During Shelter-in-place, we have been pre-recording worship services. Worship planning has felt more like producing a TV show once a week. When my friend, Rev. Corey Nelson, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, CO, asked me if I wanted to plan worship together, I jumped at the chance. At first, we thought it would be less work. While it proved to be more work, it was inspiring to have a worship partner and an opportunity for our congregations to share in worship together.
Considering that our neighborhood contexts are so different, we adapted Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to our particular neighborhood contexts. First Presbyterian Church is a larger, suburban, mostly white congregation located in the mountains. St. John’s is a smaller, urban, diverse congregation located by the ocean.
Below is a breakdown of each Sunday:
Introduction of theme
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Fred Rogers.
Call to Worship
one: It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood. A neighborly day in this beauty wood.
all: a beautiful day for a neighbor. A neighborly day for a beauty.
one: we all gather together just as we are from all different neighborhoods.
all: from all different neighborhoods, we gather together in one spirit.
one: let us make most of this beautiful day beginning with worship.
all: For God calls us in one hope, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Let us worship God.
Genesis 18:1-15 – The story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming strangers
To kick off the series, Corey and I preached at our own congregations and gave an overview of the series. We framed in the context of hospitality using the story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming angels.
Excerpt from sermon:
This story isn’t just an example of what hospitality is. This story is about what happens or what we open ourselves up to when we do extend such hospitality. The visitors didn’t come empty handed. They came with a message from God – a message so absurd, so impossible that it caused Sarah and Abraham to laugh. The visitors announced that Sarah and Abraham will soon give birth to a son. What made this announcement incredulous was that Sarah had not only been barren, but she was way passed her menstruating age.
Outside of St. John’s is a sign that quotes Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” As a church, we are called to extend hospitality and welcome, but not because it is nice, but because of what the Other can bring. It is often in the Other that we have an opportunity to see each other in new ways; gain a wider understanding of God; and be challenged on what it means to love our neighbor. The act of hospitality is about allowing God to surprise us. Allowing each other to surprise us by interacting with one another, getting to know one another.
We shared in communion together. Corey set his backdrop to the mountains and I set my backdrop at the bay. Fast forward to 18:43.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
“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, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember
Acts 16:11-15 – Lydia’s conversion
Using the Lydia’s conversion story, Corey invited listeners to remember those that loved us into being. Lydia believed because of the community that supported her. In the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Mr. Rogers meets with journalist, Tom Junod, for an interview. While having a meal, Mr. Rogers invites Tom to reflect in silence for a minute to remember those who loved him into being. The problem is that Tom has difficulty remembering that many people who loved him.
Fast forward to 10:22.
Inspired by Mr. Rogers invitation to sit in silence, I read Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas. It’s about a quiet girl who lives in a noisy family. One day, the family notices that she is missing. It isn’t until they start searching for her that begin to see the world in her eyes. When you are quiet, you hear the noises of nature and notice the beauty of the earth.
Peace in the Neighborhood
“Listening is where love begins, listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.”― Fred Rogers
Genesis 33:1-11 – The reunion of Jacob and Esau
While the title is about peace in the neighborhood, I preached for both congregations about conflict. In 1983, when relations between the US and Russia were at its highest and the threat of nuclear war was feeling quite possible, Mr. Rogers aired 5 episodes called the “conflict series” to help children digest and process the fear they might be feeling. I want to show a clip from one of those episodes where King Friday grows nervous about the possibility of a neighboring land, Southwood, building bombs. He hears that Southwood has purchased millions of parts that could be made into bombs. Just in case, he orders the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to also begin building bombs and redirects all its funding into stockpiling weapons in case of war.
Lady Elaine, Lady Aberlin, and Bob the dog are worried that by doing so, there will be no funding for programs like “music for children” and it will spread more fear than comfort. They suggest to do some investigating before any plans are made and travel to Southwood to see if they truly plan to go to war with the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
In the end, King Friday learns a valuable lesson that transforms from a king quick to engage conflict to a human being quicker to promote peace. The journey his peace soldiers go on shows him how objects that can be used to harm others can be transformed to build relationships.
