Chances are, you have come upon the classic Mister Rogers’ meme trolleying its way around the internet. It’s become the thing to say in the days after a hurricane, or a mass shooting, or a raid that rips apart families. It’s what we offer each other, when people have died and there are no words, but, come on, we need to say something…
Mister Rogers tells us this: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
A tragedy in the news can shake and shatter what a child believes to be true about the world. Who knew something like this could happen?! And when this is the question, the answer is to find a grown up in charge to fix it or explain it.
But you’ll notice, Mister Rogers’ mother does not answer the question asking How could this terrible thing happen? She’s answering this one instead: When the terrible thing happens, who’s the one in charge whom we can trust? Because it might not be the one who’s giving orders. It might not be the one whom everybody fears. It might not be the one who’s attracted crowds of adoring fans.
When everything has fallen apart, when your worldview has come tumbling down, when you need to know what kind of power you can trust —look for the helpers.
Of course, once you try this, you’ll see. There’s no way to look for the helpers and not also see the people they’re helping. We’ll see the children in the shelter; we’ll see families who are carrying everything they own in backpacks.
It’s like this: If you really believe that God’s eye is on the sparrow, that says something about God, but it’s also going to change how we look at sparrows; it’s gonna have to.
Mister Roger’s mama got it right. She told her son to look for the helpers, and he went on to give his life to looking out for those who are vulnerable. Look for the helpers and we’ll see the people they’re helping, we will see something of God. That’s the first thing.
The scripture Ed read begins with a war. As the story goes, the LORD our God sent the prophet Isaiah to give counsel to King Ahaz when he was ruling Judah, the House of David. He started to panic when he learned that neighboring countries were planning to seize Jerusalem. God told Isaiah to reassure the king. Stand firm. Hold fast. Do not give in to the alliance-forming or the conspiracies. I will give you a sign, says the LORD, something you can see so you’ll know you can trust my authority.
Now at the same time, the people of Judah were in distress. God had gone quiet; the Bible says he was hiding his face. These were days of intense political division. If you can, try to imagine what that’s like! The people were wandering in the dark, their worldview was being shaken and shattered, and who knew something like this could happen! That’s when God heard them praying: When everything has fallen apart, who will save us? Whom can we trust?
I will give you a sign, says the LORD. The day will come when the people will break into singing: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and you want to know who can trust, says the Holy Spirit? It’s this one whom I’m sending —you know, King Hezekiah…
And that’s when the Christians go: Wait a minute!
We hear this gorgeous poem about the Messiah, and we experience Jesus as the Messiah, so we think Isaiah must have been talking about Jesus, but I’ve got to tell you, that’s not it. That would be like if we really believed that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton launched a rap battle at the cabinet meeting about the national bank. As actual historical people, those two were not dropping rhymes, but I get it. Once you see it in the musical it’s hard to imagine it another way. We’re up against the same challenge here. Isaiah was not authoring a Christmas song about Jesus, but once you’ve heard Handel’s Messiah, it’s hard to imagine it another way.
In either case, the Messiah from God is different from other rulers. Any king could swoop onto the scene and dazzle the crowds with magic tricks and special effects. Any military ruler could show up and seize command by force, and shatter the yoke, and trample the enemy. That’s not what makes the Messiah special.
The Messiah is the one who comes to fulfill God’s vision of justice, which is utterly strange, and specific, and absolutely our best hope. It’s asking the people to care for widows, and orphans, and immigrants, to look out for those who are living in poverty and living in pain, to pay attention to those who are locked up and those who are left out. It imagines a day when weapons are broken because we don’t need war any more. Everyone has more than enough to eat. Everyone is so safe that a baby could play with wild animals on top of a mountain, and nobody would even worry because God’s eye is on the baby.
You want to know who speaks with the authority to save us? You want to know whom we can trust? Look for the helpers, and you will see the people they’re helping, we will see the work of God.
Today at Church of Peace, we’re celebrating Stewardship Sunday. You and I know, that feels a little strange this year. All of church feels a little strange! We’re finding ourselves thick in the season of uncertainty. Will the day come when we have a choir, or a children’s Sunday School, or PeacePals? Will the people whom we haven’t seen come back? Yeah, I don’t know.
We’re also asking: What is Church of Peace becoming? How could we find our church changing in ways that we never had imagined? In the light and shadows of all these questions, the Stewardship Committee is inviting us to make this the year that we choose hope. Even before we know how everything’s going to shake out, even while we’re still asking, How could this happen? and Whom can we trust?, hope is already here for our choosing.
Here’s where I find it. Amidst all the questions about how our church is changing, I come back to this, What lives at the heart of our church that did not fall apart during the pandemic? And that’s clear. At every turn, Church of Peace has not diminished our commitment to care for those in need. This commitment is precisely where we are growing.
At the Labor Day parade and Trunk or Treat, we’ve been celebrating our children (and making sure they get enough sugar). At the Food Pantry, we’re getting to know our neighbors when we pack groceries into their carts or diapers into their backseats. We’re caring for those recovering from surgery by sending cards and gift cards. We’re remembering those who are locked up in solitary by writing them letters and advocating for Anthony’s bill. We’re wrapping our arms around those who are grieving by sharing music and prayers.
Church of Peace is growing more courageous in our compassion. We are growing more helpful to those who are in need. And I want to get in on this! I want to help pay for this. And we need your help too.
When you give money to Church of Peace, when you make a financial commitment for the coming year, you’re making it more possible for us to be a people who show up and help. You’re helping us live into the fullness of what God is dreaming for this part of the kingdom of heaven at the corner of Twelfth and Twelfth.
Look for the helpers, she said. Mister Rogers’ mama knew that once we look for the helpers, we’re also going to see the people who need help, and that just might change everything. That’s the first thing. The next thing is this. When Pastor Fred started telling children to look for the helpers, he knew what he was doing. If we’re gonna teach our children to look for helpers, there had better be helpers for them to find, and of course there are.
Nearly two years ago today, we made these decisions about Church of Peace. We stood in this room, and put star stickers on the posters, and we proclaimed: We are the church of peacemaking in the face of hate, the church that stands up for families and not just our own. We are the church of literacy and education, the church of forgiveness, the church of caring and service.
Now it’s two years later, and the whole world has changed, and who knew this could happen! We don’t know everything that we’re facing in the days ahead. We absolutely know who we are and what we’re doing here. Right now in our world, people are looking for the helpers — imagine if they see us. Why the people needing help might shine a light on our path! They might hand us a baby to hold for a minute, and all I can tell you is, watch out then.
If we really believe God’s eye is on the baby, that’s going to change how we look at babies. That’s going to change how we live in this world; it’s going to have to, Hallelujah.