The Theology of Mr. Rogers on Losing
“Mister Rogers on Losing”
September 24, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I have to start by apologizing. We’re having a really joyful service so far, enjoying this new space with beautiful music and laughter. So far, the service has taken us up here, kind of like on a mountaintop. And now… I am going to preach a sermon about losing. About those experiences in life that take us from the mountaintop to the valley, often very abruptly. And so I just want to apologize in advance. But I also want you to know that although we will come down from the mountaintop and pass through this valley, we will not stay there.
We’re in the midst of a series this month on the Theology of Mister Rogers. And although the music and the red trolley and the puppets can make us nostalgic for this show, it’s not just nostalgia that’s driving this series.
Mister Rogers had a way of cutting through hard-to-navigate topics by finding words, and silence, that could hold space for difficult things. And while those conversations weren’t always ones we chose to have, they are often the ones we needed to have. And still do.
And so it is with loss. You might be wondering about the scale and scope of this message today. What kind of loss? Is this a spelling bee we’re still talking about? A football game? A set of misplaced keys? Or is it something else… a friendship that’s changed? A job that’s not there any more? A person you now live life without?
Loss is a small word; a four-letter word to be exact. But for four small letters, it seems to hold a lot of meaning.
June asked me the other day if I had had a cat growing up. Yes, I told her. I told her that I had had not just one, but a long series of cats, one after the other. Kitsa, Snowflake, Snowball, Orangey and several others whose names have been lost in the passage of time. They were outside cats (because animals weren’t allowed to live in our house). And as we talked about my cats, soon the question came up: well, what happened to them all? And this question gave me pause. I had to stop and think about each cat and the memories of how it went out of my life. Some had run away and others had died in ways that were sad. Silence. “And then what happened?,” came the question. “We buried them in our backyard,” I said. And I remember finding rocks by the train tracks that had sparkly bits in them and using those to mark the graves so that they would be special.
The more we love, the harder it is to lose. Whether it’s a game we care about or an animal that’s more like family or a painful change in the way we live our life or the loss of someone we hold dear. Loss however, is an unavoidable part of life. To love is to lose. We will not go through life without the experience of losing.
Mr. Rogers understood this. In stories about Fred Rogers life, even captured in the Tom Hanks movie we watched this week after potluck, Rogers’ had an enduring belief that loss was not only inevitable, mentionable and ultimately manageable, but also that experiences of loss and suffering were also gateways into a deeper understanding. A type of thin place, where the presence of God could be felt in a different, almost closer way.
Mr. Rogers would often ask those who were suffering through loss of some kind, illness or tragedy, to pray for him. He did this because he saw them as being closer to God because of their affliction. It’s counter-intuitive in many ways. Many times, we can be experiencing loss and not realize how close we are to God. We get lost in emotions of anger or fear or sadness. Those emotions even give us the illusion that God is far away. It’s only later that we realize ourselves, or perhaps because someone wise points it out to us, that in that deep loss, in the midst of those big emotions and deep hurt, God was actually close by. Really close by.
Has that ever happened to you?
It reminds me of our passage from Romans that Tom read just now. It begins “What then are we to say about these things…” What things? In the preceding verses Paul talks about suffering. How the present time will inevitably have its share of pain. How many things will bring loss in our life. And yet the passage ends with these words of hope in the midst of suffering. “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38).
It's like the familiar image of footprints in the sand. How we thought we walked alone through difficult times in our lives, but actually we were not alone. But why weren’t there two sets of footsteps? It’s because we were being carried. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Especially not loss of any kind.
There’s one final thing to say today as we finish on this topic.
You being here matters. Right now, right here. It matters.
And I’m going to tell you why by way of a story. Recently after purchasing tickets to a show, I was offered several months of Apple TV for free. I happened to know there was a show on this platform that I had really been wanting to watch so I took up the offer while also making a reminder on my phone to cancel said offer exactly three months later. Three months to watch three seasons? Extremely doable. The show is called Ted Lasso and while it doesn’t have the legacy of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, it’s holding its own when it comes to being uplifting and funny and real all at the same time. Ted Lasso is an American football coach recruited by a struggling football team in England. But there’s a small problem. American football and English football are not the same sport. And Ted Lasso coaches his first season with a lot of spirit and energy and compassion and it almost looked like this underdog team with its underdog coach was going to win. But in the end, they lost in a heart-breaking last-minute loss and that loss ended up throwing them into a lower-ranked league. The team is devastated in the locker room. Absolutely gutted. Here’s a clip.
We will all experience losses of some kind in our life. It’s part of being human. The sizes of the losses will grow and change as we grow and change. They will range from being knocked out of the spelling bee on the first word to losing our senior night football game to getting turned down from a job we really wanted, to losing a relationship we really needed or, perhaps worst of all, losing a person who we didn’t think we’d be able to live without. When we feel gutted on our worst days it’s important to remember that in this house, in this community, the people around you will not let you be sad and alone. We will be sad together. For as long as it takes. Showing up for one another in our loss: this is what it means to be the body of Christ. To be the church. To be neighbors. Look around at these people. They are here because of God’s love and that love, when shared makes us never alone in our sadness.
When we decide to follow Jesus, to live a Christian life, we don’t get a promise from God that everything will always work out okay. Ups and downs, victories and losses, they come in equal measure. What we are promised is companionship. Both in the love of God that carries us through our darkest hours and in the community of God’s people who show up here week after week to collectively walk through life together.
It's a good feeling. It’s a very good feeling.
Let us pray.
Grace and Peace,