August 14 Sermon

Laughter Given
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
on Gen 21:1-7
For August 14, 2016             Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me;
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.

Here, in this foundational story of scripture, laughter is celebrated. Isaac’s very name means laughter – and he certainly made his parents laugh before he was born.

One of my mentors in ministry liked to say when we arrive at the pearly gates we won’t be asked “Why did you do this thing?” or “Why didn’t you do that thing?” but rather “You were given a gospel of joy; why were you so boring?” Church buildings should resound with alleluias.

Yes, there is difficult work to be done; if we do it without joy we burnout, experience compassion fatigue, and ultimately lose our reason for doing the work. Joyousness focuses our purpose, gives our meaning to our struggles meaning – for it is through joy, not work, that we are united with one another in our spirits.

Listen to me carefully: I’m not advocating for parties only. I said there is difficult work to do. Look at that sign calling us to Be The Church. There’s some tough things on there:

Protect the Environment.

Care for the Poor.

Reject Racism.

Fight for the Powerless.

Embrace Diversity.

These are big demands, these are complex problems, these are tough work.

This election cycle is no laughing matter. You will most likely hear this from me again in upcoming weeks: I am prevented from preaching to you about either candidate or either party. In my role as teacher I cannot instructor you which way you should vote. As a congregation, we can hold education forums to discuss the issues and the stances candidates have taken on issues – but we cannot tell you what way to vote.

You can probably tell from my prayers that I am deeply troubled by both presidential candidates. You can probably tell that I am disturbed by the violent and hateful rhetoric both parties have been using. You can probably tell I am worried that our country, our culture has lost the ability for open discussion where adults can disagree about issues and still respect one another. I am worried because that is an essential component of democratic process. I am worried because respectful disagreement is an essential component in the church for discerning God’s call to us – just as joy and delight should also be part of God’s call.

Our faith ancestors are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – Isaac, laughter, is right in the middle of that. And maybe laughter should be right in the middle of our faith activities too. One of the metrics a pediatrician uses to gauge if a child is healthy is whether or not the child laughs. Healthy children laugh; unhealthy children do not laugh. What if we measured the health of congregations in a similar way? Healthy congregations laugh together; unhealthy congregations do not laugh.

As I say that, I am aware that the next two stories we’ll use in worship from Abraham and Sarah are not stories of laughter. They are stories of great terror. They are stories of disrespect and abuse and life-threatening behaviors. This infant named laughter is about to face some terrifying events. All this promise, all this covenant, all this waiting will be endangered in the upcoming stories.

But, I have to tell myself, “Stop. You’re getting ahead of this morning’s story. You are overlooking that laughter has been born, because Abraham and Sarah trusted God, kept a covenant with God, because they themselves laughed with God Isaac – the giggling boy – has been born. We are meant to enjoy this moment. We are meant to delight in this infant who coos and giggles and smiles at us when he messes his diapers. That’s the part of the story we are at now. Laughter, joy, delight: these call us to be mindful of this present moment. Set aside your worries for what is coming up. Pay attention to right now.”

Pay attention right at this moment to how you are holding your head on top of your neck. Does it feel good? What happens if you tilt it a little to the right or the left? Consider where your eyebrows sit on your face. Now imagine lazer beams come out from your eyebrows crossing the room. Can you hold your head so that your eyebrow lazer beam is parallel to the floor – without hitting anyone in the face with your lazer? Can you tilt your head so that the lazer beam goes straight up and down someone’s body?

Are you self-conscious that other people might be watching you? Are you getting a little grin on your face because you are very aware of the fact that you are sitting in a room with thirty people, and all of them are suddenly bouncing their heads on top of their necks? Have we subtly, playfully shifted into a moment where laughter has entered into our holy space?

Let’s try something a little less silly. Close your eyes so no one is looking at anyone else. Take a deep breath. Let it out slow. Continue to take deep, slow breaths.

Be aware that God’s presence is here. Don’t try to figure out where: just know God is here. Don’t try to describe God’s presence: just enjoy it. God is able to see you. So smile. Let your lips curl into a grin.

Now let us enjoy the reflection hymn, Spirit of the Living God.

Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me;
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.

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