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Doesn't sound much like church, does it? Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers." Robert Louis Stevenson once entered in his diary, as if he was recording an extraordinary phenomenon, "I have been to church today, and am not depressed." Amazing!
How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?
Tom Mullen, a modern theologian of laughter, wrote a book with the intriguing title, Seriously, Life is a Laughing Matter.(1) Tom takes on that common vision of religion as restrictive, punitive, and dour that implies that Christian faith is like going to the dentist - if it is good for us, it is supposed to hurt. Tom disagrees. So do I.
Our scripture lesson does too. Listen again:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you GREATLY REJOICE, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.Yes, there are trials. We know that. The news this week is grim. War rages at the site of Jesus' birth as Palestinian refugees seek sanctuary in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. The man who has rung the bell at the church faithfully for 30 years - a Palestinian Christian - is dead of a sniper's bullet this week. Even young girls are now strapping explosives to their bodies, making their way into populous shopping or eating areas and blowing themselves up. And 9/11 looms over it all. Or the trials might be personal and private as jobs disappear, children disappoint, or families fail. But the word of God says those trials are not the last word. Salvation is.
Do you know what that means? Salvation? Lots of people do not. It is a "churchy" word that is often misunderstood as pie-in-the-sky, bye-and-bye - salvation equals fire insurance. Not really. Salvation is so much more. The word comes to us from a Latin root, salus, which has nothing to do with life after death; it means HEALTH or WHOLENESS. It is very similar in meaning to the Hebrew word shalom which folks over-simplify in translation as PEACE because it too carries the idea of WHOLENESS. And it begins here and now. Study after study insists that a positive mental outlook, an optimistic view of the future is crucial to health and wholeness...salvation. That means, for you and me, salvation has already begun. We can have all the confidence, all the optimism anyone would ever need because, you see, we know how the story finally ends - not with the whine of missiles or the whimper of war-ravaged children, but with the 'tidings of great joy,' first heard over Bethlehem and the Hallelujah Chorus sung by the hosts of heaven. Rejoice! We have all the reason in this world...and the next one too!
I like the way the lesson closes: "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving (present tense) the goal of your faith (and what is that?) the salvation of your souls."
Interesting, isn't it? Perhaps we Christians CAN be seen as a bit odd: we love someone we have never seen; we daily speak to someone we do not hear aloud. We are strongest when we are weakest and richest when we are poorest. We die so that we might live and give away so we can keep. We see the invisible, hear the inaudible, and know that which is beyond knowledge.(2) Christian. Strange? No. We just know the end of the story, and that makes all the difference.
In a moment, we will gather at the Lord's Table, normally a reverent and solemn occasion despite the fact that we say we are CELEBRATING the Lord's Supper and the liturgy begins, "This is the JOYFUL feast of the people of God." Most often, the church's observance more resembles a funeral than a festival. How do we get beyond that on this Holy Humor Sunday? I admit I was tempted to substitute Doritos and Pepsi for the bread and the wine, but in the interest of preventing heart attacks and insulin shock, I stayed with the conventional (although our serving pieces will be non-traditional). But to help us focus on what this time of worship is all about, I leave you with this one true out-of-the-mouths-of-babes reminder. Years ago, back in the days before Presbyterians welcomed young children to participate at the Lord's Table (we did not think they knew enough to partake - we were wrong), the church I was serving had communion one Sunday. After the worship was over, as I prepared to leave the sanctuary with my three-year-old son, David looked up and asked, "Daddy, when will I be big enough to come to the party?" Did not know enough? Ha! Here was a toddler who knew as well as anyone what was supposed to be going on..."the joyful feast."
Kids, of whatever age, you are welcome now. Let the celebration begin. It is Party Time!!!
1. Waco, TX : Word Books, 1978
2. A.W. Tozer