December 15, 2015
Jesus’ Other Names
My 8-year-old daughter and I found ourselves watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood the other day. She was intrigued because there’s a PBS show that is a sort of Mr. Rogers spin-off, and she hadn’t known there was an original. I told her how much I had loved Mr. Rogers as a kid, and we decided to watch an episode together. We both found the simple, low-tech show surprisingly entrancing. Mr. Rogers stands the test of time, cardigans and all.
I hadn’t watched Mr. Rogers since long before I became a preacher of the Gospel. I had known vaguely that he started his career as a Presbyterian minister. What I hadn’t realized as a kid is that the show IS ministry. It is all about the gospel, delivered with a gentle passion and a powerful witness. Love. Neighbor. Acceptance of difference. Peaceful resolution of conflicts. Honesty about sin. Forgiveness. It’s all in there, plain as day. Without ever mentioning Jesus by name, Mr. Rogers preaches it. And he preaches it so well that I can still summon up the warmth and holiness I felt watching him and hearing his voice forty years ago.
If Mr. Rogers had talked about Jesus by name, I never would have seen or heard him. I grew up in a secular family. We didn’t have a TV at home, and on the relatively rare occasions I got to watch, it was almost always PBS.
There’s a big push in the Episcopal Church these days to get back to Jesus. I am generally all in favor. I’d love to see every conversation about what is important in the church be about what Jesus would want for us, what Jesus teaches us, what Jesus demands of us, and what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean for us. But those are inside conversations, conversations among people who have already committed ourselves to following Jesus as Christians.
There’s a whole other world of folks to whom we will have to speak using Jesus’s other names if we are to speak to them at all. So many people are all fed up with Jesus talk, and for very good reasons. My mother was one of those back when I was watching Mr. Rogers. No way she would have set me down in front of a Jesus program. But love, peace, neighbor, community -- those were things she was all for.
As we hit the ground running with this Jesus movement thing, Mr. Rogers reminds us that Jesus has many names. We will need to be fluent in our use of all of them if we are to witness widely and well to our faith.
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