Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Preaching Materials for February 24th, 2008

R U M O R S #
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)

A few folks have been confused, and for that our apologies.
Rumors now works on two lectionaries, the Revised Common Lectionary and the Story Lectionary. The Story Lectionary has only one reading, and the Revised Common has four. There’ll be comment on all of them in every issue.
If you are interested in the Story Lectionary, please go to the website ( and read “Policies and Principles.”
It’ll save you a lot of head-scratching.


Courtesy of “Christianity Today” here’s a list of precautions you can take to make sure you don’t miss an issue of Rumors. Please add to your good list. Or “Approved list,” or whatever it is called.
* In AOL 9.0 it’s called the Address Book
* In Hotmail: Safe List
* In Yahoo: Add to your address book. If you find it in the bulk mail folder, click on the link "This is not spam." After that it will come to your inbox.
* Some Spam Filters: White list


Next Week’s Readings – simply wrong
The Story Lectionary – the wise and the foolish
Rumors – pictures lie
Soft Edges – the older generation
Bloopers – pasted away
We Get Letters – sponsored links
Mirabile Dictu! – smuggling diamonds
Bottom of the Barrel – give me that low-cal 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 Evelyn McLachlan.
A pastor, a rabbi, and a priest all walk into a bar. The bartender rolls his eyes and says, "Oh no...Not this joke again!"

And here’s another one from Peggy Neufeldt
A little girl asked her mother, 'How did the human race come about?'
“God made Adam and Eve,” said mother. “And they had children and so all humankind was made.”
Two days later the little girl asks her father the same question.
“Many years ago there were monkeys,” said dad, “And we developed from them.”
The confused girl went back to her mother. “Mom,” she asked, “how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God and dad says we developed from monkeys?”
“It’s very simple, dear. I told you about the origin of my side of the family, and your father told you about his side.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, February 24, if you are using the new Story Lectionary or the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the Third Sunday of Lent.

The Story Lectionary (
Matthew 25:31-46 – Bev and I were worshipping at The Church of the Painted Hills in Tucson, Arizona, last Sunday. We fled the Canadian snow banks to catch a few rays and spend a bit of time with our astronomer son Mark who lives here.
In a Study Group at that church, a new friend and I were talking about the destructive adversarial nature of our politics – specifically the primaries that are happening all over the US.
“Wouldn’t it be nice,” we were saying to each other, “if politicians such as Clinton and Obama could get together and share their strengths, rather than shooting at each others’ weaknesses?” The same kind of question could be asked of any political struggle anywhere.
Wouldn’t it be nice if TV and radio talk shows and newspaper reporters didn’t routinely choose the extreme positions around any issue to report on, so that we could more readily see the various nuances?
I don’t believe that people can be divided neatly into “sheep” and “goats,” or “wise” and “foolish.”
Such polarities are simply wrong.
They are handy. They are neat. They are easier to deal with. Easier to preach about. They get audience for the media.
But they are wrong! There is no such thing as a human being who is all bad, any more than there is a human being who is all good.

You can find a children’s story based on this reading (“Being Kind to God.” page 242) in The Lectionary Story Bible Year A, Wood Lake Publications. If you don’t already own the book, click on:

The Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 17:1-7 – I read this passage and immediately got up to get a drink of water.
I am writing this in Tucson, Arizona where Bev and I are staying with our son Mark for a few weeks to soak up a bit of sun. Our semi-desert where we live in the Okanagan Valley of BC is positively verdant compared to the landscape around here.
But I’ve been to the Sinai desert where this story is located. The Sinai makes southern Arizona look lush.
Few of us know what it’s like to be really thirsty. I’m not talking about the kind of thirst that sent me to the kitchen for a drink just now. I’m talking about the desperate, life-threatening thirst of the kind that is crazy-making – that drives people to desperation. We can manage without food for a lot longer than we can manage without water.
The Israelites in this story are not just being cranky because they’re a bit warm and a cool drink would go down nicely. They’re telling Moses to find water or they will all die and the first one to die will be Moses because it’s his job to find water.
Which he did, and the Israelites called it a miracle, which it surely was – whether it was God, or Moses’ knowledge of the desert.
And if this story is a metaphor of our search for the “water of life” – the awareness of the Spirit that makes the difference between life and death – it helps us understand just how deeply, desperately serious that search is for many people.
There are those who predict that the next world war will be fought over water. There’s already lots of evidence to show they may be right.

