Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Preaching Materials for February 10, 2008

R U M O R S # 487
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor


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

If you haven’t already done so, please check out the Story Lectionary web site. It’s not for everyone, but those who use it may find it helps add vitality, interest and relevance to worship generally and preaching in particular. Just go to .


Next Week’s Readings – Eve, the hero of Eden
The Story Lectionary – counter-intuitive
Rumors – the grandparent God
Soft Edges – soaring fearlessly
Good Stuff – I know who she is
Bloopers – be a dessert
We Get Letters – tweedle dee dee
Mirabile Dictu! – super-sized creation
Bottom of the Barrel – un-rigid religion
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 Wayne Seybert.
Sister Margaret had spent weeks preparing the first grade children for their first Communion, stressing the solemnity and importance of this sacrament. Much to her chagrin, during Mass on the big day, one boy in the front row was talking and giggling nonstop. Finally, unable to put up with it any longer, she whispered to the lad seated next to her, "Please go up there and tell that guy he's done enough talking and had better stop, right now!" Without question, the boy rose and walked to the front and delivered Sister Margaret' s message to the surprised priest in the middle of his sermon!

Next Week’s Readings – Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, February 10th which is (Yes, believe it!) the first Sunday in Lent.
Among other things, it means that the first material for the “Story Lectionary” is available. Go to . Please don’t confuse this with the Lectionary Story Bible (below) which is a resource for kidlets.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible” – stories for Lent 1, Year A. “God’s Beautiful Garden” (Genesis) is on page 76 and “Jesus Gets Ready” is on page 78.

Revised Common Lectionary:
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 – This is one of the passages that always gets my dander up. Not the passage itself, but what we’ve done with it. Our understanding of this passage has been based mostly on Augustine who read it through the lens of his guilt over his philandering. It isn’t about sex or original sin or any of that kind of stuff.
Eve, I think, is the hero of this story. It is about the human journey from childhood innocence into adult responsibility. It’s the tree “of the knowledge of good and evil” that she and the man sample, and they are not fully human until they have done that.
Humans are the only species that can conceive of a thing like morality and ethics. In the first Genesis creation story, we are told that humans are made “in the image and likeness of God.” Having a sense of what is good and what is bad, what is hurtful and what is helpful, humans can participate with God in the work of continuing creation. But first, we must leave the garden of childhood, of innocence. First we must to grow into beings that may not be that different in the physical sense from other creatures in God’s creation. But in the spiritual sense we are godlike. We can take responsibility for our actions. We have eaten of the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil” – a knowledge that brings with it pain and death as well as joy and fulfillment.

Psalm 32 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 A great load of guilt hangs around my neck
like a millstone strung on fine steel wire.
If someone would free me from my burden, I would be so happy.
2 That would be almost as good as never having slipped,
as good as not having failed in the first place.
3 Can you imagine what it's like never being able to stand up straight?
I have become a wasted cripple, my body bowed by tensions.
4 My bones are brittle as twigs scorched by the summer sun;
When I try to sleep, a gigantic pillow suffocates me.
5 But you gave me a second chance.
I confessed; I didn't try to hide anything.
I poured out my soul to you, and you forgave me.
You cut the string and freed me.
6 Without my millstone of guilt, I feel light as a feather.
I can float; I can rise above a torrent of troubles.
7 God, I can trust you completely, because you trusted me.
Wrapped in your arms, I feel safe as a baby, murmuring to its mother.
8 And God replies: "I will teach you my ways.
I will share my wisdom with you.
I will watch over you, and keep you safe.
9 I do not expect you to obey blindly, without understanding.
You are intelligent creatures, not sheep.
You do not need reins to guide you;
you can learn the right road."
10 The millstones of sin still burden many,
but those who trust God have been set free.
11 They shout with relief for they have been saved;
Their hearts have been scrubbed clean;
they can stand straight again.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 5:12-19 – Paul is not talking about individuals here – neither Adam nor Jesus. They are archetypes (as Paul says in verse14) of sinfulness and sinlessness. The one symbolizes all sinfulness and the other all goodness.
I have a hard time accepting Paul’s notion of a bookkeeper God who says the debt run up by humans is so huge, the only thing we can do is declare moral bankruptcy. And the only way God can be appeased is by the blood of someone who is totally sinless.
That’s not the kind of God I believe in. Not some kind of cross between Superman and Santa Claus who knows when we’ve been “naughty or nice.”
Paul’s equations assume that wrong can be undone by some kind of sacrifice. He assumes a God who has the kind of revenge mentality we see in our dysfunctional criminal justice systems.

