The Jesus Effect

The Jesus Effect

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 7, 2018

20th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 8; Mark 10:2-16

 

Last Sunday evening, Kinney and I settled on the sofa to watch the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Truth be told, I’ve been dying to see it since it was released, and I was thrilled when it became available on Amazon Prime. The film offers an up close and personal look at America’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers. The informative and moving documentary goes beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe into the very heart of a creative genius who inspired and encouraged generations of children to imagine and dream and reach for a world of goodness and hope and love—even if that didn’t happen to be the reality in which they found themselves.

 

Born in 1928, Fred Rogers was a television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He became the creator, composer, producer, head writer and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that ran from 1968 to 2001. On his way to becoming an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, he recognized that television was the perfect medium to reach children in a healthy, positive way as opposed to the way television was addressing them at the time. Later, he would complete his seminary training, but his ministry remained the same—to be an advocate for children.

 

Over the past few months, I have noticed that so many people have become infatuated with Mr. Rogers. In fact, did you know that a movie is to be released next year with Tom Hanks playing the role of Mr. Rogers? Yes, it seems we are infatuated by Mr. Rogers! What is it about him that has caught the attention of a nation? While there are many possible answers, what really captures my imagination is the way in which he embodied the way of Jesus—the way of kindness and goodness and compassion—making time for those whom society considers insignificant—blessing children.

 

That is what we see Jesus doing in today’s gospel reading—blessing children. The disciples scold parents for bringing them to Jesus. The disciples have other ideas of how Jesus should divide his time—not waste it on insignificant children. But Jesus is indignant and tells his disciples, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” It’s noteworthy that this comes on the heels of Jesus addressing a question about divorce—the dividing up of a home. Then Jesus turns his wholehearted attention to those so often effected by the tragedy of divorce—the children. Jesus will unify. It’s us who will divide.

 

For quite some time, an idea has been churning in my heart and mind—an idea that simply will not let me be and the idea is this: If ever there was a time for the church to step up to the plate it is now. Now is the time for us to stop acting like the world—arguing, bickering, turning Christianity into a civil religion more than anything else. Now is the time for us to model for the world how we might be unified in love—unified in faith—unified in our goal to change the world for Christ’s sake. Of course, there are things over which we will disagree—even strongly disagree. But what might happen if the church were to show the world how to disagree in love?

 

Consider Mr. Rogers. He spent his life practicing the opposite of what we see plastered over news or social media sites every day. He practiced humility and kindness and gentleness. When he was just a boy and he would see scary things on the news, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And at some point, Fred Rogers became such a helper. He often said, “Love is at the root of everything—all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.” Fred Rogers was determined to live out his faith—even on the big screen. But instead of doing things the way other “successful” shows were doing them, he chose to do the exact opposite: low production values, a simple set, and an unlikely star. Sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it? Always going against the grain. Always the paradox. Always the upside-down gospel that the first will be last and the last will be first, that to really have life you must lose it.

 

Oh, dear Christian, in these days of cultural turmoil, we have work to do—serious work—and we have a much better chance of being successful if we put aside our differences—differences between other people in the pews beside us—differences between us and the church down the street.   Instead, we might turn our hearts and minds and strength toward what we share—the Spirit of God coursing through our veins.

 

Today we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters around the world. Some of us refer to this sacrament as the Eucharist, others the Table of the Lord, others simply Communion.[i] Some of us will use wine at the Table, some grape juice, while others will offer both. Some will break a small piece from a large loaf of bread and dip it into the common cup while others dip bread that has been pre-cut. Some will have homemade bread.  Some will have unleavened wafers placed into their opened hands.  Others will remain seated as trays of the elements are passed to them.

 

There are many ways to celebrate this feast and there are different ways to interpret it. Presbyterians hold that The Lord’s Supper is the sign and seal of eating and drinking in communion with our crucified and risen Lord. In other words, in a mysterious way we cannot understand, we believe that Christ joins us here at his Table. Here we are nourished. Here we are blessed. Here we are sustained by Christ’s pledge of undying love and continuous presence with us. And here we are united with all the faithful in heaven and on earth.

 

Unity—it’s what World Communion Sunday is all about. It’s how it all began. The idea came out of the work of the stewardship committee at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. It was an attempt to bring believers together—a way to remember how important the Church of Jesus Christ is—and how each congregation is interconnected. While the celebration was adopted as a denominational practice in 1936, by 1940 it was adopted by the National Council of Churches. Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating we are one in the Spirit and one in Christ.

 

That, dear friends, is the Jesus Effect. The love of Christ can change everything and everyone. That is what the church has to offer the world. Not division. Not arguments. Not disrespect. But love and hope and peace and joy and forgiveness. It’s what the world needs. It’s what we need. It’s what our children need.

 

Artist, author, and United Methodist pastor, Jan Richardson, has written a blessing for the church on this special day. It’s a poem entitled, “And the Table Will Be Wide.”[ii]

 

And the table
will be wide.
And the welcome
will be wide.
And the arms
will open wide
to gather us in.
And our hearts
will open wide
to receive.

And we will come
as children who trust
there is enough.
And we will come
unhindered and free.
And our aching
will be met
with bread.
And our sorrow
will be met
with wine.

And we will open our hands
to the feast
without shame.
And we will turn
toward each other
without fear.
And we will give up
our appetite
for despair.
And we will taste
and know
of delight.

And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
And everywhere
will be the feast.

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] “The Things We Share,” by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005

[ii] http://paintedprayerbook.com/2012/09/30/and-the-table-will-be-wide/#sthash.aCBRdGDQ.dpuf

*Special Thanks to Elise and Evan Phelps, who provided our bulletin Cover Art.