Monday, June 19, 2017

Sermon: The God Who Laughs

The God Who Laughs
Genesis 18: 1-15; Psalm 126
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
June 18, 2017

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’

But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
- Genesis 18: 1-15

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
- Psalm 126

Before he played for the Baltimore Ravens, Steve Smith was a Wide Receiver for the Carolina Panthers. Smith is known for giving back to the community.

One year Smith and the NFL partnered with Samaritans’ Feet, a Charlotte based non-profit ministry who supplies new socks and shoes for children in need across the nation. The day before every game on the road, Samaritans’ Feet and Steve Smith would organize a benefit to give away socks and shoes to children and Smith would gather some of his football teammates to join him.

The cool thing about Samaritans’ Feet is they are truly a ministry. Before the socks and shoes are placed on a child’s feet, a volunteer asks if he or she may wash that child’s feet and say a prayer with them.

Knowing this, Steve Smith told the Samaritans’ Feet representative, “I love this event but I am not washing anybody’s feet.” The rep just smiled and said that was ok; they did not force anyone to do that.

It was the day before the big game (Carolina Panthers vs Baltimore Ravens) at Baltimore, Maryland. The children were lined up for the shoe event. Steve Smith and his teammates were standing nearby as everything was about to begin. And one of the first boys in line was greeted by a volunteer and she asked the boy if he would like his feet washed.

Well that boy spotted Steve Smith and said, “I want Steve Smith to wash my feet!” Well Steve Smith, who had just said, “I am not washing anybody’s feet” not only washed that boy’s feet. He sat there for four hours washing children’s feet and he said his life was never the same!

We say it time and time again that God has a sense of humor. But when we look into the Scriptures we tend to focus on a more serious God. It is easy to divorce our lived experience of a God who laughs from our biblical interpretations of the One who is Almighty and holy.

The story of Abraham and Sarah opens our eyes to see that God definitely has a sense of humor in the Bible (Working Preacher). We see God’s playful side in the interactions among the three.

The relationship Abraham and Sarah have with God is incredible to me.

They found God to be trustworthy from the onset. From the moment God called Abraham and Sarah to follow God’s blessings, they went without question or drama (Genesis 12:1-4). We have no idea if Abraham and Sarah knew God or had any relationship prior to God’s call.

They found God to be approachable throughout their journey. Abraham and Sarah were quick to put together a meal of rich hospitality when God appeared as three visitors (Genesis 18:1-8). Abraham stood with the visitors as they ate because Abraham and God could talk like old friends.

They had a relationship where Abraham had no qualms about being honest with God. Even as God promised a great nation to come through the patriarch, Abraham shared the gap he saw in his reality. In order for a nation to come through him, well God would have to give Abraham an heir and Sarah was barren (Genesis 15:2; 11:30). And thus far in the story it all seemed impossible especially since God had not delivered (no pun intended).

Each time God said Sarah would bear the promised son, God’s assurance was met with laughter.

Outright in God’s presence, Abraham fell on his face laughing. Abe was in hysterics because he was 100 and Sarah was 90 years old (Genesis 17:17). I love God’s response: “No really! Sarah will bear a son and you will name him Isaac” (Genesis 17:19). It’s quite funny that the name Isaac in Hebrew means “He laughs.” Now who had the last laugh there?

And Sarah herself laughs at God’s promise. She knew what time it was. She had already gone through all the hot flashes and crazy mood swings of middle age and now Abraham was in the triple digits and Sarah was not far behind him (Genesis 18: 11-12). Not to mention the energy it would take for a 90 year old woman to keep up with a young one! God had to be kidding.

Again I love God’s response. God asked Abraham why Sarah laughed. Of course Abraham remained silent. He already had his moment of rolling on the floor laughing. And then I bet he forgot to tell Sarah about it. You know how spouses forget to tell one another things!

I can see Sarah laughing from inside the tent with her hand covering her mouth. And as she listened to God’s seemingly ridiculous words, God was listening to her. Suddenly we hear a voice come from inside the tent, “No I didn’t laugh.” And God answers back in jest, “Oh yes you did!” (Genesis 18:15).

Just when we think a situation will never happen God has a mysterious way of weaving a unique sense of humor in the story of our lives. Someone once said if you want to hear God laugh then tell God your plans.

God knows there is wisdom in laughter. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22). The last chapter of Proverbs shares the “Capable Wife” or ‘Woman of Worth” laughs at the time to come (Proverbs 31:25).

Laughter is good medicine. It draws us closer to one another. It relaxes the body and diminishes pain. It lightens our burdens and loosens the grip of our doubts. It inspires hope. But more than anything laughter allows us to reframe our perspectives in life.[1]

Laughter is not merely a response to humor or irony. It is way more than that. Genuine laughter is deeply rooted from our connectional relationships with others. When we think about relationships biblically and theologically we are pointed back to the truth that we are all made in God’s image.

While humanity is complex with all our emotional layers, we have a special connection to the rich life of faith. God put on the thin skin of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ to assure us that God is intimately connected to our lives. God is always at work to make our joy complete – and remember that joy is having a keener awareness of God’s grace on any given day.

Scripture tell us that God is complex too with a desire for authentic relationships that seek righteousness, justice, and peace. God laughs in jest with us but God also laughs when humanity tries to make a mockery of God (Proverbs 1:26). God’s plans will never be thwarted. And God weeps with us in solidarity when tragedies arise.

When violence rears its ugly head to unleash hate, God brings good from evil as individuals and communities come together. Instead of calamity bringing life to a complete stop, God’s Spirit moves us to continue bringing the Lord’s goodness, light, and hospitality into the world.

We stand beside our hurting neighbor in love and solidarity. Earlier this month we kept singing with the musical artists as the benefit concert supported bombing victims in Manchester, England. Just this week the people shouted “Play ball!” as the 109th Congressional bipartisan baseball game continued the day after the shooting in Alexandria, VA as a demonstration of unity. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

God does have a playful side and we should follow God’s example to nourish that in our faith journeys too. So nurture your playful side every day.

1. Smile more often. I can’t tell you how many times my kids ask me, “Mommy are you mad?” No I’m not mad but age is making my face droop! So I am intentionally smiling more often to resist gravity!.

2. Keep a Gratitude Journal. Each evening write three things you are grateful for. Gratitude reframes our perspective and gives us more to be joyful about. Even in the darkest of days.

3. Gravitate towards the laughter. Find a friend or two who helps you laugh for no reason at all. Or look at life through the eyes of a child. New insight always comes from the mouths of babes!

4. Walk on the silly side. Make fun of yourself. Life is too short to be so serious all the time. Cook dinner in that crazy wig, wear the Superman apron or put on that Wonder Woman headband! Just do it. Bring a little joy to the table because it is contagious.

God’s love is on the move to restore us to a sense of God’s wholeness in order to make our joy complete. God’s restoration includes our overall wellbeing. And laughter is certainly a part of that; it is medicine for the soul.

For God says, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans or your welfare – your wellbeing – and not for harm; to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). We cling to that hope with all that we are and with all that we have.
In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., “Laughter Is the Best Medicine,” April 2017,

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