What Ever Happened to Laughter? (7/31/16- Camp Meeting)

Posted by on Aug 8, 2016 in Sermons | 0 comments

On August 24, 1972, Neil Diamond held a concert in Los Angeles’ Greek Theater.  The concert was recorded and was turned into a double album which became one of the best selling records of that time. The concert and album were aptly named “Hot August Night.”

July 31, 2016 was a hot and humid night.  Pitman UMC was the host night for the summer Camp Meeting, and Pastor Jim Bolton was to give the sermon.  Now, the crowd in the Pitman Camp Meeting on this night didn’t quite live up the the throng in the Greek Theater all those years ago, and the sermon won’t be turned into a double platinum album.   But the people gathered in the Grove Auditorium were seeking to be blessed.  CampMtg 2016-07-31 Pastor Jim _IMG_0091

It was hot and humid; it would have been easy to skip this one and stay at home in the air conditioning. But this hot and humid night serves as a reminder that if we put a priority on seeking God and if we have the perseverance to mine for His presence in uncomfortable environments, God will reward us with nuggets of His joy.

The voice recorder quality of the following recording isn’t quite on par with the CD version of “Hot August Night” (or with the church’s sound system for that matter), but it will take you to our own version of a “Hot July Night).    Click on the play button, then scroll down to follow along…

 

 

Our scripture reading was from Psalm 34:1-17.  Open the below drop down box to follow along.  The New King James Version is shown below…

Psalm 34:1-17

1 I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises.

2 I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart.

3 Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.

4 I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.

5 Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.

6 In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.

7 For the angel of the Lord is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

9 Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need.

10 Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.

11 Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord.

12 Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous?

13 Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies!

14 Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

15 The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help.

16 But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth.

17 The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.

Pastor Jim’s attire has caused some “humorous controversy” in the past years.  On his first Sunday as our pastor, he “famously” was unable to find his dress shoes among the moving boxes and wore “water shoes” to church.

It has also become apparent that he tends to wear the same shirt whenever he preaches at the Camp Meeting.  Take a look at his fashion statements for the past three years…

On August 3, 2014, Pastor Jim preached his first sermon at the Pitman Camp Meeting wearing a yellow and blue striped shirt…

Pastor Jim 2014-08-03 Camp Meting _16011

On July 26, 2015 he alluded to the fashion statement he inadvertently made with his shoes on his first Sunday in our church.  And, yes, that is the same shirt he wore in 2014…

Pastor Jim - Grove shoes IMG_2287 _300w

On July 31, 2016 the yellow shirt officially became a time-honored tradition.  Pitman Camp Meeting has always been associated with the hymn “In the Garden,” but now “In the Yellow Shirt” is beginning to take on the same prominence…

CampMtg 2016-07-31 Pastor Jim shirt _IIMG_0092

Yes, Pastor Jim has worn the same shirt three years in a row.  And in the spirit of humor and being able to laugh at ourselves, he has resolved to make this his “designated Camp Meeting Shirt.”  We’ll probably see it again next year and in the years to come. 

 

Before starting his sermon, Pastor Jim handed out a slip of paper to everyone which contained the words of Proverbs 17:22 from The Message (printed, of course, using the Comic Sans MS font)…

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

 

“A Bit of Humor”…

PUMC once had a pastor named Andy Braun who frequently interrupted his sermons with the line “and now for a bit of humor.”  His ensuing joke would not only lighten the mode, but it would also help to illustrate his point.  And so, let’s begin this message with “a little bit of humor”…

 

April Fools Test…

Have any of you heard of an “April Fool’s Aptitude Test”? It’s a fun test which makes a significant point—-namely that you have to hear the question before you can answer it.

Why can’t a person living in Houston, Texas, be buried east of the Mississippi River?

ANSWER

Because you don’t bury living people!
A farmer has 17 sheep. All but 9 nine die. How many sheep does he have left?

ANSWER

9…  they all died but 9.
In baseball, how many outs are there in an inning?

ANSWER

6 outs. Each team gets three outs.
In Utah, can a man marry his widow’s sister?

ANSWER

No, because if he has a widow he is dead!
How many of each animal did Moses take on the ark?

ANSWER

  None! Noah, not Moses took the animals on the ark.
What was our President’s name in 1968?

ANSWER

Barak H. Obama. That’s his name now and was his name in 1968!

Ok… maybe this exercise looses some of its impact in written form; it was probably more changeling and humorous when it was heard in the live “Hot July Night” setting…

It’s good to laugh, isn’t it? It’s good to laugh at ourselves sometimes; even when we are stumped!

