One time comedian, Alan King, took actress Judy Garland to dinner in New York City. They went to Chinatown, and as soon as they arrived, King ordered the first course—stir-fried chicken, lobster, and Chinese vegetables. When it came to the table, it had a large, black, round thing on top that Garland had never seen before, so she asked, “What is that”?
King’s reply was quick and confident, “Oh, that’s a very rare and exotic Chinese mushroom. It’s such a delicacy that they only use one per serving.” And as he finished his explanation, the exotic mushroom began to move. Suddenly, it crawled off the plate, across the table, and up the wall causing Garland to scream. Tears began to roll down her cheeks. Her mouth opened, but no sound emerged. Sensing that she had lost control, King reached over and slapped her on the cheek saying, “Judy, snap out of it!” Instantly, Garland wheeled around and slapped him across the face saying, “What are you doing you idiot? I’m not hysterical, I’m just laughing.”
Cathy Guisewite is not a household name, but her cartoon series is. “Cathy” is one of the longest running cartoon strips in the country. A few years ago Cathy was asked, “Where did you get your sense of humor?” Her reply was immediate, “Well, to tell you the truth, when I was a little girl my parents and I were expecting company for dinner. My mother was hyper and so was I. When the company arrived and we sat down for dinner, I accidentally knocked over my glass of milk and it ran down to the floor. I sat there on the verge of tears until I happened to glance over at my dad who was holding the milk pitcher upside down. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was a grown man who was dumping all the milk on the floor. When my stunned mother finally composed herself she asked, “Bill, what are you doing?” My Dad replied, “Oh, what the heck. It looked like fun.” Cathy says, “From that moment on, I knew the power of laughter.”
Scientists who study these things have discovered that laughter has a profound and instantaneous effect on virtually every organ of the body. According to scientists, laughter reduces tension and relaxes body tissue as well as exercise. It’s said that laughter, even when forced, results in beneficial effects on us mentally and physically.
In Genesis 18 we have the first mention of laughter in the Bible. And interestingly, the first person in the Bible to laugh is one who has just had his name changed from “Exalted Father” to “The Father of Nations.” In the space of a moment, God joins His name to Abram’s name. In English it’s the addition of two letters, “H” and “A”; but in Hebrew it’s only one letter, pronounced, “Hay.” Linguists call it a voiceless, glottal fricative. It’s the letter formed by breathing out. It’s the same letter that is used to form the Hebrew word for the Spirit of God—rauch. It’s the same breath God uses to form the heavens and the earth. It’s the same breath or wind that hovers over the face of the deep. It’s the same breath the risen Christ expels on His disciples in John 20 saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” So think of it. When God changes Abram’s name in the early verses of chapter 17, it’s to prepare him to laugh in verse 17. It’s to prepare him to understand that often the only appropriate response to the grace of God is laughter.
But as you know, all laughter is not the same. There are laughs of contempt and doubt and there are laughs of joy and abandonment. Laughter can be derisive or delightful. It is the attitude of the heart that determines its essence.
In commenting on Genesis 17:17 someone writes, “Abraham’s mind was in a whirlwind. He was believing, doubting, hoping, fearing, laughing all at once. His laughter was not the laughter of scorn, or was it comic relief?... The context shows that it was laughter of astonishment which sometimes bursts from us involuntarily…”
Now whether that is a true commentary on the nature of Abraham’s laughter is open to debate. Even with the context it’s difficult to determine. What isn’t so difficult to determine is the laughter we find in chapter 18. This time it’s not Abraham who laughs, but Sarah, his wife. In fact, she’s called out for her laugh. In verse 13 the Lord says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’” And it is immediately in the face of her laugh that the Lord asks the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
This Sunday is Easter! Last year we were apart for Easter due to COVID-19. BUT this year we’re back together for WORSHIP with a message entitled, “HA HA HA!” Is anything too hard for the Lord? Genesis 18 and John 20 answer that question with a resounding “NO!”
In preparation for “HA HA HA” you may wish to consider the following:
1. Who are these three men who are standing near the door of Abraham’s tent?
2. Why does Abraham run to them and bow himself to the ground?
3. What does Abraham mean when he calls them “O Lord” in verse 3?
4. Why does he want them to stay and eat?
5. Why does Abraham do way more than he says he’ll do in verse 5?
6. Why does Abraham stand by while they eat?
7. Why do they have an interest in Sarah and her whereabouts?
8. Why does she laugh?
9. Why does she deny laughing?
10. What’s the essence of the Lord’s question in verse 14?
See you Sunday!