About 9:00 Friday night as the events in Paris continued to unfold I began to realize that the message I had for today, laughing at ourselves, might seem inappropriate to the seriousness of the context we see in our world. While laughter can be healing and helpful in so many difficult situations, understanding when and where to use humor is important, so I went back to Psalm 126 and Psalm 131 to see if there was something else or something more in those psalms that God wanted us to hear today. So let’s hear what God has to say to us today in light of all that is taking place around us.
Today France and much of the world is going out to sow in tears. We are going out to live our lives in a world filled with sorrow, fear, doubt, confusion and pain. Sowing seed was what many in Israel did with their lives – it was their job, their livelihood in an agrarian society. Sowing here is just people living their lives from day to day and for whatever reason they are weeping. Now as the people of Israel heard these words they would have know full well what it was causing their tears because many times in their history they had reason to weep. The people of Israel understood terrorist attacks and battles and I don’t mean Israel today, I mean Israel in the days of the Old Testament. They knew what it was like to have their fields burned, their homes destroyed, their livestock either slaughtered or stolen and their family, friends and neighbors cut down in the prime of life. The tragedy we see around us today is nothing knew and the people then didn’t have the luxury of a 3 day period of mourning; every day they had to go out and sow seed and bring in a harvest. Life had to go on and so they often had to sow in tears and go out weeping.
Today people all over France go out to sow with tears. With them, many of us will continue to live our lives with weeping and pain because of the violence and evil we see in the world. Whether it is in the city of Paris, our own schools and streets, or in the ruined cities and countryside of Syria and Iraq, we live in a world that can be dominated by fear and sorrow. If it isn’t the attacks we see in the world around us, it can be the attacks we see in us that fill our eyes with tears. The breakup of a marriage, the concern over the decisions of our children and grandchildren, the battle of cancer and heart disease claiming those we love, the problems of mental health in our families and community that seem to have no answers, there are many things in our own lives that cause confusion, doubt, fear and pain and just like Israel we have to go out and sow with tears. Life goes on and so we go out each day with tears in our eyes to sow and seek a harvest.
And if this were the end of the story – it would be a pretty sad and dark world, but God is clear here in the Psalms that this is not the end of the story. As hard as it is for us to see the light in the darkness – the sorrow we feel in the morning does not last forever because those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping will return laughing and singing. These words reflect another psalm, Psalm 30:5 – weeping may remain for a night but rejoicing comes in the morning.
What we need to do is figure out where this joy comes from because it is this source of this joy that will give us hope. Now this probably won’t surprise you but the answer to where we find joy is found in the 2nd Psalm of Ascent we were going to look at today, Psalm 131.
Joy comes when we put our hope in the Lord. Hope and rejoicing comes when we realize that we don’t have the answers and we don’t have the power to change this world but God does. This is what the psalm is trying to tell us when it says, my heart is not proud and I do not concern myself with great matters or things that are too wonderful for me. We don’t have the answers and we don’t have the ability to change the world or even at times our own lives but God does so if we can be still and trust God we will find joy.
The psalmist compares this kind of trust to a weaned child and I have to be honest, not being a parent and especially not being a mother, I really didn’t know what this was talking about. Let me share some of what the theologian Charles Spugeon has said about this:
The weaned babe has given up what it loved. By nature we hang on to this world, and only God’s grace can wean us from it, but when we give up self-righteousness, self-confidence, the love of the world, the desire of self-aggrandizement, when we give up trusting in man, trusting in ceremonies, [trusting in ourselves] and trusting in anything but God, then has our soul become like a weaned child. A weaned child has given up what nature feeds upon, that it may feed upon the bread of heaven.
So it’s when we stop trusting in ourselves and the world and all its wisdom, authority and governments to have all the answers and start trusting in God alone that we are like a weaned child who can be still and confident that God will change those things that we cannot. It is when we stop trying to figure it all out and rest in God’s love and power and grace that we find hope and begin to see a light in the darkness. Part of what this means is that we have to stop thinking too highly of ourselves. Father Tim Schenck, an Episcopal Priest, said, when we take ourselves too seriously we commit perhaps humanity’s greatest sin; trusting ourselves rather than God. This is not only the greatest sin it’s the first sin.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the tree of knowledge it was because they wanted to be like God. They didn’t want to trust God to care for them, they wanted to do it all for themselves. Just thinking that they could somehow be like God is absurd, but they took themselves that seriously and chose to follow their own path and the end result was a disaster.
One of the ongoing messages of the Bible and of human history is that when we take ourselves too seriously and follow our own way and not God’s way it is a disaster, but when we are willing to humble ourselves and trust God, God will lift us up. It is only when God lifts us up that we are then able to see all that God has done for us in the past and when we see this it gives us the ability to trust God to be at work in our lives and in the world and into the future. It is this trust and humility that leads to gratitude and giving thanks.
