Over the weekend I watched the film, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.’ I recommend that you watch it also. It is the story of Fred Rogers which if you are an American is a name you probably have followed since you were a child. Most famous for being the host of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ which ran in the U.S. from 1968-2001. He died in 2003 aged 74yrs. A musician, puppeteer, writer, producer and Presbyterian minister but known for being the most empathetic individual who changed people’s lives for the good.
The film centres around a journalist named Lloyd Vogel who was not a nice man but was sent to interview Fred Rogers. Vogel’s view of the task was to demean it straight away. He was a judgmental, selfish and angry man prior to meeting Rogers but the film shows how he changes, simply because he meets a good man who did good works.
In one scene on the set of the programme, Rogers is kneeling before a troubled young boy with an oxygen tube attached to his nose, wildly swinging a toy sword as his parents look on in distress. Rogers kneels down looks him directly in the eye and gently, patiently, calms him with soothing words, and ultimately, the sword put aside, hugs him.
Watching Rogers interact with others and seeing how he meets people without judging them, Vogel is moved and begins to feel healed.
The world today sorely needs more of Rogers’ kind-hearted decency. Our world wakes in anger, in pain and fear. It needs disciples of Jesus who know they are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
We have not been put here to simply struggle, to be overwhelmed by life’s predicaments.
God has a purpose for your life and it is to do good works.
The ultimate is not just faith in Jesus, following Him and going to heaven.
It is also to do good to those here on earth.
Imagine for a moment if every disciple of Jesus woke today with one thought only and that is to do good. To alleviate someone’s hurt, to listen to someone, to kneel before a sword-wielding child with the soothing words to heal that troubled soul. Can you imagine if the Church during lockdown had an epiphany and came back to their buildings as a body more like the character of Fred Rogers?
The immature enter ‘their’ church and are more interested in ‘serve us’ than ‘service’. After a while they begin to say ‘it’s not working for me here.’ NO. The church was never meant to work for you.
The mature follower of Jesus stops asking ‘who’s going to meet my needs?’ and starts asking, ‘whose needs can I meet?’
You don’t need a title or a trophy to do a good work. You don’t need training to be nice to someone, to help them smile and to make life a little easier. You just have to think less of yourself.
You may be in a prison today but don’t allow it to dictate how you spend your life. Wherever you are you can do good to others and that is the calling on your life. Many years ago I buried a man who thought he would be healed because ‘God has something for me to do, I don’t know what it is yet Pastor but I know He will tell me.’ I buried him with regret that this man had not seen the importance of good works.
Let me finish poignantly by telling of a scene of Fred Roger’s show that was aired in May 1969. It was a year after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a time of shameful racism when swimming pools were still segregated between white and black people. The scene has Fred Rogers soaking his feet in a child’s inflatable pool of water and then invites a black police officer to join him. Not only that but after they had soaked their feet they shared the same towel. Their casual intimacy exposed the bigotry of their society. A good work embarrasses the darkness.
In 1993, Rogers and the man who played the police officer, Francois Clemmons re-created that scene they had acted 24 years previously. But by this time the world had come to know of a secret that was not known in the first scene, that Clemmons was gay. The scene was also slightly different in that they not only shared a towel but Rogers took the towel and dried the feet of Clemmons himself. Seeing the imagery of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, he was moved by the scene and later said, “I am a black gay man and Fred washed my feet.”
In 2018, on being interviewed by a journalist, Clemmons said, “I carried the hope inside of me that, one day, the world would change. And I do feel that the world still has not totally changed, but it is changing. We’re getting there.”
It is true but we need to get there more quickly. All over the world we need the disciples of Jesus to do good works. We ourselves will face discrimination because of our faith. I recall the time I was in Pakistan being told the story of a great persecution on a Christian family because of a child in a school who drank water from the same cup of a Muslim girl, in a society where Christian schoolchildren still have to use sub-standard toilets than Muslims. In some sense there is an expectation of persecution for the faith. However, what is not expected and what must definitely stop is the hateful tribalism, the insidious superiority and the systemic racism that is seen across the globe to people who are different in some way than the other.
How can we stop this?
We can start today by doing good works to all people.