I can’t recall my grandfather, who was a preacher, ever telling a joke in front of the congregation. I am sure that was part of his training, which was to always maintain a serious and somber tone during the service.
There was a time when someone dropped a quarter or a half dollar from the church balcony that hit the floor and sounded like a cannon going off. There were some snickers on that occasion.
Obviously there were times when he smiled but he preached in an era when telling a joke to the congregation was not fitting or proper. No doubt, his congregation would have accepted it and the joke would have been talked about and repeated all week. “Hey, did you hear Rev. Eggers told a joke during the service?” My grandfather would have been embarrassed if the joke were the only thing they remembered so maybe that’s why humor was not part of his preaching style.
If you listen to the Billy Graham crusades he usually slips in a joke or two now and then. Joel Osteen, the TV evangelist, begins his sermons by saying, “I like to start out with something funny.” And, he proceeds to tell a joke even though the joke has no connection to what he is preaching about.
Osteen may say something like, “Did you hear about the preacher who told his congregation that he had been saving a great joke just to tell them. He said it is so funny that it will change the color of women’s hair while causing the men to lose their hair. He proceeds to take a serious look at his listeners and says, ‘Well, it looks like all of you have heard this joke before so I won’t bother telling it to you again.’”
My grandfather was as fine a man as you could meet and a dedicated pastor who lived his life with integrity and certainly practiced what he preached. He was a kind man who relished making visits to his flock. He lived into his mid-90s and was still serving the Creator way past the time of his retirement, which is true of most clergy these days. But he just never told a joke.
I caution public speakers about using religious humor because it might offend someone. In this day and age, however, humor has found a place in every walk of life. I have a pope joke, a rabbi joke, and a Protestant joke, an interdenominational joke and a God joke to help make you smile today.
Pope joke: It seems the pope is in need of a new heart. His cardinals try to convince him to ask the crowds of people at Sunday morning mass to give him a heart. The pope at first says, “It wouldn’t be right," but then he is persuaded to ask them. By now everyone knows of his need and so on Sunday morning and from the Vatican Square balcony, everyone is shouting, “Papa, Papa, take my heart. Papa, Papa, take my heart.” The pope finally agrees and says, “I am holding a feather and when I drop it, the head where the feather lands on, that’s the person’s heart I will take." Now everyone is shouting “Papa, Papa, take my heart, phew, phew (blowing sound)! Papa, Papa, take my heart, phew, phew!”
A rabbi joke: A rabbi and his wife were cleaning up the house. The rabbi came across a box he didn't recognize. His wife told him to leave it alone, it was personal. One day she was out and his curiosity got the best of him. He opened the box and inside he found three eggs and $2,000. When his wife came home, he admitted that he opened the box, and he asked her to explain the eggs to him. She told him that every time he had a bad sermon, she would put an egg in the box. He interrupted, "In 20 years in the synagogue, only three bad sermons? That's not bad.” His wife continued, “. . . and every time I got a dozen eggs, I would sell them for $1.”
Protestant joke: A Lutheran preacher in a small country parish notices that his church really could use a new coat of paint. There isn’t too much money in the coffers so he only has enough to buy one gallon of white paint. After he paints one half of the church, he has gone through about two-thirds of the paint so he pours some paint thinner in the bucket. He paints another half of the remaining church and hardly has any paint left so he pours in some more paint thinner until the church is completed. Of course, he is not satisfied because half of the church looks good and the rest doesn’t look so good. At this time he asks God for help and out comes a cry from the heavens, “Repaint, repaint and thin no more!”
Interdenominational joke: A pastor is eager to have his grandson listen to his sermon and he asks his grandson which service he would like to attend: the first or second. The boy says, “I’d like to go to the first service.” “That’s just fine,” says the grandfather. They get to the place of worship early and as they walk into the entry way the young boy sees a wooden plaque on the wall with a bunch of names and asks, “Grandpa, why are those names on the wall?” The grandfather replies, “Oh,” he says, “Those are the names of all the people who died in the service.” The boy asks, “Which one, the first or the second?”
Here is a God joke that explains everything you want to know about the Green Bay Packers: The Minnesota Vikings' coach Mike Zimmer has been called to heaven. When he gets to the pearly gates, he notices a huge mansion on the hill with all kinds of Green Bay Packers flags decorating it. The Vikings coach is thinking, “Wow, I’ll probably get a house just like that.” When St. Peter shows him to his home it’s just a small house with nothing really unique about it. Coach Zimmer asks, “How come the Packers' coach gets a house like that and I get this tiny house?” St. Peter says, “Oh, that’s not where the Packers' coach lives. That’s where God lives.”
Although the Good Book isn’t filled with too many jokes, it is filled with a lot of smiles. If you had a smile or two in reading this church humor, I’m sure my grandfather would say, “Well done, my boy, well done. I wish I would have known those jokes when I was around to tell them. A good laugh is good for the soul.”
Riddle: How many of each species of animals did Moses have on the ark? (Answer: none, it wasn’t Moses. It was Noah.) That’s an old joke but still funny, kind of like “How many people are dead in that cemetery?” I always encouraged teachers to tell a joke or riddle a day. Many times that’s the only thing students will remember and they will return for more. The same goes for pastors.
Thanks to the Gonvick City Council for being the 408th organization to support Project Graduate. Don’t forget to tell young people to graduate.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.