Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sermon Helps for Sunday, December 16th, 2007

R U M O R S # 479
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 9th, 2007


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

Next Week’s Readings – pious stonewalling
Rumors – the last, best gift
Soft Edges – exploiting our weakness
Good Stuff – dad’s empty chair
Bloopers – souses are invited
We Get Letters – how many chapters?
Mirabile Dictu! – gracious hostility
Bottom of the Barrel – grooooaaaannnn!
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – A family was living at the hectic pace experienced by so many at this time of the year. One day, close to Christmas, was especially bad.
The small daughter in the family seemed to be constantly in the way of mother and father. Finally, in exasperation, she was put to bed.
She knelt to say her prayers, and perhaps became confused, as she prayed, “Forgive us our Christmases, as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”
On the other hand, maybe she wasn’t confused at all!

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, December 16th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the third Sunday of Advent.

Isaiah 35:1-10 – I made a mistake. I started reading Isaiah 34 and almost lost my lunch.
I normally associate Isaiah with the theme of caring for the poor and downtrodden. That’s not exactly what chapter 34 is about. It’s about how God is going to slaughter everybody except the Israelites so that all the neat things promised in chapter 35 can happen. Chapter 34 has all the gory details.
So can we give ourselves the poetic promise of chapter 35 by disconnecting it from chapter 34? Is the God of Isaiah a bloodthirsty tribal deity or a gentle, caring, creative loving parent who is deeply in love with the children?
The answer, I think, is “yes.” The God of Isaiah is both. The Hebrew scriptures tell us what the Hebrews wanted most. They assumed that God must want the same thing.
So yes, the writer of Isaiah believed that God was going to wipe out everyone the Israelites didn’t like, and shower all the good stuff on the good people. Them.
Has our understanding of God changed since then?

Luke 1:47-55 the “Magnificat” – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
(Psalm 146:5-10 is an alternate reading)
My body grows round with wonder;
my soul swells with thanksgiving.
For God has been so good to me;
God did not say, "She's just a girl."
Once I was a slip of a girl,
but now I am a woman,
one who can bring forth new life.
In all generations, I am blessed.
How could anyone miss it –
this new life in me is divine.
It is holy.
God grants new life to all who have not lost a child's wonder;
they will be born again, and again, and again.
God watches over them;
God's fierce love fills predators with sudden fear.
The miracle of birth levels our human differences:
tough men become tenderly gentle,
learned professors blurt out baby talk,
even politicians fall silent in awe.
But the small and helpless are wrapped warmly in soft blankets;
they are held lovingly in caring arms;
they drink their fill with eyes closed.
The rich, for all their wealth and status, can go suck lemons.
That is how God deals with all of God's faithful people,
all who do not put their faith in themselves.
So God has always done,
so God will always do,
from Sarah's miracle, to mine.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

James 5:7-10 – By the time this epistle was being penned, the writer needed to urge the tiny Christian communities to “just hang in there. Jesus is coming. Yes. For sure. Soon. So be patient!”
The little Christian community had grown enough to be threatening to the established authorities, both Jewish and Roman. It felt pushed from both sides. Which is why James says, “Cool it folks! It’s all going to happen. In the meantime, don’t draw attention to yourself by squabbling among yourselves. Get along. If necessary, agree to disagree until Jesus comes back. Then you can decide who had it right and who got it wrong.”

Matthew 11:2-11 – Each time I see this passage, it’s verse 11 that leaps out at me. “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Perhaps that’s because Jesus has always been, what a ten-year-old called “a turner-upside-downer.”
Which is spot on. He did and does take the values that run our lives and turn them on their head, which is why he wound up being crucified when he walked the earth and why he is studiously ignored today.
Over coffee at church last Sunday, a friend talked to me about the over-reaction to things religious he was experiencing. Being fair and open to all religions seemed to boil down to carefully avoiding the mention of any religion. That’s a little like saying that because there are inequities and injustices involved in the world-wide distribution of food, we will stop distributing all food.
Behind the pious stonewalling of things religious in our public life and educational institutions lies a reason much deeper than a concern of religious equality. We really don’t want our consciences poked by the call of any of those religions. All of them, at their best at least, have within them the call for justice, for peace, for a deeper and fuller and more meaningful relationship with God. It’s also why those of us in the ecumenical Christian church manage very successfully to keep Jesus locked up tight inside our church buildings.
We don’t want a “turner-upside-downer” messing around with what we do. We don’t want to be told that the pathetic African child dying of AIDS may rank higher in God’s realm than we do.

