community of believers in the most trying of times that brought solace and hope to one and the promise of a better life to another. I don’t think that such results could have been achieved without the community of believers.

The third thing that communion means to me is expressed by John in his words from the Book of Revelations. Christ represents a new beginning; no longer will the old ways hold meaning. In Christ, we have the promise of eternal life; in Christ, our fears are relieved. But the promises of the new beginning can only be true if we hold to the true meaning of the Gospel.

And the true meaning of the Gospel is to have this table open. You may feel that you are not worthy of coming to the communion table today but that is the one reason you should come. The poet Gary Holthaus wrote,

"The good news is tonight I am going to create a sustaining community among you. It will not depend on your always being faithful or perfect or good, or right, powerful, or unblemished or pure.

It will not depend on your holding an advanced degree or your wealth, your skin color, sexual orientation, gender, or religion.

It depends on two things: your willingness to share and your memory of me. (Adapted from "The Sustaining Community" by Gary Holthaus, in Connections, September 2002.)

We did not set this table; rather Christ set it. He, through his baptism, death on the cross, and resurrection invites us to set at His table. Through his baptism, death on the cross, and resurrection brings to us a new world, free from pain and death through sin. We leave this table a forgiven and risen people, empowered to take the Gospel into the world, to share with others what we have gained today. Christ invites us and asks us to have others sit with us. Who will sit at your table?

To Honor Thy Mother and Thy Father

This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC on the 5th Sunday of Easter, 13 May 2001.  This also happened to be Mother’s Day.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 11: 1 – 18, Revelation 21: 1- 16 and John 13: 31 – 35.


To prepare for this Mother’s Day, I started thinking about what it is that we got from our mother. To often in today’s society, Mother’s Day is often seen in terms of economic opportunities for the greeting card and phone companies. But what is it that we got from our mother.

For John and Charles Wesley, it was very simple. When they were growing up, education was essentially a hit or miss proposition. In the Wesley family, the education of the children was a task taken on by their mother, Susanna. She nurtured their minds and spirits, tamed their wills without crushing their spirits. She taught each child at a pace best suited for his or her own learning style. Later, in their adult years, she encouraged them and counseled them. And it was learning not just for the boys. It is noted that John Wesley’s sister, Mehetabel, was so advanced in learning that she was reading the New Testament in Greek at the age of eight.

The sense of social justice and compassion that John Wesley felt the church should show no doubt came from the heritage of Biblical instruction, academic excellence, and godly examples set forth by their mother.

Knowing the tone of life that was set by Susanna Wesley, I wondered what it was that I received from not only my mother but my paternal grandmother. I hope that as I speak of what my mother did for me, you will take a few moments and think about the person in your life whom you knew or know as Mom.

As I have said on at least one other occasion, my mother laid the foundation for my faith at an early age. From her, I suppose I get the drive to do well in everything that I did as well as the tenacity to see a job done and done right from her.

And it is to my mother’s credit that there is a bond of love between my brothers, my sister, and myself. You will find no more diverse group of siblings than that of my family and though the manner in which it is done may not seem like it, there is a love between us that developed because of our mother.

I know that I did not get my sense of social justice from her and it is certain that I did not get my political beliefs from her. But I did get a sense that it was all right to find my own path as long as I was prepared to face the consequences as well as enjoy the rewards.

I also got a sense of family love from my paternal grandmother. Though my roots lie in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, there is also a part of me that also comes from Missouri. And whenever I go back to Missouri, whether it was to visit friends at Kirksville or go see the my daughters in Springfield, it doesn’t seem right not to go by 3603 Union Road if I have the chance.

That was where my grandmother lived all the years that I knew her. And whenever I was on break from school, I knew that it was a place that I could go. At that house, there was a sense of love and warmth and family, a sense of haven from the world outside.

That is why the passage from Acts seems so appropriate for this morning. At first glance, it is hard to see how it fits into Mother’s Day (and I am sure that there are a few preachers this morning who have decided to pick something more appropriate to preach from today). But on a day when we speak of the family, to hear God speaking to Peter about who should be in that family is highly appropriate.

The early church faced a dilemma about who should be a Christian. There were some those who believed that you must first be a Jew before you could be a Christian. And that part of the Christian process was an observance of all the Jewish rituals. Of course, Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles ran counter to this very notion.

But Peter received a vision from God that showed him that no one who wanted to enter God’s family would be denied because of who they were or what they were. The love and grace of God were open to all those who put their faith in Christ.

The concept proposed by some that made Christianity exclusive also ran counter to what Jesus told his followers to love as others as He had loved them. The love that Christians have for others and the works that illustrate this love will be the ways that others will come to know Christ.

Jesus encourages us to open up our hearts and let others know that God loves them as much as He loves us. John, writing in Revelation, speaks of that love and how through that love a New World is created.

This is a day when we give thanks to those who have helped shape and nurture us, who guided and directed us, who gave us a sense of what love was all about. Since we have that type of love, it is easier for us to know the love that God has for us and it is easier for us to show that kind of love to others.

The task was given to each and every one of us so many years ago. To love as others as we were loved by Christ. In honoring our mothers this day, we honor our Father as well.

Changing the Rules

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?