Thursday, January 24, 2008

Preaching Materials for February 3rd

R U M O R S # 486
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)

Whoodathunkit? Rumors has busted the seven thousand mark. Exactly 7,012 subscriptions to be exact. And I can remember, when we started out nine years ago, I was ecstatic because we broke the 100 mark.


The Story Lectionary is on-line. Type in, or google same and you’ll arrive. This is not a replacement for the Revised Common Lectionary but a supplement. It takes too long to explain here. Please go to the site and check it out for yourself.
The Story Lectionary must be scratching where preachers itch, because we’ve been getting a batch of mail from folks who tell us they are delighted.
But please make up your own mind. Take a look.
By the way, don’t confuse this with the book called, “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” which is a collection of stories for children, with material for every Sunday in the cycle.
The Lectionary Story Bible is for the young. It’s a book you can buy.
The Story Lectionary is for the young at heart. It’s free on-line.


Next Week’s Readings – the story can’t be contained
Rumors – tiny injections
Soft Edges – stacking chairs
Bloopers – hurried hilarity
We Get Letters – God rinses
Mirabile Dictu! – singing Lutherans
Bottom of the Barrel – another conspiracy
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The minister had several degrees and the church board insisted these be listed after the name on the bulletin board.
So there it was. Rev. M. Jones, LLB, BA.
“What do those letters mean?” a friend asked one of the seasoned members of the church.Preview

“Well, as far as I can tell,” said the elderly member, “LLB means, ‘looks like a Bishop,’ and BA means, ‘But ain’t.’”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, February 3rd which is (yes, believe it!) Transfiguration Sunday. That means the following Sunday is (Yikes!) the First Sunday of Lent, which is when the on-line Story Lectionary begins.

There are two Transfiguration Sunday stories in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” “Moses Goes to Visit God,” page 72, based on the Exodus passage, and “Jesus on the Mountaintop,” page 74, based on Matthew. (For ordering information, see below).

Exodus 24:12-18 – This out-of-context passage about Moses’ theophany on Mount Sinai is included, because the Matthew reading about Jesus’ transfiguration is a story told to demonstrate that Jesus is not only walking in the tradition of Moses, but is, in a sense, Moses returned. Although it isn’t mentioned in this passage, Moses’ face shone, just as Jesus’ did, up on that mountain.
I’ve been to the mountain that tradition says Moses climbed. I’m not the least bit interested in speculating on whether that was an historical event or mythological. But the steps up that mountain are worn smooth by the faith of pilgrims who over the centuries have climbed the peak and found it a good place to meditate on the Moses tradition. And perhaps, like Moses, experience an encounter with God.

Psalm 2 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
(Note: Psalm 99 is an alternate)
1 What causes powerful people
to plot together for their own profit?
2 They manipulate events to preserve their own privilege.
3 They try to take matters into their own hands;
They think they are greater than God.
4 But God laughs at their vanity.
5 They will see how fast their successes fade.
They will watch their foundations crack
and their walls crumble.
6 Their empires will not last.
9 Their lofty edicts will be forgotten,
their proclamations scorned.
The world they tried to weave
will fall apart like rotted fabric.
7 But the reign of God goes on forever.
8 When the wicked ones have gone,
who will inherit their wealth?
Only the poor and broken-hearted will be left.
10 Take heed, you who pursue power at any price!
11 Serve God, not your own ambitions.
Come to God in fear and trembling.
12 Learn God's ways,
before God flicks you into eternity like dandruff from a shoulder.
The orphans adopted into God's family will have the last laugh.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

2 Peter 1:16-21 – I object to the translator’s use of the word “myths” in verse 16 as something which is false. It’s the only word we have in English to name a story, tradition, song, (which may or may not be historically true) that carries meaning for those who treasure it. We need that word for our faith discourses.
The writer (not Peter the Apostle) assumes that the readers already know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, and wants to make sure they get the interpretation right. The writer holds the event up as core event that demonstrates Jesus’ divinity. “Hang on to this,” he seems to be saying, “until the morning, when the new days dawns.” A reference, I think, to the second coming of the Christ.

Matthew 17:1-9 – Peter’s idea to put up three “dwellings” there on that mountain was clearly a non-starter, so I find it amusing that subsequent generations have built a large church up there. It’s hard to imagine yourself into that story – the cloud overshadowing you – when you are in a fairly opulent building.
Peter, James and John, like the rest of us lead-footed mortals, always find it hard to deal with those numinous moments when something clearly happens that blows our minds with a reality far too big for our brains.
Peter, James and John were scared out of their wits, just as you and I would have been. So let’s not be too hard on them for making dumb suggestions. Those three had no idea what was going on, and neither do we know what really happened. It refuses to be contained in our neat theological categories or historical propositions. It can’t be held in church building any more than it could be contained in the booths Peter suggested.
As far as I can see, there’s only one adequate word for such an event.

There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. The marvellous illustrations are by Margaret Kyle. There’s at least one story for each Sunday, usually two, and occasionally three. Go to the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or copy this address into your browser to get directly to the page about this book.

Rumors – Creeping decrepitude probably means that Bev and I won’t be able to do it any more, but for a number of years we were able to take part in “pilgrimages” to various parts of northern Europe, led by Drs. Lynn McNaughton and Gerald Hobbs.
The sites they led us to were places where history or mythology tells us something happened. Something changed. People were transfigured. And in the process, many of us were transfigured. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot.
I was transfigured a lot on the very first such pilgrimage when we visited the cell where Julian of Norwich prayed out her life. She became an anchorite because of her own transfiguration – her experience of the crucified Christ and her reflection on that in an amazing lifetime.
Last weekend, Bev and I were Victoria, on Vancouver Island, for an annual event called “Epiphany Explorations.” We were regaled by the likes of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Miriam Therese Winter, John Bell and others. And we reconnected with many friends and colleagues – some of whom we hadn’t seen for years. Unlike us (Ahem!) some of them had gained pounds and lost hair. Some had changed so much they didn’t recognize me.
I can’t say I came out of that having “learned” a whole lot, but those presenters did shine the light of their insight from an angle I hadn’t noticed before. But more than that, in reconnecting with the “saints” of the church, I was invigorated.
To call that weekend a “transfiguration” would be overstating things a fair bit but it was a difference of degree, I think, more than kind. A whole lot of tiny bits of transfiguration in the warm sharing of life in the corridors and the small “Aha!” experiences during the presentations add up to a fair bit of spiritual buffing and polishing.
Actually, I don’t think us humans can stand more than a few really big-time transfigurations in one life-time. There’s a very ancient tradition that says if you see the face of God you will die.
That’s one of the reasons we have a church, I think. We join ourselves to a church so that the Spirit can work mostly in tiny injections. Too big a shot of holiness could trigger an allergic reaction.
But even in blessings there is a danger. It’s all too easy for those tiny infusions of blessing to build up an immunity to the real thing.
Maybe the difference is in learning to notice – to identify those tiny transfigurations. Notice them. Reflect on them. Treasure them. Then one small experience can enrich another. And in the new math of the Spirit, the multiplication of grace is utterly amazing.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Stacking Chairs
It was back in December, after a community event in the local hall. The potluck dinner had ended, the plates had been cleared, and the members were starting to stack the folding chairs to clear the floor.
The chairs looked as if they were all similar. But they weren’t. They didn’t quite fit together.
That’s not true. They would fit together if you jammed them down. But that tended to damage the edges of the molded plywood seats. Which, in turn, tended to leave splinters in the next user’s posterior.
“No, no, not like that,” objected a long-time member. “You have to match the colors!”
Superficially, the chairs all looked the same – plywood seats, plywood backs, metal frames...
“Look at the color of the frames,” explained the organizer. “Put the brown-painted frames with the brown frames, the gray frames with the gray, and so on.”
With that change, the chairs stacked together perfectly.
I got thinking about those stacking chairs while I was researching an article about church conflicts a few weeks ago. The article concluded with the observation that the two factions were going to have to separate.
“It’s not an ideal solution,” I commented. “But it is a realistic one.”
We have an ideal that religious people should get along with each other. They should swallow their disagreements. They should tolerate, even celebrate, their differences. They should set a model for the world on how to get along together.
But the ideal doesn’t always work. People do have differences – of belief, of style, of history.
And people would rather hang together with those who share similar views than with those who don’t.
It’s like the stacking chairs.
I know that I, for example, would be seriously unhappy in a Southern Baptist congregation. Perhaps I would be even more unhappy in a church that calls itself The Ultimate Messianic Church of Divine Jesus Christ of the Original Bible.
I just wouldn’t fit.
Of course, a black Pentecostal would probably find the worship services I attend much too repressed emotionally. And a Quaker would certainly find them too noisy.
That doesn’t make any of these variations wrong (although I might question the scholarship of the Original Bible people!) but it does suggest that an attempt to homogenize all tastes will have about as much appeal as a four-course turkey dinner put through a blender.
The “lowest common denominator” approach will satisfy no one.
Nor should my musings suggest that we exclude those who may look different, or come from different backgrounds. Like the shock treatment administered to heart attack victims, a stranger may provide precisely the spark that’s needed to revitalize a congregation stalled in the doldrums of deadly routine.
But only if the existing group is willing to listen to the new view, to try it, and to take the risk of being changed by their experience.
Like stacking chairs, we may look alike superficially. But we function more smoothly when gathered with like-minded peers.

