Grace Has a Wonderful Laugh: E-pistle 03.03.11

Grace Has a Wonderful Laugh: E-pistle 03.03.11

“I have begun to suspect if we listen close enough

we will hear that grace has a wonderful laughter to it, not laughing at us,

but a laughter that is infectious enough to get us smiling

and feeling real joy ourselves.“

Last week after worship, a visiting pastor, at Old First with his youth for a service camp, asked someone, “Does Michael always preach like that?” Not sure what he meant, the person responded, “You mean so long?” That gave me my first laugh!

The pastor explained that wasn’t his concern. He thought my sermon should have been more serious. There was my second laugh.

The sermon is always posted on-line; determine for yourself whether it’s serious or whatever my colleague mourned– funny, frivolous, light-hearted, silly?

People did laugh more during the sermon than I expected. I suspect because of how it got delivered, rather than how I prepared it. But those “impromptu edits made in preaching” get added in before a text is posted, so you can still judge for yourself.

I can’t see my colleague’s cause for concern. The sermon was about religion embracing science and generosity’s power to transform the giver (not to mention the world). Serious enough subject matter! And it ended paraphrasing the Gospel text, thoughts the Bible attributes to Jesus himself. If my colleague had said anything to me, I’d have borrowed from Jesus to respond, “Lordy, there are probably more important things to worry about! And ultimately there’s nothing to worry about as long as God is with us.”

I wish I were funnier in the pulpit! Not as silly as I can be elsewhere. But funnier.

Humor is a great rhetorical trick for keeping people’s attention. It also provides that twist or surprise, even more unexpected in church, whereby we gain new insight or get things in perspective. There is a tradition of always beginning one’s Easter sermon with a joke, because Easter is God’s great joke on the devil.

Humor also becomes an issue of relevancy: if everywhere else in life, humor is welcome, even healing, why shouldn’t it be part of church? Can’t church be simultaneously humorous and meaningful? C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

Overly serious Christians are Christianity’s greatest foes. Joy is one of the fruits of following Christ. But ask people to free associate with the word “Christian,” and their list of responses comes back dreary and dour. How many of us would offer right away, “fun,” “joyous,” “a barrel of laughs.” Likewise, show people, even church folks, an image of Jesus laughing, a big hearty belly-laugh, and see how surprised, even a little uncomfortable they are.

A week before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, may be an odd-time for this message. Consider this my Fastnacht / Mardi Gras / Carnival E-pistle. If you want or need to hear about Lent — not so much disciplined as rigorous– come to church for this Sunday’s sermon. But also remember: the Greek words for joy, “chara” and grace “charis” come from the same root. Or check out all the times, places, reasons and manners the Bible exhorts us to “joy” and “rejoicing.”

The evangelist Billy Sunday said, “If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” I pray at Old First, we always have room for laughter. That, trusting in God’s forgiveness, we are never above laughing at ourselves or with one another. Not because we aren’t serious, but because we are Christians. And because church and Christian faith could mean so much more to more people is we were more joyous. Maybe, for Lent, we need to repent of our seriousness and give up some humorlessness and sanctimony!

See you in church,

Michael

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