Jacob goes through his own journey as well – a journey that changes him . . . so much so that Jacob’s own name changes from Jacob, Heel Grabber, to Israel, One who Wrestles with God. Just like Jacob wouldn’t let go of Esau at birth, Jacob wouldn’t let go of God when he encountered God in the wilderness. Again, Jacob is struggling for a blessing. Jacob is risking everything, even his life, to receive this blessing from God. And he receives it, but it leaves a mark. Jacob sustains an injury that will forever remind him of who Jacob is and who God is. Jacob is one who wrestles with God and God is one who willingly engages with us and enters into the depths of the struggle with us.
This blessing – a blessing so important that it is mentioned 28 times in this story of Jacob – taken out of trickery and deceit, ruined Jacob’s relationship with his brother is the same blessing given by God at the risk of Jacob’s life is now the same blessing Jacob wants to extend back to Esau – once again risking his life – so that Esau too may be blessed. It’s a blessing that Jacob learned is not meant to hoard alone, but shared. It’s a blessing that is not in scarcity, but abundance. It’s a blessing that is not acquired easily but out of all the things we wrestle with throughout life. God’s blessing is one that promotes bountiful peace and not division and fear.
To view a portion from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, fast forward to 13:43.
Just the Way You Are
“You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And consequently, the greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.” – Fred Rogers
John 21:1-19 – Jesus helps the disciples catch fish
We did a Readers’ Theatre version of the scripture. We had readers from both congregations read different parts. Fast forward on the video below to 8:07.
Corey and I co-preached. It gave us a chance to give our own style and perspective to the scripture. Fast forward to 11:23.
Prayers of the People
Rev. Ben Johnston-Krase, a mutual friend of both Corey and I, wrote a song called “Prayers of the People.” As Corey played and led the song, we showed pictures from both of our congregations. The song is simple, meditative, and adaptable. Fast forward to 28:01.
I love this children’s book. It pairs well with John 21. Swashby and the Sea by Juana Martinez-Neal is about a curmudgeon named Swashby who has new neighbors move in. As Swashby writes not so friendly messages in the sand to his neighbors, the sea alters his message to help bring them together.
|“Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love. Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives.”|
― Fred Rogers
In 1969, a Mr. Rogers episode aired where Officer Clemmons and Mr. Rogers soaked their feet in the same wading pool. This was a big deal because at the time, there was much upheaval around racial inequality. I showed a short clip of Francois Clemmons who played the officer reflect on that moment. This is from the document, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” In the video below, fast forward to 16:32.
Excerpt from sermon:
We are living in a time where it is a complete daily struggle to live into Galatians 3.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek.” How many of you feel we have division over what it means to be patriotic or to be American; to live out the core values of liberty and freedom and pursuit of happiness. We witness this among our immigrant neighbors – working the exhaustive citizenship and immigration process in the midst of policies that aim to dehumanize them and separate them from their families.
“There is neither slave nor free.” While slavery may have ended years ago, we know that in many ways it has been replaced with systems and policies that continue to keep certain communities in bondage. We are fighting in the streets for people to truly understand and embody that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.
“Nor is there male and female.” I am grateful for the younger generation who are expanding our understanding of how we view gender identity and teaching me vocabulary that is more inclusive, accepting, and creates awareness of the language we use to identify ourselves.
“For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Therefore as ONE, we are not conformed to believe the same, be the same, and act the same, but we all share fully and equally in the inheritance of God’s promises and in the mission to which God has called us. Until we as a church have truly created access to the table of God, there is still much work to be done . . . on ourselves, our community, our city, and our country.
This is why rituals that we do are so important. Jesus washing the disciples feet . . . Mr. Rogers washing Officer Clemmons’ feet . . . while the act is so simple . . . it was about who was doing the washing and who was receiving. The Lord’s Supper – such a simple meal . . . but it is about who is doing the feeding and who is receiving the feeding. Baptism – it is a statement that it isn’t about what you did or didn’t do or who you are or who you are not. It is about who God is – a God who loves you before you even knew you are lovable – a God who will wash your feet no matter where your feet have walked – a God who will feed you know matter what place at the table you sit.
You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus.
It’s You I Like
To end the whole series, Corey and I led and sang Mr. Rogers’ song, “It’s You I Like,” then invited the congregation to sing along. Fast forward to 29:21.