Harrowing Of Hell
February 25, 2018

Laughter in Lent

Preacher:  The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Laughter in Lent

So how is it going this second Sunday of Lent? If you have chosen a particular discipline this season I hope you are settling into it. On Ash Wednesday, I mentioned that I believe Lent is a time of blessing in many ways—it serves as a time for us to reflect on our lives, our relationship with God and those we love. But one thing I probably didn’t need to say it that Lent isn’t always easy and that difficulty—the different disciplines that we take on and the things we give up– resonates with the part of us that knows enough to feel penitential. That part of us that recognizes that we all fall short of the glory of God. But, our spiritual disciplines should be a way to get nearer to God, should serve as a way to give us a sense of clarity and clear our minds of the distractions that keep us from seeing God at work in our lives. We need to guard against the very human tendency we might have to concentrate the inadequacies or shortcomings that our disciplines might reveal and use them not as a way to reveal God’s promise but as a method of self-flagellation. Because, while we may—we will fall short—if we are faithful, if we believe, God does what God promises. The prayer, the almsgiving and the fasting are not an end in themselves. They are meant to be a way to lighten our load by remembering that God has promised that through belief in Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven.

In our reading from Genesis today, we are reminded that the promise that God made to us and that we as Christians believe came to fruition in Jesus Christ, began with one man. And that man was chosen not because he was so much better than everyone else around him – but because he believed. In Genesis 12, God says to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And in chapter 15, God tells him “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them….so shall your descendants be. And we are told, he believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to his as righteousness. This human man was named Abram, a descendant of Noah, son of Terah, who in today’s reading becomes Abraham – that is the father of the multitudes. And God gives him this name to both reaffirm his earlier promises to Abraham but also to expand upon them. That this new promise, this everlasting covenant is significant is shown in the fact that his name is changed. Names in biblical times were regarded not only as labels but also as symbols, magical keys, if you will, to the nature and essence of the given being or thing. Names held great power in the Bible. In the Bible, when someone’s name is changed, it marks a significant change in their life. Think of how Jesus calls Simon Peter to signify his role in building the church and how Saul, the persecutor of the Jews, becomes Paul the great evangelist to the Gentiles.

In today’s story Abram (a name meaning exalted ancestor) is given the name Abraham meaning ancestor of the multitudes as a symbol of his role in God’s covenant. His wife Sarai is also given a new name Sarah. Through Abraham and Sarah God promises: “I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you; and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant. “While it might not have been clear to Abraham at the time, the covenant will e fulfilled beyond what he could have even imagined. The proof of which is clearly demonstrated by our presence at Epiphany Parish today—we are part of that multitude God promised to Abraham.

But it is an astounding promise, and indeed, even Abraham, who was chosen from all the inhabitants of the earth because he believed God, even Abraham was a bit incredulous. When we meet Abraham today, he had seen much over the last twenty- five years. He had prospered both in the land promised him and during his time Egypt. He has triumphed over kings, He has even had a son, Ishmael, by his wife’s servant Hagar. But, after all that he has seen – all his faithful following, Abraham falls on his face with laughter at the thought that he and Sarah would finally have a child. After 25 years? But the God who makes that promise to him is, as Paul later says, is one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Truly all things are possible with God.

Faith is not always easy ––even someone like Abraham who is chosen because of his belief sometimes doesn’t believe. But what God has promised, God will do. We are dealing with the God who gives life to the dead and who calls into existence things that do not exist. And while we may not be able to discern how God is acting on God’s promise, we can rest assured that God is acting on God’s promise. So out of the laughter, the disbelief, of Abraham and the laughter of Sarah is born a child called Isaac—which means “he laughs.”

On the inside of my ancient leather bookbag is the autograph of Bruce Cockburn who is a gifted singer songwriter and a Canadian Anglican. While reading this week’s lesson, his song Laughter came into my mind. The song walks through different scenarios of life and finds laughter—both of joy and irony. It starts with:

A laugh for the way my life has gone
A laugh for the love of a friend
A laugh for the fools in the eyes of the world
The love that will never end
Ha ha ha

And continues with:

Let’s hear a laugh for the man of the world
Who thinks he can make things work
Tried to build the new Jerusalem
And ended up with New York
Ha ha ha

Cockburn laughs because what seems foolish, what seems impossible is often filled with wonder, surprise and great promise… the fools in the eyes of the world, well, blessed are they. And of our own attempts to make a heaven on earth with the bright lights of the big City, well, perhaps that is laughable….

Out of the laughter of Abraham and Sarah is born Isaac. And from Isaac and his wife Rebekah is born Jacob. Jacob’s birth name means “supplanter, deceiver”; it was given to him because, when Jacob was born as the second of a set of twins, his hand was grasping his twin’s Esau’s heel. True to his name, Jacob grew up as a deceiver and he eventually tricks his brother out of his birthright as heir. After Jacob’s struggle with the Lord at Peniel, however, God also gives Jacob a new name: Israel. And God gave the reason: “Because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Later, God appears to Jacob/Israel again and reaffirms with him the same covenant that Abraham had received. Thus, again, from one who has fallen short –the “heel-catcher” who steals his brother’s birthright comes the faithful “one who struggles with God” and the father of the tribes of Israel.

Many of you may know that I have a little chihuahua named Phineas Newbone Jr. what you may not know is that we changed his name. Phineas was a rescue from a puppy mill and he was not a puppy when we got him. He was an elder dog who had been a sire and had lived all of his life in a cage. While he probably had one of those long fancy names they use for registering dogs, we never knew it nor did North Shore Animal League where we adopted him. They named him Mystic because they knew nothing about him except that he was silent, he didn’t bark and he just lay on his towel all day. They didn’t know that he had never been potty-trained or taught to walk on a leash or, at least not in detail, that he had apparently been abused by his handlers. We would learn that when we took him home.

Now I have always loved to name my dogs. And usually I pick something musical. So, I have had Penny Lane, and Moon Shadow and Eleanor Rigby. Since Phineas was our first shared dog, I decided that our new dog should honor Jeremy’s love of jazz and so Phineas became Phineas Newbone Jr. named after the great jazz pianist Phineas Newborne Jr. And the Mystic afraid of humans who had never been out of a cage, never been potty-trained, or walked on a leash came into our home and became Phineas. A dog who only liked other dogs, turned into the king of the house and his face even graces the Jeremy’s new CD. Jeremy calls him the #2 dog in our pack – I am #1, Jeremy #3…apparently Jacob is not the only one who supplanted the rightful heir!

The lyrics to the verse go, “A laugh for the dogs barking at our heels, they don’t know where we’ve been…a laugh for the dirty windowpane hiding the love within ha ha ha…mmm mmm oooh …

If there is a visual for me this Lent, I think it is this verse. Lent is a time to be surprised by grace, to try to clean away that which is keeping God’s promise from shining through. I have a rather dirty window in my bathroom right now and we while have lived in our house for almost three months, that window is still as dirty as the day we moved in. But I have to laugh… That dirty window pane may mean I have fallen short in the cleaning department, but God’s love still shines through. On the cold, snowy morning of December 25th with Phineas at my heels, I walked over to the bathroom mirror and I noticed that Jeremy had written in the steamed-up window behind me JB hearts RA. And as much as that window needs cleaning, I love to see it every time I get out of the shower. Maybe I’ll clean it on Easter! Ours is a God who gives life to the dead, who puts love in our hearts and whose light shines through dirty windows…This Lent let us remember that if we are faithful, if we believe, while we will fall short of the glory of God, God will fulfill what God has promised.