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.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Ken Ferguson of “SteepleJack” (now Ashford) Connecticut knows of a church secretary who hurridly, typed the bulletin early Sunday morning. Perhaps too hurriedly. Last Sunday the Call to Worship read: “Dear God, we praise you with all our fearts.”
I was tempted to tell Ken about what it’s like being a senior whose intestinal trumpet calls get louder while the singing voice gets croakier. Our laughing God I’m sure enjoys this joyful noise.
In the same church, Ken tells of the hurrying Deacon who put up a notice on the outside sign board announcing the Deacon’s Public Supper. All would have been fine except he forgot the “l” in “public.”

From the file:
* …persons who are shut-in during bath weather.
* …potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 pm – prayer and medication to follow.

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! – We are not people of the book. We are people of the story.
Miriam Therese Winter

Thus the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.
Arthur Schopenhauer via Rob Thomas

One of life's greatest mysteries is how the boy who wasn't good enough to marry your daughter can be the father of the smartest grandchild in the world. Jewish Proverb via Jim Taylor


We Get Letters – Russell Pastuch, of Ottawa, Ontario must be old enough to remember the “good old days” when LSD was the mind-bending chemical of choice. That’s why his eyebrows went up when he read a report about the possibility of an LSD screen in the narthex of the church.
Russell. I checked. I googled. LSD in this case means a Liquid Something-or-other Doo-hicky.

April Dailey writes: “This morning, our intern, Emily Hartmann asked the children if all of them had names. All of them nodded their heads – all but little Colton. Emily had some fun with his parents in the greeting line after worship.

Wayne Seybert of Longmont, Colorado tells of a church choir that was putting on a car wash to raise money for a special trip to Bethlehem.
They made a large sign that read: “Car Wash for Choir Trip.”
On the scheduled Saturday, business was very good. But, by two o'clock the sky clouded, the rain poured, and there were hardly any customers. Finally, one of the sopranos had an idea. She printed a very large poster with the words: “We wash. God rinses!”
Business boomed.

