June 16, 2019

1st Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 8
Romans 5:1-11


It began as a normal flight. Qantas Flight 72 was flying from Singapore to Perth, carrying 303 passengers and 12 crews on board. It was cruising at 37,000 feet above the Indian Ocean on a clear blue-sky.

 But, within minutes, what was supposed to be a regular flight turned into a nightmare. With no previous warning, the plane suddenly nosedived. In 20 seconds, it dived 200 meters, causing passengers and items thrown onto the roof of the fuselage. More than 100 people were injured, some seriously.

 The computer on the plane had malfunctioned. The very thing that was supposed to keep them safe was now threatening their lives. After only two minutes, the plane plunged again. This time it plunged 120 meters in 16 seconds.

 Fortunately, the plane was in good hands. At the helm of the flight was a highly skilled and experienced pilot, Captain Kevin Sullivan. Before he became a pilot in a domestic airline, Captain Sullivan was a fighter jet pilot in the US Navy.

 In the Navy, he used to tell jokes to calm himself down in a stressful situation. So, as he was pulling the stick back, trying to regain control, he said, “Hey HAL, stop moving the nose.” HAL 9000 is the name of the computer in Stanley Kubrik’s classic movie, 2001 Space Odyssey. In the movie, it sabotages the spacecraft and refuses the astronauts to take the control back. It is eerily similar to the situation that Captain Sullivan was dealing with.

 Some may question why he joked in a life-threatening situation, but he needed it to stay calm. He would later attribute his ability to maintain his composure to his jokes.

 When the plane finally made an emergency landing in Learmonth, near Exmouth, he quoted another movie. This time, he imitated Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie, True Lies. As the plane stopped on the tarmac, he said to his co-pilot (in an Austrian accent), “So, a little excitement in an otherwise dull day.”

 That day, Captain Sullivan became a hero that day who saved hundreds of people’s lives. His skill and experience got them to safety. Oddly enough, a fundamental part of that skill was his ability to tell jokes to himself.

 Friends, there is a transcendent nature in humor. Humor can help us look beyond our reality. When it’s used properly, it can work to preserve life, even at the most dangerous time.

 You would remember the incident when two Australian miners were trapped in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. During the ordeal, the miners asked the rescuers to send them the classified ads on the local newspaper. They joked about looking for other jobs on offer while they were trapped.

 Indeed, humor can take us from our reality to the reality of God. We often forget that God can work and communicate to us through humors.

 Now, as ‘good’ Christians, we like to imagine God as a serious person who deals seriously with serious matters in the world. But, to think that God is so serious that he never has fun is to ignore many parts of the Bible. At least, one book in the Bible can tell us that God is a fun-loving God. That book is the book of Proverbs and it is known as the book of wisdoms. It is basically a collection of ancient sayings that were well-known amongst the population.

 But, the reading that we have today is not a collection of wise sayings. Here, wisdom is personified. In the first part of the reading, wisdom is personified as a woman. She stands at prominent places of the city: at the crossroads, the gates, and high places. She invites people to listen to her words to gain knowledge and insights.

 But, my focus today is the second part of the reading. Here, we are invited to see wisdom as a person who was present with God at the time of creation. But, here, wisdom is no longer seen as a woman. The words that are used to describe wisdom in this second part of our reading are quite ambiguous. The words can be translated in two different ways.

 If we use the translation that we use this morning, then wisdom is seen like a “master worker”. Wisdom is like a tradie who helps God build the world.

 But, another way of translating the words are more in tune with the entire passage. Here, wisdom is seen not like an expert that helps God in His project, but as a “little child”. Here, wisdom is like a child who is with her father in his workshop as he makes something remarkable. Here, wisdom is at God’s side when He creates the sky, the sea, and the land.

 And, God takes delight in wisdom as wisdom takes delight in God’s creation. They are both having fun, creating the world, enjoying each other’s company and work. The Common English Bible captures this beautifully in its translation of the passage. In it, wisdom says,

“I was having fun, smiling before him all the time, frolicking with his inhabited earth and delighting in the human race
(Proverbs 8:30b-31 - CEB).”

 So, we can see here that fun is a fundamental part of creation. We can even say that fun is the main force that God uses to create the world. Fun is embedded in creation from the very beginning. Without fun, the world would never be created. To join God in His act of creation, and to receive wisdom, we need to learn to have fun.

 In the comedy movie, Man in Black III, special Agents J and K lose track of the most dangerous alien. Time is clicking and, unless they find the alien and stop him, the planet earth is in peril. Suddenly, Agent K has a brilliant idea. “We need pie,” he says. “My granddaddy always said, ‘When you’ve got a problem you can’t solve, helps to get out of your head, pie, it’s good.” J protests. How can they look for pie while the most dangerous alien is still roaming the planet? But, as always, J finally gives in to K and they both look for pie.

 As they enjoy their warm and freshly cooked pies, a breakthrough comes into J’s mind. He suddenly knows how to deal with the situation. K is right all along: pie doesn’t work, unless you let it. And, when it works, it can solve many problems.

 I can relate to this. See, writing my sermon can take 50% of the entire preparation for my Sunday service. And, it is not always smooth sailing. The inspiration doesn’t always come easily. I often get stuck. When it happens, there is no point of me just sitting on my chair, waiting for the inspiration to come. It’s better to do something completely different; something that I like. It can be walking, or reading news, or having a hot drink, or even playing my guitar and singing a song. Usually, after I do one these things, my brain will unlock itself and the inspiration will come flowing.

 Friends, we don’t have to wait until the time is right to have fun. Captain Sullivan of Qantas Flight 72 didn’t wait until he was safe back in his house to throw his jokes. The two Beaconsfield miners didn’t wait until they were rescued to share jokes. They told their jokes in the midst of danger to keep them away from despair.

 Ancient Church leaders, like Paul, also liked to remind Christians to rejoice.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
(Philippians 4:4 – NRSV)

Paul didn’t call Christians to rejoice only when persecution had ended; Paul asked them to rejoice regardless of the situation they were in.

 We see this in the part of his letter to the Romans that we read today. Here, he asked the Romans not only to endure the suffering they were in, but to rejoice in it! He even told them to ‘boast’ in their suffering.

 Now, unless you suffer from masochism, no one in his right mind would boast in his suffering. But, the Greek word translated as “boast” can also be translated as “rejoice”[1] Yes, the Christians in Rome were to rejoice in their suffering. They had been reconciled with God and will be glorified with God. As such, the suffering that they endured was only temporary. Suffering was not their future; sharing the glory with God was.

 Friends, having fun can be the cure that we are looking for in this ailing word. The creative power of God is released when we have fun. Life itself can be renewed when we have fun. Let me finish with a favorite verse from the book of Proverbs (17:22 - NRSV):

“A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”

 Toby Keva

[1] Romans 5/1-5 Commentary by Mary Hinkle Shore - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL)