Season 15th Sunday after Pentecost/Holy Humor Sunday
Scripture Luke 7: 29 – 35
Matthew 7: 1 – 12
Prayer Loving One, you create us for praise and worship. May we be part of your joyful creation, and see the joy in each day. May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our Love and our Life. AMEN
“Why So Somber? Lift Up Your Hearts!
My calling to ordained ministry comes, in part, from my love of the sacraments. Baptism and Holy Communion are the two greatest privileges and joys of being ordained in The United Methodist Church.
So, you can imagine my surprise when a gentleman came up to me one Sunday to tell me that the sacrament of holy communion was a somber time in the life of the church. There was no room for my joy in sharing the sacrament. Yet, even as I read the liturgy that we say at the very beginning of the Lord’s Supper, one of the first things we say is “Lift up your hearts,” to which the community responds, “We lift them up to the Lord.”
There is much room for laughter and joy in our Sunday morning worship. We even call our funerals “A Celebration of Life.” In no way does that deny the significant loss that death entails, the pain and even despair at losing someone too young, too soon, and forever. However, it does emphasize the truth that life is meant for joy.
Jesus was joyful. Even on his last day on earth, he celebrated by having a community meal and bringing his closest friends together. However, we seem to have lost most of Jesus’ humor and joy in the way Jesus was portrayed in scripture, through movies like “King of Kings” or “The Passion of the Christ,” in which Jesus is very pious and not funny at all. It seems movie makers project their personalities on Jesus, rather than a careful reading of the gospels.
In Elton Trueblood’s The Humor of Christ, he writes
There are numerous passages . . . which are practically incomprehensible when regarded as sober prose, but which are luminous once we become liberated from the gratuitous assumption that Christ never joked. . .. Once we realize that Christ was not always engaged in pious talk, we have made an enormous step on the road to understanding.”
Trueblood goes on to say, “Christ laughed, and . . . He expected others to laugh.”
So why did the church become this somber place where we are afraid to engage in Jesus’ humor?
First, two millennia of interpretation have convinced us that we understand the meaning of Biblical texts that are frequently used in worship. We have become so convinced that we already understand the texts, that we struggle to hear them in a manner that is new and fresh. We forget the context into which Jesus speaks, or the world in which he lived. In some cases, we have even mistranslated a word or two. Instead, we rely upon the same interpretations that have caused us to believe at various times in history, that slavery is okay, and women shouldn’t speak in church.
Perhaps his most hilarious funny is Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” In trying to figure out what Jesus was talking about, more than a few Bible scholars have twisted themselves into all types of tight places, no pun intended. Possibly the most common explanation is that there was some hole in some wall in some town that a camel could pass through only by lying on its gut and shimmying through like it was trying to do the limbo, and some people called that place “the eye of the needle.” Another, more believable, was that the Hebrew word translated camel actually also means a mooring line. After all, what is the relationship between a thread and a mooring line. Now let’s try the relationship between a thread and camel. Either way, Jesus is using humor in the form of exaggeration to make his point.
Second, we have made the death of Jesus the central point of our understanding of his life. This has so dominated our thinking about Christ that he is characterized as a guy who is trying to avoid sin so he can be the perfect sacrifice. His humor and fun are totally overlooked because everything about him needs to be serious. Even, as my friend implied, the sacrament of communion. However, Jesus critics are clear that he was the life of the party, eating and drinking and enjoying hanging out with people
Third, we struggle to understand the world Christ lived in, and what the things he said really meant. For example, Jesus talks about putting lamps under a basket or a bed. (Mark 4:21) What do you think would happen if I put a light under a basket or a bed? Is it just that the light would stop shining?
Humor has many forms, and Jesus’ favorite seemed to be the satire of exaggeration. Exaggeration is found in Matthew 7:3, which says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Imagine this joke coming from the carpenter Jesus. Just like we might say we are so hungry we could eat a horse, but have no intention of doing so.
Jesus humor can also be very pointed and stinging. The kind of sarcasm we might hear on late night television, and forbid our children to repeat.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were usually the subject of this humor. He called them a bag of snakes (Matt 23:33) and said their moms slept with the Devil (John 8:44). Like “your mom wears army boots.” He made fun of their religious practices, saying that they looked downcast and gloomy when they were fasting to draw attention to themselves (Matt 6:16), but when they were praying they would stand on the corners to draw attention to themselves. (Matt 6:5) He mocked their tithing, while they ignored justice and mercy for the people. (Matt 23:23) Now these are never nice things to say, and I wonder sometimes if Jesus regrets he said them. Then, I think, no, probably not.
However, there are some things Jesus gets to do that we don’t. So, today, we are going to avoid humor that is sharp and stinging. Rather we will turn to humor that is gracious, maybe self-deprecating, but always kind.
So, I invite you to bring your gracious kind humor before this community and God.
Lift up your hearts!