June 14, 2020
We are shaped by our experiences and what we choose to watch, to read, and who we socialize. Sometimes we have a choice in this and other times we do not. For example, I did not have a choice of the family I was born into or the town I grew up. I did, however, have the choice as to what I watched on television and the voices I read and listened. Before I got hooked on Nickelodeon and MTV, I remember anticipating being able to watch the Bozo Show on WGN and many of the shows on PBS.
As a young child one of those shows was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I have been excited about the resurgence of Mr. Rogers over these last few years so that children today can hear the good news he shares. Mr. Rogers has that persona about him that draws you in. The truth that he spoke, and his actions revealed a character that was uncommon to come by in person. He was generous in all he did and he reflected the heart of the gospel. He spoke to the importance of the neighborhood and knew that we must live in relationship with everyone, stating:
“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors–in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”
This is the message that Jesus wants to share with his disciples and ultimately to us this morning. Jesus goes about preaching and healing in Matthew’s gospel and wants all to hear the good news that he is not only preaching, but the good news that comes through the healing of the bruised and broken. This is the good news that rings true in every time and place.
Unfortunately, in the midst of the struggles and the brokenness we encounter, we fall into despair and can lose our faith. When things do not happen the way we expect them to we get frustrated and angry and look at anyone to blame, and this anger can easily be turned toward God. The chaos of our time wears on our energy because there is a lot of intensive work to do. We are not going to simply go back to the way things were before COVID. I pray that we are not going to go back to the way things were before the #BlackLivesMatter movement. There is much work to do here and much work to be undone that has been ingrained within our beings as Americans for over 400 years. It is easy to lose sight of our path to follow Jesus when there are so many conflicting voices, when the one we should be turning to is the Word of God found in scripture. A Word that comes to the harassed and helpless, the broken and struggling, the confused and aimless.
Jesus comes into the neighborhood with compassion for all of God’s creation and he wants all of creation to come to know him. His compassion first reaches out to those that are harassed and helpless. Those who at anytime in history have been considered nobodies by those that wield power. He comes to a creation that feels they have no shepherd. He sees them where they are and lets them know that they matter. In those words, “I see you,” there is a compassion that brings and bears so much.
While we may not feel like the harassed and hopeless right at this moment, there may have been a time that you could have considered yourself in that camp. There are for sure times that we struggle and sense our faith being challenged. In these times, Jesus is with us, and he sees us. God meets us where we are. God meets us in our neighborhood to walk with us and unveil a compassion that is revealed through Christ and neighbor.
I love the language of The Message translation that I read, because it reveals the Word of God in new and exciting ways. To know that Jesus comes to our neighborhood is personal. In the first chapter of John, we hear, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Once Jesus moved into the neighborhood, he became one with them and saw them. What does it mean when we say Jesus saw them?
It means that he does not prejudge or categorize. It means he comes with an attitude of compassion. We may see that those around us are being harassed and are helpless, but that does not mean a whole lot to us by just witnessing to it. To truly see them, Jesus experiences what it is like to be the harassed and helpless, ultimately to the point of his death on the cross. For us to truly see our neighbors is to talk to them and listen to their experiences and not discount the words that are coming from their mouths. To engage with our neighbors brings a greater sense of community.
We are not limited in who we engage. We are invited into this time, especially with black and indigenous people of color as they grieve and mourn and are fed up with 400+ years of oppression. We are invited into this time to hear the voices of our neighbors that have been affected by COVID, whether it is by the virus itself or the loss of income and the other effects. We may not always agree, but that should not stop us from seeing them.
Once Jesus comes into the neighborhood, he prepares to send the twelve out to share the same good news and heal those that are harassed and helpless. This is not initially about evangelizing the world. This will come later. First, Jesus is calling on his disciples to revitalize the people of faith. He wants to see the church in his neighborhood renewed.
First, we must go out into our neighborhood and share a sense of renewal for the love of God. As we go among our sphere of influence, we can continue a movement that Jesus began when he first entered the neighborhood. We can begin to see people with compassion and listen with empathy. As Mr. Roger says,
“Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.”
Where and who are you choosing to listen today?