Surprised to Laughter

Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?  – Genesis 18:14

The weather this morning is unusual.  We’ve had massive amounts of rain for the past several days, and, this morning, a dense fog embraces us.  Softened leaf shapes with jewels of rainwater hanging to them and rooftops and trees rising out of golden mist lend a kind of warm, fairytale ambience to the world.  I can’t make out details unless the object is really close.  Even the sidewalk is blotted from view after about a dozen yards.

The morning sun will soon melt this fog away.  Already the world is coming into sharper focus. But I’ve been put in mind of our spiritual landscape.  We see what is up close to us more or less clearly, but it looms at us out of a fog of unknowing.  We don’t know the  connections or origins or destiny of anything.  Everything just out is enveloped in mist.  Only God sees things clearly, and God only communicates what God knows in bits and snatches.  What God has to say often seems preposterous.

In the Genesis story of the three strangers hosted by Abraham, Sarah listens in as the visitors talk with her husband, and she laughs when they tell him that she will have a son. It is a ludicrous idea, really.  Who wouldn’t laugh?  I imagine her thinking, “There go those men with their big promises, and my husband is going to be taken right in.  But I haven’t had a period in twenty years, and you know and I know that getting pregnant is going to be impossible!  What a hoot!”

My favorite line in the story is when Sarah’s very private moment as she listens in is made public, and, put on the spot, she denies laughing.  And God says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”  

Later (Genesis 21:5-8) she names her son Isaac, which means “laughter”.  “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me,” she says.  God’s astounding blessing is joyfully outrageous, and worthy of a good, wholesome laugh.

The Gospel story for today is about Jesus sending out his twelve closest disciples to proclaim the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has come near.  This is God’s message to us now as well.  “Go tell people the kingdom of heaven is near.”  That’s what we’re here for; to be God’s messengers, God’s commissioned representatives.

In this foggy realm of ours, where we can’t really see anything beyond our immediate surroundings, that message can seem as insane as being told we’ll get a child after a lifetime of being barren.  It especially seems ridiculous in this late age, 2,000 years after those apostles of Jesus set out on their mission.  Yet here is God, still commissioning us.

We’re still being asked to spread the Good News.  We’re still in the game.  We don’t even have a good sense of what the kingdom of heaven really is or what it means that it is near. Reams and reams have been written about it, but all we really have is our prayer practices and the glimmer of God’s occasional short messages.  But our hearts know.  At that level we get it.

And it’s at that level we find the laughter building in us – first the laughter of astonishment and then the laughter of joyful discovery and delight.  May we always have that laughter to keep us company in the fog.

photo by Will Swann

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