Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mister Rogers’ Neighbors

The last thing Fred Rogers ever said to me was “How like you.” He gave so much to me, so much trust and friendship, without asking me to earn it. But still I wonder whether I have. Still I find myself asking for his blessing, and like the aged Private Ryan after he walks away from the grave of the officer who rescued him, I issue a plea that sounds a little bit like a prayer:
Tell me I’m a good man. Tell me I’ve lived a good life, then tell me what to do now. 
(Tom Junod, The Atlantic, December, 2019)
By his own account, Tom Junod's background for meeting Fred Rogers was a "state of disrepute," because of a subtly savage article he had written about Kevin Spacey. "In the first cover story I wrote for Esquire, I did an elaborate rhetorical dance around the sexuality of Kevin Spacey, a story of coy ill will that fooled no one. We’d been out to make a splash, and we did, earning national opprobrium and prompting Spacey’s agent to urge a Hollywood boycott of me and the magazine.” Click here for more on Junod and Mr. Rogers.
So here was the cynical journalist meeting the genial children's program host with the expectation that sparks would fly again. But they didn't. If you had heard the story behind the first Mr. Rogers' biopic, the memoir by Tim Madigan I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers, you could have predicted what would happen to Tom Junod. He would be loved into submission and start up a friendship that would last five years, when the patron saint of children's programming would die of stomach cancer.
What compels me in this story is the witness of grace: generous, unmerited love, a resource unique to God. The shared amazement of both Madigan and Junod that this man would inexplicably take a liking, then a loving, to both of them that endured as long as he lived.  As Junod explained it, the man could see the child in others and would always remind them they were a child of God.
Mr. Rogers' neighborhood extended so far he had to keep a dossier on each person.  Junod discovered the files he kept in the archives of  St. Vincents College. ". . .  in one of those boxes are the names of my wife, my dogs, and one of my nieces, who was facing trouble and for whom he prayed."  When Mr. Rogers promised to pray, he wasn't being glib. He indexed his prayers, just to remind the Creator and himself, who needed intercession that day.
Junod tells how he became Mister Rogers' neighbor.  He wrote about it in the context of political and social strife in 2019.  Eleven people had just been killed in echoing massacres in El Paso and Dayton. What would Mister Rogers have said? he wondered. That is the question everyone will be asking after they see Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, released late this year (2019).
As it happens, says Junod, we know Mr. Rogers’ response to a mass shooting, because he was alive for the shooting of eight students in West Paducah, Kentucky as they knelt in prayer, “Though an indefatigably devout man, he did not attempt to characterize the  shootings as an attack on the faithful; instead he seized on the news that the 14-year-old shooter had gone to the school telling his classmates that he was about to do something “really big,” and he asked, ‘Oh wouldn’t the world be a different place if he had said, ‘ I’m going to do something really little tomorrow’?”
In the huge heart of Fred Rogers was the belief that God could not stop loving anyone, regardless of their offense, their cruelty, their apparent remorselessness. Grace was extended to everyone, the thief on the cross, the school assassin, the perpetrator of high crimes and misdemeanors. It is challenging to live your belief in an enormously gracious God, because no less is expected of you.  Fred Rogers came as close as anyone I can recall.
Mr. Rogers' theology was simple and sophisticated. His God was very contemporary, but also persistently faithful. In an email to Junod he offered this credo:
“God’s nature has grown and grown and grown all through the ages,” he wrote on October 25, 1998. "Yet at the heart of the original creation is that Word (call it Love, call it Grace, call it Peace …) that essence which is lodged somewhere within each of us that longs for ultimate expression. If we choose to allow it to grow we’ll be given help. If we choose otherwise we won’t be forced. If there is such a thing as a “dark corner” of God’s nature then I think it’s God’s refusal to go back on the promise of “the creation’s freedom to love or not.”
Although an ordained Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers never mentioned “God” or any vocabulary of religion on his show. He managed to preach volumes by the way he interacted with the characters in his neighborhood and with his audience.  He found value in everyone, and treated them like they were the only one.
If you are a Christian, it helps to find a role model in the 21st century: someone who communicates how strong, how unconditional, how generous is the love of God. Mr. Rogers did that without turning water to wine. He extended his arms and gave his heart to strangers in a godlike way. All in the guise of merely being our neighbor.
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Bill Tucker

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Worship Prayers Dec. 22


Eternal God of power and grace, who comes to us in surprising ways— in angel appearances, in defeat of enemies, and in resurrection from the dead— show us the face of Immanuel in our time. Bring us from fear to awe, we pray; in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Shepherd of Israel, God of hosts, we turn away from you, neglecting the welfare of your creation, ignoring the plight of your people, trampling on the creatures and the plants you made, taking from Earth what we cannot give back.
We do not help our neighbors in need, keep peace within our families, or tend the vine you plant in our own lives. Forgive us and lead us to a more gracious life. In your compassion, turn us to your way. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved. (Silent Confession)

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH – The Scots Confession 3.06

When the fullness of time came God sent his Son, his eternal wisdom, the substance of his own glory, into this world, who took the nature of humanity from the substance of a woman, a virgin, by means of the Holy Ghost. And so was born the “just seed of David,” the “Angel of the great counsel of God,” the very Messiah promised, whom we confess and acknowledge to be Emmanuel, true God and true man, two perfect natures united and joined in one person.

