The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are concluding for another year. It is definitely a global event dedicated to the arts – think music, drama, comedy, poetry, dance, circus, opera, film, and more. The Fringe has had controversy with cancelling a comedian and the issue of free speech. That’s a topic that is not going away anytime soon. But the ‘Joke of the Fringe’ has been announced and that’s a little thing I like to see. So congratulations to Lorna Rose Treen for her pun – ‘I started dating a zookeeper but it turned out he was a cheetah’.

I smiled. The one-liners are compiled from the hundreds of shows and then voted on anonymously by 2,000 members of the public who select their top three jokes. You can read the top ten jokes and the one which came second this year was by Liz Guterbock – ‘The most British thing I’ve ever heard? A lady who said, “Well, I’m sorry but I don’t apologise.’ And I laughed.

Comedy, like beauty, is in the eye – or in this case, the ear! – of the beholder. I know which joke I thought the better one, the one I enjoyed more. This is part of the spice and variety of life.

It occurred to me that perhaps faith and trust are viewed and experienced similarly. I think there are very few people who don’t trust anyone. It is all a matter of gradations based on our life experiences, our circumstances, our personality, and I think, most importantly, our identity – the words we say to ourselves about ourselves. Whether we trust someone we see or someone we don’t see, faith and trust, are similar. We all expect gravity to work tomorrow and we’ll drive carefully on the road trusting that the other drivers don’t want to crash just as we don’t want to crash. Similarly our experiences of marriage, family, friendship, work, community shape us as to what to expect tomorrow in those relationships. Whether we trust and others trust us or whether we experience brokenness or betrayal – by others to us or by us to others – this, too, shapes us – because we all have some idea of what marriage, family, friendship, work, community should be.

When it comes to religious faith, even if one has a spiritual experience, it is important to understand what the religious relationship should be. Pet and owner? Drop to ocean? Ignorance to enlightenment? Physical to spiritual? Are the deity/deities remote, hidden, playing ‘hide-and-seek’, capricious, just bigger versions of us, something else? All religions have answers to these questions and present a landscape and a relationship for people.

Christianity presents a holy God loving and wanting to rescue rebellious people who made themselves blind and dead to any relationship with him because they want to be god and define and control everything. Humanity turned God into its enemy. Jesus came to show God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness and to give us real life as opposed to the caricature we think we want. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15 ESV). Jesus offers a relationship with himself – ‘Follow me’, he says – and his commitment – to us is his cross and his presence with us is by the light from his empty tomb. 

How we experience this relationship is in the ear of the beholder which reminds us again and again that our experiences do not define God, our ups and downs are not reflections of God’s closeness or absence, and that faith – Christian Faith – is ultimately not us holding onto God but him holding onto us – personally – even when – especially when – it seems he’s dropped us in the mess of pain and suffering.

Have you heard the one about the last laugh? It happened when Jesus was dead and buried and the devil, the world, and our sinful selves thought we’d won! And then came Sunday … and an unexpected joy entered the world – and has never left!