Sunday, April 22, 2012

Acts 3:12-16; Luke 24: 36-48
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Acts 3:12-15.
When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, "You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

Luke 24: 36-48
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Well, Illinois has made the national news again with yet another government scandal. Fortunately, it wasn’t in Sterling, but a suburb of Sterling – Dixon. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the accusations against the city comptroller, and about the unfathomably large amount of money she is accused of stealing. I’d imagine that you are asking the same question I am: How could she have gotten away with it for so long? How could they not have noticed? And while I have no idea what the accused did to cover her tracks, I can answer with some confidence that the people who might have discovered it didn’t -- because they weren’t looking for any wrongdoing. We generally see what we expect to see.

I would bet that in the coming days, we’ll hear a lot about the red flags, we’ll hear about what might have been “tells” to point to the embezzlement, if only people had been watching more carefully. But we see what we expect to see. They didn’t expect that a trusted city employee, someone who had worked there for 30 years, someone they thought they knew, might turn out to be someone else altogether. That’s why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable. People tend to see what they expect to see.

George Zimmerman’s brain filled in information about Trayvon Martin based on Zimmerman’s beliefs and prejudices. He saw what he expected to see.

Someone shows you a poster and it says “Find the mistake” and you look and look and look, and never notice that the word “mistake” is spelled wrong.

The magician’s words and movements distract you, so that you see what you expect to see, and don’t see how the coin is palmed, or the scarf is concealed.

Our brains fill in information that is not there, and our eyes reverse letters that are out of place. Our memories of a scene become more real than what was actually there.  We see what we expect to see.

When Jesus appeared to Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus, they were on their way home after the crucifixion. They didn’t recognize him, because they were not expecting to see him. As far as they knew, he was dead. It wasn’t until he broke the bread for them at supper that their eyes were opened, and they were amazed.

That what the disciples were talking about, at the opening of our reading today. “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

Here’s the amazing thing about this story. They are TALKING about Jesus’ appearance at Emmaus, that the Lord is not dead, but resurrected. And then at that moment, Jesus shows up and says “peace be with you,” and how do they react?
“They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

His closest companions, friends with whom he had lived and traveled, thought he was dead.
He had told them over and over and over again what was going to happen, that he would be crucified and raised after three days, but they did not expect to see him alive again. NO! They thought they were seeing a ghost. They have seen what they did NOT expect to see!

I wonder sometimes if Jesus was teasing them with what he said next: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Now listen to this next line: While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,…
even when he assured them that he was alive, not a ghost, they were disbelieving and still wondering. They wanted it to be true, but this was not what they expected, so they were still disbelieving, still wondering. So he asked for a bite to eat! They didn’t expect that they would ever see him again. And when they did, they certainly weren’t expecting to see him eat.

While he was with them, the scripture says, he opened their minds to understand, and he taught them. Just like their friends at Emmaus, their eyes were opened, and they heard and saw Jesus in an entirely new way: fulfillment of the law and prophets, his suffering and his resurrection, his call to repentance and forgiveness, to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. They certainly weren’t expecting any of this.

But Jesus is always doing the unexpected, surprising us like that, showing up where we don’t plan on seeing him, doing what we didn’t think he could or would do. The last time you saw that guy, he was a stumbling drunk, never sober long enough to keep a job or take care of his family, not a guy you wanted to be around for long. Then Jesus shows up, and that same guy is working a program, making amends, looking for work.

You still can’t believe the way your friend behaved, the things she said, the lies she told, the betrayal. Then Jesus shows up, and she’s asking for forgiveness, asking for your prayers.

You sat there that night, alone, weeping in the darkness, wondering if anything you’d ever done was worth anything, wondering if life is even worth living. Then Jesus shows up, and even though your troubles aren’t whisked away, you know that daybreak will come, and that you will laugh again.

You hang up the phone and your hands are shaking, and you can’t take in the news you’ve just heard, even though you know it is true, and that your life has just changed forever, and then Jesus shows up, and you know, deep down, for certain, that you will be okay.

