This past week I went to see a new film, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, the documentary biography of Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame. I’m sure many of you knew the television show and appreciated it. Others of you may be only vaguely aware of it, or only know the spoofs and parodies of the show that appeared in places like Saturday Night Live.
I probably started watching the show soon after it began airing in 1966, along with my younger sister and baby brother. It became enough of a childhood staple for me that when my own children came along it seemed only right that watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood would be part of our family life. One of the aspects of the show was that Fred Rogers never talked down to children, he never thought they were too young to have important questions, and he always had very high quality jazz, classical music, art, and dance featured on the program. And at the very heart of everything Mr. Rogers did was the belief that children should know that they were loved and valued – no matter what.
So I was shocked to learn in the film that at Fred’s funeral in 2003, members of Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest at his funeral – you know, they’re the folks who protest at military funerals because the U.S. Armed Forces do not discriminate based on sexuality. And I was further distressed to hear from the film that a commentator on a cable news network some years ago, called him "an evil man" and claimed that young adults today feel entitled because Mr. Rogers told them they didn't need to earn love from anyone.
Well, I suppose that should be no surprise. Jesus is the One who incarnated and taught God's gift of unconditional love (which comes even before the need for repentance and forgiveness). And Jesus was clear that He would be a stumbling block to those who could not or would not hear Him; so those who share and teach Jesus’ love will also sometimes be a stumbling block to others. Fred Rogers was a Christian and a Presbyterian pastor, ordained and sent for the work of evangelism on television. The unconditional love he taught to children was God's love. There will always be those who are threatened by and rejecting of what they cannot control. And nobody can control the love of God – which is there for each and every person. And that takes us right to this morning’s Gospel reading.
Jesus has returned to Nazareth, and is preaching in his home synagogue, where everyone knows him and his family. But rather than appreciating what Jesus was teaching, or welcoming and honoring him, or even being curious and asking genuine questions, the townspeople were indignant, even resentful, in essence saying: ‘Well, look at who’s getting too big for his britches!’ All they could see was the boy they had known growing up in the carpenter’s family; their unbelief creating a climate where Jesus could not show them God’s power and mighty deeds – the signs of the Kingdom. They wouldn’t have believed him, anyway: ‘It must be some kind of trick’ they might have said. They rejected Jesus and his purpose and mission. They took offense at him.
So rather than try to cajole or argue with them, Jesus walks away. He goes on about his business, God’s business, Kingdom business. The home folks aren’t on board with the mission, but Jesus has another group who is: the disciples, specifically, the Twelve who were his inner circle, his training team. He calls them together and then sends them out, two by two, equipped with authority over unclean spirits, with a staff, no money or food or change of clothes; equipped with a message – that all should turn, should repent, should reorient their lives around Jesus. And if any group you go to will not listen, will not receive you with an open heart, don’t worry about it – just leave. Shake off the dust, don’t let it get you down.
We know this story – at least Luke’s version of it – because it is one of the Gospel passages we’ve spent a lot of time with in our Going Local efforts. Jesus sends disciples out into the towns and villages as his advance party. And one of the things we’ve learned is that while we can have some amazing and important encounters with people, while we can see that the Holy Spirit is out in front of us, working in the lives of people and in ways we might never have imagined, doing that work can seem very scary. We feel unsure, under-equipped, completely at sea about what to say or even sometimes what to believe in a world that often feels so un-lovely.
And yet, Jesus still bids us to go, to go forth – we who are disciples every bit as much as the Twelve were – to be part of Jesus’ mission of announcing the blessings of God’s love and goodness, to come alongside others in their struggle and their celebration, and their need to hear the truth of God’s unconditional love for them; to be an active part of the Jesus Movement that our Presiding Bishop keeps talking about. And now we’re going to get some help with that: some structure, some practices that we probably all knew about but may have forgotten or not considered, a pattern of living that can help us be rooted and grounded in Christ, that will transform us over time, that we can draw on as we are living and speaking Jesus’ mission in the world.
At the General Convention of our Episcopal Church this past week, Presiding Bishop Curry – in a very moving sermon – invited and encouraged all Episcopalians to adopt a Rule of Life called “The Way of Love.” A Rule of Life is “an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness”, in becoming the people God wants us to be. A Rule of Life is not new; it’s as old as Christian faith. A Rule of Life is not like waving a magic wand; transformation doesn’t happen overnight but takes long and sustained effort and time. But a Christian Rule of Life can be a tremendous vehicle of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to shape us and equip us for service in the Jesus Movement.
This particular rule, this “Way of Love” has seven practices – seven points or areas – and each one is important, and each goes back to the earliest days of the Church and has been used for centuries. Here in brief are the seven practices in the “Way of Love”:
- Turn: Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus.
- Learn: Reflect daily on scripture, especially the life and teachings of Jesus.
- Pray: Spend time with God in prayer every day.
- Worship: Gather in community for worship every week.
- Bless: Share one’s faith and find ways to serve other people.
- Go: Move beyond one’s comfort to witness to the love of God with words and actions.
- Rest: Dedicate time for restoration and wholeness.
As I said, these are not new; they are what the Church has always known, and they are just as powerful today as they have ever been, and yet how far have we drifted or wandered away from them, or done some parts and not others, or depended on someone else to maintain our connection to God for us, or just need to be refreshed and revived in our life with God. There are resources for this Way of Love up on the Episcopal Church website and print resources will be available soon. In very short run, there is a small flyer with the basic information about this Rule of Life on the table in the Narthex; please take one home with you. I would also urge you to listen to Bishop Curry’s sermon introduced and launched this Rule of Life; I sent you the link in the Daily Prayer e-mail yesterday. And in case you were wondering, if you have been following along and praying the parish Daily Prayers for the last few months, you have already been working on the Pray aspect of the Way of Love.
Fred Rogers knew about the Way of Love, the Way of God’s love – it’s what he taught, and played, and sang about with the children of America. The Way of Love is the basic building blocks, the primary formation for service in the Jesus Movement. The Way of Love will always send us in generous, open, even sacrificial love for others. And God goes before us and prepares the way for us – always.
Let us pray.
Go forth for God; go to the world in peace
be of good courage, armed with heavenly grace,
in God’s good Spirit daily to increase,
till in his kingdom we behold his face.
Go forth for God; go to the world in love;
Strengthen the faint, give courage to the weak;
Help the afflicted; richly from above
His love supplies the power and grace we seek.
~ Hymn 347, J.R. Pearcy
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2018