Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, January 22, 2017
Scripture Reference: Isaiah 9:1-4
Sermon: Spiritual Affective Disorder: Lighten Up
On that note, I better get going because there is probably someone timing me. I have to say it feels a bit like a reversal of roles today in being the one who is haring cartoons or dispersing jokes. It’s pretty common to hear a joke from Lavern or to be handed a cartoon from Lois. It’s wonderful to have people like this in our community, in our lives for that matter, because it is a gift to be able to start off the day with a smile. In fact, in 1984 Science revealed that when we smile, even fake smile, our brains begin to believe it. They then release endorphins so that we really do become happy. Much like music, which we reflected on last week, smiling and laughter has the power to improve our health. When we laugh, all the stress and tension in our body is released, leaving our muscles relaxed for as long as 45 minutes. In addition to muscles relaxing and endorphins being released, laughter increases the production of immune cells and increases the flow of our blood. Not only does laughing give us this moment of feeling good, but it is good for our physical health. It really is true that laughter is some of the best medicine.
That is one of the many powerful messages conveyed in the movie Patch Adams. It is the story of a medical student who understands the value of laughter for the body and its healing. Patch is able to find different ways to bring laughter into the hospital. Here is just one example when he stops in to see the children. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byPJ22JDFjI] What a difference those few minutes make for those children. We can’t see what is happening in their bodies, but there is no question that their spirits are lifted, that for that moment their experience of the hospital has changed. Patch has brought joy and fun into that room where they are kept isolated and closed off and left alone to think about nothing but the fact that they are sick. For that brief moment, though, Patch lets them be children again as they laugh and play. Only Patch doesn’t do this just for the children, but throughout the hospital. Patch shows that laughter isn’t just good for us physically, but also emotionally and mentally. The trouble is Patch keeps getting into trouble with his superiors because they don’t think he is taking things seriously. Patch, however, argues that as doctors they take themselves too seriously, not engaging their patients as human beings.
The truth is, whether we are doctors or not, we take ourselves and moments in life too seriously. We are focused on business, on getting things done rather than being attentive to people around us. We put great importance on an event, wanting things to go perfectly, rather than seeing other perspectives and possibilities when things go wrong. We become concerned about how others see us, wanting to make a good impression rather than having anyone see our flaws.
I know I am guilty of such. That is why clowning has been such a gift for me. It’s taught me to laugh at myself, to see the humor in things. There are different kinds of clowns, and as a white-faced clown I am “the boss,” telling other clowns what to do, trying to bring order to things. I mean business, but there are always things that go “wrong” – flowers spraying water in my face, tripping, other clowns acting out. It may be exaggerated in clowning, but it has taught me to “lighten up” and not take things, or for that matter, myself, as seriously.
That lesson served me well this week as I spent 2 days in meetings with the Bishop. I mean, that is serious business – dressing your best, listening carefully, staying focused, knowing what to say. Not to mention the subject matter itself, which were some tensions over decisions the Board of Ordained Ministry had made. It was frustrating, though, because I kept hearing someone’s cell phone vibrating – “er-er-er.” It would stop for a bit, but then would go again. It was two hours into this meeting before I realized it was my darn chair as I was twisting it back and forth ever so slightly. But I have to tell you that moment of “enlightenment” not only brought some release of tension in my body as I quietly laughed at myself, but it also reminded me to relax and not take things so seriously.
We all need those reminders from time to time, especially in the church. Many don’t think religion is any fun, that we are a bunch of party poopers. And indeed there is some truth to that as we try to be mindful of how we represent Jesus to the world, and as we try to follow all the guidance we find in the Bible. It is serious work trying to know what God would say or have us do in various situations. It is serious business being concerned about the poor and hungry, about war and people being oppressed, being charged as Jesus’ hands and feet. Only as great as the task may be, we are still only human, full of flaws and sometimes we need to be reminded of that. In fact, early in church history mimes and jesters played an important role in the church. They would regularly poke fun at church leaders about inconsistencies or hypocrisies they saw. In the face of these follies church leaders were reminded they weren’t God, mistakes would be made. There would be shortcomings, and we all need that reminder, still today. Sometimes our greatest frustrations, our stress and tension, our depression over the state of the world comes because we expect too much of ourselves; our demands are high. We look to ourselves for all the answers, and we forget to turn to God for help.
Today’s reading is a reminder, not only that God is our help, but that God is the source of joy in our lives. Notice in verse 1 Isaiah still speaks of the distress, the oppression of God’s people, but even in the face of such darkness there is reason for joy and laughter. There is the assurance of God putting an end to their burdens.
In our daily lives there is always something that can be a burden on our hearts, trouble to our spirits. Sometimes I tis our own personal struggles with depression, financial struggles, family tensions, grief, feeling insecure, to name a few. Sometimes it is seeing others struggle, hearing stories of those at the homeless shelter, seeing the images of Syrian families that leave us distraught. Indeed there is much to cause us to feel like darkness is descending and overtaking us, but Isaiah assures us that “the people who have walked through darkness have seen a great light.” Indeed we have seen that light – Christ. Christ made fools of powers that be and evil, because even when they thought they won, even when they believed Christ was dead, he rose triumphant. This is good news. This alone is reason to laugh and celebrate each and every day, for if we truly believe God will have the last word then we don’t have to carry all the burdens we have. There is always hope that leads us to look for signs of joy and life.
God frees us from worries and burdens through laughter. Sometimes it comes by laughing at ourselves, like my text message this week. Apparently I have an accent that affect my “ng” at the end of a word. When I left youth ministry the youth gave me a can of green beans because every time I said “human being” they heard “human bean.” Well the same thing happened this week as I was speaking into my phone to send a text asking sometime to bring something to the meeting, but the phone typed “brain.” My friend replied, “I am not sure the name is in my brain but I will look for it.” I tried to correct it later, but every time I said “bring” I got “brain.” Sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes movies like Patch Adams or Life is Beautiful can teach us how to laugh in the face of sickness or war, but sometimes it may be we just need a good comedy. Sometimes comedians can help us laugh and lighten up around current affairs. There are so many reasons for us to laugh, but the greatest of these is God and what he has done for us through Jesus Christ.