Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sermon Helps for Sunday, October 21, 2007

R U M O R S #471
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

October 14, 2007



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

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I will post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there.


Next Week’s Readings – not what Jeremiah had in mind
Rumors – written on my heart
Soft Edges – going to the dogs
Good Stuff – thanksgiving suggestions
Celebrations – a big book bash on Tuesday
Bloopers – the ushers may eat you
Mirabile Dictu! – give me a light
Bottom of the Barrel – an old broom
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – It was time for the Pastor to move on to another parish. She told her congregation of her intent to do so, and an emotional worship service was had by all.
Afterwards the Pastor was greeted by a man who, in no uncertain terms, told her how much she would be missed.
“Now, don’t worry,” said the pastor. “You’ll probably get a nice young seminarian, full of good ideas and energy. After all, ‘A new broom sweeps clean!’ right?”
“Yes, Pastor,” said the man. “But an old broom knows where all the dirt is!”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary.

Jeremiah 31:27-34 – Obviously, this is where the expression “sour grapes” comes from. Well, maybe not. There is an Ǽsop fable about a disgruntled wolf. “I’m sure those grapes are sour.”
Verse 30 hurts. We adopted twins who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. They inherited that curse from their birth mother who probably inherited it from her mother, who may have been dehumanized by my land-grabbing ancestors. One of the twins died because of that sin.
And verses 31-34 should be a bit upsetting to those of us who earn our bread by communicating the gospel – writing, preaching, counseling, etc. Jeremiah says we will be obsolete. Unnecessary.
And that is happening. The “gospel” most people in Western European society live by is absorbed through popular culture, the media, and occasionally a little bit from the church. They have a “law within them” – maybe I should make that inclusive – we have a law within us that governs our lives and prescribes our ethics.
I don’t think that’s what Jeremiah had in mind.

Psalm 119:97-104 – Jim does not have a paraphrase of this portion of Psalm 119.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 – I love that phrase, “itching ears (4:3).” Itching ears can be a symptom of wax buildup which inhibits hearing. At least, that’s what happens in my ears. Is that why sound is so often over-amplified – folks can no longer hear the subtle sounds? The “sound of silence?” The “still, small voice?” And so we accumulate for ourselves “teachers to suit our own desires.”
The phrase that is most often proof-text is “All scripture is inspired by God.” But this was a personal letter to Timothy. Paul had no idea he was writing holy writ. The scripture referred to is what we, somewhat patronizingly, call the “Old Testament.” There were no Christian scriptures at that point in history.
For me, the most useful sentence is right at the top. “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believe, (v.14)” which could be interpreted to mean, “don’t never change your mind about nothin’.” But for me it’s saying, get a good handle on the core of your faith. And build on that.

Luke 18:1-8 – Until fairly recently, many people interpreted scriptures allegorically. Especially Jesus’ parables.
So in this passage the allegorical reading would have been to say the widow stands for us and the judge stands for God. Whoops! Does that mean that God has no fear of God, and that God is unjust?
And it is not the merit of the widow’s prayer that convinces the judge, it is her bloody-minded persistence. The judge just wants to get her off his back. It doesn’t matter what we pray for, as long as we keep at it. Eventually we’ll wear God down.
Then there’s that enigmatic last sentence. Half a dozen commentators have a dozen readings on it. So how about this as a paraphrase. “When the Son returns, will your persistent prayers show that you have enduring relationships with God? Or will you have given up and joined a fundamentalist snake handling sect?”

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.


Rumors – I can’t do better than to share what I wrote in response to those scriptures in Aha!!! magazine, almost ten years ago.

