Laughter with God – Sept. 27, 2020
Laughter with God
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
September 27, 2020
Main Idea: With God all things are possible
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
When we think of the stories of Abraham and Sarah, we don’t first think of laughter but perhaps we should. There is a lot of laughter in their story. Abraham laughs. Sarah laughs. Their son’s name, Isaac, means “He laughs”. Laughter is a powerful physical response to humor, or absurdity, or joy. It is connected to our emotions and it is good for our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health. This morning we will explore the role of laughter in this Scripture text and in our lives. Laughter empowers us to share the joy and grace of God, which in 2020 is no small thing. Laughter empower us to proclaim that, with God, all things are possible.
The story of Abraham and Sarah is quite a story. God spoke to Abram (as he was first known) and told him “ ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ And Abram did what God asked! At the age of 75, he and his wife (then known as Sarai) packed up all their belongings and household and set out. I am sure that the folks left back home laughed at their foolishness. On their journeys they had many adventures and hopefully they had moments of peace and laughter. Eventually they arrived in Canaan and settled there, but for 24 years, Sarai did not have a child so how this “great nation” would come to be remained a big mystery. When Abram was 99 years old, God spoke to him again, gave both he and Sarai new names, and reaffirmed that he would be the ancestor of “a multitude of nations”. God said ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.” Let’s think about that for a moment. His response to God’s blessing was to fall on his face with laughter. He said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ (Gen 17:15-17) Abraham laughed, not just a chuckle but a full body laugh that had him rolling on the ground, because the idea of Sarah and he having a child at their ages seemed absolutely absurd. God didn’t mind the laughter, perhaps God laughed too, because God repeated, “your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac, which means “to laugh”.
This brings us to today’s text where three travelers arrive at Abraham and Sarah’s home. Abraham went to great lengths to show them hospitality and in the course of their meal, one of the travelers asked about Sarah and then said “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” Think for a moment about how strange and absurd this sentence is. It is as if the person who reads the meters at your house said to you, “I’ll be back next year and by the way, you are going to win the lottery.” It is a laughable idea. So Sarah laughed. Sarah laughed because it was better to laugh at the absurdity than to cry at the pain and hopelessness of being childless for so long. God then asked Abraham about Sarah’s laughter and raised the question that is at the heart of this and all of Scripture, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?” Of course not! God repeated what the traveler had said, “At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”
Now that it was God speaking, Sarah worried that her laughter was inappropriate and so she denied laughing but God, of course, was not fooled. “Oh yes, you did laugh.” God said. In due time, Sarah and Abraham did have a son, and they did name him Isaac. Sarah said “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” At the birth of Isaac, Sarah and Abraham’s laughter was no longer that of absurdity. The child named “laughter” became a living symbol of the transformation of hopelessness to joy. From then on, laughter was an affirmation of God’s power to bring new life and possibilities
Isaac was a gift from God and so is laughter! Laughter helps us to release emotion, it connects us to each other, and it is fun! Laughter invigorates and empowers us. And while it may sometimes seems silly and a waste of time, laughter is important to our health and wellbeing.
Medical research has shown that laughter increases our intake of oxygen and stimulates circulation in our heart, and lungs, and muscles. It raises and then lowers our blood pressure and pulse rate leading us to feel relaxed. Laughter releases endorphins which improve our mood and lessen our physical pain. It is a powerful stress reliever both short term and long term. Laughter boosts our immune systems and can help fight depression. It can diffuse conflict and strengthen bonds between people. Studies have shown that people who laugh and have a positive attitude live longer than those who don’t. Laughter is very good for us!
Laughter may feel more natural to some people than to others but laughter is a skill that can be developed and strengthened by intentionally seeking out humor and cheerful activities. There is a exercise program called laughing yoga that incorporates saying ha ha and hee hee to movement and yoga poses. Children laugh freely. Babies are hearty laughers, but adults are sometimes more reserved. Adults sometimes see the world as a serious place with serious problems and no time for foolishness. Of course, there is much in the world that requires serious consideration. We all can feel burdened by the griefs of the world. Laughter is a tool we can use to lessen our burdens and strengthen ourselves for what needs to be done.
This past year has been filled with many, many griefs. Our sorrows and our stresses continue to grow as we mourn those lost to this pandemic, we worry about the state of our nation, we despair at the violence in our streets, and we are worn down by the continued strictures on our everyday life. The stress that we have been feeling almost everyday since March, the stress that our communities of color and other vulnerable communities have felt for generations, this stress is physically, emotionally, and mentally harming us. It is fraying our nerves, fraying our health, and fraying our communities. If we clench our jaws for much longer, they will shatter like glass. Laughter is the tonic that we need.
God asks Abraham, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Jesus reframes this sentiment by saying “for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26). When we know this in our hearts, we can laugh with joy even in the midst of hardship. We can hold on to this truth and allow our laughter to relax us, and empower us, and bring us together. We can find joy and hope in the midst of all the distressing and discouraging news. Empowered and strengthened by laughter, and the grace of God, we are better able to make positive change in the world.
This morning we are going to do a little exercise. As I said, laughter is a skill that can be developed and strengthened. With each of you at home, you do not need to worry about anybody else laughing at you while you practice. Although you can all laugh at me, if you choose. I am going to show you some photographs of people laughing. At the first photo you are invited to say Ha. Not just ha but HA with a deep and sharp exhalation that you can feel in your middle. At the second, HA HA, and so on. My hypothesis is that before long, we will be laughing deeply, feeling energized and relaxed.
This joy and refreshment does not take away the troubles of the world but it can certainly help us deal with the circumstances that come our way. God can make a way out of no way. With God all things are possible. With our bodies, minds and spirits strengthened, may we work with God to make joy manifest for all.
Let us pray,
God of laughter, joy, and grace, we thank you for your love and generous beauty which showers us with blessings. May we recognize you in the joy and humor we experience. May our laughter be a force for good in this world. And may we be empowered to share your joy with the world. Amen.