top of page

Beyond the Club

October 7, 2007

Glynn Cardy

St Francis Day     Luke 17:5-10


Sometimes a children’s story contains a great truth:


“Grasshopper was walking along the road. He saw a sign on the side of a tree. The sign said MORNING IS BEST. Soon Grasshopper saw another sign. It said THREE CHEERS FOR MORNING. Grasshopper saw a group of beetles. They were singing and dancing. They were carrying more signs.


“Good morning,” said Grasshopper.


“Yes,” said one of the beetles. “It is a good morning. Every morning is a good morning!” The beetle carried a sign. It said MAKE MINE MORNING.


“This is a meeting of the ‘We Love Morning Club’,” said the beetle. “Every day we get together to celebrate another bright, fresh morning. Grasshopper do you love morning?”


“Oh yes,” said Grasshopper.


“Hooray!” shouted all the beetles. “Grasshopper loves morning!”


“I knew it,” said the beetle. “I could tell by your kind face. You are a morning lover.” The beetles made Grasshopper a wreath of flowers. They gave him a sign that said MORNING IS TOPS.


“Now,” they said, “Grasshopper is in our club.”


“When does the clover sparkle with dew?” asked a beetle.


“In the morning!” cried all the other beetles.


“When is the sunshine yellow and new?” asked the beetle.


“In the morning!” cried all the other beetles. They turned somersaults and stood on their heads. They danced and sang.


“M-O-R-N-I-N-G spells morning!”


“I love afternoon too,” said Grasshopper.


The beetles stopped singing and dancing. “What did you say?” they asked.


“I said that I loved afternoon,” said Grasshopper.


All the beetles were quiet.


“And night is very nice,” said Grasshopper.


“Stupid,” said a beetle. He grabbed the wreath of flowers.


“Idiot,” said another beetle. He snatched the sign from Grasshopper.


“Anyone who loves afternoon and night can never ever be in our club!” said a third beetle.


“UP WITH MORNING!” shouted all the beetles. They waved their signs and marched away.


Grasshopper was alone. He saw the yellow sunshine. He saw the dew sparkling on the clover. And he went on down the road.” [1]


Every community places boundaries around itself. It creates a sense of identity and belonging. It delineates between insiders and outsiders. Even the most inclusive community in the world has boundaries. The art of inclusion though is to recognize that your community does not have a monopoly on truth, love, God, beauty, and knowledge, and neither does any other community; and to keep the boundaries you have as porous as possible so that the challenge and love of God may freely flow through.


The beetle club had created meaning and borders around their enjoyment of the morning. Their allegiance to their club identity blinded them to the truth that was beyond their borders. That morning club could be a sports club. Or it could be a club of common ethnicity. Or it could be a club of common nationality. Or it could be a church.


It is not hard to mistake the Church for a club. It’s a group that meets weekly, eats together, socializes, cares for each other, and does charitable deeds. It tries to cater for young and old. It has volunteers and paid staff. There are branches of the club in other towns, across the country, and internationally.


When you think of the parables of shepherd and sheep, in addition to their other limitations, they are primarily based on a club understanding. The shepherd looks after the members, the sheep, and keeps the wolves at bay. The fold cares for those who are signed up, and for those who might. Evangelism is about getting more sheep in the fold.


Many of us have been nurtured by this understanding of the Church. Church clubs have provided the social and educational sustenance we have needed on our faith journey. At their best they are places of acceptance, nurture, and challenge.


However Jesus offered us another image to put alongside the club understanding of Church – namely the parable of the mustard seed: “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in their garden.” Mustard grew wild in Palestine. It was a weed - the oxalis of the ancient world.


In the parable the person plants the mustard weed in their garden. Apart from being a stupid thing to do, it violated the law of diverse kinds in Leviticus 19:19. This law was designed to maintain order and separation, keeping plants in their proper place and not mixing them. Normally mustard was sown in small patches on the edge of a field. It was prohibited to plant it in a garden because it would result in mingling. By planting it in the garden, the planter makes the garden “unclean”.


Jesus was inviting his hearers to imagine God’s reign to be very different from their religious club. The Jewish purity regulations were a result of needing club boundaries. All clubs need boundaries in order to create safe cultures. Jesus however was saying that God violates boundaries, violates biblical principles, disregards common botanical sense, and makes a mess of good order.


It didn’t take long for the early Church to try to domesticate the wildness of God’s reign as envisioned by Jesus and call itself the Kingdom of God. Constantine made an empire out of it. All theistic religions have a tendency to want to own God and declare their institutions God’s creation. Jesus in his day was trying to help his Pharisaic colleagues to broaden their thinking, see the divine even in the weeds, in the impure as well as the pure, and above all not to imagine that they could domesticate God. God doesn’t fit comfortably in any club.


Today we remember St Francis of Assisi who flouted the boundaries of his class and culture in order to connect with the truth and divinity of those who were excluded. The story of Francis being embraced by a leper is foundational in Franciscan literary history. Like Jesus, Francis was questioning and challenging the club mentality that restricted God’s love to the limits of our love. It was a mentality that sanctioned certain people and behaviours, and ostracized others.


Similarly we too need to continually remind ourselves that God's love is unlimited. God's embrace is not restricted by the extent of our embrace. God's boundless grace is not limited by the boundaries of our club. The church throughout its history has constructed a God who rejects whatever the church rejects. In almost every instance, it was fed by ignorance and prejudice. Left-handed people were called "the devil's children" by church leaders. People who committed suicide were refused burial within the walls of the church. Mental illness made people different and, therefore, feared and rejected. Divorced persons were refused Holy Communion. Committed love between homosexual people is still not celebrated by the Church at large. And on and on...


However, thankfully, an ever-deepening understanding of God's love has time and again challenged and dismantled those barriers of exclusion. God has pushed us to see truth and beauty in the evenings as well as in the mornings, in the weeds as well as in the flowers, in the impure as well as the pure, in the lepers as well as in the holders of privilege.


[1] A. Lobel, Grasshopper On The Road, London : Windmill, 1979, p.8ff.

Please reload

bottom of page