Send in the Clowns?
In 1975 Judy Collins recorded "Send in the Clowns." The song says send in the clowns, where are the clowns, there ought to be clowns. It's a theater reference. When a show isn't going well the answer is to send in the clowns. What does that have to with a text that highlights Jesus healing people?
Feeling better in sickness, cheering up, looking on the bright side is what most people want. You might have seen that Seinfeld episode where an acquaintance of his is quite sick in the hospital. Seinfeld is asked if he could go see him and make him feel better. You know send in the clowns. He does and despite being a stand up comedian Seinfeld can't get so much as a smile from the guy. Seinfeld feels defeated, a failure. So he goes back, and this time he has the sick man rolling with laughter. The punch line is that the guy literally dies of laughter.
Do you think that Seinfeld episode has an off the wall premise? Not hardly. Over the years, I've been asked by people to go see someone in the hospital to cheer them up as if I'm some sort of stand up comedian. Usually it's a member asking for a family member or friend who is unchurched or as we might say today "under" churched. I've made such visits, and usually I can get them smiling, but I dare not speak of life and death, of sin and grace, of heaven and hell. When I have, I either meet blank stares or, "Look, I don't want any of that blankity, blank, blank stuff!"
When all else fails send in the clowns, but why is a pastor viewed as one of them? You know why. What else can he really do? He has no medical knowledge; he can't dispense medicine; has he ever healed anyone? The only thing he might be able to do in the eyes of the world is make the sick person feel better. So send in the clowns; there ought to be clowns. Well no, there ought to be healing, but since the pastor can't do that the least he can do is cheer them up.
We have to deal with this head on. Increasingly the world is asking, Just what good is the church? Increasingly the church bureaucrats are asking, Where are the numbers? These two questions are answered by the largest Christian congregation in the world. Located in South Korea Yoido Full Gospel Church has over 800,000 members. Over 200,000 worship each Sunday. Joel Osteen: eat your heart out. Their secret to huge numbers is giving people what they want; no they don't send in the clowns. They send in the healers. The congregation is Pentecostal. Healing is their specialty. By the way, Joel Osteen's 30,000 member church is also Pentecostal.
I'm not. Unlike them these hands haven't been God's instrument to heal so much as a pimple. I've never prayed and certainly knew that my prayers would heal. I've never healed on demand either. By the way, not even the apostles did that. While Paul healed some, he didn't heal Epaphroditus but rather waited till God had mercy on him (Philippians 2: 25-30). So what good am I? Maybe I can at least make someone feel better, more optimistic, put a smile on their face. Where are the clowns? Send in the clowns.
Look carefully at our text. Jesus wasn't about making people feel better or even about healing them. Jesus left Capernaum when everyone was seeking Him. See the pathos here. Jesus had been late into the night healing many of various diseases and casting out demons. The text says that the whole town was gathered at Jesus' door. Last week's text ended where this week's picks up; it ended telling us that Jesus' fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. As word of Jesus healing people spread, desperate mothers, heartbroken fathers, aching spouses were bringing their sick to Jesus for healing.
But Jesus left. Though He was told everyone is looking for you, Jesus said He should move on to nearby villages. These were smaller places than Capernaum. The Greek word is market villages; places too small to be called a city. Although Jesus could really "pack them in" with His healing, there was no numbers chasing here, and there seems to be a lack of compassion, doesn't there? Unless, that is, healing wasn't what Jesus was all about.
Look at the text. What does Jesus say His purpose was for going elsewhere? To heal people? No, "So literally "in order that" I can preach there also." Jesus went elsewhere to do what I'm doing right now. Not healing, not cheering people up, but sermonizing. And note after Jesus says He goes elsewhere to preach He explains, "That is why I have come." The text ends by summarizing Jesus' whole Galilean ministry as "preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons." No send in the doctors; no send in the clowns, but send in the preachers.
In a nutshell we can say Jesus doesn't clown around when it comes to law and sin, but He does with sickness and even death. This will take some explaining.
