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Get All the Oxygen You Can

 The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.

Jesus said to his disciples, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” John 15:1-8

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Some years ago, I was at a clergy conference.  The chosen speaker was a young woman who led us in a workshop, on a process called Natural Church Development.

I had been aware of the program before I went to the conference, but Connie, our speaker covered the subject at great depth. It was exciting, heartening and encouraging, all at the same time. She introduced an image that was used to denote a church – a barrel.

A barrel is made of staves, of course, and in Connie’s representation, each stave represented a quality needed to make a dynamic and growing church.  Hopefully the staves  are the same length, of course, since a barrel can never be full – the church effective – if even one stave is shorter than the rest.

Research that had been carried out at thousands of churches throughout the world had shown that the longer, and equally in length ‘the staves’ are, the more fruitful the church would be.

The idea is that the shortest staves, preventing a full barrel, as it were, are identified  and can be worked upon.

The staves, eight of them, represent the characteristics  that all healthy churches have. You might do a mental check as I list them and consider how many are evident in your own church.

They are: Empowering Leadership, Gift-oriented Ministry, Passionate Spirituality, Functional Structures, Inspiring Worship Service, Holistic Small Groups, Need Oriented Evangelism, and Loving Relationships.

Some churches have most of these but could be held back by staves which are shorter, and, hence, less effective. 

We could discuss the relative value of each of these characteristics  at length and you might think of these in your own church – which are present, and which may not be –  but today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus relates the parable of the vine leads me to look at one in particular  – Passionate Spirituality.

As I understand it, Passionate Spirituality is in evidence when the believers in the church are inspired and enthusiastic:

Someone who is passionate about their faith will pray often. A passionate believer will want to touch God in prayer; be involved in praying for others – and to live a prayerful life. 

A passionate believer will want to read scripture. Not as a discipline, but  as a means of being fed by the Word.

A passionate believer lives a life that is close to God through prayer and  the word, and in which one is actively looking out for others.

A passionate believer is one who wishes to feel connected to God, and finds that connection through prayer, and the word, and worship. Because it is in being connected to God that we are fed, and  can grow, and be fruitful.

And we are connected to God through Jesus. As he says in the words of John’s Gospel,  “ I am the true vine.….   Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me.” That works on a number of levels, doesn’t it? 

Quite simply, we can’t claim to be followers of Jesus unless we actually, and actively, follow him. We need to seek for him ;  we need to cleave to him. Whatever we do in the church has to be done in his Name, or it won’t work. And the only way to know what God wants from us is by talking and listening to Him in prayer, and by reading His Holy Word.

We have to be grounded in Jesus. And we have to be nourished. The branches are nourished by the vine. Cut off the branch and it will die.

Worship is another way in which we are fed, and where our spirituality is encouraged to be passionate:  praising God through hymn and psalm; experiencing His presence in the Eucharist; being present with other followers; hearing his word explained; learning to live for others in this community, nurturing and being nurtured by others –  some of the ways in which we may know we are  passionate in our faith. 

Anyone who tells you they can be just as good a Christian as you, by not coming to church is talking through his or her hat. Fact is, if you are not being fed and watered then you are dying as a Christian, as a branch that is not connected to the vine, will die.

I don’t think we have to pray a specific number of times a day, or read the Bible so many chapters a day. But prayer and scripture are part of what it means to be passionate about our spirituality.  Similarly, we don’t have to be in church very single Sunday but worship is part of what it means to be passionate about our spirituality.  

You know, pastors have always struggled with getting their members into church regularly.  Not just because we like to see a good number in church, but because we want as many people as possible to be fed. Pastors have used various  ways to get their people into church.

One such idea, came to a pastor, in a church out West. In his church  was a man who had begun to attend church just a few months earlier.  He had taken to the faith with great enthusiasm and  had been baptised.  He  had an eagerness to serve the Lord, and was always pestering the minister for some church work to do. He was a bit rough around the edges, but he was on fire for God, and was just itching to do something to show his passion. 

The pastor, in desperation gave him a list of ten people. He said, “These are members who seldom attend services. Some are prominent men of the city. Contact them any way you can and try to get them to be more faithful.. Use the church stationery to write letters if you want, but get them back to church.”