Trey and Sarah’s baby boy Hudson was born the day after Easter. The night he was born, he suffered from massive seizures. The doctors told Trey and Sarah that the seizures would probably cause permanent brain damage. But then Jesus showed up, and Hudson is going home now, with MRIs comparable to any other newborn. And while I wasn’t there in person, I’m a witness to a miracle.

That’s the power of the resurrection – Jesus shows up, and we are witnesses to it. We witness resurrection in the first small signs of spring, in the thawing and melting of cold hearts, in the blooming of new friendships and the warmth of great love.

We witness resurrection in the outstretched hand, in the voice of a friend who says, “I know who you are I know what you have done. Take my hand and let me walk with you a while.”

We witness resurrection at the font, as we hear the words of pardon, and we witness resurrection at the table, as we receive the sign and seal of God’s mercy in the body and blood of Christ.

We witness resurrection at the graveside, when the sun breaks through the clouds, or the funny story reminds us of the one we loved so much, and we laugh through our tears until we are crying again.

We witness resurrection as the people of God lift up their prayers, as we stretch out our hands to our neighbors, as we worship, and as we study scripture.

Jesus keeps showing up,revealing to us 
wisdom we never could have gained on our own,
grace so amazing that we could not have dreamed it,
miracles beyond our wildest hopes,
love that exceeds our most passionate desires,
joy and life abundant that is deeper than our deepest yearnings.

We see what we expect to see.
Expect Jesus to show up, and show us the unexpected.
You are witnesses of these things.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Holy Humor Sunday

Worship Service

First Presbyterian Church

Sterling, Illinois

Holy Humor Sunday

April 15, 2012

This was our third annual Holy Humor worship, and I think our best ever. The week before Palm Sunday, we handed out postcards for our folks to invite their friends and neighbors for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Easter and Holy Humor Sunday. We sent a press release (see it at the end of this post) to the local paper, and it ran on Saturday the 14th.

We also put the word out on Facebook.

We used our regular order of worship, but the bulletin had rebus pictures instead of words (for example a picture of a phone, the numeral 2, and a picture of a battleship – “Call to Worship” Get it?!) The chancel was strewn with balloons, red Solo cups, party hats, streamers and confetti. There was confetti up and down the aisles, and smiley face helium balloons where the flowers normally are. There were “joke breaks” and the jokes are included here, plus a few brave members shared their own jokes.

I’ve included below the entire order of worship, with links to sources and notes in italics to describe the “action,” but like most events, you just hadda be there!

The pastor and choir entered wearing robes – bathrobes!—and processed (actually, danced) down the aisle to “Shining Star”

Welcome and Announcements


*Call to Worship Psalm 100, The Message

Leader: On your feet now - applaud God!

People: Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence.

Leader: Know this: God is God. He made us; we didn't make him.

People: We're his people, his well-tended sheep.

Leader: Enter with the password: "Thank you!" Make yourselves at home, talking praise. People: We applaud, we laugh, we thank you. God!

All: Let us worship God with joy!

Sister Mary Ann, who worked for a home health agency, was out making her rounds visiting homebound patients when she ran out of gas. As luck would have it, an gasoline station was just a block away.

She walked to the station to borrow a gas can and buy some gas. The attendant told her that the only gas can he owned had been loaned out, but she could wait until it was returned. Since Sister Mary Ann was on the way to see a patient, she decided not to wait and walked back to her car.

She looked for something in her car that she could fill with gas and spotted the bedpan she was taking to the patient. Always resourceful, Sister Mary Ann carried the bedpan to the station, filled it with gasoline, and carried the full bedpan back to her car.

As she was pouring the gas into her tank, two Presbyterians watched from across the street. One of them turned to the other and said, "If it starts, I'm turning Catholic."

Did you hear about the Pentecostal preacher that married the Amish woman?

He drove her buggy!

A woman went out to a nearby farm to get two big buckets of manure for her garden. When she got home, her little boy asked her: “What’s that for?”

“It’s for the strawberries,” she answered.

The little boy stared at the manure for a moment, then asked, “Can I have mine with Kool Whip instead?”

