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

HOLY HEALING HUMOR

Delivered 4/3/05
Text: Acts 2:14a, 22-32
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Holy Humor Sunday. Are you familiar with those collections of children's letters to God? I have a few excerpts in my files:

  • Dear God, please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there now. Amanda
  • Dear God, thank you for the baby brother but what I asked for was a puppy. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up. Joyce
  • Dear Mr. God, I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart. I had to have 3 stitches and a shot. Janet
  • Dear God, if we come back as somebody else, please don't let me be Jennifer Horton - because I hate her. Denise
  • God, I read the Bible. What does begat mean? Nobody will tell me. Love, Alison
  • Dear God, is it true my father won't get in Heaven if he uses his golf words in the house? Anita
  • Dear God, I keep waiting for spring, but it never did come yet. What's up? Don't forget. Mark
"Holy Humor Sunday." If you are not familiar with the concept, it is only because your experience has not been in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It is based on the understanding that the Resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate joke on death, Satan, and all the forces of evil. It is a testament to the God who, as the Psalmist says, "sits in the heavens and laughs"(1) at the foolishness of humanity and any forces that might seek to thwart divine purposes. I have told you before that one tradition is for priests to gather on the Monday following Easter for cigars, brandy, and jokes to celebrate the God who does this surprising, transforming thing.(2) Neat.

Related to all that is this tradition of designating the second Sunday of Easter (which some liturgical calendars call "Low Sunday") as "Holy Humor Sunday." We come ready to party and dress the sanctuary appropriately. After all, the resurrection is comedy of the best sort, the unexpected reversal of expectations.

That was the essence of Peter's message that day in Jerusalem - reversal of fortune. "Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead..." As we said last week, TA-DA! God's great cosmic joke. And it made all the difference to those who got it.

Truth is we know very well that humor is therapeutic. There is Norman Cousins' widely publicized Anatomy of an Illness(3) twenty-five years ago which chronicled his own experience with a massive heart attack. The doctors told him that he would be an invalid after all the damage his heart sustained, but he did not want to accept that. You know what he did? He spent hour upon hour watching Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy movies, and literally laughed his way back to life. Who woulda thunk it?

A few weeks ago Dateline NBC(4) interviewed Melissa Etheridge following her appearance at the Grammy Awards. Now, if you are of my generation and are more familiar with Frank Sinatra than Melissa Etheridge, she is a rock 'n' roller with a raspy voice (and loud) who has been around for twenty-or-so years. A few years ago she made headlines by coming out as a lesbian and then headlines again last year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in the middle of chemotherapy when she heard she'd been nominated for a Grammy. She figured this was one awards ceremony she would have to sit out. But then her treatment came to an end, and when she was invited to sing a tribute to Janis Joplin, a singer she considers a major influence, Etheridge decided she would go to the Grammy's, with hair, or without. It was an emotional performance and she was accorded a raucous and enthusiastic response.

Stone Phillips asked, "Are you surprised by the impact it had? How it moved people?"

She said, "Yes. Yes, I'm definitely taken aback. I remember when I finally made the choice. Yeah, I'm going to do it bald. And you know what? Maybe this'll help somebody who's sitting on chemo laying in bed and going, God, I'm bald. Isn't this weird? Maybe it'll help them feel a little better. I didn't know to what extent that would happen. But I'm honored."

Etheridge gives much of the credit for her recovery to her partner, Tammy Lynn Michaels. Melissa said in introducing her, "This one has a gift of humor and comedy. When I was diagnosed with cancer, she'd say, well, hello, cancer pants. And shaving my head was another opportunity...for my son, I put a new mohawk for awhile...You know, when I finally did lose my hair and she shaved it, and I had a couple hairs here -- what did you call me?"

"Captain Steubing. Ever seen the 'Love Boat' where he just had a couple right there on the side and then he was shiny? She was Captain Steubing for a while."

Melissa said, "Laughing is a medicine. It releases this amazing stuff. And she would make me laugh and bring this incredible gift to me every single day." Those moments of laughter were a lifeline during her treatment.

We understand. We have known it for generations. Way back in the ancient book of Proverbs we find it: "A cheerful heart is good medicine."(5)

Now we are back in the 21st century and facing the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Family problems, job problems, health problems. Who knows? Not one a laughing matter.

One night, Jesus was talking with his disciples after supper. He had been telling them about all that would occur with him and with them in the coming days. He would be leaving them, and there would be problems, some tough times, words they did NOT want to hear. But finally, he gave them a word that comforted them, a word that continues to echo down through the corridors of time, a word that allows us to maintain a bit of our mental and spiritual health, to keep that cheerful heart, to keep on laughing in the face of even the worst that life can offer. Listen to the word and remember it as you come to the Table: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart"...or as we learned it in the King James Bible, BE OF GOOD CHEER..."I have overcome the world."(6) Good news, indeed.

Amen!


1. Psalm 2:4

2. Bruce Naylor, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop 1999 04 04," #41, 3/29/99

3. Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an illness as perceived by the patient : reflections on healing and regeneration, New York : Norton, 1979

4. 2/22/05

5. Proverbs 17:22a

6. John 16:33

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