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

GOOD MEDICINE

Delivered 4/22/01
Text: Proverbs 17:22 (Matthew 7:1-5)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

"A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Amen? Amen!

A really stupid old joke. Three fellows have just died and are at the pearly gates. St. Peter tells them that they can enter if they can answer one simple question: "What is Easter?"

The first man replies, "Oh, that's easy, it's the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful..."

"WRONG," replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second man the same question, "What is Easter?"

The second man replies, "Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus."

St. Peter looks at the second man, shakes his head in disgust, looks at the third man and asks, "What is Easter?"

"I know what Easter is. Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, turned over to the Romans, tried, tortured, and finally crucified on a cross. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder. Three days later - Easter - Jesus comes out of the tomb...and if he sees his shadow there will be 6 more weeks of winter."

I told you it was stupid.

Are there more? {Opportunity here for members of the congregation to share "prescriptions for a merry heart" [jokes] they received as they came into worship}


Becky Hand:

A minister was asked to dinner by one of his parishioners, who he knew was an unkempt housekeeper. When he sat down at the table, he noticed that the dishes were the dirtiest that he had ever seen in his life.

"Were these dishes ever washed?" he asked his hostess, running his fingers over the grit and grime.

She replied, "They're as clean as soap and water could get them."

He felt a bit apprehensive, but blessed the food anyway and started eating. It was really delicious and he said so, despite the dirty dishes.

When dinner was over, the hostess took the dishes outside and yelled, "Here Soap! Here Water!"

###


Denise Kinnear:

A 4 year old boy spilled his cola on the rug the other day, and wanted to clean up the mess himself. He was told that the mop was just outside the back door. Quickly, he ran to the door, then realized that it had become dark outside.

Suddenly scared, he told his mom what the problem was. Assuring him, she told him that Jesus is everywhere, even in dark places, and that he'll always protect him. This put a smile on his face!

So, he opened the door just enough to poke his head outside and called out, "Jesus, if you're out there, could you pass me the mop?"

###


Three boys are in the school yard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, "My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem, they give him $50."

The second boy says, "That's nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, they give him $100."

The third boy says, "I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon... and it takes eight people to collect all the money!"

###


Bill Dyke:

A friend was in front of me coming out of church one day, and the preacher was standing at the door as he always is to shake hands. He grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him aside. The pastor said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!"

My friend replied, "I'm already in the army of the Lord, Pastor."

The Pastor questioned, "How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?"

And with a totally straight face, he whispered back, "I'm in the Secret Service."

###


Gordon Hand:

Little Johnny was walking down the beach, and he spied a matronly woman sitting under a beach umbrella on the sand. He walked up to her and asked, "Are you a Christian?"

"Yes." she replied.

"Do you read your Bible every day?"

She nodded her head, "Yes."

"Do you pray often?" the boy asked next, and again she answered, "Yes."

With that he asked his final question, "Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?"

###


Dottie Wingert:

The Senility Prayer
God, grant me the Senility
To forget the people I never liked anyway,
The good fortune to run into the ones I do,
And the eyesight to tell the difference.

========

"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. Word has it 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) (Sounds like my kind of Presbytery meeting.)

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 bring bells and noisemakers of all sorts and use them heartily at any points in the service that reflect celebration - "alleluia," "joy," even the venerable AMEN. The resurrection is comedy of the best sort, the unexpected reversal of expectations. Mary comes to the tomb on Easter morning expecting to find a dead body. Her train of thought keeps barreling along one track, and she almost literally stumbles over the risen Lord. Humor of the highest order. Resurrection reverses the expectation of gloom and doom in the face of death and instead brings celebration. Ring those bells!

YES. "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Amen? Amen!

Humor has been a part of our faith tradition since the beginning. There is some wonderful comedy in the Old Testament, if we would read it correctly. There is that wild and wacky story of Jonah that uses humor to skewer Israel's temptation to tell God who can be saved and who cannot. There is that beautiful little memoir of Ruth that attacks Israel's racism by subtly reminding them that the great-grandmother of their greatest king was a lady of another race. There is that fun little story in Judges(3) where Ehud the Benjaminite kills the big, fat Moabite king Eglon - he stabs him with a short sword that he has to leave behind after the dastardly deed because it gets stuck in the king's fat and won't come out. There are lots of other examples.

