This may be the first time, other than funeral messages, that I’ve ever preached a sermon on the book of Proverbs. If it’s not the first time I’m sure you could count them on one hand.
It’s not that I don’t like the book of Proverbs. I do. In fact, it’s one of my favorite books of the Bible. It’s just that it’s really hard to preach from. And when you listened to our Bible reading for today, you heard the reason why.
There are almost no long passages in the book of Proverbs that develop a theme. For the most part, it is what you heard this morning. It’s one or two sentences on a topic, then one or two sentences on another topic, and then another one or two sentences on yet another topic. Other than the passage at the very end of the book, the one about the woman of noble character that’s used at funerals a lot, that’s all the book of Proverbs is. There are lots of good quotes, but it’s hard to come up with a passage to use in a sermon. And just so you know, it’s not just me. You can look through the whole Revised Common Lectionary and you’ll almost never see Proverbs as one of the suggested Bible readings.
But at the same time, you really cannot do a sermon series on Humor in the Bible without talking about the book of Proverbs. Because some of these proverbs are just plain funny. You heard some of them. Listen to these:
“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.”
“A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.”
“Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”
I mean, if you don’t find stuff like that funny, I don’t know what to tell you. Because it is funny. It uses exaggeration to make a point, which is one of the most common techniques there is in humor.
But at the same time, real humor always has an element of truth in it. And you cannot deny that those things, and all the other proverbs we read today, have an element of truth in them. In fact, one of the best ways to tell people truths is to use humor in doing it.
Jesus used humor all the time. We’ve talked about a couple of examples in this sermon series already. The judge who was constantly nagged by the widow who wanted justice. The Pharisee who stood up in front of everyone in the temple and said a prayer about how much better he is than everyone else. There are other examples we could think of. Telling people the reason they cannot take a speck out of someone else’s eye is that they have a plank in their own. Giving the picture of a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle. These are just a few times that Jesus used humor to give people his message. And of course, there are plenty of examples of humor in the Old Testament, too. We’ve also talked about some of those in this sermon series.
So, with all this humor in the Bible, why don’t we ever laugh when we read the Bible? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should not take the Bible seriously. We should take it very seriously. The Bible is the divinely inspired word of God. It’s our best source for understanding the things God wants us to know. It’s our best source for knowing how to live our lives in the best way, the way God wants us to live them. I’m not at all suggesting that we don’t take the Bible seriously.
But as we’ve seen, there are sayings in the Bible that are intended to be humorous. There are scenes in the Bible that are, in fact, funny. So why don’t we laugh at them?
Well, I think there are probably a lot of reasons. One of them is simply our expectations. We don’t really expect humor when we read the Bible. We don’t go to the Bible looking for a laugh. That’s probably the first reason we don’t see the humor in the Bible--we’re not looking for it.
Another reason is that a lot of the humor in the Bible is what we call “deadpan humor”. In other words, the Bible does not come out and tell us, “This is a joke. This is supposed to be funny.” The humorous parts of the Bible are written in the same style as the other parts of the Bible. There’s no signpost that distinguishes the humor. And so, we take it seriously. We don’t see the humor because it’s not made explicit that there’s supposed to be humor there.
But I think the biggest reason we don’t see the humor in the Bible is simply because of our view of who God is. And it’s not that our view of God is necessarily wrong. It’s that our view of God is incomplete.
There’s an extent to which we cannot help that. God is more than human beings have the ability to imagine. And so, all of us tend to focus on some aspects of God and minimize others.
Sometimes we focus on the power of God. And again, that’s not wrong. God is all-powerful. God has more power than you and I can imagine. God created the entire universe out of nothing, just by speaking the words. That’s a lot of power.
Sometimes we focus on the wisdom and knowledge of God. And that’s not wrong, either. God is all-knowing. God is all-wise. There’s nothing that God does not know. That includes, of course, everything we do and everything we say and everything we think. God knows all of our hopes and all of our fears and all of our desires. And of course, God knows everything else, too. That’s a lot for God to know.
Sometimes we focus on the righteousness and justice of God. And of course, that’s not wrong, either. God is righteous and justice. That’s where the judgment of God comes into the picture. We know that God, being perfect, has the right to judge we human beings, who are not. And that kind of scares us, because we know how that judgment might go.
And so, then we focus on the forgiveness of God. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. God is forgiving. God will always forgive our sins, if we sincerely turn to God and ask for forgiveness. But of course, that word “sincerely” is a big one, too. That implies that we repent of our sins. It means we are truly sorry for what we have done and are going to change our ways. But when we do that, God will forgive our sins every time.
But none of those things really gets to the humor of God, does it? I mean, we may feel joy at the thought that our sins are forgiven. But it’s not humorous. But I think there is one aspect of God that gets to God’s humor. And maybe you’ve thought of it.
It’s the part of God we like to focus on most of all, really. The love of God. God is love. We say that so often it almost sounds like a cliché, but at the same time, it’s absolutely true. God is love.
So what does love have to do with humor? I think it has everything to do with it. When you love someone, what’s one of the things you do with them? You laugh with them, don’t you? You laugh with your spouse. You laugh with your kids. You laugh with your friends. When you feel comfortable with someone, when you’re happy to be around them, you laugh with them, right? Could you really be close to someone, could you really love someone, and never laugh with them? I don’t think it’s possible.
And when tensions come between you and someone you love, when you get frustrated or maybe even get angry with them--which pretty much always happens with the ones we love at some point--what’s the best way to defuse that tension? Humor, right? Finding a reason to laugh at what happened or at the ridiculous situation you find yourselves in. Again, I don’t know that a close, loving relationship can exist with someone if we don’t share some humor with them, if we don’t laugh with them.
And so, if God loves us, I think God wants to laugh with us. God wants us to laugh with Him, too. God wants us to laugh with Him because we feel comfortable around God. God wants us to laugh with Him because we’re happy to be around God. God wants us to laugh with Him because we feel close to God. And when we find ourselves in a ridiculous situation, God still wants us to find a way to laugh with Him. God wants us to laugh with Him because we love God. And God wants to laugh with us because God loves us.
We talked about the power of God, creating the universe just by speaking words. Well, one of the things God created with God’s power is laughter. God gave us the ability to laugh. That’s a gift God gave us. God wants us to use it, just like God wants us to use all the gifts God has given us. And God shows us how to use it, by giving us examples of humor.
We should and do take the Bible seriously. We should and do take God seriously, too. But God loves us. And because God loves us, God gave us the gift of laughter. God shares that gift with us. May we share the gift of laughter with God and with each other. Because laughter is a sign of love.