On Laughter

September 8, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert

For many years, I enjoyed the Prairie Home Companion whenever I could listen to it on Saturday evenings. You may recall that he had a segment that always started out, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone…” and then Garrison Keillor would weave together a story with laughter, poignancy, and often a sweet message about this community on the edge of the prairie, his hometown. And each year, he would host a special Prairie Home Companion that was filled with jokes, often about some of the churches in the town with all of the classic stereotypes of each respective community. I enjoyed some great laughs from that show over the years and sometimes, when the news just gets too hard, I imagine we may all be living in Lake Woebegone because it’s just too much. I know that one of the many gifts that Pastor Jan brought to this church was laughter; I have heard that she shared many jokes because she understand how important it is to find the joy, the laughter in the moments of our lives and too in worship. Let us pray, O Holy One, help us to make room for the gift of laughter and humor in our lives, especially when times are filled with sad news. Lift our hearts that we may take time for levity in our lives so that we may know balance, so we may know peace. Amen.

A man was taking it easy, lying on the grass and looking up at the clouds.  He was identifying shapes when he decided to talk to God.  “God,” he said, “how long is a million years?” God answered, “In my frame of reference, it’s about a minute.” The man thought for a moment and then asked, “God, how much is a million dollars?” God answered, “Well to ME, it’s just a penny.” With this, the man thought a moment longer.  Finally he asked, “God, can I have a penny?” God answered, “In a minute.”

Throughout Scripture, the word Joy is used hundreds of times, and often in the Psalms. We hear the call from Paul to Rejoice in the Lord, Rejoice always…and at so many other points. We only read that Jesus wept, but we are also told that he was fully human and fully divine; we know that an essential part of being human is having a sense of humor. I imagine that as he walked the dusty roads with his Apostles, they likely shared stories and jokes. How else do you lighten the load from so much that he encountered as he reached out to those who were suffering in body, mind and spirit. I think about my best friend Colleen growing up. She has a great sense of humor and my sister often said that she was one of the few people who could routinely make us laugh out loud. She had these great comebacks to life’s moments, witty observations, and she had the gift of telling a great story that would get all of us laughing so hard. She lives in Wisconsin now, but when I see her or speak to her on the phone, she still can get me laughing. There is nothing that lifts the spirits like a good laugh, and I think in these very serious times, we really need to find time to laugh.

I have friends who have attended Buddhist laughing retreats, and as forced as that sounds, they told me that once you get laughing in a group setting, it becomes infectious. I’ve read that children may laugh up to 100 or more times a day while adults laugh only a few, if that.

It seems there was this couple from Minneapolis, Minnesota who decided to go to Florida for a few days to thaw out during one particularly cold winter. Since both spouses worked, they had difficulty coordinating their schedules, so the decision was made to have the husband leave for Florida on a certain day, with the wife following him one day later. The man made it down to Florida and arrived at his hotel. Upon getting to his room, he decided to open his laptop and send his wife back in Minneapolis an email. However, he left off one letter in typing his wife’s email address and sent the email off without realizing his error.

In another part of the country, a widow had just returned from the funeral of her husband, a pastor of many years who had been called to glory just a few days earlier. She decided to check her email because she was expecting to hear from her husband’s relatives and friends. Upon reading the first email she let out a loud scream, fainted and fell to the floor.

The woman’s son rushed into the room and found his mother on the floor. He glanced up at the computer screen and saw the following email message:
To My Loving Wife:
I’ve just been checked in. Everything has-been prepared for your arrival here tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then.
Your Devoted Husband.
PS: Sure is hot down here

The author of Ecclesiastes said there is a time to laugh and Jesus had many opportunities to laugh. Every night He would likely sit around the fire with his friends, and who can imagine such a scene without joking and laughter. As any group of friends would, they probably filled the night air with laughter after a day of teaching and healing and traveling from place to place. It was definitely a time to laugh.

Tal Bonham wrote a book, called Humor: God’s Gift and in it he writes, “Have you ever thought of Jesus as throwing back His head and engaging in a good, hearty laugh? Can you imagine Jesus telling a joke? Or a ripple of laughter in the crowd while He spoke? And can you hear Him saying ‘That reminds me of a funny thing that happened in Nazareth when I was a boy’?” “I contend that, from the beginning of His life to the end of His life on earth, Jesus was surrounded by and caused joy, happiness, merriment, gladness, rejoicing, delight, and laughter.”

In Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, we hear of the celebration that the father puts on at the return of his son… “ the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. In Luke 19, before Jesus enters Jerusalem, we hear of several stories including the healing of a blind beggar, the conversion of Zacchaeus and parables he shares to teach his followers about mercy and justice. As he enters Jerusalem, we hear…”As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.”

One of the best quotes in Ted Bonham’s book is that by Country Humorist Minnie Pearl. She said this about the serious images of Jesus we often see in religious art: “I don’t agree with the image many Christians have of Christ as the sad, tragic man depicted in most religious paintings. You can’t tell me He didn’t laugh, or that He wasn’t happy. I think He had a great sense of humor. If He had walked along the Sea of Galilee with a look of doom on His face I don’t believe for a minute all those people would have followed Him. I think they found such joy in His presence they were willing to leave everything behind to go with Him. I am certain He knew the value of humor and the power of a smile.”

Look at the joy of people in the Old Testament when God blest them. As the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Psalmist shared this: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them'” Ps. 126:2. In a recent conversation, Cantor Beth from Etz Chaim Synagogue in Biddeford was speaking about the Hebrew word for Joy, Simchah, as found in Deuteronomy. She had read a recent commentary about this word and that it expressed a joy that was found in the midst of community, especially when a community takes care of one another, when they choose to work together, in times of challenge. We might think of the folks in the Bahamas whose homes have been devastated and the response by many to help out, to share food and water and other necessities. The commentator observed that the hardest thing for communities to do is to work together in times of prosperity.

As God entered into the joy of God’s people, so Jesus would enter into the joy of the people who followed Him. We hear in Genesis that we are made in God’s image and so we must conclude that God is a God of laughter, for we are made to laugh, and so this must be a part of the image of God. To be fully human is to be able to laugh. To be fully human is to be Godlike, and this means laughter has to be a characteristic of one’s being. Humor then is both human and divine, for it has its origin in the nature of God.

The author Max Lucado in his book God Came Near does a great job of helping us see Jesus as very down-to-earth, a level where He can appeal to the world as He did in his ministry. Jesus was not some ivory tower philosopher, or some hidden high priest seldom seen by the masses. He was down where the rubber meets the road. He was among the people, and not just the important people of leadership. He was among the common people, and He was at their weddings and their banquets, and their parties of all kinds. Jesus did not fast, nor did his disciples. He was a feaster and a fun lover, and He loved to be with the people who were rejoicing because they were being healed, fed, and blest in many ways for which they were praising God.

Chuck Swindoll in the forward to the book Choosing The Amusing wrote, “Of all the things God created, I am often most grateful that he created laughter. How I love to have fun! In all honesty, I can hardly imagine a day spent without at least a few moments (preferably many) of sidesplitting laughter…either alone or with someone who can enjoy them as much as I. What healing it brings to our heavy hearts!”

My invitation to each of us to make a little more room in our lives for laughter, despite all of the difficult news. We all certainly can benefit from the joy it may bring!

Martin Luther:  “It is pleasing to the dear God whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart.”
(Sections inspired by writings from Rev. Glenn Pease)