Sermons

PastorEric-2Sunday's Sermon - 
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. 

Many congregations now celebrate this Second Sunday of Easter as Holy Hilarity Sunday!  This celebration comes from the early Christian Church, where a tradition arose to celebrate the Sunday after Easter Sunday as “Holy Hilarity” or “Holy Humor” or “Bright” Sunday.  The custom was rooted in the early Christian belief that God has played a tremendous practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.  They even had a name for it – “Risus Paschalis” which means “God’s Joke” or “the Easter laugh.”

That got me thinking about some of my favorite Lutheran jokes!  Yes, they do exist.

But first, one on me.

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s I served as Assistant to the Bishop in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod which has its offices near Allentown, Pennsylvania.  While I was serving in this position, my wife, Kris, gave me this hat (it was in a bit better shape when it was new!)  I liked this hat.  Thought I looked like Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones in it!  (Well, it was the 1980’s!)  So, I wore my new hat to the synod office and the first person I met there was Mary, our young bookkeeper.  Wearing my new hat, I looked at Mary and said, “Indiana Jones, right?”  Mary paused and responded, “Well, maybe, but I was thinking more of Andy Griffith!”

Ouch!

Here’s one of my favorites:

The last congregation I served had a large plaque on which the names of church members who had served in the military were inscribed.  It was brought into the sanctuary each Memorial Day and referenced during the prayers that day.  Well, the plaque had not been updated in many years, so it was a bit embarrassing since it didn’t include anyone who had served in the armed forces since the Korean War.  So, we decided to bring it out one more time and then to put it away and not use it again.  Since it was to be the last time for this plaque, we did it up big with patriotic bunting and all.

I was standing next to the plaque and a young child came up to me and asked me what it was.  I replied, “It is a listing of those church members who died in the service.”  The child looked puzzled and turned to me and said “9am or 11am?”

Then there was the new pastor walking near his congregation’s preschool when he passed a class on its way to an activity.  One little boy stopped and looked at the pastor in his clerical collar and asked, “Why do you dress funny?”  The pastor told him he was their new pastor and that the collar is part of a pastor’s “uniform.”  As he did this, he took off his clerical collar to show it to the young boy.  The name of the collar manufacturer was printed in raised lettering on the back of the collar.  The young boy felt the letters with his hand.  So, the pastor asked him, “Do you know what those words say?  “Yes, I do,” said the little boy, even though he had not yet learned to read.  Looking intently at the letters on the collar, the young boy pretended to be reading as he said, “Kills ticks and fleas for up to six months!”

Here’s one in honor of our Treasurer’s report today:  

An airplane crashes on a deserted island and all survive.  But, they soon become frightened that, since they have no food and little water, no one will be able to find them before they all die.  In the face of this fear, one man keeps saying, “Do not worry, I make $250,000 a week!” Well, that doesn’t help the others who note that they have no food and will soon die without rescue.  The man replies, “I make $250,000 per week.  We will all be okay.”  The others do not accept his optimism.  “All of your money cannot help us if no one finds us.  We will all die.”  To which the man responds, “Look, I make $250,000 per week and I tithe to my congregation.  My Lutheran pastor WILL find me.”

Finally, what happens if you cross a Lutheran with a Jehovah’s Witness?  Someone who knocks on your door and doesn’t say anything!  Or, someone who knocks on your door, doesn’t say anything and hands you a covered dish!

Easter – God’s joke on the devil, God’s triumph over human sin and evil.  Something to celebrate and even laugh about.

Think of how incredible it all sounds – Jesus was cruelty killed.  He wasn’t asleep or in a coma.  He was tortured and then he died, probably by suffocation from hanging on the cross.  He was dead for a couple of days.  His disciples fled and went into hiding, fearing for their own lives.  It certainly appeared that the devil, evil, human sinfulness, had won.  But, as I shared last Sunday, God had other plans.  God raised Jesus from the dead and, through Jesus, promised eternal life with God for all who believed.

Now, that is pretty absurd when you think about it!  A dead man alive.  A promise of eternal life.  Absurd.  Even hilarious.

Which is probably why John wrote the words we read in today’s gospel lesson, often called the “Doubting Thomas” story.  Writing some years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, John and his followers knew that some would view Jesus’ resurrection as absurd.  So, John shared today’s gospel text:  Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening.  He was there, in the flesh, so to speak.  The disciples could all see Jesus, alive.

But one disciple missed this first gathering.  Thomas.  And Thomas had his doubts.  Who wouldn’t?  The disciples and the women had told him an incredible story:  the empty tomb, the Jesus sightings, Jesus’ appearance with the other disciples that evening.  Not buying it, said Thomas.  I want to see for myself.

We often say “seeing is believing” or “show me proof.”  Especially in this day of internet rumors and lies, it is easy to understand why Thomas did not just accept what the others had told him, but wanted to see for himself.  Then I will believe, said Thomas.

One week later, Jesus came to the gathered disciples again.  This time Thomas was present.  He saw.  He believed.  Jesus used Thomas’ “show me the money” attitude to make a point, a point not lost of the gospel writers who are writing for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh, “Blessed on those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

That is you and me, my friends.  We, you and I, believe this incredible, hilarious even, story, that God allowed his only Son to be put to death and then raised Jesus from the dead to make a promise to all of humankind!  We believe this story because we have been taught it.  We have inherited this belief from our forebears, as I Peter tells us today, “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”   But, perhaps most importantly, we believe this story because we have lived it.  The bottom line, so to speak, is that this story makes sense for our lives, this story makes sense of our lives.  This story proves once and for all times God’s love for humankind and God’s promise of salvation.

No, we cannot prove Christ’s resurrection historically or scientifically.  Yet, we know it to be true.  Our lives provide the proof.  We have the witness of the disciples, of the Gospel writers, of generations of Christians who have gone before us.  Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Remember that old joke about how many Lutherans it takes to change a lightbulb?  None, because Lutherans don’t change!  Funny, yes, but also untrue when it comes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We have all been changed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Changed, if we only accept this gift and promise, changed into a people of hope and promise and love.

Easter:  God has played a tremendous practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.  

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

Believe it.  Live it.

Amen

 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, California

 


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