Lent: The Holy Spirit and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

March 14, 2021

The greatest commandments are: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – and love your neighbor as yourself.  (Mark 12:29-31)

Love God.  Love everyone.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  

But what happens when things don’t go according to our carefully laid out plans?  How do we continue to love God when the Almighty goes off script?  It’s easy to love God when we get our heart’s desire.  But what if our desires and God’s don’t match up?

And what happens when loving everyone means loving people who are different than we are; those who go off script according to what WE think a lovable person should look like, behave like, and believe?  It’s easy to love people who are ‘just like us’ and sure, we can tolerate the ‘others’ – but toleration isn’t love.

What are we to do when things aren’t lock step with our egos and self-constructed realities – what then?

Welcome to the neighborhood!

A neighborhood seen through the eyes of a child – the wonder of a child – the acceptance of a child.  A neighborhood where we are loved just because we exist. A neighborhood where we love all others just because they exist! A neighborhood of open hearts, minds, and doors!  All are welcomed!  All are affirmed! A neighborhood where the folks already living there make room for others to live, love, and flourish as well according to their unique gifts and graces.

It sounds a lot like the neighborhood of Mr. Rogers’ imagining! 

In Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, people are noticed not for what they bring to the table but for who they are at the table; all humbly willing to both give and receive.

In Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, no one is excluded or made to feel less than. Hard things are respectfully and openly talked about until peacefully resolved. The truth is always told. Fears are overcome together. Mysteries are revealed, but the wonder remains.

What a wonderful place to imagine living! 

Yet, it’s not a neighborhood just for children.

Sometime Google Mr. Rogers’ testimony before Congress in 1969.

In his gentle, loving, straight-talking way, Mr. Rogers brought entire congressional committee into his ‘neighborhood of caring’ as he called it – even if only for a moment. The tenor in the room was briefly transformed into a moment of neighborly caring that is still remembered 52 years later! 

You know, I am not surprised that Mr. Rogers became a pastor in the truest sense of the word. He was a pastor after God’s own heart: a Spirit-empowered conduit of God’s creating, calming love into the lives of all others; a human vessel devoid of self-importance, filled with the creating, calming Spirit of God;  A man who looked intently into the eyes and the hearts of those he was with and drew the best out of them even as he affirmed their ‘specialness.’ 

Of course, he wasn’t perfect, but Mr. Rogers was a disciple of the One Who is perfect; that One Who told us to love and serve without exception.  

Even now, though Mr. Rogers died in 2003, the man and his vision of a neighborhood of caring continue on in the hearts of children everywhere. 

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Oddly, so many children, now re-labeled ‘adults,’ continue to long for Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood: a safe place to live; a loving place to belong; an accepting place where making mistakes is a part of learning rather than a death sentence; a place where we don’t have to work so hard to prove we are worthy of love – we just are loved because ‘it’s you I love,’ as Mr. Rogers’ song goes.

Yet, we long for Mr. Rogers’ imagined neighborhood? WHY? After all, isn’t Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood the reality which God intends the church – the Spirit-empowered neighborhood – to be?  A neighborhood:

  • open to all 
  • accepting of all 
  • trusting and worthy of trust
  • unconditionally loving
  • ready to walk the way together through life’s challenges and fears 
  • valuing of others simply because God made them, not because of what they can do for us or because we can ‘change them’ to suit us?   
  • a gathering of the self-aware who know they are far from perfect but love and accept everyone in the way they themselves want to be loved and accepted.  

Unfortunately, that is not how the world sees us.

We are typically viewed not as a community of Spirit-led welcoming people, but rather as a social club of the like-minded.  

I have always thought that one of the bravest things a person can do is enter a church for the first time, never knowing if she/he will be welcomed, ignored, or shunned…it’s daunting and so sad!

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So…..what if we were to imagine ‘what it would be like’ to be that neighborhood of caring that the world longs for?

What would it be like for everyone – without exception – who walked through the doors of our buildings to be greeted as someone we have been waiting for and have made room for? 

What would it be like to be a faith-filled neighborhood of caring where differences don’t make us uncomfortable but rather enrich us?  Where we aren’t content to tolerate each other but truly cherish each other?

What would it be like?

It would be a neighborhood of caring where we understand that our job is not to change each other but to welcome each other into a fellowship of folks open to the Spirit Who lives in ALL of us, empowers ALL of us, and seeks to change ALL of us to more closely live as the Christians we claim to be and be transformed more completely into the image of God in the world we are called to become.

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Lent is a time for letting go of ‘not God behaviors’ in order to become filled with more of God; a time typically focused on individual practices. What if we let go of ‘not God behaviors’ in our churches as well?

What would it be like?

A beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Heaven come to earth.

Not something to imagine but a reality to live!

And to God be the glory!

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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