Saturday, January 29, 2005

Sermon - Epiphany 4 - 1 Cor. 1

Epiphany 4, January 30th, 2005
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
“God has a Sense of Humor”

I. Introduction –
Sometimes, things are not as we expect.

A man is being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy boulevard.
Suddenly, the light turns yellow, just in front of him. He does theright thing, and stops at the crosswalk, even though he could havebeaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman hits the roof, and the horn, screaming infrustration as she misses her chance to get through the intersectionwith him. As she is still in mid-rant, she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer orders her to exit her car with her hands up. He takes herto the police station where she is searched, fingerprinted, photographed,and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approachesthe cell and opens the door. She is escorted back to the booking desk wherethe arresting officer is waiting with her personal effects. He says, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behindyour car while you were blowing your horn, gesturing at the guy off in frontof you, and cussing a blue streak at him.

I noticed the "Choose Life" license plate holder, the "What Would Jesus Do" bumper sticker, the "Follow Me to Sunday School" bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk." "Naturally I assumed you had stolen the car."

Perhaps the officer found his expectations of a Christian were a bit off.
The woman didn’t fit the pattern of a Christian he had expected.
But in a sense, this joke illustrates what humor is really about. It’s about the surprise, the unexpected. The breaking of the pattern.
In a sense, it’s what Paul is talking about in our Epistle today, which will be the basis of our meditation. We will get there, by taking the long way around. And when we do, we’ll see that God does have a sense of humor. But maybe not like we expect.

II. What Makes Us Laugh?
I have observed that what is funny in life is often in the breaking of the pattern. It’s why many jokes are told about 3 people. The first 2 set the pattern, the third breaks it, and we laugh. The third part of the joke is funny because we don’t expect it. The punchline is the surprise at the end.
A preacher a priest and a rabbai walk into a bar. The bartender says, this must be some kind of joke!
Even our earliest humor also has an element of surprise. It’s what makes babies laugh while playing peek-abo. They’re surprised each time you disappear and reappear. It’s amazing.

In the Old Testament, Sarah the wife of Abraham, had a good laugh.
She learned that she would become a mother in her old age, and she found this so out of the normal pattern that it was laughable. But surprise! God would keep his promise! Later, when the child was born, she said: Genesis 21 “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age”She even named the son Isaac, which means, laughter.

III. What Is Not So Funny
While most of us enjoy a good laugh, we also know its boundaries. Some humor is not in good taste. Humor that gets a laugh at someone’s expense, or makes fun of something which is to be highly esteemed or honored – such humor is offensive. Nor do we like being laughed at ourselves. Not everything that breaks the pattern is all that funny.

Maybe that’s one way of looking at sin – as something that breaks the pattern. Sin is breaking God’s pattern, His law, the course he has laid out for our behavior. When God tells us to worship Him alone, and we honor other gods, it’s not funny. When God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we do otherwise – this is no joke. Sin is the unexpected – it is us not meeting God’s expectations. Sin is no laughing matter. Or is it?

If we look through the entire Bible we find the only thing God actually laughs at is the destruction of the wicked.
Psalm 37:13 “The Lord laughs at the wicked” in derision. But can we avoid being on the receiving end of God’s laughter? Can we avoid what we really deserve for breaking God’s expectations?

IV. The Divine Comedy
In classical literature, there are two common forms for a story. One is a “tragedy”, in which things started out poorly, got better, but then the main character had some sort of fall from grace. A tragedy ended on a down note.

But the opposite of this was a comedy. Not like the laugh-seeking movies we often patronize, but Comedy in the classical sense, is a story that starts off good, gets worse, but has a happy ending. One of the greatest examples of this classical form is Dante’s work, the “Divine Comedy”. In this story, the main Character (Dante himself) goes on a sightseeing tour all the way down to the depths of Hell, only to be taken all the way up through purgatory even to heaven and finally to gaze upon God himself. The story goes from good, to bad, to great. It’s a happy ending. It’s a great reversal.

Christ is ultimate reversal. He is our happy ending. He saves us from the very depths of Hell, and brings us, like Dante, to the very presence of God in heaven. Only our journey is not a sightseeing tour or a dream. It is not a metaphor or some play-acting. Christ changes the reality of our situation by his work for us. By his perfect life, he brings us righteousness before God. By his sacrificial death, he takes such a penalty away from us. By his rising to life again, he guarantees us that even though we die, yet shall we live. He changes everything for us – everything that means anything – he turns our tragedy, in the classic sense, into a comedy. He makes our ending happy.

This is just God’s way – you might call it, the Divine Comedy – or God’s own peculiar sense of humor. Paul keys in on it here in his letter to the Corinthians – yes we have finally arrived at our text. God chooses the weak to make the strong look bad. He chooses the foolish to show his true wisdom. The lowly, despised things that “are not” – God uses these to nullify the things that are. What Paul is talking about here is God’s sense of humor – of breaking the pattern of our expectations.

Those things which the world might laugh at and shame – God turns the tables. Instead it is the supposedly strong, the so-called wise, and the seemingly wonderful – God laughs off these. And those held in shame and ridicule, he takes for himself and makes something out of.

We might have expected Jesus to choose learned men to be his disciples, powerful rulers, or wealthy merchants, but he chose common fishermen, a socially rejected tax collector, former prostitutes, and in St. Paul he even uses an arch-enemy of Christianity to become its chief spokesperson, even to write much of the New Testament. Likewise, we might not expect God would have US – sinners that we are. But He does. Christ dies for each of us. God calls us by name.

Perhaps the ultimate reversal then, the biggest laugh, is that God turns us sinners into his own holy and righteous children. He makes his enemies his friends. He no longer sees wicked people worthy of destruction. He sees “good and faithful servants”. He no longer is angry at our breaking of His expectations. Instead He rejoices with the angels when one sinner repents. He brings us dead people – dead in our sins – dying in our body and dead in our spirit. He brings us to life – life by His spirit – life forever. It’s just his way.

But now, as His people, we must deal with laughter once more, as Jesus warns. Laughter is also used in persecution – being laughed at, made fun of, despised for the sake of Christ – this happened to the prophets – and Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes, that it will happen to us who follow him, too. Still, we are blessed.
And remember, Jesus was laughed at too:
Those mourners who laughed at Jesus when He said,
“She is not dead, only sleeping”
But Jesus turned a father’s mourning into laughter when he said, “little girl, arise” – and she did. God has a sense of humor.

Those who laughed at Jesus when he hung, dying, “Save yourself, if you are the Christ” Who would have the last laugh on Easter Sunday??
God has a sense of humor.

And in the end, and I mean THE END – God will have the LAST laugh. And we, His people will join in the laughter. When all that is wrong is finally reversed, when God makes it right again. When in heaven, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and keep us forever.

So what makes us laugh? The breaking of the pattern, the unexpected, the surprise. But not everything that is wrong is so funny.

Does God have a sense of humor? Yes, but not like ours. For in the true Divine Comedy, Jesus Christ makes right what is wrong, and gives us the ultimate happy ending. And that’s no joke. In His Name. Amen.

V. Conclusion
Though it is often said that God has a sense of humor, sin is no laughing matter. Still God shows his sense of humor in choosing the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the strong, and bringing us life through the death of His Son.

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