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Laughter – Easter Sermon 2013

 

The manuscript below is incomplete and does not follow the video’s structure and conclusion.  If you have the time, please watch the video.  It’s just about 20 minutes long.

 

Laughter – Luke 24:1-12

Martin Luther once said that after music and scripture, the one thing the devil hates most is laughter.  Perhaps in response to this comment, there is a tradition in Lutheranism in which, on Easter Sunday, the pastor shares stories and tells jokes aimed at making people laugh.

Now I understand that for the prim, proper, and excessively formal among us, this might seem superficial, even in appropriate.  You wouldn’t be alone.  Throughout the centuries there has been a rather large segment of Christians with a rather low opinion of humor.

In the 4th century, one influential church leader name John Chrysostom insisted Jesus never even laughed. Sadly, throughout the centuries, most artists overwhelmingly have followed his line of reasoning.  How many paintings have you seen where the Son of God grins from ear to ear?

Can those who follow Christ laugh without being caught up in sin?  According to the participants of one medieval church council, the answer to that was not just “No!”  It was “Hell, no!”  Their opinion of humor was so low that they voted to consigned to hell any preacher who spoke “jocular words such as to provoke laughter.”

Obviously, the stereotype of Christians as being stuff-shirted, uptight, stern, somber, and humorless is well earned.  But it should not be like that, especially on Easter Sunday.  This should be a day for joyful laughter.

I think there ought to be laughter in the church house every day, but especially on this day.  That’s one thing I like about being a part of the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.  There is a lot of laughter around here.   That laughter is a tangible testimony to the joy given birth on Easter Sunday.  This is the day we celebrate the resurrection.   This is the day we celebrate that Jesus Christ is alive and among us.  This day, perhaps more than any other, is “the day the Lord has made” and we should “rejoice and be glad in it.”

My former pastor Steve Shoemaker, once said:  “Easter has an almost giddy joy about it — or should.”

Friday left us at the cross.  Nothing to smile about there.  At the cross death slammed a door in our face.  On Friday, everything seemed lost.  Friday was the day for the cross, a day of violence, a day when the light of the world seemed was snuffed out.  Friday was the day what hope seemed lost.  But that was Friday – and this is Sunday, Easter Sunday.

On this day we celebrate the message that all the forces that conspired to lock Jesus away in his tomb, the anger and rage, the violence, the vaunted powers of kings and empires – they were all made to be a laughing stock.   On this day, death, which we fear above all things — is shown to be weak. On this day, death is the bully exposed.

So it strikes me as appropriate that laughter be a part of our worship.  It seems fitting to share a few funny stories and tell a couple of jokes with the aim of filling this hall with the sounds of laughter.  On this glorious morning we celebrate the good news that Jesus who was put to death on a cross exited his grave and reigned supreme over death.

So why not share a story…or tell a joke…aimed at getting people to loosen up a bit smile.

Here’s one for the children.

Q.  Why did the Easter Bunny cross the road? A.  To prove he wasn’t a chicken.

——————–

Maybe you’ve heard the one that begins with three people standing before St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven.  To enter they only have to answer one simple question.  If they fail, they go to the other place for eternity.

The first man steps forward and St. Peter asks, “What happens at Christmas?”   The man answers:  “Christmas is a holiday where a man in a red suit gives presents to children and flies on a sled from the North Pole”  Peter looked upon him and said, “I’m sorry, you have left out the whole story of Jesus birth.”   Then Peter pulled on a lever and in an instant, he was gone to that other place.

The second person man stepped forward and St. Peter asked, “What happens on Maundy Thursday.”   The man replied, “On Maundy Thursday folks gather for a great supper — of turkey and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and they watch football and shop for Christmas.”   Peter pulled the lever again, saying, “You’ve got your Thursdays confused, and you’ve forgotten Jesus.”

A third person stepped forward and Peter asked her, “Can you tell me about Easter?”

The women replied, “Easter is the holiday that remembers a righteous man.” And St. Peter said yes.

“This man traveled far and wide, teaching and preaching and healing the sick.  Saint Peter gets a big smile on his face and nods approvingly.

“But then one day this man was scorned, executed, and thrown in a cave!”   Peter can hardly contain himself.  “Yes, yes, yes!” he says.

Then the woman continues:  “And on the third day the cave door is open and the man comes out into the light, and if he sees his shadow, there are six more weeks of winter.”

——————–

I think the Roman Catholics have been blessed with the selection of their new leader, Pope Francis I.  I like their new Pope.  You may not have heard the news, but Pope Francis recently called all the cardinals for another important meeting at the Vatican.

“I have some good news and some bad news,” said Pope Francis.  “The good news is … Jesus Christ has returned to earth. In fact, I spoke to him just this morning.”

The cardinals were excited and began a joyous celebration.

“Wait a minute” said the Pope. “There is some bad news…I spoke from him by phone.  He was calling from the Baptist church.”

——————

One more?…this one is actually true.  Okay, you ready?

You know that I have often teased Brian Snead about how he drives too fast and too recklessly.  In fact, I discovered a new strategy for our ministry of evangelism.  If our declarations about the love and grace of God do not bring a person to the point of conversion, we’ll just have them take a ride as a passenger with Brian Snead.  That’ll scare the hell out of anyone?

