Sermon for Holy Humor Sunday: April 19, 2020
Easter II (Holy Humor Sunday); April 19, 2020
I always find Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones to be encouraging at Easter, and compelling whenever people are feeling discouraged. But let’s be honest: it’s also darned funny. I mean, really: the Lord God says to the Prophet, “Prophesy! Prophesy to the wind!” If I had been Ezekiel, I might have said, “Are you listening to yourself, Lord? ‘Prophesy to the wind’?” Well, he was a Jewish prophet, and nobody uses humor quite as well as the Jews. As the rabbi said, “They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.” In the spirit of Ezekiel the Prophet, and in honor of Holy Humor Sunday, let’s have a laugh or two.
Now, I know these days are difficult, and I’m glad you’re with us on YouTube. But let’s face it, some things never change:
They must be Presbyterians.
While we’ve all been spending more time at home and less time out and about, I’ve been spending a lot more time on social media than usual. It reminds me of a time that I tried to make friends in the real world using Facebook principles. I would walk down the street, stopping strangers and telling them what I’ve eaten, how I feel, and what I did the night before and what I’ll do tomorrow. I would show them pictures of my dogs, of my family, and pictures of me in the garden or at church. I would listen to their feedback and tell them I love them and add that unless they’re total doofuses they will share what I said with everyone they know.
It must have worked; I gained three followers: two police officers and a psychotherapist.
Dan and Judy Graham, like many of you, are living in a place that tells them not to go out for any reason. He told me that it’s made him realize why the dog gets so excited when something moves outside, or when going for walks or car rides. Dan added, “I think I just barked at a squirrel.”
Well, although the parks in Omaha are closed, the golf courses are open. I heard that on a recent afternoon Jesus and Moses were golfing. They came to a hole with a water hazard; Jesus selected an iron. Moses said, “Jesus, you know you won’t clear that hazard with an iron. Use a wood.” Jesus replied, “If Tiger Woods can hit a golf ball that far with an iron, I can too.” Jesus teed off; the ball went in the water. So Moses walked to the edge of the water, parted the water, walked in and got the ball and returned it to Jesus, saying, “Use a wood!” Jesus repeated himself, “If Tiger Woods can hit a golf ball that far with an iron, I can too.” He teed off again, and the ball went into the water. Moses retrieved it for him again, gave it back, and said, “Use a wood! I’m not getting your ball again.” Jesus said it again, “If Tiger Woods can hit a golf ball that far with an iron, I can too.” So Jesus teed off for a third time, and the ball went into the water. Moses said, “You’re on your own, smart guy!” So Jesus went to the water hazard, walked out onto it, and reached down, feeling for the ball. Another golfer came along and saw him out there and said to Moses, “Who does that guy think he is? Jesus Christ?” And Moses sighed and said, “No, he is Jesus Christ. He thinks he’s Tiger Woods!”
So while we’re on the subject of Jesus – aren’t we always? – let’s take a new look at his Sermon on the Mount. In our current emergency, this just might make sense:
Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven a lot, and so we pastors tend to, also. One Pastor reported that she loved to preach about heaven, but one of her members said one Sunday after church, “Why don’t you ever tell us about hell?” The Pastor replied, “There’s no point; you’ll see hell for yourself.”
Which reminds me of one of my favorite church signs. It said that the Pastor’s sermon on Sunday would be, “What is hell?” And added, “Come early and hear our choir practice.” Bad Church signs really are the funniest; this one was on a parish church in York, England:
CHRIS IS RISEN!
That might have been the same church that put on their sign, after the Pastor recovered from a long illness: God is good! Pastor Windrup is better!
You may have seen the church bulletin that read, “This afternoon there will be meetings at the north and south ends of the Church. Children will be baptized at both ends.” Do you ever wonder what the baptism looks like from the kid’s point of view? Maybe like this:
I know there are many Christians who don’t believe in the baptism of babies. I not only believe in it, I’ve seen it!
