First Congregational Church
April 24, 2022
Holy Humor Sunday
“Holy Humor Sunday: It’s Not What You Think”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
When Forest Gump died, he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, “Welcome, Forest. We’ve heard a lot about you. Unfortunately, it’s getting pretty crowded up here and we find that we now have to give people an entrance examination before we let them in.”
“Okay,” said Forest. “I hope it’s not too hard. I’ve already been through a test. My momma used to say, ‘Life is like a final exam. It’s hard.’”
“Yes, Forest, I know. But this test is only three questions. Here they are.” 1) Which two days of the week begin with the letter ’T’? 2) How many seconds are in a year? 3? What is God’s first name?”
“Well,” said Forest, “The first one is easy. The two days of the week that begin with the letter ’T’ are Today and Tomorrow.” St. Peter looked surprised and said, “Well, that wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but you have a point. I give you credit for that answer.”
“The answer to how many seconds there are in a year is twelve,” said Forest. “Twelve?” said St. Peter, surprised and confused. “Yes, sir. January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd. . .”
St. Peter interrupted him. “I see what you mean. I’ll have to give you credit for that one, too.”
“And the last question,” said Forest, “What is God’s first name? It’s Andy. I learned it in the church by singing “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am His own.” St. Peter opened the gate to heaven and said, “Run, Forest, Run!”
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it can also be that sometimes, one cannot improve on what is already stellar. Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford of Heritage Presbyterian Church of Acworth, (Ack-worth) Georgia began her sermon like this.
“There are a lot of words we use to describe God: Creator, Omnipotent (All-Powerful), Lord, Loving, Present, All-Knowing (Omnipresent), All-Seeing (Omniscient), Ruler, Amazing, Victorious, Wonderful, and the list goes on. Many of them come from our understanding of God revealed in the stories of Scripture, and, of course, our own experiences of the divine. And yet, with an immense vocabulary and wealth of resources, there is one word I think we don’t often include in our list of acclamations for who God is: funny. If such an adjective strikes you as odd, you’re probably asking “does God have a sense of humor?” If so, what does that even mean? Our image of God tends to be more serious, more stoic, and more dignified than a God who rolls around giggling.
And yet, over and over again, scripture tells us about a God who sends God’s people out with shouts of joy and jubilation. To be filled with such joy must mean that there is also brightness and lightheartedness to God. And given the immense playfulness of the works of God’s hand, I would argue God has got a funny bone or two. Take a look at creation. From the aardvark to a colorful array of flowers, God has a creative touch that crosses over into whimsy or even ridiculousness. Given God’s interaction with people throughout the biblical narrative, I would also argue that God has to have a good sense of humor in order to put up with the ridiculousness that humankind has created.” (Perceptive lady)
In the celebration of this First Sunday after Easter, one might be tempted to think about God’s “humor” or joy is related only to the New Testament. Somewhere around 600 years before Christ’s birth, there was a war in which Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah were captured and Solomon's glorious temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. It would take roughly 50 years before a new temple would be built, and it may well have been the completion of the new temple, or sometime shortly thereafter, that this Psalm was written. The Negev that will be mentioned is the Negev desert in southern Israel.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of[a] Zion, we were like those who dreamed.[b] 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 4 Restore our fortunes,[c] Lord, like streams in the Negev. 5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
Thank you, Marti. Since there’s an element of name-dropping this morning, it’s interesting that one of the important comments about laughable joy comes from the book of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” St. Chrysostom is said to have said, “Laughter has been implanted in our souls.” The great Aquinas said there s a time for “playful deeds and jokes.” Luther said, “You have as much laughter as you have faith,” and Calvin pointed out that “we are nowhere forbidden to laugh.”
Francis de Sales: “humor is the foundation for reconciliation.” I don’t know which Wesley, but one of them said “A sour religion is the devil's religion.” Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard, “Humor is intrinsic to Christianity.” Flannery O’Connor, “Christianity is a strangely cheery religion.” It is interesting that some people stay away from this service because it is deemed irreverent. I’d think that it’s more about discomfort.
It may seem awkward or insensitive to take a Sunday to focus on the joy that stems from God’s great joke over death when you put it against the backdrop of those who are dying, the injustices of the world, the pain and sorrow that weigh people down.
Mrs. Abraham, Sarah, laughed at the news that she was to have a child in her old age, right in the face of outlandish possibility. And when she had the baby, she named him Isaac, which means, “He laughs.”
Rev. Milford, from earlier in this message, wrote that “laughter is a holy act, connecting us to one another.” What other holy things connect us to one another? Communion and Baptism. How often does it happen that a celebration of life, a funeral or a memorial ends up including stories, often rather funny ones, that cut through the tension of grief, opening the way to remembrance? And thank goodness for those moments, because without such stories and laughter, it is possible to be overwhelmed to the point of really hard and even harmful stuff.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Holy Humor - on any day of the week - is that it’s silly, or an insult to the higher intellect. Holy Humor can be those things, but it can also be the recognition of making a day better - or brighter.
Someone on social media wrote “I was searching for a parking space in the city where parking spaces are rare. Just as I found one and set my blinker another guy coming from the other direction set his too. We looked at each other undecided. Then I signaled a rock, paper, scissor game through my window. He immediately understood and we played one round. He won the game so I still had no parking space, but the interaction made my day!”
We can’t buy joy, except that we can buy fishing poles, and that’s almost like joy. We can’t buy happiness, but puppy kisses come pretty close. And every once-in-awhile, even a television commercial can cause our hearts to rise and our in our soul we can say, “It is well.”
Christ’s resurrection wasn’t a glorious magic trick or a sideshow intrigue. It is a serious event that reminds us that we can take ourselves more lightly, along with the others around us, and maybe, just maybe, through some prayer and work of the Holy Spirit, we might be able to help this world out of the fear and angst and hopelessness that can so easily enable us. For that, and a million other reasons, we can pray.
Holy, Holy, Holy God, thank you for sending your son, for your presence with him - and us - and his resurrection to eternal life. Thank you for the assurances and peace that is too often difficult to express. Help us to embrace the fullness of the life you’ve given us - not just today or this week, but in all our days - even the ones in infinity. Enable us to allow our hearts to allow contentment and peace and delight to leak into our daily lives, that others may also live so fully. For all your answers to our prayers, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.