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!


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