But all my career I’ve wanted to do a baptism by immersion. I might need to practice, or I could be like this preacher. He took the new convert to the river for his baptism, and told him that he was about to find Jesus. So he pushed the guy under water; when he came up, he said, “Did you find Jesus?” and the new Christian said, “Well, no…” and so the Pastor pushed him under again. “Did you find Jesus?” “Not yet.” And so he pushed him under again, and held him down there a little longer. A third time: “Did you find Jesus?” And the man sputtered and said, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Well, you can’t get much closer to someone, whether child or adult, than a baptism. Whether you go down into the river with a grownup, or hold a baby in your arms, social distance is impossible. Unless you do like this pastor:
You know, of course, that Catholics always use holy water for baptism. The Rev. Greg Reid, father of Maggie Hernandez and grandfather of Sarah Greer, liked to say that Catholics get holy water by boiling the hell out of it.
Why is it that all the best jokes about Christians tend to be about Catholics? Most jokes about Presbyterians are a play on “the frozen chosen” or our tendency to do everything “decently and in order.” Maybe we think that we need to keep the fact that we really can be a lot of fun a secret from everyone else. In my experience, Catholics throw the best parties, so maybe that’s why they have the best stories. Like this one about the nun out on a rainy night, stopping at a monastery asking for shelter. She’s just in time for dinner and has the best fish-and-chips she’s ever tasted. So she goes into the kitchen to thank the cooks; there are two members of the order there. One says, “Hello, I’m Brother Michael, and this is Brother Charles.” “Pleased to meet you,” says the nun. “Thank you for a wonderful dinner; that was the best fish-and-chips I’ve ever had. Just out of curiosity, who cooked what?” Brother Charles replied, “Well, I’m the fish friar.” To the other she said, “Then you must be…” “Yes, I’m the chip monk.”
If you’re ever in my office and notice that along with my Bobblehead Jesus and Buddy Christ I have a plastic BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary), you might ask me where I got her. But for now, let me tell you a story about a devout Catholic woman who would go twice a week to the church, kneel before the statue of Mary, and pray. One day she was praying, and Jesus decided to reward her devotion by visiting her. He stood before her and said, “Theresa, it’s Jesus.” She didn’t answer. Maybe she couldn’t hear him, so he spoke louder, “Theresa, it’s Jesus; I’ve come to see you.” Still no answer, so he tried again, “Theresa, your prayers are rewarded; it’s Jesus!” Finally she responded, “Please be still; I’m talking to your Mother!”
Different sorts of Christians will handle the same problem in different ways. For example, in one small town every church was being overrun with squirrels. How did they handle it?
• The Presbyterians called a meeting; after much prayer and deliberation, they concluded that God had preordained the squirrels to be there and they should not interfere with the divine will.
• The Baptists noticed the squirrels were interested in the baptistery, so they put a water-slide on it in hopes the squirrels would drown themselves. The squirrels enjoyed the slide, and knew how to swim, so twice as many showed up the next week.
• The Lutherans thought they should not harm any of God’s creatures, so they humanely trapped the squirrels and set them free near the Baptist Church. Two weeks later they were back when the Baptists took down the water-slide.
• The Episcopalians tried an interesting experiment. They set out pans of whiskey around the church in an effort to kill the squirrels with alcohol poisoning, only to find out how much damage a band of drunk squirrels can do.
• The Catholics tried something everyone else should have: they baptized all the squirrels and made them members of the Church. Now they see them only at Christmas and Easter.
It was actually the Jews who knew exactly what to do. They took one squirrel and circumcised him. They haven’t seen a squirrel since.
Well, thanks to everyone who provided material for today’s sermon. Let me finish with a story that puts it all in perspective for me; I’ve heard a number of versions of this story, but I’ll tell this one. It keeps me hoping for the day when we can be together again.
Charles’ mother came to his room on Sunday morning, knocked on the door and told him it was time to get ready for church. He said, “I’m not going.” She went in, sat on the side of the bed, and gently asked him why. He said, “Three reasons. First off, I just don’t want to. Second, and more to the point, nobody there likes me. And third, the messages never say anything worthwhile.” She looked at him a moment, then stood and said to him, “And I’ll give you three good reasons why you should go. First, there are a lot of people there who like you; I know because they’ve told me. Second, many people find the messages to be encouraging and they help them grow in their relationship with God. And finally: you have to go; you’re the Pastor. Now get up and get dressed!”
In the words of Swami Beyondananda: The best way to overcome gravity is with levity.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Material provided by:
• Dale Duckert
• Dan Graham
• Sarah Greer
• Cynthia Harvey
• Maggie Hernandez
• Dale Irvin
• Bill Norton
And The Funny Times