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’s an interesting path – this business of growing older. In a few weeks I will be older than my father was when he died three years past the allotted three-score and ten. Doesn’t bother me a bit.
He never smoked and he never drank. Well, there’s a slight amendment to the drinking bit. Near the end of his life, the doctor prescribed a shot of brandy each evening. It would be good for his heart. “Absolutely not,” said dad.
The doctor then wrote out a prescription. “This will cost you three times as much but you can get it at the pharmacy. It’s exactly the same thing as the brandy, except that it’ll taste awful.”
Well, dad watched his nickels, that’s for sure. So he got the brandy, but by golly he took it on a tablespoon and hated every bit of it. Which probably undid the positive effects of the brandy right there.
I am not my dad. I don’t have his “stick-to-it-iveness” (his favorite word). I quit smoking 20 years ago and booze has never been a problem. But the fact that I’m telling you this story probably means that the concern is bubbling away somewhere in the back of my cranium. As any shrink will tell you, “A strong denial is as good as a confession anytime.”
As I move along on this journey, the symbols of mortality accumulate. A year ago last summer it was a pacemaker. This fall it’s the finger. A suspicious scab excised and sent to the pathologist. “Probably nothing,” said my doctor.
When Jesus was talking to the folks about John the Baptist, he dropped that comment: “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” I’m not John the baptizer and I am not my dad, but I’m probably not “least in the kingdom” either.
Or am I? Exactly who is this “least” person?
In my book, “The Spirituality of Grandparenting,” my little coda says that the last, best gift we grandparents can leave our grandchildren is how to give up things. Little things. Big things. And finally, life itself.
Of course I will die. I don’t think the “when” question bothers me much, but the “how” is something I think about a lot. It’s not something we usually get to choose.
Along with others from our church, I am right now walking a friend through his final days. He would not have chosen the angry dementia that is troubling him.
Perhaps he’s that “least” one. Perhaps that’s the moment – the time when we have no vestige of power or control left – when we become once again like that babe in the Bethlehem stable – that is when we finally achieve greatness.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Exploiting Our Weakness
I opened up my e-mail program one Saturday morning recently. As usual, the overnight spammers had filled my mailboxes with messages that I normally delete en masse.
This time, out of morbid curiosity, I decided to analyze what I had received.
There were 72 unsolicited messages.
One of them was a plea for saving great whales. Two others promoted a right-wing religious agenda.
And the rest?
The “subject line” of eight consisted of incomprehensible strings of nonsense characters.
Nine wanted to sell me a watch – replica Rolexes, mostly.
Six offered me cheap software, probably pirated in China.
Five dealt with money, either hot stocks or on-line gambling casinos.
Thirteen marketed pharmaceutical products – below market price, without a prescription, suitable for weight loss, etc.
By far the biggest group – 28 of the total 72 messages – dealt with sex. Four offered Viagra or Cialis or some other erection-enhancing pill. Three assured me that something called a “Personal Puss” was better than the real thing. Twenty told me that I needed a bigger penis, or more sperm to ejaculate. And one assured me that bigger breasts would enhance my sex life.
And that’s just one morning’s sample.
As we head into the Christmas season, it feels particularly offensive.
It’s a typical mix of messages, though. Some days I get more financial stuff – occasionally even an impassioned plea from Nigeria, written entirely in capital letters, inviting me to help free some dictator’s ill-gotten gains from a Swiss bank account – and some days more sex or software.
But the common factor is always self-centeredness. Anyone else exists only to be impressed by my wealth, my possessions, or my sexual prowess.
I worked in the advertising industry for six years. We commonly claimed that advertising does not shape public opinion – it merely reflects people’s values back to them.
If so, I’m depressed.
I’m depressed that there are so many vultures out there willing to exploit our weaknesses. I’m equally depressed that there must be people who respond to these appeals.
Spam “will only end when people stop buying diet pills, herbal highs, and sexual performance enhancers,” said Dave Rand, of Internet security firm Trend Micro.
It’s easy to blame computers for the proliferation of spam. But as Rand said, "This is a human problem, not a computer problem."
The products promoted by spam are no different from the rare-animal spleens and gizzards favored as aphrodisiacs in Asia, or the snake oil peddled in the American west.
Perhaps it’s always been this way...
Experts say that the way to cure spam is not to respond at all. Delete, delete, delete…
But that will work only if everyone does it – and I do mean everyone.
Because spammers send out millions of e-mails. Even if only a tiny percentage respond, they still make a profit. Which encourages them to send more spam.
Somehow, the whole world needs to say, and to believe: “I am a child of God. I am more than my money, my possessions, or my hormones.”

