Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sermon Helps for Sunday, January 27th, 2008

R U M O R S #485
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor


Motto: Trado, tradere, traditus.*


Please take a look. Go to Or Google or Yahoo “Story Lectionary” and you’ll find it. Jim and Linnea and I have been working on it for months.
It begins with Lent, which comes really early this year. And we hope to post materials four weeks in advance for those of you who work ahead on your sermons.
Rather than explain the Story Lectionary here, click on the above and find out for yourself.
No, this does not mean we’re abandoning the Revised Common Lectionary. We’re adding to it. Another option.
Check it out!


Next Week’s Readings – Isaiah reversed
Rumors – seeing the great light
Soft Edges – meetings in hell
Good Stuff – tell the word for me
Bloopers – brightly beans
We Get Letters – a German shepherd
Mirabile Dictu! – self-made man
Bottom of the Barrel – when a woman lies
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Church school teachers have to be particularly careful when they tell God’s story to small children.
For instance, Charlotte Sloan Cooper of Belleville, Ontario has a daughter, Bethany, who told about a classmate who was convinced that after God created the world, God went to jail.
Finally, the teacher heard the reason. “Well teacher,” said the child, “you said that God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day God got arrested.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, January 27th, which is the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany.

For children, “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” has two stories that relate to this coming Sunday. “Singing and Fishing for God,” based on both the Isaiah and the Matthew passage, and “Simon Gets a New Job,” based on Matthew. Go to page 52. (see below).

Isaiah 9:1-4 – A number of years ago, traveling with Bev and my sister Peggy Lawrence we stopped overnight in Los Vegas. None of us are gamblers, but Peggy insisted we stop “for your own education.” She had been there for a teacher’s convention some years before.
Pegs was right. It was educational, but it was also a revelation. It was like taking a tour of hell. We wandered through several casinos. None of them were crowded. But there were people playing the slots – playing mechanically, with utterly blank faces, not in pain but also not happy. It seemed to me that if they could think of anything else to do, they would do it, but in the meantime they kept cranking those slots.
One of the casinos had a children’s area. It was full of loud music and flashing lights and in-your-face promoters who smiled with their mouths but not with their eyes. We saw one little tyke walking with his hands over his ears. We saw other children playing games that offered prizes, but not a one of them looked happy.
What if everything you ever wanted was there? Fun! Excitement! Glamour! Lights!
Would that be heaven, or would that be hell?
You can read the newspaper on the street at midnight in Vegas. They’ve reversed Isaiah. The people that walk in all this artificial light have found a deep darkness. The glare of all those florescent tubes can’t get beyond the dullness of their eyes.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
4 All I ever asked for was peace and harmony.
I would love to live serenely in God's presence.
But instead of protecting me from the tragedies of life
God gives me strength to cope with them.
1 When wild-eyed beasts with slavering jaws
glare at me out of the gloom, God gives me fire;
Its flickering brightness keeps fears at bay.
5 When the fiery furnace of petty tribulation
consumes my tolerance,
God sends a cooling breeze.
When daily duties clash like ignorant armies
God raises me above the swirling dust of strife.
6 I can see clearly again.
I don't want to fight anyone.
I would rather praise the one who saves me.
7 So don't stop now, Lord.
When beasts with glowing eyes get me down,
Come to my rescue.
8 "Turn to me," you say. "Do things my way."
From the bottom of my heart, God, I have turned to you.
9 Don't turn away from me.
You are my only hope.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – I have a friend who is well known in the Canadian and in the world-wide church community for her ability to mediate disputes.
I had a dream, years ago when I was still in TV work, to produce a program that would bring together people who radically disagree with each other, and then have her help them understand each other.
It would be very different from normal TV talk shows. Most TV programs that bring together people with varying viewpoints basically say to them, “All right, you hate each other, now come out scratching and clawing!” Conflict always makes more exciting television.
But I had in mind a process where people would genuinely try to understand the other. My friend would help them do that. To listen deeply. To understand.
Not in order to agree. But disagree with understanding and love. And to listen with respect.
Paul is writing to the folks in Corinth who are doing what churches have always done and still are doing. People are convinced that those who disagree with them are not just wrong – they are stupid and pig-headed and if they had any sense at all they would agree with you.
It’s our own arrogance that’s the issue. Born out of fear and insecurity in who we are and what we believe.

Matthew 4:12-23 – “Repent!” Turn around. Change your “stinkin’ thinkin’!” as the folks in AA say.
I have known a few people – perhaps half a dozen – who were comfortable in what they believe.
I’m talking about people who genuinely want to understand what others are thinking – what they believe – and why they think that way. Most of us wait until that other person takes a breath and we zoom in to set them right. Or we walk away from the conversation as soon as possible out of fear and discomfort. We are afraid of conflict. We are afraid to be shown up as wrong. Or stupid. Or uninformed.
Jesus probably had in mind a whole spectrum of repentance we need to undertake, but our fear and insecurity in what we claim to believe, is surely part it.