This call to humble ourselves and trust God is an ongoing message in the Psalms of the Ascent.
Psalm 123:1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you sits enthroned in heaven.
Psalm 125:1-2 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever.
Psalm 128:1-2 Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor, blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Humility and the ability to laugh at ourselves lead us to a life of gratitude because it reminds us that we are not the ones who will change the world. On our own we cannot stop the violence we see around us or the fear and confusion we feel within us. We do not have the ability to lift the fear, solve the problems and answer the questions that confront us today, but we don’t have to because ultimately that is not our job – it is God’s. God is the one who wants to provide the world with hope and fill our lives with joy and all this can and will happen if we will stop taking ourselves so seriously and stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting more fully in God.
This is what Psalm 126 is trying to tell us, Psalm 126:1-3. What filled their mouths with laughter and their hearts with joy wasn’t looking back and realizing all that they had done to provide for themselves, it was looking back to see all that God had done for them. They could even laugh because some of the ways God moved among his people were pretty amazing and absurd and yes even filled with humor. Think about it, when all hope seemed lost and God’s people had the army of Egypt behind them and the water of the Red Sea in front of them, God parted the waters. Pretty amazing.
When there was no food in the wilderness and no water to drink, God placed bread on the ground every morning and brought water out of a rock. Pretty absurd when you think about it and once God even used a talking donkey to get his message out to a prophet and as we all know, talking donkeys are just funny.
So it was all God and the stories the people shared on the way to Jerusalem each year reminded them that it was always God who provided for them and it would always be God who would care for them. The Psalms of Ascent told the people that they had to stop trusting in themselves and taking themselves too seriously. The psalms told them they needed to humble themselves and even laugh at themselves and if they could do this, they would be able to see what God had done on their behalf and be filled with hope and joy at what God would do in their future. When all of this happened, they would be able to stop and give thanks.
Humility and humor, this ability to not take ourselves too seriously and laugh at ourselves, leads to gratitude and we can never forget that it was Jesus who played the biggest joke on the world. When Jesus died on the cross the forces of evil believed they had won. The Son of God was dead and evil believed they had the upper hand in all the world. Hope seemed to disappear when Jesus was laid in the tomb and three days later the women went out to sow in tears. They went to the tomb to do the normal work of preparing Jesus body for an eternal grave in tears but instead of death they found life and returned to the disciples with songs of joy. Satan thought he had won but the joke was on him because God won and Jesus was alive which tells us that in this world the power of evil will never reign supreme.
The power of ISIS and the forces of evil we see in the world today will never ultimately succeed as long as we as the body of Christ can continue to laugh at ourselves and trust God. We don’t have the answers to the world’s problems and we can’t lift up humanity to see the power of love and grace given to us in Jesus – but God can and if we will let go and trust God, we can even laugh at the days to come.
So now for some laughter, 10 or 12 years ago I was asked to preach at the opening of the West End Fair in Harleton and since County Fairs are supposed to be fun events I decided to preach on the power of laughter and the importance of not taking ourselves too seriously. Our worship team and I went out early to set up and as we arrived it started to rain. Instead of setting us up on the main stage where people would have to sit in the rain, they sent us to the largest shelter they had that could accommodate lots of chairs and people – the Sheep Barn. Everything was going along just fine until I started to speak, it was then that a little lamb came over to the fence to listen and every time I spoke – he spoke.
All through my sermon on how we can’t take ourselves too seriously this cute little lamb stood there and chimed in. Forget my words, nothing I said that day was remembered. The message I thought was going to be so good was completely forgotten and God said to me, Andy don’t take yourself so seriously, I have this covered, and God did. God provided the perfect message and example of what I was trying to say and all we could do was laugh. And all I could do was give thanks to God.
Today and in the days to come we may be sowing with tears and sorrow, but joy comes in the morning and laughter comes with the harvest because the power of evil and the forces of darkness and destruction will not win because God has won this battle and God has given us the victory through Jesus Christ and for this we give thanks.
Living the Life of Gratitude ~ Laughing at Ourselves
1. Read Psalm 126 and Psalm 131.
2. Identify 3 or 4 funny moments from your own history. Share those moments with friends and enjoy a good laugh.
3. Read comics, watch funny TV shows or movies, or find some old comedy sketches online that simply make you laugh.
4. Identify 3 or 4 ways you take yourself too seriously. Why do you find it so hard to let go and trust God in these situations?
5. Humility will lift us up so we can see what God has done and is doing in our lives. Where have you seen God work in your life in spite of your own pride and need to be in control?
6. How has God moved in your life in amazing, absurd and astounding ways? Give thanks to God.
7. Share a joke, story or video that will help someone else laugh this week.
8. To read through all the Psalms of Ascent during this series read Psalm 132 this week.