Summary: Jesus’ admonition to become like a child blends with Proverbs solemn command to get wisdom. Refuse to become bland and careful; to be closed to new truth; to be cynical.
Without question the clowns were the hits of our Vacation Bible School a month or so ago. Fonzie the clown got things off to a rollicking start on Monday night, and the kids cackled at his fright wig and squealed with astonishment at all the wonders of his brown paper bag. Every joke was hilarious, every trick astounding, every quip was exciting, because, you see, the audience were children. And everyone knows that children love clowns.
When Friday night rolled around and another clown made the scene, the reaction from the kids was even more boisterous. Even though Clown Number Two had obviously gone to the same clown school as Clown Number One, so that their tricks were just about the same, the crowd was thrilled. The child part of the crowd was, at least; some of the adults grumbled a little about the noise and other adults said, "Oh, I’ve seen all this before". But the children were on Cloud 9, because, as everyone knows, when you are a child, you love a clown.
Now I had the dubious privilege at one point of getting close to our Friday night clown. I will not comment further on the reason for that. I would not want to report from this pulpit about a pretty pair of paper panties that I was invited to extract from this clown’s bag of tricks. But while I was up on the stage with him, I saw something terrible, something subversive, something so unacceptable that as a card-carrying adult I just have to report it.
Down here on his shirt the Bible School clown was wearing a button, and the button said, bold as you please, "I refuse to grow up!"
Imagine that! What a terrible thing to be suggesting to impressionable young minds: "I refuse to grow up!"
Is that what we’re promoting in church now? Is that what we stand for? Is that a part of our creed? "I refuse to grow up!"
What was that all about anyway? Was Fonzie telling us that he had no intention of getting down to all those responsible things we adults always talk about, like getting a job? Was Fonzie planning to sponge off of Dad or to live off of welfare checks? When I learned that you can make something like $80,000 a year clowning, I knew that wasn’t the message. In fact I began to imagine what I’d look like in an orange wig and baggy britches!
Or was Friday’s clown maybe declaring his independence from the rest of the adult world, telling us that he could get along without being like the rest of us? Was he slapping us in the face somehow, just being arrogant and rude and callous?
Or is there another possibility? Is it possible that this clown, this carrier of joy, this hired hand of happiness, was offering a testament of his conviction? Was he telling us that somewhere in the ways of childhood he had discovered a way of life? Is it just possible that behind this facade of funny, Fonzie had found something very precious, and something that the Lord Jesus Himself was reaching for on that day when the disciples – big, grown up, ambitious disciples – when they asked about the way to greatness:
"The disciples came to Jesus, saying, ’Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’"
"I refuse to grow up" Suddenly it sounds a little different. Suddenly it sounds a bit like what Jesus Himself might have been saying. Disciples, refuse to grow up. Men and women, you who take pride in being so adult, refuse to grow up. Learn from the children. Adults, big people: take a page from the books written by the little people. I can almost hear the Lord Jesus say it, "I refuse to grow up". Can’t you hear it too? I refuse to get hardened, I refuse to be closed up, I refuse to resist change. I refuse to be captured by tradition, I refuse to settle for second-hand laughter, I refuse to stop expecting wonders and marvels every morning. I refuse to grow up. I can hear Him say that.
The only trouble is that Proverbs Chapter 1 seems to have a very different meaning. I have to tell you that sober-sides Solomon is quite a contrast to the child Jesus who in some measure refuses to grow up. When I read Jesus I read about how I need to become a child. But when I read Solomon, or Proverbs, it seems as though I am reading some pretty heavy stuff. Some stuffy stuff!