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 – Seeing the Great Light (from “Angels in Red Suspenders”)
Nobody organized it. I don't remember hearing it from anyone. But we got up at three in the morning. We took a large thermos of thick, hot, chokolade as we walked quietly to the beach. We knew most of our village would be there as well.
The year was 1965. We lived in the little city of Dumaguete, in the central Philippines. Two amateur Japanese astronomers, Ikeya and Seki, had discovered the new spectacular, sun-grazing comet. We soon learned it could be seen rising from the ocean just before dawn.
It was dark, as only a moonless tropical night can be dark. Our slippered feet seemed to have a strange awareness of the familiar road we couldn't see. Our eyes were on the soft black outline of coconut palms near the beach.
We walked without speaking. I held Bev's hand and four-year-old Kari clutched mine. Brave Mark, now almost six, walked very close to Bev carrying the chokolade.
"Dad! Look at the stars!" he whispered.
I had been trying to see the black road. I hadn't noticed.
"Yes, look at them, my son," I thought to myself. "Look at them with all the wonder of your almost-six-year-old eyes, because you will never see them this way again." I felt Kari's cheek against my hand.
The quiet coolness of the sea brushed our faces as we neared the beach and the soft smell of coral sea. Tiny reflections of stars sparkled on the gentle swell as it lapped the sand, blending it's rhythm with the musical Cebuano spoken by tiny groups of people we couldn't see in the darkness.
Then, from a few yards down the beach, a muted exclamation. "Sus!" A soft halo of blue-orange light had begun to trace the edge of Sikijor Island hulking on the horizon. Almost imperceptibly the halo grew, till now it was a soft-edged fan, painted with quiet orange-blue watercolor strokes upward from the island. Tiny stars sparkled through the colors, suddenly so far away, the universe given dimension by the broad tail of a comet close to earth.
I knew, or thought I knew, what comets looked like. I remembered from my childhood, inch-long pictures in a book.
But this comet rose, tail first, spreading its pale fire up and up. Soon it pained our necks to see the top straight up above our heads, a huge, half-open fan. We couldn't see it all at once, but swept our eyes up and down the gentle, orange-blue fire, so soft in places, we wished the stars would dim so we could see the fragile colors.
Far out on the sea, the shout of fisherfolk announced the first catch of the morning.
The first streaks of dawn encroached upon our comet. As if to win the race with sunlight, the bright, pale-golden coma freed itself suddenly from behind the silhouette of Sikijor Island, then stretched its paleness from horizon to the brightening black of sky above us.
And we, tiny humans gathered on that beach, applauded. We clapped our hands for our comet to hear – clapped and cheered, and then fell silent as it faded from sight before the morning sun.
For several moments we sat there, a hundred people from a tiny village, looking to each other's eyes to see reflected there our miracle. The Southern Cross flickered its benediction as it too faded in the sun.
Then someone, in a soft Cebuano said the ancient words:

When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have ordained,
who are we that you think of us –
fragile humans –
that you care for us?

And wordless, we all walked home.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Meetings in Hell
Over a seven-day period, I attended 15 meetings.
Why didn’t I just say no? Because a few of these gatherings were for activities I enjoy – singing in the choir, for example. Some others, I had helped to organize. And still others, I suspect, I attended partly because I was afraid the others might make a dreadful mistake without me.
Regardless of reasons, by the end of that week I felt rather like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, constantly checking at my watch and muttering, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date...”
I ran from one thing to another.
I can take a guess at what hell might be like. My hell would be an endless succession of meetings at which we dutifully take detailed records of who moved and who seconded a series of eminently forgettable decisions about important things that had to be done, except that there was no time between meetings to actually do any of those things, so the next meeting’s minutes will chronicle the things that didn’t get done because we were constantly in other meetings...
Of course, that view might be slightly affected by my experiences over the past week.
But then, whose view isn’t?
When the writers of the Old Testament talked about Gehenna, the place of eternal fire, they weren’t imagining something beyond their experience. They were describing the garbage dump in a ravine below Jerusalem, where the city’s wastes smoked and smoldered night and day.
When Dante imagined his Inferno as a lake of fire, he was probably influenced by the lava that erupted from Italian volcanoes like Vesuvius and Etna.
Most of our images of heaven, too, derive from present-life experience.
A woman named Lorraine used to drop in at my office, in Toronto. She knew exactly what heaven would be like – streets paved with gold, gates made of pearl, walls carved from precious stones... The Bible told her so.
It didn’t appeal to me, I told her.
However, those images would appeal to oppressed people, 2000 years ago. The kind of wealth that they had seen only in palaces implied freedom from oppression. They would be like kings.
Similarly, black slaves in the southern U.S. states would imagine the delights of “nuthin’ to do, but roll around heaven all day.” Heaven was the opposite of the daily hell that they lived in.
British philosopher John Macmurray noted, 50 years ago, that Jesus typically illustrated his message with examples taken from real life, situations already familiar to his hearers in their daily lives.
So Macmurray wondered what Jesus might have been referring to, when Jesus talked about “The Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven,” as something that was already here, but could arrive at any time.
Macmurray’s answer was friendship. Friendships already exist; new friendships can flower unexpectedly.
It’s an intriguing notion. In hell, no one is a friend. In heaven, everyone is.
Friendship can even make meetings enjoyable.

