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We are All Members of the Family of God

October 24, 2020

Fred Rogers, the beloved television personality and Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor had a unique outlook on life, ministry, and family. He was ordained to the specialized ministry of television broadcasting and his series, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, was a powerful ministry that touched so many lives during his lifetime and continues to touch so many lives today. In a world fraught with division, animosity, anger, hatred, and fear I think we can learn a lesson from Mister Rogers. In the opening song that he sang as he walked into the door of his make believe house and put on his sweater and shoes, he sang about a simple thought.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor? http://Mister Rogers Song

It was Mister Rogers who reached out to his neighbor Officer Clemmons who was an African-American Police Officer in the neighborhood. While pools, water fountains, hospitals, movie theaters, schools, and so many other places were segregated, it was Mister Rogers who reached out and invited Officer Clemmons to stick his feet in the pool on that hot day and even shared his towel with him. Mister Rogers helped people to look at the systemic racism on a very personal level. This simple act has touched so many lives and will continue do so as his legacy lives on in the world today thanks to movies and books.

In Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 we read God’s command, through Moses, to the people of the Exodus, to live as a just and holy people. The final statement in verse eighteen says it quite clearly: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. You shall love your neighbor as yourself!

Centuries later, Jesus would answer the question posed by the lawyer who was in cahoots with the Pharisees and Sadducees. In verse thirty-six of Matthew 22:34-45 he asks this question: Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Just what is the greatest commandment? Jesus didn’t have to look any further than the Law of God that Moses brought to the people of the Exodus. The first part of his answer came directly from the Ten Commandments: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (vs 37) And he said that the second is like the first: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (vss 39-40)

This Sunday is Reformation Sunday. It is the Sunday where we remember the bold step Martin Luther took by nailing his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, 1517. In this bold step, Martin Luther was reminding the church hierarchy that the church was for all of the people and not a political tool of the religious and political elite. In a nutshell, I believe that Luther was reminding the church of its call to love God and to love their neighbor. The churches in the Reformation, including the Presbyterian movement in Scotland led by John Knox who was a student of another reformer, John Calvin, didn’t always do such a wonderful job of loving their neighbor. There were enough bloodbaths, burning at the stakes, along with other forms of torture and death to go around on all sides. Catholic or Protestant, the church didn’t do a very good job of loving their neighbor or God.

As I ponder the texts and these stories from the Reformation for tomorrow’s sermon I am struck by how far the church and society hasn’t progressed. Lynching, Mass-Incarceration, and Hate-Crimes perpetrated in the name of the state and their god has replaced burning at the stake and other medieval sorts of torture and death. Aren’t we called by Jesus to be the antithesis of how the world acts?

During these divisive times I believe that the church is being called to be different from the world and to live and show a better way. Love of God and Neighbor (all neighbors, yes, even enemies) is what needs to be lived out instead of hatred and fear. There are two touchstones in my own personal and professional witness as a Christ-follower. The first comes from Micah 6:8 where we are called to do justice, love kindness/mercy, and walk humbly with God. The second is the love command Jesus gives us: Love God and love neighbor!

Thomas Merton had an epiphany on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky on March 18th, 1958. He wrote about it in his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. … I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” (p. 154-155)

Walnut is now named Thomas Merton Square… we visited Gethsemane and the Merton Center in 2019

It may be a pipe dream, but I would love to live out both the simple message of Mister Rogers and Thomas Merton’s epiphany as I seek to follow Christ in loving God and loving neighbor.

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