I recently came across a list of the top ten blunders made in parish magazines and service booklets. The typos, which were often just the omission of one letter, changed the whole meaning of the sentence that followed. Instead of ‘Lord graciously hear us …’ we had ‘Lord, graciously heat us …’. Given this cold winter, and the temperature in some of our churches, this is perhaps a completely understandable plea but possibly not an intentional one!
And then there was the petition for Christ to ‘destroy all the woks of the evil one ….’ Yes, that seems very appropriate in this day and age … you never know how a wok can be used for ill effect.
And in some churches, things were clearly getting desperate. In one service booklet there was an invitation to ‘be gin with prayer…’ And an Ash Wednesday service order which read…’Remember you are butt dust and into dust you shall return….’
The list caused some laughter in our house and it got me wondering about what makes us laugh. Researchers tell us that things we find funny fall into three categories…those things that seem unusual and a bit incongruous; things that make us feel superior; and finally, we often we laugh as a release valve when things are getting tense. I’m sure you will have experienced stressful situations when all of a sudden everyone is rolling around on the floor laughing…often at nothing particularly funny but the laughter helps to release the building tension.
Given the reasons why we laugh it should not surprise us to find examples of humour throughout the Bible. Sometimes we find the Bible poking fun at us, our mistakes and weaknesses, our foibles, sometimes we find humour used in the Bible to relieve mounting tension and sometimes it is just the plain unusual and unexpected that makes us smile.
Thinking of the way that humour is often created by the incongruous, the unexpected, how humour helps us sometimes to feel superior, I recall a letter written in the Bible to a church who were struggling to ‘get’ Jesus. At times it seemed to them that the way Jesus behaved was, in the eyes of the world, somewhat foolish. They possibly felt that the choices he made were unexpected, incongruous, somewhat naïve and it seems that they were feeling a bit superior.
And maybe they have a point for instead of courting worldly power and influence Jesus hangs out with eccentric religious fundamentalists like John the Baptist and goes out to dinner with tax collectors, terrorists, and a rag tag bunch of folks who were never going to have much clout.
Rather than avoiding trouble, Jesus goes out of his way to stir up controversy; engaging in debates with the upper classes and the well to do. He has no survival instinct, instead decides to go to Jerusalem in the last few days of his life, knowing that this was where all his enemies were hanging out, all those who had threatened his very life. And far from slipping in a side door, he makes a real song and dance out of his arrival, riding on the back of a donkey, surrounded by crowds cheering and shouting encouragement.
And then, instead of building positively on his moment in the limelight, he antagonises the very folks who were sympathetic to his cause, by creating a big scene in the courts of the Temple, the place revered by the Jews, and in so doing he makes enemies of all the Jewish Leaders.
I guess we could predict that it’s not going to turn out well and sure enough, Jesus is condemned to death on a cross. But it doesn’t end there. For when God raises him from the dead, Jesus carries on much as he did before, trusting a woman and a group of grief crazed followers to get the message out that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
But the letter writer in the Bible flips the whole thing on its head when he writes, don’t dismiss Jesus as foolish for ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’. Somehow or other, Jesus has proved to be wiser than all the councils of humanity; his foolhardy actions have been world changing. And he calls us to follow in his footsteps….
God ask us to embark on the folly of trusting that there are things that are more important than money, power and influence. That our reputation with an unseen God matters more than our reputation with people we can see and hear. He asks that we are foolish enough to believe that we can be rich though we are poor, that we gain most when we give the most away. Foolish enough to think that our testimony will change the world more than politics and power. Foolish enough to live by the high standard he calls us to, stubbornly uncompromising, rather than going with the flow of the world around us when it would make life so much easier for all concerned. And foolish enough to live in the hope that the best is yet to be, when so many around us tell us it is not true.
So this Easter, with a smile on our faces, and laughter lightening our hearts, let us celebrate the way of Jesus…it might look foolish to some but it is and continues to be world changing and life transforming.