First Congregational Church
April 27, 2014
First Sunday after Easter, Holy Humor Sunday
Genesis 18:9-15 & Genesis 21:1-6
“This Is the Time”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those of you questioning this Holy Humor stuff, let me assure you, I’ve not made it up. The tradition of truly “celebrating” God’s joke on death dates back to before the 15th century. Some of the priests would sit around the day after Easter, smoking cigars, drinking cognac and telling jokes, celebrating the fact that Jesus conquered death. And some would call it "Bright Monday," "White Monday," "Emmaus Day” - amidst the other names for this high holy day. In part, I’m sure, because cigars and cognac in church are frowned upon by parents and society in general, Holy Humor Monday has morphed into Holy Humor Sunday. If we were like 16th century peasants, we would dance in the fields as part of our observance of this day, and if someone feels led to arrange such an event, have at it.
We may think ourselves too “evolved” or too sophisticated for such a celebration, but even Jesus didn’t stick around for the gloom in the tomb. Some how, some time, some way, we’ve come to think that matters of faith and religion are all seriousness and that there is a chasm between joy and sorrow that should not be breached. It’s interesting that when we are confronted with some of the greatest miracles, we dismiss the delight in them, as did Sarah, when she learned that she would have a child in her old age. As Michael makes his way forward, I’ll remind you that the “they” in this passage is a group of three “men” - perhaps angels - standing near where Abe and Sarah were camping.
9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”
Thank you, Michael. If I were a bettin’ person, I’d bet that Sarah’s laugh wasn’t the full-on belly laugh that comes over us on occasion, but that nervous, fearful laugh. I’d even bet that the women outside Jesus’ tomb were close to that nervous, tittering sort of laugh, mostly because they were so uncomfortable with the revealing reality right in front of them. And maybe that’s why we are sometimes uncomfortable around that which would otherwise seem funny.
If it weren’t true, we’d laugh at the idea of Noah’s theme song being “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” - or Adam and Eve’s theme song: “Strangers In Paradise.” The more seriously we take ourselves, the more our religion becomes about us. Who did Sarah think she was, deciding what was or was not possible with God?
Unless we are intentional, life can become about us being right; about us being wise; about us being powerful and important. But if we admit that we can be a bit goofy sometimes, we are freer to let God be right; to let God be wise and powerful; to let God be the most important in our lives. Laughter helps us to keep things in perspective and today we remember that we have plenty to laugh at.
A Minnesota farmer named Ole had a car accident. He was hit by a truck owned by the Eversweet Company. In court, the Eversweet Company's hot-shot attorney questioned him thus: 'Didn't you say to the state trooper at the scene of the accident 'I'm fine?"
Ole responded: 'vell, I'lla tell you vat happened dere. I'd yust loaded my fav'rit cow, Bessie, into da… 'I didn't ask for any details', the lawyer interrupted. 'Just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine!’?' Ole said, 'vell, I'd yust got Bessie into da trailer and I vas drivin' down da road.... ‘ The lawyer interrupted again and said, 'Your Honor, I am trying to establish the fact that, at the scene of the accident, this man told the police on the scene that he was fine. Now several weeks after the accident, he is trying to sue my client. I believe he is a fraud. Please tell him to simply answer the question. '
By this time, the Judge was fairly interested in Ole's answer and said to the attorney: 'I'd like to hear what he has to say about his favorite cow, Bessie’. Ole said: 'Tank you' and proceeded. 'vell as I vas saying, I had yust loaded Bessie, my fav'rit cow, into de trailer and was drivin' her down de road vin dis huge Eversweet truck and trailer came tundering tru a stop sign and hit my trailer right in da side by golly. I was trown into one ditch and Bessie was trown into da udder ditch. By yimminy yahosaphat I vas hurt, purty durn bad, and didn't vant to move. An efen vurse dan dat,, I could hear old Bessie a moanin' and a groanin'. I knew she vas in terrible pain yust by her groans.
Shortly after da accident, a policeman on a motorbike turned up. He could hear Bessie a moanin' and a groanin' too, so he vent over to her. After he looked at her, and saw her condition, he took out his gun and shot her right between the eyes. Den da policeman came across de road, gun still in hand, looked at me, and said, 'How are you feelin’?' 'Now wot da vud you say?’
This day is not just about the laughs, but about being a people of faith and the congruency of living into the delight of life. One of my favorite worship and sermon help guys is Thom Shuman, who does interim ministry around Columbus, OH. His beautiful prayer for Holy Humor Sunday makes the paradox so plain.
“dour-faced in the presence of stunning sunsets;
stricken with chronic severity while surrounded by gurgling babies;
frozen-souled when touched by the warmth of grace;
if we are made in your image, it's no wonder people think of you as a grouchy old geezer, God of Joy.
so, breathe on us . . .
fill our souls with:
laughter which chases away the long faces;
chuckles which wipe frowns off our brows;
great guffaws which shatter hardened hearts;
fill us, Breath of sidesplitting shrieks,
so we can celebrate the last laugh on death.”
Sometimes we’re too busy to notice humor or delight, sometimes we’re too tired or worried. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the medicinal value of laughter and humor. Sometimes life happens and it is what it is. Humor is a wonderful equalizer, but not so much when it is laced with sarcasm and cynicism.
But here’s where all this is going: if we really believe that Christ rose from the dead, that life is truly different since that day, then we need to make sure that our hearts know it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember the line, “if you’re happy, you should tell your face.” If we believe God’s gift of grace and love, and we demonstrate that “faith” in sourness of spirit, then who would want to follow us follow Christ?
Just outside the Church of Christ in South Seminole, FL, there was a marquee: Jesus invested his life in you. Have you shown any interest? Seen on the rear bumper of a car: Are you following Jesus this closely?
Part of the gift of Lent allows us to understand that it is okay to be sorry, to be reflective, sad, all that we tend to consider “dark” or at least perhaps not “good.” It can’t be any mere coincidence, tho, that the season of Eastertide is longer than the season of Lent. And yet, we live as we sang earlier, “as though most shades - of color - are dead.”
It’s hard, when we are grieving, or under great stress, or seriously ill. It’s hard to appreciate humor when we’re frightened almost to death. There-in lies the gift of irony and jest. To live a healthy, balanced life, we need the hard times and the easy times, the sorrow and the joy, the light and the dark. And that is just part of what God gave us in Christ’s death and resurrection - in the time when hope was cloaked in death and despair.
The temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn't quite remember it. Finally, she went to the pastor's study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers, she paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally, she looked serenely heavenward and her lips moved silently. Then she looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed. "I'm in awe at your faith, pastor," she said. "It's really nothing," she answered. "The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”
Knock knock, who's there? Lettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce pray. God of all joy, You know better than we, what important people we believe we are. If we believe we have to be serious all the time, we miss out on the joy of your creation. If we choose to feast on the pain of the world, we skip the picnic offered in paradise. If we cling to the despair as our best friend, we ignore Jesus, who can bring us home to your heart.
Forgive us, Heart of Joy, and make us open to the startling and upside-down ways in which you work. Fill us with Easter's laughter; fill us with your healing joy; fill us with the love poured into us through your son and our brother, Jesus Christ.
Forgive us, Lord, when we take ourselves too seriously, when we don't claim the happiness that is rightfully ours as your children, when we forget that you will have the last laugh in this world. And all your forgiven people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.