The Theology of Mr. Rogers on Love
“Mister Rogers on Love”
October 1, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Luke 12:6-7, 29-34
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Have you ever had a favorite number?
For Mr. Rogers, These three numbers combined to make his favorite. 143. He often talked about it on his show, sometimes even sang a song about it. Some reports even say that he weighed 143 for decades of his life. I wonder why this was his favorite number? He tells a story in one of his later episodes that there is a lighthouse called Minot’s Ledge Light south of the Boston Harbor that flashes its lights in a sequence of 1-- 4 – 3. What could it mean, 143?
I’m not sure this is what the lighthouse operator intended, but this is how Mr. Rogers chose to understand it. Are you ready?
It’s a code. According to Fred Rogers, there are many ways to say I love you. And this, this is just one more.
Some might say Mr. Rogers was a quirky personality. That his deliberate and intentional way of talking to children about deep subjects with puppets and make-believe was unusual. Mr. Rogers’ television program emerged in an era when children were still supposed to be seen, not heard. With heavy issues swirling around in the late 60s, though, Fred Rogers, believed children needed to grow up knowing how to have hard conversations and all the while knowing that despite everything else they might hear, there was one most important truth they needed to remember: everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And, consequently, the greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.
We don’t usually talk about TV personalities in church. But it’s hard to dispute that Mr. Rogers, or should we say Rev. Rogers, had a remarkable way of talking about God’s love in a way that made it accessible for everyone. It’s as though he was preaching the Gospel of Jesus in a nutshell, right?
This idea of being loved and loving others was something Fred Rogers had to learn, too. When Fred Rogers was a boy, he was bullied because of his weight, something he couldn’t control. And on top of that he often had to stay inside because of his asthma. And so to pass the time and cheer himself up, he would play with puppets. He would create a neighborhood of make-believe where people treated each other with dignity, respect and appreciation.
Maybe it’s because his own childhood was hard that Fred Rogers decided to find a way to make other childhoods a little better. He believed that if a child knew somebody cared about them, it’s possible that they, too, would care for others.
Fred Rogers had a great idea on just how to do that, how to help people believe that they were important and beloved. He said: “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”
At the end of every show, Mr. Rogers always said the same thing as he took off his cardigan and exchanged it for his suit jacket. “You always make it a special day, just by being yourself.” This is a line that Mr. Rogers recalled his own grandfather saying to him on every visit. Every visit he heard that he mattered. Every show he told us that we mattered. Just for being ourselves. It didn’t matter what we looked like, how much we weighed, how we talked, where we went to school, what the color of our skin was, or what kind of family we had. We are special just the way we are.
He went on to say, “The more experiences I’ve had,” he said, “the more chances I’ve had to see the uniqueness of each person…as well as each tree, and plant, and shell, and cloud…the more I find myself delighting every day in the lavish gifts of God, whom I’ve come to believe is the greatest appreciator of all.”
Isn’t that beautiful? God as the Great Appreciator. The One who not only sees us just the way we are, but loves us just the way we are, like a parent filled with tender affection for a child she knows is imperfect but can’t help loving anyway.
“When I think about heaven,” Mister Rogers went on to say, “it is a state in which we are so greatly loved that there is no fear and doubt and disillusionment and anxiety. It is where people look at you with the eyes of Jesus.”
When we think about the eyes of Jesus, the passage from Luke that Suzanne read this morning is a beautiful example. In these lines, Jesus is teaching us about our worth. How from God’s sight, not one sparrow is ever forgotten. And so it goes with us. God sees us and appreciates us as parts of God’s creation. Not when we conform ourselves to fit some mold. Not when we change who we are to make someone else happy. Not when we spend our days worrying about if we’ve done a good enough job or acquired enough stuff. God sees us as we are and appreciates us for who we are when we are ourselves.
It’s transformative to be loved this way.
Today we have a special church day known as World Communion Sunday. It’s a day when we celebrate that gathering around this table for this meal of remembrance is something that connects us with Christians all around the world. And when I think over the stories we have about Jesus, I am astonished by how many times Jesus chose to show his love and acceptance of others around a table, or over a drink. The Samaritan woman by the well. The tax collectors in the home of Levi. The woman who anointed his feet during a meal. Parables about banquets where the poorest were invited. The feeding of 5000 with a very small amount of bread and fish. The Last Supper itself. Sharing a meal is a place for coming together. To appreciate the gift of food and to appreciate one another. To be honest with one another and speak the truth in love. I like you just the way you are. Or, what you said hurt me. Or, I’ve not always been loving with my actions, can you forgive me? Shared meals build bridges.
Do you want to build bridges? Do you want to be seen by a God who appreciates you? Do you want to be convinced, at the most primal level, that you are loved? Do you want to be nourished so that you can then love others back? To live not in judgment of ourselves or others, but in awe. In appreciation.
Tom Junod, the author of the Esquire article that is the basis for the Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Rogers, wrote in his article this: “Once upon a time, a man named Fred Rogers decided that he wanted to live in heaven. Heaven is the place where good people go when they die, but this man, Fred Rogers, didn’t want to go to heaven; he wanted to live in heaven, here, now, in this world,” so he shared that kind of love.
We can, too.
Grace and Peace,