The Gospel According to Fred: Won’t You Be My Neighbour?

The following links will provide you with additional information and resources for the whole family for the 6th Sunday of Lent (Palm Sunday):
https://sjruc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Story-Time-Holy-Week-in-a-Box.pdf
https://sjruc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/PalmSunday-1.pdf

Matthew 21: 1-11 – Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,  saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”  This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Won’t You Be My Neighbour

One person online mentioned that this is the Lentiest Lent they’ve ever experienced.  We didn’t think that at the beginning of our journey, that we would have had to give up so much.  Not only have we sacrificed the opportunity to gather in person – to share hugs and handshakes, communion and community, but we’ve given up a great amount of the ease with which we lived.  Usually Lent is on our terms – there’s that tradition of giving up those things that might prove better for ourselves – giving up chocolate, coffee – or taking upon a spiritual discipline like prayer or scripture reading – but this is on our terms, under our control.  When we lose control, we start to panic.  We overbuy at grocery stores because that need to control is so strong, it comes out in different, not always helpful ways. 

For those that don’t know – this loss of control hit our home as my partner Jennifer has been in quarantine for the last two weeks – we’re not sure if she had the virus – but we weren’t taking any chances.  I’ve been washing, and rewashing my hands every time I’ve gone out – it’s been a strange procession to the grocery store, as I’ve tried to

As Palm Sunday has been every day in our house, this strange prayer of Hosanna, Son of David, save us…Losing control plays on our mental health if we’re not careful – it can wreak havoc with our spiritual health as well.  I wonder as Jesus entered Jerusalem if he was in control…

Jesus instructs the disciples to get a donkey, he chose the time of his entry around Passover because more people would be around, but the actions of the crowd that forms could not have been anticipated.  There’s nothing in the scripture about the disciples working as plants in the crowd to whip up a frenzy, to encourage palm branch waving, and coat offerings covering the path…there’s so much that happens in that story beyond Jesus’ control.  And the extra fuss catches the attention of those watching who felt threatened by Jesus’ ministry.  And that extra attention draws the anger of the officials who want to test this wilderness preacher seemingly out to undermine Israel.  And all of that plays out while in the background, the festival of Passover approaches, celebrating the liberating force of God in the Exodus as liberation itself rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. 

So – what’s in our control – and what isn’t?

We don’t know how long it’ll take for this virus to run its course.  Neither did those locked away for fear of polio, or the Spanish flu, in the months it took for those to run their course.  We don’t know how our economy will recover, or when – what will happen to the millions of businesses, churches, and every place in between whose future is threatened by this closure.  Even in our own homes, we don’t know how long the money, food, or toilet paper is going to last.

What we know – what is in our control – is our reaction to this situation.  Last week we talked about Mister Rogers’ approach to feelings – to feel our feelings, acknowledge and allow them, before moving beyond them.  Beyond how we feel – we can control how we react.  As I’ve spent the last two weeks living in fear, for my partner, my children, myself – I’ve spent just as much time choosing to react well – washing my hands, smiling at neighbours, exploring creation, offering thanks for every day, in spite of everything out of my control.  I’ve tried to offer just as much love, to God, to self, to neighbour, in spite of all that was going on in my house, as well as the world.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he rode with as much life and love that defined his ministry, even though he was riding into death.  He fought for justice in the temple for those taken advantage of.  He preached of a God who deserved all of our lives – the good and the not so good – as a commitment of faith.  He described Judaism in powerful terms of love for God, self, and neighbour.  And in the celebration of the liberation of his people, he turned the simple remembrance into a reliving of the story, as master became servant to his friends, washing the feet of those he loved – freeing them of their image of what the Messiah should or could do. 

Long before the documentary about Mister Rogers, I was not aware of this scene with the Police Office Clemmons, but the minute I watched this scene (and you’ll have two clips after the sermon exploring those scenes), I was floored.  This was Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  This is what it meant to be a good neighbour in the 60s, in the midst of race riots and bigotry and hatred.  And here’s Fred with this powerfully simple yet subversive act of love for one who would be demonized by society.  What isn’t shown in these clips, but is talked about in the documentary, is that Francois Clemmons was gay.  Much is made about a black police officer, and the embodied hope in normalizing his race and the position he played.  I have no doubt that in today’s climate, especially if Mister Rogers was on tv in the last 20 years, that he would have had an openly gay person on his show.  I believe this because Clemmons came out in 1974 after his divorce – with Fred declaring again and again to Clemmons I Love You Just the Way You Are, for all of the twenty five years that Clemmons was on the program.  Simple acts of love, like footwashing, acceptance, mercy are what will continue to save this world, be it two thousand years ago or today.  Because after all we’ve experienced this Lent, and this year so far on our planet, I’m so glad we’ve taken this time to explore what it means to be a good neighbour to one another:

It means accepting and loving someone for who they are (even when showing our love to others looks similar to staying home, or offering to pick up groceries, cook meals, or sewing protective masks).

It means acknowledging and feeling and dealing with our emotions (even when we’d rather pretend everything’s fine, or eat our feelings – it’s not and you don’t have to be). 

It means taking care of others (which means when all of this is done, we reconsider what essential services mean, and we carry that forward to all those who have enabled us to stay in our homes – those risking their lives working for minimum wage in grocery stores, pharmacies, etc, and those in the health care system who have run towards the problem, and not had the luxury to stay home, and those teachers forced to completely rethink how and what they do.)   

It means making a connection with one another even when we can’t meet face to face (as we all get creative, in calling one another, dropping off art, decorating our windows)

This is a scary time.  There’s no big secret in how we’re going to keep going.  Fred Rogers didn’t preach long sermons, or go on marches, or get arrested for his beliefs.  He filled a pool with water and washed the feet of another person.  Jesus didn’t vie for power or domination, but entered Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, and later washed the feet of those he loved.  The greatest reminder of his ministry is not the fear in the garden, or the tears from the cross, but the powerful service to his friends that we remember in communion – that as we offer love to one another, we remember Jesus.    

Service and love is what we can control in this most difficult time and it’s what binds us to our community, to our neighbourhood.  We have the power within us to either hide in fear, or in love.  We can use this time to deepen our connection to one another, in spite of the separation between us.  We can face Good Friday just like we faced the first day we had to move church online, the first time we heard that loved ones were affected with covid19, the first time when we heard of deaths close to us…as we have faced all of these Good Fridays, we do so with faith, knowing our acts of love are within our control. 

For we choose in this hour to either give way to our fears, or to ride triumphantly with our faith.  We choose to rely on one another, rather than give up and declare every soul for themselves.  And in this, the holiest of weeks, we sing,

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow…But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

For Palm Sunday leads us to Good Friday and even that gives way to Easter…thanks be to God.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you so much Chris. A very moving service. And thanks to Alison and Dave too.
    And thank you Sam….just for being Sam!!!
    And thank you Jen and Nahum for being part of our church family.

    Doug and Alison

  2. To all hose who contributed to the making of this service I give thanks.
    A remarkable service of music and message.
    Be well.

  3. Thank you so very much Chris for a very moving and beautiful service. Thanks to Sam for being part of the service and bringing us smiles. These services are very powerful and bring us the sense of being part of and connected to our church family. So important in these difficult times. Charmian and Hong

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