About three weeks later, a letter arrived from a prominent physician, whose name was on the list. In the envelope was a cheque for a thousand dollars and a note: “Dear Pastor, enclosed is my cheque to make up for my missed offerings. I’m sorry for missing worship so much, but be assured I am going to be present every Sunday from now on, and will not miss services by choice again. Sincerely, M.B. Brown, M.D.  PS. Would you kindly tell your secretary that there is only one ‘‘t’ in dirty and no ‘c’ in skunk.” 

There used to be a word used often in church when I was growing up. It was ‘ backslider’ . A backslider, was a person who had quit coming to church and was sliding back into the old life again. Because, it was emphasized,  when someone stopped coming to church, they did slip back into old ways. There was always lots of anecdotal evidence presented to prove that.

But think about it. Yea, sometimes the services are not as exciting as others. Sometimes the sermon goes on too long. Sometimes the hymns are difficult to sing. Sometimes one of our brothers or sisters in Christ will say something that makes us feel less than charitable.

But you know, I have had some horrible meals in my life. They never put me off eating. I have had some crummy coffee too, but it never put me off coffee. I can’t think of anything bad enough to keep me out of church. Because I need to stay connected to Jesus. He is the reason for everything we do – or should be.

Fore example, a perennial subject up for discussion has been  installing air conditioning in the sanctuary, usually  at the height of the Summer. Just for our comfort?

Sorry to tell you, but the answer is ‘no.’ But as followers of Jesus, passionate about our spirituality, we want more and more people to be aware of the love of God in this world. We want more and more people to come through that door to find out about him – from us.

It is hard enough for a new person to enter a strange church as it is. Finding the temperature at about 95 when they come in will only make it harder.  We don’t want anything to prevent a seeker from joining this community. And if it makes us more comfortable at the same time, then that’s a bonus. It had better be done for Jesus’ sake or it will do nothing for us at all.

Finally I will leave you with an image that has stayed with me since I was a child. My dad took me to the movies  – sometimes. I can remember  about three times, in all.

One movie that  made an impression on my young mind had a villain, who toward the end of the movie, donned a deep-sea diving suit, with helmet and oxygen line, and went down to the sea bed, to search for something around an old shipwreck. He was a bad guy, and everyone in the cinema wanted him to get his come-uppance.

There he was, walking slowly on the sea bottom, close to an old ship, and in the process  picking up whatever it was that he had been searching for, and putting it into a bag hanging from his neck, when  he noticed that his air-line had become snagged on a beam of the old ship. He pulled at it, and it wouldn’t come free. He then signaled to the surface for them to haul him up, hoping no doubt that that would free his air-line.

Those on the ship above tried to do so,  but the line was pulled taut against a sharp metal stanchion, and severed. The line that might have hauled him up also had become caught in the tangle of wreckage.

Without oxygen, and without pressure, he was going to die. Even though he was the villain, I watched with horror as the water filled his suit and leaked into his helmet. He tried frantically to hold his mouth above the water that was filling his mask, but to no avail. We could see, through the face plate, the water filling his helmet, as the final curtain closed on his contorted face.

Our ‘ air-line’ is our connection to Jesus!

Hang onto him for dear life itself. Get all the ‘oxygen’ you can.

Be alive and be passionate about it.

Amen.

Glory to You!

The Gospel Of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

(John 10:11-18)

Fourth Sunday of Easter, 

If you read the financial papers, or just watch TV  you may have read that a man by the name of Bernie Madoff had recently died. Aged eight two. In prison. He had been sentenced to over a hundred years in prison for operating a Ponzi scheme.

Ponzi schemes share a very simple basic design. Investors are offered unsecured notes carrying a very high rate of return. The promised interest of many schemes may be 10%, as compared to the going rate of 5–10% per year. Bernard Madoff’s notorious scheme—the largest Ponzi scheme in world history and largest financial fraud in US history—was an exception, however, offering a rate that was not unusually high but instead very stable. Madoff’s scheme was estimated to be worth $64.8 billion in 2008.

