A week ago Saturday I was driving and listening to a pod cast. It was an old NPR “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” It is a quiz show about the week’s events and it usually features a prominent person. On this show Craig Fugate the Former Administrator of FEMA was the guest. He was asked the question, “Did you learn anything from watching disaster movies? He replied he did, especially from Monti Python’s The Search for the Holy Grail. When questioned again he said yes, especially the line – “Run away, run away.” I would imagine in his position you would have needed a sense of humor.
What makes you smile and laugh? Where do you find humor in the everyday? Various philosophers and psychologists have written essays trying to define what it is which makes us laugh. Sigmund Freud, who, I can’t imagine being very jovial, wrote an essay entitled, “Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious.” (It is not on my reading list.) In his and other theories, two elements define what makes something funny; incongruity and surprise.
Obviously, the message heard by Sarah was one of both surprise and incongruity. She was old, Abraham was old. She was way, way past menopause. She had long since stopped having hot flashes. They were ready to settle down in the land God promised them and consider their retirement options. She had given up the notion of ever having children and was now content with just being Abraham’s wife, his companion on the journey. That was, until these three guests arrived unannounced and as was the tradition were invited into their tent and made to feel at home. Listening from off stage, in the kitchen tent, she overheard the conversation. Well not exactly, the Bible says she was behind the door of the tent eavesdropping. And what she heard surprised her as so incredible that she began to giggle and then she started to laugh.
She couldn’t stifle herself and God, disguised as one of the guests, heard her and asked; “Did I hear Sarah laugh?” “Who me?” Sarah replied trying to wipe the smile off her face, inserting her fist into her mouth to keep her from really laughing out loud. “Why do you think I would laugh at such a thought, being a ninety-nine year old codger who is ready for the geriatric ward and afternoon bingo, not coffee with the twenty year olds and play dates for our kids? Come on God, think about it – it’s funny. No it’s ridiculous!”
But God was serious. Really serious! God questioned her about laughing and then lying about it and ultimately said to her these marvelous words; “Is anything too wonderful even for the Lord?” Although she was silent and did not respond to this question I can’t help but think that Sarah was saying to herself, “Yes, indeed! This is too wonderful even for God.”
We know the laughter of disbelief. We shake our heads at our children’s and grandchildren’s antics and laugh because we wonder if they will ever grow up and make it as responsible adults in the world. We laugh at some of the situations in which we find ourselves because otherwise we would panic and flip out. So Laura Linney wrote a comedy entitled “The Big C” about living with cancer because in reality she was scared and overwhelmed. And we create humorous bumper stickers, cartoons, Facebook pages, and t- shirts that poke fun at ex-spouses, politicians, and the state of the world and we laugh hysterically at them because they keep us from having to struggle with the true reality of the situation. It is good to laugh! We have all had those days in which everything appeared to be going wrong and we finally just had to laugh at it all. The incongruity of what we expected and what was happening was so apparent the only thing we could do was shake our heads and start giggling.
This laughter of disbelief can be life-saving. It can also open us up to the ultimate incongruity of our lives and help us see our hope is in God who has the last laugh. It is the laughter of surprise, for this laughter comes from the one who says, “Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.” and I am about to show you how this works.
Thirty-five years ago, I imagine some members of the New Castle Presbytery had a good laugh when some of you approached them and said; “Help us form a Presbyterian Church in Chestertown”. They didn’t think you could do it and said so. But you laughed harder and said; ‘Is Nothing too wonderful for the Lord?’ and here we are.
You are a church which continues to laugh. Your team and committee meetings are filled with joy and laughter. I hear it as I walk by and it makes me smile. You like to have fun, so a zucchini appeared in the office dressed as Mr. Potato Head and is named Zuc. A cackling witch arrives in the lady’s room each fall which scares the living daylights out of me but then makes me smile. Every Sunday the fellowship team is whopping it up in the kitchen, youth laugh at almost everything – you are fun and have a great deal for which to be thankful. Obviously you know that ‘Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord” and your joyful gratitude shows.
Today, we would like you to consider how you might maintain such joy and say thank you to the Lord for all the goodness God has given you. How might you continue to grow in gratitude? The church, your community, needs your contagious joy and faith. We hope and trust that you will join us in fellowship hall following worship to discover and ask questions about how you might be involved in continuing the ministry of this congregation. You may be saying to yourself, ‘I’d love to do such and such but I’m not skilled enough, I’m too old or I’m only a youth, I’ve tried that and any number of other excuses’ but remember they don’t work –‘for nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.’
The utterly fantastic and amazing thing about this story of the beginning of the family of Abraham and Sarah, which will ultimately be God’s chosen ones, is it begins with the laughter of God being louder than Sarah’s giggling. Nothing is
impossible for God! The miracle which happened to Sarah still happens today. You are witness to it.
Sarah laughed because it was all so impossible and God laughed because God could make it possible. The son who is to be born to Sarah will be called Isaac – which is the Hebrew word for “God laughs.”
I am convinced that great things are still to be born out of this congregation. You have the vision, you have the call, and you have the faith. You need only to share your visions and dreams with one another and say, “Hey, let’s go for it.” God will go with you. God will smile and as this church continues to grow and reach out you will laugh, looking at one another and saying, “Yep, nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.”
Church people can get things done. I’ve seen it. Thirty years ago, a Christian saw barren hillsides in Haiti and decided what they needed were trees to help restore the soil and provide incomes for the people. Today folks smile at the hillside full of 14 million trees and at the crops which now are being planted in the fertile soil under them. A church friend volunteered in a school which had no books in Rwanda and had a dream. Today the school is filled with laptops and it has a partnership with two schools in the US. The teachers travel back and forth helping one another and additional school partnerships are in the works. There are endless examples of Christians laughing in the face of adversity and making a difference.
Laughter will be born. Laughter will be born in our lives and in our church as well. ‘Something too wonderful” will happen and the laughter of our uncertainty will be turned to the laughter of sheer joy. Newness will be born. God will laugh and so will we. Thanks be to God!