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:
This story has been circulating around the net for several years, and usually comes with one of those injunctions to pass it along to everyone. This is the first time I’ve seen it with an author’s name attached.
Tell the World for Me
by John Powell.
"We love, because God first loved us."
1 John 4:19
Some 14 years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our opening session in the theology of faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. He was combing his hair, which hung six inches below his shoulders. My quick judgment wrote him off as strange – very strange.
Tommy turned out to be my biggest challenge. He constantly objected to, or smirked at the possibility of an unconditionally loving God. When he turned in his final exam at the end of the course, he asked in a slightly cynical tone, "Do you think I'll ever find God?"
"No," I said emphatically.
"Oh," he responded. "I thought that was the product you were pushing."
I let him get five steps from the door and then called out. "I don't think you'll ever find God, but I am certain God will find you." Tommy shrugged and left. I felt slightly disappointed that he had missed my clever line.
Later I heard that Tommy had graduated, and I was grateful for that. Then came a sad report: Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I could search him out, he came to me. When he walked into my office, his body was badly wasted, and his long hair had fallen out because of the chemotherapy. But, his eyes were bright and his voice, for the first time, was firm.
"Tommy! I've thought about you so often. I heard you were very sick," I blurted out.
"Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer. It's a matter of weeks."
"Can you talk about it?"
"Sure. What would you like to know?"
"What's it like to be only 24 and know that you're dying?"
"It could be worse," he told me, "like being 50 and thinking that drinking booze, seducing women and making money are the real 'biggies' in life." Then, he told me why he had come.
"It was something you said to me on the last day of class. I asked if you thought I would ever find God and you said no, which surprised me. Then you said, 'But, God will find you.' I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time."
"But, when the doctors removed a lump from my body and told me that it was malignant, I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging against the bronze doors of heaven. But, nothing happened. Well, one day I woke up, and instead of my desperate attempts to get some kind of message, I just quit. I decided I didn't really care about God, an afterlife, or anything like that."
"I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more important. I thought about you and something else you had said: 'The essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But, it would be almost equally sad to leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you loved them.'
So, I began with the hardest Dad."
Tommy's father had been reading the newspaper when his son approached him.
"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"Well, talk."
"I mean, it's really important."
The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"
"Dad, I love you. I just wanted you to know that."
Tommy smiled at me as he recounted the moment. "The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then, my father did two things I couldn't remember him doing before. He cried and he hugged me. And then, we talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning."
"It was easier with my mother and little brother," Tommy continued.
"They cried with me, and we hugged one another, and shared the thing we had been keeping secret for so many years. I was only sorry that I had waited so long. Here I was, in the shadow of death, and I was just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to."
"Then one day, I turned around and God was there. God didn't come to me when I pleaded. Apparently God works in a different way and on a different schedule. The important thing is that you were right. God found me even after I stopped looking.”
"Tommy," I practically gasped, "I think you are saying something much more universal than you realize. You are saying that the surest way to find God is not by making God a private possession or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love."
"Tommy," I added, "could I ask you a favor? Would you come to my theology-of-faith course and tell my students what you just told me?"
Though we scheduled a date, Tommy never made it. Of course, his life was not really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the eye of humanity has ever seen, or the mind ever imagined.
Before he died, we talked one last time. "I'm not going to make it to your class," he said.
"I know, Tommy."
"Will you tell them for me? Will you . . . tell the whole world for me?"
"I will, Tommy. I'll tell them."


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Russ Plumley warns of falling stars in St. Catharines, Ontario. “The choir at his church sang "How Brightly Beans the Morning Star."
Russ, a long time choir member, says no one was hurt this time, but in future they will wear hard hats with their choir gowns.

Linda Clark of Burlington, Ontario typed this into a sermon: "... the ritual of asperges is a gentle sprinkling of water on the gathered people, using the branch of a spruce or fir tree which has its roots in the Roman Catholic Church."
Linda added. “I almost wished he hadn't caught it.”