Matthew 4:1-11 – This is one of those stories that may not be true on the outside, but is true on the inside. Like the second creation story, it is about wrestling with temptation and evil and taking responsibility for one’s actions. If we take it literally, we lose the stories power.
Jesus, I think, wrestled with those temptations every day of his earthly life, and so do we in ours. The more clearly we can take that story of Jesus and see it, not as something that was there, then, but something that is here, now, and a universal struggle in our lives, the more the story can speak to us.
Most of us in the main-line churches are in positions of economic, social and religious power. It may not seem like that most of the time. Compared to our friends and neighbors, Bev and I are not wealthy or powerful.
But compared to the ones who sleep in doorways in out city’s center – compared to the vast majority of people, especially in Africa, we are wealthy and powerful.
And, like Jesus, we make choices about how we use that power.


Story Lectionary – In this lectionary, only one scripture is suggested for each Sunday. But preachers are encouraged to use passages relevant to the theme as additional readings or as references within the sermon. Jim Taylor, in his commentary on the week’s story will make some suggestions from time to time.
In each case, the suggested scripture is there to be downloaded in its entirety, along with supportive narration in a “reader’s theatre” format. Sometimes that supportive narration weaves a bit of a story around passages (such as this one) to put them into a story context.
Please check the web site for yourself.

Matthew 6:1-18 – This story is counter-intuitive. It could give professional fund raisers the hizzy-fits. You can’t really raise decent money if you don’t make a fuss over the big donors and ignore those who contribute very little. Yes, there are exceptions, but most people want their gifts acknowledged. Not just acknowledged. Praised.
In the so-called ‘Sermon on the Mount” Jesus turns that value system on its head. The ones who give the least really give the most.
Then Jesus does it again in the Lord’s Prayer asking us to forgive those in debt to us. It would be nice if he put a limit on how much forgiving we’re asked to do. But no. This is the whole caboodle. We forgive the whole works. Not a good way to “get ahead” in life.
The Jesus ethic ran right smack up against the ethical and monetary practices of his day, just as they run right smack up against ours now.
I don’t give every nickel I own to the church, and I doubt there’s a single person in that church who would ask me to. They don’t even ask me to tithe. There’s discussion about whether a tithe should be five per-cent or three which is a bit like arguing whether a car should have one wheel or two. A tithe is 10%, and even though some of us give that amount, we have a lot left over. A lot! Way more than those folks who listened to Jesus 2000 years ago.
By the way. Jim offers an interesting version of the Lord’s Prayer from the Jewish Kaddish in the Talmud. Check out his preaching suggestions which you’ll find on the Story-Lectionary website.
The Garden of Eden story in the Revised Common Lectionary relates very directly to these verses from Matthew. It’s the story of a profligate God who gives us everything we could possibly need. But we can never really know that, until we reject all that beauty and goodness, and try to make it on our own. Until we are on the outside looking in. Like a fish out of water, we take the air we breathe for granted until suddenly it is gone.
But when we are willing to give everything we are back to God, we find ourselves in an enriched Eden – a garden of rich flavor and nutrition, that includes the salty, bitter taste of tears as well as the sweetness of laughter.

A related story may be found in the Family Story Bible: "Jesus Teaches Us to Pray," page 194.


