So what makes you laugh? What tickles your fancy?
As we make our way through a year of significant words for life in scripture, that’s our word for the week.
Does a well well told joke do it for you: A certain preacher, no names, please, had delivered what he thought was a great sermon, and he was felling good on the way home. “How many great preachers do you think there are preaching today?” he asked his wife.
“One less than you think,” she answered.
One Sunday morning I got up early and read the paper. I was reading the obituaries, always amazes me that folks die in alphabetical order- anyway lo and behold there was my name! I thought, “I wonder if the elders have seen this.”
I got on the phone and called one of them and said, “Have you read the paper this morning?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Did you see my name in the death notices?” He said, “Yes, I did. Where are you calling from?”
Lately Jude and maybe Don, have become infatuated with donkeys. Ever hear the one about the talking donkey? That’s one of the ones where we discover God has a sense of humor. God’s sense of humor is evident throughout Scripture. In that story, God speaks through a donkey. Keep a sharp ear when you visit the Osborne’s spread!
The truth is, God adores laughter. Laughter is a gateway to recognizing our humanity, that we are created by God. This is most true when we can set aside our pretension to god-like perfection in the masks we try to wear in public, and outright laugh at ourselves.
When I started out in ministry up in Nelson County, I tried hard to do the right things, project the proper image, and master whatever I encountered. That all went up in smoke one Sunday afternoon at a community softball game. We played at an old school field. The fence to the parking area ran along side the third base line. Folks backed their trucks up along the fence line to watch the game. Beer and laughter flowed from the spectators. I was fairly new in the community and trying hard to fit in, but also fearful of falling on my face by doing something the locals thought foolish or cityfied. I had some ball-playing ability, so I thought it a good opportunity to appear as just one of the guys.
Late in the game I was on first base when the the batter hit a long shot toward the Tye River which was the end of right field. The ball hit the ground and began to roll, and I hit my stride and began to careen around the bases. Now, in my younger days, I had some speed. But I also have a challenge. You may or may not have notice that I am a bit short. So sometimes, my little legs get to going a bit faster than the rest of my body can keep up with.
That day, I rounded second base and picked up speed as I headed for third. As I made the turn I glanced toward right field. The fielder was just getting to the ball, I had a shot for home, so I tried to pick up the pace even more. I hit third and made for home. Right along that fence-line with all those pick-up truck sitting, beer drinking mountain boys a-watching. Boy they would get a new insight on the preacher..And then it happened. The combination of the soft dirt and my little legs a-running as as as they could, just ran out from under me and my worst fear was realized, halfway between home and third I fell flat on my face in front of the folks I was trying to reach with the serious message of the gospel. To this day, I am not sure I have ever heard that much laughter. I felt a fool. I was so embarrassed. My face was a dozen shades of red.
After the game, is when it hit me. When I was walking by the trucks with folks I knew by sight, but didn’t really know because they didn’t darken the church door, most of the fellas wanted to talk. They offered me a beer, told me it was the funniest thing in the world. Laughed again and said things like, you’re alright preacher…
I was so worried about failing in my call, falling on my face in ministry that I took my self too seriously. Yes a trait I still struggle with, but, that day, when I got home, I could help but laugh with the God who watched me literally fall on my face to peals of laughter. And then to get up, head for home, score the run and dust myself off.
Madeline L’Engle said it this way: “If we are sure about our God we are free to laugh at ourselves.”
When God told hundred-year old Abraham and ninety-five year old Sarah that she was finally going to have a baby he came close to knocking himself out with laughter, she nearly split a gut laughing because of the sheer impossibility of what God said would happen. Then, embarrassed that they did not take God seriously enough, with enough somber reverence, she lied about laughing. And with a twinkle in the eye, God got the last laugh. God told them it was so ok to laugh that their son’s name would be Isaac, which means laughter.
The psalmist remembers a joyful past when the people were so in tune with God that laughter was part of daily praise of the goodness of God.
God made us to smile and God and delights in our laughter. Not only do we recognize our humanity when we can laugh at ourselves, but think of the stress relief a good belly laugh can bring. It may not be “the best” medicine, but laughter has been proven to lower blood pressure and reduce the hormones responsible for stress.
God knew what God was doing when we created laughter. So humor and joy are mentioned throughout Scripture.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
After Isaac is born Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me’. (Genesis 21:6)
Laughter is a response to God’s tremendous love and grace that we find in the abundant life God wills for us. Good times and bad, challenges and successes, laughter is a part of the rhythm of life. Ecclesiastes says:
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
If we feel just pain, just grief, or even just joy, our life would be out of balance.
The psalmist sings:
You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (16:1)
Abraham, Sarah, David, the Psalmist, also teach us that laughter is made to be experienced in relationship. David shares not only his sorrow and anger with God but also his laughter and joy as well. Called to be in relationship with God, we share sorrow, fear, anger, but also laughter. Not only can we share it with God but with others as well.
Laughter creates camaraderie and fulfills the longing we have for connection. You can see this in how it nurtures our relationship with our children. I had forgotten until working on this how Stuart’s pre-school teachers would remake on his laugh. If something struck him funny, he would throw his head back and laugh with all the joy in the world. Children laugh easy, reminding us not to take things so seriously. Too often as adults we get wrapped up in our responsibilities, busyness, work, discipline, and the more serious parts of life. Laughter in the family, at ourselves and with our children is the expression of joy — it makes life easier, better, more relaxed, and sweeter.
So as we end, one more:
Noah a good place for lunch?
Think about this: How many of your favorite memories are ones that are filled with laughter?
Think on them, and laugh again. It is a gift from God.