Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Preaching materials for November 4th, 2007

R U M O R S #473
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

October 28, 2007


"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

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Next Week’s Readings – a slight case of the willies
Rumors – write the vision
Soft Edges – a modest proposal
Bloopers – forgive us our trash baskets
We Get Letters – Chopin at the bit
Mirabile Dictu! – scrawl of the wild
Bottom of the Barrel – the Pope, Billy Graham and Oral Roberts
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – After reading Jim’s column below, I couldn’t resist this one. This epitaph was on a tombstone in San Diego, California, according to a newspaper printed in 1860.
Here lies the body of Jeemes Humbrick
who was accidentally shot on the
bank of the Pacus River by a young man.
He was accidentally shot with one
of the large Colt’s revolvers with
no stopper for the cock to rest on,
it was one of the old-fashioned kind
brass mounted. And of such is the
Kingdom of heaven.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, November 4th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. This Sunday is also All Saints Sunday.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 – Habakkuk, an obscure prophet, writes about the gut-churning problem of why the wicked do so well and why God is silent “when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they” (1:13). Habakkuk gets the answer that is still the answer we hear today. God will deal with the wicked in God’s own time. In the meanwhile, “the righteous live by their faith” (2:4).
As a professional scribbler, verse 2:3 has long had a special message. That message is also there for anyone who writes a sermon – whether in their head or on a piece of paper.
“Write the vision,” says Habakkuk. “Make it plain upon tablets.” That’s translated as “put it up on billboards,” in the Modern Language version, “so that people driving by can read it.”
The reality of the modern church is that we only have one crack at communicating with the folks who have some connection with our churches. That’s Sunday morning, and while they are not running or driving by, they have enough stuff flitting through their consciousness, that they might as well be driving by in a car.

Psalm 119:137-144 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
In any race, only one person can come first. We all like to win – but failure is the more universal human experience.
137 It is hard to serve you, God.
I cannot live up to your level of perfection.
138 Your standards are too high for me.
141a I am only a frail and fallible human.
139 I do my best – but often I feel like an outcast, an oddball;
Few of my fellow humans recognize what I hope to measure up to.
140 I'm not asking for lower standards;
I know you are right.
Generations and generations have proved your rightness.
141b I cannot ignore their insights.
142 For you do not waver with the winds;
Popularity polls have no impact upon you.
Your values are eternal.
143 Although troubles swirl around me like autumn leaves,
your wisdom still shows me the way.
144 Your example is as dependable as a lighthouse in the darkness –
I can safely set my course by it.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 – Check out the stuff between verses 4 & 11. I can see why the lectionary folk would want to leave that out, but it does show that it’s not just the far right wing of the church that uses proof-texts. We too cherry-pick those passages which support our point of view. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
In those first four verses the writer clearly points to love as the operative principle of the church. The hallmark of the church is the way in which we love each other. But another hallmark of the church is its love and care for those who are outside of its fellowship, and in that context, verses 5-10 give me the willies.

Luke 19:1-10 – It’s interesting how often the two words, “preaching” and “healing” are in the same sentence. It connects a care for souls with a care for bodies. It means the gospel of love is for our whole beings – from ingrown toenails up to dandruff on our scalp.
But that also applies to those who don’t like us. I don’t think we have the option of giving them the Trudeau Salute (a gesture involving the middle finger, the modern equivalent of shaking the dust off your shoes) and simply walking away. We do have power over demons (mental illness) and we can cure disease (v.1) but we lack the political will to do that.
Our current political regime in Canada, showing the largest budget surplus in history, has opted to cut taxes. Not a word about the homeless folks who live in our dark alleys and sleep in doorways.

There’s a bundle of great resources on the Wood Lake Books website, including “Seasons of the Spirit” curriculum – which has material for all ages in the church. A few moments poking around on that site could be very fruitful. Go to .


