The Friar's Sermon

Before His Majesty King Richard Cour de Lion
at the Sherwood Public Library. May 8, 2006

Friar Tuck in Costume at the Corner of Washington and Third, Old Town Sherwood
Festival 2005
Welcome to the Robin Hood and Maid Marian Wilderness Refuge Interpretive Center. We used to call it merely the "Greenwood," but times have changed. The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is opening up further down the creek this year. Of course any talk of refuge is important to a member of Robin Hood's crew.

Robin Hood is always looking for a refuge from the law, but we friars spend just as much time looking for refuge. Following the rule of Saint Francis, a friar never carries more than he needs to survive a single day.

Take therefore no thought for tomorrow for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
--Matthew 6:34

I must say I was very disappointed with this Tualatin River facility they talk about. I worked my way over a primeval field of rock and quicksand with great enthusiasm to find it. Alas, I could not find the stone well that tradition requires to be there for thirsty passers-by, nor the stone wall that is supposed to provide a safe haven from the wilderness, nor any sort of gate, nor any bell chain to pull. Like Moses at the rock, I was reduced to striking my walking stick against the Wilderness Refuge sign. After half an hour of this, a voice finally gushed forth. "Yeah, what do you want?" it gurgled.

I gave my usual reply. "One homeless hermit here. A mendicant friar looking for a night's lodging. I'll chop some wood. I'll milk the goat. I'll pick the pears and apples or what-have-you, and then I'll be on my way at the first light of day. That is the routine, as you well know. So let me in please."

"You can't come in here." came the reply, "This place is strictly for the birds!"

Now there's a recommendation for you! I was so glad to get back here, to Robin Hood's greenwood, where I grew up, my home town, where the whole problem is how to draw people IN rather than how to keep people OUT!

We know how difficult it is to entice visitors into the cool and refreshing shade of the greenwood. How the Rich Man in the Bible tip-toed right up to the spot where he could peek over at the poor, the meek, and the disadvantaged of this world. But he dared to go no further. Oh how tempted he was to join in the fun and to learn the games and songs and dances that he was only witnessing from afar! But he turned aside of course, unable to shake the conviction that gold and silver are possessions that must always be valued higher than any amount of laughter and music.

King John 2006
Oh how we inhabitants of the greenwood yearn to relieve these foolish rich people of their heavy burden. How tragic was the fate of Robin Hood's favorite villain, King John the First (and Last)! His final battle with Robin Hood "...ended with the king in full retreat. Harried, desperate, tormented by gout, ill but overeating and overdrinking as usual, he crossed an inlet of the North Sea between Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The tide came in too fast. The wagon train with all his treasure disappeared under the water. The treasure included: gold and jewels and beautiful things, the crown jewels, the crown of Edward the Confessor, the Empress Matilda's crown, the sword of Tristan, the orb, the sceptre, and hundreds of gold and silver cups, crosses, chalices, along with the jewelry of his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine who had been the richest woman in the world. Never to be seen again." [ From Tourist Guide to Great Britain by Jane Murray ]

Oh if only we could entice more people as rich and foolish and overburdened as an English king to the greenwood! The project was made much easier by Oregon Governor Tom McCall who warmly invited all the rich people in the world to Oregon in 1971-- back when the entire State was considered to be a kind of greenwood-- with only one condition added: namely: "For heaven's sake don't come here to live." We only need you here for a few days until you've spent all your money and then we send you on your way!

Sheriff 2006
We all understand the problem Maid Marian and Robin Hood faced where-- in a famous Robin Hood ballad from those times-- they convince King John that the way to world peace is to hold a Sensitivity Training Seminar for the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood and the Merry Men even offer to conduct the event for half their usual paltry fee. It was not a success. According to the ballad, when asked to describe his most edifying moment during his three day re-educational opportunity in the forest, the Sheriff replies, "For all the golde in mery Englonde I wolde nat longe dwell her." (-- A Lyttle Gest of Robyn Hode).

Of course, a weekend in the forests of medieval Britain could be difficult even for normal people. Picture the average Merry Man here this evening picking his way "through primeval glades of mighty oak and ash, with holly and thorn beneath, swarming with game... the yellow roes stand and stare at him knee-deep in the young fern; the pheasant call his hens out to feed in the dewy grass; the blackbird and thrush sing out from every bough; the wood-lark trills above the high oak tops, and sinks down into them as his song sinks down."
Robin Hood and Three Merry Men. 2005 hoto.
Festival 2005
Imagine the difficulties they faced during the winter months, when the English greenwood could be "...a sad place enough, when the autumn fog crawls round the gorse, and drips off the hollies, and chokes alike the breath and the eyesight; when the air sickens with the graveyard smell of rotting leaves, and the rain-water stands in the clay holes over the poached and sloppy lawns." (From Hereward the Wake, by Charles Kingsley)

What of Robin Hood himself? I have heard Englishmen dismiss him as nothing more than a common thief. How did the feathered hero come to be such a hit in America? It happened because of the Native American. When Englishmen arrived in the New World they saw the native Americans and wondered if they could be as tough and brave and joyful as that. The Robin Hood Legend said yes. England herself had once been "The Wilderness." Englishmen were as noble and wild and free as Indians then and they could be again. The American Revolution was filled with Robin Hood symbolism. The famous Boston Tea Party is the most famous example. Robin Hood and his Merry Crew wore Indian costumes designed to demonstrate how the Indian (particularly the Six Nations of the Iroqouis) had taught them how to be better Englishmen! The costumes were a new twist on an old theme. The antic of turning things upside-down was old. There was even a song, "The World Turned Upside Down," that was popular on both sides of the Atlantic at that time. That's the true meaning behind the slogan "Rob from the rich, give to the poor." It isn't just about money. It's about special priviledges, social standing, and all those aristocratic airs that need to be turned on their head once in awhile.

The New World as depicted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). Were Englishmen up to the challenge? The Robin Hood legend said Yes.
Today, the serious side of the Robin Hood tradition has been replaced by parliamentary government. The jury trial and the general election replace the fuss and bother of kidnapping the local sheriff and holding him for ransom. Hopefully we will never see the Robin Hood Festival outlawed, as happened that time when the Parliament of Scotland made it illegal to wear the costumes we wear this evening. In 1555, we together with our tailor Alice Thornton would have been banned from Scotland forever, a terrible future to contemplate!

HOME     Copyright 2006 by Clyde List.

Other Sermons by the Friar

2004 "What Religion Does the Friar Belong to?"
2005 "Rob from the Rich. Give to the Poor."
2007 "Why is Sherwood so Gung Ho about Robin Hood?"
2008 "How Robin and Marian met."