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 Don Sandin:
Dad's Empty Chair
A man's daughter had asked the local minister to come and pray with her father. When the minister arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows. An empty chair sat beside his bed.
"I guess you were expecting me," said the minister.
"No, who are you?" said the father.
The minister told him his name and then remarked, "I saw the empty chair and I figured you knew I was going to show up."
"Oh yeah, the chair," said the bedridden man. "Would you mind closing the door?"
Puzzled, the minister shut the door.
"I have never told anyone this, not even my daughter," said the man. "But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it went right over my head."
"I abandoned any attempt at prayer," the old man continued, "until one day four years ago, my best friend said to me, "Johnny, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with the Lord. Here is what I suggest. 'Sit down in a chair; place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see the Lord on the chair. It's not spooky because he promised; 'I will be with you always'. Then just speak to him in the same way you're doing with me right now.' "
"So, I tried it and I've liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I'm careful though, if my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she'd either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm."
The minister was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old man to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the church.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell the minister that her dad had died that afternoon. "Did he die in peace?" he asked.
"Yes, when I left the house about two o'clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me he loved me and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead."
"But there was something strange about his death. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on the chair beside the bed. What do you make of that?"
The minister wiped a tear from his eye and said, "I wish we could all go like that. Let me tell you about your father . . ."


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Ruth Dudley spotted this in a note sent to the clergy in our rural deanery: “Our Christmas lunch is fast arriving and it would be good if you can confirm that you are coming. Remember that souses are invited too.”

Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta reports: “A British poll of 100,000 people found some strange last requests from people planning their funerals, including: “bury me naked,” “put a mobile phone in the coffin,” “bury me with my pet,” and lastly, “make sure I'm, you know, really dead” (which probably explains the mobile phone request).

David Powers of Shaker Heights, Ohio spotted this interesting announcement. “Come and make your bid heard at our annual Silent Auction.”
Says David, “The silence could be deafening!”

Pauline Liemgme adds a few more titles to the mis-heard hymns collection:
"Good Mrs. Murphy all my life will surely follow me" (Goodness & mercy all my life)
"Pity mice and Plicity" (Gentle Jesus meek & mild, look upon this little child. Pity my simplicity)
"Gladly my cross-eyed bear" (Gladly my cross I'd bear)
"Give us the promises of crust" (Give us the promises of Christ).

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! – It's ironic that people pray for the poor and the sick, and then complain when the government does anything to help them.
William Sloane Coffin via Susan Fiore, AOJN

That’s the problem with eternity, there’s no telling where it will end.
Source unknown via John Cameron

Imagination is more important than knowledge. attributed to Albert Einstein

We Get Letters – Wayne Sawyer of Thomaston, Maine, writes: “The ‘gravy’ discussion in Rumors reminded me of another great Easter hymn, with a wonderful image of Jesus bathing in a gravy boat on the Easter dinner table. ‘Low in the gravy, lay Jesus, my savor’.”

This for Canadians only, who understand what winning the Grey Cup (football) means to the city of Regina. The rest of you can slap your foreheads in disgust knowing that such things could never happen in your country.
Trev Quinn of Regina saw this on the sign board in front of a Regina Church.
"And he took the cup and gave thanks. Mat.29: 27."
Trev writes: “I didn't recognize the quotation, so I headed home and looked it up. Matthew only has 28 chapters! Yeah RIDERS!!!


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “gracious hostility!”) This list of bulletin bloopers has been around for some time and came around this time via Bill McSeveney. In fact, I think this particular list originated with Rumors a few years ago. Doesn’t matter. I’m repeating it, because it is very useful to use as an ice-breaker at a Christmas party.

* The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
*The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."
* Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
* Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say "Hell" to someone who doesn't care much about you.
* Don't let worry kill you. Let the Church help.
* Miss Maddison sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
* For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
* Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
* Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
* A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.
* At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.
* Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
* Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
* Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
* The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
* Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow.
* The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
* This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
* Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B.S. is done.
* The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
* Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
* The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
* Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.
* The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours."


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Carl Boyle, who must accept full responsibility. I’m just a humble scribe who passes this stuff along.
“A motorway walks into a pub one day. He goes up to the bar and orders himself a drink. He just sits down when in walks a strip of tarmac. “The motorway sees the tarmac and starts to panic so he jumps over the bar and ducks down so it won't see him. The barman looks down at him and says, "What's the matter with you? Why are you hiding? You've got six lanes and two hard shoulders. Why are you frightened of a piece of tarmac? “The motorway replies, "You don't know him like I do. He's a cyclepath."

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