Tag Archives: laughter

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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A visiting preacher whom the congregation of St. Agnes-by-the-Gasworks Kirk had not met before was due to arrive by train on the evening before the Sunday service

A small deputation arrived at the railway station in good time and patiently waited for the train to come in.  After an hour and a half’s delay, in it rolled.

As the passengers disembarked, the reception committee looked and better looked for a man in a clerical collar.

By now there was only a handful of passengers left walking along the platform, but none of them wearing a dog collar

Then, at last they thought they had spotted him.  A serious looking man dressed in dark clothes.

One of the group went up to the barrier just as he was coming through.

         ‘Excuse me’ he asked, ‘Are you a minister?’

To which the man replied:

 ‘No, I’m only suffering from haemorrhoids!’

How sad it is that Christianity is regarded as some kind of painful, joyless existence.

There is an Apocryphal Letter attributed to one Lentulus ……..

In it, he is purported to have written about Jesus:  “He was never known to laugh, but often to weep”

I don’t think so – especially going by some of his sayings which must have been uttered with a twinkle in his eye

How tragic that his followers are so often rarely associated with laughter and light and life – abundant, happy, fulfilling life.

Doing my rounds as a healthcare chaplains some years ago, when the wards in the Infirmary were being decorated for Christmas, a particular patient said to me that it was all a waste of time.  She complained about the cost of Christmas, all the presents she had to buy for grandchildren, and the effort for very little return.  Further, when she got home, she was more or less going to ignore the whole thing.

I looked above her bed to read her name, half expecting it to be ‘Mrs Scrooge’

We all remember the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge?  What an old misery he was.  A dry, withered, joyless man who responded to his nephew’s wish that he had a Happy Christmas, the best of times in the young man’s opinion, with the immortal words: ‘Bah!  Humbug’

But it is the best of times.  A time to celebrate God’s greatest gift to humankind, Jesus Christ, his Son.

A time to celebrate and a time to rejoice: for God himself  entered our human situation in the person of Jesus.  God incarnate, God in the flesh.

Let us remind ourselves again of St Paul’s words:

  ‘May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord.  I say it again: rejoice!’

the text of the “Letter of Lentulus“:    Lentulus, the Governor of the Jerusalemites to the Roman Senate and People, greetings. There has appeared in our times, and there still lives, a man of great power (virtue), called Jesus Christ. The people call him prophet of truth; his disciples, son of God. He raises the dead, and heals infirmities. He is a man of medium size (statura procerus, mediocris et spectabilis); he has a venerable aspect, and his beholders can both fear and love him. His hair is of the colour of the ripe hazel-nut, straight down to the ears, but below the ears wavy and curled, with a bluish and bright reflection, flowing over his shoulders. It is parted in two on the top of the head, after the pattern of the Nazarenes. His brow is smooth and very cheerful with a face without wrinkle or spot, embellished by a slightly reddish complexion. His nose and mouth are faultless. His beard is abundant, of the colour of his hair, not long, but divided at the chin. His aspect is simple and mature, his eyes are changeable and bright. He is terrible in his reprimands, sweet and amiable in his admonitions, cheerful without loss of gravity. He was never known to laugh, but often to weep. His stature is straight, his hands and arms beautiful to behold. His conversation is grave, infrequent, and modest. He is the most beautiful among the children of men


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Sadly, I find him totally unamusing, smug, and maudlin

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The Meenister’s Log

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 belly laughs and puns? Satire and irony? What about giggles and smiles? 

Or were those very human behaviours part of the legacy of that fruit-peddling serpent in the Garden? 

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

As early as the 11th century, the influential church leader John of Chrysostom insisted Jesus never laughed.

Through the centuries, artists overwhelmingly have followed the saint’s argument. How many paintings have you seen where the Son of God grins from ear to ear? 

Can those who would be Christlike laugh and sin not? 

The Second Council of Constance in 1418 had a definite opinion: literally “Hell, no!” 

That medieval Christian council assigned to hell any minister or monk who spoke “jocular words such as provoke laughter.”

Well, actually, the council said, “Let him be anathema,” which is a firmly non-jocular way of saying the same thing. 

 Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (of all people!) was one who claimed he could not live without humour.

On one occasion, he wrote of a dream he had when he was young: 

“Something marvelous has happened to me. I was caught up into the seventh heaven. There sat all the gods in assembly. As a special grace, there was accorded to me the privilege of making a wish. “Wilt thou,” said Mercury, “wilt thou have youth, or beauty, or power, or long life, or the most beautiful maiden, or any other glorious thing among the many we have here in the treasure chest? Then choose but one thing.

“For an instant, I was irresolute, then I addressed the gods as follows: “Highly esteemed contemporaries, I choose one thing, that I may always have the laugh on my side.” There was not a god that answered a word, but they all burst out laughing. Thereupon, I concluded that my wish was granted, and I found that the gods knew how to express themselves with good taste.”

And didn’t St.Paul write that we should be Fools for Christ”  (Corinthians 1:18-27)

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

All along people thought that Christians were a little bit strange. They believed odd things. They lived their lives in a different way. They didn’t worry about tomorrow. They didn’t worry about where money was going to come from. They shared all their things in common.

Those who were not believers said, “you’re crazy.”

But when Paul arrives he says, “Don’t worry about it. Be fools for Christ because the foolishness of God is much greater than the wisdom of humans.”

Lighten up,  people of the faith; let’s recapture the spirit of the “Hilares”, through the power of the Spirit.

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