Monday, July 12, 2010

The Gospel according to Mister Rogers or something like that

Hey all. Below is the message I gave at Good Shepherd yesterday. It would probably help to check out the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 before reading it. I know it is a story we are familiar with, but its not like reading or re-reading scripture is ever a bad thing. Just saying. Anyway, hope you enjoy or maybe better yet I hope that somehow the Spirit of the Living God speaks to you through the words below.
Here goes:

As you have hopefully already figured out, today we are talking about the story the Good Samaritan.

As such I thought it was appropriate to begin by looking at the words of a famous Presbyterian minister, who is perhaps best known for his focus on the idea of being a neighbor

I am, of course talking about the Mister Rodgers, who was, in fact, a Presbyterian Minister

Like many of us, I grew up with Mister Rogers and –though I won’t- I could still sing the theme song that he sang to open every show as he entered into his house and changed into a more casual sweater.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine, could you be mine . . . won’t you be my neighbor.

Silly song for a silly children’s program. But as I looked at the lyrics this week, I began to think that maybe the Presbyterian minister actually slipped a serious Biblical point in there as well.

The song continues with these words:

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?

There is more to say about Jesus story of the Good Samaritan – but that verse of the Mister Rogers theme song summarizes well what it is Jesus is saying to us:

Since we’re together, we might as well say, would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?

Before we get to the ‘point’ of the song and Jesus parable, I want us to take a moment to notice the perspective of the song and the story.

It is natural, I think, for us when we hear this story to put ourselves in the shoes of the Samaritan, when answering the question of who is our neighbor – we see ourselves as the one’s in a position to help.

But what if we put ourselves in the position of the man lying in the ditch needing for help?

When we are in those shoes we would sing Mister Rogers song – won’t you be my neighbor to absolutely anyone that walks by, probably even saying to them something like ‘Since we’re together, we might as well say, would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?

Asking you to see and hear this story from the perspective of the half-dead man in need of help is not simply an intellectual exercise. I believe it is exactly how Jesus intended us to hear or ‘see’ the story.

A first century audience, Jesus' or Luke's, would have known that the Samaritan represented a despised "other." But I think they also would have understood that the lawyer would not empathize with the priest or Levite.

They represented differences within Judaism related to function, class, observance and biblical interpretation.

The only character left through which to enter the story is the one who has no identity except life-threatening wounds. The lawyer understands Jesus' point, according to the gospel narrative, that when you receive life-saving mercy, "otherness" ceases and we experience instead our common humanity.

This idea of ‘otherness’ is central to what is being asked of Jesus in the question of ‘who is my neighbor’

What the lawyer is really asking is, who am I allowed to consider as an ‘other’.

The reason for this is clear, and if we are being honest understandable

According to the ‘rules’ we only have to care for and look after those that are our neighbors. Everybody else is on their own.

The lawyer was certainly expecting Jesus to come back at him with some combination of religious or ethnic classification.

But, instead Jesus tells a story. And in that story he puts the hearers of that story in the position of the injured man, needing help.

So, we come to the question the story asks – when viewed through the injured man’s perspective:

Who would we want to treat us as a ‘neighbor’ if we were in a position of great need?

And I think the answer is so simple and clear it almost goes without saying:

Who would we want to treat us as a ‘neighbor’? Again:

Anyone that had the ability to help!

We had an actual experience of being treated as a neighbor recently

We did some exploring in and around Bristol, RI last weekend

Our family has something of a habit of finding treasure in other peoples trash and last weekend we struck again – this time with some really nice patio furniture –

Anyway as I was struggling to get the two pieces into the back of the van (having to move Charlie into a different seat in the process) a man stopped and asked ‘do you have far to go with that?)

I was, to be honest, a little annoyed with this older man’s question. Can’t he see that I am struggling a bit here?

Did he really think that I had time for small talk while I am heaving these wooden chairs into the back of our van, on the side of the road, on one of the hottest days of the year?