*Opening Song This Is The Day #236 Gray

CHRISTINA: I have a confession to make. Last week I was out for a few drinks with some friends. Knowing full well I was probably over the limit, I did something I've never done before: I took a bus home. I arrived home safely and without incident, which was amazing, -- but now there’s this bus in my driveway, and I’m not sure where I got it.

Prayer of Confession

God of joy, we know that you have blessed us richly, yet so often, we are down in the dumps over silly little disappointments. You have given us Jesus Christ, and raised him from the dead, and promised us eternal life. But we act like we don’t know it! Forgive us, God! Keep us mindful that you always have the last laugh, and that your promise is for true joy in every circumstance, and life forever.

Silence is kept

Assurance of Pardon

Leader: Christ is raised from the dead! Love wins!

People: Hallelujah!

Leader: Christ lives and reigns for us!

People: Hallelujah!

ALL: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God!

*Sharing the Peace of Christ (the rebus for this one was the following pictures: Cher, a ring, and two pods of peas!

God’s Word is Proclaimed

Children’s Message

You know, today is April 15. We know it’s hard sometimes, being a parent.

Just remember, "There is no child so bad that he/she can't be used as an income tax deduction."

Choir Anthem “Coffee, Coffee, Coffee” (to the tune of Holy, Holy, Holy)

See lyrics at

Scripture Reading The Calamitous Daughter

A short skit starring Cindy Cassens and Nan Pashon, telling the story of two daughters, Faithful and Calamity, and how Calamity came home.

The Prodigal Son Luke 15: 11-24, (The Message)

Then Jesus said, "There was once a man who had two sons.

The younger said to his father, 'Father, I want right now what's coming to me.'

It wasn't long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. That brought him to his senses.

He said, 'All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I'm going back to my father. I'll say to him, Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.'

He got right up and went home to his father. When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.'

But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! My son is here - given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!'

And they began to have a wonderful time.

CHRISTINA Now, I promised the sermon would be short -

TIM (interrupting) Can’t be as short as you. You're so short, you need a ladder to get up to the BOTTOM bunk
CHRISTINA Oh, come on now, I’m not that short.

TIM You're so short, you can tread water in a kiddie pool
CHRISTINA C’mon Tim, you’re really bugging me,
TIM You're so short, when you tell people "I'm not happy," they ask you, “Then which dwarf are you?”

CHRISTINA I'm not happy! I’m grumpy!

TIM I’d say you’re dopey! Let’s have the sermon - -and keep it short!


The chancel looks like a party just ended. It is strewn with party horns, party hats, cans, bottles, red Solo cup, etc. I have my hair tied up in a scarf (which was hanging around my neck like a stole) and am holding a broom and bucket, picking trash up as I talk.

Well, yes indeed, they sure did have a wonderful time!

Can’t you tell? Here’s how it is, my friends: My boss is a loon.

No, I’m not kidding. Look at this place! When was the last time you ever saw so many red Solo cups on the floor? Don’t answer that!

Look at this! (put on party hat, collect trash, sweep, lean on broom)

I’m serious, the man should be in the loony bin. That party last night, it went on until 4 AM

That’s why I’m still here, cleaning up, while they sleep it off.

Oh, good grief! (pick up and blow party horn, toss into bag)

I’m sure you heard the story – it’s all over town. He has these two sons, one good as gold, the other, well, … did you hear what he did, the people he was hanging out with?

did you see the tattoos? did you smell him when he came past? PHEW!

And of course he squandered all that money, his health, his reputation

And then he comes dragging back here, broke and smelly.

So what does the boss do?

I’ll tell you what I’d have done. I’d have said, (turning broom upside down and talking to it) “Now look here, you little snot, don’t think you are going to take advantage of me again. You come slinking back here, your tail between your legs, all bedraggled and sniveling, don’t you think you have some apologies to make?

After you’ve demonstrated to me exactly how sorry you are – and you ARE a sorry one, that’s for sure, then we’ll work out a repayment plan, and you can start working off your debt. Once you’ve shown me some of the respect and gratitude that I’m due, then we’ll talk about what’s next. Meanwhile, here’s an old blanket, and you know where the barn is.”

