Monday, April 24, 2017

Jesus Laughed

John 20:19-31
Holy Hilarity
4-23-17

Groucho Marx was coming out of an elevator 
and a priest came up to him, puts out his hand and says
"I want to thank you for all the joy you've put into this world."
And Groucho shook his hand, and said
"And I want to thank you, for all the joy you've taken out of this world."

Christianity does seem to have a reputation
for trying to remove all the fun out of life.
Maybe that reputation is well earned.
Lots of theologians and church people
have written warnings against laughing, humor, frivolity.

The Rule of St. Benedict, advised
no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter

Three men who laughed during one of John Calvin’s sermons were imprisoned for three days. I wonder what they laughed at.

St. John of Chrysostomos fourth century church father,
warned Christians against laughing:
“Laughter often gives birth to foul discourse, and foul discourse to actions still more foul. Often words and laughter proceed railing and insult; and from railing and insult, blows and wounds; and from blows and wounds, slaughter and murder. If, then, you would take good counsel for yourself, avoid not merely foul words and foul deeds, or blows and wounds and murders, but unseasonable laughter itself.”

I don’t know what kind of parties he had been to.
Christ, Liberator
Willis Wheatley, 1973

And he also said  he doubted if Christ 
could have laughed at all during his earthly life.

Thankfully, we’ve progressed some since then.
This picture that’s been 
projected is usually called “Laughing Christ”
or “Jesus Laughing” but the original name is 
“Christ, Liberator”
and it was one of four portraits of Jesus
drawn for some sort of publicity for the
United Church of Canada by Willis Wheatly in 1973.

It became pretty popular in the 70’s, 
it captured a lot of people’s imagination who maybe 
had thought like John Chrysotomos that Jesus had never laughed .

Of course Jesus laughed.
And Jesus was human.
Human beings laugh.
And he hung around a bunch of friends.
That’s what friends do.
It’s a way to communicate and relate.
And Jesus was God’s son, and God is funny.

Most people read the bible and
only think of serious things,
the story of God is not some dry, lifeless, humorless story.
The story of God and God’s people is comedy.

The enormity of God’s powers paired with the
stupidity and stubbornness of God’s people is a hilarious set up.
And the stories we love from the scriptures
have all of the main elements of comedy:
farce, misdirection, paradox, exaggeration, satire, irony
  
Start at the beginning:
God creates the Garden of Eden and puts Adam and Eve in it,
and gives them everything, anything they could want.
But right in the middle of the garden he puts one tree –
Whatever you do, don’t touch that tree.
It sounds like an episode of the Simpsons.

Then, when God decides to give birth to his people,
he decides to use Abraham and Sarah.
A couple of people in their nineties.
Was there no one younger around?

And when Moses leads the Israelites to Mount Sinai.
Moses says, “I’m going to the top to get the 10 commandments
You guys stay here. I’ll be back in a little while,
in the mean time, I’m putting my brother Aaron in charge.”
And by the time he gets down,
the Israelites are worshipping a golden calf.

And Jesus told the most ridiculous stories
that must have gotten some big laughs at the time:
If you lost one sheep,
wouldn’t you leave the 99 behind to find it?
no, of course not, Jesus. That’s silly.

If your youngest son leaves you and takes all your money,
and spends it all on frivolous and stupid things
and he came back looking for a meal
Wouldn’t your first reaction be to run to him
and throw him a big party?
Really, no not at all.
  
And if everyone didn’t show up for your banquet,
wouldn’t you go into the streets and invite
complete strangers to it? No, Jesus we wouldn’t.
But that is what God does.
That is how funny God’s ways are to us.

Even in the passion story,
about as serious as a story can get-
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey,
a baby donkey, his feet dangling on the ground.

His rag tag courtiers putting their frayed clothing on the ground
A satire of kings everywhere
who are full of themselves and their power.
A clown parade making fun of the high brow
pomp and circumstance.

And in the end,
the entirety of Jesus plan is to turn over everything,
is to hand himself over to the empire
and the religious leaders and die.
And the biggest laugh of all – it works!
The devil is defeated.

