You don’t want this one to go over your head!
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Holy Humor Sunday, April 27, 2014.
Reading: John 20:19-31
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
I like simple jokes.
How do you make a tissue dance?
You put a little boogie in it.
Why did the police officer smell bad?
He was on duty.
Did all the animals on the ark come in pairs?
No, the worms came in apples.
What animal could Noah not trust?
What did the 0 say to the 8?
Why were the horses aboard the ark pessimistic?
They were always saying neigh.
What do you call a sleep walking nun?
A roamin’ Catholic.
How do you make holy water?
You boil the hell out of it.
What does the man in the moon do when his hair gets too long?
Have you heard the one about the ground?
Never mind, it’s beneath you.
Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl in the bathroom?
Because it has a silent pee.
Have you heard the one about the really high wall?
I shouldn’t tell you you’d never get over it.
What do you call an alligator in a vest?
Did you hear about the race between the lettuce and the tomato?
The lettuce was a “head” and the tomato was trying to “ketchup”!
Why did the picture go to jail?
Because it was framed.
What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary?
What is the best day to go to the beach?
Sunday, of course!
I really like simple jokes. You don’t have to think too hard about them. The punch lines are easy. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how some people miss the simplest and most basic of jokes.
It’s like every time I tell a cheese joke.
I mean, it goes whey over their heads.
My grandfather was a jokester. He loved making small trinkets to be used as props in practical jokes. He would make brown-Es and black-Is, three-piece chicken dinners, fat free nuts, penny pinchers, quarter pounders, and stool samples. I gave the last of his stool samples out the last time I preached at the nursing home. I gave one to each of the residents to give to their nurse. These were just a few of the trinkets that you’d find piled in a gallon bucket in the back of his van. He never knew when he’d run into someone that would need a good laugh. True story: my grandfather’s stool samples were so popular that a Cracker Barrel in Fort Myers, Florida, where he and my grandmother often ate, tried to buy 10,000 from him! He told the manager he couldn’t push that many out.
One day he was waiting for a table at Cracker Barrel when he pulled out one of his three-piece chicken dinners. He handed it to the guy next to him and said, “I know the wait’s long, maybe this will hold you over.” The guy opened it up, saw the three corn kernels inside, and said, “I don’t get it.” He went on to explain that he didn’t understand the context. He had never seen—except on television or in a zoo—a live chicken. He’d never fed a chicken. He didn’t know that many farmers feed, or at least used to feed, their flock cracked corn. The joke was lost on him. He couldn’t get the simplest of jokes, because he lacked the context to understand it.
In our Scripture lesson for today. Thomas lacked the context necessary to understand the greatest joke ever told.
He hadn’t been with the other disciples on that first Easter morning. The other 11 disciples were huddled together behind closed doors, fearful of the religious leaders. Fearing that they’d opened the tomb and desecrated Jesus’ body, they were afraid what might happen to them if they were identified as followers of Jesus. The Gospel writer doesn’t tell us where Thomas is: all we know is that he isn’t cowering in fear with the other disciples.
History, and preachers for that matter, has often been unkind to Thomas. You have no doubt, heard the story of “doubting Thomas.” I’m not quite certain this is a fair reading. I think Thomas—like the man who opened up the three-piece chicken dinner and said, “I don’t get it”—lacked the context to understand the joke.
It was simply inconceivable that that huge stone could have been rolled away without someone watching. Who knows, maybe Thomas had camped out all night within sight of the tomb. Perhaps, he had gotten up with the sun and seeing the tomb still sealed walked home before the earth shook?
Thomas thought it inconceivable that Jesus’ lifeless body could be raised from the dead. Sure, he had seen Jesus do miraculous things. He’d seen Jesus heal a blind man and cast out demons. He’d been there the day that Jesus shouted into the tomb and Lazarus—who had been dead for four days—walked out. But, he’d never seen Jesus do anything for himself. All of Jesus’ miracles were for other people. Thomas had never seen Jesus perform a miracle on or for himself, so it was simply inconceivable that Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, would raise himself up.
Thomas didn’t doubt. He was simply ignorant—in the truest sense of the word. Thomas lacked the knowledge necessary to understand and believe that what the other 11 disciples had experienced was true. So, he boldly proclaims, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe” (John 20:25b, Common English Bible).
It was eight days later when Jesus finally shows back up. The disciples were still being cautious. They’d ventured out a few times for the necessities—food, water, and toilet paper—but, they were still trying to be discreet. The door was locked. Jesus came right in, kicked off his sandals, and before he could flop down on his usual spot on the sofa, he approached Thomas. The risen Christ looked straight into Thomas’ eyes and said, “Peace be with you. Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe” (John 20:27, Common English Bible)!
Thomas fell to the floor at Jesus feet weeping tears of joy, saying, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28, Common English Bible). It is the clearest statement of belief spoken in the entire Gospel. Thomas, having been given the appropriate context, understands what is going on and expresses the deepest faith of anyone in the entire Gospel. Thomas didn’t doubt. The joke had gone over his head. He lacked context. And the Gospel writer is concerned that we, like Thomas, might be missing the joke. For, the author writes,
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
There are a lot of people in this world who are going about life missing the greatest joke the world has ever known because they, like Thomas, lack the context to understand the joke. They’ve never sensed the presence of the living Christ.
Friends, we can’t let this one go over our heads. Christ is risen. And, he promised to be with us always (see Matthew 28:20). The life of Christ continues through us. Christ is alive and he lives in us when we take what Jesus taught and put it into practice.
Christ lives when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and provide shelter for the homeless. Christ lives when we find the courage to turn the other cheek, forgive others, and to love our enemies. Christ lives when we set our own self-interests aside for the sake of another. Christ lives when we live in unity. Christ lives when we carry on the message and the mission Jesus started. Christ lives when we love the world God so loved and work to reconcile it with itself and with God till all is at peace.
Christ is alive! Christ lives! It’s the greatest joke ever played. You can’t let this one go over your head. Because, there are a lot of Thomas -es in this world—perhaps, you’re one of them. There are a lot of people who simply lack the context to understand that Christ is alive. They’ve never experienced the living Christ, not even in church. And, they’re desperate to laugh. They’re desperate to experience the joy of Christ’s presence. They’re desperate for Christ to live through us. They need Christ to live through us so that their hearts might be opened to God…so that they, like Thomas, might find and proclaim faith for themselves.
Too often we live as if we don’t know the greatest story ever told. Too often we live as if the joke you played on evil has gone right over our heads. Help us, O God, to live so that others might know that you live. Help us, O God, to live like you so that your presence might be experienced by all so that they—so that we—might find a reason to believe.
O God, there is great brokenness in this world that only you can heal. Offer us your strength and courage that we might boldly proclaim life in the face of death, joy in spite of sorrow, and unity when there is discord. We pray all of this in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord—who went to the grave and back laughing in the face of death and Evil. Amen.
 To read more about this, check out Steve Pankey’s blog post, “Doubting Thomas Didn’t Doubt” from the CCBlog’s Network <http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2013-04/doubting-thomas-didnt-doubt> Accessed April 27, 2014.
 John 20:30-31, Common English Bible.