Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Preaching Materials for February 17

R U M O R S # 488
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

February 10th, 2008


As you’ve probably concluded by now, I will be commenting each week on the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary as well as the Story Lectionary. This week there’s a good connection between the two, but mostly they’ll be off in different directions.
The Story Lectionary is not intended as a replacement to the RCL, but as a supplement. If you’ve not already done so, please go to the Story Lectionary site (click on ) and read our rationale for doing this.
When you’re doing that, please excuse a few glitches and aberrations that are still there. It’s very much a “work in progress.”


Next Week’s Readings – a parable turned on its head
Rumors – the good guys and the bad guys
Soft Edges – who owns your name?
Good Stuff – tradition
Bloopers – the foolish virgins
We Get Letters – the story lectionary
Mirabile Dictu! – life explained
Bottom of the Barrel – head coverings
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 Carl Boyke who got it from ArcaMax Jokes. They got it from some old joke book, because it’s been around since Moses was a pup. But it’s good enough to repeat from time to time.

A minister delivered a sermon in ten minutes one Sunday morning, which was about half the usual length of his sermons. He explained, "I regret to inform you that my dog, who is very fond of eating paper, ate that portion of my sermon which I was unable to deliver this morning".
After the service, a visitor from another church shook hands with the preacher and said, "Pastor, if that dog of yours has any pups, I want to get one to give to my minister".

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, February 17th, if your church is using the Story Lectionary or the Revised Common Lectionary.
This is the second Sunday of Lent.

The Story Lectionary
Matthew 25:1-13 – The Wise and the Foolish Bridesmaids
Managing your affairs carefully is a virtue. Any virtue carried to an extreme becomes a vice.
In this story, “Alice” is an amalgam of several people I know.
Alice manages her affairs very well. Exceptionally well. Perfectly, in fact.
Alice will probably never be a victim of credit card fraud because she only has one card and she uses that rarely. She pays all her bills on time. She is insured against everything. Her home is well secured with double locks on every door and bars on the windows. If she has to travel somewhere for her work, she always has enough clean clothes to meet every situation.
Alice is not married. She does not have a “significant other.” She had a child who grew up to be somewhat eccentric, and the two are now estranged. So she makes sure that doesn’t happen again by not allowing any relationships to develop.
Alice is like one of the wise bridesmaids. Her lamp is always filled and her wick is always trimmed and she is always well prepared and never late for anything.
Alice wants to be sure nothing bad or inconvenient ever happens to her. And it probably won’t. She will never grieve the loss of anyone or anything.
Alice turns the bridesmaid story on its head.
Any virtue, carried to an extreme, becomes a vice.

(For a creative “reader’s theatre” way to present this Story Lectionary reading, preaching ideas from Jim Taylor, creative worship thoughts from Linnea Good, plus an additional story on the theme, click on

Revised Common Lectionary:
Genesis 12:1-4a – Bev and I will have been married 50 years this summer. We still read this story differently. She wants to know how Sara felt about Abe’s vision. Because Sara would have to organize the packing and the yard sale and think about all the stuff that needs to be thought about so that the trip doesn’t turn into total chaos.
For every Mary who sits at the feet of Christ and strains to follow his dreams, his thoughts, his possibilities, there needs to be a Martha who remembers to pack a lunch.
In our life together, there have been many times when I’ve taken off after a dream, a vision, a possibility. In every instance, Bev made it possible. Bev’s second name should have been Martha. Or Sara.
In this story from Genesis – in fact in most of the stories in the Bible or stories we tell from the pulpit – it’s the Mary’s and the Abrams that get the credit. It’s the Marthas and the Saras and the Bevs that make it possible.