Psalm 95 – A Gift in the Rock
paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 Come and climb up to the top of the rock;
Stand on top, and stretch your arms out to the sky.
2 Reach out to the holiness that wraps its breath around you.
In grateful silence, soak up the shining light of life.
3 God is the rock upon which we live;
4 All the earth is God's:
From ocean abyss to mountain pinnacle,
6 From polar ice field to tropical rain forest,
God lives in every subtle link of life.
6 Bow your head before the wonder of it all;
Feel the strength of the rock rise through your feet.
7 We are not alone;
We are one in God.
Lichens and trees, ants and people –
All are held in the palm of God's hand.
8 Do not isolate yourself from God's creation.
Do not consider your own concerns first.
9 You will cut yourself off from God who created you;
You will think of yourself as god.
10 Your struggles will lead you further astray;
You will sink further into a morass of your own making.
11 In your loneliness, you will begin to believe that there is no God;
You will never know the peace that passes understanding.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 5:1-11 – There’s a lot of theology in this passage that I simply set aside, and I focus on the theme of reconciliation.
I have a friend who talked with me recently about her relationship with her estranged son. They’d had an argument about politics that opened up a chasm between them. But the mother wasn’t at all concerned that her son see the “rightness” of her argument. She simply wanted to be reconciled. If that meant agreeing with him, so be it. The relationship was more important to her than being right.
My friend Julian of Norwich writes with deep passion about a God who yearns, who aches, who cries out for our love – just as we, when we are open to hear the cry of our own heart, yearn, ache, cry out for God’s love.
Paul’s passage reflects that yearning for the consummation of love – our love and God’s love – even when we invent elaborate and sometimes bizarre theologies to explain the unexplainable.

John 4:5-42 – The radical nature of this story is easy to miss. If this happened in my town or yours, it wouldn’t raise a ripple. It’s no wonder Jesus got into trouble with the authorities. Jesus is whacking away at a batch of social taboos, any one of which would have gotten him into trouble.
1) He talks to a Samaritan. 2) He talks to a woman. 3) He talks to a woman when there is no one around to chaperone. 4) He talks theology with a woman. 5) He talks to a woman who is ostracized in her own community because of her life-style.
John’s book is a gospel of “signs” that Jesus was the Messiah, and this story (whether it is historical or not doesn’t matter) shows that the early church remembered Jesus as a social radical who wasn’t likely to wind up settling in the suburbs and raising 2.5 cute, intelligent children.
This story is a sign that the writer of John’s gospel thinks of Jesus as a radical feminist and social libertarian, and develops his material accordingly.