“What kind of a pen does God use to write on your heart?”
It was an angry, pain-filled question during a Bible study session. A literal response to a metaphor is almost always cynical or cruel.
But what is Jeremiah trying to get across? I’m not sure, but here are some stories.
Our choir is singing at a senior citizen’s home. The people there are all in their final years. Our singing, and the words of our minister, don’t seem to penetrate the shade of years pulled across their minds.
Then we sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” and a small light goes on in several ancient faces. In a tiny, cracked voice, and old lady sings with us. The song is written on her heart and the weight of years cannot erase it.
My nephew has died. There is pain in his death that is more than the pain of his dying so young. Family quarrels have surfaced in the tension around the bedside. An Anglican priest comes in. He is my nephew’s pastor and his long-time friend. The priest is one of the mourners.
I brace myself, wondering if the priest will say something “helpful.” He stands at the bedside, and from the depth of somewhere he speaks an ancient lamentation. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?” He needs no book. The words are written on his heart.
I am at a memorial service for my son who ended his lonely life of suffering the devastation of fetal alcohol syndrome. I am confused. I am angry at his birth mother whose drinking shut down his nervous system, and made it impossible for him to give or receive affection. Why should a child grow to be a man and never know that he is loved?
We play a song that was my son’s favorite. “The Rose.” It is about the love which he never understood or felt. What did he sense when he heard that line, “….and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong…”?
The song’s gift to me is the final verse.
“Just remember in the winter,
far beneath the bitter snows,
likes a seed, that with the sun’s love,
in the spring becomes a rose.”
And so, when the minister tells us with passion and hope that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus,” I know that my son now knows that love – the love of Christ Jesus and his earthly father’s love, which he never knew before.
I know that, because the knowledge of resurrection, of Easter hope, is written on my heart.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Going to the Dogs
We have a new dog in our household.
Our last dog, Phoebe the Irish Setter, died in August 2006. We grieved her passing, and our loss, for most of a year.
In late July, friend and neighbour Mick Wentworth asked, “Are you still looking for a dog? I have a two-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever who needs a home.”
Her previous owner had committed suicide; the dog was alone with his body for several days. “It’s either you, or the pound,” said Mick.
“Does she have a name?” we asked.
Mick grinned sheepishly: “Phoebe,” he said.
After that, we could hardly NOT take her. So Phoebe II came home with us.
No one would ever call a Chesapeake beautiful. Even the breeder’s manuals, which portray their favourite breed in the best possible terms, comment that “The Chessie has been valued for talents rather than appearance.”
With her short curly coat and barrel chest, Phoebe resembles a Brillo pad on legs.
But she has a marvellous temperament. She greets everyone with exuberant friendliness. She takes snacks without imperilling our fingers. She’s gentle with our three-year-old granddaughter Katharine. And she is absurdly devoted to us.
It’s too bad that the ancient Hebrews didn’t have dogs as pets. Nomadic herders probably couldn’t afford the luxury of household pets. Dogs were carrion-eaters at best, predators at worst. So most biblical references to dogs are negative.
In one episode, Jesus referred to Gentiles as “dogs.” He did not intend it as a compliment.
But it seems to me that many of the qualities that God expects of humans are the same qualities we expect of our dogs.
Obedience: we are to learn God’s will, and do it. “Thy will be done,” we pray.
But obedience is more than just doing one’s duty. Employees can obey orders, but hate what they’re doing. A well-trained dog wants to do what we want. A dog gets pleasure from obeying.
“The law of the Lord is perfect,” says Psalm 19, “more to be desired than gold, sweeter than honey...”
Devotion: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might,” says the Hebrew Shema.
That’s a pretty good description of Phoebe’s attitude to us. She adores us. It shows in every wag of her tail, every shine in her eyes. Could God ask for more?
Above all, faithfulness: “You shall have no other gods ahead of me,” decrees the first Commandment.
A multitude of stories describe the fidelity of dogs to their humans. Possibly the ultimate example was Greyfriars Bobby, who kept vigil at his master’s grave for 14 years.
A dog doesn’t spend its life looking for new masters. A dog knows to whom it belongs.
Biblical writers could have saved so many words, if they had just told us to relate to God the way our household dogs relate to us.
Not that dogs are perfect. But that’s a subject for next week’s column.

(Ralph’s note: Jim has authored a fine book in the Spirituality series, “The Spirituality of Pets.” There’s a lot in there about Phoebe I. Go to the Wood Lake Publications web site ( and click on “Jim Taylor’s Edges” right near the top of the page.)

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.