In addition to offering a high interest rate, Ponzi schemes promise very low risk. Sometimes this promise is supported by collateral, such as real estate mortgages, insurance, or government or bank obligations—whether or not such collateral actually exists.

These schemes always crash leaving the organizer, rich, and in prison,  and the investors poor.  As happened to Mr. Madoff.

We have often seen reports of  some, charged with running  companies and safeguarding the shareholders interests have in fact indulged in robbing their own companies.

You don’t only see this sort of thing in the corporate world, you see it in politics too.

Some of the people we entrust with our money, or with maintaining the well-being of our province or country, or city, some people – I emphasize ‘some’ – abuse our trust.

The trust of people in the church has also sadly, been abused at times.

All these people, business leaders, politicians, church leaders, whatever area of trust you wish to examine, can be characterized as shepherds – someone entrusted with looking after the well-being of their flock.

Shepherds!

Some are good shepherds. Some do their duties out of a sense of responsibility, out of a moral compulsion, out of a strong faith, out of a desire to serve.

Others don’t.

They serve themselves.

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading, naming shepherds, carried implications for many of the leaders of the time, and  do, for leaders in our time.

In Israel, at that time, religious leaders had municipal and judicial duties in addition to their religious duties. Some of them, in the course of doing their duties had oppressed, cheated, taken advantage of, the very people they were supposed to care for.

Jesus was bringing an unwelcome awareness of their behaviour.

But Ezekiel, centuries before,  said about the country’s religious leaders,  “ Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves. Should not shepherds feed their sheep?

“The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the disabled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and hardship you have ruled them.”

By Jesus’ time, nothing had changed, and nothing has changed, has it?

It doesn’t help  to say that it has always been this way – and I know it has.  We have to find a true shepherd. We need someone in whom we can put absolute trust.

Is there such a leader around today? Is there anyone who would put his or her desires, needs, wants, personal interests, aside, and place the well-being of those in their care first?

And is there anyone who cares for us so much as to give up their life for us? 

Some people do put their lives on the line of course. Health workers in the front lines against  outbreaks of disease. And not only medical staff. Those whose job is to keep medical facilities clean, and germ free are also at risk.   We are especially aware of this right now, because of Covid.  Add Firemen. Policemen. Members of our Armed Forces. Teachers, and so on.  All of whom risk their own health, and sometimes, their lives, serving others.

But who would knowingly go to their death for others?

Mothers have been known to give up their lives to save their children. As have fathers. As have siblings.

Some years ago, a policeman in France  gave himself up in exchange for an innocent hostage, and was killed.

Thank God there are heroes like that.

Giving  up your life for people you don’t even know ; to give up your life for people who might not seem very lovable, or worthy?

To give up your life for people who don’t even care?

Advertising a position  with that sort of job description, I don’t think you would get many takers would you?

But Jesus took on that job, didn’t he?

He took on himself the job of a shepherd – watching over us, caring for us, keeping us out of danger, guiding us along safe pathways – he took that on, didn’t he?

He revives my soul * and guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake

I have seen people being led from dangerous places, from unpleasant places, from places of hurt, and despair to a better place.

Even when it seemed there was no way out, I have seen people rescued.

How do these things, events that go beyond what we might reasonably expect come about?

I wonder if you remember the story of  Aron Ralston an American outdoorsman, and mechanical engineer, who  survived a canyon- exploring accident in southeastern Utah in 2003. 

He had become trapped by his arm, in a crevice of sorts, for days,  and knew that unless rescued, he would likely die from dehydration.

He says he prayed for rescue. And indeed rescuers were alerted, but couldn’t locate him.

He says that he was upheld by some sort of spiritual presence he couldn’t explain.

On the third day he was aware of a surge of energy, a day that just happened to be the World Day of Prayer.

He says, “I believe there was a greater presence than just me in that canyon.”

You remember what happened, I am sure. He decided that the only way to extricate himself, the only way to save his life, was to amputate his arm.  

He did that.  He broke the bones in his arm, then with his knife, amputated it. 

Then with one arm only, and the remaining stump of his right arm cradled, he fixed a rope and anchor and rappelled 18 meters down to the  bottom of the canyon, where he found water. He walked for nearly ten kilometers, and finally met someone who fed him Oreo cookies, and led him to rescuers.

