Falling Down Laughing

Falling down laughingScripture Text:  Genesis 17: 4-8

4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

You know the story.  Abram and Sarai have longed for a child, an offspring, a descendent.  But it had never happened.  And now, with more years behind them than ahead, they have resolved that the longing will never come to be.  The first ones to hear this story were more than likely in the midst of exile, living in the wilderness of darkness and looking at the bare remains of a city and temple that once was.  The story comes as a reminder of who they are as the people of God.  It is a reminder that God does not always act within the limits that we have established and the plans that we have formulated in our small minds; rather, God continually jaunts out into the wilderness, into what cannot be, and creates.  It’s ludicrous; it’s incredulous; it’s enough to make you fall down laughing.  But God’s promise remains true.

First, God appears to Abram and announces God’s presence.  Abram falls on his face, downright shocked at who is actually speaking to him.  And with the covenant, Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah.  The covenant signifies a shift in who they are.  God promises that Abram will have descendents.  And they laughed.  Well, of course they laughed.  It was ridiculous.  Abram and Sarai were old–really, really, really old.  All logic told them that their childbearing years were not just running out but were way behind them.  It just didn’t make sense.  But surprisingly, God often doesn’t make sense in this world that we have figured out.  God continually tends to sort of blow the boundaries and the limits that we have drawn out of the water.

Our lectionary (even the full passage that I didn’t put up at the front of this) doesn’t really include the part where Abram fell down laughing.  Perhaps those who put the lectionary together thought that a bit too irreverent of the mighty God.  After all, would you dare laugh at God?  Well, good grief, don’t you think God is laughing at us sometimes?  Perhaps laughter is what brings perspective.

Abraham laughed.  Sarah laughed.  And I’m betting God laughed.  (You can just imagine the inside joke between the three:  “This is going to be good.  No one will ever believe this could happen.  We’ll just shake them up a bit.”)  Maybe laughter is our grace-filled way of getting out of our self and realizing that, as ludicrous and unbelievable as it may be, God’s promise holds.  Maybe it’s our way of admitting once and for all that we don’t have it all figured out, that, in all honesty, we don’t even have ourselves figured out, that there’s a whole new identity just waiting for us to claim.  In this Season of Lent, we are called to get out of our self, to open ourselves to possibilities and ways of being that we cannot even fathom. Go ahead and laugh.  It is only the beginning.  The promise holds.

You know, I don’t think God really expects us to stay buttoned-up and well-behaved.  God doesn’t want anything that we are not.  God doesn’t want us on our best behavior; God wants us real; God wants us to just flat fall down laughing sometimes at the ludicrousness of it all.  If sometimes tells you not to cry, if someone tells you not to laugh, they are telling you not to be you.  God gave you those expressions of emotion as a wonderful, wonderful gift to get you through it all.  Don’t you think God enjoys a good joke once in a awhile?  After all, this is the God that promised offspring to someone not just past their prime, but downright looking at the tail end of life!  And THEN came through with the promise.  Pretty funny…pretty sneaky…pretty amazing.

I hope that at my funeral, there will be both tears and laughter because then I will know that I have lived the fullness of life.  And then I hope that everyone will leave the church and go dancing because then I will know that they have joy.  The wilderness is known for tears but sometimes you just have to laugh at the ludicrousness of it all.  I don’t know if we laugh our way through the wilderness or out of it, but Abram embraced it and became someone else.  Abraham and Sarah never got to the Promised Land.  It was enough to live with God’s Promise of what it held; it was enough for it to make one fall down laughing in praise to the God who chooses not to live within our rules, who chooses instead to love our laughter and feel our tears and offer grace through it all.

Humor is the beginning of faith and laughter is the beginning of prayer. (Reinhold Niebuhr)

FOR TODAY:  Laugh…laugh…laugh…laugh enough that you fall down in prayer.

Grace and Peace,




This Act of Preparation

Moses at the Promised LandScripture Text: Malachi 3:1

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

Preparation…we keep talking about, keep touting this season as the one of preparation.  So, if it’s not about decorating and shopping and wrapping then what is this act of preparation that we are supposed to do?  Our culture tells us to be prepared for whatever may happen.  The Gospels tell stories warning us against being unprepared for what is to come.  And this season…this season of waiting is also laced with exhortations to get ready–for the coming of the Lord but, as hard as we try to ignore the culture closing in on us, for that big day ahead.  I mean what would happen if we awoke unprepared on Christmas morning–without the required number of gifts perfectly wrapped and under the tree, without all the luscious foods prepared, without a decorated house, and, most of all, without a ready heart prepared to receive our Lord.  Whew!  That’s a lot on our plates!  No wonder we’re stressed.  What, pray tell, are we supposed to be doing to get prepared?


For what exactly are we preparing?  Maybe that’s our whole problem.  We live lives that are so results-oriented that we don’t see life itself.  What if everything we did, every act we lived, every breath we breathed was not so that we could have a good result or count it as something done, but, rather, was part of who we are, part of the very journey itself?  What if it was our journey, our living, in which the Lord delighted, rather than merely the result it attained?


You know, I love Thanksgiving. It is the one family holiday that I can truly take the time to do right. Sure, I cook way too much food. And, this year, I probably spent more than twenty hours preparing for a 30 minute meal. I planned the menu. I put the leaves in the table. I planned what the table would look like. I drug out all of Aunt Doll’s china and Grandmother’s silver (you know, all that stuff that has to be hand washed!) I set the table. I arranged the centerpiece. I straightened the house and rearranged the back porch. I carefully picked out which bowl or which plate would hold which dish.   I chopped and I rolled and I mixed and I stirred and I cooked and I cooled. There were no shortcuts. Everything was made from scratch.   Because you see, for me, the preparation for the meal is for me as gratifying an experience as the meal itself.


And now as the Thanksgiving meal’s leftovers begin to wain,  we prepare for the next big thing.  But it’s hard to remember that act of preparation.  It’s hard to look upon it as a thing in and of itself rather than merely a way to the next thing.  And yet, the passage tells us that it is the messenger in whom the Lord delights.  It says nothing about where the messenger ends up or how many people the messenger gets to the end or whether or not the messenger did a good job.  God delights in the messenger; God delights in our acts of preparing the way.  Don’t you remember Moses standing on the edge of the Promised Land?  All of the journeying, all of the heartache, all of the wilderness wanderings, all of the frustrations with covenants and golden calves and burning bushes and parted waters…all of that…that whole journey to the one moment…when he looked at the Promised Land that he would never enter.  There are those that would look upon that as a failure, as if he had not completed his mission.


Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deuteronomy 34: 1-4)


But Moses did exactly what he was supposed to do:  he prepared the way.  That is what we are called to do.  Results are great but it is the way, the journey, the preparation that teaches us, that gives us life.  Our salvation does not come in one moment because we’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do but rather in a lifetime of preparing the way for God, making our way toward a promised land that we may or may not enter.  Advent is not about the results; it is about what we become on the way there.  God calls us to a journey of preparation–preparing our hearts, preparing the way, being open to that act of preparation to which we’re called.  Advent ends on Christmas morning.  Whether or not we are fully prepared is probably of lesser importance than the journey that we had to the moment when we looked over and saw the promised land, when we knew in the very depth of our being that God was in our midst.


Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (From “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968. Dr. King was assassinated the next day.)


FOR TODAY:  Look at your journey.  Look at your preparation.  Live it.  God is there.  You may get there and you may not, but, oh, what a ride!  Live a life of holy preparation because the Promised Land is already prepared for you.


Grace and Peace,