|Mr. Rogers' ministry was directed toward children but is applicable to all people.|
Today I was guest preacher for our church service. The current sermon series is on modern stories and characters who can inform us about the kingdom of God. These are my sermon notes.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Let us pray: “Let some word that is heard today be thine.” Amen
When John asked me to preach
while he was out of town, he gave me a list of the books/authors he was
considering for his series. I jumped at the chance to talk about Mr. Rogers,
having recently read two books by/about him. But unlike the characters John has
highlighted: Marvel, Harry Potter, Mr. Rogers was himself on and off the
Today I’ll be talking about Mr.
Rogers’ ministry to children and how he calls us all to be good neighbors.
Mr. Rogers began his career in broadcasting
in the late 1950s but finally landed on PBS with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in
By that time I was a
young teenager/preteen. My friends and I, who never watched the show, made fun
of it, thinking it was corny and old-fashioned.
It wasn’t until I
was a mother with young children that I actually watched it myself and
discovered that the irrepressible charm of the show was its simplicity and its
loving message of inclusion.
Often I would find
myself weeping as the girls watched the show for the sweetness, simplicity, and
respectfulness of his message.
Did you know that Mr. Rogers was
an ordained Presbyterian minister and his work on television was his ministry?
(I wonder how many
committees had to meet to approve that?)
Here’s another fun
fact: He never once mentioned God on his show, yet ALL of his words and actions
spoke of his great love for mankind, especially children.
His actions and
consistent messages spoke more of God’s love than the words of most Christians
television neighborhood gave him a way of sharing God’s love to children across
underlying message of the Neighborhood,” Rogers once said, “is that if somebody
cares about you, it’s possible that you’ll care about others. ‘You are special,
and so is your neighbor’—that part is essential: that you’re not the only
special person in the world. The person you happen to be with at the moment is
Imagine what the world would be like if we all
embraced that philosophy. I am special but so are you.
I’m going to return to this thought later.
Rogers prayed before each day of filming the simple prayer I opened with today:
“Let some word that is heard be thine.”
As I was contemplating what scripture I’d like to pair with
my message, the obvious choice seemed to be from Matthew 19:14:
Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for
of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (KJV)
· Did I
really just quote the KJV that says “Suffer little children?”
Rogers would never have used such confusing terms. Let me try again.
“But Jesus said, “Let the
children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of
heaven belongs to such as these.”” (NASB)
scripture is so perfectly aligned with Mr. Rogers’ ministry, it hardly needs a
sermon to expand on the theme.
think the disciples weren’t being mean about children, they just thought that
Jesus’s message was meant for adults, and only adults could understand it.
deserve to hear about God’s great love for them, too.
fact, what a great place to start, at the beginning of life to learn about God
and Jesus and their great love for mankind. All mankind.
most adults, Mr. Rogers never shied away from tough subjects when talking to
talked about death and loneliness, divorce, and disabilities.
fact, when the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Centers occurred, producers on
PBS brought Mr. Rogers back out of retirement to speak to the children of this
country to help sooth their anxieties and fears.
addressed the topic of helpers. He asked children to notice how many people
there were that were helping in the recovery efforts. This was a topic or theme
he often repeated “Notice the helpers.”
about the disciples wanting to shoo away the children and Jesus wanting them to
stay, reminds me of a song Mr. Rogers introduced in 1984 called: “I like to BeTold”.
can imagine Jesus singing this Mr. Rogers song about why children should be
allowed to hear his message.
JuJust think about those
lyrics in relationship to the scripture. Children like to know about things and
when we tell them accurate information it teaches them to trust us (and God
Mr. Rogers has a song
for just about every concept he was trying to model during the episodes. In
fact he sang one of the songs in front of the US Senate sub-committee that was
considering axing funding for PBS. The song was about expressing feelings.
I imagine if Mr. Rogers
were alive today, health specialists would want him to come out of retirement
again to help sooth our worries and fears about COVID and vaccines. Can’t you
imagine him saying or singing, “Trust the helpers” on this one?
