Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 14th of Sixth Month, 2020 Speaker: Katie Breslin
Scripture: Genesis 18:1-15
Good morning Friends,
We are living in a different world since I preached for you last, West Richmond Friends. For those of you that don’t know, my first preaching appearance happened at West Richmond on the last Sunday we were able to be in person, on March 15, 2020.
In the last few months, I have experienced every human emotion possible. Fear, love, grief, hope, anger, joy, hurt, loss. I have cried -- a lot, and there are moments when I laughed out loud, not because something was funny, but because everything felt so absurd. The phrase “really?” has become popular in my vocabulary as a response to the newest series of tragic events. (And it usually is followed by a bunch of words that would be inappropriate to share in this sermon) When the movie about 2020 comes out in theaters, depending on the ending, I might have to skip that one.
That’s why when I read this passage, the first thing I noticed was how familiar Sarah’s laugh felt. What I hear in Sarah’s laugh and in her words is a woman who is truly over it. Throughout the text, Sarah has been waiting to be given the opportunity to bring a child into this world. The way laughter is used here, according to a few commentaries I’ve read, is similar to how it is used in Eccl. 7:6, which is “the creasing of thorns under a pot”. It is a cold laugh, it’s a “Really?” laugh.
But also, in Sarah’s words, I find a bit of hope. The question she asks God “Shall I have pleasure” to me is a question of belief. Is it really possible to give birth at my age?
One of my coping mechanisms for times of uncertainty is making playlists. I’m always on the search for new music, but there is something about re-listening to familiar songs that makes me feel so connected to a different time and place.
Sarah’s laugh reminds me of a song by pop folk singer Regina Spektor called Laughing With. I would highly recommend finding the song after this sermon. It has beautiful piano, strings and vocals. The song starts with the lyrics, “No one laughs at God in a hospital, No one laughs at God in a war, No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor,” and continues to list other tragic events that occur in our lives where it feels that God has betrayed us or when we are asking for God’s presents.
Then the chores starts, and Regina sings, “But God can be funny, At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or when the crazies say they hates us and get so red in the face that they looks like they’re about to choke,” and goes on to list all the ways humans engage with God, often times to harm others. And at the end of the chore, Regina lets out a cold laugh. Ha HA! It’s how I would envision Sarah’s laugh. The song goes back and forth between the “no one is laughing at God” lines and the “God can be funny ones” and finally, the ending: “No one’s laughing at God, we’re all laughing with God.”
What does it mean to laugh with God? We as humans often call on God when we are faced with tragic situations and pray to God to help get us through them. But to me, to laugh with God is to see the world through God’s eyes. It is a laugh at a vision of the impossible.
To me, Sarah is laughing with God. This is a joke they have together. And that’s why God calls her out on it. When God asks if Sarah laughed, at first she denied it. She was afraid. It is scary to see a vision of the world when you are in the shadows. Earlier in the text, God told Abraham that God would give them a son and he fell on his face laughing. God did not respond to Abraham’s laugh. But God did respond to Sarah’s. It was a different type of laugh. To me, God is validating Sarah’s laughter here. “Yes, you did laugh.” God is saying, I see you Sarah.
I think about the times in our history when God has given us opportunities to laugh at the impossible.
As many of you know, this month starts the celebration of Pride for the LGBTQ community. Many Pride celebrations have been cancelled, due to the pandemic, but in some ways it feels like perhaps we are back to our original origins. Every year pride events occur because they are remembering the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising or riots, a word that has been used a lot lately. Many of us in the LGBTQ community have made it our mission to remind our fellow queers and allies that pride...started as a riot.
In the early morning of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, was raided by police. The raid specifically targeted gay and trans individuals at the bar. One woman who was there later said that her first fear was getting arrested and the second was that her photo would be put in the newspaper or on TV for public shaming. These raids were a regular occurrence for the LGBTQ community at the time, but usually there was a tip off and they usually occurred earlier in the evening. The Staff was unprepared to support their patrons in getting out safely.
But tonight was different. After the police arrived with their wagons, instead of leaving, for those who could, they stayed and the crowd doubled. The crowd started booing, and in some accounts, laughing at the situation in front of them. A woman broke out from her handcuffs and then shouted to the crowd, “Why don't you guys do something?,” and they did. This was the start of multiple days of tension between police and the LGBTQ community.
(Picture from this Sunday's Bulletin that Katie references below)
The founders of this movement wanted to live with dignity without fear of being policing who they were. My social media feed has been filled with images of the leaders of this early pride movement, including the photo that is on the front of your program today. The woman on the left with the incredible smile is Marsha P. Johnson. When asked about why she was continuing to lead protest after protest after Stonewall, Marsha laughed and said to a reporter, “Darling, I want my gay rights now!” It is safe to say that we are still working on Marsha’s vision for a new world given the rates of trans women of color who continued to be murdered for who they are.
Sarah and Marsha weren’t laughing at God. They were listening to God show them a vision of a new world and laughing at the new possibility, beyond their current realities. It also isn’t an accident that Sarah is in a tent when this happens, and Marsha lived much of her life in the shadows. This is further proof that God finds those laughs, those visions of a new world, in the margins of our society. No one is too far away from God to see God’s vision for us.
In these scary moments when the world feels like it’s on fire, we have to listen extra close to those who God is showing up for. We have to listen to their experiences. And we must do the work to allow ourselves to see a new world through their eyes.
When I traveled for FCNL and met new people, I would often get asked the question about what do Quakers believe. I told them that I could only speak for the Quakers who took part in the organization I worked for, but I would often cite the mission statement:
We seek a world free of war and the threat of war. We seek a society with equity and justice for all. We seek a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled. We seek an earth restored.
It was not uncommon for me to hear laughter and disbelief when I shared the world we seek to non-Friends. How could we possibly live in a world without war? I’ll admit, it has taken me time in seminary to truly appreciate the theology behind these words. They aren’t just a mission statement -- they are an invitation to dream. They are an invitation to laugh at our current realities and dream of a new one.
Sarah and Marsha teach us that we can live in a different version of this world, if we can learn to laugh at the absurdity of the current one.
Friends, protesters across the United States and around the world are laughing at a reality that we must continue structures as they are. These structures of white supremacy and racism were not made by God, they were made by us. We may not be able to see what a world free of them might look like yet, but there are people, leaders, who can. We must follow their laughter.
We can live in a world where #blacklivesmatter.
We can live in a world free of policing and violence from the state.
But if we want to live in this world, we have to laugh -- and then commit to doing the work to get there.
Why settle for the realities of today when we as Friends have a faith that calls us to dream of the impossible? George Fox might have been laughed at by the state and by clergy for his vision of a world where each person could have a direct connection to God, but here we are today. How can we look beyond ourselves and hear the laughter of the moment? It will be hard. We may need to examine our beliefs and evaluate our discomfort in them. But that is why we are a faith of continuing revelation. To believe in continuing revelation is a call to be open to the new ways God is showing up for us. Perhaps it is also to find a new sense of humor.
Friends, we are called to stand and laugh with the people who are envisioning a new world in line with God’s vision for it. Because when we are laughing with them, we are laughing with God.
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