Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Preaching Materials for December 9, 2007

R U M O R S #478
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 2, 2007


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

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A senior’s Yule drool: “All I want for Christmas is my upper plate. . .” Plus 123 more subscribers to Rumors! The computer tells me we have 6,877 kind, generous, good-looking and very intelligent folks subscribing to Rumors. Surely, surely there must be 123 more stellar souls out there who would not find their integrity too terribly compromised by subscribing. Think, people, think! There must be somebody you know!

Next Week’s Readings – the glory and the guilt
Rumors – daily, boring heroism
Soft Edges – when the ground moves beneath us
Good Stuff – threes
Bloopers – singing hard and loud
We Get Letters – rabbitanarian reincarnationalism
Mirabile Dictu! – heavenly peas
Bottom of the Barrel – benefits of church
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Margaret & Wally Wood of Wick Caithness, Scotland got this gem from Ken Warner of Halkirk, Scotland.
It was the Christmas pageant, written and directed by a group of twelve-year-olds.
The first scene was at the inn with Joseph and Mary looking for a room for the night.
Innkeeper: Can’t you see the sign? No vacancies!
Joseph: Yes, but can’t you see my wife's expecting a baby?
Innkeeper: Well, that's not my fault.
Joseph: It's not mine either.


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, December 9th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary.
This will be the second Sunday of Advent.

Isaiah 11:1-10 – Someone once quipped that “’the leopard may lie down with the lamb, (v.6)’ but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”
That chuckle gets right to the heart of this beautiful and powerful passage. We dream of the peaceable kingdom, when everything in the world is as it should be. But the reality is different.
At the various junction points in our lives – a new school, a new marriage, a new job – we dream of perfection while we fear our failure. And most often, the reality is a bit of both.
The Advent dream is that God’s gift of self, given substance in tiny baby, will help us once again to dream into that peaceable kingdom, and perhaps find a way to give that dream substance in our own lives.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
The laws we live under shape our lives. We should not think of them as separate from our faith.
1 Help our governments to govern rightly, God.
Lend them your wisdom.
2 May they govern the people with justice;
May they fairly represent the poor and the voiceless.
3 May their legislation create
mountains of prosperity for their people;
May their laws level out every inequity.
4 May they not look after their own interests;
May they look after the needs of natives and immigrants,
of nobodies and outsiders.
5 As long as the sun rises and the rivers run,
God will guide them.
6 Like the rain that makes the grass grow,
like April showers that bring May flowers
God will nurture those who govern wisely and well.
7 God does not wax and wane like the moon;
Because God is constant,
those who remain responsive to God will never wander.
18 Only God can make such a promise.
19 Thanks be to God. Amen.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 15:4-13 – Paul didn’t quite get his quotes right, but then he didn’t travel with a laptop, much less a shelf full of books. He had to work from memory, and with that in mind I think he did very well.
Paul was writing to the Jewish Christians in Rome, telling them that God really did want those Gentiles to be part of “The Way,” the name they gave to the early form of Christianity. It’s good to remember that we are the Gentiles Paul is talking about. We are the outsiders wanting in.
It’s always tempting to get into a “we-they” kind of thinking. Our own congregation in our own denomination is the “norm” by which we judge all others. No, of course we don’t mean that – the moment we think about it. But if we look really carefully, we may be astonished to find how many of our assumptions are based on that.

Matthew 3:1-12 – When we are reading Matthew, it’s always good to remember that he had it in for Jewish leaders, the “Pharisees and Sadducees” he talks about in verse seven. They were the ones who had rejected the Jewish Christians, and in his mind, prevented the Jewish people from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.
There’s a young man I know who teaches yoga in our town. His head is covered in dreadlocks, his clothing is always colorful and unconventional, and he has a thin, gaunt look about him, possibly because he is a very strict vegetarian. I think of him as a kind of modern-day John the Baptist.
If someday we see him baptizing in Okanagan Lake, you and I shouldn’t go anywhere near the place because he would point his trembling finger at us and say, “You brood of vipers,” or its modern equivalent.
He would say that because we represent the religious establishment. And on our shoulders rests the guilt and the glory of our Christian institutions. And while we accept his judgment we should also celebrate all that the Christian Church is now and has been.
Christians tend to do the “guilt” thing quite well. And we are guilty. But the glory part is true too and unless we see that as well, the guilt part is destructive without being redemptive.
Christ is not absent from our community.

