Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
February 25, 2018
“Laughing at the NRA”
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16 – Common English Bible
When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk with me and be trustworthy. 2 I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many, many descendants.” 3 Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, 4 “But me, my covenant is with you; you will be the ancestor of many nations. 5 And because I have made you the ancestor of many nations, your name will no longer be Abram but Abraham. 6 I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you.
15 God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, you will no longer call her Sarai. Her name will now be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and even give you a son from her. I will bless her so that she will become nations, and kings of peoples will come from her.”
When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him. In response, the text says he fell on his face, perhaps out of awe or humility or respect. Then God proceeded to promise him a child and many, many descendants. Oh, and by the way, from the womb of a 90-year-old woman.
For some reason, that’s where today’s lectionary reading stopped. But the far more interesting part of the story, to me, comes in the very next verse: “Abram fell on his face (again) and laughed.” No disrespect meant, I’m sure. Maybe he just chuckled or giggled, but falling on your face sounds like he hooted and hollered and rolled around on the ground. The text explains that while he laughed, he said to himself – “What?! From a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman!” But God was serious and told him to name their son Isaac.
Here’s something else to laugh at. Apparently, Abraham didn’t bother to tell this news to Sarah. Nor is there record that he told Sarai that her name was now Sarah. Wouldn’t you want to know that?! Or that she should now call her beloved Abram Abraham.
Abraham didn’t bother to tell Sarah that she was about to get pregnant. She found out because she overheard it. As the story goes, Abraham saw three strangers passing by. As would be the custom, he pleaded with them to stop and proceeded to treat like they were travelling royalty, providing water to wash their feet, commanding his servants to roast a fatted calf, and rushing into the tent with their best flour to tell Sarah, quick, make a cake for our guests. “Gee, thanks for the warning! I had nothing better to do!” They had been married for something like 70 years, so she probably wasn’t that surprised, perhaps snickering under her breath – “oh, that Abram! (oops, Abraham!)” and then got to work.
From behind the wall of the tent, she heard those three strangers tell her husband that when they passed by again in a year, Sarah would have a son. Hearing this, the text says, “she laughed.” I can imagine she was genuinely amused. “Me give birth? At my age?” Maybe just a snicker, or maybe a deep belly laugh, quickly stifled. Or maybe a little nervous laughter, thinking OMG, what if.
But I can also imagine her laugh might not have been amused but bitter. A short “ha,” or a cynical “humph.” Bitter at being barren for a lifetime. “And now I’m supposed to give birth? At my age?” She could easily have been bitter that Abraham actually already had a son with Sarah’s slave Hagar… an arrangement Sarah herself had suggested, but regretted immediately. But that’s another story.
Whatever “she laughed” means in the text, whether hiding some deeper pain, a little snicker, or an all-out guffaw, God asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?” Sarah quickly shot back, “No I didn’t.” God immediately said, “Yes, you did.” It’s a cute little exchange, until you realize Sarah wasn’t a 6-year-old playing a game of “yes you did” “no I didn’t” but was arguing with the all-knowing Almighty God, El Shaddai.
All this laughter is significant because guess what God tells them to name their baby. Do you know? Isaac means “He who laughs.” Laughter isn’t just incidental to the story but an often overlooked central theme.
Everything is so tense in our polarized world. And despite the efforts of Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers and SNL to lift our mood, so much of what is happening in our country is genuinely not funny. And yet, thank God for them, because, as you’ve heard, laughter is the best medicine, good for the soul. Do you laugh enough?
Various studies suggest how laughter makes you healthier. One study showed that laughter lowers the stiffness of your heart’s arterial walls – meaning your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. Laughter contributes to greater emotional wellbeing. Although it could be said that the reverse is the cause – emotional wellbeing leads to laughter. But, get this, laughter can cause weight loss. I had to read more about this one! But I learned it has to be deep laughter for 15 minutes, and even then, it only leads to the loss of between 2 and 10 calories. Oh well…
But laughter can also be bad for you. It has led to asthma attacks. People have dislocated their jaw from laughing, not to mention you can pull a muscle. But a study found that it also makes us more susceptible to marketers. Reportedly, consumers react more positively to companies whose commercials make them laugh.
