Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Preaching Materials for November 25, 207

R U M O R S #476
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 18th, 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 – the way we read and tell the story
Rumors – the gift of forgetfulness
Soft Edges – human nature
Good Stuff – after-dark walkers
Bloopers – the missing finger
We Get Letters – the worst sentence ever uttered
Mirabile Dictu! – cardboard congregation
Bottom of the Barrel – good news, bad news
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The Bible Study Group leader was explaining the rich legacy of the Hebrew tradition.
“Because of Moses, you have Saturday off,” she explained. “Because of Jesus, you have Sunday off.”
“Yeah,” said one of the participants. “Five more good Jewish boys like that and we’d never have to work.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, November 24th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. It is also observed as the Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday.
Yikes! That means the Sunday after that is Advent 1!

Jeremiah 23:1-6 – It’s helpful to know that the prophet Jeremiah was writing about his own people in his own time. It’s about Israel’s scattered flock and the hope that they’d be all gathered together and would live in peace under another king like the great David.
It’s interesting that Jeremiah accused the politicians of his day of being responsible for the mess they were in. And of course we now do the same thing.
One of the favorite little games us old fogies enjoy is called, “Ain’t It Awful?” The winner of this game if never announced but it is always understood. It’s the person who can attribute the most heinous action to the highest level politician. Or church leader. Or organizational leader. Whatever.
The game of “Ain’t It Awful” is usually followed by a round or two of the game called, “If Only.” This is when we prescribe the solutions to the world’s problems – solutions that never fail because they are never tried. If only those folks in high office would ask me, I could tell them exactly how to deal with this mess.
What is never mentioned, or at least would be hotly denied, is that we get exactly the kind of leaders we deserve.

Luke 1:68-79 (Zachariah’s prophecy) is the poetic reading for this Sunday. Jim Taylor does not have a paraphrase of this, but he does provide a paraphrase of Psalm 46, which is the alternate reading.
1 Wars and rumors of wars swirl around us;
corporate strife and struggle engulf us.
Only God stands firm in these shifting sands.
God is our shelter from them;
God gives us strength to go out into the stresses of each day.
2 We have nothing to fear.
Though the social order is shaken,
though our leaders come crashing down,
3 Though long-honored standards fly at half-mast
and the values we inherited are scorned–
even then, we have nothing to fear.
4 The comforting presence of God pours over us
like cool water on a burning beach;
it makes us glad.
5 God is with us;
God is an oasis of peace upon a darkened plain
6 where ignorant armies clash by night.
The ambitious leap over each other;
The emperor stands naked in the cold clear light of innocence.
They are frozen in their folly.
7 But God is with us;
God is our sanctuary.
8 See how wonderfully the Lord works!
Those who would beat others have beaten themselves;
9 Those obsessed with winning wind up as losers;
Those who think only of themselves find that no one thinks of them at all.
All their struggles add up to nothing.
10 This is God's word to the warring: "Be still!
Be still, and know that I – and only I – am God!"
11 In the tumult of the nations,
in the torment of the earth,
God is with us.
God is our sanctuary.
Thanks be to God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Colossians 1:11-20 – The thing we should not do is take these words and examine them to see what Paul “means” by them. That’s because most of this passage is not a theological statement but a hymn – a poem – and as such is not directed at our rational selves but to our poetic, imaginative selves. An attempt at a rational analysis of such a poem will simply bog us down in a semantic argument.
It would have been helpful if the folks doing the NRSV had lined out the phrases so it would also look like a poem. And actually, that’s a really good thing to do for the lector. Because if the lector reads this as if it were some kind of “report” the whole thing will simply dry up and die.
Hymns and poems are meant to be absorbed more than understood. We let the words flow over us, so we can feel the power of the images penetrate our bones and viscera.

