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Won’t You be My Neighbor?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second (command) is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31 

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.  — Fred Rogers

My children were not among the tens of thousands of children who watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on a regular basis. The show, however, was a regular feature on television for 33 years. At the beginning of each episode, Mr. Rogers would sing the song, “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” as he came through his front door. He would put on his cardigan sweater, and then sit down to put on his sneakers. After he was comfortable, he began an informal visit with his (mostly) young audience. Fred Rogers – both in character and in real life – preached love, acceptance, and gentle living. He received training as a Presbyterian minister, so his focus on virtues, values, and the respectful treatment of others should not come as a surprise.

In one of his simple and profound writings, quoted above, Mister Rogers stresses the importance of recognizing the action implied in love. Too often, we relegate love to emotion and to romance; and while those are important expressions of love, they are not necessarily love’s highest expressions. Jesus, too, focused on the act of loving, saying we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To love, both God and our neighbors as ourselves, is the greatest of all the Biblical commandments.

During this season of graduations, imagine a commencement address given by Jesus or by Mister Rogers. There would be no shallow platitudes such as, “Be all that you can be,” or “Go forth and prosper,” or “Seize the day!” There would be no cheerleader-like chants and no sports metaphors. Equally absent would be tired clichés and forgettable advice. I believe a graduation speech given by Jesus or Mister Rogers would be straightforward. The focus would be on relationships – with God and with others – and the words would be about love. The words of love would be couched in caring for and about others – being a good neighbor, particularly to those less fortunate than we are. There would be no flowery descriptions of dreamy, fairy-tale futures. There would, however, be direct instruction for a focused present – a moment-by-moment, single-mindedness that assures its own glorious future, beside our God and with those we love.

Come home to church this Sunday. Won’t you be my neighbor?

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