Here come the Clowns!
I Corinthians 1: 18-31
Here come the
Almost all of us
here today enjoy seeing and watching clowns and their crazy antics.
We have images of clowns in our minds. Many of our clowns look like
the classic clown by the name of Emmet Kelley. Clowns with their
faces painted white. Clowns with those big red dots on their cheeks.
Clowns with red plastic balls over their noses. Clowns with their
blue frazzled curly hair. Clowns with their large polka-dotted
shirts. Clowns with their baggy overalls. Clowns with their long
floppy shoes. Yes, we all know what clowns look like. We all have
our mental images of clowns, of what clowns should look like.
Here come the
When I think of
clowns, I think of the parades at the Des Moines Waterland Festival
or down in Seattle at the annual Sea Faire parade. Now, if you have
been to any parade, you know that inevitably, as part of the parade,
you are going to see the “clown car.” Right? The clown car and
here it comes down the main street with all the clowns in it. You
can actually see it in your mind’s eye. The car is bobbing up and
down like an old rocking horse; there are no shock absorbers, so it
seems. The radiator in this old car is hissing out steam. The horn
is going “beep-bop, beep-bop, beep-bop” and the siren is wailing
like an old fire truck. There must be six or seven or eight clowns
crammed into that old hissing, rocking, beep-bopping car and what
happens? We all know what happens. It stops right in front of you.
And the clowns all come tumbling out of that car. The clowns run
around the car in several directions, bumping into one another’s
bellies and falling on the street. The children are all laughing
with delight and the adults are grunting in subdued sounds,
about this time, one clown approaches another clown, and the first
clown is wearing a large plastic flower. The second clown approaches
to smell the large plastic flower, and as he leans over to smell the
flower, what happens? We all know.
Out comes a spray of water from the plastic flower and shoots
the clown in the face. The children who are sitting on the curb
laugh with delight, splitting their sides, they are laughing so
hard. Meanwhile, a trace of a smile creases the faces of the adults.
Jesus said that we are to have the eyes of children. All of a
sudden, the siren goes off, the signal is given, and the clowns
tumble and stumble back into the car and away it goes, rocking,
hissing, beep-bopping down the street to find some more children on
another curb called life.
It is with these
images of clowns and making a fool of one’s self and having the
appearance of foolishness, stupidity and ridiculousness, that we
approach the epistle lesson for today where the Apostle Paul says
that we are “fools for Christ.” We are clowns for Christ.
All through the
book of I Corinthians, we hear this theme about divine foolishness.
Corinthians says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those
whose lives are falling apart, but to those who are being saved, the
cross is the very power of God.” Other statements echo the same
refrain: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Has
God not destroyed the wisdom of the wise?” Or, “God chose what
is foolish in this world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak
in this world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and
despised to accomplish his will.” To sum this theme up, we are
called to be fools for Christ.
Throughout the New
Testament, we discover this divine madness about God. We discover
that God acts like a clown, that the Lord of the Universe acts like
a fool. Unreasonable. Not responsible. Not sensible. Not practical
but downright foolish.
To illustrate, the
Incarnation. Do you know any other God who actually comes down to
earth as a human being? In all the other religions, God is more
reasonable and comes as a mighty religious prophet such as Mohammed,
Buddha, or Confucius. God does not come to earth as a lowly human
being who suffers the way we do. How dumb of God to suffer like we
human beings. It would have been much easier to stay up in the
painless security of heaven.
And how about the
parents of this Jesus of Nazareth. Do you know any other god whose
father was a wood-working carpenter and his mother a thirteen year
old pregnant girl? How unbecoming of God. I mean, for a father, it
should have been Alexander the Great, Socrates or Plato. For a
mother, it should have been the Queen of Sheba, Queen Nefreti of
Egypt, or Cleopatra of Rome. I mean, if God were a classy God, God
would have chosen better parents for Jesus. How foolish. How
And if God were a
respectable God, he would have been born in someplace like the Taj
Mahal or the Kremlin or the White House or some other grand palace
of Europe or China. But God gets himself born in a cow barn. A dirty
old common cow barn. How foolish. How dumb. How ridiculous.
Then he begins
talking and teaching like an idiotic fool. Who would ever take his
teachings seriously? He said: “Someone hits you on one cheek,
offer the other cheek for them to hit.” Dumb. Or, “Someone takes
your coat, give them all your clothing as well.” Not smart. Or,
“Someone asks you to do a favor and go a mile for them, go the
second mile for that person.” Ridiculous. Or, “Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.” Get real. Or, “Your enemy
spits in your eye, love them back.” Impossible. You have to be a
fool to take that stuff seriously. His teachings are not practical,
not reasonable, not sensible.
Not only the
teachings but the stories about Jesus again reveal this same divine
madness. A woman gets caught in the very act of adultery and Jesus
says to her, without her even confessing her sins, “I do not
condemn you.” What?
Another woman has five husbands and the man she was living with
wasn’t her husband and Jesus again did not condemn her. What?
Jesus was getting killed on the cross and he called out, “Father
forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” What?