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. Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address and search for “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – I’m an amateur photographer. I’m more serious about it than most snapshooters but I’m a long way from being a pro.
One of the reasons I like taking pictures is that it helps me see. Freeman Paterson, a much published Canadian photographer, wrote a fine book called, “Photography and the Art of Seeing.” When I’m taking pictures I notice tiny flowers, creases in an old man’s face, a skip in the walk of a child, an almost tear in the eye of a woman.
When I take a picture, I’m isolating a moment. A fraction of a second of life bounded by a four-sided frame. Photography helps me see those crystal clear vignettes of life.
Lies! Of course those photos are all lies. They cut snippets out of space and time that help me see more clearly, but also hide the world that gave them life.
In my comments on the “Sheep and Goats” parable above, I was fulminating about media people who insist on over-simplifying complex issues and pigeon-holing complex people. I understand why they do that. I understand why so many biblical incidents and stories slot people into “bad” and “good.” I did that myself in my years as a reporter and TV producer.
There’s enough nuance – enough complexity of human life to write a book – behind a simple traffic accident. But the reporter has to squeeze that story into a short newspaper article or a 40 second TV clip. It always is both truth and lie.
It’s not much different for the Sunday sermon.
A preacher friend was asked once, “Do you preach the whole gospel?”
“Not every Sunday,” was her honest response.
To take a photograph we put it in a frame. To diagnose disease, we need a microscope. To make a story, we boil and scrape till every bit of fat is rendered.
But in the telling, we must make sure the people know that we shine the spotlight on the particular, so that the whole may be illuminated.
And always, always let us keep in our minds and hearts the twin graces of every preacher story-teller – humility and humor.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
The Older Generation
We had two significant deaths in our family in January. My aunt Eleanor, aged 99, died in Toronto. Four days later, Joan’s uncle Bob, aged 80, died in Edmonton.
Those two were the last surviving members of our parents’ generation.
Suddenly, Joan and I find ourselves The Older Generation.
I’ve spent over 70 years thinking of myself as The Younger Generation. For most of that time, I was. I had elders around; I tried to live up to their expectations.
Even when my parents died – my mother in 1972, my father in 1998 – I still had aunts and uncles, an older generation whose memories went back farther than my own, who provided stability and continuity...
That awareness gave me the freedom to be a radical – or at least, to pretend to be a radical. I never joined a commune, for example; never smoked pot; never grew my hair down the middle of my back. But in my own way, I could be a rebel against the status quo, a doubter, a skeptic, a woodpecker knocking chips of the immoveable mass of conventional wisdom. I drove impractical sports cars instead of Chev sedans; I freelanced instead of drawing a regular pay cheque...
And suddenly, the rock that sheltered me is gone.
No, suddenly I am expected to be the rock that shelters the new Younger Generation.
It’s not a role I feel comfortable with.
You’ve seen those desktop gadgets that are supposed to divert executives from the boredom of managing million-dollar corporations, the little toys where a tiny diver or angel or something equally improbable circles out on the end of a very long shaft, balanced by a heavy blob at the other end, and the whole thing sways and swivels on a pointed post that isn’t in the middle where it should be?
I’ve thought of myself as the whirligig out on the end, zipping around at great speeds generating wild ideas. But the whirligig can only stay up if it is balanced by the stability of the solid mass at the other end.
That solid mass was the Older Generation, whom I have counted on all these years.
Now, I am the Older Generation.
Instead of having mentors who can keep me from straying too far from the center, I’m being seen as a mentor for others. Sometimes I even hear myself saying, “The last time we tried that...” or “The reason we did it that way...”
As we age, everyone eventually reaches an awareness of mortality. You can’t pass 70 without realizing that your future is no longer unlimited. However many years I have left – two, ten, or twenty – the number is finite.
But the awareness hits home more powerfully when I realize that my generation – which in our family consists of just Joan and me, because neither of us have any siblings – will be, in the normal course of events, be the next to go.
It’s a sobering realization.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Werner Fast “got a letter informing us of the death of an aunt. They said ‘she pasted away.’ In spite of the gravity of the news,” says Werner, “it made me chuckle.”
Werner, you were right to laugh even in your sadness. Laughter is not the opposite of seriousness. Laughter is the opposite of despair.

From the file:
* The District Superintendent will be meeting with the church bored.
* The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The Congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

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! – Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.
source unknown, via Rob Brown

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
Winston Churchill via Jim Taylor

The function of silence in the life of the privileged is to be able to hear the voices of the oppressed and to change things.
source unknown


We Get Letters – Rod Ferguson reports that he’s been receiving “sponsored links” when he downloads Rumors from the blog. “I guess Google has assessed Rumours as religious. There is some quite nasty stuff there, but you know – freedom of the worldwide web and all.”
Thanks for that “heads up,” Rod. Rumors sponsors no link or other commercial content other than to Wood Lake Publications, a Christian publishing house founded by the Milton and Taylor families 20+ years ago, and which provides the server and technical support for Rumors.

