Thursday, January 10, 2008

Preaching Materials for January 20, 2008

R U M O R S # 484
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

January 13, 2008



Sic Hoc Legere Sas Nimium Eruditions Habes.*


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Next Week’s Readings – baptismal memories
Rumors – nothing fancy
Soft Edges – cultural icons
Good Stuff – the train whistle
Bloopers – bothers and sisters
We Get Letters – rev F10
Mirabile Dictu! – graven images
Bottom of the Barrel – another groaner
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The Youth Group was out collecting bottles to raise money for a mission project. They encountered one of the stalwarts of the congregation working in his front yard, a man not noted for his humor or his liberality.
“Got any empty beer or wine bottles?” they asked.
“Do I look like the kind of man who would have empty beer or wine bottles?” he grumped.
“Oh, sorry,” said the youth. “Got any empty vinegar bottles?”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, January 20th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. That’s the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, and the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Monday, January 21st is Martin Luther King Day in the USA.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 51 (see below).

Isaiah 49:1-7 – I quite enjoy much of the fine poetry in Isaiah – the grand sweep of words, images, ideas, metaphors. I find them invigorating. Which is quite personal, of course, and so there’s no point arguing, if it does or does not do the same for you.
Similarly, there’s no point arguing whether Isaiah was looking forward to Jesus. I think he was talking to the nation Israel but I won’t argue if you see this passage as a prophetic foreshadowing of the Christ.
What the reading does, however, is challenge the nation Israel to be more than a tiny confederation of tribes paying attention to their own stuff and looking after their own welfare. It’s a challenge to be a “light to the nations” (v.6). And whether or not the Isaiah writer had any visions of our 21st century world, we can read this in that way, and perhaps feel invigorated – challenged – led – into seeing ourselves as a “light” to the nations.
And what that means to the way we are, and the way we are seen, by the world outside the church doors.

Psalm 40:1-11 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 I believed I could make it on my own.
But I slipped and fell.
I sank into a morass of my own making.
2 God heard my cry.
God lifted me out of the mire
and set me safe on solid ground.
3 Like any addict who quits,
I must talk about what has happened to me.
Like a robin at dawn,
I must sing God's praises to the skies.
I will risk being a bore;
If just one person hears me,
my work has not been wasted.
4 Too many today chase false gods;
They try to multiply their own gains.
5 But the richest returns come from God.
You can't begin to count your blessings!
6 God does not want us to wear frowns or long faces;
God wants us to find childlike joy in shining drops of dew,
in whispering pine needles, in warm mud between the toes.
7, 8 Our delight becomes one with God's;
Our personalities blend.
9 So I will not keep silent;
I will proclaim my good news privately and publicly.
10 I cannot keep it to myself.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – They say that every growing child needs a pat on the back. Sometimes that pat needs to be low and hard.
Here’s Paul offering the first pat on the back to the young church in Corinth. If you read beyond verse 9, you find Paul also delivering a spanking. And I find it amusing and saddening that the stuff Paul writes about is stuff we’re still dealing with in our church communities.
It’s interesting that Paul talks of the spiritual gifts the Corinthians have, but he doesn’t say those gifts will bring them health, wealth, soft wavy hair or shiny white teeth. All those spiritual gifts are given so that “you may be blameless” when Jesus returns. And Paul was expecting that to happen any day.
Most of us know ourselves well enough to know that “blamelessness” isn’t something we aspire too. We’re all implicated in the sins of a struggling world.
But those spiritual gifts are to be longed for, worked for, treasured. It is with them and through them that we can make a difference.

John 1:29-42 – Memories.
A powerful memory of a hot afternoon near one of the sources of the Jordan River. I was in Israel studying with St. John University near Minneapolis. Almost all the rest of the class were Roman Catholic priests.
I was standing in the water of the Jordan up to my knees and feeling a deep sense of connectedness to this river and the stories of faith around it. The evening before, we’d heard a moving lecture about John’s description of Jesus’ baptism. And I wanted so very badly to be baptized in that river
Why? I didn’t know. All I knew was that the desire was deep and profound.
But who would baptize me. I couldn’t ask the priests. They wouldn’t do it because I wasn’t Catholic. Besides, I’d already been baptized.
Still, I really wanted to be baptized in that river. So I lowered myself down into the water. Once. Twice. Three times.
And the Spirit of God came and rested on my shoulder. Not in the form of a dove but in a sense of fullness – of being treasured – of a strong, warm arm around my shoulders.

