Today we’re talking about fun. Fun helps us thrive, and is a symptom of thriving. Some of you are a little worried about what I might do or say in my sermon today. Some of you are sure it’s going to be all puns. It won’t be ALL puns.
But did you know that God’s first name is Andy? That’s why we sing that song, “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me…”
I do like to tell jokes, and I like to have fun. Who in here does not like to have fun? Our session has been pondering ways to complete this sentence:
This is a place where….
How would you finish that statement? One I’m proposing today is this: This is a place where people are having fun.
Many people think you can’t have fun in church. But you can. And we do! Why does having fun matter?
#1 Because fun is fun. Fun means enjoyment! One definition says that “Fun is an experience that is often unexpected, informal, and/or purposeless,”…which is why some of us have trouble having fun.
Fun matters…#2 Because the Bible encourages us to have fun.
The word fun is not in the Bible, except in the Message version, but the word joy appears hundreds of times. The Bible is a joyful book. Christianity is an exuberant and happy faith.
1 Thess 5:16 commands us to “Rejoice always!”
Psalm 100 encourages us to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord!”
Psalm 150 is a recipe for some raucous joy! This psalm lists all the instruments known to the ancients . . . In other words, no musical instrument was too loud, too clanging, too clashing, or too “vulgar” to praise the amazing God of Israel.
Fun matters . . .#3 Because fun is good for us. We’ve probably all heard the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine.” Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”
Science proves it. Laughter releases endorphins and relieves stress. Studies show that without fun in our lives, we are more likely to be unhealthy, and are less successful in our jobs and at school, and are more likely to commit criminal acts.
Back in the 1960’s Charles Whitman, a seemingly normal 25-year-old engineering student at the University of Texas in Austin, went to the top of a tower that overlooked the campus and started shooting. Over the next three hours he killed 17 people and wounded 41 others. It was later discovered that just before going to the tower, he had also killed his wife and his mother. The governor of Texas at the time commissioned a team of experts to look into the reasons Whitman would have done this. Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist at the Baylor College of Medicine, was on that commission. One of their striking discoveries was that Whitman as a child was not allowed to play with other kids. His tyrannical father had systematically suppressed the child’s natural playfulness. When we play, we learn to deal with the unexpected, which prepares us to deal with stress. Whitman didn’t have that.
This finding prompted Brown to devote his life to studying the benefits of play. He founded The National Institute for Play, and has spent years cataloging data about the impact of play on people’s lives. He’s consistently found a high correlation between play and success, and higher tendency toward violence where play has been absent.
Play is good for us, it’s fun, and the Bible encourages it. It’s also good for our world…
#4 Because fun is contagious.
When we’re having fun, it helps other people have fun. Laughter spreads, just like yawns.
Fun matters . . .
#5 Because encountering God, following Jesus and being inspired by the Holy Spirit is fun if we let it be.
I’ve been asking people all week about this. I even posted the question on Facebook. What’s the most fun you’ve had in church or at a church-related activity? It’s been a lot of fun hearing the answers. They’re quite different. What about you? What’s your answer?
One answer surprised me a little. The person said the most fun they’d had was at a retreat having communion after they’d just learned more about the deeper meaning of the sacrament. Encountering God in a deeper way is an amazing way to have fun. It’s the kind of fun I most want us to be having together as a church. And the more we let the Holy Spirit work among us, the more we will have that kind of fun, because I know God longs to bless us.
Isaiah 30:18 “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”
That’s what’s happening in Nehemiah. In many Bibles, this section we from read today is titled, “the revival of worship.” After centuries of disobeying God, Israel is conquered by their enemies and carried off to Babylon. Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed, and the people live in the Babylonian exile for 70 years. Now they have been allowed to return, and they have come back in stages. First one group, then several years later another. They have worked on rebuilding the temple, and rebuilding the city. Now they are gathered to hear the words of scripture read to them by the priests. They also heard the word interpreted.
This worship service was a bit longer than ours. Six hours! Which reminds me of one of the worst problems with ancient orators – they tended to Babylon. (Get it? Babble on. They just came back from Babylon.)