So without a thought and with an attempt to be polite I said, no not too far –

And then he said something that really made me feel terrible:

‘Then let’s put them in the back of my truck and get you where you need to go’

This stranger, who I thought was annoying me with small talk – who I only classified as something barely more than an annoyance – saw me quite differently.

He saw me and all of my families as his neighbor. And seeing my in need (a fairly accurate assessment of the situation) reached out to help.

Somehow, that man had eyes to see me, not as an other or a stranger but as a neighbor.

One who is in need and ‘deserving’ of help, care and support.

Perhaps the man we met in the truck last weekend had learned a lesson from the Samaritan in our story.

The Samaritan is the one who recognizes that when it comes to the question of who is our neighbor, there are no rules. Our neighbor, it turns out, is anyone in need.

Where does such vision come from? It apparently doesn't come from one's ethnicity, one's religion, one's training, or one's station in life. How else can we explain that a Samaritan saw this when the priest and Levite did not?

Having the eyes of faith to see that all people are children of God and anyone in need is your neighbor must be a gift of God, it must be a matter of faith, it must start with seeing, and only then move to doing.

I thinnk, our problem generally isn't knowing what we should and shouldn't do. It's having the vision to see the person in need not as a burden, but as my neighbor, to recognize in the face of another their needs not a hassle, but as an opportunity, an opportunity to show the mercy we have personally experienced in Christ.

My - our problem isn't a lack of information; it's a lack of faith.

I need new eyes. We need new eyes. We need the eyes of faith to see others as my neighbor, others as children of God, who are loved by God just as I am loved.

Wouldn’t it be great, this story of the Good Samaritan seems to say, if we could all just live in the world of Mister Rogers, looking at everyone we meet with excitement and anticipation as a possible neighbor – ‘since we are here together we might as well say . . . won’t you be my neighbor?

As far fetched as that may seem, That's the invitation God issues to us, this Sunday and every hour of every day. That's the world we experience when we accept God's invitation to be in relationship with him and see the world and our lives through his eyes

We can embrace the mission of a God who is not exhausted, put upon, and looking for reasons to cut back on the number of people to bless and love, but is fully alive, moving, and active, blessing in limitless abundance, and loving with more power in the world for every person in the world with whom God's love is shared.

When we align our way of living with God's love and God's mission, that's what we experience. When we live in an active search for opportunities to extend mercy and compassion, we experience more fully the reality that this world and every one of us was created by the God of mercy and compassion.

So this Sunday, as we have discussed a parable of great need being met with surprising compassion, let's think of at least one way we can try out that way of life, that we can look actively for opportunities to extend mercy when and where it's needed.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Some thoughts for Independence day

These are the words I shared at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church today,

July 4th, 2010.

Independence & Freedom in Christ: Galatians 6:1-16 & Luke 10:1-11;16-20

Prayer: God, as you have gathered us this morning, we ask that you also fill us with your Spirit and allow us to feel connected to you and each other by the power of that Spirit. In spirit and truth let us hear, understand and apply your Word into our lives. And now, I ask that you would hide me behind your cross so you are what’s seen and speak through me so you are what’s heard. Amen.