Forgiveness for someone who is killing him and not even saying that
they are sorry? Mad. Divine madness, I say.
Do you know any
other God who gets himself killed on a cross? A clown on a cross? Do
you know any other God who gets himself killed as a common and
ordinary criminal? I mean, all the other gods come with their
lightning bolts and laser beams. But killed on a cross? How foolish.
You see, there is a
streak of divine madness that runs throughout all of Christianity.
This foolishness. This clownishness. This absurdness..
And then Jesus goes
and chooses his disciples. What a joke. Jesus wanted to change the
world. Now, to change the world, I would have chosen an Alexander
the Great, a Napoleon, a Hannibal. But Simon Peter? A fisherman?
Andrew, James, John? They probably couldn’t read and write. I
thought God wanted to change the world. And soon they were thrown to
the lions, they wouldn’t bow to Caesar as Lord, and they died as
martyrs. What fools.
And then there is
this theology of God’s grace which is so perplexing. This foolish
love from God is all a gift to us. Tell me, what did you do to
deserve the rain today? Nothing! The sunshine? Nothing! The snow?
Nothing! The sunrise? Nothing! The sunset? Nothing! To be born?
Nothing! To be born again? Nothing! To be born for all eternity?
Nothing? God’s love is all a gift, a pure gift, like the rain,
like the sunshine, like the forgiving love given to the crowd who
crucified him on Good Friday. Pure gift. Pure grace.
What I am
suggesting to you is that at the very heart of the Gospel is
a foolishness, a divine madness, a cross-like craziness. This divine
madness was inside of God from the beginning, was totally inside of
Jesus, and came into his followers by means of the Holy Spirit.
Listen to the word
of the Lord fro today: “The way of the cross is foolishness to
those whose lives are falling apart, but the way of the cross is
power to those who believe.”
This divine madness
of God gets into his followers and his followers start to act like
clowns. There is a power to this way of living and loving.
Let me give you some classic illustrations of people that I
have known. The people are followers of the way of the cross and
they are possessed of this power for living and power for loving.
These are people who have acted like clowns.
There was Ray and
Lillian Brathovd who when I first came to town thirty years ago,
they had raised 26 foster children. They must have been out of their
mind to raise 26 foster kids. I also knew Floyd Leinenger and he and
his wife, both childless, raised 84 foster children when they were
living in Portland. They must have been nuts to do that.
Then, there was a retired school teacher by the name of Ellen
Heffner, the mother of our homeless ministry here at church, and I
remember her going down to feed the homeless men under the Alaskan
Viaduct, all alone. That was crazy and many of us told her so. She
said that a man named Sam was looking out for her. All three of
these people had power, a power for living, a power for loving.
Then there are the simple
samples of this divine madness that infects and affects people
who call themselves Christians, who are followers of the way, who
know the power of the way of the cross. There are all those people
whose lives have become immersed in Haiti and Jamaica. There is that
teenager who used the money for her senior trip to go, not to
Hawaii, but to work in the orphanage in Mexico and said she wanted
to get “down and dirty for Jesus Christ.” There are those people
who come early in the morning much before the crack of dawn to make
an enormously delicious breakfast for the homeless men. That is kind
of dumb…to go to some remote place in Haiti, an orphanage in
Mexico, a kitchen at church and feed homeless people. There is a
power to these peoples’ lives, a power for living, a power for
There are other
stories of people who have a touch of this divine madness to the way
they think, live and love. They too have become fools for Christ and
part of this divine foolishness. There is the story of Jean Marie
Donovan, a nice kid, a nice young woman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
She was a devout, young, Roman Catholic. She had a heart full of
Jesus and she went down to El Salvador to work with the homeless
children. She came back to Milwaukee and her boyfriend wanted her to
marry him, have a little house with a white picket fence and raise a
family. That was the sensible thing to do. The responsible thing to
do. Her boyfriend said, “Don’t go back, Jeanne. You are going to
get killed. Stay here and marry me. Let’s raise some kids of our
own. That’s the sensible thing to do.” Something inside of her
told her to go back to El Salvador. She got off the plane, got onto
a bus, and two miles out of town, she was attacked, raped, killed
and her body thrown into a dirty grave. When they brought her body
back home for a funeral, her neighbors thought it to themselves but didn’t say it
openly, “That was really foolish on her part. Crazy. Dumb. She
should have known better.” They didn’t get this power of living
and loving and dying for others.
Another story of
this power for living and loving. This is the story of the book,
LEST INNOCENT BLOOD BE SHED. It is a story about Pastor Andre during
World War II in southern France. The Nazis were rounding up the Jews
to exterminate them and so the pastor called a secret meeting of his
congregation. “I have an idea,” he said. “Let’s hide the
Jews so they won’t be found or killed or sent off in railroad
cars.” You can hear the responses at that congregational secret
meeting. “You’ve got to be kidding. We could be killed. Our
families could be killed. That is foolish. Outlandish.
the congregation went ahead and did it anyhow. Time passed. One day,
a Nazi truck pulled into town to round up all the Jews, and the
soldiers asked, “Where are all the Jews?” “None around
here,” was the reply. “They all skipped town.” The Nazi
soldiers searched the town until they found one lone Jewish boy who
was walking the streets. He made a mistake. The Nazis threw this
Jewish boy into the back of their truck. The towns people gathered
around that truck, saying not a word, giving not a hint of
recognition. The Nazis asked, “Now which of you are a friend of
this Jew here?” No one said a word. Silence. A long silence.