Good Stuff – This from Fred and Joyce Abma. It’s a bit late for the Canadian Thanksgiving, but thanksgiving should not be limited to one day a year. And Americans can put it in their file for Thanksgiving which they celebrate on November 22nd. In most of Canada, fall has fell by then and it’s already winter.
This is from a sermon by Joel Lohr, of Woodriver, Illinois.

A few thanksgiving suggestions:* Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you want. If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
* Be thankful when you don’t know something. This gives you the opportunity to learn.
* Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow.
* Be thankful for your limitations. They give you opportunities for improvement.
* Be thankful for each new challenge. It will build strength and character.
* Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons.
* Be thankful when you’re tired and weary. It means you’ve made a difference.
It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. But, a life of true fulfillment can come to those who are also thankful for the setbacks. As hard as it may be, find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings.
As we look around us at the land of plenty that we live in, it is my prayer that we will see through new eyes each day, the ways that God has blessed us.


COME AND HELP US CELEBRATE – Any of you folks living in the central Okanagan (well anywhere, actually, if you don’t mind the drive) are invited to a book launching bash that’s happening this Tuesday, October 16th, between 10 am and 2 pm.
And the book, of course, is “The Spirituality of Grandparenting.” I’ve written a dozen or more books, but this is one that I’ve particularly enjoyed and which turned out to be a full-color, beautifully designed coffee table book with lots of marvelous photos.
Wood Lake Books is staging the event at the McMillan Pumpkin Patch at 3690 Berard Rd, (not Bernard!) Kelowna. Their phone number is 250-863-6081 and their e-mail is Phone or e-mail if you need directions. There’ll be apricots and pumpkins and hay rides and hay mazes, lots of good fun and an autographed copies of the book.
Bring along your grandkids if they’re either too young or too old for school. Should be fun.
The sad thing is, you won’t meet our grandkids, Zoë and Jake. They’ll be in school. But Bev and I will be delighted to see you.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Evelyn McLachlan says a non-church goer is called a Seventh-Day Absentist.
Evelyn, shouldn’t that be a “First Day Absentist?”

From the file:
* Ushers may eat the late arrivals.
* Volunteers are needed to spit up food.
* We are gathering to unite this man and this woman in holy macaroni.

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! – By the time we are wise enough to watch our step, we’re too old to go anywhere.
Billy CrystalWhen the student is ready, the teacher appears. Buddhist Proverb
Love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Author Unknown via Velia Watts

Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Give me a light!”)
The Bible in a Nutshell, from Dennis Languay of Saint-Lambert, Quebec, who found it on the net.
This has been ascribed to school children, but those of you who are experts in textual criticism will recognize many familiar phrases from previous circulating e-mails. Doesn’t matter. It’s fun to read.

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, "The Lord thy God is one," but I think God must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God said, "Give me a light!" and someone did. Then God made the world.
God split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars.
Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.
One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.
After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.
Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then He gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's stuff. Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.
One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.
After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me. After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.
After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of the New Testament. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn, too, because my mom is always saying to me, "Close the door! Were you born in a barn?" It would be nice to say, "As a matter of fact, I was.")
During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Republicans. Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.
Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount. But the Republicans and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.
Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.


Bottom of the Barrel – This from John Severson who says it’s “an oldie-but-goody.” It’s almost in the category of a folk tale, because there are many different versions of the story. It’s been in Rumors before, but it’s deserves another go.
A priest from Ireland was assigned to a Texas diocese. One morning, Father O'Malley rose from his bed. It was a fine spring day in his new Texas mission parish. He walked to the window of his bedroom to get a deep breath of the beautiful day outside.
He then noticed there was a jackass lying dead in the middle of his front lawn. He promptly called the local police station.
“Good morning, this is Sergeant Jones,” said the voice on the phone. “How might I help you?'
“And the best of the day te yerself,” said the priest. “This is Father O'Malley at St. Brigid's. There's a jackass lying dead in me front lawn. Would ye be so kind as to send a couple o’yer lads to take care of the matter.”
Sergeant Jones, considering himself to be quite a wit, replied with a smirk, “Well now Father, it was always my impression that you people took care of last rites!”
“Aye, 'tis certainly true,” said Father O’Malley after a long pause. “But we are also obliged to notify the next of kin!”

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