Rumors – A conversation with Bev a week ago sparked a thought I’d like to toss out for your reaction. It came as a result of a study group at our church, led by our pastor, Karen Medland.
In the group they had been looking at Luke’s Christmas stories, and wondering what implications that would have for a Christmas Eve service. What would they do with those stories they no longer see as historical? What about the text of traditional Christmas carols?
What kind of a service might meet the needs of the folks who come to hear the old, old stories? What would meet the needs of the people in that study group who are also there and needing to worship? Bev and I found ourselves talking about the pastoral implications of this discussion.
Karen loaned Bev a book by Walter Brueggemann (Cadence of Home – Preaching among Exiles). I had been reading Karen Armstrong’s “The Bible” which I was finding somewhat dull – the first chapter at least it is a rehash of Biblical History 101. But one sentence leapt out at me. Referring to the Genesis legends, she wrote: “These are not history. They are more than history.”
That’s a useful concept. Bishop Spong, in his writings, seems to be mostly negative – he starts with all the stuff he can no longer believe. Spong’s method seems like the radical treatment for some kinds of leukemia. You destroy the entire immune system to kill the cancer, then build it up again. Many patients do not survive that process.
Or to use another analogy – you don’t remodel or redecorate the home, you tear it down and build from the ground up. Except, where do you live in the meantime? You may never find your way back.
Marcus Borg is more positive. He wants to build on the tradition. “No!” I heard him say to a Lutheran pastor on one occasion. “You don’t go in there and tell them that Mary was not a virgin. You use that story and build on it, to see what’s inside. Why was that idea important to the early church?”
Walter Brueggemann suggests that the church is in a modern experience of exile. We often feel like a “motherless child, abandoned, vulnerable, orphaned.” He points to the increasing number of folks doing genealogy as evidence of a search for roots. If we simply tell people the biblical stories are not historical, we maroon them even more on a small island in a sea of uncertainty and change. And they will go searching elsewhere.
I think the biblical stories can come to our rescue. Used gently, creatively, with delight and a touch of humor, they can feed all of us. But the stories must not be allowed to stand on their own, or they will just become an entertaining yarn. There must be intelligent reflection on those stories.
Those ancient tales and old carols, told with skill and passion, can take us into an experience of a God of hope who comes to us as a child – in every child. A perceptive reflection on those tales and carols can help us translate our experience into our lives.
For the diverse group of folk who come to our churches during the Christmas season, I think we can do no better than the biblical myths (though we would not use that word) which speak in so many different ways to our various needs. We can add a few gentle comments about these being “more than history.” We can invite people to look inside the story and simply set aside their doubts about historical accuracy and gynecological details. “What is inside the story that moves you?” “What is in those stories that speaks to you today?”
But to do, as Spong has been accused of doing, to play demolition derby with the tradition, however well that may be founded in biblical research or theology, would do violence to our call into a pastoral ministry.
Habakkuk calls us to “write the vision.” It’s the vision we need to communicate, and that can only come through story, through song, through drama, through poetry. Through those things that connect with our dreams, our fears, our hopes.
A sermon must speak to the mind, but first it must speak to that inner longing for a truth that cannot be expressed in ordinary language. Worship must speak to the whole person – the inner child and the thoughtful adult.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
A Modest Proposal (with tongue firmly in cheek)
North Korea claims it already has nuclear weapons. Iran may have them. Israel probably does, but won’t admit it. India and Pakistan certainly do.
The original five members of the nuclear club – The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China – have defended its exclusivity as vigorously as any all-male club in London resisting the admission of women. Currently, 189 states have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferating Treaty to limit any further spread of nuclear weapons.
But why?
Restricting nuclear technology to an elite group of nations makes as much sense as gun registration. It presumes that unarmed individuals will be safer if no one but criminals possess guns.
With apologies to Jonathan Swift, I offer a modest proposal.
Surely the solution – and I admit that I’m indebted to the National Rifle Association for this insight – is to arm everyone. No idiot would pull a gun while robbing a convenience store if he knows that he will immediately perish in a hail of bullets. When every passenger in an airplane carries a loaded sidearm, hijackers lose their advantage.
The same holds true for nuclear weapons. Restricting nuclear weapons to a small minority of nations automatically gives them bullying power over unarmed nations. Instead of restricting nuclear weapons, we should expand their availability.
The benefits of such a policy go far beyond mere national security considerations. This is also a matter of principle. It is, I submit, a basic human right to own and if necessary to use a nuclear weapon.
Nuclear weapons will be the great social equalizer. Size will no longer matter. One nation can no longer dominate another simply because it has a larger population, greater resources, or a more prosperous economy.
When the alternative is annihilation, antagonists will be forced to negotiate their differences peacefully.
An open market for nuclear weapons will enable arms manufacturers to offer more products. Competition will increase efficiency and force prices down, making nuclear weapons more affordable for poor nations.
As arms producers increase their profits, stock markets will soar. Pension plans will benefit. Seniors will enjoy a quality of living in retirement that they could not have imagined in more restrictive times.
There will be other social benefits, too. Societies will no longer function in a climate of fear. They can operate with the confidence that they can instantly retaliate against any aggressive acts.
Exclusivity will be replaced by inclusivity. Instead of a nuclear “us” versus a non-nuclear “them,” everyone can be equally lethal to everyone else.
Of course, those who choose to remain non-nuclear, whether by innate orientation or acquired ideology, will have to recognize that their lifestyle choice involves a certain sacrifice – just as gays, lesbians, dark-skinned peoples and Muslim women do currently.
Obviously, some implications of my modest proposal still need exploration. But I submit that even in its formative stages, it offers great potential for hastening the second coming of Christ, to reign unchallenged by any human presence.

If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at Jim also does another weekly column called “Sharp Edges” which is published in our daily newspaper. It has a stronger political-social justice content. If you’d like to receive Sharp Edges, send Jim a note at the address above. Or go to Jim’s web page at: . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.


