Friday, July 15, 2016

God Has Brought Laughter (Genesis 21:1-7) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you ever have a senior moment?  Those of us who are seniors know all about them, and you younger people will one day learn about them.  Like the man who telephoned the newspaper office and shouted: “Where is my Sunday paper, I’ve been waiting all morning?”  ”Sir,” said the calm employee, “today is Saturday. The Sunday paper is not delivered until tomorrow, on Sunday.”   There was a long pause on the other end of the phone and then the man replied: “Well, heck... so that's why no one was at church today.”

There are some key propositions which pertain to life.  One life is hard. Don’t think anyone would argue with that.   Two, life is not always fair.  Sadness, tragedy, injustice is a part of life like we saw in Dallas last week.  Proposition three - Life is also enjoyable and can be humorous.  I believe all three propositions are true.   What about you?

Which takes us to our morning lesson.  First, laughter is a gift from God, a marvelous gift, which God has blessed us with!  We may infer that God has a sense of humor since we are made in God’s image.  Sydney Harris wrote: “God cannot be solemn or he would not have blessed man with the incalculable gift of laughter.” I agree. God must have a sense of humor because He made aardvarks, orangutans, and me.  I truly believe God has a sense of humor which He has passed on to us.  Comedians play an important role in our culture.  They get us in touch with the humorous said of our nature.

Second, having a sense of humor is critical in life.  If you don’t have a good sense of humor, I suggest you work on it.  It is an invaluable resource, an essential quality, which can help get one through many of the trials we face.  It means we need to remember not to take ourselves too seriously.  It means we need to be able to laugh at ourselves.   It’s important to recognize and appreciate our own imperfections and idiosyncrasies, and not get all worked up when others tease us, or when we say or do something foolish or when we don't get the respect we believe we are due or when we make a mistake and feel embarrassed or frustrated with ourselves.    I remember when our family first came back to visit FPC Santa Monica, after we were in CO for a couple of years.  We knew the people in Santa Monica well having served there as pastor for many years.  I walked in and people crowded around Nancy and me welcoming us back.  It felt good to be back and to get all this attention.  Then one woman looked at me and said: “Hi pastor, welcome back.  You look about the same, except your cheeks are chubbier.”  There are times when we take ourselves and the things which happen to us too seriously.   English author G.K.  Chesterton said: “Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.”

We need a balancing factor in life with all of the bad and sad things that are part of life and one of the best is humor.  Humor is one of the most important qualities for good mental health and a balanced state of mind.   I get a little suspicious when I'm around someone who never laughs, who doesn't seem to see humor in anything, especially in themselves.

What a joy to not only see something that strikes you as funny and sets you laughing, but to see and hear others laugh around you.  What a gift to have a friend whom you can laugh with.    Laughter is contagious.  It brightens the day.  It lifts the mood.  Being around such people is a blessing from God.

Our granddaughter makes us laugh.  I’m sure you who have grandchildren know what I mean.  Our 3-year-old granddaughter Haven was down last weekend.  She calls me Hopper.  She loves to listen to stories and read stories to you.  Of course she makes up the words since she doesn’t know how to read.  She was reading me a story and I said something and she said: “Hopper, don’t talk, the other children’s can’t hear.”  Then I stood up for a second, and she said: “Hopper don’t stand up, the other children’s can’t see.”  Then I apparently broke another rule and she asked me to leave the room and sit in the hallway with the toys in a time out.

Being able to see some humor in life’s surprises or unexpected twists and turns is indeed a blessing.  There are people who live unhappy, miserable lives because everything is serious and they can't seem to see humor.  A life without laughter, is empty and barren and joyless.

So how is your sense of humor?   What kinds of things strike you as funny?  God has created us to be able to appreciate irony, satire, to see humor in the mundane, to see hilarity in the ordinary and be amused by amusing things.