The New Testament has fun stuff too, if we will read it properly. Jesus' illustration of someone trying to call attention to a tiny speck in a neighbor's eye while a whole log is hanging out of his own eye is one. Elton Trueblood wrote a book entitled The Humor of Christ that was inspired by that passage. He says,

The germ of the idea which has finally led to the writing of this book was planted many years ago when our eldest son was four years old. We were reading to him from the seventh chapter of Matthew's Gospel, feeling very serious, when suddenly the little boy began to laugh. He laughed because he saw how preposterous it would be for a man to be so deeply concerned about a speck in another person's eye, that he was unconscious of the fact his own eye had a beam in it. Because the child understood perfectly that the human eye is not large enough to have a beam in it, the very idea struck him as ludicrous. His gay laughter was a rebuke to his parents for their failure to respond to humor in an unexpected place.(4)
I have always thought that Jesus was fun to be around, not some dour, unsmiling, serious "religious" type. You know why? Kids. Kids were attracted to him, and I have never met anyone to whom kids were attracted who was grim and glum. Trueblood again:
Anyone who reads the Synoptic Gospels with a relative freedom from presuppositions might be expected to see that Christ laughed, and that He expected others to laugh, but our capacity to miss this aspect of His life is phenomenal. We are so sure that He was always deadly serious that we often twist His words in order to try to make them conform to our preconceived mold. A misguided piety has made us fear that acceptance of His obvious wit and humor would somehow be mildly blasphemous or sacrilegious. Religion, we think, is serious business, and serious business is incompatible with banter.(5)
Too bad. Our loss. After all, even in matters of faith, perhaps ESPECIALLY in matters of faith, "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

Have you seen the Robin Williams movie Patch Adams(6) that came out several years ago? It is the wonderful true story of a compassionate but outrageous medical student who risked his career by defying the medical profession with his unwavering belief that laughter is both therapeutic and contagious. Inspired to become a doctor while institutionalized for depression as a teenager, Patch Adams attended the Medical College of Virginia in the late '60's and early '70's where he was criticized in his official medical school record for "excessive happiness" and was once told by a faculty advisor, "If you want to be a clown, join the circus." Patch did, in fact, want to be a clown. But he also wanted to be a physician. Combining those vastly different sides of his personality, he became both. After graduation, he formed the Gesundheit Institute, dedicated to a more connected, personalized approach to medicine. Using unconventional methods and wacky surprises to ease patients' anxiety and enhance their healing, Patch helped pioneer the idea that doctors should treat people, not just disease.

Adams began receiving a flurry of media coverage about his unorthodox clinic in the mid-'80's (despite resisting at first). He eventually wrote the book about his work upon which the film is based in 1993 in which Patch explains his humor-driven prescriptions and why he is willing to dress like a gorilla, fill a room full of balloons or a tub full of noodles to elicit a smile, a spiritual connection, or a simple moment of pleasure from a patient. "I've always thought it strange and unfortunate that people think nothing of acting angry and grumpy, but are self-conscious about demonstrating positive feelings," says Patch. "We all know how important love is, yet how often is it really emoted or exhibited? What so many sick people in this world suffer from - loneliness, boredom and fear - can't be cured with a pill."

Today we know about endorphins and the importance of the mind in the healing process. That knowledge did not exist back in the '60's and '70's when Patch was forming his philosophy. But someone much farther back than that knew: "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

That is a reminder we all need from time to time. Life can become a burden; we can despair of ourselves and everything around us; we can be depressed, discouraged, despondent; we can get so far DOWN that we cannot remember UP! Then along comes a day like today. A day for laughter and light-heartedness, for comedy and craziness, a day to celebrate the victory of the resurrection over death and the grave, a day to join our voices with the God who "sits in the heavens and laughs," a day to remember the promise of Jesus who said, "I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly."(7)

One more prescription: Two women were discussing their pastors. One woman said, "My pastor is so good he can talk on any subject for an hour."

The other woman responded, "That's nothing. My pastor can talk for an hour without any subject at all."(8) Enough!

"A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Amen? Amen!


1. Psalm 2:4

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

3. Judges 3:12-30

4. Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1964), p. 9

5. ibid., p. 15

6. Universal Pictures, 1998, a Blue Wolf, Farrell/Minoff, Bungalow 78 Production

7. John 10:10

8. The Joyful Noiseletter, April 1999, p. 2

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