Pastors have different Sunday morning routines. Of late, mine has been to watch Mr. Rogers on PBS at 7:00 with Ezra and Judah.

Did you know Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian Pastor? He was granted an exception to become ordained not to parish ministry, but to his television audience. This was a unique and creative solution to a ministry opportunity in the dawning age of television.

There is no children’s program today like Mr. Rogers. Nothing comes close to Fred Roger’s deliberate, gentle pace. He is never in a hurry. Even the animated spin-off Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood doubles the speed of the famous opening song while cutting out or changing most of the lyrics. And there’s no time to waste changing jackets and shoes – Daniel Tiger comes already dressed for the episode!

A non-animated children’s show is a rarity now, but Mr. Rogers made a clear distinction between fact and fiction, reality and the land of make-believe. Cartoon characters can solve problems in all kinds of fantastical ways. Mr. Rogers taught children how to solve problems by understanding our feelings, validating one another’s feelings, and learning how to make good choices, face to face.

Mr. Rogers prepares my heart for Sunday worship by reminding of the simplicity of the Gospel: In Jesus Christ, “you are loved and today is a beautiful day for a neighbor and to be a neighbor.” In the face and words of a caring person who sees you as you truly are, all can be understood and forgiven: crabbiness, fear, meanness, distrust… And this grace opens the future wide open: compassion, trust, confidence, growth.

“The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1, The Message)
In Jesus, God moved into the neighborhood, all the way to the difficult feelings that surround suffering, betrayal, and death. Jesus shows us the truth about ourselves, the mixed-up (sinful) ways we deal with our feelings of fear and anxiety by lashing out at others or attempting to control our environment. Jesus gives us grace to “make a snappy new day” and learn to trust that “he’ll be back, when the day is new.”

During this season of Lent, we slow down to a Mr. Roger’s pace. We pay attention to the power of feelings in our lives. We stay grounded in reality, knowing that the purpose of make-believe (or engaging in the stories of art, music, film, and literature) is to renew our imaginations for living better in the real world.

On Good Friday, Jesus was hung in a tough neighborhood, crucified between thieves. One thief mocked Jesus’ belief that life was stronger than death, and forgiveness stronger than bitterness. The other thief asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be my neighbor in paradise.”

Won’t you be his neighbor?

Pastor Tom