These thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 9, 2018. This message was based upon a reading from Galatians 5:13-16, 22-24; 6:7-10. This is message is part of a series based in the wisdom and songs of Mr. Rogers entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” This Sunday marked my “official” welcome into the Franklin community.
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.
He was an international man of mystery. Rumors, urban legends abounded. The prevailing story went that during the Vietnam War he served in the United States military as a navy seal, some though marine sniper. He had, so people said, tattoos that covered both of his arms which is why he always wore those iconic sweaters—one of which, the infamous red cardigan, is stored and preserved at the National Museum of American History. In 2002, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It was easy for rumors to fly about him, not because any of them were true, but because Fred Rogers was such a loving and likable man. His television show first aired 50 years ago in 1968. It ran for 33 years, boasting over 900 episodes; and, in many ways the show continues, even after Rogers’ death, through PBS’s Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a place where several generations of children—me and my children—could explore a neighborhood and the world, as a television neighbor, to learn how suitcases were made, and be exposed to art and music. It was a place where we were transported on the seats of a trolley into Make Believe where Lady Elaine was making mischief and Daniel was scared. It was a place where many of us learned to process complex emotions and social situations. It’s where we learned and were challenged to be neighbors.
Fred Rogers was ordained into the Presbyterian Church as a television evangelist. And, while faith was never (at least according to my recollection) overtly talked about, faith—the Christian faith—grounded the show and gave it its driving thought and question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
The call to love and forgiveness, to radical acceptance and servanthood—the call to be a good neighbor—is the clarion call of Christ to the Church as it relates to the world. What Fred Rogers had to teach us, what he challenged us all to do was to live like Christ to care about our neighbors and the neighborhood. And, the beauty of it all is that he was largely convincing to most everyone.
Rogers’, and the Apostle Paul for that matter, call us to be good neighbors for, in the words of Paul, “the whole law is summed up in [this] single saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
What is a neighbor? Rogers notes that “Neighbors are people who live close to each other. Neighbors look at each other; they talk to each other; they listen to each other.”
Being a good neighbor is about fostering love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness in the neighbor. It’s about being gentle and exhibiting self-control. This is what it means to be a good neighbor. It’s what it means to live according to the Spirit, a faithful and spiritual life.
As we officially get started in ministry together, it’s important for you to know that I want to lead and be a part of a church that seeks to be a good neighbor—a church that loves to spend time together, that listens to each other and the community, and isn’t afraid to talk even about tough topics that seem to challenge us all and even divide us at times. I want to be a part of a church that manifests the fruits of the Spirit to a community starving to be filled by them. This is the church I seek to be a part of, to shepherd and to lead.
The driving question for me, for you, and for us as we move forward from this day forward is: “won’t you be my neighbor?”
I pray the answer is yes. I pray that you’ll be my neighbor and help me be a better one too; and, I hope that you’ll allow me to be your neighbor and allow me to challenge you to be a better neighbor too. “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Our faith calls us to be good neighbors. Won’t you be mine?