Tag Archives: joy

A Homily preached on the Sunday, following the death of Robin Williams (Dumfries Northwest, 17 August 2014)

Mark 5:21 to 24; 35 to 43  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.


35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

We begin with a tragedy.  A young lassie has died. Her family are stunned, and shocked,

Then Jesus appears.  He brings her back to life

Those in the room are, we are told, are  effectively “gobsmacked”

I would guess that they are standing there – like statues – , immobile, not having a clue what to do, bewildered and mute

I’d like to think that Jesus then breaks the ice with some practical advice – he almost jokingly says in effect – Come On!  You’ve seen the miracle – NOW, for pity’s sake, give the lassie something to eat!  Don’t forget she’s a twelve year old, and at that age, she’ll be ravenous!

And grief is turned to joy!  And they would, no doubt, begin to rejoice, their relieved faces beaming with  laughter

What  a tonic laughter is.

We all heard last week of the untimely death of the actor and comedian, Robin Williams.  His was a troubled life – like so many of those who have made us laugh…the tragic clown.

I’m no psychologist, but perhaps he brought such joy to others was a way of compensating for the darkness in his personal life.

But he was a good and caring man, giving so much of himself to others, many of them strangers. He lifted their spirits, he was a great humanitarian, his charity giving is legendary.



Of all the tributes paid to him, I particularly like this story.  He was a very close friend of the actor, Christopher Reeve – remember…. he played Superman.

After being thrown from a horse, and suffering a cervical spinal injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down, Reeve was in a great deal of pain at the hospital.

He even contemplated suicide. Since the accident had damaged his first and second cervical vertebrae, Reeve was forced to undergo a life-threatening surgery to reconnect his skull and his spine.

In his autobiography he wrote:

“As the day of the operation drew closer, it became more and more painful and frightening to contemplate,” .

 “In spite of efforts to protect me from the truth, I already knew that I had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the surgery. I lay on my back, frozen, unable to avoid thinking the darkest thoughts.

 Then, at an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent.

 He announced that he was my proctologist, and that he had to examine me immediately.

My first reaction was that either I was on way too many drugs or I was in fact brain damaged.

But it was Robin Williams.

And for the first time since the accident, I laughed.

 My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.”


In an interview later, Chris Reeves said:  “I knew then: if I could laugh, I could live.









Jesus wept. We know that because the Bible tells us so. But did he laugh?


God thunders, often. We know that. But does God have a sense of humour? 

God celebrated creation with a booming “That’s good!” But did the creation God called “good” include mirth and laughter? Hilarity and glee? What about jollity and smiles? 


What a low opinion of humour Christians have tended to have over the years. 


Through the centuries, how many artists have painted a LAUGHING Christ?

Can those who would be Christ -like laugh and  not sin ? 

The Second Council of Constance in 1418 had a definite opinion: it assigned to hell any minister or monk who spoke “jocular words such as to provoke laughter.”

And yet…..

The early Christians were known as the “Hilares” – the happy people – and of course our English word “hilarious” is derived from it.


Remember too what Paul wrote, “. Be fools for Christ because the foolishness of God is much greater than the wisdom of humans.”



Humour and religion have a long history together.

Remember the story of Abraham and Sara, when God told the 90-year-old woman she would conceive? And she doubled up with laughter. The Lord heard it, and chuckled himself, and said, Abraham, your wife shall indeed bear you a son, and you must call him Isaac, which means ‘Laughter.’



God and the Angels visit Abraham DE GELDER (1685)


The radical Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

And, if I can’t laugh, I don’t want to be part of this religion.

Laughter is something everyone does. All ages, all classes, all cultures—we all laugh. We even share the ability to laugh with other animals. Apparently,  Rats laugh when  tickled…. I’ll take the experts at their word!  (unless Neil wants to bring in a sack of them, as a visual and tactile aid for the Children’s Story one Sunday!)

Chimpanzees tickle each other, laugh and giggle. They, too, share their laughter.

Children laugh an average of 400 times a day. Adults only laugh about 15 times

The laughter of children is one of the most endearing rewards of parenthood. It is our payback for all those midnight feeds and nappy changes.


Given our limited time, how can we make the very most of it?  We can enjoy and we can bring joy. We can rise above suffering with compassion, and with laughter.

We can share our joys and share our laughter. . . . We can laugh at ourselves, for blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they will never cease to be amused.

We can find one another. Then we can draw on our spirit of joy and laughter—we may never understand ourselves, we will never understand the world, but we can learn, endure and share the sacred enjoyment of each others company.

Let’s be aware of  how laughter heals our spirit and think of the happiness and joy it can bring to others.

And remember these words of Marcel Proust:

Let us be grateful to those who make us happy, for they are the charming gardeners of our souls.



A closing story:


An ordinary sort of bloke died and felt rather uneasy about divine judgement on his life which had been pretty uneventful.

In heaven, there was a queue in front of him, so he settled down to look and listen.

After consulting his big book, Christ said to the first man in the queue: “I see here that I was hungry and you fed me.  Good man – in you come!”

To the second, he said “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink – come on in to Heaven” and to the third, “I was in prison and you visited me”  And so it went on.

As each person entered heave, our friend realised that he’d never fed the hungry, visited the prisoner or the sick – none of these things.

Then his turn came – sick to the stomach, he watched Christ leaf through the pages of the book.