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 the website at:


Rumors – All this happened eight or nine years ago when granddaughter Zoë was still quite small, she showed me a row of Band-Aids on her legs. Band-Aids are a source of pride for her. When older brother Jake got a Band-Aid, Zoë wanted one too, and Kari, her mother, obliged with an “honorary Band-Aid.”
Zoë’s many Band-Aids were earned while visiting some friends. She had stumbled and fallen into a rosebush, and was scratched on the way in and on the way out. No great damage done. The scratches healed very quickly.
I wasn’t there when Zoë fell into the rosebush, but I am sure I know exactly what happened. The instant reflex of every adult nearby, especially her parents, was to rescue. It’s that fundamental instinct – to reach out and save – that makes us truly human.
Rescuing a child from a rosebush is not the kind of heroism that makes the morning paper. But it springs from the same instinct as that which leads someone to dive into the freezing waters to rescue a drowning stranger.
I remember a wedding service which Bev (who is clergy), performed some time ago. She said to the starry-eyed couple, “You’ve just promised to love each other ‘for better or for worse.’ Well, I can’t promise you that it will get any better. But I can promise you, it will get worse.”
A pledge of commitment – to a partner, to a child, to a cause, to a country, to a faith – has within it the promise of joy and pain – hope and despair. There is a dream – like Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom – there is the memory of pain.
Any plan, any venture brings with it the daily grind of simply doing the necessary things over and over again. In fact it seems to me that the most heroic people are those who keep on keeping on – doing the necessary, boring, daily stuff.
The parent who gets the children up every day and off to school, who scans the specials to stretch the food dollar, who washes the same clothes over and over.
The greatest heroes are not those who run through blazing guns to rescue fallen comrades. They are heroes, yes, but not as great as the hero parent who actively and daily loves a child through years of teenage trauma. Or who offers “honorary Band-Aids” to a child.
The pledge of commitment to a faith is a promise to be there for others in the cruddy times as well as the moments of glory – to love the sinners along with the saints – to give special honor to the least honorable.
The Dorothy Days, the Jean Vaniers, the Mother Theresas, the Martin Luther Kings are great heroes of the faith, yes. But their heroism is no greater than that of the pastor who week by week and year by year visits the sick and comforts the afflicted and stands up for justice. The preacher who week by week struggles to speak truth through the encrustations of culture into the hearts of a jaded congregation.
Isaiah’s promise of a peaceable kingdom – John’s promise of a Messiah – are there for the everyday kind of folks who do the everyday kind of stuff.
If those promises are not there for everyday heroes, they are not there for anyone.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
When the Ground Moves Beneath Us
The organization – its name doesn’t matter – was exploring ways and means of continuing its programs. That meant developing new products, new markets, new users.
But every possibility seemed to lead to a dead end. Every proposal foundered on its own realities. And the banks seemed to be looking over everyone's shoulder like the grim reaper sharpening his scythe.
The group stared glumly at each other.
Someone commented, "We've just landed on Boardwalk, and someone else owns it.”
Everyone understood. That’s how the game of Monopoly has influenced our vocabulary.
"Do not pass Go," someone else might have said; "Do not collect $200."
If those phrases don’t make sense to you, you have never played Monopoly.
According to the game’s website, “Monopoly is the best-selling board game in the world, sold in 103 countries and produced in 37 languages...”
It got started during the Great Depression. Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, was unemployed, like millions of others. He imagined what it might be like to manipulate real estate, utilities, and community events, to get magnificently wealthy.
He called his game Monopoly – because that was obviously the tactic the Vanderbilts and Morgans had used to get to the top.
Parker Brothers rejected the game. It had, they said, "52 design errors"!
Undaunted, Darrow printed up 5,000 handmade copies of his game for a Philadelphia department store. They sold out. People loved a game that simulated their life experience – making money, or losing it. Parker Brothers reconsidered; Monopoly entered history.
I started thinking about other phrases that make sense only to those already familiar with that vocabulary. I've said to my British relatives, "Three strikes and you're out!" and received a blank stare. They'd get the same response from me for a term from cricket, say, or from Cockney slang.
Americans all seem to understand, "It ain't over ’til the fat lady sings." But not in Canada. No “fat lady” – or anyone else – sings at the conclusion of our annual Grey Cup national fiesta.
A generation ago, phrases from the Bible provided most of the common idioms of our language. Mention Jacob's Ladder, Ezekiel's chariot, or a Damascus-Road experience, almost everyone knew what you meant.
Not any more. Our church choir encountered a line, a few rehearsals ago, that said, "Free us from the babble of our Babel minds..."
"What does that mean?" several members asked. They had never, apparently, heard the story of the Tower of Babel.
As an occasional preacher, I like to build on what people already know. So I tend to drop allusions without explaining them in detail. Increasingly, I get puzzled frowns instead of knowing nods.
The second largest source of common sayings was Shakespeare. But many people today have never heard of Shakespeare, let alone learned any of his more memorable lines.
The common ground, the lingua franca of communication, has shifted under our feet. Today, I suspect, it comes from the commercial world. Not from literature, or faith.