The story of that young man – someone who had surely been led out of the valley of the shadow of death and who currently is a motivational speaker –  is so inspiring. He keeps busy teaching others who may be facing seemingly impossible circumstances.

Jesus is still the good shepherd, two thousand years after he spoke the words we  heard read today.

In my heart, I  know that.

You know, when I visit people who are  seemingly trapped in an intolerable situation, I pray with them for deliverance.

But in the course of  talking with them it comes out that they  have been recipients of many blessings.

There has been love in their lives,  examples of care and nurture, by family, friends, health workers, and so on. And as we pray together, I find I need to give thanks for those blessings – even as we pray for help.

For most of us, if we care to think deeply about it, our cup does indeed run over.

Oh there are setbacks. There are days when we seem to be deep down in a pit. And no way out.

But the good shepherd looks for the lost; he carries the injured,  he heals the sick, and he will go so far as to give his life for his sheep.

If we can think beyond the immediate moment, then we know that, don’t we? 

We do come through the valley of the shadow of death. We do find safe pastures, and quiet waters, and we do see, looking back, that he did lead us along safe pathways.

Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ, our good shepherd.

In the waters of baptism you give us new birth, at your table you nourish us with heavenly food, and in your goodness and mercy guide us beyond the terrors of evil and death.

Glory to You!

Amen.

That is what fulfills us!

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke.

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:36b-48.)

Third Sunday of Easter.

I haven’t heard about one for quite a while, but there once were  literally hundreds, if not thousands, of sightings of Elvis reported. After he had died!

He was  seen coming out of a Burger King; driving down a Nashville road; ducking into a bar somewhere; or ducking out of one – he was seen in places as disparate as Los Angeles and Dusseldorf.

But we know that he wasn’t really seen, don’t we? Someone had seen someone who had a resemblance to Elvis, just caught a glimpse of him, and had been sure that the king of rock and roll had really appeared. 

But we know that Elvis died. We know he was buried in a casket in Graceland, and that his body, what remains of it, is still there.

As much as his fans may have wanted him to be alive,  no amount of yearning for one more chance to hear Blue Suede Shoes,  or to see those swiveling hips, can bring him back.

Elvis had not only left the building, he left this world once and for all.

Jesus came back.

He found the disciples in the upper room where they were hiding. They had just finished hearing the account that two of them told, of meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. That couple had rushed back to tell their friends about their encounter with the Risen Lord. They were all excitedly discussing this, when suddenly he appeared.

They thought they were seeing a ghost. They were scared, as anyone would be.

But this ghost – as they thought – told them to come and look at his hands, and at his feet. The wounds were still there. He was flesh and blood, and he was alive.

And as if to prove he was as alive as anyone there, he asked for, and ate, food.

He tells them not to be so surprised, shocked, petrified, that he has risen from the tomb, and to demonstrate that it was always meant to be, he takes them on a little journey through the Bible, pointing out all that the prophets had said about a coming Messiah, and how those words applied to him.

It’s a lot for them to absorb, isn’t it? No matter how much you have loved somebody, seeing them again, alive, would knock your socks off.

I read of a case some time ago,  where a man had died, been buried,  and his family mourned him.  A couple or so years later, his brother saw him in their hometown, and collapsed from the shock of it.   It turned out that the funeral had been a phony one, set up to make this man’s many enemies think he had died. 

He had testified in court, giving evidence against an organised crime figure. The police thought he would be safer if everyone thought he were dead.  So they arranged his death, told his family he had died, and a funeral took place.

The man was really in the witness protection program.

No matter how his brother had loved him, he nearly died of shock when he saw him.

So believe it when Luke tells us the disciples were frightened.

Later, however, they were relieved and glad. 

He ate with them.

And here was Jesus alive and well, and with his disciples days after dying on that cross.

The resurrection was real!  Jesus was no phantom or hallucination, no product of someone’s fevered mind. He was back, and he was real.

Christianity is founded on the one who in actual historical fact faced, fought, and conquered death and rose again.

That’s a prime truth that we see in this account.

We also see from this account that the cross was a necessity. It was not forced on God. It wasn’t some Plan B to which God reverted when all else had failed. 

