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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Sly Foxes

Sly Foxes?

Luke 13:31-35

Clowns at a funeral?  I thought I had seen everything.  That was certainly something not experienced by this pastor before, but that was what occurred at a funeral for a friend years ago.  Bonnie and her daughter had been clowning for years.  They were well known and well respected in clown circles.  “Bonnie Bell”, her clown name was also part of the United Methodist Women in the Detroit Conference and part of the Conference Board.  So she was well known in those circles.  But I was left speechless when a dozen or so “clowns” showed up fully dressed at the funeral.  They entered before the ceremony as a group, carrying baskets of balloon animals which they placed in front of the casket.  Then they sat in the front row on the other side of the family.  Sitting in the chancel of the church, ready to give my tribute to Bonnie  I got a unique perspective.  On the left hand side sat the clowns.  On one right side in the front sat Bonnie’s grieving husband, slumped over, head cast down, barely able to lift his head and look at the pastors.  On the one side, those who were supposed to give laughter, on the other side one whose heart was broken, shattered by the unexpected loss of his partner for 47 years.  It didn’t seem quite right.  But after the pastor gave the details of Bonnie’s life, after I paid my very personal tribute, after the District UMW representative said her words, the clowns took their turn.  Wordlessly, they all got up, stood around Bonnie’s casket, rang a bell, and mocked pulling something out of a bag, touched their hearts, representing Bonnie’s love.  Then they did a little clown ceremony in silence, called “bumping noses”.  Each clown in turn  took Bonnie’s clown nose, bumped it to their own, and then bumped it to the enlarged picture of her in her clown costume and at the end placed it in her casket.  It was the only time during the service that I saw Bonnie’s husband perk up and smile.

In a sense, those clowns were like the good Pharisees who wanted to warn Jesus.  They did what they did because they recognized something in Jesus and were sympathetic to his message, just as the clown recognized their fellowship with each other.  Jesus called many of the Pharisees, “sly foxes” to indicate their hypocrisy.  William Barclay proposes that there were seven different kinds of Pharisees.

The shoulder Pharisees:  Those who wore their good deeds on their shoulders and performed them to be seen by others.

The wait a little Pharisees:  They could always find a good excuse for putting off a good deed until tomorrow.

The bruised or Bleeding Pharisee:  No good Jewish rabbit could be seen talking to a woman on the street, not even his wife or mother or sister.  But certain of these Pharisees went further.  They could not even look at a woman on the street; they even shut their eyes to avoid seeing a woman, they therefore knocked into walls and houses and bruised themselves; and then exhibited their bruises as special badges of extraordinary piety. 

The pestle and mortar or humped back Pharisees:  they walked bent double in a false and cringing humility; their fawning ways were full of insincerity.

The ever reckoning Pharisees:  They were always reckoning up their deeds and, as it were, striking a balance sheet of profit and loss with God.

The timid or fearing Pharisee:  They went about in constant fear of the wrath of God.  They were not helped but haunted by their religion.

The God loving Pharisees:  They were copies of Abraham and lived in faith and charity.

Jesus came to these Pharisees with truth, with the answers to their search for the Messiah.  Some were able to see and hear and accept the truth.  Others were not able to hear and see and accept because their “religion” got in the way.  Jesus knew that and his lament speaks the sorrow of God very well.  “How often I wanted to gather together your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings—and you would not!”  The same thing happens today.  The lament is the same.  Some hear the truth and receive and accept it, others do not, and some are just plain puzzled.  Some Christians have become like some of those Pharisees.  With some Christians, religion actually gets in the way of receiving God’s love and mercy.

I love that image of the hen gathering the brood.  She gathers them to give rest, protection, warmth and nurturance.  I don’t know what signal the mother hen gives to gather them all under her, but she is never very far away from them.  I can imagine God clucking at us to come under his protective wing.  Some of us listen and respond.  Some of us ignore it and go about our wanderings through life.  I can just imagine God saying, “Kathleen, come under my wing for awhile.  You scurry and worry and place importance on things that in the big picture are only minor.  Let them go and come under my wing and I will give you the peace and rest that will bring better understanding.”  And I can imagine that others listen to that call and respond and we become a brood, gathering under God’s wing, getting nourishment we need to go out and do the work of god in this world.  When we as a church become a brood, when we pray and love and laugh together, we become strong to reach out to the world in love and faith, drawing others into the brood. 

The word “here” may help us to understand the Mother Hen God.  Here we are at this point in history, within today’s swirl of politics and economics, within epochal shifts in climate and plate techtonics, and within the ongoing drama of human civilization and its discontents.  Here we are at this point in our own stories—as a child, a teenager, an adult, a senior citizen.  Here we are, in this town, in this church, worshipping, sleeping, thinking.  Here we are on this unique day in the history of the universe, with the birds singing, the traffic going by, snow falling around us.  Here we are in our predicaments, in this catastrophe, in this boring day, in this hospital bed with all the beepings, buzzings, humming equipment.  Here we are with all our problems, our faults, our embarrassments , and mistakes.  Here we are in the middle of exams, in the middle of divorce, in the middle of sorrow, in the middle of joys.  And we don’t have to be somewhere else to find God.  Right here, right now is OK.  In fact it’s the only place we can begin to awaken spiritually.  Here, now.  Just as we are.

We are always tempted to be somewhere else.  We are tempted to go somewhere to find God, go to church, go to a quiet alone place, go to our doctrinal matrix, go to our religious beliefs.  But a God who cannot be found here is not really God.  We do not have to go anywhere to find God.  God is here!  Sure we can go to a quiet spot to pray and seek God.  And that is a good starting place to learn to concentrate on God.  But eventually we learn that God is also here and when we begin to think God right here and now, we truly know God as the one who is with us.  That is what Jesus was trying to teach those around him.  Our lives were meant to be lived knowing God as here and now, not just in those special places, those prayer times, but here and now.  We can be in the worst turmoil of our lives and know that our God is in it too.  So why not reach out with our hearts and minds and say “God I am here in this event.”  And we can know that God is here just as air, light, gravity, heat friendship, love and hope are here—The real Presence.  “Here, I’m here, God.  You are here, now,. In the commotion and clatter.  We are here together. 

It isn’t about being religious, doing it our way, or even necessarily about setting standards.  It’s about being tuned into God, drawing under God’s protective embrace, trusting that God is leading us, drawing in God’s warmth and moving out into the world, always within hearing God’s voice.  

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