Even in today’s Gospel story, 
fear has gripped the disciples
their next moves are unknown, their future uncertain.
They fear for their lives.

And Thomas is like, “This tension is too much.
I’m going out for some coffee”
And of course, just at that moment he leaves,
Jesus comes in the room.

Then when Thomas comes back with everyone’s
Starbucks orders,
they all tell him what happened while he was gone.
And he said he’s just not going to believe it.
Do Jesus does come back just to show Thomas,
And it’s Thomas the skeptic who gets to deliver
the real truth about who Jesus is, he says
“My Lord and my God.”

When you think about it, our whole life with God
is just a little ridiculous.
We’re asked to devote our lives to a Jewish
carpenter who lived 2000 years ago.
Asked to help people, to love strangers,
pray for our enemies, to take up our cross and follow.
And we give our life and devotion to a man who
in the end, was killed.
If we heard about Christianity for the first time,
we might laugh at us too.

It’s funny, that the creator of everything would care for us,
it’s  crazy that God would use people like us for God’s mission.
It’s silly that the one true God would love us so much,
he would go to any lengths to reach us.

The devil would like us to think
that God was all seriousness,
all rules and regulations, all business and forms.
The devil wants us to be sour and dour and cynical and
suspicious of joy and creativity.
Suspicious of God and of one another.

But the truth is
God is an artist, God is creative,
God is joy, God is a comedian.

And the devil has no power over us anymore.
Death and sin are just silly diversions
from God’s kingdom.
And the last laugh is on the devil.
because Jesus Christ has risen.
Alleluia!


Monday, April 3, 2017

The Story of Lazarus

John 11:1-45
4-2-17 Lent 5

Like the woman at the well,
The story of Jesus raising Lazarus
only shows up in the gospel of John.
This seems like it would be a significant
miracle for everyone to remember but only John tells it.
But John never talks about miracles, he only talks about signs.

Miracles for John are a sign of something larger.
Jesus doesn’t do miracles for their own sake,
they are there to show us something about the activity of God
and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our world.
Raising of Lazarus
John Reilly
So what is this miracle showing us?
Let’s review the story a little.

So Jesus is in another 
town and he gets word
that his friend Lazarus is very ill.
Now , you think he might 
go quickly to see him and help him.
It says Lazarus and Mary 
and Martha were special friends of Jesus.
He had gone to help other people, 
you might expect that he would
a special effort to go and help Lazarus. 
But no.
Jesus takes his time and stays a while longer wherever he was.

To be honest, this is kind of frustrating when you think about it.
Why would Jesus want to do that?
I understand that he wants to reveal God’s glory,
but Jesus waiting has caused a lot of pain in the process.
But eventually, Jesus decides to go to Lazarus.

So it’s four days after Lazarus is dead,
for four days Mary and Martha were grieving over their brother.
And when Jesus arrives at Bethany,
you can kind of feel the anger in the air.
Martha meets Jesus on the road and says,
“If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
I mean she’s seen him cure so many people before,
so many strangers, he could have come and helped his best friend.

So Jesus tells her “Your brother will live again.”
And Martha tells him:
I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

Now, Jews at that time believed in the resurrection on the last day,
It was what the Pharisees were teaching,
the Sadducees were the ones that didn’t believe it.
So Martha is giving this line back of normal rote stuff
everyone would have been taught in their religious education classes.
“Yes, Yes, he’ll rise on the last day. I know eternal life.”
She’s kind of annoyed by this response.

And I can completely understand that.
When someone dies, lots of people’s inclination
is to tell the person who is grieving
“It’s okay, your loved one is in heaven now”
or “God needed another angel” or some other platitude like that.
But telling someone those things are not always consoling.
Especially when the death is unexpected, or the person is young,
their loved ones still have to remain here,
and deal with the pain and loss,
and pay the bills, and live alone,
and raise the kids by themselves.
Practically speaking, saying to someone,
“Your brother, or wife, or child is in heaven”
is not always comforting in every situation.
And it wouldn’t have been in this one.