If one can learn to see humor in life's events, one will be able to experience the joy and happiness which is fundamental to the life God has given to us.   Laughter generates the equilibrium we need, it becomes a stabilizing factor, when things begin to reel out of control around us.  Laughter is an essential ingredient in one's life survival kit.

You never know when funny things will happen.  At another church I was serving, I was wearing my robe and had a cordless mic underneath.  The receiver was hooked on my belt.  Somehow the receiver dropped off my belt and was dangling down.  The weight of it began to tighten the cord around my arm.  I was leading communion at the time.  As I tried to loosen the cord, and break the bread at the same time, the cord tightened around my arm and began pulling my hand toward my shoulder.  I had to lean down to try to pour the wine and break the bread but as I did I became more and more twisted up and tangled up and realized I now had only one hand to use for communion.  At first I started to panic, I thought, do I say hold on a second, and take my robe off and untangle myself, or just push on through.  Finally, I just relaxed, saw the humor in it, and God somehow guided me to finish the sacrament.  I don’t know if anyone noticed or not.

I like the stories in the book of Genesis where Sarah, Abraham’s wife, speaks about laughter.  In Genesis chapter 18 mysterious visitors come to visit Abraham and he offers them the customary hospitality.  One of them tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son.  Sarah overhears the man and laughs at this preposterous idea given her advanced age.   The visitor says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  Sarah quickly says, “I didn't laugh.”  The visitor says, “Oh yes you did laugh.”

In Genesis 21 we celebrate the joy of the birth of a son and Abraham names him Isaac.  The name Isaac in Hebrew means – he laughs.    The earlier promise of the three mysterious visitors is fulfilled.  And Sarah exclaims, “God has brought laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh with me.  Who would ever had said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children.  Yet, I have borne him a son in his old age.” God surprises Abraham and Sarah with the gift of a son in their old age.  And they are filled with joy.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we read in the third chapter: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to weep and a time to laugh.”  The psalmist in psalm 126 writes: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with shouts of joy.”

We read in the book of Proverbs: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”  Laughter is good for the soul.  Having a sense of humor helps to keep us healthy: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.  It’s a powerful antidote to stress, pain and conflict.  It lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you with others, and keeps you grounded.

Studies have shown that laugher has healing properties and powers.   Norman Cousins, a well-known writer at the time was diagnosed in 1964 as having a serious disease involving the connective tissues.  He was told that his chances for survival were 1 in 500.  Dr. Cousins’ decided to design his own plan for recovery.    He designed a program which required daily use of all the positive emotions.  Among them were faith, love and hope and laughter.  He asked: “How do you laugh when you’ve been told you have an irreversible disease and don’t have long to live?”

Cousins’ developed a systematic program for getting daily doses of hearty laughter.  He watched reruns of the old Candid Camera programs and the Marx Brothers movies, anything which would make him laugh.  Later on he wrote of his healing experiences in his book Anatomy of an Illness. He writes: “It worked.  I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain free sleep.”  Yes, laughter is good medicine.  It stirs up the blood, it expands the chest, it electrifies the nerves, it clears the brain and renews the body and mind.

A sense of humor contributes to healing, to changing attitudes, to reducing oversized egos, to expanding undersized egos, to deflating inflated pride, and putting a smile on a solemn face.  It opens up a fresh breeze of humility and spontaneity, self-acceptance, gratitude and appreciation for life.

Thomas Edison attributed his success in the seriousness of life to appreciating the less-serious.   He was renowned for working long hours and enduring thousands of frustrations.   What’s not well known are his methods for sustaining himself while working on scientific experiments.  He discovered that humor put his mind at ease.  In addition to maintaining hundreds of notebooks full of scientific equations, he filled several others with nothing but jokes.  He found that comic relief was valuable for both him and his staff.  He used it as a tension breaker and as a morale builder.  He said that people who laugh together can work longer and more effectively together.

The Psalmist says: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with shouts of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ May God fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”  Amen!

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