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 – Strange things happen on the Internet. Rumors puts me in contact with a wide range of interesting folk and some unique situations.
Some time ago I received a one-line message. “I want to be a Christian. Can you help?”
“How do I respond to that?” I asked Bev. My first instinct was simply to ignore it.
“Ask some questions first,” she said. “You can’t answer that unless you know who you are talking to.”
So I asked a few questions as gently as I could and said I would be happy to respond “when I know you at least a little.”
The response was surprising. A man wrote saying that someone with a warped sense of humor had sent that letter to hundreds of people from his computer. It was a prank and he didn’t really enjoy it. “I’ve been sent long sermons and I’ve been sent vitriol. Yours is the first response that was kind and open.”
We corresponded on and off for quite awhile. Not about becoming a Christian because the man was already a very active and caring Christian. But I enjoyed his friendship which became possible because I didn’t follow my first instincts – because I gave a “kind and open” answer to what seemed like a setup to be flamed by some crank.
On a television program some months ago I heard a “financial advisor” who had a “wonderful way of achieving both your financial and spiritual goals.” The advice was simple. Find out what you really enjoy doing, then make a career out of that, and you will succeed. As examples, the advisor offered Oprah and Bill Gates.
I don’t really identify with Oprah and Bill. But then I also have a hard time identifying with other heroes who are bigger than life. Mother Teresa, Jean Vanier, Martin Luther King. They set a level of commitment I can’t aspire to.
The same applies to biblical heroes. Moses, Ruth, Mary, Paul. Stories of exceptional saints can backfire. If you set the bar too high, people know they can’t make it and walk away. Anyway, those are not the kind of “saints” Paul was talking about (v2). He was talking about saints who are the ordinary members of the church in Corinth and they’re making a bit of a mess of things.
Bev and I often find ourselves filling in on occasional Sundays at churches up and down our valley. I remember the astonishment and joy in Bev’s eyes when we went back to a church where she had been the pastor for a number of years.
Standing up to introduce us was Hazel. Hazel had been battered and bruised by life in just about every way – physically and psychologically. She was a desperately fearful woman who could hardly manage even a very short conversation with anyone, especially a male.
Bev had spent many hours with timid, quivering Hazel. And there she was standing up in front of the congregation introducing us! “What did you do?” Bev asked one of the long-time members of the congregation.
“We did what you started,” she said. “We just kept including her.”
Nothing fancy. Just good old-fashioned human kindness and decency. Hospitality. That’s what the journey of faith is basically about.
To be worthy of the name “saints” as Paul used the term, we don’t need to do anything exceptional or different. And we don’t have to get it right every time.
We just need to keep widening the circle.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Cultural Icons
Last Sunday, we in the western churches celebrated the festival called Epiphany – which means “revelation” or “sudden comprehension.”
Traditionally, it marks the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, revealing that Jesus was Messiah for all nations, not just for Jews.
But if you had been in Ethiopia this week, you wouldn’t have celebrated the Epiphany. You’d have celebrated Christmas. In the year 2001.
To western eyes, the Ethiopian calendar seems, umm, well, weird. Christmas always falls on December 29, not December 25. But their December 29 is our January 7. The Ethiopian calendar also runs seven years behind our Gregorian calendar. Plus, it has 13 months.
I’m intrigued by Ethiopian customs because our new grandson will be coming from there in about two months. Ethiopians speak and write the second most-widely used Semitic language in the world, after Arabic. Their alphabet is proto-Semitic – that is, its origins precede the Hebrew script.
They also have their own unique clock. Instead of starting their 12-hour cycles at noon and midnight, they start at dawn and sunset. So if someone invites you for 3:00 o’clock, you’d better find out if they mean breakfast, or afternoon tea.
Why wouldn’t Ethiopians change, to get in step with the rest of the world?
First, I suppose, because the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily use our calendar either. The eastern churches celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar, 12 days later than ours. Others have completely different calendars. For Islam, this is the year 1428. For Jews, 5768.
And second, because the Ethiopian calendar and clock have become cultural icons, sanctified by centuries of tradition. When that’s what you’re used to, you can’t imagine anything different.
Until 1582, the Julian calendar dominated western Europe. But it had flaws. It added an extra day every 128 years. Over time, the shortest day of the year had moved into early January. Easter lost its relationship to the Jewish Passover.
Pope Gregory introduced a revised calendar that put Christian festivals more or less back in sync with the solar year. By the time Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Wednesday September 2 moved directly to Thursday, September 14.
All over Britain, people rioted, demanding back the 12 days stolen from their lives.
It sounds silly, today. But some Canadians were similarly upset when Pierre Trudeau decreed that we measure distance in kilometres rather than miles. I still think in inches, not centimetres.
Of course, some Christians still consider the King James Version, translated from Latin in 1611, the only true Bible. Any other translation, they insist, distorts the message of God’s revelation – even if the new translation corrects demonstrable errors.
Like the Ethiopian calendar, the King James Version of the Bible has become a cultural icon for many. It no longer matters whether it is right or wrong, accurate or flawed, culturally biased or culturally neutral. It must now carry the baggage of a particular people’s identity.
None of us like change. Especially when it affects our identity.