Jesus didn't clown around with the law; He took it on in its real sense and even its exaggerated sense. Did you note how the Holy Spirit emphasized when the people started to bring their sick and demonized for help? "That evening after sunset." Although Jesus had cast out a demon that Sabbath morning and healed Peter's mother-in-law that noon, they waited. It was only once the sun had set that the Sabbath was officially over. Their exaggerated Sabbath law prohibited them from seeking healing and freedom from demons before then. Several times you'll recall that Jesus confronted them with the fact that even God's law permitted animals to be helped on the Sabbath.
You might not realize it but you do what they did. It's not just the real Law of God that convicts you, but the ones you exaggerate. Some people feel morally guilty because they can't make everyone around them happy. Some people feel culpable before God because they don't have the talents others do. Some people are convicted for not being happy enough, optimistic enough, smart enough, outgoing enough.
I'm here to tell you that Jesus doesn't clown around with the Law. He kept it all: God's 10 Commandments and the 10,000 more you have made up for Him. All that God really required of men; all that men secretly require of themselves, and all that the Devil and others sinfully require too, Jesus kept; Jesus fulfilled. Don't let your conscience be persecuted, be haunted by a fulfilled Law. As people carried their sick to Jesus and came away with certain healing, you carry your guilty conscience to Jesus with the certainty that your conscience will be healed as their bodes were.
Jesus can heal today when and where it pleases Him, but that is not His greatest work, or His greatest benefit, and healing wasn't the purpose that He came for. But you are to see that what Jesus does physically in the Gospel for some He can do spiritually for all today. Look at the healing of Peter's mother-in-law. The insert translates "The fever left her." But "left" is the usual word for forgiving someone. You could translate, and "He forgave her the fever." I'm not trying to tell you that Jesus thinks feverish people are guilty of something. I am telling you that Jesus forgives sins like He healed fevers. Completely and definitively, restoring people immediately.
So many Christians come out of church like they walk in: with their sins. O they hear the forgiveness in the absolution, hymns, preaching, and Sacrament, but they only take some of it home. They leave church as the walking wounded, still carrying their sins maybe as a shadow, maybe as a smudge, maybe as a stain. Don't do that; that's not how Jesus forgives sins because that's not how Jesus paid for sins. First, He carried all the sins of all the world to the cross. Second, He drained all of the cup of God's wrath against sins and sinners. Third, He was a wrath removing sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
Jesus bought and paid for sins. He owns them. They are His to do with as He pleases. Your sins don't belong to you, your conscience, others, or the Devil. They belong to Jesus. As He instantly healed Pete's mother-in-law and she bounced up to serve Him, so He has instantly forgiven you today. As Pete's mom-in-law had no lingering weakness, you are to have no lingering guiltiness. As she counted herself no more among the sickly, you are to count yourself no more among the guilty.
Jesus doesn't clown around with the law and sin, so you don't either. But Jesus does clown around with sickness and even death, and when the Christian is face to face with these, he can too. We can clown around with these because Jesus has taken the law away from ruling our conscience. The law in sickness and death shouts and even shrieks, "You deserve this because of your sins. Your suffering, misery, dying is payback for laws broken." But Paul says where there is no law there is no guilt. So we can laugh in the face of sickness and death. The very worst they can do is deliver us to the One who delivered us from the Law of sin and death.
Send in the clowns; their ought to be clowns when the Christian is facing sickness and death. Why? Because Jesus bore our infirmities in His body and died our death, the death a sinner deserves. The Scripture says three times that God laughs. What makes God laugh every time is the plotting of men against Him. Death and Devil say you are theirs and God laughs and you should too. You have been bought with a price. You've been redeemed; your sins have been forever paid for. Death and Devil assert that you have sold your soul to them by sinning. Jesus laughs. You can't sell what He owns; you can't use your sins for money because He bought them from you with His innocent life, suffering, and death.
You know how "Send in the Clowns" ends? After saying they should be sent, after asking where are the clowns, after saying they ought to be here quick so send them in, the song concludes, "Don't bother they're here." The point is we're the clowns. Yes, we are. We joke about the threats of a fulfilled law and forgiven sins; we joke about what sickness and death can do to the forgiven sinner. Send in the clowns? Don't bother; we're here. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (20120205); Mark 1: 29-39