The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE BEST NEWS EVER

Delivered 4/18/04
Text: Acts 5:27-32
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Holy Humor Sunday. An older couple got up one morning and stumbled into the kitchen. They both stared at the coffee pot, neither one volunteering to make the coffee. Finally the husband said, "Well, since you do the cooking, you should make the coffee."

"No," she responded. "You drink most of it, so you should make it."

"I still think it's your job," he answered crossly.

"Actually, the Bible has the final answer," she said. "Open it towards the end of the New Testament. Up at the top of the pages it says: HE-BREWS!"

Uh-huh.

This 85 year old couple, having been married almost 60 years, had died in a car crash. They had been in good health the last ten years mainly due to her interest in health food, and exercise. When they reached the pearly gates, St. Peter took them to their mansion which was decked out with a beautiful kitchen and master bath suite and Jacuzzi. As they "oohed and aahed" the old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. "It's free," Peter replied, "this is Heaven."

Next they went out back to survey the championship golf course that the home backed up to. They would have golfing privileges everyday and each week the course changed to a new one representing the great golf courses on earth. The old man asked, "what are the green fees?" Peter replied that this is heaven, so you play for free.

Next they went to the club house and saw the lavish buffet lunch with the cuisines of the world laid out. "How much to eat?" asked the old man.

"Don't you understand yet? This is heaven, it is free!" Peter replied with some exasperation.

"Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol tables?" the old man asked timidly.

Peter lectured, "That's the best part...you can eat as much as you like of whatever you like and you never get fat and you never get sick. This is Heaven."

With that the old man went into a fit of anger, throwing down his hat and stomping on it, and shrieking wildly. Peter and his wife both tried to calm him down, asking him what was wrong. The old man looked at his wife and said, "This is all your fault. If it weren't for your blasted bran muffins, I could have been here ten years ago!"

Your turn...(congregation members share their own stories)

Jesus loved a good party. He performed his first miracle at a wedding reception in Cana, turning water into wine. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us that the overjoyed father threw a big party for his returning son. "We are going to have a feast, a celebration," the father declared, "because this son of mine was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found."(1)

For centuries, in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant countries, Easter Monday and "Bright Sunday" (the Sunday after Easter) were observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Parishioners and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, sang, and danced. It was a time for folks to tell jokes and have fun. It was rooted in the musings of early church theologians that God played a wonderful practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh," they called it.

But somehow, the celebration did not seem to make it to American shores. So in 1988, a group called the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging members to resurrect the old observance of Easter Monday or "Bright Sunday."(2) The idea took off. And the truth is that one day to honor Jesus' resurrection (Easter) is not enough anyway, so fun-filled celebrations on Holy Humor Sunday have become a tradition in increasing numbers of churches across denominational lines.

Congregations keep coming up with creative and hilarious ways to celebrate the resurrection. Worshipers are invited to come dressed in their brightest colors, in outlandish clothing with funny hats, outrageous wigs, and so on. Choirs show up wearing bathrobes or little-kid outfits, and play kazoos. Party favors and noisemakers are passed out encouraging everyone to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord." In some places, the ushers dress up as clowns. One pastor costumed himself as a medieval jester, and his staff as clowns with the theme for the service taken from the Apostle Paul referring to himself and the early Christians as "fools for Christ's sake."(3) Church sanctuaries are decorated with streamers, smiley faces, and multicolored balloons emblazoned with messages like "Smile! God Loves You!" and "Christ is Risen! Smile!" Live butterflies, a symbol of the resurrection, were released at one church. Of course it is an unusual form of worship, but the theological message behind it is as sharp as a tack. How can we NOT celebrate when we have been given such a reason for joy - the promise that death no longer has the last word; our living, loving Lord does. Party time!

No doubt that was some of the motivation for Peter and the others in our lesson. Here is a rag-tag band of former fraidy-cats suddenly become bold and brash street preachers who are perfectly willing to risk everything to share their witness. The scene in Acts 5 follows the SECOND arrest of these men for their street preaching. The Sanhedrin had strictly ordered them to abstain from teaching in the name of Jesus and they had disregarded it. To these Jewish leaders this was a doubly serious matter. The apostles were not only heretics, they were also potential disturbers of the peace, the very peace that Pilate had entrusted to them to maintain. Historians know that Palestine has always been politically volatile; if this situation were not checked it might well result in some kind of popular uprising. That was the last thing the Chief Priests wanted, because then Rome would intervene and the result would be a bloody mess...literally.

"We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," says the High Priest. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." The issue is politics, not religion. What raises the loudest alarm is the continued use of Jesus' name - a name that reminds everyone of the slippery political slope these religious leaders had descended in order to deal with a certain problematic rabbi. Enough of this might provoke the people to rebel.

Peter's first response to the high priest's accusations testifies to his own innate Jewishness. How can a religious body like the Jewish council take issue with a fellow Jew who claims "We must obey God rather than men!" If any theological concept united a first-century Judaism struggling to maintain its identity within the Roman political machine, it was their claim to recognize only the one God as their Lord and ruler. But having established this common ground with the council, Peter now details their differences - "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead - whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree." Only a Jewish audience, familiar with the language of Deuteronomy would fully understand the terrible curse suggested by such a shameful death.(4) And the one who reversed this curse and performed this magnificent miracle was none other than YOUR OWN GOD. And mine too.

But despite their despicable behavior, Peter continues to offer these most elite, and arguably most duplicitous members of the Jewish establishment, a wonderful gift - "[Our] God exalted [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel."

The good religious folks were not ready for that. In fact, the offer infuriated them to such an extent that they were ready to kill...again. Peter could not help himself. This good news he was sharing was the best news ever. How could he keep quiet? So he didn't. He spoke. And he kept on speaking. And the others did as well. And the result 2,000 years later is that hundreds of millions have heard the news...and responded. Party time!

So saying, even though I KNOW the good news, life does not seem to lend itself to a party. The daily headlines do not read like Christ's resurrection, rather his crucifixion. There are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, bold face lies from our political leaders, CEO's stealing billions, gangs so crazed by anger that they opt to become suicide-bombers. Add in your own. And if it hurts you and me, you know it hurts Jesus. All this is another blow of the hammer nailing Jesus to the cross.

But, thank God, that is not the end of the story. We know there ultimately is resurrection and the attendant celebration. Let the party begin.

Party? The little girl went to church for the first time, and as she was leaving with her parents, the minister asked how she had liked church. "I liked the music," she replied, "but the commercial was too long.

Then there was a lady who was visiting a church one Sunday. The sermon seemed to go on forever, and many in the congregation fell asleep. After the service, to be social, she walked up to a very sleepy looking gentleman, extended her hand in greeting, and said, "Hello, I'm Gladys Dunn."

The gentleman replied, "You're not the only one ma'am, I'm glad he's done too!!!"

Amen!


1. Luke 15:23-24

2. http://www.joyfulnoiseletter.com/hhsunday.htm

3. I Corinthians 4:10

4. Deuteronomy 21:22-23

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