Luke 23:33-43 – Human memory is not very reliable. And it’s not likely the disciples were taking notes during the time of Jesus crucifixion. As they talked about that experience in the early church, as they reflected on who Jesus was and what he meant to them, the difference between what actually did happen and what memory and imagination says must have happened, became blurred.
It’s hard to imagine a conversation going on between three men on crosses, all of whom are in excruciating pain. And biblical scholars say that the phrase, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was added later. But that doesn’t mean we chuck out the whole passage because it may not be historically reliable.
The Jesus of history as experienced by the disciples and the early church, slowly melded into the cosmic Christ. Our experience of the living Christ among us changes the way we read and tell the story of the historical Jesus. But the power of God’s forgiveness shines through, regardless of how we read the story.

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. Just go to the Wood Lake website.


Rumors – When you were a child, did you read Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful story, “Wind in the Willows?” It’s a great book to go back and read as an adult, because all sorts of new things pop out at you.
Jim Taylor reflects on his reading of that fine book in “An Everyday God.”*
“In the chapter called, ‘The Piper at the Gates,’ Mole and Rat go searching for a missing Otter child. During that still hush just before dawn, they are led by a strange liquid music to an island. There, they find the lost Otter child, lying at the feet of a magnificent being, the great god Pan of the animal kingdom.
“Then suddenly Mole felt a great awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground.
“’Rat!’ he found breath to whisper. ‘Are you afraid?’
“’Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining. ‘Of him? Oh never! And yet – and yet – O, Mole, I am afraid!’
“Sudden and magnificent, the sun’s broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon; the first rays took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.
“And as quickly as it had come, the vision of the great animal god Pan vanished.”
A little later, Kenneth Grahame writes:
“For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow – the gift of forgetfulness lest the awesome remembrance should remain and grow, and the great haunting memory should over-shadow all the afterlives of little animals.”
And indeed it is true, if Moses or you or I should see the face of God, we would not become inspired prophets. We would go mad. For no human can hold the awesomeness of God.
And yet. And yet, sometimes for just a moment, we see it.
The Westbank United Church where Bev (my spouse) was the minister, was having a congregational camp on the shores of Lake Okanagan. In the evening, when all the dumb songs had been sung around the campfire, and the nine-year-old boys had done the traditional really awful skits, a kind of a hush came over the campsite, and the various children began to snuggle into the laps and arms of parents and family.
Young Darin needed a lap to sit on. There was no father in Darin’s family, and a younger sibling already occupied his mother’s lap. I asked Darin if my lap would do, and he said yes, and I was grateful to him. Aging men badly need children to sit on their laps.
On the other side of the lake, an electrical storm developed. There was no rain in the storm, and so we watched the roiling black clouds and the snap of lightning that detonated across the valley. Each time the lightning flashed, for just an instant the entire valley was bright with light. And then it was gone.
We could see it all for just an instant. But there was too much beauty – to much magnificence for our memories to hold.
Then a shattering streak of lighting lit up Darin’s face. And his face was an even greater revelation than our broad, bright valley. In Darin’s face I saw a look of wonder, of awe, of hope. Darin’s face seemed to me, just for an instant, to be the face of God, or an angel, or the Cosmic Christ.
And then it was gone.
I remember the feeling. But I can’t describe the face. But now, when I hear words like “hope” and “holy” and “awe”, for just a moment, I see that child’s face lit by the lightning.
I can’t find words to explain to you what it means to worship God, but I can tell you I have seen the holy face of a worshipping child, and I shall always hold that treasure in my heart.
Each of us is given those moments, those numinous events where just for a split second, everything makes sense. For that moment, we see the loving face of the living God – who also gives the gift of forgetfulness, lest that holy vision destroy our lives.

* “An Everyday God” is available through bookstores, and on the Wood Lake Publications website, which you can find at: .