Rumors – My daughter Kari teases me about my visits. “You just come here to get your material,” she says.
She’s right and she’s wrong. I do get a lot of my “material” from my visits with her and Don and Jake and Zoë. And of course Kari knows that’s not why I come. She just likes to tease me about all the references to my grandchildren here in Rumors.
I get my material from my interaction with others. I am not the cerebral kind who can sift through the pros and cons of a situation and then make a brilliant pronouncement of some sort. I am not analytical and it shows. Nor am I consistent. I often contradict myself.
But in the course of life, as I meet other people – in the flesh, or in books, magazines, etc., little “aha’s” pop into my head. I’ve never had one theory of everything, but I’ve had lots of little metaphors that offer some kind of insight. One is the metaphor of God as grandparent.
It popped into my head as Bev and I were enjoying our grandchildren, that we were “playing God,” and that this is our vocation as grandparents. That insight came to me over and over when I was writing “The Spirituality of Grandparenting,” and interviewing many grandparents.
Like all metaphors, thinking of God as grandparent is incomplete. But it’s useful because it helps us grasp one aspect of who God is.
Bev and I enjoy our visits with Zoë and Jake because it means we can share some of the wonder and delight of their lives as they grow up. It is my chief role as a grandparent to delight in my grandchildren. And when there is pain, to cry with them. It’s not my job to offer them little bon mots of wisdom, even if I had some.
I like the story of the Garden of Eden because the God I see there, is a grandparent God. God knows the children must free themselves from the innocence of the garden. They cannot be mature and they cannot make moral decisions until they have tasted the forbidden fruit and developed an awareness of good and evil. To remain in the garden, in perpetual childhood – in unalloyed sweetness – is tragic. There are those who try to live in that kind of denial. I am sure God weeps when they do.
Another way to understand God, is as the parent of adult children. You love them as much as ever and you care as deeply as ever about what they do with their lives. You want nothing more than that they be happy and live to their full potential.
But you are no longer in control. You can’t keep them from messing up their lives, and when they do, you feel the pain perhaps more than they do.
You want very much to be with them in their pain and frustration, but you can only do that when they let you. You do not direct and you do not punish and you do not control.
There are many metaphors for God and none of them do God justice. All of them help us understand just a little more – appreciate the wisdom, the tenderness, and the love.

Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Soaring Fearlessly
Joan and I spent last week on the island of St. Vincent, in the far southeastern corner of the Caribbean chain. We chose it because it remains pretty much undeveloped. Most hotels have fewer than 30 rooms; beach vendors give you an extra coconut if you accidentally overpay them; there’s no international airport bringing planeloads of tourists directly from everywhere – you have to actually want to go there to get there…
We expected to spend a lazy week. We exceeded our expectations.
I spent a fair portion of each day watching a seabird circle over the over the ocean until she saw fish under the surface. Then she folded her wings and plummeted into the water like a feathered projectile, making less splash than an Olympic diver. Seconds later, she popped up again – sometimes to resume her aerial circles, sometimes to pause long enough to swallow her catch.
And I found myself envying her.
Oh, I didn’t envy the prospect of spending all day, every day, circling endlessly over the same patch of sea, hoping to consume half my weight in fish.
Rather, I envied the bird’s absence of fear. She would, of course, head for safety if a hawk or eagle neared. But she had clearly no fear of flying. She wheeled and swooped with complete confidence in her own abilities, adjusting her flight with tiny twitches of wingtip feathers.
I would love to fly. I’d love to have that sense of total control over three dimensions. But at my age, I don’t trust my reflexes that much any more. I could take flying lessons – but even if I passed, I would have a constant fear of getting into a situation where a mistake could cost not just my own life, but perhaps the lives of passengers.
We humans were not designed for flying. Only our technology enables us to exceed our natural capabilities.
And when you make a mistake in an airplane, you can’t get out and walk home.
The bird has no such fear. She cannot exceed her capabilities. Even if she makes a mistake in a tight turn, she will only fall a few feet in a flurry of feathers before she can regain her composure, spread her wings, and soar again. Natural air resistance prevents her falling faster than she can recover.
And so she soars fearlessly.
Compare that with human experience. We work like slaves for an employer we loathe, because we fear unemployment, loss of income, loss of status… Advertising implants fear to sell us cosmetics, pills, diets, dating services, household germs, dust, tutoring programs, security systems…
Politics foments fears of other parties and policies.
The entire American nation is being manipulated by fear of terrorists who may or may not exist.
Fears paralyze. We fear saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong clothes, holding the wrong ideas. We fear relationships that go sour; we may even fear relationships that could grow too close.
Perhaps, if we could banish some of our fears, we too could soar effortlessly.

