Foolish Joy

Passage: John 20:19-31; I Peter 1:3-9
Date: March 30, 2008
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

Holy Humor Sunday? My guess is that most people would not associate Presbyterian flavored Christians and humor in the same sentence. After all, in large part, we come from Scotland and we take our faith pretty seriously. Worship is presented decently and in order, out of reverence for God, not a bad thing. In the process, even Easter, our great day of joyful gladness, can be reduced to less than it might be.

Holy Humor probably began as "Bright Monday" in the ancient Greek Orthodox tradition. It was set aside as a day of joy and laughter at Christ's triumph over death. The zest and games and high spirits of the day continued through what was called "Bright Week." The whole thing may have been inspired by the 4th century Greek preacher, John Chrysostom. He envisioned the resurrected Christ laughing at the devil. Can you picture Christ laughing? "Hell," he said, "was angered when it encountered [Christ] in the lower regions...for it was [ridiculed with laughter]," he preached. An old adage has it that the devil can not stand the sound of laughter and slinks away from it. Easter Monday in Medieval times was for special festivities, for picnics and folk dancing, singing and games. (Oregonian, April 2, 1988, p. C12)

The Tuesday of Holy Week, Melissa Olmsted led our staff devotions. She read scripture which commented on the "foolishness" of our faith. As never before, that got me thinking. Foolishness. Come with me. Pretend to wipe clean the slate of your experience and memory as a Christian. Try to look at some of the facts rationally. Of all of the great capitals and nations of the world, we Christians point to a tiny country, about the size of the Willamette valley, and boldly state that God was present uniquely there. Moreover, at the period we enter, the whole nation was nothing more than a poor backwater territory of imperial Rome, an occupied oppressed province. The person we hold up in highest esteem was nothing but a peasant craftsman, lower on the scale than even the subsistence farmers. His kind of people often wondered where their next meal was coming from. In his lifetime, he did not travel more than 40 miles from his birthplace. He never commanded an army, never held public office, never worked his way up in the priesthood, never amassed any sort of wealth. His followers tended to be outcasts and members of the lower peasant classes and women, who didn't count at all. By all accounts, his work as a religious leader was terribly brief, three years at most, probably fewer, and he failed. The week we hold up as holy began with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey that did not belong to him or his followers. Because of his popularity among some peasants, religious and political leaders had some apprehension about him.

Now look more carefully. The great feast we celebrate at that table consists of little cubes of bread and a tiny taste of grape juice, not a meal I would want to have to survive on. Yet, somehow we say that it is central, that Jesus started the ritual. Indeed, in Jerusalem, he ate his last supper with his few followers, and had to borrow a room to do it. Then we remember a guy named Judas, because he betrayed Jesus. Like we remember Benedict Arnold in American revolutionary history. We point to Jesus' loyal followers, devoted and committed, and watch them all protect themselves when their peasant-leader is arrested, not exactly what colonists did on the Boston green. We know the name Barabbas. We re-imagine the crown of thorns, the poor man who was shanghaied to help carry the cross. We hear with pain and curiosity nails piercing flesh and watch Jesus of Nazareth writhe on the Roman gallows, along with other supposed threats to the empire's power. Then we all go home. This is supposed to be good. And the next Sunday, we get together in numbers far larger than any other Sunday and we proclaim, "Christ is risen!" Somehow, mysteriously, this Galilean peasant who died at the hands of Rome broke out, or was broken out of a tomb, like an egg cracking. Now, isn't that an amazing tale? And then, then we testify to the fact that this nobody's life and death and resurrection makes a revolutionary difference for the whole world, and for our own lives, now and forever. It is the most important event in all of human history.

What absolute foolishness. Stay on the surface here with me. I mean, really. We move to implications and talk about values at odds with many prevalent in our society. Like the fact that in Jesus Christ, we have an amazing amount in common with the panhandler downtown and with the meth peddler in prison and with people who have gobs more money than we can imagine. Audaciously, we proclaim that all of them are loved by God in Christ as much as we believe we are. We announce that the victims of Katrina are our sisters and brothers in Christ, and we will do our best to walk with them in rebuilding their lives, even though the rest of the world has practically forgotten them. We say that we wash a street person's feet at Operation Nightwatch and we supply funds for food served to the lowest of the low in Bogota, Colombia, because of the life and death and resurrection of this Galilean nobody.

That Tuesday of Holy Week, I started thinking about this sort of foolishness, the foolishness of our proclamation, the foolishness of our efforts to live into this event, the foolishness of seeking ways to allow this person to live into us. How amazing!

And I began to laugh inside. And my spirit started saying "yes," and "yes," and "yes." How wonder-full to spend one's life in such foolishness. Here we find a place of deep groundedness. Here we spend a lifetime discovering a new way of life, anchored in a living hope. Here in this foolishness we connect with the Holy One, who flung all of those stars out into that utter vastness, and who makes us so that even a tender touch can give life. Here in this foolishness, we are bound together, brothers and sisters: crying, laughing, encouraging, praying, enjoying, and serving. I cannot imagine trading such foolishness for anything else.

Speaking of trading, a story:
A lady was driving home from one of her business trips in Northern Arizona, when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road. As the trip was a long and quiet one, she stopped the car and asked the Navajo woman if she would like a ride. With a silent nod of thanks, the woman got into the car. Resuming the journey, the lady tried in vain to make a bit of small talk with the navajo woman. The old woman just sat silently, looking intently at everything she saw, studying every little detail, until she noticed a brown bag on the seat next to the lady. "What in bag?" asked the old woman. The lady looked down at the brown bag and said, "It's a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband." The Navajo woman was silent for another moment or two. Then speaking with the quiet wisdom of an elder, she said, "Good trade." (Anonymous)

Foolish joy is ours. God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Don't trade it.