|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 screen.
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 1968.
· 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 today.
· His television neighborhood gave him a way of sharing God’s love to children across America.
· “The 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 loved, too.”
o Imagine what the world would be like if we all embraced that philosophy. I am special but so are you.
o I’m going to return to this thought later.
· Mr. 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:
· “But 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?”
· Mr. 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)
o This scripture is so perfectly aligned with Mr. Rogers’ ministry, it hardly needs a sermon to expand on the theme.
o I 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.
§ Children deserve to hear about God’s great love for them, too.
§ In 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.
o Unlike most adults, Mr. Rogers never shied away from tough subjects when talking to children.
§ He talked about death and loneliness, divorce, and disabilities.
§ In 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.
§ He 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.”
§ Thinking 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”.
§ I 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 more.)
· 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?
Luke 10:25-37 NASB
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
- · He looks like me,
- · talks like me,
- · worships like me,
- · loves like me,
- · 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 your Christ.”
· I don’t know about you, but I feel this way all the time when I hear of Christians behaving in very unloving, judgmental ways.
· There seems to be no room in their hearts for anyone other than those people who are exactly like them.
· How are we supposed to attract people to Christ when our actions actually repel people?
Let’s go back and relate this idea of neighbor to Mr. Rogers and his ministry to children (and their parents).
In the book Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, the author Michael Long points out that
· Mr. Rogers’ work for the greater good did not take the form of marching, rallying, or picketing.
· Mostly 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.
· He didn’t travel to Birmingham or Selma in support of integration; he set up a pool and Officer Clemmons (played by black, gay actor) to soak his feet and share his towel.
· Mr. 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, “.”
· And 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.
· “You don’t need to speak about religion overtly to get a message across,” Mr. Rogers once said.
When Jesus asks us to love our neighbors. What does he mean?
-Mister Rogers didn’t call us “acquaintances” or “friends”; he didn’t call us “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen.” He called us neighbors.
-“Neighbor” is 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 neighbor?”
The 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
-Admittedly, 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 loving kindness.
· 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!