Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Mister Rogers & the Kingdom of God

John 15: 4-5, 12-17; Romans 12:1-2

by Rev. Lori Wunder

[Click here for the intro to an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ending with him singing, “Look and Listen.”]


I invite you to take a moment and reflect back over the last several days. Take a deep breath in and out, close your eyes…

When have you experienced a moment of beauty, that left you in awe? Maybe it was something in the natural world…or maybe it was a human moment.

What took your breath away this last week? Remember, and give thanks.

I’ll watch the time. 30 seconds


Did you remember some good things? I hope so.

I wanted to start this way because I believe that Fred Rogers would approve. He once said in a speech at St. Vincent College in his hometown of Latrobe, PA:

“Life is infused with the divine.” [1]

As he grew older, the more Fred Rogers found himself “delighting every day in the lavish gifts of God, whom I’ve come to believe is the greatest appreciator of all.”[2]

Almost every morning, Fred Rogers went for a swim. Before he dove into the pool he would sing a Taize chant, Jubilate Deo, Jubilate Deo, alleluia which means, “Rejoice in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, alleluia.”

Fred Rogers had impressive self-discipline. He ordered and arranged his life in ways that kept him attuned to God’s presence and work in the world. Besides his daily swim, he would wake up between 5 and 5:30 each morning for prayer, reflection, Bible and devotional reading.

(This also meant he went to bed by 9:30.)

And, as we have noted together throughout the series, as he walked into the studio each morning, he would pray, “Dear God, let some word that is heard be yours.”

There were other practices, too, besides specific times of prayer.

He made time in his life for quiet, for silence. In spite of being a television star, Fred Rogers very rarely watched television himself. He never played music in the car and once had the stereo removed because he simply didn’t need it. He said,

“It seems to me… that our world needs more time to wonder and to reflect about what is inside, and if we take time we can often go much deeper as far as our spiritual life is concerned than we can if there’s constant distraction.”[3]

Another time Fred said, “And so, for me, being quiet and slow is being myself, and that is my gift.”[4] And it was a gift Fred gave his television audience. To watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is to be invited into a world that moves more slowly. Even in television there is space for silence.

He once ended a letter to Amy Hollingsworth in which he extolled the virtues of silence with this blessing: “May your heart and mind continue to be settled in God’s tender care.”[5]

This blessing is something like what Jesus invites the disciples to in the passage from John’s gospel about the critical importance of the branches (that’s you and me) remaining connected with the vine (that’s Jesus). Staying close to God, remaining with God, abiding with God—these are all ways of describing a closeness and connection with God that is life giving. In our modern world perhaps we can think of it as the need to regularly recharge the battery, to plug in to the source.

One of Fred Rogers’ oft-used words in his correspondence was “nourish”—more than just providing food, “nourish” implies that it is the best food, the most essential, the most needed. Fred Rogers craved that which gives sustenance to the soul, both for himself and for those around him.

He was a contemplative. In my own study and practice of contemplative traditions I have learned that

it is in SILENCE that we learn to LISTEN

it is in SOLITUDE that we learn how to BE WITH OTHERS

it is in STILLNESS that we learn to ACT.

As this morning’s readings inform us, it is in abiding in the vine that our branches are able to bear fruit, and we are able to be transformed ourselves for the transformation of the world.

When it came to abiding in the vine and bearing much fruit, Fred Rogers was the master.

Tim Madigan was yet another journalist who, in the process of writing an article about Fred Rogers, became a close, beloved friend. In 2012, Madigan published a book about the profound influence his relationship with Fred had on him, how Fred Rogers telling him “I’m proud of you” opened up all kinds of wounds in Madigan but also allowed for healing and transformation.

In his book, I’m Proud of You Madigan described a moment from their first “meeting” which was a telephone conversation:

“Do you know the most important thing in the world to me right now?” Fred asked me that day.

No, I said.

“Talking to Mr. Tim Madigan on the telephone.”[6]

Fred said once,

“The purpose of life is to listen–to yourself, to your neighbor, to your world and to God and, when the time comes, to respond in as helpful a way as you can find…from within and without.”[7]

Can you imagine what our world would be like if we lived more in this way? Our families, our communities, our workplaces, our government?

But again, listening to one another, being open to one another like that is only possible when we keep ourselves plugged in to the Divine Source, when we are regularly recharging, when we are doing the work, doing the discipline. That’s the way Fred Rogers was able to do what he did and be who he was because he took the time.

Now, time feels like the last thing we have, right? So maybe we can start in small ways, if you do not already have a practice–like allowing for more silence by turning of the radio in the car, or writing down every day three things that you noticed, that took your breath away, for which you are grateful. Keep trying to find a practice or practices that help you feel plugged in to that Source.

A closing thought from Fred:

“I believe at the center of the universe there dwells a loving spirit who longs for all that’s best in all of creation, a spirit who knows the great potential of each planet as well as each person, and little by little will love us into being more than we ever dreamed possible. That loving spirit would rather die than give up on any one of us.”[8] 

Thanks be to God for that reminder, and for that promise. Amen.


[1] Michael G. Long, Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers (Westminster John Knox, 2015) p. 40

[2] The World According to Mister Rogers, p. 143

[3] Amy Hollingsworth, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Kindle version, p. 20

[4] Fred Rogers to Amy Hollingsworth during their first meeting, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Kindle version p. 11

[5] Ibid, p. 35

[6] Tim Madigan, I’m Proud of You (Los Angeles: Ubuntu Press, 2012). Kindle version, p. 13

[7] I wrote this quote down but didn’t note the source.

[8] Michael G. Long, Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, p. 40