————————-

When you open up your Bible and turn to  Luke’s story about the resurrection, there seems to be an undertone of laughter about it.  It’s the first day of the week.  The women disciples are carrying spices to the tomb to properly prepare Jesus body for burial – something they had been unable to do because of Jesus death was at the beginning of the Sabbath.  When they arrive at his burial plot they notice the stone covering the entrance has been removed.

Unexpectedly angels appear on the scene, asking:  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here.  He has risen.”

Imagine with me the expression that must have been on the angels faces.  Hollywood makes it an otherworldly kind of experience.  Often we read the passage the same way – sober, solemn, serious, and with the utmost formality.   I believe we ought to read this with a bit of a giggle in our voice.  When the angels spoke, they must have had the most wonderful smiles on their faces, smiles hinting that they know something we don’t — and they can’t wait for us to find out.

Could it be?  Smiles on the faces of angels.  Maybe even a wink from the eye of the Father?  “Why do you seek the living among the dead.  He is not here.  He has risen!”

This is a day of celebration.  Steve Shoemaker, again, says:  “The Bible’s aim is not to beat belief into you, but to invite you to believe through the surprise of laughter.”

This is not how a lot of preachers and teacher and churches approach this day.  Many will aim to beat belief into those who have wandered into their worship house.  They will offer evidence that demand a verdict.  They will offer up proofs from history and theology and philosophy in order to prove via logic, reason, and the preponderance of evidence that the tomb was actually empty and Jesus was actually risen.

The Bible really doesn’t offer that sort of thing.  The Bible offers a wink and a smile.  The Bible offers songs, and celebration, and laughter.  The Bible offers a hand full of women and a dozen or so disciples walking around with a silly grin and a dazed look of wonderment on their faces.

For these folks, and for us, faith does not begin or end with complete knowledge, total certainly, and absolute assurance.  It exists in the wonder of coming face to face with the unimaginable, the unexplainable, the unthinkable – and responding with joyous laughter.

When the women heard saw the empty tomb and heard the angelic declaration, what did they do?  They ran with joy to tell the rest of the disciples what they had experience.  Poor fellows?   At first they did not see the humor in it at all.  The text records their response:

“But they did not believe them, for their words seemed to them an idle tale.”

An idle tale – nonsense, empty talk, a foolish yarn, a fairy tale, utter nonsense, sheer humbug, grief-stricken delusion, a big joke, a silly story.

What was happening?  Here’s what I suspect:  the news of Easter was simply too overwhelming for them to believe all at one time.

Thomas Long tells of a story he’d heard from a friend whose son was a great fan of both Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers.   The boy faithfully watched both of their television shows, and one day it was announced that Mister Rogers would be paying a visit to the Captain Kangaroo show. The boy was ecstatic. Both of his heroes, together on the same show! Every morning the boy would ask, “Is it today that Mister Rogers will be on Captain Kangaroo?” Finally the great day arrived, and the whole family gathered around the television. There they were, Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo together. The boy watched for a minute, but then, surprisingly, got up and wandered from the room with a dazed look of bewilderment on his face.

Puzzled, his father followed him and asked, “What is it, son? Is anything wrong?”

“It’s too good,” the boy replied as he grinned from ear to ear. “It’s just too good.”

That’s the kind of response that Easter calls forth.  “The Bible’s aim is not to beat belief into you, but to invite you to believe through the surprise of laughter.”

I think that’s it. The news of the empty tomb, the news of the resurrection, the news of Jesus’ victory over death – it’s just too good to take in all at once.  This Easter stuff is the kind of thing you can only respond to with a smile, or a giggle, or maybe a little bit of laughter.

“He’s alive!  It’s just too good to take in all at once!”

After hearing the “idle tales” told by the women, Peter ran to the tomb to determine what had really happened.  He was certain, I imagine, that he would be able to settle the confusion and set things straight.  But when he arrives at the empty tomb, he is just dazed, bewildered, and bemused as the women who first carried the message.  The text tells us that Peter saw the “strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away wondering to himself what had happened.”

May that be your soul’s response to the resurrection. For when Easter invades your life, when you see the spirit of the risen Christ prevailing in hospital waiting rooms and prison chapels, you realize that Resurrection is a laughing matter.

 

The Leaven of Laughter for Advent and Christmas
by: James E. Atwood
publisher: Trafford Publishing, published: 2006-08-17
ASIN: 142510004X
EAN: 9781425100049
sales rank: 5611829
price: $9.11 (new), $0.01 (used)

The Leaven of Laughter for Advent and Christmas contains hundreds of stimulating humorous quotes and provocative anecdotes which the busy church professional or volunteer can quickly find and use as leaven for one’s preaching, speaking, teaching, writing, or devotional reading.

The material is organized around 45 themes, which are used extensively, though not exclusively, during the Advent and Christmas Seasons. The reader will find the material useful throughout the year.

Everyone should be intrigued not only by the sheer delight of laughter, but by its versatility. All of us have seen people who were being “talked to death” come back to life with a laugh. We have observed hostile people disarmed by a funny story. We have watched total strangers bond through laughter. We have witnessed people tear down economic and social barriers and begin to trust one another because they laughed together. We have marveled as laughter exposed new and vital truth to a skeptic. We have been glad to see the Gospel take root in people’s lives through a joyous laugh. Someone said, “When people are laughing, they are listening and one can talk about anything.”

It gives me joy to share The Leaven of Laughter for Advent and Christmas with all those who will, in turn, share its treasures with others as they tell God’s Good News with a twinkle in their eye.

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