Click here for the sermon "Name above all Names."

Friday, December 27, 2019

Daily Prayer Dec. 27

The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor and release to the captives.

Daily Readings for Friday, December 27, 2019

Almighty God, you sent Jesus to proclaim your kingdom and to teach with authority. Anoint us with your Spirit, that we too may bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim liberty to the captive. As you have made this day, O God, you also make the night. Give light for our comfort. Come upon us with quietness and still our souls, that we may listen for the whisper of your Spirit and be attentive to your nearness in our dreams. Empower us to rise again in new life to proclaim your praise, and show Christ to the world, for he reigns forever and ever. Holy God, from whom every family on earth takes its name: Strengthen parents to be responsible and loving that their children may know security and joy. Lead children to honor parents by compassion and forgiveness. May all people discover your parental care by the respect and love given them by others. (Add your prayers.) Amen.

The grace of Christ attend you, the love of God surround you, the Holy Spirit keep you, that you may live in faith, abound in hope, and grow in love, both now and forevermore.

(Opening sentences, prayers, and blessings are from the Book of Common Worship. Readings are from the daily lectionary in Daily Prayer. Both are published by Westminster/John Knox Press.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019


Luke 2:1-14Modern English Version (MEV)

The Birth of Jesus

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the entire inhabited earth should be taxed. This taxation was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own city to be taxed.
So Joseph also departed from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem, in Judea, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So while they were there, the day came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same area there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And then an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very afraid. 10 But the angel said to them, “Listen! Do not fear. For I bring you good news of great joy, which will be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign to you: You will find the Baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly there was with the angel a company of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace, and good will toward men.”

Modern English Version (MEV)
The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Angel Gabriel

Luke 1:26-38Modern English Version (MEV)

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.”
29 When she saw him, she was troubled by his words, and considered in her mind what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Listen, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore the Holy One who will be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Listen, your cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age. And this is the sixth month with her who was declared barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
38 Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be unto me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Modern English Version (MEV)
The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Alternatives: International Missions

1 John 3:17-18 New International Version (NIV)

17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Medical Benevolence Foundation – Clarice Hutchens and Christine Polak --  https://www.mbfoundation.org/ https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E862700/
·       For over 50 years, the Medical Benevolence Foundation has been an independent non-profit organization working in partnership with individuals and churches throughout the U.S. to equip Presbyterian partners in developing countries to proclaim the gospel through medical ministry.
·       Build infrastructures and systems and processes and competencies. Raise the financial support for ministries until the ministries can be self-sustaining. Each program and project have a specific business plan, since the scope of activities varies so greatly.  Specifically focus on four main areas of medical ministry:
o   Hospital Development
o   Nursing Schools and Scholarships
o   Critical Services for Women and Children
o   Primary Health Clinics
·       St. Mark support includes giving through Christmas Alternatives.

Partners for Just Trade – Clarice Hutchens -- https://partnersforjusttrade.org/
·       Partners for Just Trade is a non-profit, faith-based organization that builds partnerships between producers living in extreme poverty and consumers in North America.  PJT addresses root causes of poverty through Fair Trade sales, education, solidarity, and a commitment to trade justice.
·       PJT began as an initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.  It began informally when a handful of volunteers from Giddings-Lovejoy congregations visiting Peru through the Hunger Program's Joining Hands Network began bringing handcrafts made by their new colleagues back to the United States for sale in churches and among friends. Very quickly, thanks to the work of committed volunteers, that tiny partnership blossomed into a growing non-profit organization with a national outreach that sells a wide variety of Fair-Trade products and creates educational materials about the importance of Fair Trade.
·       More than 15 artisan groups, with over 200 artisans, work with PJT through our Peruvian Trade Partner Bridge of Hope. We now work with four Trade Partners - Bridge of Hope and Manos Amigas in Peru, Comite Artisanal Haitien in Haiti, and VillageWorks in Cambodia.
·       The fair wages the artisans receive enables them to afford food, shelter and medicine for their families, to educate their children and to reclaim personal dignity so they may assert their economic, political and social rights.
·       PJT is a recognized player in the national Fair-Trade movement, providing Fair Trade products, upholding strong, transparent relationships with its producer partners, and educating consumers about the benefits of Fair Trade. PJT is a screened member of the Fair-Trade Federation and the Green America Business Network. 
·       St. Mark support includes giving through Christmas Alternatives.

·       Individuals representing different congregations within the Giddings Lovejoy Presbytery make annual trips to Plan Grande Dos (25 trips as of 2016!)  We raise funds for high school scholarships, we’ve built pilas to improve access to water, we’ve held Vacation Bible Schools, visited schools, played games, read books, learned to make tortillas, strategized regarding Jenga . . .  we’ve laughed and cried . . . we’ve built relationships and worked follow Christ’s example of love and care.
·       A primary focus is fundraising for scholarships for secondary school education. 
·       Our partnership is coordinated by CEPAD – the alliance of Protestant churches in Nicaragua – where PCUSA Mission Co-workers have served for years.  CEPAD serves as the bridge between North American and Nicaraguan partners and provides all of the coordination and logistics for our donations and trips to Nicaragua.
·       St. Mark support includes giving through Christmas Alternatives.

For more information about Marion Medical Mission, click here.