"I believe that appreciation is a holy thing," Fred Rogers said as he opened his 2001 commencement speech at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, "that when we look for what's best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we're doing what God does. So, in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we're participating in something truly sacred." You can read the speech here.
In the image of God
The Presbyterian pastor is remembered by many United Methodists as the host of Mister Roger's Neighborhood, which debuted in 1968. He's the subject of a documentary in 2018 and an upcoming movie starting Tom Hanks. Fred Rogers made his mark in the special way he modeled love and acceptance of others. His messages reflect an important part of our faith. In the beginning of our story, we read,
God created humanity in God's own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
(Genesis 1:27, CEB)
Sometimes, however, we seem to forget this about the driver who cut us off on the interstate this morning, the one with whom we vehemently disagree about politics or theology, the neighbor across the street or on the other side of the globe with a different culture and religion, and the person whose experience I simply do not understand.
Each one of them is created in the divine image.
Mr. Rogers invites us to make the choice to appreciate each person in our lives, to look for what's best in him or her. When we do, he said, "We're doing what God does."
Jesus showed us what this looks like. Where others saw a shady tax collector, Jesus saw Zacchaeus. Where neighbors defined a woman by her questionable reputation, Jesus saw a spiritually thirsty person. When a man met Jesus' boat and identified himself as Legion because of his many demons, Jesus noticed the individual.
Time after time, Jesus ignored labels and addressed the person. Including us. Despite the things we have done or not done, Jesus loves us. He sees beyond our flaws and those parts of ourselves that we don't like very much.
Today, you and I can choose to appreciate the people in our lives. When we see beyond the labels to the very presence of God in which each of us are created, we're doing what God does.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.
This story was published August 13, 2018.