Finally, a little thirteen year old boy reached down into his pocket
of his jacket and pulled out a piece of chocolate. Chocolate was
scare during World War II. He looked carefully at that piece of
chocolate, looked at the older Jew young man in the truck, and gave
it to the Jew. His parents responded with looks, “Don’t be
stupid, son. Don’t be crazy, boy. Keep your distance. Do you want
to get us all killed?” Silence. Shuffling of feet on the pavement.
Then slowly, you could see the towns people put their hands into
their pockets and they too found pieces of chocolate. One by one,
they stretched out their hands into that truck and gave the Jewish
lad a sweet. Sweets for his ride to the railroad cars and then to
death. Fools. Real fools. Yes, they were fools for Christ and
there was a power in their living and there was a power in their
Then there was this
congregational annual meeting in 1974, I believe, when the motion
was made here at Grace Lutheran to borrow and give $100,000 away to
world hunger. The response? Idiotic. Foolish. How about all that
interest on all that money?” It was voted down resoundingly. We
could borrow a $100,000 to remodel a sanctuary or buy a new organ.
We could borrow money to buy something material but we couldn’t
borrow money to give it away. Not practical. Downright foolish, so
was said by many. It is always been the height of irony this
congregation now gives away almost exactly $100,000 a year to world
hunger. We couldn’t borrow a $100,000 in 1974 to give it away. We
refused to borrow it but God empowered us to give $100,000 away
every year. Go figure. I think it is a divine joke.
Clowns. Fools for
Jesus Christ. Common and ordinary clowns that God uses to change the
world. These clowns
have discovered that the way of the cross is part of the divine
foolishness of God and there is power in the way of the cross. There
is power in their living and power in their loving. The everyday
clown? How about the school teacher who is at school by 6:45 in the
morning to help a slower chemistry student with his homework. I can
hear some saying, “Come on now. That is ridiculous.” How about a
friend of mine who drove from Oregon to North Dakota three times
this past summer. Three times to be with her dying mother. Kind of
foolish? Or how about that neighbor, who goes every morning to care
for another neighbor who is dying of cancer, a neighbor she
doesn’t really know that well. The husband asks, “How come you
are always going over to her house, honey? I don’t get it.” Yes,
there is power in their living and power in their loving and power
in their dying to self that others might live.
I received an email
from my brother this last week, and his email was another
illustration of the way of the cross, the power for living and
loving. It is the story of Kurtis and Brenda. They met in a super
grocery story; he was the stock boy and she was the check out lady.
He was twenty-two and she was twenty-six. Kurtis was attracted to
Brenda and asked her out. She refused, saying she was divorced and
had two children. She had “baggage.” Kurtis persisted anyway. A
date was arranged and Kurtis arrived at the door. Brenda met him and
again cancelled the date; the baby sitter had gotten sick. Brenda
finally let Kurtis in her apartment to meet her two children. The
little girl was as cute as the bug. The little boy was in a wheel
chair, was a paraplegic, and had Down’s syndrome. Kurtis said,
“There is no reason all four of us can’t go out tonight.” Time
went by and Kurtis became fast friends of the family, learning to
lift the little boy out of the wheelchair to go to the bathroom.
Eventually, Kurtis and Brenda fell in love, married and had two more
children. Today, if and when you watch the Superbowl football game,
watch Kurt Warner, the star quarterback for the St. Louis Rams,
perhaps the best football player in the league today. As you watch
him as the star quarterback, remember the “rest of the story,”
that he knows the foolishness of the cross, the way of the cross,
the way of living and the way of loving.
You see, there is
this divine madness in God, in Jesus, in the people of Jesus who do
these foolish things. There is power to their living and power to
Here come the
clowns! Do you see them? Here come the clowns? Are you part of them?
Are you part of their parade?
This past summer, I
was once again on the Main Street of Des Moines, Washington,
watching the Waterland Festival Parade. And suddenly, a child
shouted, “Here come the clowns.” And sure enough, here came the
clown car, hissing, rocking and rolling, beep-bopping, stopping
right in front of us, stopping right in front of our curb. … And
sometimes, when I look at the individual lives of our church members
and sometimes when I look at a group of people from the
congregation, I say to myself, “Here come the clowns! Here comes
the power of God. Here comes the power of God’s love.
Here come the people of love. Here come the clowns.” And
these clowns may stop for a moment right in front of the curb of my
life where I am sitting. I get to see your lives up really close. I
smile. I smile because I know what’s inside you. I know the power
of your living and your loving. I know that you know the way of the
cross. I know that you are clowns for Jesus Christ.
Here come the
(It may be that
the pastor will ask the youth to dress up and be clowns that day and
distribute bulletins or candy. They can become props for a
children’s sermon or even the climax of the adult sermon.)