But it’s apparent that is not what Jesus meant.
Jesus doesn’t quite correct her, but he says,  
 “I am the resurrection and the life.”
He’s not talking about the after-life like the Pharisees did.
He’s talking about resurrection here and now.

So it’s odd and sad that lots of people  
in the Christian church haven’t moved much passed
the idea that Martha and the Pharisees had.
Lots of us still make Christianity all about the after-life,
and going to heaven or hell after you die.
Even after the corrective in this story, we still can’t see that
Jesus has important things to do in our world here and now.

They go on further, and Mary comes out and there’s more tension.
She says the same thing that Martha does.
“Lord if you have been here, my brother would not have died”

Now I have told you before, and I tell you again,
that when I hear two people using the same exact phrase,
I know that they have been complaining together,
and it seems like Mary and Martha were complaining
about Jesus together.
And we have all been there, praying and hoping and waiting for God to act on something, and just getting silence and nothing.
Most of us have gotten angry with God too.

By this time everyone is crying.
Emotions are contagious and Jesus is not immune to this or above this.
Jesus is moved by the situation of his friends and their sadness,
and he cries with everyone else.
  
Then he goes to the tomb that Lazarus is lying in
and tells them to move the stone away.
Martha, always the practical one,
warns Jesus that since he’s been in there
for four days, “there is a stench” or, as it more expressively
says in the King James version of the bible: “he stinketh”.
Just one more reminder
that we’re talking about real, honest, stinky death here.
Lazarus wasn’t just hibernating.

And then Jesus calls to the previously dead man:
“Lazarus come out” and he walks out,
his body still wrapped up in the cloths
he was buried in, and Jesus tells the
rest of the people to
“Unbind him and let him go”.

Stories like this,  give us images and complex thought.
They can teach us more about life and God and Jesus
than a hundred essays or letters could.
And this story is chock full of truths about God and Jesus.
Stories also have a living quality to them that tell us
different things at different times that we might need to hear.
  
Here are some things that I learned  about God and Jesus
from listening to this story this time:

1. God doesn’t work on our time table. 
We may want God to come and help us right now,
without haste, but God doesn’t always act on our request.
And, at the same time, God can accept our anger about that.

2. Being a close friend of Jesus
Doesn’t free us from pain and suffering and death.
Being a beloved disciple doesn’t make us immune from pain.
And suffering is not a sign that we aren’t loved by God.

3 .Our suffering is not caused by God
(as was suggested in the story of the blind man last week),
God and Jesus are actually moved to tears by our suffering.
But every time we suffer, every grief, every obstacle,
IS an opportunity for us and others to see God’ power and glory
work through us to overcome those obstacles.

4. Jesus best work is done with the dead.
Not just nearly dead but really dead.
When we’ve given up control and we realize how hopeless we are,
that is when Jesus does his best work.
That goes for us, for our lives, for our country, and for our world.
Even when we’re so dead that “we stinketh”, there is still hope for us.

5. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, right here and right now. 
Even though Jesus is not raising up dead people these days,
and it’s never been a ministry of the Christian church,
resurrection is happening in our world and in our lives right now,
all the time, and that is God and Jesus at work.

It’s not only about heaven and what happens after death.
We don’t have to wait for the after-life for God’s promises to kick in.
Once we let Jesus into our stinky tombs, and open our eyes,
we can see amazing and miraculous things right here.

 6. Jesus and God do the major work of resurrection,
but the community of God helps with the unbinding and letting go.

7. And finally even when death comes,
which will happen to each one of us, it is still not over.
God is not done with us. 
Jesus will not leave us alone.

Maybe you got some others that I didn’t.
Stories can do that, the living word can do that,
different people can see different things at different times.
That’s how God speaks to us right now. Through stories.
And our own stories are like that too.

Maybe our stories aren’t as dramatic or memorable
as Lazarus story. But every tragedy we have experienced,
every disappointment, every hard time we’ve come through,
Those are signs of God’s presence with us and
they are a testament to the power of resurrection
that his found in Jesus Christ.
They tell us how God moves in our lives, and what is possible.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

And we are being raised with Christ every day.