Psalm 121 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 Let others seek their gods in the executive suite;
Let them put their faith in rising to the top.
2 I know where my help comes from;
It comes from the one who made heaven and earth.
3 This God watches over every aspect of creation;
As a doting parent tends a toddler, God holds out a hand when we stumble;
God will not let you fall.
4 God does not play off one person against another.
God has no favorites;
God never tires of caring.
5 God's compassion is as constant as the attention of a bedside nurse;
6 No crisis can destroy you;
Even if you lose loved ones, career, or health,
7 if you retain your relationship with God, you will not be embittered;
You can emerge from the experience a better person.
8 Wherever you go, whatever you do, God will watch over you.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – If you read the whole passage, it’s easy to see why the Lectionary folks left out verses 6-12. It’s all that messy stuff about circumcision. That’s not a significant issue for most folks in the mainline churches. (I tried talking about circumcision to a men’s group once, and all the guys crossed their legs and looked at the ceiling.)
But it was an issue for folks in Paul’s day, and so he was right in addressing it. What he is getting at, is the difficult idea that the gift of God’s promise is not there for us because of what we do. Or what we say. Or the kind of work we do or don’t do. Or the condition of our genitals nor (by extension I think) the way we express our sexuality.
But love – God’s love or human love – isn’t something we can just pick up because it has no price tag attached. The only way to receive love is to give love, and then it becomes like an alternating current, flowing back and forth, and empowering our whole lives.

John 3:1-17 (or Matthew 17:1-9) – Many years ago in Glasgow I overheard a conversation between two professional sports commentators. There was an American who specialized in baseball. And an Englishman who did cricket.
Each was trying to persuade the other of the superiority of their game. But both these professional communicators were missing each other totally. Neither understood anything the other said. Nor did they really want to.
A little like this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus, the visionary. The mystic.
Nicodemus the systematic theologian. The cannon lawyer.
Let’s not get down on poor Nic because he couldn’t really figure out what Jesus was talking about. When Jesus talked about being born again, Nicodemus quite rightly thought this was ludicrous.
But let’s not get down on Jesus either. He couldn’t understand how Nicodemus missed his powerful metaphor.
What does it take for two such people to really understand each other?

There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. For Lent 2, check out:
Abraham and Sarah Begin a Journey (Genesis), page 80
Nicodemus Comes to See Jesus (John), page 82.
The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A includes the marvellous illustrations by Margaret Kyle. There’s at least one story for each Sunday, usually two, and occasionally three. Click on the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or this address which takes you directly to the part of the site advertising the book.

