Grace and Peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Sorry everyone, I'm still warming up. Let me tell a few more jokes. Did you know that the first computer was in the bible? It's found all the way back with Adam and Eve. Surprise, Surprise, it was an Apple! But after just one byte, everything crashed.
Happy Holy Humor Sunday, everyone. Holy Humor Sunday services not only give us an opportunity for ongoing celebrations of the greatest miracle in human history, which is Jesus' resurrection, it also gives each of us an opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, our own smaller resurrections in this world and this life. This is a tradition that started in the 15th century. Usually, it was the weeks right after Easter in which less people came to church. As part of the holy humor services, pastors and priests would add extras stories and jokes in their sermons, and afterward, people would gather to tell stories and play practical jokes. Because of this, It may come as no surprise that the observance of this holiday was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Let me see a quick show of hands if this sounds right: Religion and religious figures are typically seen as sour, finger-wagging, and way too serious by non-believers and sometimes by us in the pews. We have made rituals and saints untouchable, so sacred and set apart that they are not to be sullied by any crass attempt to laugh at them too with the rest of life. Where could we have gotten this idea, that faith has to be so serious? Now, to be fair, just a few weeks ago, we told the story of Christ's painful torture and death. But now we are able to see an empty tomb, and are able to celebrate with others the joy that comes from Christ's resurrection.
Now, in today's reading (Romans 14:13-23), we find the Apostle Paul, writing a letter to the Roman people. One of the big questions that Paul was addressing was the food laws, and how they were being used against new believers. You see, some believed that in order to be Christian, you would have to follow the old kosher laws. This meant no pork, no bacon, no shrimp, and don't even think about bacon-wrapped shrimp. Now, this might seem all about the rules about what someone should or should not eat. But I think that today's lesson can also be a guide on how it is that we treat others. Paul writes that we don't need to worry about what it is that we're eating, neither steak nor pork chops will make you any closer or farther from God. But more importantly, we shouldn't use our liberties to make life more difficult for someone else. Paul's letter can be broken up into three parts:
First, don't hurt your fellow believers. That is to say, don't make rules that will hurt someone else. Now, sometimes rules give clarity to people. There have often been times where I have added extra rules for myself for the sake of transparency and in order that people can understand that I can be depended on. These are rules that I don't expect everyone else to follow. It can be little things, such as checking with your spouse before you buy food, or sending the text to let your parents know what time you'll be home. We don't have the same rules for everyone, and that is okay. Paul writes that we should not set rules up as a stumbling block for others, that might hurt them or keep them from experiencing Christ in their lives. Remember, “these are the people that God has died for.”
Second, don't harm your testimony. Paul writes that the way that we talk or treat something can make it seem evil to someone else. Now, in this particular passage, Paul is talking about the food that they were eating. But this can be applied to other things as well. Paul writes in an earlier passage in Romans that we are free to decide for ourselves on non-essential issues like eating, drinking, or the jokes that we make. Many peoples’ biggest reason for ignoring God is what they have seen what someone claiming to be Christian do. Now certainly, sometimes they have a wrong perspective on what it means to be a Christian, but many times the things that other believers say or do affect how we talk about God with others. Have any of you, when explaining about faith, had to tell someone “oh, we're not like THAT person, or that group?” What we intended for good, and what really is good in our lives, can be spoken of as evil when we do not restrain ourselves when it is appropriate. Paul tells us that when we are acting as person's of faith, sometimes we have to hold ourselves back in order to both serve God and help others to understand the God we serve.
And third and finally, Paul letter tells us not to hurt our church. Paul writes “So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help each other with encouraging words, don't drag them down by finding fault.” This means that we are using our time and our energy to help build up one another in the body of Christ. Sometimes, we have to check where our hearts and motivations lie. If we are able to have our words, thoughts, and actions are in line with one another, we're doing pretty good. But if it seems like something's not quite right, you might want to check your motives again.
Now, you may be thinking, hey, wasn't this supposed to be a Holy Humor Service? And you're right, I've been talking about a fair serious text. But in a way, this text does apply to the way that humor in our everyday life. We can use humor to build people and the church up, or we can use it to hurt and damage those sitting around us. Let's re-look at Paul's three points: 1. Don't hurt your follow believers. Don't make jokes about people that will hurt them or the way that people see them. 2. Don't harm your testimony. If people heard some of the jokes that we said, what would they think about us? And three, Don't hurt our church. While I was looking through jokes for material for this service, I had to cut out about half the jokes I read because I saw the harm that they did at the expense of the church and believers. But I know the truth. I know those jokes aren't us.
Maybe some of you here this morning don’t feel much like laughing. Maybe some of you have reason to be serious this morning because something you care about deeply in your life is in serious trouble. More often than not, we have cares and burdens that we cannot just put down. This morning, I am not asking you to put on a happy face and pretend that your troubles do not exist. This Easter season celebrates Jesus’ resurrection, but also other smaller resurrections in our lives, areas where God made a way out of no way. Even if we are troubled now, can we remember a time when we were surprised by joy? When someone came to our aid or when relationships mended or when our load was lightened by someone else’s kindness? Cultivating our sense of humor requires a lot of the same skills as growing in our faith. Both require a hope in what has not yet come to be; a deep down trust that all will be well. Our being able to laugh can be a sigh of relief that we are still ourselves in the midst of crisis.
Now, I have a personal story to end on. For those of you who remember my first week, you know that I didn't come in, writing long essays about God and theology with big words. That's not what I did. What I remember most about my first week here, is that I got in the dunk tank at the carnival, and that was my introduction to this community. And let me tell ya, some of the people here have really good throwing arms. And at the time, I had to laugh. Here I was, starting a new job in a new church family, And as absurd as it seemed, life was going on. Here's the thing, I don't think that I could have been as effective in my job here if I didn't get to laugh with you all. Humor is my way of opening the door for deeper conversation, and for building bonds with you all. And that's the thing: humor and grace go together. Being convinced that God loves us just as we are is all the more meaningful the more we can see clearly just how absurd we sometimes are. Humor allows us to take a look an honest look at ourselves, to see our own needs and to recognize where we have been blessed. So use your blessings, use your laughter and your humor to build up others. It is because of what Christ has done that we are able to have such great joy, and give it to others. And for that we can turn and say, Thanks be to God. Amen.