May 1, 2022 - Sermon - Tom Trenney

Sermon Text

Two children were sitting at the breakfast table, impatiently waiting for their mother to finish making their pancakes.  As one might expect, the hungry boys were arguing about who should be served first.  Mom, who was also their Sunday school teacher, heard them and took the opportunity to remind her sons of some of the lessons on patience they had been learning.  She asked them to think about what Jesus might do if he and his brother were both waiting for breakfast.  Her oldest son, Benjamin, quickly responded, "I get it, Mom," and he went on to explain that Jesus would definitely let his brother eat the first pancake.  Then Benjamin turned to his brother and decidedly said, "Ryan, I think you should be Jesus.”


There is a lot of metaphorical truth in that little parable.  So many of us want everyone else to be like Jesus, though we struggle each day to discipline ourselves to follow in his footsteps.  Jesus’ first disciples struggled, too, and he often told them stories to help them understand what they were failing to see right before their eyes.  The parable we heard a few moments ago demonstrates once again how hard it is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, and it shows that the Good Samaritan’s are big shoes for us to fill. 


We who are gathered here in worship today (or tuned in on Livestream) like to think that we are like the Good Samaritan in this story.  We like to think that we'd slow down on our own walk, and go out of our way to lift someone up!   We can't imagine ourselves as the robber.  Maybe we'd never choose to steal from someone or to abuse or hurt them, but, if we’re honest, there have been times where we have hurt people and made them feel abandoned and alone.  We don't want to think we'd walk by like the priest- though we, ourselves, have gotten too busy and preoccupied with our religious convictions and beliefs or the business of our church to actually minister to the people who need us the most.  We don't want to think we'd walk by like the Levite-- though there likely have been times we've turned our back on someone of another faith or of another race whom we might have helped.  Though we'd desire to be the Good Samaritan, there have been times we've turned our head away from a stranger’s pain and looked to the other side of the road.  There have been times we’ve driven through a rough neighborhood and rolled up our windows and locked our doors and sped right by.  Though we wish it were not so, there likely have also been times we've felt like that unidentified person on the side of the road that the world seems to have ignored or forgotten at best or abused and neglected at worst.


As we remember this story today, we can wonder, together, who is Jesus in the parable?  We might first think of Jesus as the one who comes to save the stranger-- the one to bring healing and compassion.  And, surely, the Jesus we know in the scriptures lives up to this characterization-- Jesus shows us that 99 sheep are not enough-- that we are all loved; Jesus is the parent who welcomes the prodigal home with open arms and a great feast; Yes, Jesus would offer the extravagant hospitality and love that the Samaritan did: He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’


But, I'd like to ask us to ponder that, perhaps, Jesus is the man longing for help on the side of the Jericho Road.  After all, when Jesus was born, nobody helped him and his family even to a room in the inn-- let alone to check on them the next day.  In fact, the King was already in pursuit to try to harm him.  And Jesus knew as he was teaching this parable that he would soon be denied and betrayed and stripped and beaten and crucified.  He knew that when he would need them the most, his closest friends, his disciples, would see his suffering, and they would walk right by and turn their heads the other way. 


Whether Jesus is the Good Samaritan or the one suffering on the side of the road ultimately may not really matter.  What really matters is that we stop trying to justify our selfishness and sinfulness with questions like "Who's my neighbor?" and start living a loving life that asks a decidedly different question: "Please, won't you be my neighbor?"


Many of us were asked that question every day.  For me at was around 5:00 p.m. on WVIZ.  He walked in the room and smiled, took off his suit coat and put on a cardigan sweater.  He took off his dress shoes, tossed them in the air, and tied up the white laces on the blue tennis shoes.  "Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?  Please, won't you be my neighbor?"  Mister Rogers longed for every child to know that there was at least one other person in that moment who cared for them.  And, sadly (but also fortunately, I suppose) there were so, so many children who desperately needed to know that. 


Ordained Presbyterian minister, Mister Rogers followed the inspiration of St. Francis who said, "Preach the gospel at all times, but use words only when necessary."  Mister Rogers taught the message of the Gospel on Public Television without using any of the .  Having not grown up in a religious home perse, I learned more about the life of faith from Mister Rogers than I did from anyone else.  He preached the Gospel with puppets instead of from pulpits, and he taught us songs about love instead of hymns about Theology.  His parables took place in the neighborhood of make believe but taught us the deeply important lessons of the faith.