It had been God’s plan all along.


The cross is the one place on earth where in a moment of time we see His eternal love.

This account of meeting the Risen Lord in that upper room also tells us the message of Jesus that must be taken out into all the world. 

Jesus told his disciples what he himself saw in the scriptures, namely that all people in every nation must be told in his name to turn to God in order to be forgiven.

So ” Christianity” is not to be locked up in church buildings however beautiful . It is not some deep secret to be held by a few. It is not for the rich, nor for the poor, nor for the good, nor for the bad- it is for all.

For everyone.

And if we thwart that, by our own inaction or our timidity, or our wish to avoid challenges,  then we are actually going against his stated purpose for his church. And His plan for each of us.

And it’s an urgent matter.   

I can’t believe that God will stand idly by and see   ” Men like Min Aung Hlaing the dictator  in Myanmar who is clinging onto power by brutalizing his people, killing those who protest, and those who do not, but are in the wrong place at a particular time – I can’t believe that God will stand idly by……..

 He will not ignore the cries of his people for ever.

He will hear them.

Then the tyrants and the oppressors will tremble.

Such men will tremble. Such men will face the awful wrath of God. They will be held to account.

And what of us? What of his followers, who have heard his word and have tried to live as Christ lived?

My dear friends we are already God’s children.

He loves us so much that He lets us be called His children,  as we truly are.

It is true, however  that the people of the world, who don’t know Jesus won’t know us. But we know that when Christ returns we will be like him – alive for ever – and we will see him as he really is.  The words of John.

The world does not know Jesus.

That’s a strange statement. Surely everyone knows about him. Everyone celebrates Christmas and Easter, the two holidays that commemorate the three most momentous events –  the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

You Think?

Some years ago, when Jay Leno, was the Tonight Show host,  just about Easter, one year, he did one of his  “Jay Walks.” He took a mike outside, and stopped people and asked them some pretty simple questions about Jesus.

He asked one woman, “ Do you know about Jesus?” and she answered, ‘Oh yes.”

He asked her when did she think Jesus lived on earth. She said two hundred years ago. When Leno asked her if it seemed  right that Jesus lived about the same time as Abraham Lincoln, that didn’t seem to faze her at all. 

So he asked her the names of Jesus’ earthly parents and she perked up at that, replying swiftly, ‘Mary and Joseph.’

Leno then asked her when they would have been living and she said four hundred years ago.

“So Mary would have been about two hundred years old when Jesus was born,” Leno said, and the woman said, “I suppose so.”

Jay asked others when Jesus walked the earth and the answers ranged from a thousand to a million years.

The last answer came from a person who said she was studying anthropology. Leno asked her then, ‘So Jesus lived at the same time as the dinosaurs?’ She agreed.

It would be funny except that it is so tragic.

They don’t know Jesus.

And it tells us that we Christians have a bigger job to do than we ever imagined.

How can we keep it  to ourselves when there are people out there, poor lost  souls, who know nothing about the love of God?

What is going to happen to them when some crisis hits them? Separation? Divorce? Loss of a loved one? Serious illness?

To whom will they turn? Oprah?  Dr. Phil?

And who will help them to live through the strife and trouble of everyday?

And how will they know what is right and wrong? And how will they know what true love is? 

Oh we Christians have a big job on our hands, haven’t we?

And how can we Christians, simple human beings that we are, how can we know what to do, to  help such  lost souls?

Maybe first by learning what we can, ourselves – about his love and His plan and how Jesus came to save such as us – and them.

Then by living in such a way that they can’t help but wonder how we do it

Living in love. Living in harmony. Living in integrity. Living as children of God.

And knowing enough that when they ask, “How do you do it?” “How do you cope with the troubles that life throws at you?”  “How do you manage to make it through every day?”  How can you face life with a smile on your face when the world is going to hell in a hand basket?

…….knowing enough to answer, “Because of Jesus.”

And when they say, “How do you mean?”

And telling them in simple terms, that living for Jesus means not living for the world.

Loving Jesus means not loving the world.

So that  we don’t crave worldly things.  We like to live well, but that isn’t what drives us.

