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.


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