  • Shane Claiborne is a Christian author and thinker, who lives as part of an intentional Christian community in one of the poorest sections of Philadelphia.
    • He too has been thinking about how ‘Interdependence’ is a much more accurate and appropriate thing to celebrate today and every day.
  • He was recently quoted as saying: Independence is overrated and more than that it is a myth. We are all utterly interdependent beings from birth to death. We could not survive without microbes that help build our soil and the plants and trees that create oxygen and offer us food; we would never become mature adults without teachers and mentors; our cities would be full of disease if we didn’t have people who collect our garbage. More than Independence Day we need an Interdependence Day to celebrate our dependence upon one another and the earth, and our ultimate dependence upon God.
  • He then went on to name 40 ways that we could ‘celebrate Interdependence’. I am not going to share all of them with you, but I will encourage you to think on a few of them:
    • Write a note of appreciation to a mother; thank her for raising a child.
    • Look through your clothes. Learn about one of the countries where they were manufactured and commit to doing one thing to improve the lives of the people who live and work there.
    • Spend the 4th of July baking cookies or bread. Give your baked goods to the person who delivers your mail or picks up your trash the next time you see them.
    • Spend the day hiking in the woods. Think about how God cares for the sparrows and lilies of the field.
    • Sit down and handwrite a letter to an old friend or family member. Tell them one of your favorite memories of them.
    • Look for everything you have two of and give one away.
    • Attempt to repair something broken. Appreciate the people who repair things for you one a regular basis.
    • Track down old teachers and mentors. Let them know the influence they have played in your life.
    • Visit an elderly neighbor or family member. Have them tell you the story of their life.
    • Pray the Lord’s Prayer and commit to one concrete action to live out each part.
    • Babysit someone else’s children.

  • While Shane Claiborne, is the person that started me thinking about the truth of our interdependence, the idea isn’t a new one. In fact;
  • Everywhere we look within our worship life together there are Signs of Interdependence:
    • Passing of the peace
    • Communion
  • In Communion we by coming to receive the Eucharist we are recognizing that we are not able to do this thing called life on our own. We are, of course, not capable of achieving eternity in heaven by ourselves, but communion is about more than just ‘getting to heaven’. It is about just what its name implies – communing with our creator, savior and God.
  • Connecting to the one that is all and created all and on whom (whether we accept it or not) we ultimately depend. Communion is also about remembering just how far Jesus had to go to reconnect us to our God. A true sign of the importance of connection, community and interdependence.
    • Then there is Baptism
  • Baptism is one family – an independent family unit (self sufficient as it may seem) acknowledging that raising a child requires more than they have by themselves. Choosing to bring a child for baptism – or to make that decision for yourself as an adult – is a recognition that we need God’s help to live this life the way we are intended to live it – and really we need God’s help just to make it through at all.
  • Baptism is also a recognition that God often works through the communities we are a part of. And when we have a baptism, especially of an infant, we all make claims about what role we will play in the life and faith development of that child. We make a pledge of interdependence to one another. Willingly submitting to the idea of going through life together as part of a community
  • This is how God intends it to be. And this is how Jesus modeled life for us. In his own life, the only time Jesus is ever alone – and the moments certainly seemed fleeting – is to go off to pray.
    • In Christ’s alone time, he focused on the one in whom he was truly dependent on, communing with his God and father to give him strength for the life he was called to lead and the journey which he was to walk.
  • Jesus, as we know, was almost never alone because he chose to surround himself with a close group of friends and students – the disciples. And we see how Jesus valued interdependence and community in our Gospel today, as he paints a picture of freedom and independence – the message translates his words as ‘take nothing but a toothbrush’ – He also sends them out, not alone but in pairs. The disciples are sent with someone to lean on, someone to support and be supported by – in short, someone to be interdependent with.
    • Shared community prayers –

§ Jenny @ GA – we care (or at least should) about GA because what happens there, happens to us and for us.

  • But of course it matters more to us – or feels more real to us, feels closer to us – because someone we know and love is there. Jenny is a part of us, she and her family are a part of this family of faith.