If you would not be laughed at, be the first to laugh at yourself.

Benjamin Franklin (Statesman / Author)

“Laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can”

Elsa Maxwell (Columnist)

 

I am convinced that he world needs more laughter. There are those times we must be serious and deal with serious issues, but laughter is good for the soul!

President Abraham Lincoln agreed.  He once said to members of his cabinet…

“Gentlemen, why do you not laugh?

With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh, I should die. ”

 

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

 

Humor in Heaven!

Does God laugh?  Let’s illustrate with this “bit of humor”…

A man and a women who had been friends for many years, died and went to heaven. They told Saint Peter they wanted to be married. “Take your time and think about it,” Saint Peter said. You have eternity to think about it here. Come back and talk to me in about 50 years.

Fifty years later, the couple returned and again told Saint Peter they wanted to be married. “Take your time and think about it some more about it,” Saint Peter said. “Come back and see me in another 50 years.

So another 50 years go by and the couple returns and tells St. Peter they still want to be married.

Saint Peter sighs and finally says, “Come back and see me in another 50 years. And if we don’t have a Methodist preacher up here by then, I’ll marry you myself.”


To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question. It seems like we are living in a pressure-packed, tension-filled, hopeless world, doesn’t it? Everybody is so serious about everything! There is tension in our country, in politics, in our cities, in our economy, in our denomination.

Worship has always been in a state of tension between our understanding of piety and the joy that fills the heart by the Good News of the Gospel.
God loves to laugh! Yes, there is suffering in the world, scandals, wars and heartache. God suffers with us when we suffer. God weeps with us, but God laughs with us too. The primary quality of God is joy. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “joy” 155 times.
1. God laughs. It’s in the Bible—

“God who sits in the heavens laughs”
“The Lord laughs at him, For He sees his day is coming.”

– NASB

“But You, O Lord, laugh at them; You scoff at all the nations”

– NASB

“God who sits in the heavens laughs” (Psalm 2:4). We read the same in Psalm 37:13 (“The Lord laughs at him, For He sees his day is coming” – NASB) and Psalm 59:8 (“But You, O Lord, laugh at them; You scoff at all the nations” – NASB).

There’s an absurdity about trying to go against God.  You can’t top God.   The ridiculousness about it is so intense that all you can do is laugh and say, “really???”   Imagine trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle (Jesus intended this illustration to be humorous).   God is in control, no matter what man can muster; these verses are encouraging and comforting. If laughter is good for God, then it has to be good for you and me. DON’T MISUNDERSTAND ME, God doesn’t laugh at us. God laughs with us. Laughter is one of God’s gifts, a gift which we might not use enough.

“Laughter is the hand of God on the shoulder of a troubled world.”

Mark Twain  (American author / humorist)

 

When I was a child, the “rule” was that you never laugh in church! I am so glad that it’s not 50 years ago! If there is no laughter, then there is no joy, if there is no joy then there is no hope, if there is no hope there is no presence of the resurrected Christ, and if there is no resurrected Christ… what’s the purpose of the Christian Church?

In one of my former churches there was an organist who sat at the bench while I preached. One particular Sunday as I launched into the sermon, the organist you could see was fading little by little you could see her eyes getting heavier and heavier. SOON she began to rock and then FINALLY, her head went down on the keys of the organ that let out a sound that only Bella Lagosie would have enjoyed! Nobody remembered a word of the sermon that day!

A couple of years ago I ran into a man from the church; and you know what he said, “Remember that day when Edith fell asleep on the organ right in the middle of your sermon“?

The sermon got completely upstaged by a sleeping organist!


That moment, like so many unplanned things in worship, is a God-moment for laughter. FRIENDS, God is active and present in every moment of our lives. That being said, laughter is a gift of God for us to recognize, remember, and use.

 

Solomon said…

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

 

Laughter is one of God’s gifts to us especially in church.
COME ON, LET’S BE HONEST: When we come to church, we can be pretty serious. We make sure that we have our proper Sunday-go-to-meetin’ face on. But very often when something funny happens, it is a God-moment to be enjoyed, not resisted.  Just like an organist falling asleep on the keys.

This is exactly what Paul means when he writes in Romans 12:15, that Christians express their authenticity by “weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Eugene Peterson translates this verse in The Message, “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down
Ecclesiastes 3:4a tells us there is “a time to laugh.”