This news clip from Robert Moore of Acton, Massachusetts who says it has great “homiletical possibilities.”
An 81-year old man in the small Chilean village of Angol shocked his grieving relatives by waking up in his coffin at his own wake, local media said on Sunday.
When Feliberto Carrasco's family members discovered his body limp and cold, they were convinced that the octogenarian's hour had come, so they immediately called a funeral home, not a doctor.
Carrasco was dressed in his finest suit for the wake, and his relatives gathered to bid him a final farewell.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought I must be mistaken, and I shut my eyes," Carrasco's nephew Pedro told the daily Ultimas Noticias.
"When I opened them again, my uncle was looking at me. I started to cry and ran to get something to open up the coffin to get him out."
The man who "rose from the dead" said he was not in any pain, and only asked for a glass of water.
Local radio also surprised listeners by making a correction to Carrasco's death announcement, saying the news had been premature.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Singing Lutherans!”) This was sent by John Severson. I have copyright concerns, but I’m sure it’s been shared by every Lutheran with e-mail, and it would be a shame not to let the rest of the good Christian folks read it. It’s delightfully funny, but also a love song. Would that every denomination had such a person among them.
Singing With the Lutherans
by Garrison Keillor
I have made fun of Lutherans for years. Who wouldn't, if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.
We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them.
If you ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Lutheranless place, to sing along on the chorus of Michael Row the Boat Ashore, they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear.
But if you do this among Lutherans they'll smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road! Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It's a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage.
It's natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We're too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment.
I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices.
By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other. I do believe this: People, these Lutherans, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you're dying, they'll comfort you. If you're lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you're hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!
The following list was compiled by a 20th century Lutheran who, observing other Lutherans, wrote down exactly what he saw or heard:
1. Lutherans believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.
2. Lutherans like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.
3. Lutherans believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don't notify them that they are there.
4. Lutherans usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.
5. Lutherans believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.
6. Lutherans feel that applauding for their choirs would make the kids too proud and conceited.
7. Lutherans think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.
8. Lutherans drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.
9. Some Lutherans still believe that an ELCA bride and an LCMS groom make a mixed marriage.
10. Lutherans feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.
11. Lutherans are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.
12. Lutherans think that Garrison Keillor stories are totally factual.
13. Lutherans still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole adds too much color.
14 . Lutherans believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.
And finally, you know when you're a Lutheran when it's 10 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service.
You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can.
Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee.
The communion cabinet is open to all, but the coffee cabinet is locked up tight.
All your relatives graduated from a school named Concordia.
When you watch a "Star Wars" movie and they say, May the Force be with you, you respond, "and also with you".
And lastly, it takes ten minutes to say good-bye.


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Glenn, who doesn’t give a family name. But then “whistle blowers” need protection when they reveal conspiracies such as this.
Glenn says this is happening “right here in our own country,” but doesn’t specify what that country might be. My close textual analysis however, reveals that he is talking about Outer Slobovia, even though the conspiracy is world-wide.

Have you noticed that stairs are getting steeper . Groceries are heavier, and everything is farther away. Yesterday I walked to the corner and I was dumbfounded to discover how long our street had become!
And, you know, people are less considerate now, especially the young ones. They speak in whispers all the time! If you ask them to speak up they just keep repeating themselves, endlessly mouthing the same silent message until they're red in the face! What do they think I am, a lip reader?
I got to thinking about the poor dear while I was combing my hair this morning, and in doing so, I glanced at my own reflection and, well – even mirrors are not made the way they used to be!
Another thing, everyone drives so fast these days! You're risking life and limb if you happen to pull onto the freeway in front of them. All I can say is, their brakes must wear out awfully fast, the way I see them screech and swerve in my rear view mirror.
Clothing manufacturers are less civilized these days. Why else would they suddenly start labeling a size 10 or 12 dress as 18 or 20? Do they think no one notices? The people who make bathroom scales are pulling the same prank. Do they think I actually "believe" the number I see on that dial? Ha! I would never let myself weigh that much! Just who do these people think they're fooling?
I'd like to call up someone in authority to report what's going on, but the telephone company is in on the conspiracy too. They've printed the phone books in such small type that no one could ever find a number in there!
All I can do is pass along this warning. There is a conspiracy. Unless something drastic happens, pretty soon everyone will have to suffer these awful indignities.

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