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 sage advice collected (or at least forwarded) by Evelyn McLachlan. * Don't brag – it isn't the whistle that pulls the train.
* Bragging may not bring happiness, but no one having caught a large fish sneaks home through the alley.
* The best remedy for conceit is to sit down and make a list of all the things you don't know.
* A pessimist is one who feels bad when they feel good for fear they will feel worse when they feel better.
* Every day holds the possibility of miracles.
* An optimist says their glass is half full; a pessimist says the glass is half empty.
* Smiles never go up in price nor down in value.
* A smile is the whisper of a laugh.
* A smile is the lighting system of the face and the healing system of the heart.


From the folks who make Rumors possible – At Jim Taylor’s house last Wednesday, I watched him interact with his dog, Phoebe. Phoebe has soulful eyes, a lethal tail that can bruise your shin when she’s happy. And she smiles. Yes, she does.
It looks like she’s showing her teeth, but her tail is wagging at 95 whops per second.
Phoebe and Jim understand each other. Which is why the text of “The Spirituality of Pets” is so delightful. The pictures are great too.
So if you love animals, and you’d enjoy having your heart warmed a little, get the book. The better bookstores carry it. Any bookstore can order it. Or you can do it yourself.
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 – April Daley says she asked, during a children’s sermon, what the three gifts were, that the Magi brought. "Gold, Frankenstein and More" said one youngster.

Clyde Dean writes: “In a galaxy long ago and far away, our minister concluded his sermon with a prayer. ‘. . . and may God bless those who are sick of the congregation.’ He never did realize what he said.”

Wayne Seybert of Longmont, Colorado writes: “A note in the church news letter said, ‘Next Saturday we will have a pantry shower for our new minister and his family.’
“Which was fine, except the word ‘pantry’ was spelled wrong.”

I saw it myself in a church bulletin. “Bothers and sisters draw near.” Not a mistake. Absolutely accurate and written by an older sister. I had three older sisters, so I know.
In the same bulletin I saw a reference to a “weakly Bible study.” I’ve been to some of those.

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! – Linguistic insecurity is perhaps one of the chief motivators for
linguistic prescriptivism.
Braj B. Kachru and Cecil L. Nelson via Jim Taylor who ads, “I want you to know that this has nothing to do with me personally.”

Those who travel to a place of pilgrimage, to a holy place, may hope to experience an epiphany of some sort, but may find only that the Ganges is dirty or that Iona is wet.
Alexander McCall Smith via Gordon Verplank

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, a lot of folks must really love our church.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan

There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.
Gandhi via Don Sandin


We Get Letters – Margie Dahl of Rosebud, Victoria, Australia writes: “When I was studying at theological college, there was a family that lived across the road. They loved their German Shepherd dog and had a car sticker that read ‘Love is a German Shepherd.’ One of the students found this offensive, and made a car sticker for his own car as a response. It read ‘God is love, not a German Shepherd.’ I’ve never been sure who postulated that God was a German Shepherd, but there you go!

