Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Bulletin Cover 6-17

This sermon was preached at Ashland Presbyterian Church in Hunt Valley, Maryland on June 17, 2018. It is the second week of the Worship Series “The Gospel According to Mr. Rogers”.

Luke 10:25-37

Hello Neighbors!

In 1968 when Fred Rogers started Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood he set out to change children’s television from consumer driven slapstick, to a show teaching children about life, love, and make believe.

He started every show with the song “Won’t you be my Neighbor?” and that was the question he was asking every single day.

Fred was a good neighbor. He was kind and gentle, he was loving and accepting. He never turned away a visitor and always listened to their stories with patience and grace.

One of the things I realized as I dug into this series is that Fred wasn’t teaching us (the viewers) how to be good neighbors by instruction. He was a good neighbor and lead by example. We learned how to be good neighbors by watching him.

Our job, our responsibility, was to respond to the invitation he proposed in mutual relationship at the beginning of each episode: “Won’t you be my neighbor?” And you wanted to say YES! After all, he’s always wanted a neighbor just like us!

In our scripture lesson this morning we get another story of a good neighbor. The story of the man who falls into the hands of robbers is a man in need of help, desperate help, as he is described in bad shape being left half dead.

A priest and a Levite avoided the man, crossing to the other side of the road, but the foreigner, the Samaritan, takes the man, cares for him out of his own pocket and makes sure he gets continued care.

The Samaritan answers the call of the dying man, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” and responds with a room and fresh bandages and an ongoing relationship of care. And by Jesus emphasizing the priest and the Levite ignoring the man, but the foreigner helping, Jesus is emphasizing to us that our neighbors aren’t simply the people who live down the street or speak our language, or even pray to our same God. All are our neighbors.

So… Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Jesus asks. The one who showed mercy. And Jesus instructs the lawyer to “go and do likewise.”

Showing mercy, in other words, is being a neighbor.

But this is not a stand alone story, scripture explicitly gives this mandate “Love your neighbor” over 40 times and is implied hundreds. Even Paul in Romans 13 lifting loving your neighbor as the fulfillment of the law.

As we move through this series, we will be looking to embody the gospel through Mr. Rogers, we will strive to, in our own way, become more Mr. Rogers like, more neighborly, which is, merciful and loving.

As we enter this series, we must first start with ourselves:

Am I a good neighbor? Do I show mercy and love? Am I seeking others our in mutual invitation to be in merciful relationships with me?

What would it look like for me to be a good neighbor? And ask others to be our neighbor?

For our church to be a good neighbor? And ask others to be our neighbor?

For our city to be a good neighbor? And ask others to be our neighbor?

For our country to be a good neighbor? And ask others to be our neighbor?

As we watch this popular clip from the show I want you to observe all the ways Mr. Rogers invites Jeff Erlinger to be his neighbor in merciful, mutual relationship.

I want you to notice how he meets Jeff on the steps and sits to look him in the eye.

I want you to notice how he lets Jeff talk about things that may make us or others uncomfortable, but are very natural to him, how he lets him take his time showing off and feeling special.

Being neighborly may mean interacting with people who are different, who look and sound different, who may not be able to do the same things you do, who may sometimes make you uncomfortable.

Being neighborly means breaking out of your comfort in order to extend mercy. It means being vulnerable to learn something new, and accept someone not for what they can give you or do for you, not for what they have, but who they are.

Let’s take a look:

Go and do likewise

Today I Broke the Law

Okay, I really didn’t mean to! But while driving the kids to daycare, my 5 year old was talking nonstop.  As always.  I was paying attention to what she was saying as closely as I could having just gotten out of bed and no caffeine in my system.  We were trying to turn left and I had pulled out into the intersection while the light was green, but listening to lil pie I got distracted looked up and the light was red.  It had been red for a few seconds, and I had a split second, I had to turn, but the parallel traffic already had green arrows and I quickly turned right in front of a police car…

I waved and said sorry as obviously as I could, but as I drove on I looked in the rear view mirror to see if he was coming after me to give me a ticket.  After a few seconds he wasn’t coming, but I didn’t feel relief.  I almost wanted him to come back and give me a ticket.  Lil pie had, of course, noticed that I ran a red light and was asking 101 questions on why and how and why and how…

I deserved a ticket.  I was distracted I broke the law, it happens all the time.  Now I admit, if there are cameras that catch me I will be upset because I can rationalize it away, I was blocking traffic, what choice did I have? But I like rules and laws, I don’t always agree with them, but I usually follow them. And when they are broken I like to see justice done, even if it means a ticket for myself.

Justice is not only important to me when it comes to the laws of this country and state, but justice is a vital part of my beliefs.  This week, during the election I participated in what I considered an act of justice.  I voted, here in the state of Maryland to legalize “same sex marriage”.  This is not something I usually talk publicly about as a minister, but I do feel that it is important to do so.  For me “social issues” of a political nature revolve around justice for me.  Jesus was very clear, in my opinion, that the golden rule “Do unto others and you would have them do unto you” and “Love God with all that you are and your neighbor as yourself” is more important than whether or not we touch the skin of a dead pig or plant 2 different crops side by side, or get tattoos.

Yes, there are parts of scripture I lift up more than others, everyone does, but I believe in the movement of the Holy Spirit, I believe that every piece of scripture should be read with the golden thread of loving God and neighbor as oneself.  So there are texts where I disagree, but who said we were supposed to follow everything exactly how it is written in the Bible? Aren’t there some lessons we need to hear about so we can learn what NOT to do?

So if we love God and neighbor as ourselves, then I believe my faith brings me to a place that says “yes” to same sex marriage.  It is a matter of justice and love of my neighbor. Just as pay equality and affordable healthcare, and yes, even a woman’s right to choose. This is not to say I agree with every choice every person makes in their life. But I do not believe that loving someone of the same sex is a sin, 1 John says that all love is from God, and those who abide in love, abide in God.

You may disagree, and many of my parishioners and colleagues do disagree with me, and they have the right to speak that in their own way and vote how they choose.  After all, there is freedom of religion and freedom of choice in our country and free will in my faith.

But as much as my state and part of my country has affirmed my beliefs in my social values, I have to say my denomination has not.  Same sex marriage is legal in the state of Maryland, but my hands are tied and it remains “illegal” in my church.  This saddens me.  My church has made me an agent of the state (or vice versa) when it linked my ordination vows to the county clerks office and I can sign marriage licenses.  However, I abide by the laws and rules, and I have not yet performed a marriage that bond two people in love that were of the same sex…yet.

But the saddest part for me, as an GLBTQ advocate is that I have not been asked, I’m not talking about from friends, but no one is calling the church asking us to marry them.  No one is beating down our door (to be fair this is probably not the case for More Light Churches), because the church has abandoned this community by continuing to see them as “other”.  By creating a lower class out of them and refusing to live into the belief that all love comes from God. This is not justice, and this is not loving God and neighbor.  I was privileged to have the right to marry my husband in a church with an ordained minister, why should my neighbor not have that same privilege?

So today I broke the law by running a red light, and there was a pang in my stomach, wanting, pleading for justice from a simple act.  But it really just reminded me that there is a larger justice in the world to fight for, and I might even be called some day soon to break the law. Not the laws of my state, but the laws of my church, and then too, if the call comes, I will face justice.