One of my favorite films in 2018 was the critically acclaimed documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, filmmaker Morgan Neville’s charming examination of the life of Fred Rogers. As a child who watched countless hours of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I immensely enjoyed learning more about the man behind the television program that impacted so many young minds and hearts. One of the connecting threads throughout the documentary--a pleasant surprise to my pastoral ears--was Fred Rogers’ theology.
Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister, and his belief in the resurrected Christ was the motivation behind much of his television persona. The topics he chose to cover, the types of situations he put the characters into, the lessons he wanted to convey… it’s evident that Rogers’ faith infused the “Neighborhood”.
At the very end of the documentary, we see Rogers doing a TV special for all ages after 9/11. (Rogers always had a unique ability to help others during times of crisis) And it right there, during the TV special, that Rogers’ theology is made perfectly clear. In the middle of all of this grief over 9/11, Fred Rogers reminds viewers that all of humanity is called to “Tikkun Olam”. Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase, a concept, really; it means that we are called by God to be menders of the brokenness in the world.
Fred Rogers, through his shows, outreach to children, kindness, and education, helped to mend some of the brokenness in the world. And this is exactly what it means to seek the Kingdom of God. We are called to be ambassadors of the King by partnering with God in the mending of the brokenness in the world. This is what inspires our Vineyard value of “Reconciling People to God, People to People, and People to all Creation”.
We are a reconciliation movement. We are a reconciling community. The official wording of this value from Vineyard USA goes like this:
Jesus is reconciling humans to God, to each other, and to the entire creation, breaking down divisions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. Therefore, we are committed to becoming healing communities engaged in the work of reconciliation wherever sin and evil hold sway. We seek to be diverse communities of hope that realize the power of the cross to reconcile what has been separated by sin. This requires us to move beyond our personal preferences to engage those who are perceived to be unlike us and to actively break down barriers of race, culture, gender, social class, and ethnicity.
This is the value that bridges the personal aspect of the gospel and the social aspect of the gospel. When we decide to begin our journey of discipleship to Jesus, we enter into a Kingdom where we are reconciled with God. Personally, we are restored and blameless in relationship with our creator. This reconciliation then branches out from the personal to the social. We are given a social assignment. Paul refers to this assignment as the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:
He (Christ) died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”
It is clear in scripture that everything we pursue as a church--every assignment, every season, every ministry--is born out of the restored, reconciled relationship that we have with God. But that’s not the end of the matter! It’s just the very beginning! To preach a personal salvation gospel is to preach only a half-gospel, because the good news of the Kingdom isn’t just good news for the individual. It’s also good news for all society! It’s good news for people groups. It’s good news for communities. It’s good news for neighborhoods and cultures and subcultures and ethnic populations and more. The gospel isn’t just about mending our personal brokenness; it’s about mending the brokenness we see all throughout our world.
The consequences of our sinful rebellion have impacted and inflicted everything in society. There’s brokenness between rich and poor, between white and black, between national and immigrant, between citizen and refugee, between democrat and republican. God is reconciling, repairing, and restoring to himself not just our personal “souls”, but everything in creation!
My longing as a church leader is that we, as followers of Jesus, rise above the dangerous rhetoric around reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a hot-trending partisan issue.
Reconciliation is core to the gospel. The work of reconciliation is not a liberal thing or a conservative thing; it’s not a progressive thing or a fundamentalist thing. It’s a gospel thing.
Jesus broke down the barrier between man and God by bringing peace through the blood of his cross. We have been reconciled to God. And now he has passed on to us that same task. We are given a divine mandate to continue to break down barriers and be peacemakers and pursue the reconciliation of all things in Christ. May we, as the Vineyard movement, continue to pursue wholeheartedly our divine calling to Tikkun Olam..