Laughter comes out of the darkness of our humdrum, drab, pain-filled lives. Laughter comes as a sudden jab of light in the middle of dark. Laughter doesn’t eliminate the darkness, but it seems to make it bearable.  As John Wesley would agree, laughter is God’s grace, handed to us like a piece of bread or a cup of water when we’re hungry and thirsty. Laughter is the great joke on the world that God will not leave us to face our troubles alone…

Matthew 28:19-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.   

Hebrews 13:5-6

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” 

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  

 

Solomon said…

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.  (Proverbs 17:22)

In the Old Testament, worshipers are taught to worship in joy; not to put on some sullen face, but to clap and to put a smile on your face:

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.

– Psalm 47:1

All of creation is to praise God with clapping and singing.

Let floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy.

– Psalm 98:8

 

Laughter is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. Grim care, moroseness, anxiety–all this rust of life–ought to be scoured off by the oil of laughter.

Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman / abolitionist)

Joy is prayer. Joy is strength. Joy is love. The best way to show my gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget for one moment the joy of Christ risen.

Mother Teresa  (Nun serving in India)

 

A Doctor was addressing a large audience in Tampa and said, “The material we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most of us sitting here years ago. Red meat is awful. Soft drinks corrode your stomach lining. High fat diets can be disastrous, and none of us realizes the long-term harm caused by the germs in our drinking water.

But there is one thing that is the most dangerous of all and we all have, or will, eat it. Can anyone here tell me what food it is that causes the most grief and suffering for years after eating it?”

After several seconds of quiet, a 75-year-old man in the front row raised his hand and said, “Wedding Cake.”

 

Bless and Praise- Not Gloom and Doom!

King David writes in Psalm 34:1 that his spiritual health and well-being are evidenced by two aspects of his spiritual life:

  1. He “will bless the Lord at all times!
  2. His praise shall continually be in my mouth!”

The question is “How are you going to do that?” What processes do you need to apply?  At least part of this answer should be familiar by now:

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.  (Proverbs 17:22)

 

In all the circumstances of life, in all the conditions of life, in all trials of life…  In the midst of the persecution, of misunderstandings , and yes even in the midst of change, the answer is to keep cheerfully blessing the Lord.

There is an old European story about a traveler who came upon a barn where the devil had stored seeds which he planned to plant into the hearts of people. There were bags of seeds variously marked “Hatred,” “Fear,” “Doubt,” Despair,” “Unforgiveness,” “Pride,” “Greed,” etc.

The devil appeared and struck up a conversation with the traveler. He gleefully told the traveler how easily the seeds he sowed sprouted in the hearts of men and women. “Are there any hearts in which these seeds will not sprout?” the traveler asked. A melancholy look appeared on the devil’s face. “These seeds will not sprout in the heart of a thankful and joyful person,” he confessed. 



I often begin a sermon with humor and include humor in the sermon. In fact, I try to use humor in nearly every situation when I can. I do this for a very good reason, or at least, I hope it is a good reason. It is good for me to stay focused, in the moment so-to-speak, but also to stay loose. It is good for you because it creates a mood that ought to allow us together to explore the seriousness of the word with the joy of the word.

 

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.  (Proverbs 17:22)

 

The Easter Laugh

God’s people are called to be happy, rejoice, and be people of laughter. In fact, the early ancient Christian theologians called worship, “Risus paschalis,” which literally means, “the Easter laugh.” They gave it that Latin name because they understood that the resurrection was our assurance of victory and God’s way of laughing at Satan, sin, and death.

There was a custom in the ancient Church that Easter Monday and the the Sunday after Easter was called “Bright Sunday.” It has its origins in Early Church Fathers such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom. They believed that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.

According to the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church…

“Many American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the early Greek Christians — ‘Bright Sunday’ or ‘Holy Humor Sunday’ celebrations on the Sunday after Easter. For centuries in all Christian faith traditions, the week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.” 

And so, whenever we worship or get together for “fellowship”… whenever the people of the Church gather, it is appropriate to have great abundance of joy and even laughter.

Leave sadness to the devil. The devil has reason to be sad.

St. Francis of Assisi (13th Century Friar)

“God laughed and begat the Son.  Together they laughed and begat the Holy Spirit. And from the laughter of the Three, the universe was born.”

Meister Eckhart (13th century Christian mystic)

“God is not a God of sadness, but the devil is. Christ is a God of joy. It is pleasing to the dear God whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart.”

Martin Luther (Protestant Reformer)

“Sour godliness is the devil’s religion.”

