Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sermon Helps for Sunday, November 18th, 2007

R U M O R S # 475
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 11th, 2007


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

A backup. Please put this “blog” address on your “favorites” list.
Then, when your issue doesn’t arrive for some reason, you can go read it there. And you won’t suffer those terrible withdrawal symptoms.


Next Week’s Readings – a metaphor of God’s dream
Rumors – the last surviving optimist
Soft Edges – seeking the source of mystery
Good Stuff – instructions for life
Bloopers – awfully leaded wife
We Get Letters – in search of clichés
Mirabile Dictu! – miss steaks eye kin knot sea
Bottom of the Barrel – moreover the dog
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This from Cliff and/or Maureen Bolt.
One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex standing in the foyer of the church staring up at a large plaque. It was covered with names and with small flags mounted on either side of it.
"Good morning, Alex," said the pastor.
“Good morning, said little Alex. Then pointing to the plaque: “What is this?”
"Well, son, it's a memorial plaque to all the young men and women who died in the Service."
Little Alex's voice was barely audible. "Which service, the 8:30 or the 10:45?"

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, November 18th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. This Sunday is also observed as Bible Sunday in the US, the Children’s Sabbath, and Restorative Justice/Prisoner’s Sunday.

Isaiah 65:17-25 – It’s an old writer’s trick. At the end of an essay or story, you circle back and pick up a theme from the beginning. This writer of Isaiah, whether it was the first, second or 38th Isaiah, picks up a theme from the climax of the opening. Chapter 11. The First Isaiah has the magnificent vision (vs. 6-9) of the wolf and the lamb lying down together (even if the lamb doesn’t get much sleep). Just so nobody misses the point, the writer of chapter 65 quotes chapter 11 directly. “They shall not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain.” And John of Patmos picks up the theme in Revelation.
The metaphors of the “holy mountain” and the “new Jerusalem” had powerful meaning for folks in Bible days, but for me those visions are a magnificent metaphor of God’s dream for peace and justice in all creation.

Isaiah 12:2-6 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
2 God has rescued us from our arid deserts;
Nothing terrifies me any more.
I sing of the God who gives us living water.
3 From the deepest recesses of our souls,
celebration gushes forth,
4 It spills out across an anguished land,
As an awed people pour out praises.
5 Their voices rise, like water in the well:
"Glory to God, who creates springs of life
in the deserts of death."
6 So let praise pour out like the living water
from the well in our midst,
the well that is our God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 – This bit of preaching against free-loaders is fine, except that it over-simplifies. Yes, there are people who are just plain lazy, but there are also others who have invisible illnesses that don’t show on the surface. Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, fetal alcohol syndrome, assorted dementias and other afflictions show nothing on the surface. The sufferers are often seen as just plain lazy. And of course there are some who use those illnesses to do less than they could.
I had lunch with a friend and few days ago – a person who lives with virtually continuous pain – but who through courage and prayer lives an active, normal life. In fact, I’d known him for a long time before I was even aware that he suffered in this way.
So my response to Paul, in this instance, is to say that blanket statements are almost always wrong when applied to specific instances.

Luke 21:5-19 – I enjoy reading medieval European history – an interest I developed while researching the story of Julian of Norwich. That history, as well as more recent history, is littered with the heartbreak of people who have read this passage and became convinced that they were living in that time, and that the end was about to come. Which is exactly what the writer of Luke was quoting Jesus as saying.
Even now, there are fundamentalist Christians (Is that an oxymoron?) who are actively working to bring about the “end times.” They’d be delighted to hear of a few H-bombs going off somewhere.
And I really wonder if passages such as this have much value in the year 2007 – given that the writers had events of the first century in mind. Or are we required to squeeze a bit of contemporary relevance out of apocalyptic passages such as this one? if so, by whom? And why?

