Fred Rogers

Mr. Rogers – Prodigal

Wow 2016 was an emotional rollercoaster!

Many of us saw old heroes die. We were gripped by a melancholic nostalgia as the news of David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Florence Henderson, Gene Wilder, Prince, and most recently and tragically for Star Wars fans, Carrie Fisher along with many others.

Some of us are ecstatic when we reflect on the political landscape. Some of us are on the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe even in despair.

All of us have concerns about the well-being of our country and the future we are leaving for kids and grandkids.

When looking into a new year we often ask, “How can I improve my life? How can I make a difference?

I just saw this video on Facebook(watch it below). It was an interview with a man named Francois Clemmons. Francois, along with being a Grammy-winning singer, played Officer Clemmons on the famous kids show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Most of us might remember that one.

In the interview Francois shares that he was unsure about playing the role of a police officer when Fred Rogers offered him the role. He grew up in the ghetto in a time when policemen were releasing dogs and opening water hoses on the folks in his neighborhood. He took the role but was still unsure.

Then he said one day in 1969 they were filming a scene where Mr. Rogers was soaking his feet in a plastic pool on a hot summer day. Officer Clemmons walks up and Mr. Rogers invites him to come and join him. He recalls, “The icon Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub, he was helping me dry my feet.”

Maybe not such a big deal today but it was 1969! He said that it touched him in a way he hadn’t expected. He says, “I still was not convinced that Officer Clemmons could have a positive influence in the neighborhood and in the real-world neighborhood, but I think I was proven wrong,”

But that wasn’t all. One day, Rogers was wrapping up the show by hanging up his sweater, you remember, and saying “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.” Clemmons said that Rogers had been looking right at him. Clemmons asked him, “Fred, were you talking to me?”

He replied, “Yes, I have been talking to you for years. But you heard me today.”

“It was like telling me I’m OK as a human being,” Clemmons says. “That was one of the most meaningful experiences I’d ever had.”

I preached at our church this past weekend on the story of the Prodigal Father (as we like to call it). I couldn’t help but be struck at the parallels between Fred Rogers and the father in the parable.

In the parable the father lavishes gifts on his returning son. These aren’t frivolous gifts like cellphones and video games. These were extravagant gifts that reminded the son of who he was. He was reminded that he was not a servant but a son carrying the favor, authority and ownership of his father.

Likewise, Fred Rogers lavished Francois Clemmons with gifts. He lavished him with acts of kindness and honor that help Francois get in touch with the revelation that he was a human worthy of equality and respect. He was reminded who he was as a child of God.

We are Fred Rogers, at least we should be, as those who have been reminded of who we are in the Father. As sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ we are hope to a world that has forgotten who they are. We are hope to those that have not heard the Good News. We are called to be prodigal, excessive and extravagant lovers who love people back to life!

As Father’s Love people, lets drop the stones. Let’s turn the story around in 2017. Religion titled the parable the Prodigal Son because of their focus on sin. It’s more properly titled the Prodigal Father. Remember, we are no longer the younger or the elder son. We are now the 3rd son. We are the son or daughter, who tells the story. That son, Jesus, was intimately connected to the extravagant, excessive prodigal loving father and now so are we. So are you!

In 2017, lets be the 3rd son. Lets share this Great News of Father’s Love. Let’s also be Fred Rogers. Let’s share that love in acts that express that love and affirm identity!

What can you do in 2017 to demonstrate the excessive, extravagant, reckless, prodigal love of our Father to a hurting world around us?

Have a wonderful and prosperous New Year!


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