Sermon Holy Humor August 24: No Joke

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Faith United Methodist Church
August 24, 2014
Holy Humor Sunday
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood

Scripture:  Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

Prayer of Illumination:  

O God, you have spoken to us through the word of faith.  Embolden our spirits by your Spirit, that your words may be made manifest in all that we say and in all that we do to bring your kingdom on earth.  In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.

Sermon: No Joke

I’m not much of a joker.   So every year I find myself wondering what I am going to say on Holy Humor Sunday.  I think I have a good sense of humor.  I like to laugh.  And I think I can take a joke.  I’m just not that good at telling jokes.  I get the timing off ~ or I forget the punch line ~ and it just kind of fizzles.  Here’s one I might be able to tell:
What did one snowman say to the other?  Do you smell carrots?

But that’s about as far as my joke-telling repertoire goes.  So, a little nervous about what this Sunday might bring, I turned to the Scriptures.  Our lectionary gives us two rather serious lessons this morning.  The first (which we will hear later) is from Matthew.  Where we pick up in the Gospel, Jesus and the disciples had been together for a while, so Jesus decided to give them a pop-quiz.  First, to warm them up, he asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  He got some good answers:  John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets.

Then he got serious, “But who do you say that I am?”  At this point Simon Peter piped up, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus clapped him on the back, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah!”  In other words, you got an A+.  Jesus then went on to say that Simon Peter would be the foundation ~ the rock ~ of the church and would receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  This was heady stuff.

At that point Peter didn’t know exactly what Jesus meant by his statement.   It sounded like a promotion.  He didn’t know that it would mean suffering, betrayal, even death.  He didn’t know that it would mean ultimately leading the church beyond where anyone ever imagined it would go ~ among the gentiles.  He didn’t know it would mean his own death as a result of his faith.  Peter was just happy to hear the words of affirmation from his teacher.  “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”  What Jesus said was no joking matter.

Our second lesson (which Sandy will read for us shortly) is from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  (And Paul’s no joker.)  Paul’s letter was written after Jesus died and was resurrected, so Paul knew a little bit more than naïve Peter did in the Gospel account.  Paul knew that following Jesus would mean suffering.  He had even endured some of that suffering himself.   And, knowing what he knew, Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sister, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…” Huh?  Was Paul joking?

How can we sacrifice our bodies?  When we think about sacrifice we think about giving something up.  Old Testament sacrifices often involved the slaughter of animals.  Sometimes during Lent we talk about sacrificing by giving up chocolate or coffee.  But this wasn’t the sacrifice that Paul talked about.  As Kate Huey explains in her lectionary reflections, what Paul wrote about was “…not dead offerings but offerings still capable of transformation, of dramatic, life altering change that brings into being God’s vision for us, God’s intention for us, God’s hope for us.”

What Paul was writing about was no joke.  Paul wanted to see Jesus’ followers transformed ~ giving and living ~ for the kingdom of God.  As Eugene Peterson renders this passage in The Message, “Take your everyday ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.”  A living sacrifice.

What would it mean to you to be a living sacrifice?  Would it mean attending church, participating in a Bible Study, joining in an Outreach opportunity, teaching our youngsters in FLOCK, spending time everyday in prayer, caring for a loved one in need, reaching out to a friend or coworker who is struggling?  Being a living sacrifice can mean many different things depending on our life circumstances and the gifts God has given to us.  For Peter it meant building the church after Jesus was resurrected and ascended.  For Paul it meant traveling far and wide to reach distant communities and invite them to follow Jesus’ way.

What did one shark say to the other while eating a clownfish?  This tastes funny!

So, stand-up comedian is probably not my calling.  Yet being part of this Christian community is.  And the fact that you are here today suggests that it may be your calling as well.  In being part of this community we’re not asked to sacrifice in the old sense because, by offering our lives to God, we receive much more than we could ever give.  Our sacrifice does not make us downcast or sullen, but brings joy and laughter.  To me, that is what Holy Humor Sunday is all about.

As both Peter and Paul learned, being Jesus’ follower does set you apart in the world.  It changes you.  As Charles Campbell preached, “The mercy of God should make you different, odd, unusual in the world.”  Perhaps that is what we celebrate this Holy Humor morning ~ transformation ~ that we are God’s different, odd, unusual children, children loved by a generous God, children transformed by the sacrificial love of God.  And that’s no joke.  Amen!