Make a Joyful Noise?

Rev. Seth Patterson

with Pierre Fulford and Abraham Westlund

November 26, 2023

Scripture: Psalm 100

Sermon text here.

Seth: The magical thing about laughter is that it can often be induced. It can go from a false start to an authentic finish. Let’s try something together. In a moment, we are going to laugh together. At first it will be manufactured and false, you might even feel silly doing it, but if we make laughing sounds together, there is a very good chance that in moments we will be laughing together. [Laugh together]

What a joyful noise!

“I carry the grief of the world in a joyful body. What should I do?”[1] This powerful question, this opening line of poetry from the poet Jim Lenfesty lays bare a tension so often felt in our lives. How do we hold joy and grief at the same time? How do we laugh and cry? How do we make a joyful noise amidst a cacophony of hurt? What does it mean to laugh while still holding the pain of the world? “I carry the grief of the world in a joyful body. What should I do?”

A few weeks ago on Monday evening in early November, Plymouth’s Theater 45° had its final evening of performance. We produced a spoken word event called Rise of the Voices and our friend Pierre Fulford, an amazing poetic voice himself, curated it. He was joined by poets SeAnna Johnson, Elizabeth Bratton and Abraham Westlund. It was a profound evening of meaning-making through words, rhythm and music. As I was conceiving of this particular sermon on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, before we begin our season of Advent, I am grateful for the opportunity to invite the brilliant Abraham and Pierre to join us this morning. Please welcome Abraham to the piano and Pierre to the microphone.

[Abraham begins playing “Touch the Sky”]

Abraham: Do we mean well Are we fighting for peace Are we trying to help each other Or ARE WE DOING THIS FOR OURSLEVES When does the darkness end When’s the day that we’ll be free I can’t sit here in the silence Knowing these chains are holding me CHORUS But if we just hold on We can touch the sky We can change the world one day at a time So don’t you dare give up Don’t you dare give in I can see the light is shining

[Abraham continues playing under Pierre]


Right now I bet you my nephew is laughing,
His name is Jojo.
There’s a moment I’m thinking about tho,
We’re at Grandma’s house.
My Grandma, his great Grandma.
Praise God for Grandmas who are great.
And he’s laughing.
I come downstairs to meet my brother,
His dad.
We’re going off to run a birthday clinic at his job.
Basketball, soccer, pizza, cheese pizza.
So Jojo gotta stay with Grandma,
Great Grandma.
Grandmas are great.
And he’s laughing.
He’s all over the place but Jojo is still laughing,
Don’t touch that,
Jojo’s laughing,
Boy put that down
Auntie’s voice,
Yes, auntie’s are great too,
Jojo’s laughing,
We’re going outside,
Jojo’s laughing,
Now we’re going to go back inside,
Jojo’s laughing,
Aye here goes some toys,
JoJo’s laughing,
Alright it’s time for you to take a nap,
Jojo’s laughing,
His dad and I come back about three hours later,
Jojo’s laughing,
His dad is holding him in his arms
Saying goodbye to Grandma,
Great Grandma,
Grandma’s are great,
Auntie’s are too,
And so are uncle’s,
And Jojo is laughing,
He puts Jojo down,
He’s holding him by the hand,
They’re walking down the stone pathway,
And JoJo is laughing,
He says, say bye to Uncle P, JoJo,
And Jojo says bye Uncle Perr,
And he’s laughing,
My brother has a bright yellow charger,
And JoJo’s in the back seat as they drive away,
He’s laughing,

[Abraham stops]

Seth: The author Kurt Vonnegut once said “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning to do afterward.” Laughter, that external expression of happiness and joy, is good for you. And not just mentally or emotionally, but physically as well. In the short term, laughter can:

  • Enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. It can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Soothe tension by stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation.

That’s great for now, but what about in the long term?

  • Laughter can improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. Laughter instead can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • It can relieve pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  • Laughter is a connector with others, reducing feelings of loneliness. On Friday, my nephew started giggling in a very serious-feeling and quiet art gallery and moments later the whole room was smiling and you could hear chuckles popcorning around the room.
  • Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.[2]

And yet, the pressures in our lives, the events that surround us near and far, the greed, violence and apathy that can permeate, pushes us away from expressions of joy. As if joy is somehow equated with ignorance, as if laughter is somehow the same thing as not caring.

[Abraham begins to play again, Pierre returns to poem]

He’s such a happy child.
It’s so beautiful.
Outta all the things that are going on in the world,
To see a child laugh,
No no no ya’ll dont get it,
It’s beautiful,
While we’re so caught up,
With the explosions going off in minds,
Our minds have become a land field of mines,
Anxiety boom,
Stress boom,
Shame boom,
Depression boom,
Even our triggers are triggered,
All the while there’s a vessel on earth laughing,
He is laughing,
For every reason imaginable,
He makes a mistake,
He laughs,
He does something great,
And He laughs,
He falls,
And he laughs,
He makes a mess,
And he laughs,
He eats,
And he laughs,
He sleeps,
And he laughs,
He has his toys,
And he laughs,
He gets scared,
And he laughs,
He gets in trouble,
And then he laughs,
I love it when he gets in trouble,
And he laughs,
Like, all bombs now disarmed,
Cuz he has the nerve not to let you get on his,
Like he’s in trouble but it doesn’t trouble him,
For us adults that’s so troublesome,
And he laughs,
Like you can’t get him to care,
He’s a child,
He’s not suppose to care,
He’s just laughing,