I realized, however, that scripture wasn’t
exactly the point. I wanted to make today. So what other scriptures do you
think of related to Mr. Rogers?
Who is my neighbor?
25 And a lawyer stood up
and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal
life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And
he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with
all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your
neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have
answered correctly; do this and you will live.” 29 But wishing
to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
You know the rest of the story. The Good Samaritan story
where Jesus used a parable to make a point about neighbors and loving kindness.
(For just a moment I’m going to digress.
Jesus was asked lots of times why he spoke in parables
rather than straight up. His answers were always about his message being
available for those who have ears to hear.
I believe that stories have a way of speaking to us so that
we can make changes.
In a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Overstory, one
character Adam, a psychology grad student, is asked if resistance efforts can
make a difference in saving trees and in the environmental movement. He says, “The best arguments in the world won't
change a person's mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” Powers,
the author, clearly believes that in order to change to consciousness of the
peoples of the world we have to employ different techniques of persuasion.
There is power in a good story to change the hearts and
minds of a people. Jesus knew this, too.)
But let’s go back to the scripture.
The man asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
But what is he really asking? Who do I need to love? In
other words he is saying, I’m willing to love him if
- · is in
the same socio-economic class as me
Gandhi famously said: “I like your
Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike
don’t know about you, but I feel this way all the time when I hear of Christians behaving
in very unloving, judgmental ways.
seems to be no room in their hearts for anyone other than those people who are
exactly like them.
are we supposed to attract people to Christ when our actions actually repel
Let’s go back and relate this idea of
neighbor to Mr. Rogers and his ministry to children (and their parents).
book Peaceful Neighbor:
Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, the author Michael
Long points out that
Rogers’ work for the greater good did not take the form of marching, rallying,
he did his work in and through his own context. Mr. Rogers didn’t march against
Jim Crow; he cast black actors on his program.
didn’t travel to Birmingham or Selma in support of integration; he set up a
pool and invited Officer Clemmons (played by black, gay actor)
to soak his feet and share his towel.
Rogers’ life reminds us that we can work for the well-being of the most
vulnerable wherever we may be, in whatever work we do. In other words, “There are
many ways to say ‘I love you.”
we don’t have to trail the trappings of religiosity behind us to do it.
Remember he never once mentioned God on his TV show, but everything about his
being spoke of love and respect.
don’t need to speak about religion overtly to get a message across,” Mr. Rogers
When Jesus asks us to love our
neighbors. What does he mean?
didn’t call us “acquaintances” or “friends”; he didn’t call us “boys and girls”
or “ladies and gentlemen.” He called us neighbors.
biblical language. Jesus reminds the lawyer trying to ensnare him of this with
the Good Samaritan story when he asks him, “Which one of these three was a
lawyer answers: “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
-By calling us
NEIGHBORS Mister Rogers was calling us out of old ways and our desire for sameness, into lives of mercy and
care for one another, for everyone: no
matter their differences
maybe he was overly optimistic.
Maybe he was calling us something better
than we actually were.
But maybe he believed that if he got
to us while we were young, if he told us, again and again, that we were good,
that we were lovable, and that we could extend mercy, maybe we could grow into
real neighbors to one another.
I think Jesus was saying the same
thing to the young lawyer and to his disciples. A neighbor is a person who
shows mercy and kindness to everyone and when better to learn how to be
neighborly than when we are children?
Lastly- I wanted
to come back to that opening prayer:
“Let some word
that is heard today be thine.”
People can’t hear the good news of
the gospel if we speak in an unneighborly way.
Or our actions are not those of
Three ways to ultimate success: “Be
Kind. Be Kind. Be Kind.” –Mr. Rogers.
Let’s go out and be real neighbors today…and tomorrow, and
the next day…
Sing together: Won't
You Be My Neighbor
Jesus reminds us to follow these rules: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with
all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your
neighbor as yourself."
Mr. Rogers reminds us to BE KIND and NEIGHBORLY.
Let's go out and live that way!