Laura Baum, of southern New Mexico heard this from a priest. “At a wedding ceremony that I was performing, I raised my hand to give the final blessing. The bride misunderstood my gesture and surprised me with a high-five. Not wanting to exclude the groom, I offered him a high-five, too. I was finally able to get my blessing in, amid the laughter of the guests.”

Judith Johnson-Siebold of Waterford, New York writes: “While cleaning a storage space containing old papers I found a 2003 baptism insert in which the people were enjoined to say "Here we proclaim that all life is God's gift and theft is good."
Says Judith, “That many explain why the church is missing some spoons!”

George Brigham of Shipley, West Yorkshire, England reports seeing a list of hymns, including one which was optional. It read, “There is a Redeemer if needed."

Barry Kreider of Akron, Pennsylvania says the person telling the children’s story “was trying to explain micro-loans, e.g., to children, as part of our stewardship Sunday. He asked the children, "What is a loan?"
“Wisely, one of the children answered, "It is when you are all by yourself."
Barry asks, “Isn't that the goal of such micro-loan organizations – to give those a loan so they don't feel so alone?”

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! – Speak only when it improves the silence.
folk wisdom via Evelyn McLachlan

You came into the world with nothing, and you will leave the world with nothing. But in between is Christmas!
sign in a Calgary restaurant, via Theo!

If you give me an egg and I give you an egg, we each have one egg. If you give me an idea and I give you an idea, we each have two ideas.
West African proverb, via Eduard Hiebert


We Get Letters – A whole lot of people know a whole lot more Latin than I ever suspected. Mostly, I think, for the fun of correcting people like me who know zilch.
Douglas Lawson of Sherwood Park, Alberta writes: “The translation I took from the end of your latest posting, then worked backwards from the English to this.
"Si hoc legere scis, nimis eruditionis habes".
If this to read you know, too much of learning you have.

OK Neal of Kress, Texas wants to know: “Would the shepherd of a German church be a German Shepherd? Would the shepherd of a Canadian Church be a Canadian Shepherd?


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “self-made man!”) Jim Taylor and I share an aversion to profanity. Not so much because it’s bad, but because it is so boring. Especially when they rely on a series of over-used four-letter words that long ago lost their shock value. That’s why, I think, he sent me this list of classy insults.

* An exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison," and he said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it." * A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease." "That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."
* "He had delusions of adequacy."
Walter Kerr
* "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
Winston Churchill
* "A modest little person, with much to be modest about."
Winston Churchill
* "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."
Clarence Darrow
* "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
* "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)
* "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
Moses Hadas
* "He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."
Abraham Lincoln
* "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."
Mark Twain
* "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."
Oscar Wilde * "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend – if you have one."
George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
* "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second – if there is one."
Winston Churchill, in response.
* "I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."
Stephen Bishop
* "He is a self-made man and worships his creator."
John Bright
* "I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."
Irvin S. Cobb
* "Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"
Mark Twain
* "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
Mae West
* "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
Oscar Wilde
* "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than illumination."
Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
* "He has Van Gogh's ear for music."
Billy Wilder
* "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."
Groucho Marx


Bottom of the Barrel – Kausie White sends this with a note. “Girls, you are going to love this.”
One day, when a seamstress was sewing while sitting close to a river, her thimble fell into the river. When she cried out, the Lord appeared and asked, "My dear child, why are you crying?"
The seamstress replied that her thimble had fallen into the water and that she needed it to help her husband in making a living for their family. The Lord dipped His hand into the water and pulled up a golden thimble set with sapphires.
"Is this your thimble?" the Lord asked
The Lord again dipped into the river. He held out a golden thimble studded with rubies. "Is this your thimble?" the Lord asked.
The Lord reached down again and came up with a leather thimble. "Is this your thimble?" the Lord asked.
The Lord was pleased with the woman's honesty and gave her all three thimbles to keep, and the seamstress went home happy.
Some years later, the seamstress was walking with her husband along the riverbank, and her husband fell into the river and disappeared under the water. When she cried out, the Lord again appeared and asked her, "Why are you crying?"
"Oh Lord, my husband has fallen into the river!"
The Lord went down into the water and came up with George Clooney. "Is this your husband?" the Lord asked.
"Yes," cried the seamstress.
The Lord was furious. "You lied! That is an untruth!"
"Oh, forgive me, my Lord,” said the seamstress. “It is a misunderstanding. You see, if I had said 'no' to George Clooney, you would have come up with Brad Pitt.
Then if I said 'no' to him, you would have come up with my husband. Had I then said 'yes,' you would have given me all three. Lord, I'm not in the best of health and would not be able to take care of all three husbands, so THAT'S why I said 'yes' to George Clooney.
And so the Lord let her keep him.
The moral of this story is: Whenever a woman lies, it's for a good and honorable reason, and in the best interest of others. That's our story, and we're sticking to it.
All Us Women

* I give up!
courtesy of Hank Pedersen, Warwick, UK

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