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 – It seems to me there are two kinds of apocalyptists, and both of them show a singular lack of faith.
There’s the re-eyed preacher proclaiming the end of the world at 12 noon tomorrow (12:20 in Newfoundland). Such prophets have abundant texts and more signs and wonders to “prove” they are right. “I, and only I, know the truth!”
They preach a dramatic end. Great balls of fire and such. “We will sing out a ‘Te Deum’ when we see that ICBM and we’ll all go together when we go” (Tom Lehrer).
They forget that God tried that once with Noah and his family. It didn’t work. When it was all over, Noah got tanked, his kids messed up, and things were as bad after as they were before. It was a learning experience for God who decided that global genocide is not the solution. Try something new.
The other kind of apocalyptic prophet is at the other end of the political spectrum. This is the dry-eyed scientist. The world will end, “not with a bang, but a whimper” (T.S. Eliot) and we’ll all suffocate in our own toxic garbage. “I, and only I, know the truth!”
Their scriptures are scientific research all of which “proves” that unless we all jump on their particular ecological band-wagon the world will be a large cinder spinning helplessly out of control around the searing sun.
Both kinds of apocalyptic prophet have forgotten that there has been a long litany of such predictions. Does anyone remember the Club of Rome? Have we forgotten the predictions that flew around when 1999 became 2000? Jesus didn’t return in glory (at least not so anyone noticed) and the world-wide computer melt-down turned out to be the greatest non-event in history.
“Ralph is getting old and soft,” I hear you muttering. “He’s indulging in his favorite pastime, which is avoidance of anything unpleasant or that involves hard work.” All true.
But through the cynicism, yours and mine, there is a soft melody of truth we can hear filtering through all the cacophony. I hang onto the song sung by the writer of John’s gospel. “God so loved the world. . .” And I always hear it in my head set to Handel’s music. Yes, I am a sentimental old fool and probably the worlds last surviving optimist.
My own totally subjective rose-colored reading of events has persuaded me that God has not stopped loving you and me specifically and the whole world around us. God loves this beat-up old spaceship earth more than ever.
There’s the story of the old crone planting her spring potatoes when a grandchild comes rushing up after school. “Grandma,” yells the child. “They say the world is going to end. What should we do?”
“I should keep on planting my potatoes,” says the wise woman. “You should do your homework.”


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Seeking the Source of Mystery
Perhaps you’ve seen this paragraph before:
“Aoccdrnig to rseearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”
The paragraph seems to have started around the Internet in 2003. No one knows where it originated – certainly not at Cambridge University. The research it’s based on seems to have started with a PhD student named Graham Rawlinson, in an unpublished thesis for the University of Nottingham in England, titled "The Significance of Letter Position in Word Recognition," way back in 1976.
Hoax or real, that one silly paragraph has sparked dozens of studies since.
Most of these studies have focused on the nature of language. The scrambling system works in English, because we don’t have many inflected word endings. It does not work as well in French or Spanish; it is almost impossible in Hebrew and Hungarian; it doesn’t work at all in Chinese.
Also, short words work better than long ones. Long words can be deciphered only if they’re scrambled as smaller clumps of letters.
But most of this research, it seems to me, misses the central point. We humans have a desperate need to make sense of things. It’s hardwired into us.
You were probably surprised to find that you could actually read most of the scrambled paragraph. What should be even more surprising is that you made the attempt.
I mean, why bother? There are enough bewildering things going on in the world without struggling to beat a bunch of anagrams into submission.
I think it’s the same reason that we go looking for light emitted 14 billion years ago by newly formed stars. Or probe the insides of atoms, unravel the double-helix of DNA, and try to understand how we understand.
It’s more than just a fascination with mystery. Because we’re not content until the mystery isn’t a mystery any more.
We don’t like things that simply don’t make sense.
And so, at various stages in our history, we devise theories, explanations, to explain the unexplainable. We try our theories out, to see how well they work.
In the past, those theories often invoked God – or gods, or fate, or supernatural beings – as a means of making sense of apparent nonsense.
When some of those theories later prove flawed, in science or in religion, we revise them to explain matters more accurately.
Which doesn’t mean it was wrong to invoke God. Because the real mystery isn’t in the explanations at all. The real mystery is why we care enough to wonder, why we so desperately want things to make meaning.
And that yearning, I believe, has a lot more to do with God than any explanation does.

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 – “The Dalai Lama has been in the news recently,” writes Don Sandin. He was made an honorary citizen of Canada, and in his visit, the Prime Minister and others went out of their way to make it a high-profile event, specifically to put pressure on China to improve its human rights practices.
Don passes on these “Instructions for Life” from the Dalai Lama.
1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three R’s: Respect for self. Respect for others. Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.
20. There is no other person on this planet exactly like you.


