By Rev. Joan Kessler
We all love a good laugh. There is something about laughter that is just good for the soul. It raises our endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our brains and I think allows us to forget about, even momentarily, the things that weigh us down. I asked some of you what were the things that you found funny: One of you said it was watching dogs and their hilarious antics; another shared it was being tickled and those episodes of uncontrollable laughter that can become almost physically painful if we are very ticklish. We laugh along with others when they find something funny and or tell a story or a joke. We also know what it is to a laugh at ourselves for all kinds of reasons… for something we did that was maybe out of character or silly and ridiculous.
It occurred to me this week that babies are able to laugh before they can speak. So, there is some amazing cognitive ability to recognize when something is funny even before we have speech. And baby giggles are maybe the highest form of laughter and the most contagious in my humble opinion.
There is also laughing in retrospect… an event that was not funny at the time but somehow, things heal, they get better, we recover, and we can laugh about it now. Laughter is an expression of human connection. When we are in a group, we are 30 times more likely to laugh. Toddlers and preschoolers laugh the most, maybe they are learning so much about their environment that they just find more things funny than we adults do. We also laugh when we are nervous or when we are in a situation that is perhaps uncomfortable, and we laugh to break the tension. There is also of course the darker side of humor that makes fun of others in hurtful ways and sees one with power over another and it can be used manipulatively. The days of jokes targeting people of certain ethnicities or abilities have, I hope, been put out to pasture, no pun intended.
So, what do you find funny? What always makes you laugh?
Today’s reading from Genesis revolves around laughter, in particular, laughter of disbelief and incredulity. It is the story of Sarah and Abraham, both in their later stages of life. One day, the couple hosts unexpected guests whom Abraham recognizes to be messenger from on high. He extends to them abundant hospitality. He offers them a meal and water to wash their feet, and rest after their long journey. Sarah was busy in the kitchen of their tent and overheard a conversation that shocked her. One of the guests predicted that when they returned in a year’s time, Sarah will have had a son. It was not the first time such a promise had been made. God spoke of descendants to Abraham in spite of being a man of 100 and having a wife of 90. And Abraham fell down laughing too at the promise. And now it is Sarah’s turn to eavesdrop on the conversation and she laughed to herself about the possibility of finding pleasure at her age and bearing a child.
And then we hear God rebuke Sarah for her laughter. Sarah was incredulous about the promise of motherhood; she laughed through her denial and then lied about having reacted in such a way. There was just no way to rationalize such an idea than to laugh about it.
Maybe we all have known this experience. Or I hope we have. When someone makes a promise that in that moment just seems incredible. They are sure of it, and you are doubtful, so you laugh. But sometimes, others know something we don’t; they see possibility where we see impossibility. This is the nature of God, I believe. This Genesis story from the early beginning of the Judeo-Christian tradition that we hear today as highly unlikely, has a Hope embedded within it. And today, we mine that Hope up and uncover it and bring it to light. Because what good is a divine presence if we can’t get hope of it? Our work is to remain open to the impossible and to dream and see God’s continued work all around us. Like in a baby’s laugh.
Last Saturday it would have been my Dad’s birthday. And one of my uncles and us 4 siblings had a lovely texting visit, reminiscing and remembering him. And my uncle told funny stories about him that as a left-handed plumber, my hometown was still full of taps installed the wrong way. He said we were just talking about Keith the other day at the museum and how much he is missed as the local historian. Now, replied my Uncle, I just have to make the stories up myself. I laughed and laughed at that admission! It was good for my soul. These stories help keep his memory close and alive and I feel his presence still, on a regular basis, like a cool breeze that whisps past my face. I don’t know how it works, but it happens. That Hope and Compassion live beyond the grave in our eternal rest. That’s what I believe, not because I know it is true, but because I hope it to be so.
Hope can feel incredulous sometimes, even impossible that anything is going to get any different or any better. But thank heavens we can still laugh about things, laugh at ourselves in spite of ourselves. I hold on to the hope that God has a dry, British-styled sense of humor, maybe like the Vicar of Dibley. And maybe some of God’s best work is done through the most unlikely of people… people like you and me. Divine intervention cannot be rationalized nor explained. And yet how do we discount we are part of God’s redeeming story. We cannot take ourselves too seriously, folks. Impossible things somehow come to be. And plans change, and where the was no way, a path suddenly opens up and there is goodness and wholeness and perhaps a family comes together. And God laughs with us.
God’s presence works to do amazing things that we thought not possible. I don’t know how this works; I just know that I have experienced this for myself. We grow this relationship and this noticing through practices like prayer and quiet meditation, acts of compassion and loving service… listening for God’s laughter all around us... even in those moments of impossibility. Could it be that in Sarah’s laughter that she was rebuked, God maybe over-reacted? That is a funny thought maybe. Could it be her laughter was a movement from disbelief to wonder to acceptance that God could use her and Abraham in this way?
My hope for you this day, friends, is that you laugh, a side-splitting, eye-watering laugh with people you care about this Father’s Day. Laugh well and consider what God’s laughter sounds like, laughing along with you. Peace to you all and Amen.