It’s You I Like
As we continue our sermon series this week, we do so with another of Mister Rogers’ songs, It’s You I Like. In the most recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbour, considerable time is spent on this particular set of beliefs of Fred’s, especially as it was blamed for creating generations of children with balanced emotions, self-esteem and self-worth. Fred preached that the children didn’t need to do anything to earn attention or praise, that the worth came from inside them – they merely needed to recognize it. There are some out there that believe this doesn’t encourage people to strive, to change, to “pull up themselves by their bootstraps,” etc. Even though “our belovedness” is a central tenant in Christianity, and as we heard last week with John 3:16, that God loves the entire world, many have trouble having that love for themselves, as well as others. Rogers treated people with the same love and compassion that he believed they deserved – and as we saw with last week’s clip, this acceptance by Rogers afforded children a place where they felt safe, welcomed, and loved for who they were regardless of their home lives.
The two stories are almost bookends – last week’s story of Nicodemus (from John 3), a Pharisee, one upholding the Jewish Law, came to Jesus at night, in secret – and this Samaritan woman, a Jew, though looked down upon by others because they didn’t practice their faith as other Israelites did, met Jesus in daylight, for all to see. Holding these two stories together reminds us that the presence of God is for all times, and all people. This isn’t an exclusive God nor Gospel. This practice of faith isn’t to push people away. This is to draw the circle of faith wide enough that all might find safety, and welcome, and love.
There’s more even more parallels in the two stories – in both, there’s a confusion between what Jesus is speaking about and what the listener hears – one conversation dwells on birth and new life, and the other on water, and living water. Jesus is not trying to mess with these people – there’s just two conversations going on at once, the literal and the spiritual.
Think of the word clean. Literally, we could be talking about cleaning your hands as a result of this spreading virus. Clean in these terms means washing for at least 20 seconds (maybe while singing Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow). Spiritually, it can be the feeling of confession and assurance that we speak about in church – the way we seek God’s help in cleaning our slate and starting again.
The last parallel between these two stories echoes what Fred Rogers did in his ministry through Mister Rogers Neighbourhood. Jesus saw both Nicodemus for the people they were – full of struggles, joys, hopes, dreams, mistakes and promise – full of love most of all – Jesus saw all of that, and not just the people they would become.
Jeffrey Erlanger, a young child born with a spinal tumour had a difficult start in life. At an early age he was operated on, and left a quadriplegic. Fred Rogers received a letter from Erlanger’s sister, telling of Jeffrey’s condition and eventually they met. A few years later and Jeffrey was invited on the show. The clip shows Fred’s love and care, especially as the two sing It’s You I Like. But what is miraculous is the clip inducting Mister Rogers into the Television Hall of Fame, just a couple years before Fred’s death. As Jeffrey enters, Fred’s face lights up – as this is both a gift and welcome surprise from him. Rogers doesn’t move to the stairs, and with dignity take the stage, he climbs up, right then and there, in order to greet Jeffrey. There was something genuine about the interactions that Rogers had with people. Those coming to see Rogers became the most important people in the room.
I’m sure that’s how the Samaritan woman felt. Much has been laid upon her about assumptions about her life. All we know is that she was seeking water. She encountered a (Jewish) man at the local well demanding water, and she was cautious. She kept up with the intellectual conversation with Jesus as well as Nicodemus did. She had five husbands. And she was met by the Christ, the Messiah, who saw all this, who saw all of her life, and who told of everything she ever did. We can almost hear Jesus singing It’s You I Like. To be fully known, and fully seen transformed her in this one encounter. And she was never the same because of it. Being fully seen – for the person she was – with the faults and mistakes and issues – to be greeted with safety, and welcome, and love – enabled her to become an evangelist – to go back to her city and proclaim the grace that she found at the well.
We can do that. We can see a person for who they are – we can stand alongside them and witness to their pain, we can remind them that fear is natural as it enables us to make decisions, and panic is leads us into bad decisions. We can make someone feel like they’re the most important person in the room, by offering them safety, and welcome, and love.
We do that for those we love. We gloss over and forget the little things because be they partners, or family, their faults are not as important as the person with whom we share our lives. But then, why don’t we do that for others? Why is it so difficult for us to extend the same acceptance and love to each and every person we meet? Why can’t we sing It’s You I Like…in the ears of those who need it most?
Try it. We all have one person in our life that pushes our buttons. One we’d call unpleasant, or awful, or downright toxic. I’m not saying you need to miraculously turn around that relationship – but nor do you need to bring the baggage of the past with you into each and every interaction.
Another Rogers, psychologist Carl Rogers, coined the term unconditional positive regard in the 1950s and was likely a basis for Fred Rogers’ own practices. Unconditional positive regard was the practice of holding a person (regardless of their history, or what they’ve said, or will say) in the highest esteem possible. Like the woman at the well, Jesus saw everything she did, and loved her anyway. Jesus sees all of us, all the mistakes we’ve ever made, and loves us anyways. Fred Rogers believed that unlike the rest of tv – he was going to show children that it’s ok to make mistakes too – that’s why there’s a minute long clip of him struggling to set up a tent. When we accept one another – when we accept ourselves – when we love ourselves – and others – that experience of being fully known, transforms lives. It happens to Nicodemus, to the woman at the well, and to you and I. That safety, welcome, and love gives new life.
As I shared in one of the letters this week, in the words of the poet Rumi, If everything around seems dark, look again, you may be the light. As this virus plays out its going to be more and more important to offer safety, welcome, and love – to offer this light to the world. It’s ironic that we’re shutting churches, through it doesn’t stop us sharing our faith, or living out this transformative love – especially as we care for neighbours around us. As the time passes, we’ll lose our patience more, and fear will fuel even more unnecessary spending and hoarding as humanity retreats deeper into seclusion. This is when we need your light. This is when the world needs to hear how loved they are. This is when we need to come together, be it in chance encounters at a well, or a tv awards show, or hiding behinds masks in a grocery store. Be the light that you yourself need. Be the safety, welcome, and love, that you yourself deserve. Be the Christ – for it is a strong possibility that you are the only expression of Jesus that someone will ever meet.
The calling is great because the need is great…and we have such greatness within us to share.
Thanks be to God.