2008-03-30

THE ULTIMATE PRACTICAL JOKE


A Sermon For Year A, Easter-2
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on John 20:19-31; Acts 2:22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9

What is the best practical joke you ever played on someone? What is the best practical joke that someone ever been played on you?

1. PRACTICAL JOKES: I have to admit that I have been both the instigator, and the receiver, of a great many practical jokes.

There, of course, have been the gross jokes: Vaseline on doorknobs... Saran wrap over the hole in the toilet...

The football team decorating the car of one of our teammates with dirty athletic supporters. That was pretty smelly...

Then there was the time we were all driving in my buddy's jeep. All of the sudden I yell "Toilet in the lawn! Toilet in the lawn!"

You see, someone had been redecorating their bathroom, and had thrown their toilet out to be picked up by the trashmen. So, we picked it up instead. And we put it on the front steps of a friend's house... Then he put it at someone else's house... Then they drove it somewhere else... And so on...

By the end of our senior year, the toilet had visited about 50 houses and was decorated quite nicely. It was the class of '92 senior toilet. We took lots of pictures on it.

Then there are the annoying practical jokes. Like when my friends and I would go pick up someone's car and move it sideways so it blocked the whole street.

Or when those same friends literally took apart my 1984 Volkswagon Rabbit and made me do a scavenger hunt to find all the parts.

Then there have been several weddings where all of us in the groom's party went to the local grocery stores and got hundreds of the free newspapers and green sheets. Then we wadded them up into hundreds of balls of newspaper and filled the newly married's car from top to bottom.

But, my favorite practical joke was completely unplanned. It happened in my buddy's dorm room at Texas A&M. It was a cold winter day, and we were both under a blanket on the couch playing Madden '94 football on the Sega gamesystem.

My buddy asked me to turn up the sound on the TV with the remote. When I hit the wrong button, I realized that our remote control operated our next-door neighbor's stereo as well.

You see, it turned on his stereo through the doorway that separated the two rooms. Furthermore, I found I could operate his stereo with the remote underneath the light blanket that covered me. We waited for him to get back in the room...

[Tell the story of how we made him think the stereo was haunted]

2. THE ULTIMATE PRACTICAL JOKER: Now, other than showing you how twisted and goofy I am, what do practical jokes have to do with God? What do they have to do with the readings we just read tonight?

I remember in college I got in this huge debate with a roommate over whether God had a sense of humor. My friend was convinced- because one version of the Bible wrongly translates Ephesians 5:4 as telling us to avoid "joking"- he was convinced that humor, jokes, and sarcasm were against God's will. We argued for about 4 hours, but he never GOT the joke!

Yet, this is a common misconception of God: The idea that God is stoic, unmoved, un-caring, and unable to appreciate comedy.

So, is it true? Does God have a sense of humor or not?

Well, first, let's ask this: Does humor have a purpose? Do jokes do us any good? Well, I guess it depends on whether it is good humor, or bad humor.

Bad humor does us no good. Bad humor is based on demeaning other people: Putting them down to raise ourselves up. Bad humor is a sneer that uses and abuses God's children, for a cheap laugh that makes us feel superior and prideful.

But good humor: Ahh! Good humor! Good humor is a breath of life to the weary soul. Good humor looks at the paradoxes and absurdities of life, and grins a big goofy grin.

Good humor elevates and raises up both the joker and the

joke-ee, so that they both benefit from the humor.

Good humor has a way of reminding us to be humble, to remember our oddities, and to recognize our weaknesses, without beating us over the head to make us feel guilty.

Have you ever noticed how good humor can slip in past the censors of our mind- you know, that part of us that tells us to take ourselves so seriously. While we laugh, space is created for that "aha!" moment to realize something:

"Wow, that is kinda dumb when you put it that way!"

"Gee, I guess I DO act like that sometimes. I get it."

"Yep, this situation isn’t that serious after all. I was way too stressed out!"

And I think God is the MASTER of good humor. He invented it!

Just look at the Platypus or the Giraffe. Look at human dating and mating rituals. God had to have a sense of humor to make that up! The Psalmist tells us that God even made the great sea creatures just for the fun of it! [104.26].

In Genesis, God names the first child of His Covenant people "Issac" which means "He laughs!" Later on, he jokingly named His entire people "Israel", which literally means "They wrestle with God!" When God led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, he did so by sending a series of practical jokes on Pharaoh to show him how weak and powerless the so-called "gods" of Egypt were.

In fact, the entire history of salvation- from the calling of Abraham, to the exodus of Israel, to the salvation of Jesus- the entire History of salvation can be seen as God's cosmic practical joke on the powers of pride and evil.

3. THE JOKE OF THE RESURRECTION: Think about it. What did God- the Creator and Ruler of the Entire Universe- what did He choose as the method to save and reconcile His creation? Did he choose powerful angels? Did he choose incredible armies? Did he choose power and strength and might?