From the folks who make Rumors possible – I’ve been to three events in the last couple of weeks where there was a bookseller with copies of “The Spirituality of Grandparenting.” In each case, I had a batch of extra copies in the trunk of my car in case the bookseller should run out. In all three instances, we sold out the booksellers stock and the copies in my car.
Which leaders to a warning. If you were thinking of “The Spirituality of Grandparenting” as a Christmas gift, order it now. There’s a real possibility of the entire first run being sold out before Christmas.
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 – David Burt reports that at an All Saints’ Sunday service, the pastor made this plea. "Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort, and make your mumble confession to almighty God." David is “pleased to say the congregation didn't mumble their confession, but spoke clearly, yet humbly.”

Stephani Keer writes about a man who was asked, in a wedding ceremony, if he would “take this woman as his awfully leaded wife,” which, says Stephani, is “both politically incorrect and a threat to the environment!”

Bill Medland of Kelowna, BC sounded the first “blooper alert.”
Then Wayne Blackwood of Salmon Cove, Newfoundland wrote to say I got his “Sunday off to a good start” with my commentary on Luke. Particularly profound was my observation that levirate marriage “served to protect the window who would otherwise starve to death."
Says Wayne, “I've never thought of a woman in the context of a window – there, but not really seen; someone I look through without actually seeing – someone who protects me from the elements without my always realizing it. I remembered my theology profs who tried so hard to get me to think theologically despite my best efforts. Thanks again for keeping me on track.”
David Aaseng of Circle, Montana writes: “I can see the danger of washing the windows of my house, or even worse, washing the insects off the windshield of my car. Until you pointed it out, I never realized that ‘It served to protect the window who would otherwise starve to death’. Thank you for the insight.”

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 leader is best when people barely know the leader exists, when the leader's work is done, their aim fulfilled, the people will say: “We did it ourselves.”
Lao Tzu via Evelyn McLachlan

Culture is a slingshot moved by the force of its past.
Barbara Kingslover via Bob Warrick
It is only the love of the giver that atones for the insult of the gift.
African proverb via Clare Neufeld


We Get Letters – Bonnie Dalzell writes: “My pastor likes to say that the Saducees didn’t believe in life after death, and that is why they were “sad you see.”

Stephani Keer sent me a web address for the Telegraph in the UK. They ran a contest asking readers to send in examples of the worst, cliché cluttered and trite prose they could find or imagine. An example. “To be honest with you, I'm pressurized 24/7. I'm literally in pieces. I surfed the net and sourced a top-dollar lifestyle guru, and he's working with my partner and I, prioritizing issues so that we can team up and address them – know what I mean?’
I don’t know if I should do this or not. I may find myself drowning in a slimy swamp of pious prose, but what if we ran a contest to see who could provide the best bad example of the way we desecrate our language. (Note: examples from Rumors or anything else wrote by me, not allowed!!!!) the winner will receive – ta da!! (cliché) a life-time subscription to Rumors. Second prize – the winner will be allowed to cancel their subscription to Rumors.
Nothing more than 25 words. I’m only human! (another cliché!)

Valerie Ellis responded to my comments about Gretzky scoring on the rebound to say that she knows of a church in Edmonton, Alberta “that had the big red neon sign on it that said ‘Jesus Saves.’ The Loblaws store across the street had a sign that said, ‘Loblaws saves you more’!”

Timothy Adams writes: “You quoted the old wheeze about a camel being a horse put together by a committee. I've always felt this libels camels.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “miss steaks eye kin knot sea!”) Robert Scott has an ambivalent relationship with the spell-checker on his computer. So do I. Robert sends this along “for those who live by the word and .............."
Note to US folks. You need to know that those who hold to the veddy veddy British tradition of “received” English, spell the word “check” as “cheque.” Presumably therefore, a “chequer” is someone who writes “checks.” “Chequer” also refers to the summer home of the British Prime Minister (I’ll bet you didn’t know that!).

Eye halve a spelling chequer,
It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marques four my revue,
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word,
And weight four it two say.
Weather eye am wrong oar write,
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid,
It nose bee fore two long.
And eye can put the error rite,
It’s rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it,
I am shore your pleased two no.
Its letter perfect awl the weigh,
My chequer tolled me sew.


Bottom of the Barrel – A minister was visiting a family one afternoon and was surprised to learn that everyone in the household had a biblical name.
“Yes, sir,” said the lady of the house. “Even our dog has a name from the New Testament.”
This puzzled the minister. “I can’t think of any name for a dog in the New Testament.”
“Well,” replied the woman. “Do you know the story of the rich man and Lazarus?”
“Yes, of course,” answered the minister.
“Then you know it says that ‘moreover the dog came and licked his sores.’ So our dog’s name is Moreover.”

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1 comment:


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