John Wesley (Founder of Methodist Movement)

 

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.   (Proverbs 17:22)

 

We walk by faith, not by sight.  We need to be on the lookout for the unexpected.  In other words, we need to keep it loose and have an open mind.  Humor can help with that.

A retired Episcopal Bishop has written:

What, after all, is a joke? Isn’t it something that turns the tables on the expected, something that hinges on the unpredictable or unreasonable? There’s nothing more unreasonable than the resurrection of Jesus. And to believe in it is to be part of that huge practical joke that God plays on those who trust blindly in the sufficiency of human reason to unravel all problems and to answer every question.

He continues:

Easter is the morning when the Lord laughs out loud, laughs at all the things that snuff out joy, all the things that pretend to be all-powerful, like cruelty and madness and despair and evil, and most especially, that great pretender, death. Jesus sweeps them away with His wonderful resurrection laughter.” 

You want to laugh, you want to see the lighter side of this life, then we must internalize, and practice the same faith, courage, and laughter that is expressed in the Psalms:

  • Psalm 34:4a, “I sought the Lord.”
  • Psalm 34:8a, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”
  • Psalm 34:2-3, “My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. O       magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.”
  • Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”
  • Psalm 34:1, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
  • Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”

 

Solomon said…

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.  (Proverbs 17:22)

 

“A characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

G.K. Chesterson (poet)

God did not mean for our spirits to be always heavy and grave, living in total seriousness. Chesterton went on to make a wonderful pun of his own:

“Satan fell by the force of his own gravity.”

The devil took himself too seriously, too gravely. God does not want us to do that.
With the resurrection of Jesus, God raises us out of heaviness into lightness when we quit taking ourselves seriously. Jesus is the light of the world (John 1:9; John 8:12) and He makes the world lighter on our shoulders (Matthew 11:28-30). He gives us the easy yoke, the light burden. He is bringing an end to gravity and the grave. He invites us to soar with the angels on the wings (Isaiah 40:31) of holy laughter. So today and always, as God gives you grace, lighten up. He’s up! Let us lighten up and join Him.

Afterall, Solomon wrote…

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.  (Proverbs 17:22)

 

There’s that clock again… we’re running out of time.  The following from Pastor Jim’s notes wasn’t included in the spoken sermon, but is presented below… Warning:  Bonus Material may be included in the quiz!

Bonus Material

A living Jesus justifies all the laughter, comedy and joy we care to engage in. I love the Russian Orthodox tradition that the priests gather after Easter Sunday worship to tell jokes to each other. That’s the true spirit of the humor of Jesus. It’s a comedy based in real happiness because in all that really matters we are victorious. Christ is risen and so are we.

I also like Garrison Keillor’s story of the young substitute priest who showed up for the Lake Wobegon Easter sunrise service wearing a T-shirt showing Jesus on water skis. It read “He’s up!” That’s the spirit of Easter, that’s our living Lord. Joyous humor about the greatest event ever to happen. His risen life is the best reason we all have to laugh.

 

 

Lighten Up!

If you would be patient for just a moment longer, I would like to close with a letter which was written many years ago…

A “snowbird” from the north wanted a week’s vacation at a Florida campground, but was concerned about the accommodations. Uppermost in her mind were the toilet facilities; but she was too proper to write “toilet,” so she abbreviated “bathroom commode” to “BC” and asked in her letter if the campground had its own “BC.”

The campground owner was baffled by this euphemism; so he showed it around, but nobody knew what it meant. Finally, someone said, “Oh, that’s simple. ‘BC’ means Baptist Church. She’s asking whether the campground has its own Baptist Church.”

So the owner sat down and wrote:

Dear Madam,

I’m sorry about the delay in answering your letter, but I’m pleased to inform you that a BC is located just nine miles north of the campground and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance away if you are in the habit of going regularly, but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along and make a day of it. They usually arrive early and stay late.

The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. It may interest you to know that there is a supper planned to raise money to buy more seats. They’re going to hold it in the basement of the BC.

I would like to say that it pains me greatly not to be able to go more regularly, but it is really not lack of desire of my part. As we grow older, it seems to be more of an effort, especially in cold weather. If you decide to come to our campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time, sit with you and introduce you to all the folks. Remember, this is a friendly community. 

 

Solomon said…

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.  (Proverbs 17:22)

 

 


Quiz Time!

As you reflect on what you’ve just heard/read, give this quiz a try.  If you don’t understand an answer (or if you disagree with the “correct” answer, post a comment)…

 

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