April 24, 2014
Heard any good jokes lately? Early Christians customarily celebrated Easter with joy, laughter and lots of jokes. Someone once said that humor is our response to seeing the proud lord of death step on a banana peel. That proud lord of death (Satan) thought he had won. But God had the last laugh!
The resurrection of Jesus turned tragedy into comedy. Remember Joseph’s words to his conniving brothers? “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Hebrews 2:14 says Jesus came “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”
Humor, like faith, is about things that don’t fit or things that get mixed up. I heard about a cake decorator who got her signals crossed. The wedding cake was supposed to display 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear.” Instead, the cake quoted the Gospel of John 4:18: “For you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” Make a note: It pays to know your Bible.
Over the years of my ministry I’ve been filing away some of the humorous things that people have said and done. As the saying goes, you can’t make this stuff up. Two of my deacons once disagreed on a particular matter and were exchanging very mature and civil letters with one another. One of them wrote, “You and I remain diabolically opposed on this matter.” I think he meant diametrically opposed. But then again, maybe not.
I once officiated a wedding in our sanctuary on a beautiful Saturday in June. The bride had opted to decorate with many live, green, potted plants. The next morning, our youth choir sang in the 8:15 a.m. service. In the middle of the service, the teens started squirming, raising their legs and giggling. A small, harmless snake had arrived with the plants over the weekend and decided to stay for church. In case you wondered, there is no seminary course on how to remove a live snake from a sanctuary in the middle of worship without disrupting everything. One of the men who finally came up to whisk the snake away had been visiting our church, but had not joined. Come to think of it, did he ever come back to church after that? I don’t recall.
After this bizarre worship service, we floated several apocryphal stories about what “really” went down. Embellishing the details was great fun. One version went like this: The music minister went up to Pastor Doyle during the service and whispered, "There’s a snake in our choir loft." Doyle replied: "Rod, don’t talk about our church members that way!"
Some of my favorite stories are the garbled medical reports people share with me (and believe me, pastors get lots of medical updates…we unofficially call them our "organ recital"). A lady once told that her husband had to wear a mask, hooked up to a machine at night because he had sleep acne. One Sunday an earnest member was reporting on a friend’s heart catheterization. “The procedure is over. They’ve already done the castration.” Oops. They missed.
Speaking of the medical field, an anesthesiologist was introduced to a pastor as they both waited by the side of a surgery patient. The doctor said, “We are in the same business, pastor, except I put people to sleep one at a time while you do groups.”
Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote, “Humor is…a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.” I don’t know all Niebuhr meant in that statement. He could be a bit opaque. But I think he meant God created us with the capacity to laugh, and that maybe we are closer to God in those joyous moments than we realize. Show me a congregation that looks as if the people have been sucking persimmons, never laughing during fellowship and worship times, and I’ll show you a very unhealthy body of believers.
So I repeat. Heard any good jokes lately? Church people, by and large, take ourselves much too seriously. Yes, life is heavy. Life is vexing. Life is painful. But Easter means that life is God’s, and God has the last word. So smile. Relax. Laugh. He is risen!
Doyle Sager is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.