Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost 16 September 2018
(Isaiah 50:4-9 Psalm 116 James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38)
[When this sermon was preached it included a PowerPoint presentation that included images takes from the film, “Won’t you be My Neighbor?”]
“Repairing the World!”
In Judaism, there is a concept called in Hebrew, “tikkun olam,” which means, literally, “to mend, to repair, to transform the world.” To “repair the world” is our calling as disciples. What a beautiful way to describe “discipleship!” For Jews, this process of “tikkun olam” provides the theological imperative for being in right relationship with the earth, with others, and with oneself. It also provides the theological imperative for social action. “Repairing the world” is an imperative that begins within one’s heart.
And so, in today’s Gospel when Jesus asks us the same question He asks His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” this becomes our opportunity to reclaim Jesus into our lives in a new way, in a more profound way, in a way that recalls our role in repairing the world. After all, the word “Messiah” means “the anointed one” and a primary reason for anointing even in the ancient days was to strengthen, to heal and to make whole.
What I intend to do is take today’s Gospel text and interpret it from the healing perspective of “tikkun olam,” “repairing the world.” I want to take a deeper look at what it might mean “to repair the world” as disciples of Jesus Christ! I want to do it with a little help from my friend—Fred Rogers.
There have been very few movies I attend where at the conclusion of the film, the entire theater breaks out in applause. I mean, it just does not happen very often! But it did happen at the end of the documentary film on the life of Fred Rogers, entitled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
I don’t want you to be fooled by the title of the movie. The title may sound pretty unassuming and benign, but this film goes to the very center of life, the very heart of discipleship—to bring healing and repair into all of life’s elevating joys and tragic sorrows.
This is the story of the life of this benevolent, piano-playing puppeteer and Presbyterian pastor.
Although his specific audience was children, Fred Rogers spoke to adults as clearly and directly as he did to the younger set. On the set he brought a smile; he was never afraid to go right at difficult issues, here the issue of racism at a time when he was warned “not to go there.” To sit side by side, white feet and black feet in a pool of water, may have been the most subversive scene in the entire film.
Following the horror of 9/11, he came back to the program with the desire to bring hope into the lives of so many, especially children; he wanted to be honest in saying that the world is not always a kind place; to help children struggle with the very notion of the goodness of humankind.
His message of hope was communicated through a message of love, poignantly to a boy struggling with a life-threatening illness. He wanted to assure us of the goodness in all people, as well as our responsibility as human beings for “repairing the world.”
One of the main tenets of our faith is that every human being is created in God’s image and likeness, and because of this dignity and worth, we are called to be healer and neighbor to all others.
In today’s Gospel text, we have arrived at chapter eight, almost exactly at the midpoint of Mark, and here we find a major shift in the narrative. We have watched Jesus’ ministry for seven-plus chapters; now we are near Caesarea Philippi, a very Roman setting. Now we hear something of what it will cost to be a follower of Jesus—take up your cross. Not an easy description of Christian discipleship!
But Mark never glosses over the commitment it takes to be a follower of Jesus! The confession, “You are the Messiah” by Peter brings with it the challenge to bring healing and repairing into our world, beginning in our homes, with spouses and children, with those we love; to bring healing into churches, into communities, into our own circle of the world. We’ve seen it beautifully exemplified this past week by so many first responders, police, fire personnel and neighbors, in response to Hurricane Florence.
If we are to repair the world, if we are to help put things together rather than take them apart, if we are to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, then we are challenged to know that Jesus first heals and repairs us, beginning with our anointing at Baptism.
A final word about Fred Rogers: I chose Mr. Rogers as an example of “repairing the world” because I think he lived out his call to discipleship in a very unique way. But we are not asked to be Mr. Rogers. We are asked to be ourselves.
One more thing: Fred Rogers saw himself primarily as a minister, but a minister filled with self doubts and uncertainties. Sometimes the crosses we carry are right within ourselves—our own self doubts and poor self images.
The people closest to Fred Rogers sometimes said that the puppet he used, Daniel Striped Tiger, something of a misfit as tigers go, a docile creature who lived inside a cuckoo clock, often wondered if he was a mistake. Many people say that Daniel Striped Tiger was the inner life of Fred Rogers.
To whatever degree this may be accurate, I would hope we can hear these uncertainties in him as Good News for us today—that we can be disciples, even with our doubts, fears, uncertainties, and sinfulness. For Mr. Rogers, it was not just about the trolley and the sneakers. He fought through his uncertainties and believed that love, embodied as justice and compassion is what is needed to repair the world.
Saving and losing one’s life for Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel—tikkun olam. Amen.