Everything That is Mentionable is Manageable

Scripture readings referenced: Romans 5:1-8 and Matthew 9:35-10:23. 

I’ve had Mr. Rogers on my mind this week and I think that’s probably for a number of reasons.

Our Vacation Bible School at church was supposed to start tomorrow and our theme this year was Mr. Rogers and the biblical lessons of how to be a good neighbor. The Diocesan VBS is focusing on some of those same themes, but I’ll be honest, I grieve thinking about how well St. Thomas would have done it and the fun and fellowship that week brings.

There’s also been a picture circulating on social media of Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons sitting in the yard with their feet in a swimming pool. This photo was taken during an episode where Mr. Rogers invites Office Clemmons, who happens to be a black man,  to stick his feet in the cool water with him on a hot summer day. At the end, Mr. Rogers washes Officer Clemmons' feet. This episode aired during a time when the nation was debating whether blacks should swim in the same pools as whites. The photo has been shared as a reminder to all of us of what generous, bold neighborly love looks like.

Mr. Rogers was also a man of faith who struggled with his anger around how to address the injustices of the world, but always seemed to find a way to bring the message of love and acceptance in a way that children could understand it and in turn, the adults could too. That struggle feels so real to me right now.

Then, there is a philosophy that he lived by that keeps coming to my mind.

Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”

Some have parsed this expression down to simply say, “Anything that is mentionable is manageable.” In other words, once you articulate something and say it out loud, the power shifts – it loses the power to overwhelm and it starts to seem possible. We have to be willing to name the issues if we have any hope of doing something about it.

Anything that is mentionable is manageable.

These words actually bring calm to my soul in this season of our lives that is filled with a lot of unknown and strife. They also speak power over us to know that these things that feel impossible are actually doable.

It makes me think of syllabus dread – you know when you first look at the syllabus the teacher hands out at the beginning of the semester and think there is no way I’m going to be able to do that! How do you get past that overwhelming feeling? Usually, you simply start somewhere and get to work.

Jesus addressed some of these same things in our gospel reading today. The reading begins by telling us all that Jesus has been up to - which when you first read it feels like a whole lot. Traveling all over, teaching, preaching and healing is a lot of work!

He looks at the disciples and tells them (and this is paraphrased), “Hey, there’s a lot of work to be done, and there aren’t many people doing it. So, you might want to ask God to send you some help.” He goes on to say he’s given them authority to cast out unclean spirits and cure every sickness. He wants them to do these things, along with raise the dead and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom without taking any payment. And oh yeah, by the way, some places will receive you openly and others won’t. That’s okay though – just shake the dust off your feet from the ones who don’t and move along. He finishes this pep talk by telling them that they are like sheep going out in the midst of wolves, and that there will be floggings, betrayal and persecution.

Whoa, talk about syllabus dread! Slow your roll, Jesus. This feels like a bit too much to ask and certainly doesn’t feel manageable. This is one of those moments when I feel like the disciples may have been looking at him and each other with a bit of helplessness.

However, because of our historical lens, we know that they go and do it. I believe they do this in part because if it is named, especially by Jesus, it can be done. In addition, Jesus offers them some pretty solid advice that is easily missed when first hearing the magnitude of the task at hand.

Remember, Jesus also says in this reading, “I have given you authority.”  Friends, that alone makes it manageable.

Then, he offers them some practical advice.

He tells them to start with their people. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The task at hand may be big, but start with the people and the places you know best. The harvest is plentiful right here where you are.

When the problems of the world feel big, it’s important to remember that we start in our own communities and spheres of influence. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Then, he reminds them to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. This one might be the hardest, but most helpful piece of advice.

How do we do maintain our innocence when the world feels like a dumpster fire?

How do we stay wise when it could be easy to be cynical, jaded and closed off?

How do we in the words of Brene Brown keep a strong back and maintain a soft front?

Our reading from Romans actually helps us out here. Paul says, “We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Paul names the struggle and asks us to go beyond the current strife, to push through the hard, and let it lead us to something more – an endurance that changes us by instilling character and hope.

Shannon and I discuss regularly when to step in and intervene on behalf of our children or when to let things play out. A lot of times I find myself sitting back letting them figure it out and I’ll say, “Hey, it builds character!”

But it’s true, right? Working through the difficult things, showing up and not backing down, sometimes failing - all these things lead the way to character and eventually hope. Remember, Jacob’s wrestling with God brought about the blessing.

Hope for us as Christians is rooted both in the struggle and the rising.

It’s rooted in innocence and wisdom.

It’s rooted in the audacious belief that the Holy Spirit has come so that we can change the world, and do these things that Jesus so boldly proclaims to the disciples.

Lisa Yebuah, a leading black theological voice who also happens to be a friend of mine from seminary, talked about the power of the Spirit in light of all that the world has seen over the last few weeks.

She reminded me that when the Spirit comes, it never does nothing. There’s always a so that involved.

The Spirit hovers over the waters so that order and creation can come.

The Spirit breathes over the dry bones in the desert so that they can be alive.

The Spirit has come so that we can receive the power that She offers. 

Lisa goes on to say, “There is a so that attached to all of our lives because we are the carriers of the Spirit into the world. The Spirit of the Lord is at work in us so that we can be at work in the world.”

The so that will in some ways look different for us all, but I am convinced it will always be rooted in love, compassion and justice for all of God’s people.  

The winds of the Spirit will shift and highlight unique parts of our so that in new and unexpected ways at different times in our individual lives and our collective witness to the world.

Recently, the Spirit of the Lord has come upon us to challenge our patience, the way we’ve always done things as a church and a society, and to perhaps make us question how we view those that may look different than we do.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us so that we can realize the places where we’ve benefited from antiquated systems, repent for the ways we’ve contributed to the problem, and then look for ways to be part of the solution. 

The Spirit of the Lord has come upon us so that we can be faithful witnesses of the love of God in the world by taking extra safety precautions, considering how our actions effect the whole, and denying ourselves some things for the greater good.

This time is ripe for us to be change agents and to step into the authority that Jesus has spoken over the disciples and us.

During the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, they play a scene from an interview with Fred Rogers. The interviewer asks how he believes we can change the world. Interestingly, his answer is filled with innocence, wisdom and power.

He says, “Let's take the gauntlet and make goodness attractive. That's the real job that we have. I'm not talking about Pollyanna-ish kind of stuff. I'm talking about down-to-Earth actual goodness. People caring for each other in a myriad of ways rather than people knocking each other off all the time...

What changes the world? The only thing that ever really changes the world is when somebody gets the idea that love can abound and can be shared.”

The Spirit of the Lord has come upon us so that we can live fully into the deep love of God, stay the course when it gets hard, and ultimately change the world.

May it be so. Amen.