The true and positive and genuinely indescribable joy of the one who loves consists simply in the fact that he may love as one who is loved by God, as the child of God; that as he imitates the divine action he may exist in fellowship with Him, obedient to His Holy Spirit. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.2 p78
A Funny Faith
One young boy heard the story of Adam and Eve in Sunday school. He was fascinated with how Eve was created from Adam’s rib. Several days later his mother noticed that he seemed to be preoccupied. Something was obviously bothering him. She picked him up and asked him what was wrong. He said, “Mom, my side hurts. I think I’m going to have a wife.”
You probably have heard how Eve was created. Adam and God were walking in the Garden of Eden. God asked Adam how everything was going. Adam said, “This is a wonderful place, God. It’s beautiful and everything that I need is here. I love all the animals. I gotta admit, though, I’m a bit lonely.” God said, “I’ve been expecting that. I’ve planned a special creation just for you. She will be called woman. She will be beautiful and talented. She will love you deeply and do everything she can for you. She’ll wash your clothes, fix your meals, clean your home, and she’ll never complain. Her whole life will be devoted to caring for you. All you have to do is give up an arm and a leg for her.” Adam thought for a moment. “What can I get for a rib?”
A few days Eve was created God and Adam were again walking in the garden. God asked how things were going with Eve. Adam said, “She is wonderful, God. Why did you make her so beautiful?” God replied, “So you would love her?” Adam came back again, “Why did you make her so soft?” Again, God said, “So you would love her.” Adam thought for a moment. “Why did you make her so stupid?” “So she would love you!”
A pastor was new to his church and was trying to get to know people. One afternoon he was out making calls. He stopped by a house. It looked as if someone was home. He knocked on the door. No one answered. He waited a few minutes and knocked again. Still no one answered. Finally he pulled out one of his cards and wrote “Revelation 3:20” on the back and stuck it in the door. For those of you who don’t know, Revelation 3: 20 says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with them.” The next Sunday he noticed his card in the offering plate. Someone had written on it “Genesis 3:10,” which says “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked.”
A few weeks later this pastor was invited for dinner at the home of a woman. Several people told the pastor that he needed to be careful. This woman was known to be a terrible house-keeper. He figured it couldn’t be too bad and he could put up with anything. As he entered the house he was stunned by the mess. He had to move old papers and dirty clothes off the couch. When it was time for dinner he sat down at the dining table. He looked at the plates and gasped. They were filthy. There was food crusted on them. He couldn’t hold his tongue. He asked his hostess if the plates had been washed. She said that they were as clean as soap and water could get them. He gulped but blessed the food and ate anyway. After dinner his hostess took his plate, put it on the floor, and yelled, “Here Soap! Here Water.
By now, some of you are probably wondering why in the world I’ve been up here telling jokes for 5 minutes. You may be thinking that I’ve lost my mind, but that assumes I had one in the first place! Part of me always wished I could be a stand-up comedian. Relax, I don’t plan to quit my day job. You can probably tell that I wouldn’t make a very good living at it. However, I have a very intentional reason for telling all these jokes.
One of the journals that I read regularly is called The Joyful Noiseletter. It is filled with cartoons and jokes. It’s put out by an organization called The Fellowship of Merry Christians. They encourage churches to celebrate Holy Hilarity Sunday, usually the week after Easter. Their belief is that the resurrection is a joke that God played on Satan. Honest laughter is a sound that Satan cannot tolerate because laughter is a sign of faith. Laughter is the proper response to God’s gifts of love and mercy. Both of our Scripture passages this morning point to this idea.
Mark read the story of the birth of Isaac. But to fully grasp what it is all about you need to look back several chapters in Genesis. In chapter 12 God made a promise to Abraham – he would make Abraham a great nation. He would bless him with land and with children. The promise was repeated in chapter 13 and again in chapter 15. In Genesis 16, at least 10 years after the promise, Abraham and Sarah still don’t have any children. Instead of trusting God they took matters into their own control and we get the story of Hagar and Ishmael. In the 17th chapter of Genesis 15 more years have passed – now a total of 25 years – and they still don’t have any children. God repeats the promise that Abraham and Sarah will have a son. This time Abraham laughs at the idea. He is 99 years old and Sarah is 90. It is absurd to think that they will have children.
