Synchronized Swimming in the Pulpit

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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The late Bruce McIver once told of an elementary school girl who followed her baptism with a spontaneous swim the length of the glass baptismal as his church exploded with laughter. The little girl turned out to be a member of her school’s synchronized swimming team.

One of McIver’s many gifts was his ability to use humor to illustrate important Biblical truths. His churches often rocked with laughter and the sheer joy of Christian life.

To be sure, the Bible is not a lot of things. It is not a science or biology text, for instance. But Greek scholars tell us it is riddled with puns, and there ARE funny scenes: short Zacchaeus swaying precariously in a tree, and the surrealistic dialogue with Balaam's smart-mouthed donkey.

But that humor receives little mention does not mean men and women of the Bible didn't laugh. Oh, they laughed long and hard. They were folks like us.

Jesus laughed. It doesn’t take much to imagine him matching wits and cutting up with his rowdy gang of fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots. If Jesus is fully human and fully divine, then He laughed uproariously with the best of them.

For the last thousand years, sadly, the Church's attitude toward humor has been typified by this quote from Robert Barclay in his 1676 "Apology for the True Christian Identity":

It is not lawful to use games, sports, plays, nor among other things comedies among Christians, under the notion of recreations, which do not agree with Christian silence, gravity, and sobriety; for laughing, sporting, gaming, mocking, jesting, vain talking, etc. is not Christian liberty, nor harmless mirth.

Many pastors today do feel free to sometimes make humorous observations from the pulpit—for which we're all so grateful that we usually laugh louder than the story deserves. Otherwise, Sunday morning from 11 o’clock to noon is the American week’s hour of dour.

What a shame. The churches of America should include good, strong, unfettered laughter, genuine laughter—the joyful sound that comes from knowing you're in the company of people who love you, and that your future is in good hands.

Perhaps it is time to reclaim the church for humor.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 reads, "A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."

“A time to laugh.”

For Bruce McIver, that time was often during Sunday morning worship. But as a Christian, he discovered humor and joy in the smallest details of day-to-day living.

Perhaps it is time more of us found those qualities there as well.