Mister Rogers' TV beginning...


As I ponder the Gospel according to Mister Rogers, I will share a few of the most essential tenants:

You are Special.  As I like to say, "God loves you, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about that.

"So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them."  

Everyone is made in the image of God and for that reason alone, they should be valued and 'appreciated'. 

There is no one else in the whole world just like you.  There never has been and there never will be.  You are special just the way you are.

Mister Rogers was not on TV so that children would see him.  He was on TV so children would know that someone sees them.

'Finding out that we are one of a kind could be a lonely and frightening thing without the reassurance of knowing that we belong to humankind, and that all humans laugh and cry about many of the same things; that all have similar hopes and fears; that all have many of the same needs; and that those needs are best met by other human beings who can love us for both our similarities and our differences.

Yo Yo Ma story

In an average lifetime a person walks about 65000 miles.  That's two and a half times around the world.  I wonder where your steps will take you.  I wonder how you'll use the rest of the miles you're given.



Love Your Neighbor

You are special yes, but that's not all... if you are special, then your neighbor is special, too.  So, we should also love and serve our neighbor.

Criticism (self-absorbed); picketers at funeral

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength.    The second is this Love your neighbor as yourself."

"Love isn't a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like struggle.  To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is right here and now.  

neighbor-- the person you happen to be with at the moment, especially if in need.

helpers are heros: "to see people who will notice a need in the world and do something about it, and rather than view it with despair, they view it with hope-- that to mie is such an enormous gift in this life.  Those are my heroes.  There are so many people who say, It's not my kid, it's not my school, its' not my community-- forget about it.-- but there are others who say, "It is my kid, it is my school..."


‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”


You've probably seen the memes and tshirts and billboards. Love your neighbor...your black neighbor your Latino neighbor your Asian neighbor your gay neighbor your transgender neighbor your poor neighbor your Muslim neighbor.  Your Jewish neighbor.  I sometimes need to remind myself of some neighbors I need to try harder to love: my conservative neighbor, my evangelical neighbor, my accused neighbor, my racist neighbor my bigoted neighbor my mentally ill neighbor my abusive neighbor.  Lord, help me that I would leave none of them by the side of the road.


In the photo, we see Mister Rogers answering the question: “And who is my neighbor?” with a parable of his own, asking a decidedly different kind of question: "Won't you be my neighbor?"  Here we see Mister Rogers dipping his feet in the pool, washing the feet of his neighborhood police officer, Francois Clemmons.  Though this picture was taken in 1993, it was a photo reprising a scene which first occurred in May 1969—literally, ironically, and perhaps symbolically, in black and white film.  May 1969 was just months after Martin Luther King’s assassination, and, in those days, in spite of Civil Rights legislation, Blacks were not yet truly welcome in most White swimming pools.  Mister Rogers was making a real political statement and preaching a real social justice sermon in this picture without using words—living the Gospel in the flesh—walking in the footsteps of Jesus who washed the feet of his neighbor.  And, by the time of reprise of the scene in 1993, Fred knew that Francois Clemmons was gay.  So here we see a photo of Mister Rogers washing the feet of a black, gay police man. Sadly, we needed this picture in 1993 as much as we did in 1969…and, sadly, we need this picture in 2022 as much as we did then, too. 


We still haven’t learned the lesson they taught us more than fifty years ago.  And we still haven’t learned the lesson that Jesus taught us nearly 2000 years ago: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of your neighbors, you did not do for me.’  We keep walking by and looking on the other side of the road, asking “Who’s my neighbor?”


If you had one final broadcast, one final opportunity to address your television neighbors, and you could tell them the single most important lesson of your life, what would you say?


Well, I would want those who were listening to know that they had unique value, that there isn't anybody in the whole world exactly like them and that there never has been and there never will be.  And that they are loved by the One who create them, in a unique way.


If that could know that and really known it and have that behind their eyes, they could look with those eyes on their neighbor and realize, "My neighbor has unique value, too.  There's never been anybody in the whole world like my neighbor, and there never will be."  If they could value that person-- if they could love that person-- in ways that we know that the eternal loves us, then I would be very grateful. 


When we truly follow Jesus, we stop asking, “Who’s my neighbor?”  When we truly follow Jesus, our life answers that question as we reach out to others with a different one-- a question that begins from a place of love: "Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?  Won't you be my neighbor?"