I don’t know who the oldest person is here this morning, but we don’t have many 90 year-olds and I don’t think we have anyone 99. Does anyone in their 90s, or even 80s, expect to have any more children? Does anyone in their 60s or 70s expect to have a child 20 years from now? Your laughter is exactly how Abraham and Sarah reacted. In chapter 18 God appeared to Abraham and again promises that within one year Sarah will have a son. Sarah heard the promise this time and she laughed. What a crazy idea. 90 year-old women don’t have babies. Finally, in chapter 21, the passage Mark read, God’s promise is fulfilled. God keeps his word. Abraham and Sarah have a son.
They name him Isaac, which sounds like the Hebrew word for laughter. When God promises them a son, Abraham and Sarah laugh at the absurdity of the idea. When Isaac is born they respond with laughter. God has fulfilled his promise and brought joy into their lives.
Our passage in John is part of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He is essentially saying goodbye. Jesus acknowledges that they will experience sadness. “The world will rejoice and you will weep and mourn” (John 16:20a). “However,” and this is the great however of faith, “however, your pain will turn into joy” (John 16:20b). That is what the resurrection is all about. Jesus turns everything upside down. Sadness is turned into happiness. Mourning is turned into joy. As Jesus said in Luke’s version of the beatitudes, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21).
One Sunday morning the pastor noticed little Johnny was staring at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The boy was seven years old and stood there for several minutes. Finally, the pastor walked up and stood beside him and said quietly, “Good morning son.
Good morning pastor" Johnny replied, not taking his eyes off the plaque. “Sir, what is this?” Johnny asked. The pastor replied “Well son, these are members of our church who have died in the service.” Johnny continued to look at the plaque. After a few minutes he asked another question. “Which service, sir, the 8:30 or the 11:00?”
Sometimes the church is a wonderful place to find humor. Over the years I’ve collected a number of bulletin bloopers, items that actually appeared in various bulletins.
· Don't let worry kill you-let the church help.
· At the evening service tonight, the sermon will be, “What is hell like?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.
· The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
· Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Please use the back door.
· Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands.
I have at least 50 more like that. Unfortunately, the church isn’t always a great source of joy. Every week on The Prairie Home Companion Garrison Keillor does The News From Lake Wobegon. For those of you who haven’t heard Keillor, that is his monologue. He tells a story. In one show the news included a story about the Side Track Tap – the bar where the local men hang out on rainy days and tell jokes. In the midst of his story Keillor made a fascinating comment. He said that if you are new to town, if you are lonely, if you need acceptance, you won’t get it at the local church. In spite of their theology of love and grace you may go to church for 2-3 years before anyone talks to you or accepts you. However, if you go to the bar, and especially if you can tell a joke, you will be accepted and loved at once.
Joy and laughter are signs of faith. They are the proper response to God's gift of love and grace. Let me add two cautions to that statement. First, good humor never hurts someone else. I’m sure many of us have heard, or even told, ethnic jokes or jokes that put someone else down. That type of humor is not pleasing to God and not a healthy part of faith. Second, I am not suggesting that we should be frivolous or ignore the pain and sorrow of life. Faith doesn’t exclude crying out and weeping. To be honest with you, most of us don’t do either one as well as we should, laughing or crying. Individual Christians and gatherings of Christians should be filled with joy and laughter as well as sorrow and tears. The church needs someone to pray for us in the same way that a little girl prayed for her parents.
Dad came home from work in a bad mood. A deadline at work had been moved up on a project he was working on and the stress of all that he needed to do was too much. Mom was also grumpy. She’d forgotten to do something at work, was late getting to the daycare because the traffic was terrible. Both Mom and Dad were having one of those days when nothing seems to go right and the pressures of the world were overwhelming. Each one wanted a little sympathy from the other, and neither one got it. They sat down at the dinner table, cranky and grumpy, with their five year-old daughter, Emily. Emily folded her hands to pray for the dinner. Mom and Dad bowed their heads, but not their hearts, and listened.
“God, it’s Emily. How are you? I’m fine, thank you. Mom and Dad are mad. I don’t know why. We’ve got birds and toys and mashed potatoes and each other. Maybe you can get them to stop being mad. Please do, or it’s just gonna be you and me having any fun tonight. Amen.”
My friends, God has given us birds and toys and mashed potatoes and each other. God has given us a beautiful world and blessings beyond compare. God has given us Jesus Christ, and raised him from the dead, so that we might have eternal life and live in God's love forever. Therefore, let us laugh and rejoice, rejoice, rejoice give thanks and sing!