First Congregational Church
April 19, 2020
Second Sunday after Easter
"An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy”
1 Peter 1:3-9
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
After being injured in a peek-a-boo accident, I was transferred to the I.C.U.
With so many sporting events being cancelled, they’re having to televise the World Origami Championship. It’s on Paperview.
Many of you know this amazing place called Benzie County, and how Mayberry-esque it is and our main UPS guy, Steve, who is never without a smile or good word. In fact, the menu at the local Asian restaurant states that the Szechuan Calamari is endorsed by Steve the UPS guy.
So Steve dropped off a package last week, and we exchanged a couple of pleasantries through the cracked door with the glass window. I asked him how he was doing, and he mentioned that the mask thing was working out really well for him. So far, he’s got $500 in cash, a few sets of keys, a couple credit cards and a Mercedes. One of his co-workers totally fell for his joke. And those of you who know him can see the big grin that he always wears behind his new black and white polka dotted face mask.
Norm Linville of Maplewood (MO) Christian Church, asks and answers the question, ”Why have Holy Hilarity Sunday? Because we're Easter people, celebrating the resurrection. Because everyone who is trapped in the tomb of defeat and sorrow needs to hear the joy of the Good News!”
For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. Early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) supported the idea that God played a practical joke on evil by raising Jesus from the dead. "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh," the early theologians called it.
This morning’s scripture passage comes from the time when Christian Gentiles were scattered around the Middle East and Mediterranean for various reasons. The passage is part of a letter that was passed around, probably most often read aloud at church house meetings. Unlike so many of the other New Testament letters which were written by Paul, 1 Peter was written by Peter - the impetuous, brave and energetic fisherman. It is a letter of encouragement, to bolster the faith of those who are suffering - and the words are as relative today as they were then.
1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
It has been documented that "One day Groucho Marx was getting off an elevator and he happened to meet a clergyman. The clergyman came up to him, put out his hand and said, 'I want to thank you for all the joy you've put into the world.' Groucho shook hands and replied, 'Thank you, Reverend. I want to thank you for all the joy you've taken out of it.’
It might be easy to think of this day as flippant, or not as worthy to be celebrated as other holy days. David Meredith of South Oldham Church of the Nazarene in Crestwood, KY makes this very pointed point. ”No wonder the Pharisees, who seem to have been always wholly serious, had to have Jesus put down. He couldn't be allowed to go on indefinitely standing everything on its head and making their piety look ridiculous. Why, in the end, they might even laugh themselves, and that would be the ultimate catastrophe.
Pastor Jim Arends of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent, MN, said, “This gives us a chance to celebrate the joy of Easter in a fun way a week after we’ve celebrated it in a glorious way…
That spectacular pastor over there at the First Congregational Church in Frankfort, MI says, “We can be joyful and even a little silly and still be respectful of those who aren’t able to be in that joyful place at the moment. We can embrace the unexpected as ways to see the world differently and learn lessons that we might not otherwise have done.” Gosh, isn’t she amazingly wise?
And to make her point, 6. there is this old photo, from a winter long ago, and in a place far away, where the man is standing next to the top of a telephone pole. Funny, but not funny - then and now. If we allow it, humor can allow us to see particular points of view we might have otherwise missed. 7. And besides, if God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining, as the person running in a chicken suit demonstrates.
It’s interesting how much of the celebration this day is centered around “looking.” For people with macular degeneration or other visual impairments, please know that this last statement is not so much about eyes as it is about our brains and hearts - and what catches us - often off-guard.
8. There is a person who “saw” the delight of a green, smiling frog umbrella with big eyes - in the midst of plain red, black, grey and white umbrellas. Life-giving joy popping out against the regular sea of life. 9. There is the gravestone with a handheld weeder/digger implement that I photographed at a cemetery not too far from here making a testament to the simplicity of relying on other humans to play their part in this game of life.
A summer or two ago, I happened to be relating a story about a kayaking trip my sister, Barb, and I took - to our dad, Waldo. I was telling him about how it was the last trip of the day, so it was starting to get a little dark, and there wasn’t anyone else on the river. Partway through the trip, we saw a deer cross down-river and I whispered to my sister that we needed to be quiet, because there was apt to be more deer.
And sure enough, within a couple minutes, we floated into a scene that I hope I never forget. Having not yet crossed the river, a set of triplet deer fawns, being watched over - probably by their mother - were frolicking on the edge of the river. They were chasing each other, hopping and jumping in and out of the water and doing those things that so many babies do. And our hearts were full.
As I was explaining this scenario to my dad, who grew up on a farm and would have been witness to such scenes, Waldo commented that there are lots of animals that like to play. And it struck me how 1., not only was dad right, but 2., that animals play not because they have to - like they have to hunt or eat or sleep. It is a choice that they make. Like the choice we get to make about how we deal with life - especially a life that belongs to God, because we don’t belong to death.
I wonder if God gave us the gift of joy and laughter - just so God could hear us, because isn’t listening to a baby laugh sometimes just the most luscious thing to hear? Night before last, I happened across a video by a couple from England that relish pranking each other and aside from whatever the prank is, the wife’s laugh is just contagious. And I belly-laughed like I’d not done in a long time. Long after I shut down the computer, I was still smiling about not only the video - but the deep joy from it - like one of the most satisfying meals you’ve ever eaten, or the best trip you’ve ever taken.
Some of us haven’t belly-laughed in a long while - and for good enough reasons. And the irony of this Holy Humor Sunday being smack-dab in the middle of a pandemic is not to be dismissed. God has designed us to be whole people - which includes pieces of sorrow, and sadness, slivers of seriousness and being alert, along with pinches of joy and delight and being able to balance the weight of the world with the comedy of life. For the younger ones viewing, it is highly likely that one day you will appreciate the fact that our lives are one part sleeping, one part working, a little bit of eating and a whole log of looking for things I had just a minute ago.
Knock, Knock. Who’s there? Gladys. Gladys who? Glad it's Sunday, aren't you? So shall we pray.
God, first of all, thank you for Sundays, if for no other reason, to help us maintain what day of the week it in in this season of looser schedules. Thank you, too, for defeating death, that we may be embolden to laugh at the things that may seem to rob us of life - of living in the here and now. Help those who need a good belly laugh to relish it as fully as they possibly can. Help those of us who are wondering about that Inexpressible and Glorious Joy that Peter wrote about, that we might find it or experience it again - with every fiber of our being - even if it is found without laughter. Free all those in tombs of defeat and sorrow with the mere words of your Good News. Strengthen us in trusting that you have all things in hand, even when it so doesn’t look that way. Give those who are working long and hard these days moments of respite in humor or delight, that they may continue the work you have for them. And for the gift of making us whole, complicated, marvelous, and unique people after your heart, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.