How Good It is to Laugh

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           A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.  {Proverbs 17:22}

          Good morning everyone!  I remember as a child going to see the movie, Mary Poppins, at the theater.  We thought it was magical and just so much fun.  My parents had this wonderful console record player and my mother would play the music from Mary Poppins again and again for us. And every time, when we heard that song, I love to laugh, it would truly get us laughing.  You may remember the scene when they go to visit Mary’s Uncle Albert whom they find up near the ceiling.  He starts telling jokes and the more they laugh, the more they rise up to the ceiling to join him there laughing loudly…their spirits were literally lifted up and it brought joy to everyone.  We loved that song and as children, and it seemed that laughter came so easily to us.  So often, we think of the readings from the Bible as altogether very serious, don’t we?  And certainly, many of them are, but we forget the times when we hear of people celebrating together.  We may not often think of God as being funny,   but there are certainly a number of passages in scripture which speak about God sending the people out with shouts of joy. To be filled with such joy must mean that there is also a lightheartedness in God. And certainly, when we look at creation, we have to believe that God really does have a sense of humor: look at an aardvark or a sloth, the way a hummingbird flits around, or even the mocking bird.  God has a creative touch.    And I cannot imagine Jesus hanging out with his friends without sharing times of storytelling and laughter.  He loved attending weddings and dinners with people, so surely there were many moments to laugh. In the book of Proverbs, we hear these words,  “A cheerful heart is a good medicine,  which we have come to know as “Laughter is the best medicine.”  Let us pray, O God of endless  joy, help us to laugh more, to find delight in our daily lives and to remember that you have made us to be people of hope and happiness.  Amen.

                               Rest In Peace

One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The seven year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside him and said quietly, “Good morning, Alex.”

Good morning, Pastor,” replied the young man, still focused on the plaque. “Pastor McGhee, what is this?” Alex asked.

 “Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the men and women who have died in the service.”

Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex’s voice was barely audible when he finally managed to ask, “Which one, the 9:00 or 10:30 service?”

If we are to love God with our whole being, then it follows that we are to love God even with our laughter. In Psalm 126 we see the people of God praising God with the gift of laughter. The Israelites were so filled with the delight that they were no longer captives, that they were free citizens and  ack in their home land that they laughed out loud with joy. It may be hard to laugh and sing at the same time, but verse 2 puts them together, and their mouths are filled with laughter and their tongues with songs of joy. Maybe they would tell stories of their joyful return, and then laugh together, and break into songs of praise for God’s loving care and guidance in their lives. It’s an important and joyful moment and they express it through their laughter and their music together.  I’m certain that many of us can recall very difficult times in our lives and, after we have moved through them, we just feel such joy and gratitude that we have to cheer and laugh and celebrate. 

The preacher’s Sunday sermon was Forgive Your Enemies. Toward the end of the service, He asked his congregation, “how many of you have forgiven your enemies”?

About half held up their hands. He then repeated his question. As it was past lunchtime, this time about 80 percent held up their hands. He then repeated his question again. All responded, except one small elderly lady.  “Mrs. Jones?” inquired the preacher, Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?

“I don’t have any.” she replied. smiling sweetly.

“Mrs. Jones, That is very unusual. How old are you?” “Ninety-three,” she replied.

“Oh, Mrs. Jones, what a blessing and a lesson to us all you are. Would you please come down in front of this congregation and tell us all how a person can live ninety-three years and not have an enemy in the world.”

The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said “I outlived the old hags.”

Dr. Paul Rees tells a story of this businessman who found himself in St. Louis on a Sunday morning.  He left his hotel to see if he could find a good place to Worship.   He comes across a police officer on the street and so he decides to ask him for directions to the nearest church. When the officer gave him the information, the man asked why he had recommended that particular church out of several possibilities. The policeman smiled and replied, “I’m not a church man myself, but the people who come out of that church are the happiest looking church people in St. Louis. I thought that would be the kind of church you would like to attend.” Laughter and smiling make a statement to the world about the God we worship.  

There is another moment when we hear a story of laughter in the Bible.  Today we heard the story from Genesis (18:1-15)  of Sarah and Abraham. Following a beautiful display of hospitality, three strange visitors in the night announce that Sarah, well beyond child-bearing years, will have a son. It is a laughable proposition, impossible you might even say. The only thing to do when hearing such an outlandish assertion is to laugh, which, of course, is what Sarah does. God enters the scene to confirm this news from the messengers, and calls attention to this response. After all, is anything too wonderful for God? God reminds Abraham and Sarah that with God, even the impossible is possible. Sarah resists a bit more, denying her laughter in fear. But God has heard it and won’t let it slide. “Oh yes, you did laugh.” I don’t think God was so much reprimanding her for laughter, but rather recognizing that sometimes the mysterious works of God are so beyond our comprehension that we have nothing left to do but laugh. And with that, in the holy presence of accompaniment, I imagine that God laughs with us. Perhaps it’s more of a knowing chuckle, a pat on the head, an “oh, if you only knew what I know” kind of laughter, but it reflects the gentleness with which God holds us that can guide us into a future where dreams indeed can become reality.

Laughter has the power to move our lives forward even in the midst of difficult times. In the story of Sarah, it is laughter that paves the way . . . to the birth of her son whom she names Isaac, which means “he laughs.”

A priest is up giving a sermon one Sunday morning

The priest tries a experiment. He tells everyone “stand up all those who want to go to heaven!” And everyone stands up. He then tells them to sit back down. Then he says “stand up all those who want to go to hell” and one man stands up, Murphy. So the priest says “Murphy why on earth do you want to go to hell?” Murphy replied “oh no father, I don’t want to go to hell, I just couldn’t bear to see ya standing up there by yourself”

The Bible often connects the sound of laughter to joy and to feasting, which are both spoken of often in the Bible.  A study of all the Hebrew words dealing with laughter revealed 91 references to either mocking or merry laughter. It is a major part of life, and it is a major part of the biblical depiction of life.”  I cannot remember too many meals when I was growing up when there wasn’t some laughter at the dinner table.  Recently, Rich and I joined some friends for dinner outdoors on a beautiful evening.  We laughed so much together that we all left there feeling so uplifted.  Laughter truly is the best medicine.  During Covid, we made a point of watching stand up comedy specials with our kids from time to time, and yes, we were able to find a few who do mostly clean jokes.  We all laughed together and it was so good to focus on something beyond the heaviness of these months.

Rev. Glenn Pease references Dante’s Divine Comedy as a wonderful example of the joys of heaven. “Paradiso” is the final part of Dante Alighieri’s long, narrative poem, Divine Comedy.  In it, Beatrice accompanies Dante as he journeys through the nine levels or spheres of heaven, which are represented by various celestial bodies. In each section, Dante’s guides attempt to teach him various lessons.   “Dante describes a journey from a humorless hell to a humor filled heaven. His hell is like the modern astronomer’s black hole which swallows up all light, and is black with self-centeredness. It is the least comic place in the universe. But Dante moves from this black hole of hell to the light of heaven, where love and joy are all embracing. Dante exclaims as he approaches the 8th level of heaven: “I seemed to see the universe alight with a single smile.” The nearer we get to heaven the wider the smile and the greater the laughter.“  

So let’s give ourselves permission to laugh, my friends.  These recent years have brought far too much to worry about and, indeed, to cry about, but I trust that our God has a wonderful sense of humor and has created us with the capacity to laugh and to celebrate joy.  Laughter is a foretaste of heaven right here on earth.  Thank you God for the gift of laughter! Amen.

-Rev. Glenn Pease, In Praise of Laughter