“There’s not much written here, but you did do something: when I was sad and discouraged, you came and told me funny stories, made me laugh and cheered me up.  Welcome – enter into the joy of your Lord”



Remember Christopher Reeve’s words: 


If I can laugh; I can live


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I wish you enough….

via Suspended Coffees

Recently, I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together at the airport as the daughter’s departure had been announced. Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the mother said: “I wish you enough.”

The daughter replied, “Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom.” They kissed and the daughter left….

The mother walked over to the window where I sat. Standing there, I could see she wanted and needed to cry.

I tried not to intrude on her privacy but she welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?”

“Yes, I have,” I replied. “Forgive me for asking but why is this a forever good-bye?”

“I am old and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is the next trip back will be for my funeral,” she said.

When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, “I wish you enough.” May I ask what that means?”

She began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail and she smiled even more.

“When we said ‘I wish you enough’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them”. Then turning toward me, she shared the following, reciting it from memory,

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.”

She then began to cry and walked away.

They say it takes a minute to find a special person. An hour to appreciate them. A day to love them. And an entire life to forget them…

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Saint Brigid – a poem (attributed)

A wonderful poem attributed to Saint Brigid tells of the things she most wished for. If it was not composed by the Saint herself, than surely by someone who loved her and knew well her nature:

I would wish a great lake of ale for the King of Kings; 
I would wish the family of heaven to be drinking it throughout life and time. 
I would wish the men of Heaven in my own house; 
I would wish vessels of peace to be given to them. 
I would wish joy to be in their drinking; 
I would wish Jesu to be here among them. 
I would wish the three Marys of great name; 
I would wish the people of heaven from every side. 
I would wish to be a rent-payer to the Prince; the way if I was in trouble He would give me a good blessing.

It is said that the Lord would grant Brigid anything she would ask, and that what she desired was always the same-“to satisfy the poor, to banish every hardship, and to save every sorrowful man.” It seems that in her love for others Saint Brigid truly forgot herself and allowed the loving providence of God to sustain her.



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There was a coffee machine in the foyer of the Royal Infirmary, just along the corridor from my office, with coffee (in those days) at thirty-one pence a cup. Unfortunately, it does not give change – so if you put in too much money, you lose out.

One particular day, all I had was a few two pence and a couple of five pence pieces, apart from some pound coins – which, anyhow, the machine won’t take.

It looked as if I was going to have to miss my coffee break.  Later, however, I happened, by chance, to be near the machine – for an altogether different reason.  Glancing over at it, I happened to notice that whoever had last used the machine, had put in too much money, leaving something like nine pence in it.  Added to the loose change in my pocket, it came to exactly thirty-one pence.  So, unexpectedly, I was able to have my coffee after all.

When something like that happens, it’s sometimes called SERENDIPITY.  It means the fortunate discovery of something unexpected.

Sometimes, things do happen to us in the most unexpected way.

Here’s an example of serendipity – this is a well-known and oft-repeated prayer written by a Confederate army officer during the American Civil War:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve–I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.


I asked for help that I might do greater things–I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy–I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life–I was given life that I might enjoy all things

I got nothing that I asked for–but everything I had hoped for.

Despite myself, my prayers were answered.  I am, among all men, most richly blessed!”


Jesus tells us* of other examples of finding something altogether different from what was originally sought after.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like seeds.  This suggests something that is fertile, growing, dynamic, alive.  It may look insignificant but is, instead, full of  immediate promise and future harvest.  The Kingdom speaks of growth that is happening in our lives right now.

For emphasis, Jesus referred to the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed.  Again, there is that sense of Serendipity.  Place the tiniest of seeds in the ground and you would expect a small plant, like a little bouquet of basil but instead you get a plant that is rather large; some species even grow into a bush.  So it is with the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then, Jesus gives us other examples of what I mean by Serendipity. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a fabulous treasure.  The idea of treasure to express something valuable, (especially wisdom), was a common idea in Jewish thought.  We see how someone seems to literally stumble on good fortune by finding a treasure in someone else’s field.  It was rather common for people to hoard their riches by hiding them in the ground.  It would seem that the treasure, in a legal sense, could not be claimed as his until he bought the land.  So, we see him selling all that he owns just to buy that land so he can claim the treasure.

Then Jesus introduces us to a wealthy pearl merchant.  Pearls were so valued in Jesus’ day that they were actually esteemed more highly than gold.  The merchant doesn’t even blink and eye.  No hesitation!  No question about it!  No second thoughts!  The merchant sells all his other jewels to buy this one great pearl.

These two stories have something in common.  A person going and selling everything for the sake of that one valuable thing portrays the hunt for the Kingdom of Heaven.  It portrays energy, animation, activity, and gladness.

Our Bible stories are about finding something unexpected, and they are stories of joyful discovery.

For God’s kingdom is a joyful place – even the story about the fishing net which Jesus told: despite its mood of judgement, it ultimately describes how we are lifted out, pulled together, elevated into the presence of a loving God.

What are we looking for?  Where are we looking?  What is the Serendipity in our life?  The experience of the Kingdom happens when we open ourselves in a positive way to the love of Christ in the presence of Christ’s Body, which is the church.  It is an experience that is growth oriented, filled with vitality, marked by openness, stamped with promise.

We may not always see it, but with God, all things are possible.  And with God, we should come to expect the unexpected!


*Scripture reference:   Matthew 13, verses 31-33, 44-52

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