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Human Nature
I had an interesting exposure to human nature recently.
It started with a 1982 Jaguar XJ6 sedan. I bought it in 1998, and spent about $14,000 on restoration.
But that wasn’t enough. Rust started to bubble under my lovely new paintwork; the leather upholstery was cracking and splitting; electrical gimmicks were dying...
And I knew I wouldn’t spend the additional money the car needed, because two years ago I got seduced by a slightly newer Jaguar.
For most of a year I advertised the older car without success. I lowered my price progressively from $10,000 to $3,000.
Only two people inquired. Neither bought.
I concluded that the car was doing no one any good rusting away in my driveway.
So I offered to give it away free to a good home.
I got deluged with calls. My answering machine overloaded. In the first two days, I responded to over 70 calls.
I told callers – at least in the beginning – that I would decide within two days, and would let them know.
In hindsight, the applicants fell into three groups:
* those who really cared about the car itself, and hoped to make it once more a thing of a beauty and a joy to drive.
* those who needed a car (for a variety of heart-tugging reasons) and didn’t care what it was, as long as it didn’t cost them.
* those who thought they were entitled to this car because I had offered to give it away.
Almost without exception, the first group thanked me for calling back. They regretting not getting the car themselves, but they were glad it had gone to someone with a proven record of restoring cars.
The second group rarely said thanks. Most, I suspect, wondered why I bothered calling them back if they didn’t get the car.
The third group – fortunately few – responded with abuse. I had taken away something that they already was theirs. I was told that my offer was a cruel hoax, that I didn’t play fair, that I had lied...
My wife came home from a trip in the middle of all this. The first call she answered let fly with such a string of foul language that she refused to pick up the phone for the rest of the day.
Perhaps I should have anticipated those three responses. They’re characteristic of humans in general.
For some, the cause, the goal, the purpose, matters. They’re willing to make sacrifices to further that cause. They’re the ones who make a difference.
Others see life only for what they can get out of it. They’re not dangerous, but neither are they helpful in building a better world.
And a few believe the world owes them a living. They’re entitled to whatever they want. They become the criminal element – whether professional crooks or amateur troublemakers – in any society.
Fortunately for all of us, they’re a small minority – if my experience in getting rid of a car is any guide.

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 short but powerful piece is by Tom Ehrich. It comes to us via Mary in Oman.
“Faith . . . accepts random chance as our context and God as our hope in the wilderness. We don't control God through our rituals; we can only accept God's manna and God's mercy. We can't control tomorrow, but can only live today as faithfully as possible. We can't prevent pain, loss or death, but can seek a oneness with God and our fellow after-dark walkers.”


From the folks who make Rumors possible – It looks like we may have a “best seller” on our hands. Who decides what is a “best seller”? Well, “The Spirituality of Grandparenting” is certainly the best seller I’ve had in awhile, though “The Family Story Bible” and the “Lectionary Story Bible” are still moving along quite smartly, thank you.
Partly it’s the Christmas season. (You thought maybe it was an accident that Wood Lake Publications released a Grandparenting book at this time of year?) And “The Spirituality of Grandparenting” is a great Christmas gift, even if I have to say so myself. So are all the books in that “Spirituality” series. And so is “The Family Story Bible.” The “Lectionary Story Bible” is more for teachers and preachers.
So go to your favorite bookstore. Look for those books. If they are not on the shelf go and order the book. That’s how small publishers and relatively unknown authors get on the shelves of bookstores, especially the big box bookstores.
Or, 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 – Dan Wilkie tells this one on himself. “Recently, I did a wedding, and as I was doing the ring exchange, I asked the bride to ‘put the finger on the groom’s hand.’ People came up to me later and asked if the groom ever got his finger back. He is a roper and steer wrestler, so this might have been a truly appropriate question.”

From the file:
* The Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7:00 PM. Please use the back door.
* The men's group will meet at 6 pm. Steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread and dessert will be served for a nominal feel.

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! – A journey of a thousand miles begins with someone saying, "I know a shortcut!"
source unknown via Velia Watts

Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.
Wayne Dyer also via Velia

The road to wisdom? Well it's plain and simple to express: To err, and err, and err again. But less, and less, and less.
Piet Hein


We Get Letters – Susan Fiore, AOJN, writes: “Here's my submission for the worst sentence ever uttered in English. I heard it during a television interview with a professional football player. He was asked what he thought about his team's chances of winning the Super Bowl. His answer: ‘Well, you know, you never know, you know’?"
“That was even worse than the golf pro who, when I asked why the number 3 "wood" was made of metal instead of wood, replied; "It gives you more loft than a wood wood would.’"