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:
It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80's, arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.
While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor's appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.
“No,” said the gentleman. “I need to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with my wife.”
“Is your wife ill?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “She has Alzheimer’s.”
“Would your wife mind if you were a bit late?”
“Oh no,” he said. “She hasn’t recognized me for five years.”
"And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?"
He smiled. "She doesn't know me, but I still know who she is."


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Carroll Morony of Colby, Kansas writes: “In last Sunday's bulletin we were promoting our upcoming Valentine Dinner. The secretary, meant to type ‘bring.’ Instead she wrote: ‘please be a dessert, chocolate or Valentine (or both)’."
Says Caroll: “Maybe our churches would be much sweeter if we took her advice?”

Lorne Buhr in Edmonton, Alberta saw a bit of delightful irony in the name, “Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir.”

Ron Schulz “loved the piece about the Lutherans, but I think there's a typo near the end. Should be 100 degrees (not 10) and 90% humidity and we still have coffee after the service (we really do).”

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! – If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at Sunday School, I'll promise not to believe everything the child says happens at home.
Good Clean Funnies Web Site, via Wayne Seybert

Witty sayings are as easily lost as the pearls slipping off a broken sting; but a word of kindness is seldom spoken in vain. It is the seed which, even when dropped by chance, springs up a flower.
The Old Farmers Almanac, 1853, via Mary Arneson in the Sultanate of Oman

Work for Whirled Peas!
on a bumper sticker in Tucson, Arizona


We Get Letters – Diane Lewis of Surrey, UK has a new revelation to share. She says that bachelors of both Arts and Divinity (BA, BD) are recognized as “Born Again, But Doubtful!”
And Michael Skibinski says there was a man named Rev. James Tweedle who refused a Doctor of Divinity degree. He didn’t want to be called “Tweedle DD.”
Michael, isn’t there is limerick about that?


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Super-sized Creation!”)
This from George Brigham of Shipley, West Yorkshire, England
In the beginning God covered the earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, with green, yellow and red vegetables of all kinds so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.
Then using God's bountiful gifts, Satan created Dairy Ice Cream and Magnums.
And Satan said "You want hot fudge with that?
And Man said "Yes!"
And Woman said "I'll have one too with chocolate chips".
And lo, they gained 10 pounds.
And God created the healthy yoghurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair.
And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them.
And Woman went from size 12 to size 14.
So God said "Try my fresh green salad".
And Satan presented Blue Cheese dressing and garlic croutons on the side.
And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.
God then said "I have sent you healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them".
And Satan brought forth deep fried coconut king prawns, butter-dipped lobster chunks and chicken fried steak, so big it needed its own platter.
And Man's cholesterol went through the roof.
Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with potassium and good nutrition.
Then Satan peeled off the healthy skin and sliced the starchy centre into chips and deep fried them in animal fats adding copious quantities of salt.
And Man put on more pounds.
Then God gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite.
And Satan created McDonalds and the £1.00 double cheeseburger.
Then Satan said "You want fries with that?" and Man replied "Yes, and super size 'em".
God then brought forth running shoes so that his Children might lose those extra pounds.
And Satan came forth with a cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels.
And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering light and started wearing stretch jogging suits.
And Satan said "It is good."
And Man and Woman went into cardiac arrest.
God sighed ......... and created quadruple by-pass surgery.
And then Satan chuckled and is intent on creating a post code lottery in the National Health Service.

* Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
* Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
* Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
* Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
* Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is what kills you.


Bottom of the Barrel – This is from Alan Craig of Brampton, Ontario who writes: “There is nothing religious about this one, so I don't know if it is suitable for Rumors.”
Well, Alan, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the passion referred to here amounts to a religion. My standards for what qualifies as “religious” are not exactly rigid.

An English doctor was being shown around a Scottish hospital. Near the end of his visit, he saw a ward of patients with no obvious injuries.
He started to examine the first patient, but the man proclaimed: "Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face / Great chieftain o'the puddin' race!"
The doctor, taken aback, moved on to the next patient, who immediately said; "Some hae meat and canna eat / And some wad eat that want it."
The next patient cried out; "Wee sleekit cow'rin tim'rous beastie /O what a panic's in thy breastie!"
"Well," the English doctor muttered to his Scottish colleague, "I see you saved the psychiatric ward for last."
"Oh, no," said the Scottish doctor. "This is our serious Burns unit!"

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