[Abraham stops playing]

Seth: Laughter can be a spiritual practice. It is spiritual practice. Not only is it good for your body and mind, it is balm for your soul. Laughter can be soul work. When laughter is not used at someone’s expense, it can be a way to stitch ourselves closer to the abundant, ceaseless and ever-present love of God. The Psalmist sings in Psalm 100: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

Hold up. I want some of that piano underscoring too. Everything sounds better with you playing!

[Abraham begins playing again]

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship God with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing. Know that God is. It is God that made us, and we are God’s, we are the people, and the sheep of the pasture. Enter these gates with thanksgiving, and the courts with praise. Give thanks to God, bless God’s name. For God is good; steadfast love endures forever, and faithfulness to all generations.

[Abraham stops playing]

To laugh, to make a joyful noise, is a gift to ourselves and to God. To laugh, to express joy, is a counter-cultural act that reminds us that even in difficult, complicated and unanticipated moments that God is good and joy can be found.

[Abraham begins again with Pierre]

Thank you JoJo for reminding us we need to laugh,
Laugh thru the tears,
Laugh thru the pain,
Laugh thru the divorce,
Laugh thru the nevermind here to stay,
Laugh thru the gulf,
Laugh thru the bridge,
Laugh thru the reception,
Laugh thru the disconnecting,
Laugh thru the goodbye now,
Laugh thru the hi now,
Laugh thru the do I know you compete stranger,
Maybe another day but for now,
I can say I love you on good faith,
Laugh thru it all,
Thank you JoJo for reminding us to laugh,
You are a splitting image of your dad,
You are a benevolent reflector of your mom,
You hail from a house full of joy and love and you can’t help it,
My brother is a father,
Your father,
And you laugh just like him,
While making mess in playpen,
I remember mother cleaning everything,
While he was laughing,
While making mess that holy parent will eventually clean up,
Don’t forget to laugh,
Our father like mother cleaning brother’s playpen wants you to laugh.
I don’t know so I can only assume,
once upon a time your laugh was as free as JoJo’s,
Until that moment,
And consequently many more after,
But that initial was the criminal that stole such an incredible gift,
Your laugh,
Well here’s prophecy from a vessel age only three,
Those criminal’s will eventually face justice,
But right now your Holy Parent wants your face to laugh,
Mind a field full of mines,
So explosive bombs with no alarms,
Palms can’t carry,
Gave up trying to disarm,
And still Holy Parent wants you to face em all and laugh,
Face the anxiety and laugh,
Face the stress and laugh,
Face the shame and laugh,
Face depression and laugh,
Face your triggered triggers and laugh,
It’s okay.
Even if you’re not okay.
It’s going to be okay.
Holy Family picture fractured,
See how one Son crucifixed via joyful lenses,
Yes, in present the playpens of our souls a mess,
But take lesson from joyful adolescence you can laugh
Because Holy Parent doesn’t leave us alone in it.
It’s okay.
Even if you’re not okay.
It’s going to be okay.
You can laugh.
So face it,
And Laugh.
And see what happens.
I saw Jojo the other day.
In passing,
Auntie’s house,
Thanksgiving dinner,
Late arrival,
Where’s the food,
In the fridge,
Wash your hands first,
Adulting can be tragic,
And Jojo’s laughing.

[Abraham continues playing into the 2nd half of “Touch the Sky”]

Abraham: 2nd verse Children lying in the streets Parents crying at their feet Its crazy how this world is changing Will this violence ever cease BACK TO CHORUS bridge We are the leaders The thinkers and the dreamers Can’t sit around wishing for change We will rise up with the courage I’m telling you things going to change In this day age we are not raised to be hopeful But hopeless If you have too much of a voice You’ll be exposed to be broken but we are the future we will pray for change and laugh

Seth: The poet says: “I carry the grief of the world in a joyful body. What should I do?”

The Psalmist replies: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship God with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing. Know that God is. It is God that made us, and we are God’s…”

The poet says: It’s okay. Even if you’re not okay. It’s going to be okay. You can laugh. So face it, And Laugh.

The singer replies: But if we just hold on, we can touch the sky, we can change the world one day at a time, so don’t you dare give up, don’t you dare give in, I can see the light is shining.

You/We are the shining light. You/We are the hands, feet and voices of God in the world. You/We are allowed to laugh and make joy because it is God’s gift to us and our gift to God. To laugh is not being unserious, to laugh is to stand in the face of the grief of the world seeing it clearly and choosing to make a joyful noise. To laugh is to choose joy along with grief. To laugh is to hope. To laugh is an act of resistance and love. May we all learn from our friend Jojo and keep laughing. May it be so.

[1]Lenfesty, James. Earth in Anger, p. 7


9 a.m. service

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