No Joy Allowed in This Church!

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Psalm 5:11 (NIV)

As some of you know, I preached last week at Coral Ridge. You can find it at http://www.crpc.org/media/sermon/the-pressures-off—part-5  (though I would not recommend it). As happens to me sometimes, I said some things that the congregation found funny. This week the church received a stinging phone call that excoriated them for allowing someone to introduce humor into the pulpit (after all, what could be worse than joy when the people of God meet together?).

Thinking about this, I was reminded of a couple of things from the great Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s style was so loose he was criticized again and again for bordering on frivolity in the Tabernacle pulpit. One can read his writings today and still laugh out loud. Certain incensed fellow clergymen railed against his habit of introducing humor into his sermons. With a twinkle in his eye, he once replied: “If only you knew how much I hold back, you would commend me. I would rather have the congregation laugh a little than sleep a lot, though of course, those are not the only two alternatives.

In his book Lectures to My Students Spurgeon has a chapter called “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear.” In it he has the wise advice: “You cannot stop people’s tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken.” I have found that helpful in my time in the ministry.

Let me say that this does not mean, nor did Spurgeon mean, that we ought to ignore those who bring us complaints. He only meant that there are some who bring nothing but complaints and have no other aim but to hurt. After all, I stood at the front of the church for nearly a half-hour and the caller did not come to me then; my number and email address is very easy to find, yet the caller made use of neither one of them. This shows me that the purpose of the call was not to be helpful (and I will admit that sometimes I get carried away) but to be destructive. To those such comments there is nothing better than the “blind eye and the deaf ear.”

I am convinced that Jesus laughed and laughed loudly. The false description of Jesus, coming from the ninth century A.D. that includes the statement “no man has seen him laugh” needs to be stricken from our churches. Please don’t write to me telling me that Jesus was a “man of sorrows.” I know that and I am very familiar with the Isaiah 53 description. This does not mean, however, that he was continually sorrowful.

There are several times in the Psalms that God is said to laugh. The number of times that Jesus says things that were obviously Semitic humor through overstatement is high (log in your eye; camel through the eye of a needle; a man owed 10,000 talents). But the most obvious evidence for the laughter of Jesus is that children loved him.

So I will admit that sometimes I say funny things. There are times that I mean to say such things and other times when it just happens. But the Gospel is (in the classical sense of the word) a comedy. A story with such problems that it can never work out, and then comes the most unlikely of characters to save the day. Jesus is the ultimate such character and I look forward to sitting down to a banquet with him. I’ll be the one laughing.