“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you….” (from Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Opening theme)
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). This verse is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 5:43 and 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8.
Mr. Fred Rogers, who left us in 2003, is back in the news these days. Books and articles, television specials and a couple of movies remind us just how special this good man was.
Anyone who reads Mr. Rogers’ words or dwells on his life for even a few minutes comes away thinking more about being a good neighbor.
My wife and I saw the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Thursday of this week. There were perhaps 25 or 30 others in the theater, most of them seniors. This was not the Tom Hanks movie on Mr. Rogers which I had expected, but is more of a documentary or biopic, I think they call it. The Hanks movie will be out soon, we’re told, and is not so much a biography as a story about Rogers’ interview with a magazine writer.
A couple of observations about Mr. Rogers from the movie we just saw. One, the man truly was almost too good to be true. As a result, during his lifetime some had tried to find dirt on him and made accusations against him. All to no avail. He was “all that,” as the saying goes. One of his sons said, “I was raised by the second Christ,” with a smile.
This was written some years back after the drowning death of little Haylee Mazzella, the granddaughter of my dear friends Dr. Buford and Bonnie Easley. I came across it this week, handwritten hastily, in an old file. I have no idea whether I ever shared it with the family or not. The grandfather is now in Heaven, alongside our wonderful Lord Jesus and Buford’s precious granddaughter. My heart still hurts from the memory.
If our grief could ease just a sliver of your grief, you would have none left because so many friends are sorrowing for you today.
If our tears could dry your tears, you would weep no more, because so many are heartbroken for you today.
If our pain could erase yours, you would never against experience a moment’s discomfort the rest of your life, because so many are hurting for you today.
If our prayers could bring your child back, she would be with us this very moment because so many are interceding for you today.
If our grief could ease your grief, our tears dry your tears, our pain erase your pain, and our prayers undo this tragedy, it would be done in a heartbeat.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? The unsaved do that…. But love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…. –Luke 6:32-35
I was a freshman in college, with everything that implies: I was green, scared, eager, excited, learning, stupid, silly, and a hundred other things.
Among the civilians working on our campus was Mrs. Grigsby. I can see her to this day: stern, tight-lipped, unfriendly, and unloving. We thought she looked more like a man than a woman. She was all business, never a ‘good morning,’ and generally unpleasant, we all thought.
For those who come across this piece in some distant future, it would be helpful to state what’s happening in the U.S.A. at this moment, November/December 2017. An outbreak of accusations against well-known men by women who accuse them of sexual offenses (harassments, manipulation, pressure, molestation, and such) is a daily occurrence. Prominent men are resigning their positions or being fired by their boards. No one thinks we’ve seen the worst of it, but everyone expects this to be the leading edge.
A woman friend tells me she’d love to see a movement of men stepping up to say, “Me, too,” in some kind of admission that they are partly at fault for the climate of sexual harassment in our culture. “Either they have done the things we’re talking about–the sexual innuendos, the flirtatiousness, the manipulation–or they have been complicit by their silence,” she says.
I’m still thinking about that one.
It’s a minefield walking out in front of the world to say, “I’m to blame.” Particularly if you feel you aren’t.
And that’s what prompted what follows.
Sunday, preaching in Biloxi, Mississippi, I asked the congregation, “How many of you were living here in 1969 when Hurricane Camille changed this coastline forever?” A lot of hands went up.
Then, “How many of you lived here in 2005 when Katrina destroyed so much of the area?” Many more hands.
I said, “So when you think of neighbors dealing with hurricanes, such as Harvey and Irma, you know. You’ve been there. You can pray for them with a genuine compassion and a deeper understanding.”
Before they left the building, those people made generous contributions to their neighbors impacted by the hurricanes.
Each hurricane is different. Each takes its own path and blows at its own speed. And each one is similar. They destroy and uproot and flood. Those who experience even one such storm forever identifies with the victims and veterans of all those which follow.
With that in mind, it might be in order for those of us with scars from past hurricanes (for my family, it was Betsy in 1965 and Katrina 40 years later) to offer a word or two of encouragement to friends caught in the path of the latest of these monster storms.
Ten words, actually…
(We will try not to insult you with platitudes such as “work hard” or “try not to cry.” You will work hard and you will cry, and God bless you as you do.)
While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure; but after the battle, these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as a friend. –Ulysses S. Grant, “Personal Memoirs”
“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” –Joseph Stalin
“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” –Lucy, in “Peanuts”
Pastors, young ones in particular, have to conquer this challenge or forever pay a huge price. It’s one thing to love a crowd, but another entirely to love that quarrelsome family, the cranky old curmudgeon, the gossip in the congregation, the unwashed homeless guy who wandered into your service, and the deacon who is dead-set on making you unemployed.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…. That would say to us that His love was not an abstractiont, not theoretical, and not just so much rhetoric. Our Heavenly Father expressed His love by the supreme act of self-giving.
The radio preacher said into the night air waves, “Beloved, I love you.” Everything inside me rebelled at such a claim. How can he love someone he doesn’t even know? Someone he will never see or have any dealings with? He loves the concept of people, if he even does that.
Love is so easy to toss around, but so hard to live out.
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying, ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love….'” (Jeremiah 31:3)
What part of ‘everlasting’ do we not get?
Lately, we are learning through science what unending and infinite look like. Space seems to be continuous, going on and on. The lineup of galaxies across the heavens staggers our imaginations, considering their size, makeup, and number.
The Psalmist who said, “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord” had no clue just how much they say about the majesty and might of our Creator. That’s not to imply we do, only that we have far more information on the complexities and delights of the universe which the Father has wrought with His own hands than biblical writers.
“From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2)
From everlasting in the past to everlasting in the future, God is God. There never was a time when God did not exist; there will never be a time when God does not reign.
“Nevertheless, I have something against you–that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
Everyone in a loving relationship knows how ephemeral those feelings of love can be.
No one should expect the emotional highs to remain at fever level. We could not live that way for long. But may we not expect the love itself to remain strong and good and vital?
Every husband and wife deals with this. And so does God.
So, how do we awaken the dormant love that is surely there, deep within us, but has been smothered out by the daily activities of life?
Here is God’s recipe:
a) Remember what you had before.
b) Repent over losing it, and letting it slip away.
c) Repeat the things you were doing at first.
What we must not do is sit around waiting and waiting and waiting…for the emotion to return, for the inner motivation to kick in, for the want-to to be there.
Get up and start doing loving things.