Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Holy Humor

A tourist in Vienna is going through a graveyard and all of a sudden he hears music. No one is around, so he starts searching for the source. He finally locates the origin and finds it is coming from a grave with a headstone that reads "Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827". Then he realizes that the music is the Ninth Symphony and it is being played backward! Puzzled, he leaves the graveyard and persuades a friend to return with him. By the time they arrive back at the grave, the music has changed. This time it is the Seventh Symphony, but like the previous piece, it is being played backward. Curious, the men agree to consult a music scholar. When they return with the expert, the Fifth Symphony is playing, again backward. The expert notices that the symphonies are being played in the reverse order in which they were composed, the 9th, then the 7th, then the 5th. By the next day the word has spread and a crowd has gathered around the grave. They are all listening to the Second Symphony being played backward. Just then the graveyard's caretaker ambles up to the group. Someone in the group asks him if he has an explanation for the Music.  
"I would have thought it was obvious" the caretaker says.
"He's decomposing."

As I’ve shared before, “Laughter Sunday (also known as Holy Humour Sunday, Hilarity Sunday, God’s Laughter Sunday, Bright Sunday or Holy Fools Sunday) has its roots in a number of different Christian traditions.  For example, churches in 15th century Bavaria used to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Risus Paschalis (‘God’s Joke,’ or ‘the Easter laugh’). Priests would deliberately include jokes in their sermons in an attempt to make congregants laugh. After the service, people would gather together to play practical jokes on one another and tell funny stories. It was their way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ – the supreme joke God played on Satan by raising Jesus from the dead.  However, this all changed in the 17th century when a pope outlawed it.  Then in 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to resurrect this tradition by once again taking a day to celebrate God’s joy, resurrection and overcoming of even death, through the gift of laughter and joy. 
            While the psalms we read encourage joy, and laughter is a way of expressing our joy, there is also humor in the Bible.  Some of the stories are joyful, but others are downright funny.  Professor Hershey Friedman says that the different types of humor we find in scripture include, sarcasm, irony, wordplay, humorous names, humorous imagery, and humorous situations.  A couple of examples, when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt, they used sarcasm in confronting Moses by saying, “was there a lack of graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the wilderness?”  In the book of Samuel, Achish said to David, “Why did you bring him to me? Do I lack lunatics that you have brought this one to carry on insanely in my presence?"  Jesus says, “"You are like a person who picks a fly out of his drink and then swallows a camel", and a little later, “"Does anyone bring a lamp home and put it under a washtub or beneath the bed? Don't you put it up on a table or on the mantel?"  God names Isaac “laughter”.  The one who leads us forward, who is our ancestor in faith is named “laughter”. 
            Laughter is a gift from God in so many ways.  Research shows that laughing actually has pain-reducing capacities, and it raises our pain threshold so we can tolerate pain better and we experience it less when we are laughing and for some time after a full, strong laugh.  It helps us learn – we learn better after a good laugh.  And it boosts our immune-enhancing capacities.  When we laugh fully and completely, we are said to “lose” it.  What we actually “lose” in those moments is the distractions of everything else – the distraction of our self-consciousness, the distractions of the stresses in our lives, the problems of the moment, the concerns of the hour.  In the moments of laughter we become completely present in the now – and that moment, that NOW is where God is. 
            Sometimes we are afraid of connecting laughter with our faith, and yet, God delights in our joy and laughter is a part of that. 
Humor has other advantages as well.  It catches us off guard in a way that allows us to hear things differently, to hear things a new.  And because of that, laughter and humor also allows us to express truths in ways that we can sometimes hear differently or more easily.  Humor can get in to our minds, hearts and souls more fully, confront us with our own ridiculousness, our own hypocrisies, our own inner contradictions.  That’s why political cartoons are so effective.  They point out to us what we are really doing, often in ways that are so much more hard hitting, and yet at the same time ironically easier to hear. 
            Some non-political examples:  
            Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
            In filling out an application, where it says, 'In case of emergency, Notify:'  I put DOCTOR'.
            Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
Money isn’t everything, but it sure keeps the kids in touch.
If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.          
            We see ourselves in these jokes.  We see ‘truth’ in these jokes.  They make us laugh because they tell us truths we don’t usually look at, don’t usually name, don’t usually think about, and certainly don’t think about in these ways. They make us laugh and that is a gift.  But they also point out realities that we don’t always see, and that is a gift as well.  Laughter also open us up to hear more serious truths in another way, too.  One sermon advice tidbit we were given at seminary was to speak our most poignant truths right after a joke – right after making people laugh because studies show we hear better, differently, more fully after laughing, and if we can say something funny right before saying something hard hitting, people usually take it in better.  Humor, laughter, does that for us.
On this, the second Sunday of Easter, we continue to celebrate the story of Jesus’ resurrection.  And through it we are reminded that God has the final “laugh”.  This time that laugh is on death itself.  Even that is overcome, to the surprise, to the joy, to the delight of God’s people and the disciples in particular.  God is the God of the amazing, of healing, of joy, of laughter.  And today we celebrate that gift – we honor that gift by laughing with God, by enjoying life with God.  But it, too, is best realized through laughter.  The joke is on Satan.  The joke is on evil.  We win.  It is hilarious and wondrous and wonderful that just when evil thought it got the ultimate prize in Christ, even death was overcome.  That is not only something to rejoice in, it is not only something to celebrate, it is something to laugh about!  God won!  When it was least expected, God won!

A nearsighted minister glanced at a note that Mrs. Jones had sent to him by an usher.  The note read, “Bill Jones having gone to sea, his wife desires the prayers of the congregation for his safety.”  Failing to note the punctuation, the cleric startled the parish by announcing, “Bill Jones, having gone to see his wife, desires the prayers of the congregation for his safety.”

A woman said to the pastor at the end of a service, “I hope you didn’t take it personally that my husband walked out during your sermon.”
The pastor responded, “well, it was a little disconcerting.”
“It’s not a reflection on you” she insisted, “Daniel has been walking in his sleep ever since he was a child.”

When the new pastor came to town, he began to visit all her parishioners.  All was fine until she knocked on the Jones’ door.  It was obvious someone was at home, but no one came to the door.  So she finally wrote on the back of her business card, “Revelation 3:20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to that one.” And she stuck it on the door.  On Sunday, her card found its way into the offering plate.  Below her message was written these words, “Genesis 3:10, “And he said, I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”

A small girl was reprimanded by her mother for giggling during prayer.  “It’s okay, Mom,” she said.  “I was just sharing a joke with God.”

Pastor: “I was just reading over this letter you did.  Your typing is really improving.  I see there are only seven mistakes here.”
Secretary: “Thank you, Pastor.
Pastor, “Now, moving on to the second line…”

Unhappy pastor and his frustrated church bill ringer are standing in the steeple and the minister explained, “no, no Hibby!  It’s ding after dong except after bong.”