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 Kausie White:
Three things in life that, once gone, never come back
1. Time
2. Words
3. Opportunity
Three things in life that can destroy a person
1. Anger
2. Pride
3. Unforgiveness
Three things in life that you should never lose
1. Hope
2. Peace
3. Honesty
Three things in life that are most valuable
1. Love
2. Friends & Family
3. Kindness
Three things in life that are not ever certain
1. Fortune
2. Success
3. Dreams
Three things that make a person
1. Commitment
2. Sincerity
3. Hard work
Three things that are truly constant
Father – Son – Holy Spirit


Time to get serious!
Advent One has come and gone and in the next few days most of us are going to be as busy as the proverbial one-armed paper hanger. So go directly – do not pass Go, do not collect $200 – to the Wood Lake Publications web site or pick up the phone and call 1-800-841-9991, and order those “Spirituality of. . .” books for everyone on your Christmas list. Or go to any decent bookstore. If they don’t have them in stock yell at them. Create a disturbance. Get arrested.
Especially buy “The Spirituality of Pets” by Jim Taylor or “The Spirituality of Grandparenting” by yours truly.
Consider it an act of charity toward a couple of old aging crocks. Every book you buy puts enough money in our jeans to buy half a can of pet food for our Christmas dinner. Sob!!!! (By the way, I also have a really good bridge for sale!)
Go to this Wood Lake Publishing web address ( for this and many other delightful and useful resources. Select “Search by Title, Author," at the top left column of the site. Or phone 1-800-663-2775.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Betty Hass of Columbus, Indiana spotted this in a Christmas bulletin: "Hard the Herald Angels Sing."
Betty, that describes our choir. The herald angels in our choir do not always sing well – or at least I don’t in the bass section – but we do sing hard. And loud. Which is quite biblical. The psalmist tells us to “make a joyful noise.”

From the file:
* The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.* Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
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! – Live in such a way that those who know you but don't know God will come to know God because they know you.
Anonymous via Kausie White

Self-made gods always see what they are doing as being for the greater good
J.B. Robb via Jo Leget of Medina, Ohio
Early to rise and early to bed makes a man healthy, wealthy and dead. James Thurber

We Get Letters – Fred Roden writes: “Chanukah begins December 4 this year, not December 8 as you mentioned.”
You are quite right, Fred. The source I used was in error. Sorry for the mistake.
Marilyn Leuty responds to the profound theological issue raised in last week’s Rumors by Trevor Quinn of Regina, Saskatchewan. "If a rabbit is reincarnated, would that be a hare raising experience?"
Marilyn says that’s “not likely, since reincarnation is usually to a different kind of being or plane of existence. Now if the rabbit were resurrected, Trevor's question remains!”
Profound stuff, Marilyn and Trevor. There is a children’s version of the resurrection hymn, “Up From the Grave He Arose.” The children’s version goes, “Up from the gravy, a rose.”
Now in some Low German dialects, a rabbit is a “hose.” Since rabbit is a traditional winter meal in many parts of the northern hemisphere, that song could go, “Up from the gravy, a hose.”
Since the smell of rabbit gravy excites the little smell thingees in my ample proboscis, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to take that song one step further and sing “Up from the gravy, a nose.”
Isn’t it wonderful the profound stuff us theologians can squeeze out of one tiny little phrase?

Evelyn McLachlan has a new question to be added to the list of those used in communicants classes.
Q. Which area of Palestine was especially wealthy?
A. The area around Jordan. The banks were always overflowing.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “heavenly peas!”)
This from John Severson. Good fun for a Christmas party.
* Sleep in heavenly peas (Sleep in heavenly peace) “Silent Night”
Olive, the other reindeer (All of the other reindeer)“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
* In the meadow we can build a snowman, then pretend that he is sparce and brown (In the meadow we can build a snowman, then pretend that he is Parson Brown) “Winter Wonderland”
* He will bring us windows and limes (He will bring us goodness and light) “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
* Oh, Come, froggy faithful (Oh, come all ye faithful) “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”
* An eggshell stable (In excelsis Deo) “Angels We Have Heard On High”
* Police have my dad (Feliz Navidad) “Feliz Navidad”
* While shepherds washed their socks by night (While shepherds watch’d their flocks by night) “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
* O tanned and bound (O Tannebaum) “O Tannebaum”


Bottom of the Barrel – Coming out of church, Mr. Smith asked his wife, “Do you think that Johnson girl is tinting her hair?” “I didn’t even see her,” admitted Mrs. Smith. “And that gaudy sport shirt Harry Smith was wearing. I don’t think that’s appropriate for church, do you?”
“I’m afraid I didn’t notice that either,” said Mrs. Smith. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” snapped Mr. Smith. “A lot of good it does you to go to church.”

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