Mothers always feel like their child is a reflection of them so they worry about what the little ones will say. For example, they often reveal things to teachers about what’s going on at home.
Children generally come into the sanctuary on the first Sunday of the month for the first part of the service. One of the Sunday school teachers was helping to prepare the children in her first grade class so she asked, ‘Why is it important to be quiet during the church service.’ One bright little girl blurted out, “Because people are sleeping!”
Another mother was walking on the beach with her four year old boy and they came across a dead sea gull so the boy asked, anxiously, “Mommy, what happened to him?” The mother wanted to console the little boy so she said, “Well, he died and went to heaven.” The four year old was confused and he said, “Did God throw him back?”
One of our second grade teachers suggested that you could talk directly to God so she had the children write letters. We have a few examples:
Dear God, ‘Maybe Cain and Abel wouldn’t fight so much if they had their own rooms. It works with me and my brother.’ Larry
Dear God, ‘My brother told me about how you get to be born and all that but it doesn’t sound right to me.’ Martha
Dear God, ‘In Sunday school they told us what you do. Who does it when you go on vacation?’ Mark
Dear God, ‘I am doing the best I can.’ Frank
Dear God, ‘Thank you for the baby brother, but what I asked for was a puppy. I’ve never asked for anything before. You can look it up.’ Joyce
Dear God, ‘How did you know you were God?’ Charlene
Dear God, ‘Who draws the lines around the countries?’ Tom
Dear God, ‘Did you really mean for the giraffe to look like that, or was it a mistake?’ Norma
The famous passage from the book of Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to weep.”
Truth be told, the seasons of the spirit don’t come in a pre-determined order, like summer, fall, winter and spring. Those inner seasons get mixed up, and sometimes they blend into one another adding, confusion to the mix of tears and laughter.
It’s not uncommon for people at a wedding ceremony to start laughing. I’ve had nervous bride’s get the giggles. Humor releases tension. We laugh at things we take most seriously. We may not be conscious of some of those things, as Dr. Freud suggested.
Weddings are happy times, right? Then why do so many people cry at weddings? We know, don’t we.
The seasons of love and laughter, times to laugh and times to cry, often get mixed up-it’s a big emotional mix.
What might seem funny at first can suddenly sink into the place where sadness sits next to the poignant. One of my favorite lines from Dickens’ Christmas Carol talks about Scrooge waking up on Christmas morning and he was so happy that he laughed and laughed, until he cried.
Before that Christmas Scrooge did neither. He was a cynic who had only one season, always cold. It was summarized with his infamous response to any expression of compassion: “Ba, humbug.”
Humor-the right kind of humor, which is the ability to laugh at ourselves and to laugh with one another-is one of the great virtues, whether we characterize it as such or not.
How many times have we heard a person described as having ‘a great sense of humor?’ It’s not only an admirable quality, it’s a necessity to good spiritual health.
It wasn’t so long ago that people thought that religion and humor didn’t go together. People often tell me that they love the fact that we laugh together in church.
We all know how important a good sense of humor is, and most of us have had at least one long afternoon when we lost it! It’s a terrible thing to lose your sense of humor-it’s an indication of depression.
I take my humor very seriously. It keeps me from taking myself too seriously. Isn’t that one of the functions of a good sense of humor?
We’re thankful for our own sense of humor, and we’re glad when others have a good sense of humor. We criticize people for being too serious all the time. “Oh, he takes himself too seriously,” we say.
Taking yourself too seriously is an indication of a certain kind of pride, or a puffed-up sense of self-importance. Pomposity is so silly that it’s often the butt of a joke.
If someone is being too serious we say, “Lighten up.”
It’s paradoxical that humor helps us to be serious. Think about it–humor helps us to lighten up so we can get through a difficult time. Humor takes the edge off some of life’s very serious struggles. We need to lighten up so we can take responsibilities, commitments and obligations seriously.
Of course there’s good, or appropriate humor and there’s bad or inappropriate humor. Ethnic jokes fall into the latter category, of course.
But a joke about Jews told by Jackie Mason can be very funny, though some Jews sometimes take offense. “Too Jewish,” they say, or ‘He’s too Jewish.’
Black comedians can say funny things that a white comedian couldn’t say without sounding racist.
Humor is serious business.
Twenty years ago I read a book by Arlie Hochschild titled The Managed Heart, about the commercialization of human feelings. The author studied flight attendants who are trained to manage and display emotions the way an actor on camera or stage must. People in professions which require the managing of emotion become confused about how they actually feel. The goal in life is to be authentic-and to be congruous: to have consistency between the inner life and what comes out between feelings that are felt and feelings that are expressed.
Miss America must smile-all the while. She looks down from that pedestal and smiles, though it is painful, both physically and emotionally. She becomes estranged from her true self.
Managing the heart is an occupational hazard.
Genuine, healthful and healing laughter is spontaneously. From time to time we all smile for the camera, or smile or laugh at a joke, to be sociable. But we need to be free to laugh without willing it, forcing it or controlling it.
Most laughter between pulpit and pew is spontaneous. I rarely plan to say something funny. (This sermon is an exception.) But I take points off a Sunday service when we haven’t had at least one good laugh. If it’s too somber I feel like I’ve taken myself too seriously.
Too many planned laughs make a sermon a form of entertainment. The word entertainment is rooted in the Latin verb tenere, to hold on to; to hold a person or group’s attention; ‘to cause to endure.’ That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
Too much sermon humor can be inappropriate, of course. But without a sense of humor the preacher appears pompous. What appears pomposity may in fact simply be nervousness-worrying what people will think, or how they will respond.
