This morning as I read our Old Testament lesson from the book of Genesis, I was reminded of the following story I once heard:
Nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday School. 'Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt . When he got to the Red Sea, he had his army engineers build a pontoon bridge while the rear guard held off the approaching Egyptian army. Once the bridge was assembled, all the people walked across safely. When the Egyptian army started crossing the bridge, Moses radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge. All the Israelites were saved, and the Egyptian army was completely routed!'
'Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?' his Mother asked.
'Well, no, Mom. But, if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!'
Go ahead and laugh, it’s quite alright to do so. Many studies have shown that laughter relives stress and helps with the body’s healing process. It also releases endorphins which make you feel good. Humor is quite a good thing. I mean, why do you think Joel Osteen begins every sermon he preaches with a joke? It gets people feeling good as endorphins surge through their bodies. Maybe that’s why Otto Reichardt brings me a stack full of jokes every time we have senior service. We need to laugh.
Which brings me to the next story. As a pastor, I’ve been privileged to offer prayers at many, many community functions. One of the recurring functions I go to is the Austin County Soil and Water Conservation Banquet of Champions. Philip Shackleford usually emcees the event, and twice, he’s used the podium to pull one on me. He’s used the same bit twice, but I still think it’s funny.
Phil began, “One day Pastor Haug was visiting in the homes of his parishioners.
At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. Therefore, he took out his card and wrote "Revelation 3:20" on the back of it and stuck it in the door. Revelation 3:20 begins "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.."
When the offering was processed the following Sunday, Pastor Haug found that his card had been returned. The Revelation passage had been scratched out and replaced with "Genesis 3:10", which reads, "And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." The room cracked up!
Unbeknownst to Phil, I had a come-back. I went up to the podium to pray, but before the prayer, I turned to the audience and said, “My turn.”
I then proceeded to tell the following story: You know, when I start working in a community, I go around a visit quite a bit, and on another one of those visits, I just so happened to be driving past Phil’s house. Now, there at his gate was a dead mule, so wanting to be neighborly, I drove up to his house, got out of my car, and knocked on the door. Phil answered, and I introduced myself. Then, I said, “I just wanted to tell you there’s a dead mule down by your gate.”
Phil looked at me and said, “Well, Reverend, I thought it was your job to bury the dead.”
Without missing a beat, I responded, “Yes sir, it is, but it is also my job to notify the next of kin.” Pandemonium ensued.
Go ahead. Laugh some more. Laughter is good for the soul. In fact, I would argue we need much more laughter in our society today. We need to allow ourselves to have a few deep, resonant belly laughs. Our society is way, way too serious. We take things so bloody seriously that our practical jokes are seen as dangerous. We need humor–it is vital.
Now, those of you who were listening carefully to our Old Testament lesson might be wondering why I am spending so much time telling you it is o.k. to laugh when laughter seems to be frowned upon in this text about Abraham and Sarah. I mean, let’s take another moment to look at this passage from Genesis.
The Lord comes to Abraham to visit, and Abraham busies himself preparing a feast for his guest. As was custom, they ate and held conversation. At the appropriate time, the Lord spoke these words to Abraham, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah overheard, and she laughed. Now, let’s take a moment to understand why.
Scripture tells us that Sarah had ceased to be after the matter of women because she was of advanced age. Now, I know there are children here this morning, so I won’t go into the exact detail, but let me say this: Sarah was ninety. Her body had ceased its natural functions which make it possible to have children. Is the picture clear? I hope so. Now, you know why she laughed. This had to be a joke. It was impossible for a woman of that age to conceive and have a child. The body no longer functioned in that manner. Laughter is possibly the only appropriate response.
Now, before I go any further, let’s take a moment to examine some of the more humorous things about this faith that we Christians share. I mean, the idea that a 90 year old woman could conceive and bear a child isn’t the most outlandish things we proclaim–not in the least.
I mean, stop a moment and think about some of the following claims from scripture and tell me if they aren’t worthy of a good chuckle:
● God appeared in a bush that was burning, but the fire did not consume the bush. Ever seen such a thing?
● God made the city walls of Jericho fall down because people shouted and trumpets were blown. Ever seen that happen?
● God made bread appear in the desert on the bare ground. Have you ever seen food appear out of thin air?
● Elijah called down fire from heaven which ignited a sacrifice which had been drowned in water–and the resulting fire was so hot, it melted the rock. Has anyone seen a fire like that?
O.K. let’s turn to the New Testament. Here are some more whoppers!
● We proclaim that the virgin Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and that Jesus had no earthly father. That’s not exactly how children get conceived is it?
● We say that Jesus walked on water. Have you done that?
● We say Jesus fed about 17,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Ever tried to do
something like that when unexpected guests show up? Been that successful?
● We say that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried; but that He came back to life. Ever seen a dead person rise?
● We say that God is the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three persons; one God. One God; three persons. Does that even make sense? Didn’t think so.
In fact, all of these things are quite laughable. If we try to understand them from a rational, scientific perspective, we would quite scoff at them and laugh a hearty, belly laugh.
But what if...
What if all those things were true. Just as it came to pass that Sarah indeed conceived and bore a son named Isaac.
Perhaps it is important to realize laughter is important–as long as we laugh at the right things. But the promises of God–those are no laughing matter. Those are real. Amen.