Donna Snow of Springdale, Newfoundland writes: “I've heard of many types of lawyers, but "cannon lawyers"? You referred to Nicodemus as being one of that sort. Perhaps they enjoy taking "shots" at one another more than the other types of lawyers.”
And Arthur Hebbeler writes: “Nicodemus the systematic theologian. The cannon lawyer. I bet he made a big bang!”
Donna. Arthur. I am sitting here whimpering like and injured puppy. I am the victim of an over-zealous spell checker. I do know the difference between a “cannon” and a “canon.” Yes I do! A number of my friends are big guns in the Anglican Church who make very sure I know such things.

George Brigham of Shipley, West Yorkshire, England sends this interesting bit of useless inspiration that would make a good “filler” in a March newsletter or bulletin.
Isn’t Easter Early?
Easter Day is 23 March and is almost as early as it can be this year. The earliest possible date is 22 March as Easter is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21.
This means that there are 35 possible dates, but Easter has not fallen on the earliest date since 1818, and will not do so again until 2285. It will not fall on 23 March again until 2160.
Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it will fall on April 24, just one day before the latest possible date, in 2011.
Someone has worked out that the cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5,700,000 years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Smuggling Diamonds!”) This from Rob Brown in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Ways to Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity!!
* At Lunch Time, Sit In Your Parked Car With Sunglasses on and point a Hair Dryer At Passing Cars. See If They Slow Down
* Page Yourself Over The Intercom. Don't Disguise Your Voice.
* Put Your Garbage Can On Your Desk And Label It "In."
* Put Decaf In The Coffee Maker For three Weeks. Once Everyone has Gotten Over Their Caffeine Addictions, Switch to Espresso.
* In The Memo Field Of All Your Checks, Write "For Smuggling Diamonds"
* Finish All Your sentences with< face="Arial" color="#ff0080" size="5"> "In Accordance With The Prophecy."
* As Often As Possible, Skip Rather Than Walk.
* Order a Diet Water whenever you go out to eat. Look serious.
* Specify That Your Drive-through Order Is "To Go."
* Sing Along At The Opera.
* Go To A Poetry Recital And Ask Why The Poems Don't Rhyme?
* Put Mosquito Netting Around Your Work Area And Play tropical Sounds All Day.
* When The Money Comes Out The ATM, Scream "I Won! I Won!"
* When Leaving The Zoo, Start Running Towards The Parking lot, Yelling "Run For Your Lives, They're Loose!!"
* Tell Your Children Over Dinner. "Due To The Economy, We Are Going To Have To Let One Of You Go."
* Capitalize Almost All of Your Words Whenever You Write Something. If Someone asks Why, Tell Them It’s In The Bible. Leviticus 1:5.


Bottom of the Barrel – Give Me That Low-cal Religion
Has the heaviness of your old fashioned church got you weighed down? Try us! We are the New and Improved Lite Church of the Valley.
Studies have shown we have 24% fewer commitments than other churches. We guarantee to trim off guilt, because we are Low-Cal – low Calvin, that is.
We are the home of the 7.5% tithe. We promise 35 minute worship services, with 7 minute sermons.
Next Sunday’s exciting text is the story of the Feeding of the 50. We have only 6 Commandments – your choice!! There is just one gospel in our contemporary New Testament “Good Sound Bites for Modern Human Beings.”
We take the offering every other week, all major credit cards accepted, of course. We are looking forward with great anticipation to our 800-year Millennium. Yes, the New and Improved Lite Church of the Valley could be just what you are looking for.
We are everything you want in a church – and less!!

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: