The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Good morning! In our sermon for last week we talked about finding what God is calling us to do and living that out in the world. For the next three weeks, in our “Gospel According to..” series, we will be learning about 3 people who have done just that— Mister Rogers, Rev. William Barber, and Mary Oliver.
I think that it is important for us to pay attention to the lessons we can learn from people who made the world a better place because they lived out the gospel in their lives. For me, Mr. Rogers is one of the best examples I have of living a life that is dedicated to the love of God and of neighbor.
As a child, I spent hours watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. His show wasn’t as fast-paced and action-packed as many of the other kids shows which aired in the early 1990s, but I still longed to be a part of his neighborhood. Mr. Rogers taught me that it was okay to be vulnerable and to feel my emotions. He taught me that I was special just as I was, that there was no one else in the world like me. And perhaps most importantly, he taught me how to be loving to the other people in my life.
What many of us didn’t realized when we were young children or the parents of young children watching his show, was that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Rather than serving a church, his ministry was his television show. While he never preached a sermon to his viewers, he lived by St. Francis’ sentiment, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”
His television neighborhood gave him a way of sharing God’s love to children across America. “The underlying message of the Neighborhood,” Rogers once said, “is that if somebody cares about you, it’s possible that you’ll care about others. ‘You are special, and so is your neighbor’—that part is essential: that you’re not the only special person in the world. The person you happen to be with at the moment is loved, too.”
In our scripture for this morning, we can see that Mr. Rogers learned what it meant to be a neighbor from the teachings of Jesus. The text describes a conversation between Jesus and an expert on the law who asks Jesus,
“Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan, which we just heard a few moments ago. A man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, and of the three men who passed him by, only one took the time to stop and care for him. That person was a Samaritan, a people who were disliked by the Jews because they worshipped differently. Jesus then asked the lawyer, “Who was the neighbor to the man?”
The answer, of course, is the Samaritan. It is telling that Jesus chose a person from a group who was despised by the Jews to represent neighborliness in this story. It would have been shocking, revolutionary, maybe even offensive. It would have shown that God’s love is radical, and transcends the boundaries that humans put on it. It would have taught his disciples that our love towards others should cross the boundaries that we put between people as well.
This was the message Mr. Rogers learned from Jesus, and the way he lived his life. My favorite story about him took place when racial segregation and Jim Crow laws were the law of the land. In response to this racism and discrimination, Mr. Rogers added an African American actor to play a police officer on his show. A few months later, when there were protests raging nationally about the integration of swimming pools, Mr. Rogers addressed it on screen by asking Officer Clemmons to join him in soaking his feet in a small swimming pool. He never mentioned racism, segregation, or the unrest present in the country…but this radical act taught children across America that people of all races are our neighbors.
Mr. Rogers was intentional about each thing he did on the show…from the storylines to the people that he cast to be his neighbors. He taught children all over the country to value the diversity of our neighbors by showcasing people with different talents, abilities, and identities.
He ended every program with the words, “You make each day a special day. You know how? By just your being you. There’s only one person in this whole world like you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”
This message of love and acceptance made a difference in individual lives across America. When I began writing this sermon, I asked my Facebook friends if they would share with me the impact that Mr. Rogers had on their lives. I found that people were moved by his calm, loving presence, his compassion, and his call for diversity. They talked about how he helped them to feel their emotions, to believe that they were loved, and to have greater compassion for others.
I would guess that many of us wouldn’t be the people we are today without the ministry of Mr. Rogers. He taught the children who grew up watching his show to love themselves, and that they were worthy of being loved just as they were. He also taught us that if we can be loved exactly as we are, so can everybody else.
He once said: “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”
Mr. Rogers taught that we must start with love—but love was not just being nice. For Mr. Rogers, love was an action. Love pushed him to teach children about the hard things in life, so they could understand and learn from them. Love was sharing a message of equality for people of all races, genders, and abilities. Love was being intentional about spending time with and listening to every person that he was with because they mattered to him.
And while he was teaching us how to love each other, he was also teaching us how to accept love. Mr. Rogers taught us to remember, value, and honor the love that we receive from our neighbors. In his article, “The Presence of God in Fred Rogers’ Life and Work,” Eliot Daley wrote:
“Rogers used each engagement with another person, no matter how fleeting, as an opportunity to impart a blessing of attention and affirmation on the other. He rarely failed to part from another person without leaving them feeling better about themselves and their possibilities.
Perhaps the most widely noted example of Fred’s seizing such a moment was his acceptance “speech” when receiving an Emmy for Lifetime Achievement from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1998…When Fred was called to the stage and microphone to receive his award, he turned the moment into a gift for everyone in the auditorium.
He looked across the gathering and said, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”
There was a ripple of puzzlement for an instant, so he raised his arm, conspicuously looked at his wristwatch, and said, “I’ll watch the time.”
The little titter of laughter faded quickly as members of the audience realized they were going to comply — they wanted to comply — with Fred’s suggestion. Then the audience, one by one, closed their eyes and moved into a sudden, intimate encounter with some precious person who had breathed life into them — who had enabled them to be present at such an exalted occasion as the Emmys — and the emotions began flowing freely. In seconds, quiet weepings lurched into audible sobs, dampened eyes blinked fast and then spilled messy tears. A roomful of celebrities was deep in holy gratitude for having been loved enough to become, well, celebrities.
Fred lifted his eyes from his watch after a while and pronounced the benediction: “May God be with you.” And he returned to his seat.”
This morning, may we learn from the gentle yet courageous example of Mr. Rogers. May we remember our neighbors who have loved us. May we be reminded of God’s call to love others. And, above all, may we never forget that we are all part of the same neighborhood. Amen.