hese thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 9, 2018. This message was based upon a reading from Genesis 1:26-27 & Isaiah 43:1-3. This is message is part of a series based on the wisdom and songs of Mr. Rogers entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” This sermon was based on the song “You Are Special.”
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here.
Just a few years ago, not too far from here, David McCullough, Jr., stood before the graduating class of Wellesley High School to give them their final lesson before receiving their diplomas. In front of doting family and friends, McCullough told the young persons before him,
You are not special. You are not exceptional.
Contrary to what your U-9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie…
But do not get the idea that you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
Those words seem so harsh (and I promise you the speech isn’t as curt as I’ve made it sound; it’s quite good and was published a few years after he gave it in TIME magazine); nevertheless, there is a spark of truth in them.
As McCullough points out a little later in the speech, there are 6.8 billion people in the world; so, if you really are one in a million, then there are nearly 7,000 people in the world just like you.
For all the ways we may think we are unique as individuals it is important to note that our genes, the cellular building blocks that make us who we are, are 99.975% the same across all humanity.
The vast similarity that unites us shouldn’t come as a surprise; afterall, we are created in the image of the one who created us (Genesis 1:26-27).
Yes, God has counted the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7), God knows when you lie down and when you arise (Psalm 139:1-2), but God knows that for everyone. Yes, you were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14), but so was everyone and everything else.
Individualism has become so rampant in our culture that it permeates the church and affects the way we read our sacred texts. In Isaiah, when God says,
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
God is not saying that to you or me as individuals, but to a people.
We read the scriptures as if they were meant to speak a word to us as individuals when, in fact, their echo is meant to be felt the world over. Redemption, mercy, forgiveness, love, grace, these things are not offered just to you and me, but all.
The idea that we are each special so permeates our thoughts that we perceive God’s mission as extracting lost souls to heaven and leaving the world to rot in the hells we’ve created, when in fact, God’s mission is not to redeem us as individuals, but to reconcile the world unto Godself (Colossians 1:17-20).
We errantly believe that God, in Jesus Christ, has come to save us individually when, in fact, the scriptures record that God so loved the world (John 3:16). It is not so much that God has sought me for my uniqueness—like a rare antique—but that God seeks to redeem and reconcile the whole world and I’m a part of it.
So was Mr. Rogers wrong?
Not exactly. The wisdom of Mr. Rogers, and the call of Scripture, isn’t that I’m special, but that you are.
I have to admit, I was pretty discouraged when I began reading about all the ways in which we are not special. The song that this sermon is based upon is one of my favorite Mr. Rogers classics. It’s one of the songs I taught my daughters. I so wanted the wisdom found in that song to ring true to life, but to read such a convicting graduation speech, to look at the science, and read scripture…
I wanted the song—the words, “you are special” to be true. I combed back through the lyrics. I watched Rogers sing the song over and over again on YouTube. And, then, it hit me. The song isn’t “I am special,” but “you are special.”
It’s not that you think you’re special or that I think I’m special—that can lead to arrogance and pride. What’s important isn’t that I have convinced myself that I’m special, but that you know you are special.
You are my friend
You are special
You are my friend
You are special to me.
It’s not that you think you’re special, but that I think you are—that’s love.
We are called to love as perfectly as God loves all—whether they think they’re special or not.
“Do nothing,” writes Paul to the church at Philippi, “from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, New Revised Standard Version).
McCollough was correct, “You’re not special” and you shouldn’t think that you are; but, I do. I think you’re special; and I hope you’ll tell others how special they are too.
 David McCullough, Jr., “The ‘You Are Not Special’ Graduation Speech Is Just as Relevant Today,” Time.com <http://time.com/4116019/david-mccullough-jr-graduation-speech-wellesley-high/> Accessed September 15, 2018.
 Krista Conger, “What makes you unique? Not genes so much as surrounding sequences, says Stanford study,” Standford Medicine News Center (March 18, 2010) <http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2010/03/what-makes-you-unique-not-genes-so-much-as-surrounding-sequences-says-stanford-study.html> Accessed September 16, 2018.
 Fred Rogers, “You Are Special” © 1967, PBSkids.org <http://pbskids.org/rogers/nonflash/songlist/song3_ra.html> Accessed September 16, 2018. Emphasis added.