A Message from Pastor Matt

June 10, 2018

Church News

This year is the 50th anniversary of the debut of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.   A hallmark of Mister Rogers’ style was speaking directly to children in a thoughtful and intelligent way.  Unlike other children’s programs, Mister Rogers did not speak down to children or simply entertain them.  He sought to build a relationship with children by including them in his neighborhood.  Along the way he addressed challenging issues like anger, death, divorce, bullies, and war, seeking to teach his neighbors how to seek peaceful, loving resolutions to such challenging relationships.  

Being the commemorating culture that we are, the 50th anniversary is being marked in numerous ways.  The U.S. Postal Service has issued a stamp, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has begun streaming episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on-line, at least 2 movies about Mister Rogers’ life are in the works, and a number of TV specials and interviews have aired or been printed.  There are plenty of good reasons to honor a man who did so much good for so many children and their families.

Despite the cultural icon that Fred Rogers has become, I can’t help but wonder amid all of the commemorating, have we forgotten to live out those things that he taught.  Those of us who were part of the Mr. Rogers’ generations grew up with his message of love and inclusion, yet we live in a world where many find themselves being excluded.  Most regrettably, many of those being left out of the neighborhood are children.  I believe Mr. Rogers would be appalled at many of the realities that children have to live with in our world today.  Injustices toward children abound.  The children in our local and global neighborhoods must deal with:  school shootings, sex trafficking, being separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico boarder, living in refugee camps, being orphaned because of the opioid crisis, not to mention, not having adequate food or shelter because of terrible circumstances that aren’t of their choosing.  The sad and sinful reality is that each of these kids suffer because of the failure of adults:  parents, policy makers, their neighbors.  Even the Mister Rogers’ generation.  

Remembering is important, but it’s rather pointless when the lessons taught are not lived out.  We tread very close to hypocrisy when we celebrate and espouse the values of people like Mister Rogers (not to mention Jesus Christ, but we’ll get to him in a minute) and are not changed to become more loving and accepting of the neighbors in the world, especially those who do not look like us.

The problem of aligning real values with real actions is nothing new.  Jesus had the same problem.  He had to confront the religious establishment of his day that preached one thing and did another.  Who can forget Jesus’ righteous anger as he tossed the money changers out of the temple?  That holy place had become a marketplace and the institution that was supposed to support the poor and the orphan was instead bilking money from them under the guise of worshipping God.

Jesus and his earliest followers stood in direct opposition to the exploitive forces of their religion and the Roman Empire.  They sought to worship God by loving their neighbor.  Love was their language and even their God.  As John reminds us, God is Love.  This new understanding of God meant that to love another was to live in God.  The early church’s rapid growth was due to an unprecedented ability to love others, especially those who were quite different from the original disciples.  Shortly after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the church began to accept non-Jews into their ranks, not to mention, believers from far off lands, the rich, the poor, the widow and the orphan were all counted among the earliest members of Christ’s church.

Through the witness of Mister Rogers and Jesus Christ, we have two powerful examples of what can happen when we align the greatest values of God:  love, peace, grace, and acceptance with action.  People are included in the wider neighborhood that is God’s people.  The most destructive inclinations of humanity lose their power.  Dehumanizing forces like poverty, nationalism, greed, racism, and violence can only be overcome by love.  

There is much work to be done as we not only commemorate, but become co-workers with  saints like Mister Rogers.   Luckily we are not alone.  Like our forbears in faith 2,000 years ago, the Holy Spirit is with us, guiding and protecting.  

May our lives mirror the values of Christ.  That is my prayer for us this summer. 

Blessings, 

Pastor Matt

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