As I watched the news this week, I began to wonder if the sounds of laughter at the NRA headquarters have changed. Normally when there’s news of another mass shooting, money rolls in. Business booms as people quickly renew their memberships and chip in a few extra dollars, just in case. After every previous mass shooting, gun sales soared to record-setting new heights. It doesn’t matter who’s just been massacred.
Guffaws and belly laughs and slapped backs abounded as executive bonuses were increased. But are they laughing now? Maybe it’s still too early, maybe I’m unrealistically hopeful, but I don’t think they’re laughing in the same way at all the high schoolers who have been mobilized. I can hear a lot of nervous laughter.
Perhaps that’s absurd. Just like there’s no way a 90-year-old woman is going to give birth. It’s laughable. But, of course, it’s really a story about the power of something that is absurd, and how nothing is impossible for God.
And sure, it’s absurd that a bunch of high schoolers are going to bring down the NRA. But should we have so little faith? It’s the NRA which sells a story of its own invincibility. These kids are exposing that fantasy and shaming those willing to take their blood money. If it weren’t possible, FOX News and the conspiracy theorists wouldn’t be working so hard to prove that these kids are fake. Kids who can’t buy beer or rent a car but are mature enough to own an AR15 or an AK47, or heck, why not a grenade launcher. No, they’re really just left-wing plants, crisis-actors who travel to sites of tragedy. It reveals their desperation. And all the rest of their crazy, ridiculous, disgusting, tactics.
Their insecurity has been revealed. On Friday the news began including stories of banks and companies severing ties, one after another. Sure, Wayne LaPierre may still be laughing, thinking they can outlast this one too, but more people than ever are laughing at the NRA.
The Prophet Isaiah wasn’t laughing when he said:
“The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.”
Somehow, Isaiah didn’t mean that as a joke, as absurd as it would seem. Just like Sarah, it is meant to say that for God, the absurd is not impossible. So, we can laugh, because change is in the air. Like Sarah, we shouldn’t mistake the improbable for the impossible. The invincible for the simply insecure Wizard.
Of course, while Abraham and Sarah did give birth to a son whose name means laughter, they did not live long enough to see the sands on the beach and the stars in the sky expand into the promised multitudes. It was a long game. Even so, they trusted God it would happen. They lived with confidence and conviction, not cynicism. And so should we.
I could get pretty cynical about bringing down the NRA, or we could laugh at them and trust the children to accomplish what others have not yet done. We could also trust responsible gun owners to shame the NRA – hunters, sportsmen and women, and those truly protecting their families in isolated, rural areas. Shouldn’t they be ashamed more than anyone at the lack of common decency at NRA headquarters?
So, I wondered, besides putting our faith in high schoolers, remaining diligent in our prayers, putting pressure on more companies, engaging in dialogue with responsible gun owners; besides attending rallies and calling our legislators, participating in Colorado Faith Communities United Against Gun Violence, and sending flowers to Eileen to say thank you, what else can we be doing?
Do you own a gun manufacturer? Or rather, does your mutual fund or pension fund or whatever investments you have own a gun manufacturer? It’s not unlikely. Teachers in Florida were shocked and appalled to learn that their pension fund owns stock in the very company that killed their students and teachers. Or do you own a company that lobbies for mass incarceration? Private prison corporations depend on maintaining the pre-school to prison pipeline to increase investor profits. If you care about the environment, do you own a coal company?
The United Church of Christ has long championed the tools of corporate social responsibility, including using exclusionary screens so that the church’s money is not supporting companies that harm people and the earth. Divestment strategies in South Africa, including by religious groups, played an important role in bringing down apartheid. What’s something we can do? We can make sure our investments screen out gun manufacturers, or at least those whose profits come from semi-automatics, not hunting rifles.
We could laugh about how small our investments may be, but look what God can do. Abraham fell on his face and laughed. Sarah listened from behind the tent and laughed. Their son’s name is laughter. But the absurd is not impossible. What was it Margaret Mead said? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
And then, who gets the last laugh?
 Genesis 18: 1-18
 Genesis 16 and 21
 Genesis 18: 15
 Isaiah 11:6
 One of our church members who started Colorado Ceasefire
 I’m not personally against gun ownership. I grew up in a family that hunts. I grew up in a rural are that could not count on police arriving to protect us. But no one needs military style weapons to do any of that. There should be background checks on every sale – no loopholes.