No. He chose to become incarnate in an infant. A helpless infant. A helpless infant, born to poor parents, with a seemingly ludicrous story of a virgin conception, in the backwoods of the Roman empire, among a people that most cultured Romans saw as backward.

And it's ALL TRUE. God really DID pick that way to redeem the world! God delights in taking the little things, the simple things, the things of no account, and using them to overturn the prideful and arrogant and powerful.

It is the VERY DEFINITION of a practical joke!

And as Jesus grew up, He proved that the old adage of "like Father like Son" is true. His sermons were interspersed with jokes about logs in people's eyes, and funny stories about wise servants, and greedy masters, and lost coins, and pigs with pearls.

Then Jesus pulled the biggest practical joke of all: He pranked death itself.

Instead of seeing our resurrection story today through the lens of dry doctrine and serious dogma, try seeing it through the lens of Robin Williams and the Three Stooges:

The disciples are scared to death. They are hunkered down in fear of the Religious Authorities. They jump every time they hear a door slam. They are peeking through the windows, and praying to make it through this week without being crucified.

Then comes Jesus. Walking in from the next dimension. Quietly. Like a cat. He slips through the dimensions into that upper room and says:

"PEACE BE WITH YOU!"

Aaaagh! Everybody runs around like Keystone cops! You can hear the Benny Hill music in the background. Jesus is rolling over laughing!

And as they glimpse their Risen Savior, the smiles start to come to their mouths as well. Humor has snuck past the censors of their minds, past the fears in their hearts: THEY GET IT!

It's not so bad after all. There is Hope. It is ALL going to be OK.

Jesus is here. Life is worth living, and worth living well...

Then we switch to the next scene. In the middle of all of the smiling disciples is the prune-faced, deadly-serious skeptic Thomas. He is shaking His head...

"Nope. I don't care if the whole Roman Legion saw it! I will NOT believe until I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the nail marks, and put my hand in his side!"

You can just see the next week: Happy disciples all around talking and praying in amazement over the resurrection. And old prune face is just sitting there rolling his eyes.

Then, with perfect comic timing: Jesus slips through the dimensions again and shows up. "Peace be with you!"

Then the joke hits Thomas. Shock. Awe. Wonderment. Smiles. Maybe even laughter as all of the disciples look on with that "I told ya so!" look. Old prune face begins to melt.

The joke gets past the censors in Thomas' mind, and he GETS THE JOKE! All he can say is "My Lord and my God!"

Now THAT is humor at its finest. Rimshot please...

4. THE JOKE OF THE CHURCH: And yet, the joke does not end there, because WE are still part of the cosmic joke that God is playing on the forces of evil.

Did you notice that part in the Gospel where Jesus says: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then he breathes His OWN Spirit of joy and peace and power and humor into them and says:

"Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

I do not know what is a bigger joke: The resurrection of one man, or the fact that he sends out the most unlikely crew of numbskulls in history to share His resurrection with the world.

And if you think I am being to hard on the disciples: Think for a moment about what their history was:

They never really got what Jesus was saying: Even when he explained it to them in private.

They were always arguing over who was best, and who would get the throne next to Jesus: Just like Junior High kids arguing over who gets to ride "shotgun".

They were bold when they should have been humble, and sacred when they should have been bold.

Their defacto leader- a guy who Jesus renamed Peter- has a name that literally translates as "Rocky" or even "Dense". Would you want to follow a dense guy named Rocky?

This was literally like God writing the script for the Bad News Bears or the Mighty Ducks, except instead of winning a trophy at the end, the goal is to save the world.

And yet, He sent them out and they changed the world. With nothing more than this incredible resurrection Story and the resurrection Spirit living inside of them, they went everywhere and literally turned the world upside down.

And, their work has reached so far that right here, right now, WE are part of that same JOKE! We are reading their writings, talking about their God, trying to follow their Jesus.

And when I look at my own life, I get the joke too. God took an arrogant dude like me and turned my world upside down...

[Very short testimony focusing on the paradoxes in my life]

And so, I find myself here inviting you to join me in the same Joke... To laugh with Thomas and all the Apostles... To become part of the continuing Prank of Jesus on the powers of pride and evil and inhumanity and death.

Along with the Apostle Peter- good old Rocky himself- I say: "Although you have not seen [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

I invite you tonight to GET the joke, and be filled with the indescribable and glorious joy of the Risen Lord Jesus. I invite you to see all of your stresses, all of your problems, all of your temptations in the light of Christ's Ultimate Joke.

Let His Joke slip past the censors of your mind, and you might just get a new Way of seeing everything. You might just learn how to take things a little less seriously. And you might learn how to live joyfully with Jesus in THIS present moment. Amen+
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.