Isn’t that what ANY sane parent would do? Yes, I thought so.

But is that what my boss did? Is that what he does? NOooooooooo!

What does he do?

He goes and gets that boy a new suit of clothes, tailor-made, good fabric, and new shoes, not just flip-flops or something, custom-made, and a gold ring, because that’s what every numbskull kid needs when he comes dragging back after whooping it up and partying

until he ends up in a pigpen, that’s what he needs, a gold ring!

And you’d think that would be enough, wouldn’t you? Take him back, let him in, clean him up, new clothes, new shoes, new jewelry, that’s enough, isn’t it? NO! That’s not enough! You know what the Boss did THEN? Yah! He throws a party.

He threw the little jerk a party! And I don’t mean some dignified little family dinner,

with a glass of sherry and a prim little fruit tart. Nooooo! He throws a blowout that goes on all night, with barbecue, and a live band, and dancing. and plenty of red Solo cups.

And you should have seen the guest list. Most people would invite the best people, or the people who could do them some good, you know, networking? or at least some respectable people who would leave at a decent hour, and offer to clean up a little bit. But not my boss – NO, NOT MY BOSS! He invites everybody he has ever met, even people who you wouldn’t think would make the cut, people who just come for the party and the free food –….

not that I’m saying that’s why you’re here,…but….. I’m just sayin’…

(embarrassed, foot in mouth moment)

… well, I’m sure you are all fine, deserving people, and you’re the Boss’s guests, so…


Then he tells me, he tells me…. I can hardly say it, it is almost embarrassing…

he tells me that I’m supposed to tell you somethin’…. And I want to say, this is not me talkin’ this is the boss, because if it were up to me, well, you don’t want to know what it would be like, if it were up to me, but ANYWAY, the Boss said to tell you that the party needs to keep going on.


He’ll be the host here, every week, and you know how it goes, you’ve been here celebrating,

so you’re supposed to keep on.



No kidding, that’s what he said.

He said that now that you’ve been welcomed in,like that good-for-nothing kid,

he said you would know how to extend that welcome to everyone else.

And you’d know how to keep the party going.

He wants you to celebrate.

And whenever you get a chance, bring somebody else to the party. The Boss also said, not only that, you’re supposed to be glad and full of joy when you come into his house. He said you can look it up -- it’s in the Psalms, says to come in here singing and shouting,

dancing and ready to celebrate!

I told him you were Presbyterians….

He said that didn’t matter, you can learn.

And when somebody shows up for the party, you’re supposed to welcome them like he did that kid of his, like they’re the prodigal son come home, like they were dead and came back to life, like they were your own child, or your best friend, or your neighbor.

The Boss said to tell you, “Everything I have is yours!”

So par----tay!

Sing! Dance! CELEBRATE!


Responding to God’s Word

*Song I’ve Got the Joy, Joy Joy

*Statement of Belief (adapted from the Joyful Noiseletter)

Leader: We believe with the Bible

People: That there is a time to weep and a time to laugh

Leader: We believe with Chrysostom

People: That laughter has been implanted in our souls

Leader: We believe with Aquinas

People: That there is a time for playful deeds and jokes

Leader: We believe with Luther

People: That you have as much laughter as you have faith

Leader: We believe with John Calvin

People: That we are nowhere forbidden to laugh

Leader: We believe with Chesterton

People: That a good joke is the closest thing we have to divine revelation

Leader: We believe with Charles Schulz

People: That humor is proof that everything is going to be alright with God nevertheless!

A little boy wanted $100 badly and prayed to God for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to God asking for the $100. When the US Postal Service found the letter addressed "GOD USA", they decided to send it to the President.

The President was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill. The President thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.
The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 and sat down to write a thank you note to God, which read:
Dear God, Thank you very much for sending the money, however, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington D.C. and, wouldn’t you know, those guys deducted $95.00 in taxes.

A man was circling the block searching for a parking spot. Finally, after the third time around, he prays, “God, if you help me find a parking spot, I will go to church every Sunday and tithe ten percent of my income.” Immediately, a spot opens up, and the man prays, “Never mind, I found one.”

A man is crawling through the Sahara desert when he is approached by another man riding on a camel. As the rider approaches, the crawling man whispers through his parched lips, "Water ... please ... can you give ... water ..."

"I'm sorry," replies the man on the camel, "I don't have any water with me. But I'd be delighted to sell you a necktie."

"Necktie?" whispers the man. "I need water!"

"They're only four dollars apiece."

"I need water."

"Okay, okay, two for seven dollars."

"Please! I need water!" the man exclaims.

"I don't have any water, all I have are ties," replies the salesman, as he heads off into the distance.

By now the man has lost all track of time, crawling through the desert seemingly for days. Finally, nearly dead, with clothes tattered and sunburned, he sees a a pool, and trees. and hears a bubbling fountain! Is it a mirage? No, an oasis, with a restaurant! Summoning his last bit of strength, he crawls up the steps. "Water ... can I get ... water," the dying man pleads. "I'm sorry, sir,” replies the head waiter. “Our dress code requires a tie"

Let us worship God with our ties and offerings!

Offering: the offering plates were replaced with baskets, which had neckties tied around them and in them. The offertory was a wonderful piece about following Jesus, with a refrain of “I love him, I love him, I love him, and where he goes I’ll follow, I’ll follow” – perfect!

*Response Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu

*Prayer of Dedication

Thank you God, for the joy you have given us which bubbles over into laughter and fun! Thank you for renewing our joy. We pray that you will use these, our gifts, to bring joy to all the world. We pray in the name of the risen Lord, Amen.

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

God’s People are Sent

When Osama bin Laden died, George Washington met him at the Pearly Gates, slapped him across the face and yelled, “How dare you try to destroy the nation I helped conceive?”

Patrick Henry showed up, punched him in the nose and shouted “You tried to end our liberties, but you failed!”

James Madison followed with a kick, saying “This is why government must provide for the common defense.

Thomas Jefferson was next, snarling, “Evil men like you are why we needed the Declaration of Independence!

Then James Monroe and 66 other early Americans unleashed their anger. An angel appeared, and Osama said, “This is not what I was promised!”

The angel said, “Yes it is – I told you there would be 72 Virginians waiting for you in heaven.”

What did Jesus tell the Chicago Cubs? ..... Don't do anything until I get back.

A young woman came home from a date rather sad. She told her mother, “Anthony proposed to me tonight.” “Why so sad?” her mother asked. “Oh, momma, he is an atheist! He doesn’t believe in heaven. He doesn’t even believe there’s a hell!” Her mother replied, “Marry him. Between the two of us, we’ll show him just how wrong he is!”

*Closing Songs

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

Trading My Sorrows


Leader: And let all God’s people say…

People: Alleluia! Amen!


Press Release:

Holy Humor Sunday

April 15, 9:30 AM

First Presbyterian Church

A laughing Jesus and a praising prairie dog? Not the images you expect to see in church on Sunday morning. Unless it is “Holy Humor Sunday!”

In the early days of the Christian church, congregations gathered on the Sunday after Easter to celebrate with picnics, parties and fun. This custom is for Christians to playfully acknowledge that at Easter, God had the last laugh on death, because Jesus was raised from the tomb. According to, more and more churches are celebrating this joyful Sunday, also known as “Bright Sunday.” For many churches, this practice is also a way to relax after the busy season of Lent, and the multiple services held for Holy Week and Easter.

At First Presbyterian Church in Sterling, Holy Humor Sunday is also a time for musicians, choir, and worship leaders to let down their hair and “yuk it up.” Funny songs, jokes and gags are shared, and everyone is encouraged to participate. Last year, the pastor doubled over in laughter when she found a rubber duck floating in the baptismal font!

Everyone is invited to join the fun at First Presbyterian Church of Sterling, 410 2nd Avenue, on April 15 at 9:30 AM. Come for the jokes and hilarity, stay for the coffee and fellowship after the service. We are looking forward to another great Holy Humor Sunday. Who knew you could have so much fun in church?!