Bible Text: Genesis 18:1-15, Genesis 21:1-7 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional: Holy Humour
Around the world there has been an effort to remain optimistic about humanity during these strange times. One of my favourite examples of this comes out of Calgary where a group of students from a local high school launched a hotline for seniors in isolation. It is called the Joy4All project and each day there are a series of options including jokes, stories, and poems shared by the students. Their desire is to provide a healthy dose of joy each day. There is also the option of leaving them a message and to their surprise, one day, comedian Billy Crystal phoned and shared some of his favourite jokes. I tried it, and chose to listen to the jokes of the day. Why are frogs always happy? Because they eat whatever bugs them. How do celebrities stay cool? They have many fans. Why can’t melons get married? Because they cantaloupe. It can be reached by calling 1-877-JOY-4ALL. Along with staying connected in our various ways, laughter is an important ingredient to maintaining positive mental health. So it is actually rather surprising when we find out how little laughter is mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps that is because, like eating, it is a given that God’s people laugh. I need to laugh at least once a day. Today we hear two variations on laughter in Scripture. Because sometimes we need to have a good laugh.
When God called Abram, who is now known as Abraham, God promised that he would have many descendants and become the patriarch of a great nation. However, the chances of said descendants is beginning to dwindle as both Abraham and Sarah are getting older. Now, I have to be honest about the story of Abraham and Sarah, there aren’t a lot of reasons to laugh in their narrative. It is a rather tumultuous story. Even Coronation Street can’t compete with the drama that these two are exposed to. There are often points in the story when the people are in need of God’s healing or intervention or simply grace. Including the time Sarah was taken as one of Pharoah’s wives or the story that happens just prior to our passage, in chapter 16, which is the awkward story of Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, giving birth to Ishmael, Abraham’s first son. A fascinating piece to that story is that an angel of the Lord finds Hagar and tells her that her offspring will be so great in number that they will not be able to be counted. She is one of two women in Scripture who gets a personal visit from an angel regarding a birth. As we know Sarah hears about the child she will conceive from messengers but she doesn’t get a personal private visit.
Our reading begins with the Lord appearing to Abraham while he is sitting by his tent. It would have been a strange sight to see three people travelling in the middle of the desert. However, Abraham’s behaviour is typical of Middle Eastern hospitality. He doesn’t question their business or even whether they are friend or foe. He simply offers them rest, water and food, A LOT of food. In that moment he transforms them from strangers to guests. Culturally this also meant that Sarah, despite assisting in preparing the food, remains inside the tent. But this doesn’t preclude her from listening in on their conversation.
Another important part to hospitality is that the host should never insult the guest. When one of the guests says that he will return in due season and Sarah shall have a son, Sarah thinks about their age and laughs. We can interpret this laugh as a skeptical laugh. Rolf Jacobsen says, “Sarah, made cynical by the passing years, exhausted by God’s un-kept promises, afraid to start to hope again, clearly thinks that there are plenty of things too wonderful for the Lord.” But as someone who laughs a lot, especially when they don’t know how else to react, I think Sarah’s laugh is maybe a nervous laugh or one of shock. It is for this reason that Sarah denies laughing when questioned. While this passage can teach us a lot about hospitality, about transforming strangers into guests I think it also teaches us to not take things so seriously. When Sarah is caught laughing to herself and in turn denies it, the messengers don’t storm out or rescind the blessing, they simply affirm that indeed she did laugh.
Now, I want to point out that this is not the first time Abraham and Sarah are hearing about their son Isaac. In Chapter 17 God not only changes their names, not only signs a covenant with them but says to Abraham that even in their old age God will bless them with a son. God says, “I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” And you know what Abraham does? It says, “He fell on his face and laughed.” It is then that God gives this son the name Isaac. In Hebrew it is pronounced Yitzchak which comes from the word “Yitshaq” which means “laughter.” Like Sarah, Abraham laughs at the shock, laughs at the ridiculous notion that a man at 100 and a woman at 90 will have a child, laughs because there is nothing beyond God’s ability.
Laughter returns to the story, but this time it is an unabashed joy-filled laughter when their son is born. Laughter is infectious and Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” Quite honestly there is nothing more infectious then a Baby’s laugh. There are numerous videos online of baby’s having a good chortle over the silliest of things and you can’t help but laugh in return. But this passage also reminds us that sometimes the best way to praise God is to laugh. Is to be so joyful that laughter is the best response. In chapter 21 Sarah laughs because this crazy promise has been fulfilled, because nothing is too wonderful for God! And everyone who hears Sarah’s story will know that God can do some pretty crazy things.
This reminds me that even with all of our own drama God is always bigger. In fact, God sees us at our weakest, at our most vulnerable, at our least likeable and God still chooses to love us and fulfill promises. If that isn’t a reason to laugh with pure joy and relief, laugh with gratitude and praise, I don’t know what is.
Why are spiders so smart? Because they can find everything on the web. What do you call it when a group of apes start a company? Monkey Business. How do you row a canoe full of puppies? You bring out the doggy paddle. This last one comes from Billy Crystal himself, “Did you hear about the claustrophobic astronaut? All he wanted was a little more space!” Sure, you can groan all you want and maybe on this Father’s day these are more like Dad jokes then praise worthy fun but find those reasons to laugh because God loves holy humour. Amen