$Grandparenting – been having lots of fun with the new book, “The Spirituality of Grandparenting.” The media folks have been buzzing around. The local paper even published an item about an event that was cancelled.
Bev and I are signing books at an event in Revelstoke this weekend, and next weekend we’ll be in Kananaskis for the Western Women’s Conference – which I must hasten to explain – is not a gathering of women dressed in cowboy boots and coiffed like Dolly Parton. Linnea Good is doing the music, and she doesn’t look or sound at all like Dolly Parton.
Meanwhile, if you would like to do your Christmas shoplifting early, you could try your local bookstore, or order from .
Pssssssttt!! If you are in a bookstore, and you see the book there, even if you don’t buy it, when nobody is looking, re-arrange the shelf so the whole cover shows. That will sell more books to help support me in my dotage.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Pastor Bette Johnson Sohm of Pine Plains (no state or province named) writes: “Our Sunday School was practicing the song ‘Jesus, Lord of Promises’ to sing in church this past Sunday. It starts: ‘Jesus, Lord of promises, I believe in you.’
A grandmother reported to me that her four-year-old grandson, practicing at home, was heard to sing ‘Jesus sort of promises: I'll be leaving you’.”

Peggy Neufeld of Ponoka, Alberta, sent a note about the four-year-old who prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
Peggy, I hope the adults didn’t try to correct the child. She/he got it right! How many folks know what a “trespass” is? Anything like an overpass on the highway?

From the file, this hopeful note: There will be no home-groan talent playing musical numbers during the banquet.

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me.


Wish I’d Said That! – To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life.
Gelett Burgess via Evelyn McLachlan

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart via Bette Johnson Sohm

Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
Mark Twain via Mary in Oman

Laughter has no age. It belongs to all generations, especially when it's shared. That's the secret of crossing the generation gap.
Bob Talbert via Velia Watts


We Get Letters –Evelyn McLachlan has a serious addiction to puns, but now it appears as if the disease is running rampant through her congregation. She writes, “I had made a request to Bob, the choir director about singing the first few bars of the Hallelujah Chorus as a response to one of the lines in a Call to Worship.
His first response was, "I think we can Handel that. Carole (co-choir director), will you Bach me up? Catherine (organist), do you think we could go for Baroque with this?"
My response was "That's good. I was Chopin at the bit to do this. I'm really quite Jazzed about it."
Not to be outdone, Bob Anderson responded with, “Well, how do you really feel about Sunday Chopin? I could make a few notes on my Liszt. I think we should stick to the bass-ics. Maybe tenor eleven things alto-gether. It would be no treble at all. And maybe keep it to just the staff. Or we could conduct a survey. You could help us with the fine tuning on that. But who would ad-minister it? The results could be instrumental to our success – the key to our future happiness. Naturally, we will have to stay sharp. Everyone will have to pitch in, know the score, and take a stand. And I ain't just whistling Dixie ! Hummmmmmmmm . . . . Time to give it a rest.”
“I responded by waving a white flag and bowing to his punny prowess.
“I'm sorry if I have caused you pain from groaning but I wanted other people to have to put up with what I have to put up with!”
Evelyn. Fun stuff, but I don’t for a moment believe that you are “sorry” for having done this.

Susan Fiore, AOJN (that stands for “Anglican Order of Julian of Norwich, which is very close to my heart) is laughing at herself – a very healthy thing to do.
Susan responds to my comments about the Pharisee and the tax collector. “Some time ago I realized that when I hear that story, my initial thought is, ‘Thank you, God, that I'm not like that Pharisee who thinks he's not like that tax collector.’ The next thought is invariably, ‘Thank you, God, that I'm not like someone who thinks she's not like that Pharisee who thinks he's not . . .’ well, you see how this can become an endless spiral of self-righteousness!”
Susan, there’s a book – or at least a sermon – in your comment. “Spirals of Self-righteousness.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “The scrawl of the wild!”)
* Nietzche is piesche but Satre is smartre.
* Jesus saves. Moses invests.
* Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.
* Help a nun kick her habit.
* My mother made me a homosexual. Immediately below this: If I get her the wool, will she make me one too?
* Old soldiers never die. Just young ones.
* God is dead – Nietzsche. Under this in another hand: Nietzsche is dead – God.


Bottom of the Barrel – Here’s one from the prolific Evelyn McLachlan.
The Pope, Billy Graham, and Oral Roberts were in a three-way plane crash over the Pacific Ocean. They all died and went to heaven together.
"Oh, this is terrible," exclaims St. Peter. "I know you guys think we summoned you here, but this is just one of those coincidences that happen. Since we weren't expecting you, your quarters just aren't ready. We can't take you in and we can't send you back.
Then St. Peter got an idea. He picked up the phone. "Lucifer, this is St. Peter. I’ve got these three guys up here. They're ours, but we weren't expecting them, and we gotta fix the place up for 'em. I was hoping you could put them up for a while. It'll only be a few of days. What d'ya say?"
Reluctantly, the Devil agreed. However, two days later St. Peter got a call.
"Pete, this is Lucifer. Hey, you gotta come get these guys. This Pope fellow is forgiving everybody, the Graham guy is saving everybody, and that Roberts has raised enough money to buy air conditioning."

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