Trev Quinn of Regina, Saskatchewan is obviously a serious student of canineological nomenclature. He writes: “That the lady who named her dog Moreover did so because he was the second of a pair of twin pups. The first-born was Rover.

Patricia Magdamo reports: “It's so dry in Georgia that the Baptists are starting to baptize by sprinkling. The Methodists are using wet-wipes. The Presbyterians are giving out rain-checks, and the Episcopalians, Catholics, and Lutherans are praying for the wine to turn back into water.”
Rev. Jenni Walker-Noyes of Ackley, Iowa says “Rumors” is “more enjoyable than Sunday night football!” And I would like to know if that is a compliment or an insult.
Jenni includes a contribution to the bad pun and tired cliché contest:
“It was a dark and stormy Saturday night and the preacher, sitting without a hip pocket sermon at her beck and call, stared at the candle on the mantle, without a flicker of hope.
“She was out of options and out of time. She’d spent the week working with folks who were as dense as a London fog. And to top it all off, all the time for working on her sermon earlier in the week had flown right out the window.
“She knew that Rome wasn’t built in a day but this sermon should be a slam dunk no brainer! She’d polished off hundreds of sermons in record time but this time, she was ready to pop a vein.
“She turned to her cat and said, ‘Stick a fork in me. I’m done! It’s time to kick the bucket and fish or cut bait on this last ditch effort. Keep your fingers crossed, Fluffy. God willing (and the creek don’t rise), we’re having a hymn sing in the morning!”

Carl Chamberlain of Lockport, New York has also done some research on the biblical naming of pets. “One elderly fellow named his very ugly cat. Theophillus. Because it was the ‘awefullest cat he'd ever seen’.”

I don’t know if this is an entry into our really, awfully, ugly language abuse contest, but Fred Brailey Orangeville, Ontario writes: “Pardon the awful pun, but I'd bite if someone offered me a life-time Time-Life subscription.”

Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “cardboard congregation!”) This is from Victor Spencer of Harrismith, South Africa. It’s a letter from “Cardboard Fabrications Ltd.”

Dear Reverend.
We are sure that you have come across our extremely successful products already.
Among our lines are cardboard police cars to discourage speeding and cardboard policemen to deter shoplifters. As well as other standard lines.
Following on the success of these, we are pleased to announce that we can now supply cardboard clergy.
The cardboard minister is invaluable to hard-pressed clergy who need a holiday. It is life sized and comes in progressive, middle of the road and Tridentine models. It is especially effective when stood behind the lectern.
Field trials have shown that when the cardboard clergy was installed without the congregation knowing. 40 per cent of those later questioned had noticed no difference. 25 per cent said there had been a considerable improvement.
Soon we hope to have available a cardboard Bishop which can be placed in the Diocese while the real Bishop is away in Canterbury. Trial models have been installed for some time in the Bishop's conference without being detected. One is even said to have made a short excellent speech related to its topic.
Work on the cardboard Dean has unfortunately been abandoned. Market research demonstrated that since nobody actually wants the real thing, there would therefore not be much demand for the cardboard substitute.
However, our cardboard congregation is now on the market and selling well. Its response to homilies is indistinguishable from the real thing and it has the positive advantage that when volunteers are called for nobody makes a dash for the door. In some churches there has even been a marked improvement in the singing.
Yours faithfully
C. Board
Marketing Director.


Bottom of the Barrel – Moses is sitting in the Egyptian ghetto. Things are bad. The Pharaoh won’t even talk to him, the rest of the Hebrews are mad at him for making the overseers even more irritable than usual, etc. He’s about ready to give up.
Suddenly a booming, sonorous voice speaks from above: “Moses! Listen to me. This is God. I have good news and bad news.”
Moses is staggered. The voice continues:
“Moses, you will lead your people to freedom. If Pharaoh doesn’t release you, I will smite Egypt with frogs, and with locusts, and rivers running with blood.”
Moses is stunned. He stammers, “That’s … that’s fantastic, I can’t believe it! But what’s the bad news?”
“You, Moses, must write the environmental impact report.”

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