A recent newspaper headline said:
‘Vicars urged to rein in the jokes and rambling anecdotes in sermons.’
The newspaper article was based on research following a survey of Christians which found that they ranked weighty explanations of the Bible as 27 times as important in a sermon as humour and practical application, and 42 times more highly than personal anecdotes.
I became quite alarmed at the findings of this research as I am someone who attempts to use humour and anecdotes when preaching.
The Argument for Humour
Preaching is a serious and important business and that is why humour should be used. We can become nervous of laughter in a service because it may be interpreted that we are making light of holy things. And nowhere in the New Testament does it say outright that Jesus laughed. However, Jesus did evince a sense of humour in His teaching.
His discussion of the “log” in our eye is surely a light hearted and humorous exaggeration to make a serious point (Matthew 7.3-5). The incongruous image of a camel going through the eye of a needle should bring a smile (Matthew 19:24). Many of Christ’s parables ended with rejoicing and, I am sure, laughter. In Luke chapter 15 we read of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. All were found and the consequence was much rejoicing and joy. Indeed, even heaven joined in.
"Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents"
Humour must be used with skill, care and sensitivity as part of a sermon, but I do believe it has its place. Laughter after all can have healing properties!
"A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones."
Have you heard the one about…?...on second thoughts I’ll save it until my next sermon!
Peace and joy (and laughter),
Canon Keith Farrow