St. Paul’s – Proper 6 – 6/18/2023
God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me. Sarah (Genesis 21:6)
Laughter can sometimes be deep joy resonating and bubbling up from the depths of the soul in the face of trouble, sin, sadness, and hopelessness. It can sometimes be our equally absurd, nonsensical shout at the absurdity and senselessness of the world we live in. And laughter can also burst forth as spontaneous relief in response to an unexpected miracle. It can be unexpectedly precipitated by God’s absurd salvific response to our inescapable human plight. I like to call this kind of moment when God surprises us with a miracle so ridiculous and far-fetched that all we can do is burst out laughing –a laugh of relief for our impossible rescue, disbelief in the face of extreme grace, the gratitude of an impossible response to an equally impossible situation. I like to call this act of God, divine absurdity.
Faith is holding onto God’s promises and living toward them, even when there is no evidence they will be fulfilled. Such faith is difficult and rare. Divine Absurdity…..Just ask Abraham and Sarah.
They had arrived at an age where the future was limited, their options were naturally diminishing, and life was rather predictable. Abraham was seventy-five and Sarah about ten years younger. They were settled comfortably with their extended family in Haran. Then Yahweh shows up and scrambles their settled and predictable world with an impossible command and an incredible promise. Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you may be a blessing… (Genesis12:1-2). No retirement here! No going gently into the night! Suddenly the familiar gave way to the unexpected; the comfortable was lost in struggle; and the predictable was replaced with danger and uncertainty.
For the next twenty-five years Abraham and Sarah pursued that unknown country and awaited the fulfillment of that incredible promise of being the parents of a great nation! How is such a promise to be fulfilled when there is no heir? Their biological clock had long ago expired! Oh, they came up with a couple of schemes to bring the promise to fruition. Maybe nephew Lot could be a surrogate heir. Then there was that rather scandalous scheme that Abraham would father a child by Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl. Ishmael was born when Abraham was eighty six. But that didn’t work out! Then when Abraham was ninety-nine, God renewed and sealed the covenant and promised that, indeed, Sarah would conceive and bear a son at this season next year. Abraham’s reaction was predictable if the promise was not. He fell on his face and laughed!
The drama builds and our reading this morning picks up. Abraham is sitting under the oaks of Mamre cooling himself on a warm day. Three mysterious visitors show up unexpectedly. He runs to meet them and extends the extravagant middle-eastern hospitality, fresh bread from newly kneaded dough, the best calf from the herd. These are no ordinary visitors with an ordinary mission. They are messengers of God!
A visitor, who turned out to be the Lord, delivers the implausible message. Your wife, Sarah, will have a son. Sarah is eves dropping at the entrance of the tent. Sarah’s reaction? A scornful laugh! When asked why she laughed, her response was obvious, Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Then comes the pivotal question of faith from the divine messenger: Is anything too difficult for the Lord? Abraham’s and Sarah’s laughter was initially one of disbelief. But when the son was born, they named him laughter or he laughs and Sarah declared: God has brought laughter for me; and everyone who hears will laugh with me (Genesis 21:6). Her scornful laughter of disbelief was turned into the joyful laughter of unexpected fulfillment! Here is my thesis: God’s promises are sure but they are fulfilled in unexpected and untimely ways; and the church is the steward of those promises and a means of their surprising fulfillment.
The Bible is filled with many a divine absurdity in addition to our Hebrew Scripture passage today……
There is that unexpected, time-altering, history-defining unexpected transitional event. Another birth in the silence of a dark night in a remote corner of the world, God showed up in a cattle stall in a vulnerable little baby, born of an unmarried teenage peasant girl, among the homeless. This Incarnate God went along the lakeside as a carpenter turned preacher and announced the incredible news, The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:14) He called fishermen, laborers, tax collectors, ordinary folks, to form a new community in which the unexpected presence and power of God would be manifest. The religious, political, and economic leaders who were threatened by his unlimited love, courage, and goodness predictably put Jesus to death on a cross. But the God of the unpredictable did the most astounding, unexpected, uncontrollable, and unmanageable act: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and let loose on the world, the firstborn of a whole new creation!
God created laughter for just such divine absurdities. Not only must we laugh in the midst of despair, but we must also spontaneously rejoice in the face of God’s very presence as a resistance to the mundanity of our human existence. For God is the ultimate revolutionary.
Laughter is the sister of faith. Faith is absurd. It is divine absurdity, the ultimate defiance to hopelessness and death, a divine declaration of the miracle of God’s unpredictable presence in an otherwise predictable world. Faith is believing in divine absurdity. In faith, we laugh in the face of danger at the immensity of God’s miracle of salvation and life. In faith, we give thanks to God for the gift of laughter in difficult times, for God’s gift of spontaneous faith and trust in the Lord’s ability for miraculous intervention.
This divine absurdity not only appears in the Bible. It also shows up in the face of disease, gun violence, tornadoes and hurricanes, losses of jobs and homes, tears, sadness, depression, and frustration, God invites us to laugh at the divine absurdity of Jesus’ resurrection and the absurd realization that we too can and will experience all kinds of resurrection in our lives and ultimate resurrection even in our death. I saw this at the living funeral for Rudy Scott this past week. In the midst of a terminal disease, laughter and joy were the theme of the night in the face of death and courage when one could give up.
Laughter is a form of freedom. It releases us from the tensions and bonds of our despair and lifts us into a place of faith in God’s spontaneous ability to act in this world and in our lives at any moment.
For every Christian, for every human being created and sanctified by God, faith is that irrational force that laughs in the face of darkness, barrenness, danger, and despair, and believes in fountains in the desert, water gushing up from dry wells, olive trees in winter, new life emerging from dead seeds. Faith knows that God’s absurd miracles can always transcend the absurdity of sin and evil, restoring meaning to the meaningless and hope in the void.
So laugh people of God! Let your laughter rip forth, burst out, bubble up, double you up, because God is here even in the midst of your turmoil and your fear, even in the midst of your worry and your pain, telling you that a miracle is just around the corner.
And get this! Laughter is contagious.It’s communal and connectional. It’s healing. And it’s a sign of hope. Every time you laugh, you lift someone else near you a little bit higher and convince them that divine miracles are real.
Our world today needs to fight the viruses of the world, both biological and social, with some good strong uncontainable laughter, and a whole lot of faith.
Today and always, may your laughter be unstoppable, may your gratitude be spontaneous, and most of all, may your faith be absurd.
Close with The Prayer of Isaacs Birth by John Shea