This is the first time many of them have heard these words. They are sad to discover how far off track they’ve gotten with God. They are ashamed. But God is giving them a fresh start, a chance to change their ways and be God’s people again – repentance, reform, revival. So the priests tell them, “Don’t be sad over what’s happened in the past. Instead give thanks to God for this new start. Rejoice! Eat the fat and drink the wine, and share with everyone! In other words, enjoy God and enjoy this new life. And so they do.
We, too, are given a fresh start with God every time we realize our sin, and return to God. Jesus has paid the penalty for our sin, and God freely gives us grace and forgiveness. Sometimes, though, we look as if he hasn’t. We punish ourselves. But Jesus already took our punishment. We are to enjoy grace and enjoy God! We need fun in our lives. God made us to enjoy life.
What are some ways we can choose fun over drudgery?
Take time to laugh, and especially to laugh at ourselves.
This is the advice given by two spiritual giants, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in their book, “The Book of Joy.” They are both men who smile and laugh a lot, even though they have both had great struggles in their lives.
Archbishop Tutu is from South Africa where he experienced the horrors of apartheid. The Dalai Lama had to flee from his country as a teenager because the Chinese invaded, and has lived in exile every since. And yet they smile and laugh, and say that humor has helped them in so many difficult situations.
The Archbishop visited Rwanda shortly after the genocide there, and was asked to give a talk to the two sides, the Hutus and the Tutsis. He wondered how to talk about such a fresh wound. His solution was to speak truth to power through humor. He told a story about the big-nose people and the small-nose people and how the big-nose people were excluding the small-nose people. The people in the audience were laughing, and suddenly realized that he was talking about the ridiculousness of prejudice and hatred. He got them laughing at themselves.
Share the joy – joy is multiplied when it’s shared and…People are drawn to joy.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie “Elf” is when his new friend Jovie remembers that Buddy had told her that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. They need more Christmas cheer because that’s what powers Santa’s sleigh. So she starts singing. And then someone else starts singing with her. And soon the whole crowd is singing, and the Christmas cheer meter in Santa’s sleigh starts rising higher and higher until it’s fully powered up.
It works even when it’s not Christmas. The dwarves in Snow White taught us to whistle while we work. Mary Poppinsencourages the children to sing while they do their chores.
The Spirit works among us as we sing together, and especially as we sing with all our hearts. Zeph 3:17 says that God rejoices over us with singing. The word used for singing there is also often translated as joy. (Rinna means both joy and singing.) Joy and singing go together.
Look for joy in small things by being thankful.
My daughter told me this week that she found joy in an expected place when she discovered that the restaurant at which she was having lunch had bendy straws. It’s a small thing, but it brought her joy. It’s often finding joy in unexpected ways that prompts us to laugh.
I’ve talked before about the connection between thankfulness and joy. Joy is embedded in thankfulness. The Greek word for being thankful is eucharisteo. The word for joy is chara. Eucharisteo has joy right there in the middle. Eucharisteo. I’m sure that’s why Paul puts them all together in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who are in Christ Jesus.”
So let’s look for the fun – bendy straws, flamingos, balloons, beach balls, puns. God wants us to enjoy life and to enjoy Him! In fact, the Westminster Catechism spells it out quite nicely. Our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!
Encountering God IS fun, in all the ways we’ve mentioned and more. As we trust God and follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit works in us. When the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts, we have the most amazing kind of joy – joy that is encouraging, and strengthening, and contagious. That’s what the priests were encouraging the people to know in our story from Nehemiah – that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh 8:10). The joy of the Lord is our life. The joy of the Lord makes us thrive.
This is a place where people have fun because this is a place where people are finding Jesus, receiving grace, and experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in new ways.
I’m excited and thankful for all the ways we have yet to discover to have fun and enjoy God together!
 From a Family Circus cartoon
 Nixon, Paul. I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church! (Kindle Locations 643-648). Pilgrim Press/United Church Press. Kindle Edition.
 Kelly J. Murphy, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2826
 His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams – The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (New York, Avery: 2016), 218.