Rumors – In the old western movies, you could always tell the good guys. They wore white hats. The bad guys wore black hats.
In the police-detective movie, the good guys had the brims on their hats turned up. The bad guys had them turned down.
In musicals, the bad guys sang baritone or bass. The good guys sang tenor.
Everything was nice and clear. Bad guys did bad things, but the good guys always won the final fight and they always got the girl.
Even some of the Bible stories are like that. In the story of the bridesmaids at the wedding banquet, they are wise or foolish. Nothing in between.
I don’t know anyone who could be described with only one word like “good” or “bad.” Even the worst and best people I can imagine. Even Jean Vanier (the founder of L’Arche) and Robert Picton (a mass murderer).
We hardly ever have to deal with extreme cases like that. We deal with people like those bridesmaids. The good and prudent ones had their lamps full and their wicks trimmed and spent most of the banquet looking down their long, collective noses as the other girls.
The foolish ones who forgot because they had been helping the sick friend down the street or taking care of the neighbor’s baby – they stood outside the banquet hall making snotty remarks about “goody-two-shoes” inside who thought she was so precious.
Like the two sportscasters, like Nicodemus and Jesus, they didn’t really take the time to get inside each other’s minds and hearts.
And all of them were the poorer for it.
Bev, our son Mark and I spent the afternoon at Kartchner Caverns here in Arizona. During the first part of the tour through this utterly amazing place, the guide explained the science of how dissolved limestone created such marvels. During the last part of the tour, we sat and watched the lights play on those astonishingly beautiful creations while music with a distinctly religious flavor played.
Nicodemus would have liked the first part of that tour. Jesus might well have been moved to tears by the second.
Our creator God never seems to do anything more than once. Every human – like every stalactite, every tree, every flower – is absolutely unique. “Identical” twins aren’t. And in our painful, struggling, hurting world, few things seem more necessary today than that we overcome our differences – of race, religion – everything.
No. That’s not enough.
We need to celebrate those differences. Love those differences. Value them. Treasure them. Even when we don’t understand them. Especially when we don’t understand them.
When our deepest differences become our most treasured gifts, then we will know something of the graceful promise that Abraham and Sarah heard – that Paul preached.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Who Owns Your Name?
Maclean’s magazine sent me a free copy. I was actually tempted to subscribe – especially at one-eighth the regular newsstand price.
Then I looked at the cover letter. It was addressed to “Jim & Taylor.”
Not “Jim Taylor.” Not “Jim & Joan Taylor.” But “Jim & Taylor.”
“Oh, that,” said Joan when I pointed out the mistake to her. “We get quite a few pieces of mail with that address. Someone’s got us on a mailing list that they’re selling around...”
Canada’s privacy laws forbid the use of personal data without that person’s explicit consent. All the charities Joan and I support, all the companies we have shares in, send us annual assurances that they retain our personal information only for their own internal operations, and that they do not release that information to any unrelated organizations.
But someone is making a profit out of selling my name – even if they get it wrong – to organizations like Maclean’s.
If I could find out who’s doing it, I could object. I could demand that they remove my name. I could report them to Canada’s Privacy Commissioner. I could refuse to support any of the charities they service. I could sell my shares in protest...
But they didn’t ask if they could take my name in vain. So there’s no one to retaliate against.
The episode made me wonder who owns a name. Companies can trademark names like Coca Cola, Kleenex, and Aspirin. Individuals can’t.
If someone else wants to call himself “Jim Taylor,” I can’t stop him.
The letters that make up our names are in public domain. In our language, all names are permutations and combinations of just 26 letters. On our recent holiday, Joan Taylor met new friend Jann Taylor. Their names vary by just one letter.
Certainly, Joan and I don’t own the street address to which Maclean’s sent their promotion mailing. For the time being, we have exclusive use of that address. But when we die or move, the address will stay here; it will “belong” to someone new.
Do any of us truly “own” anything?
North American civilization takes private ownership as an unquestionable axiom. If you own land, for example, you can do almost anything you want on it – log it, bulldoze it, blast it, ignore it – as long as your activities are not specifically illegal.
We extend that notion to national sovereignty. How we treat native people, poor people, women, gays, convicts, is nobody’s business but our own.
Although it’s rarely stated explicitly, we also tend to treat the planet as the private property of humans, to do with as we wish.
But if I don’t own my address – if I may not even have exclusive ownership of my own name – maybe the model is more like leasing than owning.
Perhaps, like leasing a car, we only have temporary rights to use certain names and spaces. Then we have to pass them on in good condition to the next user.

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 Pat Hughes of Millet, Alberta
During a service at an old synagogue in Eastern Europe, when the Shema prayer was said, half the congregants stood up and half remained sitting. The half that was seated started yelling at those standing to sit down, and the ones standing yelled at the ones sitting to stand up. The rabbi, learned as he was in the Law and commentaries, didn't know what to do. His congregation suggested that he consult a housebound 98 year old man who was one of the original founders of their temple. The rabbi hoped the elderly man would be able to tell him what the actual temple tradition was, so he went to the nursing home with a representative of each faction of the congregation.
The one whose followers stood during Shema said to the old man, "Is the tradition to stand during this prayer?"
"No, that is not the tradition," said the old man.
"Then the tradition is to sit during Shema!"
"No,” said the elder. “That is not the tradition."
"But the congregants fight all the time, yelling at each other about whether they should sit or stand."
"That,” shouted the old man, “is the tradition!"


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Someone sent this in eons ago. It simply had to be included in this issue.
The minister was preaching to a conference of young men. His text was the story of the “bridesmaids.” Or “virgins” in the King James Bible. “I ask you,” intoned the preacher. “Would your rather be with the wise virgins in the light of day, or with the foolish virgins in the dark?”

