The Hilarity of Grace

July 20, 2013

It doesn’t happen only to people who win the one-in-a-million sweepstakes or who finally discover the perfect deodorant. Probably you, too, can remember when something wonderful happened to you, something so out of the blue and too good to be true that you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. If you’re like lots of folks, you probably did both at once. Full of surprise and extravagance, grace can crash in like that, stirring up holy hilarity.

A song and a story from the Bible show hilarity at work. Psalm 126, the song, describes how, after a long exile, the Israelites got to return home. This was so unreal, so amazing, so improbable, they sang, that it seemed like a dream. But, they continued, their mouths “were filled with laughter” and their lips with song and exuberant shout.

The story is about the man, crippled for years, who was healed by Peter and John. (Acts 3) After he stood, walked, and began to jump, he ran through the crowds in the Temple precincts, leaping and shouting praise to God. The Temple staff couldn’t figure out how to handle such displays of visible, exhilarating joy.

In song texts like “there’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea,” people of faith witness to the extravagance of God’s love. We wonder that God embraces us in love and accepts us in spite of all our defiance, klutziness, and failures. We see in Jesus that God will do anything to say, “I love you.”

Such extravagance, such unbounded and surprising love, should fill our mouths with laughter, pour praise and songs out of our lips. It should stir up holy hilarity. Yet often it doesn’t. Eugene Peterson observes that as a pastor his “most difficult assignment” is to help people develop a sense of “the soul-transforming implications of grace” in a culture that is in “persistent denial of grace.” (in Practicing Resurrection).

Some folks, I’m sure, see themselves as self-sufficient, as self-made, as not needing grace at all. But more folks, I suspect, resist grace, perhaps because of its extravagance. “No, that’s too much; I can’t let you do this.” “No, I don’t deserve this; I don’t want to be beholden to you.”

Still others may receive grace as a burden of duty. They work to become worthy of it or to earn it. Or they may try to scale down its extravagance to make it an acceptable bargain. In doing so, they miss the wonder that grace is not about settling accounts or paying of penalties. God’s grace is about pursuing with love, about wooing the beloved.

How much better if, instead of resisting grace or whittling it down to size, we were to receive it with joy and to share the lavish, undeserved love that God has shown us. Let’s join in the gala of grace, with all the hoopla and hullabaloo and hilarity it can bring. Enjoy it, celebrate it, and share the extravagance of grace with one another and with the world.


[An extended period of public ministry and private travel elbowed blog writing aside for a while. It’s now reclaiming its place. Thanks for your patience. I hope you’ll stop by, put us on your RSS feed, share us with your friends.]




  1. Bob Medford says:

    Thanks for the message.

  2. Bob Medford says:

    I like the tone of this message.

  3. Scot Headley says:


    I am glad to see you got the words out of your mind and off the pad and onto this site! Could our American cultural myth of the rugged, independent individual be competing with our ability to accept, with gratitude, God’s grace?

    • hmacy says:

      Thanks, Scot. Maybe seeing you helped it happen. Your comment is spot on, and the “rugged” individualism becomes point of both pride and pain.

Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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