Margaret Wood of Wick, Scotland writes: “I'm with the 15yr old [in last week’s Rumors] who doesn't want to be doing laundry on her last day on earth. Only I don't want to be ironing. Since we came to Scotland I keep hearing about all these women who iron everything or at least almost everything including underwear, towels etc.
“A professor asked me one day how the transition had been from mother to full-time-student/mother. I told him it was hard to keep up with the house work. He gave me the best piece of advice that I got in University. ‘Never have your house so clean that people think that you have nothing else to do but housework’.”

John Shearman of Oakville, Ontario writes: “My son David [who, like his dad, is clergy] has a license plate on his car that reads REV F10. At the time his wife bought it for him, F10 meant ‘Save.’ But now, F10 in Microsoft Word means, ‘Activate the Menu Bar’."
John, I don’t know what “activate the menu bar” means in computer talk, but it’s not a bad job description for a minister.

Dee Smith writes of a heartwarming Christmas pageant. “Prevented for three Sundays from having Advent worship, first by ice and power outages, then heavy snows, we rejoiced greatly to gather Christmas Eve night. The usual crowd was augmented by our city offspring and theirs descending upon us from as far away as California to our central Kansas community.
“Some grandchildren were pressed into service at the last minute to become Mary, angels and shepherds. Not enough preparation, but it would work out. It always does...or so we thought.
“The least shepherd, last to take his place on the platform, held his crook proudly – at first. But when the last of the Magi gifts had been placed near the manger, he upended his staff. Each gift in its turn became an imaginary hockey puck as our pseudo-shepherd reverted to his latent hockey player instincts.”
“Each grandparent, aunt and uncle exchanged delighted wide grins, while the teen aged narrators deftly reassembled the reverent scene, only a bit skewed now by the misplaced ‘gold, common sense and fur.’
“And so, another memorable Christmas pageant told the story that always brings marvel and surprises. What a welcome gift after some dreary winter difficulties. We lit our candles, sang Silent Night and rejoiced! Our King is born!”

Carl Chamberlain writes: “I've appreciated your Latin offers. For the word-smiths and preachers in our midst I might offer this for consideration (an oldie, but a goodie): “Eschew Obfuscation.” Needs no translation. It's in English.

David Powers of Cape Cod, Massachusetts writes: “Ralph, just a quick heads up. You're really going to hear about this week's Latin motto! No agreement in case, number and gender. And the more widely circulated original, with the subject in the plural, is sheer nonsense in Latin. For one thing, the gerund "carborundum" [plus "est," which is missing in your version] suggests an obligation, a must: it must wear down. But I think Carborundum is simply commercially available sandpaper.”

Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado writes about the child’s version of the Serenity Prayer: "Give me the strength to change the things I can, the grace to accept the things I cannot, and a great big bag of money." – Age 13
Says Sharyl: “It put me in mind of another version of the Serenity Prayer that I particularly like: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it's me!’" (author unknown)


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “graven images!”) Notices seen on church graveyards.
* The grave spaces in this churchyard are reserved for the dead who live in this parish.
* Owing to the fact that we no longer have a sexton, we ask that people keep their own graves tidy.
* No alterations may be carried out in this graveyard without obtaining permission from the bodies concerned.


Bottom of the Barrel – This groaner is from Sean Robinson. It’s been around forever, but it’s clever enough to deserve a re-run.
What do you get if you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic? A.Someone who stays awake at night wondering if there really is a dog.

Since that was kind of short, here’s another from Susan Fiore.
It is the end of the sixth day of Creation, and God and Satan are admiring God's handiwork. God looks around contentedly and says, "It is good."
Satan, also looking around, rubs his hands together in anticipation and says, "It IS good! Let's organize it!"


* If you can read this, you’re over-educated!

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