Some forms of humor can be cruel. Humor can wound. Sarcasm hurts. Mocking hurts. Laughing at another at their expense is hurtful. But laughing together can be very healing.
Indeed, I’ve often concluded a wedding homily by saying that the most important aspect of a good relationship is the sense of humor that a couple shares. Marriage is such serious business. If you can’t laugh together you ‘re going to be in trouble very quickly.
Humor takes the edge off of all that serious business, but without the seriousness of life there wouldn’t be such a thing as humor.
Mark Twain had some very serious things to say about laughter. The great humorists dig into the most serious parts of life. Woody Allen is as much a philosopher as a humorist.
Rodney Dangerfield built a career on one simple-but-basic aspect of what it means to be a person-to be respected. “I don’t get no respect.” We all worry that we won’t get respect!
Humor is like the little valve on the pressure cooker. Do people still use pressure cookers? I remember the steam hissing out of that little valve, making it dance. When my mother used the pressure cooker she would say, “Okay, everyone out of the kitchen-this thing is dangerous, it could explode!” I remember peeking around the corner into the kitchen, watching the valve dance at the top of the cooker. It never exploded. I was relieved, and, truth be told, a little disappointed! (But that’s a subject for another sermon.)
Norman Cousins’ best selling book, Anatomy of an Illness, focuses on the healing effect of laughter. When Cousins was diagnosed with an incurable disease he got himself out of the hospital, saying, “It’s the worst place in which to recover,” and got a hotel room. He had friends bring in old Marx Brothers films-things to help him to laugh, and he asserted that this was one of the most important reasons why he did, in fact, recover.
That’s why I decided to have a Mother’s Day sermon with some laughter.
I save humor sent to me which I think might help to lighten up a day, or a sermon. For example, someone sent responses to the perennial question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Here are some responses:
Ralph Nader: The chicken’s habitat on the original side of the road had been polluted by unchecked industrial greed. The chicken had to cross the street just to survive, but he never made it across because he was crushed under the wheels of a gas-guzzling SUV!
Martha Stewart: No one called to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the farmer’s market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level, period.
Jerry Falwell: The chicken crossed the street because he was gay! Isn’t it obvious? Can’t you people see the plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to ‘the other side,’ get it. That’s what they call it, the other side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay, and if you eat that chicken you will become gay, too. I say we boycott all chickens that go over to ‘the other side!’
Dr. Seus: “Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed, I’ve not been told.’
Ernest Hemingway: “To die in the rain. Alone.”
Grandpa: “In my day, we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road. Someone told us that the chicken crossed the road and that was good enough for us.”
Barbara Walters: “Isn’t that interesting? In a few moments we will be listening to the chicken tell us, for the first time, the heart-warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting and went on to accomplish it’s life-long dream of crossing the road.”
Bill Gates: “I have just released eChicken 2003, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, balance your checkbook and delete the SPAM from your email in less than 1/10,000 of a second.”
Albert Einstein: “Did the chicken really cross the road or did the road move beneath the chicken?”
Colonel Sanders: “I missed one?”
“To everything thing there is a season.a time to cry and a time to laugh.”
For this Mother’s Day sermon I thought it was a time to laugh. There’s a certain sadness that sinks into the day, of course. We don’t have to dig too deeply to feel it.
I wanted to close with a touching story about Scarlett’s grandmother. You may remember that last Mother’s Day Scarlett sang a wonderfully moving song about her grandmother, whom she called Momsie.
Scarlett lit a candle a couple of weeks ago-Momsie died on April 23, shortly after her 82nd birthday. Scarlett’s partner, Brad, wrote this:
“I first met Momsie on Easter Sunday two years ago. Scarlett told me the family always called her grandmother ‘Momsie’ and so should I. We were introduced in Momsie’s kitchen. I had heard Momsie was a strong woman, but I would have known that as soon as I met her.
“From her wheelchair, Momsie was directing the entire household’s preparation of Easter dinner, which in Momsie’s house always included a leg of lamb. Momsie said, ‘Brad, Scarlett tells me you can cook.’ I told her I do my best and some folks like what I cook.
“Momsie moved the conversation along until I found myself actually cooking the lamb, including the gravy. She would ask me questions about cooking and I’d answer as well as I could. Some of the question were about the roast leg of lamb, some were about other recipes. All the while I knew that she already knew the answers, so it wasn’t about the recipes and the cooking, it was about me. She was testing me, and I was very nervous, especially while I was cooking the gravy. But when she tasted the dinner Momsie said, ‘Brad you can cook!’
“Momsie had grown weaker over these last two years, but she was still a strong woman in her way. This Easter Momsie was directing everything from her hospital bed. When Scarlett told me that she would be visiting Momsie in the hospital on Easter I prepared a leg of lamb and made some lamb broth so her Easter menu would not be interrupted.
“We were told that she had been refusing to eat. However, when Scarlett told Momsie that I made some lamb broth for her Easter dinner, Momsie grew noticeably more alert. She said to sit her up so she could taste it.
“A cup of warm broth was held so Momsie could take it through a straw, which she did, several times. Scarlett, being typically over-protective, asked if the broth was ‘too spicy,’ or ‘too hot.’ Momsie slowly and carefully took another sip before she said, in a surprisingly strong, loud voice, ‘It’s good Brad.’
“Then she lay back down and drifted off to sleep. I was told that my lamb broth was the last thing Momsie ate before she passed on last night. I’m glad she liked her broth. I hope it brought her a little pleasure.”