Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Theology of Laughter

15 June 2008/Proper 6 * Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7 / Mathew 9:35-10:23

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Why did Sarah laugh?

“The tragic is the inevitable. The comic is the unforeseeable.”

-Frederick Beuchner, Telling the Truth (Harpers:1977)

“Why did Sarah laugh?” God asks. To which anyone remotely familiar with God and God’s good news in Jesus Christ might answer, “And why not?!” And besides, laughing is better than crying, and maybe not all that different. Abraham and Sarah are laughing because if by any crazy chance they should have a baby boy, then they really would have something to laugh about! It has been suggested that they are laughing at God and with God, and they are laughing at themselves too because laughter has that in common with weeping. No matter what the immediate object of either your laughter or your tears, suggests Frederick Beuchner, the object of both ends up being yourself and your own life.

After all, they had had quite a life. He was nearly 100, and she was ninety. They had a nice house in the suburbs, a two car garage, a wide-screen HD TV with satellite hook-up to 300 channels! They had prepared a room for the babies to come, but alas it had become a storage room over time since the babies never came. Sarah got her clothes at Nordstrom’s, Abraham was pulling down an excellent salary with fringe benefits and an early retirement plan. And then they got religion, or religion got them. Abraham was convinced they should pull up stakes and move the whole scene to some other country God would pick out where God promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation which would in turn become a blessing to all nations. So that’s what they did, and that’s when the troubles all began.

Off they go with the station wagon loaded with a handful of friends and relations and a U-Haul trailer full of idols behind. The friends included their brother-in-law Lot for whom the trip turns out to have been a bad mistake. The first thing that goes wrong is that Pharaoh is struck by Sarah’s beauty, and so Abraham passes her off as his sister and lets the chips fall as they may. This results in a complicated domestic situation which almost cost Abe the woman who would be the mother of a great nation, and from which he extricates himself by finally telling the truth at a considerable loss of face and credibility.

Next thing is that when they get to the Promised Land, Lot and his crowd claim the place isn’t big enough for all of us. So they split the land, giving Lot all the fertile and good pasture land, leaving Abraham with the area around Dead Man’s Gulch. Some parts of the Promised Land were more promising than others! The years roll on like empty baby carriages when suddenly some strangers arrive to announce that God has a plan. The plan is that Sarah will have a baby boy after all. She laughs, hiding in the tent, laughing so hard she falls on her face with tears streaming down her long wrinkling and aging cheeks. God says, “Why does Sarah laugh?” This sobers the old girl up and she denies the whole thing.

The interesting thing is that God simply says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” And then far from getting angry, God says, “You will have a boy and you will name him Isaac,” which in fact is Hebrew for “he who laughs.” So God not only tolerates the laughter, he blesses it and joins in on it himself, which makes it all very special laughter indeed. God and man laughing together, sharing in a glorious joke – one that later only Hannah and Mary will ever truly understand.

We might ask, Where does this laughter come from? And the answer would be, from as deep a place as tears come from. Much like tears do, laughter also comes out of the darkness of the world where God is of all missing persons perhaps the most missed, except that it comes not as an ally of darkness, but its adversary; not as a symptom but as its antidote. The laughter of Sarah and Abraham does not eliminate the darkness of endless childless years of tears, and the long years ahead wherein lies even more darkness, as in when Abraham is asked to take his long awaited son and sacrifice him on top of a mountain as a burnt offering. There is much darkness behind and ahead.

And they both have to face the darkness both of death and life in a world where God is seen at best from a distance. But with their laughter and the blessing of God something new breaks into their darkness, something unexpected, something so preposterous and glad that all they can do is laugh at it in astonishment. I often wonder if we have lost the capacity to be astonished.

Meanwhile, Jesus calls us to join his laborers to bring in the harvest – a metaphor for bringing more people into God’s community of faith. He offers authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. We are to proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons. All without expecting anything in return. Nothing. Nada. Oh, and later he will say that in our spare time we should work on becoming perfect! Perfect, he says. It is his word for us: Perfect, “like my Father in heaven is perfect.” Apparently he read the first chapter of the book of Genesis and believed it where it says we are made in God’s image, male and female are we so made. If that’s not enough to make us laugh I don’t know what is! Oh, and as in the Abraham saga, Jesus states clearly that joining in the labor of the harvest will not necessarily make the darkness go away.

It is the Gospel as comedy, with comedy being that which is unforeseeable. As in how can Donald Duck foresee that after he is run over by a steamroller, he will pick himself up on the other side as flat as a pancake for a few seconds, but alive and squawking, and just as suddenly pop back into his old self? So imagine the disciples first being asked to pray for God to send laborers into the harvest, only to learn a few verses later they are the ones the Lord is sending! Imagine further that when Matthew writes “disciple” he means us – you and me – we are meant to be the laborers God is sending! Anyone laughing yet?

Consider the evidence, however: Abraham and Sarah do have the baby, Noah who drinks too much saves humankind, David the runt of the litter becomes King of Israel, the disciples do carry on the work Jesus asks them to do, Lazarus stands up and walks out of his tomb, Jesus does rise from the dead, Saul who persecutes Christians becomes Paul the only reason we gentiles are here, and, of course, we are here. We are here because of all these unforeseen things God has done in the past. This same God in Christ Jesus says we will do even greater things than Jesus did! It is our time to join the laborers and bring the harvest in, laughing until the tears run down our cheeks all the way home – home with the God who sent us here in the first place. It is time to say, “Here am I, O Lord send me!” Amen.


Mississippi John Hurt

Don’t you hear my Saviour callin’

Sayin’ who will go and work today

The fields are ripe and the harvest waiting

Who will go bear those sheaves away

Here am I, oh Lord send me

Here am I oh Lord send me

Here am I, oh Lord send me

Here am I, oh Lord send me

If you can not sing like angels

If you can not preach like Paul

You can tell of the love of Jesus

You can say that He died for us all

No comments:

Post a Comment