The Gift of Grace
Mister Rogers said it best: "I like you just the way you are." He knew children needed love and affirmation, that their world could seem big and scary and their place in it insecure. So each day he reassured them with his message of unconditional love.
Fred Rogers (1928-2003) was a Christian, a Presbyterian minister, steeped in the Gospel tradition. But he never used his television program, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, to preach that Gospel. Instead, he dug deeper, to its core, and he preached that. A message so simple, yet so profound, it took a child to receive it.
His message remains a radical one in the adult world, even for the church. "All are God's children," we've said from our pulpits. "All are welcome," we've announced from our signs. But there was always a hidden codicil. All were welcome, if ... if they believed like we believed; if they looked like we looked; if they behaved like we behaved. People of other faiths were welcome, as long as they became Christians. Indigenous people were welcome, as long as they adopted European ways. Gay people were welcome, as long as they straightened themselves out.
What's interesting about Jesus's ministry is that he never asked anyone to be anything other than exactly who they were. Children could be children. Tax collectors could be tax collectors. Peter could be Peter. Even Judas could be Judas. What he did ask, was that we be the people we were made to be, that is, fully alive and attuned to God's Spirit in our midst, not bound by the human shackles that define and constrain us--Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free.
The woman at the well goaded Jesus with the distinctions that set them apart: he was a Jew, she was a Samaritan; he was a man, she was a woman; he was thirsty, she had water. But as they talked, those distinctions melted away, one by one. What remained were two children of God, in all their naked honesty.
As the church gives way in the modern age, collapsing into an unintelligible heap where once its voice rang out strong and clear, its essential message of grace--of the free and unconditional love of the Creator for creation--remains. There may no longer be sanctioned words and actions to administer the message. But grace--amazing grace--was in the world long before there were preachers to preach it and priests to conjure it up. It's something we already know in our bones, like a birthright:
'Twas grace that brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
Next week: Gratitude