And when we have to let go of worldly things, we do that, we let go.

Because that isn’t what drives us.

That isn’t what fulfills us.

What fulfills us is that we have accepted the freely given love that God graciously sent to us in his Son Jesus.

We have accepted that we are sinners – redeemed sinners – and have cast off the old person and taken on the new.

And we know that when we slip, when we falter, when we fall, he is there to forgive us and take us back, and nurture us, because we are His own.

And we believe that because He lives, we will also live. And what he is we will also be.

That is what fulfills us!

We Can Laugh!

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

(John 20:19-31)

Holy Humour Sunday.

The first Holy Humour Sunday I was asked to participate in,  I wondered about its origin.  So I looked up Holy Humour Sunday on my favourite website, and I found out it began in Europe, probably Germany.

It is normally held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, as a kind of respite from the gloom of Lent – a break, if you will. That Sunday was chosen apparently because it was called Laetare Sunday, which comes from the first word of the collect – Rejoice.

Not wanting to do what everyone else does, I chose to celebrate the day on the second Sunday of Easter. Today.

There’s no mention of Holy Humour Sunday  in the  Book of Common Prayer, nor in the Revised Common  Lectionary, but it seems a nice thing to do, to loosen up a bit, and celebrate with laughter.

There is laughter in the Bible, for example in the Old Testament, where we read that Sarah is in the tent and Abraham is outside talking to two men, said to be messengers from God, and they tell him he will be a father, and that Sarah will conceive.

Sarah hears this, and she is an old lady by now, so she can’t help laughing out loud.  But it did come to pass.

In the New Testament Jesus is called a drinker, and a glutton by some of the people who were trying to discredit him, and I would expect that, although not a drunkard or a glutton, someone who liked a drink now and then would  have to have a sense of humour, and would be heard laughing. 

If you are at peace with yourself, and with your God, then surely you can be happy, and can laugh.

I am always amused by the movies that show Jesus as a man speaking in a low voice, serious, and oh so proper.

Because he was human after all.

So, be at ease. We take today to remember, or to hear for the first time, or the second or third time, if it is funny, a joke, or a happy, funny remembrance. 

I am going to begin with, appropriately, an Easter story .

A man was driving to church on Easter Sunday. He had plenty of time – didn’t want to be too early – and he was on a country road, so wasn’t driving as carefully as he did normally, when he felt a bump, and a squeak, and alarmed, halted at once.

He got out of his car and saw, there, lying on the floor, a bunny, not moving, and to one side, a basket full of Easter eggs.

“Wow,” he thought, ” I have killed the Easter Bunny.”

As he stood there, feeling bad, not knowing what to do, a car pulled up behind him, and a lady got out.

“What’s wrong?”  She asked, coming toward him, and then seeing the Easter Bunny.

He couldn’t speak, but she sized up what had happened right away, and went to her car and took out something. 

She carried a spray can of some sort, and she leaned over the Bunny and sprayed something onto the poor thing.

After a few seconds, the Easter Bunny opened his eyes, and got to  his feet and, grabbing his basket, he just ran off,  waving back at them every few yards. Waving and running. Waving and running.

“My, ” the man said to the lady, ” What do you have there?”

She handed him the spray can she had used, and he looked at the label.

It said, ” Good for permanent wave,  brings new life to dead hair.”

We don’t need a commercial product, do we? Coming to know Christ beings new life, right away, doesn’t it?

But not everyone you meet during the day, has that new life in Christ, do they, and don’t you wish they did? ,

The Gospel has that story about Thomas, saying that he wouldn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection until put his finger in the wounds in Jesus’ hand, and his hand into his side, and then when he sees Jesus, and the wounds, he is convinced.

It is a lovely story, but I can’t help thinking that Thomas must have been embarrassed as all get out.

I remember being embarrassed.  And on more than one occasion.

The first time  was when I was five years old and in infants’ school – or kindergarten – and my class was doing a play. I was chosen to go on stage at the very beginning and say a line that would set the scene for the play.

Quite proudly I walked on stage and said my line, ” It is a beautiful sunny day.”

And everyone, parents and teachers laughed. I didn’t know why and thinking I had done something wrong, was naturally embarrassed. 

