xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: Make 'Em Laugh!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Make 'Em Laugh!

April 7, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

There are so many people in this church and this community that I have had the deep privilege of getting to know over these past eight years, including so many of you. When I start to make a mental list of names, it becomes nearly innumerable to count.  But I think you would agree that one of the most memorable – and most beloved – is the one we knew and loved simply by his first name:  Barney.

Barney Hester was one of the first people I met at St. Paul’s, and one of the first I took a real liking to. The best way to describe him would be the way playwright Ernest Thompson described Norman Thayer in “On Golden Pond:”

His hair is white. He wears glasses. He walks slowly but upright. On the one hand he is boyish and peppery, having hung onto his boyish humor, but at the same time, he is grand, as he has a manner that seem to belong in another era.  Norman likes to keep people on their toes.  He is lovable but crotchety.

Henry Fonda played that role beautifully, but I think Barney was a close second. He was a fixture in our sanctuary every Sunday morning, sitting in an aisle seat on the last pew in the southeast corner of our sanctuary.  And every Monday morning, without fail, shortly after I arrived in the office, there would be Barney Hester, sitting in the front office waiting for me, with a stack of papers in his hand.

Barney made it a point every Monday to give me a hefty supply of jokes, riddles, and funny stories he had been collecting from family, friends, and website perusals from the previous week.  Most of the time, his thick stack would number in the dozens of pages. And in what became our ritual to start every week, I would go through them, one by one, chuckling at some, howling at most, as he watched for my expressions with every turn of the page.

I started collecting those jokes and keeping them in my own “Barney Hester” file in my desk drawer.  Yesterday, I pulled it out, and found this choice one that pretty much exemplifies Barney’s sense of humor:

A man boarded a plane with six kids.  After they got settled in their seats, a woman sitting across the aisle leaned over to the man and asked, “My goodness, are all those children yours?"  “No ma’am,” the man replied, “I worked for a condom company and these are customer complaints.”

I wondered during the first few weeks why Barney gave me these jokes.  I thought at first that he was hoping I would use them in sermons, until I realized that more than half of the jokes weren’t appropriate for me to use.  I wondered if he just enjoyed the company, and saw the jokes as a ticket to see me. 

But it eventually dawned on me that Barney simply loved watching me laugh, just as he enjoyed offering the gift of laughter to every one around him.  That was his own, special, ironic way: beneath the crusty exterior was the playful, mischievous heart of a child, always ready to catch you with a zinger and set you up for your next knee slapper.


Barney died rather unexpectedly in February, 2010, and when I walk past his favorite seat in the sanctuary, I still think of him.  He came to mind this week because he really would have loved this Sunday, the Sunday after Easter.  The early church began designating it as Holy Humor Sunday, and many Christian traditions have since resurrected it (pun intended) as a way of celebrating what happened in the empty tomb.  Worship services would feature preachers and congregation members telling their favorite jokes, and some would expand the event into a festival featuring games, costumes, and frivolity. For Barney Hester, Holy Humor Sunday would have been his high holy day. 

Holy Humor Sunday emerged from the writing of early church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, who interpreted the resurrection as God playing the ultimate practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.  They coined the term “Risus paschalis,” or the “Easter laugh.”

So, this Sunday, I’ll tell a joke or two, as we begin our brand new sermon series on 1 John called “In the Light: Living into the Light of the Resurrection.”  And maybe one of those jokes will come from my Barney Hester file (if I can find a clean one in the stack!)


And if you are looking for a real hearty, side-splitting laugh, allow me to put in a personal plug for the Cherokee Community Theater’s upcoming production of “Noises Off,” which starts its two-weekend run this Friday.  I have been cast in the role of Gary LeJeune, in a play that many believe may be the funniest stage play ever written.  And that’s no exaggeration.

I won’t spoil too many details of the plot, but it’s adequate to say that you will see some things on that community theater stage that will have you howling with laughter – not once or twice – but at least once a minute. And without giving away too much of my character, let’s just say I get my shoelaces tied, a phone in my crotch, and I fall down a flight of stairs.  And that’s just my character.  And I’m one of the lucky ones. 

Tickets for the general public are on sale now and can be reserved by calling the box office (225-4440) or online at cherokeect.org.  The box office has had some issues with their phone system lately, so if you can’t get through, try the website. 

So, Happy Easter, everyone.  And join us this weekend for some uproarious laughter.  Christ is risen!  Christ is Risen Indeed!


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

No comments:

Post a Comment