· This is exactly what God had in mind for us. I have said this many times, and I will continue to say it, because I believe that it is a fundamental truth about who we are: We are – each and every one of us – literally designed for community. There are many examples from the Scriptures that point to this, but my favorite is from Ecclesiastes 4, where we find these words:

o Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

  • As much as we fight for, protect and love our independence – we were not designed to walk through this life alone. And in fact, a life lived alone, away from connections and community is difficult at best and fairly impossible. – We are the Body of Christ, we are interconnected to each other, and we must begin to act like it.
    • What is interesting, to me at least, is that this isn’t just a Christian thought or phenomenon.
  • There are those in the private, business sector that are beginning to sense the importance and reality of our interdependence. Recently one of these business leaders, Steve McCallion , wrote a ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ – with the rational that as great and important as the original Declaration of Independence is and was, much of it is dedicated to grievances against a King we haven’t recognized as our leader in over 200 years and that although our original declaration has served us well, we need a new one to guide us through the next 100 years.
  • The declaration follows the original form and wording of the Declaration of independence, veering into new language only where necessary. The following quote is one of those places:
    • That this happiness is no longer defined by geopolitical independence, but interdependence. That personal freedom cannot be maintained without recognizing its unbreakable connection to the collective freedom of our nation, and that of our fellow nations around the world. That in this interdependent world new enemies threaten our freedoms and they are of our own making
  • This secular, business leader is essentially saying that when we assert our own ‘freedom’ or ‘independence’ at the cost of our community, connectivity and interdependence we only hurt ourselves – when we focus on ourselves (and our freedom/independence) and miss the connections we have. We fall short of our goal and we have weakened others as well.
  • It is not the striving for freedom or independence that is wrong or detrimental. It is the trying to go for it alone or only get it for ourselves that falls short of our call and purpose in life.
  • When Christ chose to come down from heaven, be born as one of us, live a perfect life with us and finally to die for us we became indelibly connected to the God that created us, and as God created us in God’s own image (that of a God in relationship: Father, Son, Holy Spirit) we are designed to be in community. And this design is for all things: our search for faithfulness is meant to be done within a community; our striving for good stewardship of our gifts, abilities and our time is meant to be done with in a community; raising our children and supporting our families is meant to be done in a community and all aspects of our ‘spiritual growth’ the search for truth, understanding, connection to God and purpose in our lives all of these things are meant to be undertaken and discerned with in a community centered in, focused on and connected to Jesus Christ.
  • As we heard the Word of God from Galatians: ‘I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. . . . It is not what you and I do . . . It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!
  • We have been given freedom in Christ and that freedom is freedom from a community and interdependent perspective and it looks something like this:

Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

  • At the beginning I shared with you some of Shane Claiborne’s 40 ways to celebrate interdependence.
    • I want to share with you one last one:

· I found this recently on the Time magazine website:

A disturbing post on PostSecret yesterday revealed an illegal immigrant pledging to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge - but 20,000 online voices have responded with hope.

PostSecret, a blog that weekly displays anonymously mailed-in secrets on postcards from across the country, has long been known for revealing suicidal secrets, and has set up a phone hotline in response since the blog began in 2004. Yesterday, a postcard read, "I have lived in San Francisco since I was young ... I am illegal ... I am not wanted here. I don't belong anywhere. This summer I plan to jump off the Golden Gate."

Within 24 hours, nearly 20,000 people had signed up for a Facebook group titled "please don't jump," which was later linked beneath the secret on the Post Secret blog, linking in thousands of supportive comments. On the group's page, sympathetic users posted comments ranging from simply "I want you here" to "If I knew when you'd be at the bridge, I'd drive all the way from Ohio to meet you there, and hold you until you changed your mind." (the group now has almost 70,000 members)

While there's unfortunately no way to know if the card's writer has seen the overwhelming number of responses on Facebook, one can only hope the community of writers has helped changed at least one person's mind -- perhaps even beyond the person who wrote the card.

· Now, I don’t know – I don’t have any idea if the people behind the facebook group and those involved in other efforts to reach out to the writer of that postcard are Christians. But I know that Christ is certainly present in their actions and in the relationships and community they created as they realized their interdependence and sought to care for their neighbor, This – I am sure – is how God designed us, created us to act and interact.

· God wants and intends all the best for all of us – and we, you and I, are designed to play a central role in bringing that desire into reality for those we are in community with:

Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.