The reason they laughed was that when I  said, ” It is a beautiful sunny day,” it was raining cats and dogs outside.

The second time I had to speak in public, kind of,  was a short time afterward, I was about six years old,  when my mother asked me to go on an errand. She sent me to the butcher’s shop for a half a pound of bacon.

In those days a child could go out without  fear, as everyone in the neighborhood  knew everyone else, so it was quite safe. And the butcher’s shop was a five minute walk away.

I had a shilling in my tight little hand and I kept reciting to myself what I had to say, ” A half pound of bacon. A half pound of bacon.”

When I got to the store, there were a few people there. In those days you gave the butcher your order, and he went and cut the piece of meat, or selected the chops, or sliced the bacon, wrapped it,  took your money and you left. Self service hadn’t yet arrived in the UK.

So line-ups were quite common.

I waited behind three adults, and I was quite nervous as this was the first time I had been trusted with such an important errand.

Eventually I reached the counter and the butcher looked down at me and said, ” What do you want?

I said, quite proudly, ” A half pound of bacon.”

He said, ” Lean?”

And I leaned forward  – and repeated,  “Half a pound of bacon,” much to the amusement of those in line behind me.

It took a while before I understood what had happened. And felt, even later, embarrassment.

I have been told by some that when they had the opportunity to mention their faith, in front of others, they were too embarrassed to do so. 

But, you know, people who sell door to door aren’t embarrassed to talk about their product, or to enroll someone they spot who might become a sales person for them.

Some guy, working for one of those direct sales companies  seemed to be always in line near me at the bank, and he invariably took me aside and asked me if I would  be interested in a job.

Naturally, I said, ” No thank you, I have a job,” and angrily pulled my arm out his grasp.

He did this a couple of times and I made up my mind that the next time he did it, I was going to say, ” Why don’t you kneel with me right now and we will pray for your soul.” But I never did get that opportunity to “help” him. And I have often questioned, in my mind, if  that  would have embarrassed him. How would he have responded?

That’s a question to which I will never know the answer.

There are many questions in life for which there doesn’t seem to be an answer.  For example, Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?  And why do we say   that night falls but day breaks?  And Why do they call it “chili” if it’s hot?  Then again, can you catch a toad sitting on a toadstool?  Or,  if cats and dogs didn’t have fur would we still pet them?  And If peanut butter cookies are made from peanut butter, then what are Girl  Guide cookies made out of?

Do  they use real shepherds in Shepherd's Pie? And finally, 
if tin whistles are made out of tin, what do they make fog horns out of?

The Gospels raise a lot of questions, too, don’t they?

One example: Why would Jesus give His life for us, for worthless people, for criminals even?

Because. I believe,  God sees something in each of us. He sees a soul worth saving. He sees a lost lamb that needs finding, He sees a prodigal son or daughter who wants to come home but doesn’t know the way.

But God in Jesus, and especially  in Jesus’ death and resurrection, shows us the way.  We can be found.  We can be forgiven and accepted.

I remember reading about a woman who said that Jesus came to her in her dreams and spoke to her.

She told her priest about this, and the priest said, perhaps to test her, “When you next speak to Jesus, ask him what I did secretly in seminary that I am ashamed of.”

A couple of days later, he saw her and asked did she speak to Jesus. She said “Yes.”   He then asked if she had posed the question he had given her and she said, ” Yes.” The priest then asked, ” And  what did he say? “

She said, “He couldn’t remember.” .

He could not remember!!

My own dad, wasn’t such a bad dad, but he never forgot anything “cute, or embarrassing”  you had done as a child – .things which he would repeat every time we had family visiting – embarrassing me, shaming me, in fact.  I would blush and go into another room..

What I would have given to have a dad who forgot the silly childish things I had done.

I found that in Jesus.

We find that in Jesus.

You notice that Jesus didn’t ridicule Thomas for his unbelief, then his belated belief, he merely said, “Blessed are those believe without seeing.”

He never brought it up again. It was forgotten.

And that’s something to be grateful for, and why we can laugh today, and relax, on Holy Humour Sunday –  or any Sunday!. 

Amen