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Vol. 78 - No. 8
August 2007

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

            I was a little too old to grow up on Mister Rogers. However, I watched the show a lot in
my 20s, when I was preparing for the ministry and wanted to improve my ability to communicate
with children. (I also had a bit of a crush on Lady Aberlin). It was easy to make fun of Fred Rogers,
but his love for children always shone through. When he died a few years ago, I felt a real sense of
loss.
            A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article about an educator in the
South who blames Fred Rogers for the rise of narcissism–a self-centered sense of entitlement–in our
society. By constantly telling children, “You’re special, and I like you just the way you are”, Rogers
produced a generation of children with unrealistically high self-esteem, the educator claims.
            That got me thinking: Was there something wrong with the late Mister Rogers’ message?
He was, in fact, a clergyman who regarded his television work as part of his ministry–did he
somehow fall short of Biblical truth with the simple message contained in a song like:
            You’re special–there’s nobody else in the whole world like you.
            I like you. 

The phrase “you’re special” has become a cliche–indeed, in “The Incredibles”, when Mrs. Incredible
tells her son, “Everyone’s special”, he replies bitterly: “That means that nobody’s special.” But is
it true? Is everyone “special”? 
            The Bible tells us that everyone is created in the image of God:
            God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness.” So God
            made man in His own image, in the image of God He made him, male and
            female He made them. (Genesis 1:26,27). 

That means, most emphatically, that everyone is special! Everyone was made for a personal
relationship with God. Every person was made to be loved by God and to love God, to walk with
God. That indeed means that everyone is special!
            Scripture says that Jesus knows each of us by name (John 10:3). Jesus says that God knows
even when a sparrow falls to earth, and that “you are of more value than many sparrows.”
(Matthew 10:29).. Every person is special in God’s eyes--every person is of incalculable worth!
And Jesus died for every person–as St. Paul says, the Son of God “loved me and gave himself up
for me.” Galatians 2:20). For me–not just for “the world”, not just “for mankind”, but for me.
Every person in the world can say that: the Son of God gave Himself for me. Indeed, if I were the
only sinner in the world...or you were the only sinner...Jesus still would have come and died...just
for you, just for me! 
            Have you ever noticed how every person is absolutely unique? They say no two snowflakes
are alike–but certainly no two people are alike! That’s what makes the world endlessly
fascinating–you can meet thousands of people, and none of them is exactly like any other. To me,
that’s a testimony to God’s wondrous creative power–that He can create so many billions of people,
and make each of them different!
            So Mister Rogers was right on the money–each person is special, and each person is unique.
            Mister Rogers was trying to teach a certain degree of self-love–and that is Biblical. One of
the greatest commandments in Scripture is:
            You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
That commandment makes no sense unless we have a certain love of self. Not loving myself means
not loving something God has created–and that should never be! So a certain amount of self-love
and self esteem is in accord with Scripture. I wouldn’t agree with the pop song that claims that “the
greatest love...is learning to love yourself.” On the contrary, the greatest love is the love of the
crucified Jesus Christ for the world. But there’s nothing wrong with self-love, as long as it doesn’t
eclipse our love for God or neighbor.
            The danger in the message of self-love and self esteem is this: it easily forgets that love often
has to be tough. If I really love myself (and if I really love God!), then I’m going to be honest about
my faults and my failings. Indeed, God loves me “just as I am”–but He also urges me to confess my
sin and seek His forgiveness. We Lutherans do something that seems to undermine self-esteem and
self-love–we bow before God and say things like:
            I, a poor miserable sinner, confess to Thee all my sins and iniquities...have mercy upon
            me, a poor, sinful being...

That seems to express contempt and hatred for myself, not love. But, in fact, it is “tough love.” If
I really love myself–and really love God–then I’m not going to paper over my sin, but honestly
confess it, and seek God’s forgiveness through the crucified Christ.
            Perhaps Mr. Rogers didn’t always communicate that sense of self-criticism and tough love
enough. But still, there’s a lot of Christian truth in those simple words:
            You’re special...there’s nobody else in the whole world like you...I like you...
            In fact, God more than likes you...He loves you...and so do I!

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