What makes you laugh? Perhaps there is a tv show, a comedian or a friend who is guaranteed to make you chuckle? Perhaps you’re someone who laughs a lot, who giggles when you’re nervous, or when you don’t know what else to say. Or perhaps you’re someone who’s face is naturally stern, who might seldom smile and laugh even less. Well let’s test that out now as we hear some real life church noticeboard mistakes…
- Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help
- Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. Please use large double door at the side entrance
- Thursday at 5:00 P.M. there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club. All wishing to become little mothers, please see the minister
- At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice
Pretty funny stuff but accidentally so. And in spite of shows such as Father Ted, the Vicar of Dibley and Rev which portray the church as a fun…or at least funny…place to be, many outside the institution…and some of us within it too…think of the church as a laugh-free place filled with dour members and dourer clergy, singing joyless hymns in a drafty, old building. In a recent survey of 17-18 year olds in the UK, when asked what they thought of when they heard the word ‘church’, their response was telling:
Cardigans’; ‘Sandals and socks’… ‘Corrupt, having somewhat lost the plot’; ‘Marginally pointless, traditionalist, past its sell-by date’; ‘Unchanging, stagnant,’…’Car boot sales are better.’”
Given that impression, it’s unsurprising that so many young people are turned off church. But do they have a point? Is church, and more to the point, should church be, a place free of laughter, where we worship the transcendent and ponder the great questions of life with a severe and stony-faced countenance?
Well, here, at St David’s, we certainly don’t think so. There is, of course, a time to be serious, a time to weep even but, as Ecclesiastes also tells us, there is a time to rejoice, to dance and to laugh. For laughter is good for your health and a blessing for the soul; it is beautiful, blissful and biblical as we can hear in this next passage from the book of Genesis, chapter 21:
21 The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”
In this passage, we hear of how God fulfilled his promise to Abraham and Sarah as, in her old age, Sarah conceived and gave birth to a boy. And what was her response to this divine action, this fulfilled covenant, this wonderful gift…Sarah responded with laughter. After decades of doubt and despondency and with a precarious future on the horizon, in that moment, Sarah was overcome with laughter. And like the best causes of joy, Sarah knew that her laughter could not be kept to herself but would spread to others. “God has brought laughter for me,” Sarah declares, “ and everyone who hears will laugh with me.”
So perhaps we need to take a leaf out of Sarah’s book. Perhaps we should respond to the blessings in our life with laughter. Perhaps our prayers of thanksgiving might ring out with the sound of a great, big, belly-laugh.
Does this mean we overlook the tragedies, atrocities and brokenness of our world? By no means! Does it mean that we cocoon ourselves against the reality that many in our world, in our communities, perhaps even in our families, find life a struggle, find little reason to smile in their everyday lives? Of course not. For we are called to weep with those who are weeping, called to strive for justice, live lives of compassion, to work for peace and this might lead us into some very difficult, very dark places.
And yet we must also declare that it is not only Sarah who has been blessed with a fulfilled promise, a divine action, a miraculous birth. For we believe in a God who loves the world so much that God came to heal and bless it, to challenge and transform it, through a baby in a manger, a criminal on a cross, a risen friend in a garden. We believe in a saviour who joked about specks of sawdust and planks of wood, who shared stories in the streets, who partied at weddings. And we believe in a day when there will be no more pain or death or tears, when those who weep now will laugh and when God will be all in all.
All of which does not negate the difficulties of life, the reasons for our frustrations, agonies or tears but it does tell us that suffering will not have the last word. That God is good. That love will win and laughter will resound.
So may we rejoice in God’s blessings and delight in the good news of Christ. May we sing and smile, leap and laugh in our homes, on the streets, even in church. And may our laughter cascade out to our friends and family, to neighbours and strangers, so that all may hear of God’s love, encounter God’s grace and be immersed in God’s joy, today, tomorrow and forevermore. Amen.