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"Remembering Mr. Rogers"

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

I went to a denominational event back in February and heard that the Presbyterian Church had set aside a day to celebrate one of its own saints – Fred Rogers! How fitting!

An image of Mr. Rogers with a child's crayon drawing over top depicting Mr. Rogers as a knight protecting children from a dragon
[1]Image by Jonathan Bartlett. Note how he depicts Mr. Rogers in a helmet, protecting children from a dragon.

Ephesians 6:10-20

June 12, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright I went to a denominational event back in February and heard that the Presbyterian Church had set aside a day to celebrate one of its own saints – Fred Rogers! How fitting! I grew up watching Mr. Rogers. I loved the tiny model neighborhood at the start of each episode (and I eventually build my own as part of a train set.) I loved the characters and the songs (and the permission they granted to use your imagination.) But most of all, I loved his gentleness (and the way that made it safe to talk about anything.) Maybe you have fond memories of him too. He graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1963 and was ordained, not to a church, but to “minister to children and their families through television”.[2] While Sesame Street focused on school readiness skills like learning letters and counting, Rogers “taught young children about civility, tolerance, sharing, and self-worth ‘in a reassuring tone and leisurely cadence.’"[3] He would begin each episode by stepping through a door singing “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood …”, change out of his blazer into his trademark cardigan sweater and swap out his dress shoes for sneakers. Perhaps that’s why the scripture picked for this day is from Ephesians 6, in which Paul invites the listener to make a similar wardrobe change – to “put on the whole armor of God”! You’ve probably heard the list before … the belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and helmet of salvation, as well as the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

 

It is as if Paul is conjuring up a Roman soldier, a familiar, frightening sight to believers throughout the area, and gently reinterpreting what his audience sees. Rome says power means you can shape reality. The truth is: God is more powerful! The soldiers strut fearlessly because of their armor. The faithful rely on righteousness. Roman shields were made to be linked so two dozen men could be protected like a turtle.[4] Likewise, Christians do not face threats alone. But right in the middle, Paul lists a surprisingly commonplace object: shoes. “As shoes... put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace!” he says.

 

What sort of shoes would those be? Combat boots for Christian soldiers marching as to war? Running shoes for those messengers who would be swift and beautiful? Rugged hikers for climbing thin-air mountains and descending into the darkest valleys? Or is his emphasis on simply being ready to go out; to walk alongside other pilgrims on the way; to dance with the joyful and wade into trouble with the hurting?

 

Perhaps you have heard the story of how Fred Rogers got into children’s television. He once watched a man get a pie thrown in his face as the studio audience laughed. Rogers didn’t laugh. He was incensed. This silly violence was supposed to entertain children?[5] He thought they deserved better. He felt called to give them something better. He called it “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”. Paul would have called it the gospel of peace. So, Fred Rogers put on his sweater and his shoes, and spent a lifetime bringing good news to children. He told them things like: “You are special. There’s only one you in this wonderful world.” “All of us, at some time or other, need help. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors.” “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.” “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else.” “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” “Real strength has to do with helping others.” And finally, “Our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence…And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives” So, I want to close with asking you to do something – an echo of something he did. On several occasions, he offered people the gift of silence … for one minute … time to think about those people who helped them become who they are today. Maybe that person is Paul and his encouraging words to the Ephesians. Or Mr. Rogers and his gentle words to all of us. Maybe it is a parent or a teacher, a coach or a neighbor and words (or deeds) that you’ll never forget. Take a moment. [one minute of silence] Whatever person came to mind, imagine how grateful they must be to know that whenever all the chaos and noise quiets, you remember them … because they put on their shoes and shared some form of the gospel of peace with you. And maybe somewhere, someone is thinking of you, because you’ve given the gift of God’s peace to them. Wouldn’t that be a fitting sign of a lesson well learned? Amen

[1] Image by Jonathan Bartlett. Note how he depicts Mr. Rogers in a helmet, protecting children from a dragon. [2] From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Rogers#Early_life [3] From “Children’s TV Icon Fred Rogers Dies at 74” by Louie Estrada for the Washington Post, 2/28/03 [4] The formation is called a “testudo” or tortoise formation. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testudo_formation [5] From “Mr. Rogers had a dangerous side” by D L Mayfield, in Christianity Today, 9/20/18
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