“For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time……a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1 & 4. (Revised English Bible)
Ecclesiastes contains the thoughts of the “Philosopher”, a man who was puzzled by the ways of God who controls human destiny. “Life is useless” he concludes. Yet, in spite of this, he urges people to enjoy the gifts of God, and for as long as they could. He is not the cheeriest of souls and many of his thoughts appear negative and even depressing, but don’t close the book, it is worth holding onto for verses one to eight in chapter 3. I invite you especially to ponder with me the cheerier half of verse 4: a time to laugh.
There was a time when preachers knelt down in the pulpit in prayer just before the sermon. A young daughter of the manse sitting beside her mother asked her Mum,”Why does daddy kneel down while we sing the hymn before the sermon?” “Oh,” replied her Mum, “he is asking God to make it good sermon.” “Then why doesn’t He?”
Several University studies have found that laughter increases our pain threshold, boosts cardiac health and increases the blood flow; proof that laughter is the Best Medicine. Early in my ministry I was told off because I told a funny story that gained a laugh, particularly with the younger members of choir! I was told church was not the place for such hilarity. In my innocence I had no idea I was guilty of sacrilege. What I did know was the unhappy fact that many folk thought the church to be dull, boring, irrelevant and its members to be a bit odd!
A young lad was asked by his father if he would go to the railway station and meet the gentleman, a preacher who was to conduct the special services that week-end in the local church. Arriving at the station he realised he’d forgotten to ask for a description. However he wasn’t greatly perturbed, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to pick him out in the crowd. The crucial moment arrived and there was a man carrying a case, sombrely dressed, a man of miserable looking countenance. No bother! “Are you the visiting preacher at our church?” the welcoming escort enquired. “No – I’m sorry son, it’s my indigestion makes me look like this.”
While I was engaged in giving some shape to the embryo of this post, in addition to the reference above, four other pieces of relevance to our theme came to my attention.
- Our central London congregation, giving notice of the Sunday service, announced that instead of the usual format of worship, they would participate in “The Gathering: Tricks ‘n’ Laughs.”
- The Church of Scotland’s Magazine Life & Work, introducing a new website, promised to publish weekly on a Monday a “fun section”.
- A church advertising for a new minister is seeking someone with a sense of humour.
- A preacher began his service by telling a joke. Proof that laughter is not forbidden in church!
Eric Linklater, the Scots author took home from school his report card in which the teacher wrote, “Eric, on the whole is doing fairly well, but is handicapped by a sense of humour.” Far from a handicap, it is good thing to laugh, a blessing rather than a handicap. Someone once said, “Laughter is nothing else but sudden glory.” Another saying handed down to us is that of Haydn who said, “God will forgive me, if I serve Him cheerfully.”
A little girl was arguing with her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was impossible for a whale to swallow a human; the girl said a whale had swallowed Jonah. The teacher insisted she was right, and the girl said, “When I get to Heaven I’ll ask Jonah.” “What if Jonah went to hell?” asked the teacher. The girl replied, “Then you can ask him!”
“I don’t care what other people say, I like your sermons!”
Of course there are times when laughter is totally unacceptable. The wrong kind of laughter, the cheap and the vulgar; the bitter laughter of the cynic; laughing someone’s faith away; the list is by no means exhausted.
I have kept a note of three pertinent questions relating to the impact of laughter in our personal life.
- Can we make others laugh? You don’t need to be a Ken Dodd or Les Dawson. And, if you have responsibility for Christian worship, remember, you’re not on stage at the London Palladium.
- Can you bear being laughed at? No one has the entitlement seriously to mock us, abuse us, and make fools of us. There are people who have no sense of humour, we need to be understanding, respectful and kindly.
- Can you laugh at yourself? It was Robert Burns who said, “O, wad some pow’r the giftie gie us to see oursels as others see us.” To ask that is more than some can bear. Yet, in many ways, to be able to laugh at ourselves is one of life’s greatest gifts. Alas there is a tendency to take ourselves too seriously; if we could see and acknowledge how silly we look sometimes; if we could stand back and take a good look at ourselves, instead of getting into a needless tizzy about some trifling thing; if we can laugh at ourselves, we could move on with “a light in our eye and a spring in our step” – surely a Christian virtue!
So Jesus had a sense of humour? The gospel evidence is slender except for two references quoted in support of an affirmative “Yes.”
- The humour in the story He told of the man with a plank in his eye gravely trying to remove a speck of sawdust from someone else’s eye! (Matt. 7:3)
- How the disciples must have chuckled when He nicknamed two of them, James and John, “Boanerges” (sons of thunder). Mark 3:17 – both ambitious and possessed of a temper!
Handicapped by a sense of humour? Never! And I make no apology; Jesus did say, “I have spoken to you, so that my joy may be in you, and your joy complete.” (John 15:11)