April Daley saw this in an obituary. The deceased “. . . enjoyed hunting, fishing, howling. . .” April thinks they may have meant bowling, but I like “howling” better.

Bruce Small says he photocopied a grace to be sung at a church supper. The tune was Edelweiss. The second-last line read, "bless our fiends, bless our food / May we serve You forever."
Well Bruce, the commandment is to “love your enemies,” which I’m sure includes fiends as well as friends.

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! – When you were born you came into this world crying and your family was smiling. Live your life so that when it is your time to leave, you are the one smiling and everyone else is crying.
source unknown via Wayne Seybert

We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.
Anaïs Nin

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
Thomas Jefferson


We Get Letters – Lots of enthusiastic letters this week about the Story Lectionary. Seems we’re scratching where some folks itch.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Life Explained!”) This from Sharon Taylor of Edmonton who is Jim Taylor’s daughter. All of us should be very grateful that Sharon has taken the time from her busy schedule to explain life to us. Read, mark and inwardly digest this, and you will have no more problems in life.

On the first day, God created the dog and said: “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.”
“That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?”
So God agreed.
On the second day, God created the monkey and said: “Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span.”
“Monkey tricks for twenty years?” asked the chimp. “That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the Dog did?”
And God agreed.
On the third day, God created the cow and said: “You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.”
“Whoa!” said the cow. “That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?”
And God agreed again.
On the fourth day, God created the human and said: “'Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years.”
“Only twenty years?” wailed the human. “Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?”
'Okay,' said God, 'You asked for it.'
So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
“Life has now been explained to you. There is no need to thank me for this valuable information,” says Sharon. “I'm doing it as a public service.”


Bottom of the Barrel – This also from Pat Hughes of Millet, Alberta.
David lived in a very observant Jewish household. When young David was asked by his father to say the evening prayer, he realized he didn't have his head covered. So he asked his little brother Henry to rest a hand on his head until prayers were over. Henry grew impatient after a few minutes and removed his hand.
"This is important,” said the father. “Put your hand back on his head!"
"What?” demanded Henry. “Am I my brother's kippa?"*

*A “kippa” is a skullcap worn by Jewish men and boys.

Information and Stuff – (Read this section only if you want to know about subscribing, unsubscribing or quoting stuff from Rumors.) It would be nice if you could give Rumors a plug in your bulletin or newsletter. Please invite your friends (and even your enemies) to subscribe. There's no charge: RUMORS is free and it comes to your e-mail box every Sunday morning. Just send your friends the instructions to subscribe [below], and include an invitation to join the list ... perhaps something like this: “There’s a lively and fun newsletter called RUMORS which is available at no cost on the net. It’s for ‘Christians with a sense of humor’.” Please add the instructions to subscribe [below]. If you have a friend you think would enjoy Rumors, and you’d rather not give them the subscribing instructions below, send me an e-mail at and give me the e-mail address of your friend. If you are using something from Rumors in your sermon, give credit only as appropriate, without stopping the sermon dead in its tracks. I am delighted when Rumors is useful in the life and work of the church. As long as it is within your congregation or parish, you don’t need permission. You are welcome to use the stuff in church bulletins or newsletters. Please say where it came from, and please invite people to subscribe to RUMORS. An appropriate credit line would be; “From Ralph Milton's RUMORS, a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor." ... and please be sure to include these instructions to subscribe to RUMORS: To Subscribe:* Send an e-mail to:
* Don't put anything else in that e-mail
To Unsubscribe:
* Send an e-mail to:
* Don’t put anything else in that e-mail* If you are changing e-mail addresses, and your old address will no longer be in service, you do not need to unsubscribe. The sending computer will try a few times, and then give up..~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*Please Write – If you respond, react, think about, freak-out, or otherwise have things happen in your head as a result of reading the above, please send a note to:
Who knows, I might quote you in a future issue of RUMORS.All material is copyright © Ralph Milton.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

No comments: