Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preaching Materials for March 2, 2008

R U M O R S # 490
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
2008-02-24

BE NICE

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Motto:
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
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A note about the lectionaries.
I’ve received a few e-mails from people wondering why the readings in the Story Lectionary don’t match the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. That’s because there is no connection. However, both lectionaries follow the liturgical year, so you have the seasons – Lent, Advent, etc. and special Sundays in both systems.

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The Story Lectionary – let the story speak
Revised Common Lectionary – believe your own story
Rumors – be nice
Soft Edges – the power of threes
Bloopers – many kinds of orkers
We Get Letters – a new light bulb joke
Mirabile Dictu! – awfully good
Bottom of the Barrel – deliciously egregious
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)

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Rib Tickler – This from Jim Spinks and Eva Stanley.
Johnny's mother looked out the window and noticed him 'playing church' with their three kittens. He had the kittens sitting in a row, and he was preaching to them She smiled and went about her work.
A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the kittens in a tub of water.
“Johnny!” she called out. “Stop that! Those kittens don’t like water!'
Johnny looked up at her. “They should have thought about that before they joined my church.”

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Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 2nd, which is the 4th Sunday of Lent.

Story Lectionary:
Matthew 21:12-22
My knee-jerk response to these complicated stories is to head for the commentaries and get all the knowledgeable background on temple practices, the growing of fig trees, etc. But that’s a kind of literary autopsy which kills the story. Knowing too much can be worse than knowing too little.
One of the things I promised myself when Jim and I started this Story Lectionary project was that I would let the stories speak directly without passing through a lot of critical filters. And when I do that, the thing I sense more than anything is intense anger.
Jesus is really uptight. He is passionate. He is not analytical or cerebral or reflective. This passage is full of fist-clenching, teeth gritting emotion.
Jesus yells at the money changers, he barks at the people who try to shush the children, and he blasts a poor innocent fig tree. He knows there is “something rotten in Denmark” (Shakespeare) even though he can’t quite name it.
Jesus is steaming mad about a diffused infection that works its way into a society devoted to wealth and power and consumption. Our task is to see the fire in the blazing eyes of Jesus – to take that ferocity into ourselves and direct it at our own habits and at a society devoted to wealth and power and consumption.
It’s not true that Bible stories should always make you feel better. Some Bible stories, if you let them get inside you, make you feel worse.

Revised Common Lectionary
1 Samuel 16:1-13 – There’s a delightful bit of inconsistency in this story. In verse 7 God tells Samuel not to judge a person by his or her looks. Eliab is a good looking hunk, but he hasn’t got the right stuff.
But when David comes along (v.12) he was “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” Those are the only characteristics mentioned, but God tells Samuel to anoint him.
There have been lots of studies about what qualities are needed for leadership. To have maximum credibility (in the US and Canada at least), you need to be male, Caucasian, tall, lean, with sparkly eyes, good looking, smiling, an English speaker without accent, and about 40 years old. Intelligence and education are important, but they are down on the list.
The surprising thing about that, is that people of all ages, shapes, gender, race, etc., pick those same qualities. We’ve all been socially brainwashed, and we provide our own shampoo. Because even when we deliberately decide not to judge people that way, we tend to do it unconsciously anyway.
Which means that all of us so-called “liberated” folks need to realize that underneath our non-judging, inclusive consciousness lurks a sneaky little bigot.

Psalm 23 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Jesus the Good Shepherd
Few feelings compare with coming home after a succession of hotel rooms, rental cars, and wearying meetings.
1 It's so good to be home,
2 to lie down in my own bed,
to play my favorite music,
to shed the tensions of travel as water runs off my shoulders in the shower.
3 Thank you, God.
You got me to the right gates in the airports;
4 you delivered me from dangerous drivers;
you kept me from getting lost in the concrete canyons of the city.
You gave me courage to face my critics.
5 You did not desert me.
When I was lonely, you found me a friend;
when I was weary, you led me to a welcome.
The airline didn't lose my bags.
6 I am at peace.
I'd like to live in these familiar walls forever...
Come live with me, and let me live with you.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com

Ephesians 5:8-14 – Verse 14 might be a bit confusing until we realize that in ancient times it was thought that things gave off light, which enabled us to see them.
Things that are good and desirable give off light, whereas bad things did not give off light. The writer is probably talking about sexual immorality in verse 12, but the metaphor works for all of life.
Linnea Good has a wonderful song called “Living in the Light,” in which she sings, “When light comes pouring into the darkest night, it hurts our eyes to see the glow.” The clear, sparkling light of faith is not always good news to those whose spiritual eyesight can’t quite handle all that such light reveals.
Sometimes it’s much easier to live in the shadows.

John 9:1-41 – This reading takes a whole chapter and tells the whole story, so try to ensure that it is read well and with meaning. Such a story dies if the lector dribbles it down the chancel steps so that only the words and none of the meaning make it to the folks in the pews.
The story is about more than a sight-giving miracle. It is also the story of the conflict between those who are so tied into their own dogma they can’t believe their own experience or (especially) the experience of those with low social credibility.
The man born blind seems a bit like a rubber ball bounced from Jesus to the Pharisees, to his parents, and finally bounced out of the village. Jesus, saddened by what happened to the man, seeks him out, and his conversation is overheard by the Pharisees.
“Are you trying to tell us we’re the ones who are blind?” they ask.
“Bingo!” says Jesus.

See “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 87, for a children’s version of John 9.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common 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 www.woodlakebooks.com, or click on the following address and search for “Lectionary Story Bible.”
http://tinyurl.com/2lonod

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Rumors – Canadian comedians sometimes get after us for being too accommodating. It may well be true that we have an 11th commandment that says, “Be nice!” If something bad happens, apologize, even if it’s not your fault.
I have no idea whether the stereotype matches reality, though I know that in my own case (and this is true for most of my friends, I think) I tend to avoid conflict. It’s a well-developed skill and very useful in deflecting responsibility.
One of the reasons I’m a writer is that I can bellyache about an individual I know by complaining about a human characteristic or the habits of a group or organization to which said individual belongs.
Because I’m a church junky, I have a large display case in my mind somewhere, which shows all the rotten, terrible, awful things other church people do. Or don’t do. Many of those mental exhibits have names attached to them, which of course, I never mention. I can fire a broadside at a whole group of people – a group which includes the individual who annoys me. I can get at that person without getting at that person, if you know what I mean. I can throw the barb without taking responsibility.
When I hear or read a complaint directed at any group of which I am a part, I know I am the one exception who is not guilty. A good sermon is one that goes right over my head and hits the person sitting behind me. (Except that I sit in the back row of the choir loft and there is nobody behind me.)
It’s very hard for change to happen in a church where nobody gets angry – or at least admits to getting angry. Where nobody gets ticked off enough to do a bit of creative yelling and stomping and thereby take responsibility for the complaint. We read the story of Jesus raising a ruckus in the temple, and we know that little dust-up got him crucified.
Yes, we want to follow Jesus but only when doing that doesn’t irritate anyone. When doing so doesn’t get us stuck in the glue. Well before Jesus’ commandment to love God and neighbour we have our own little churchy commandment. Be nice.
When the roll is called up yonder, I wonder if beside my name will be written the most damning sin possible.
He was always nice.

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Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
The Power of Threes
We were studying the biblical book of Genesis, when we came across the passage where three strangers meet Abraham under the fabled oak trees at Mamre. According to the Bible, Abraham was 100 years old at the time; his wife Sarah was 90. But the three strangers – later referred to collectively as The Lord – assured Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son, within a year.
“How did three people become ‘The Lord’?” someone asked.
“Maybe three is supposed to represent Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” someone else suggested.
I don’t think so. Mainly, because that was long before anyone thought of the Trinity. I suspect, in fact, that it happened the other way around.
The number three seems to have such profound cultural significance that the people who first defined Christian doctrines may not have realized why they focused on three facets of God.
Think about it. There were three crosses at Calvary. Jesus chose three disciples – Peter, James, and John – as his closest companions. He took them with him in the Garden of Gethsemane; he took them up the Mount of Transfiguration with him – where they saw three figures in white. The Magi from the east brought three gifts for the baby Jesus. Jesus suffered three temptations in the wilderness. After Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied Jesus three times. On the lakeshore, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus rose from death on the third day...
And it’s not just in Christianity. Hinduism has three primary avatars of the ultimate Godhead: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Shiva the destroyer.
When you enter a Buddhist temple, you’re expected to bow three times: first for the Buddha; then for the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings; finally for the Sangha, the community of believers.
Think too of the Three Musketeers, Three Men in a Boat, Three Little Pigs, the Three Stooges...
So what gives three such power, I wonder?
In geometry, two points define a line; three points define a solid surface. A chair with two legs will fall over; a chair with four legs will almost always wobble; but a three-legged stool will stay stable even on an uneven floor.
A photographer once taught me that a picture of two people tends to split apart; with three, it holds together; with more than three, numbers don’t matter any more.
In writing, three examples are enough. Fewer examples will fail to make the case; more examples are just overkill.
In conflict resolution situations, adversaries often “triangulate” – the issue they’re supposedly fighting over is actually about someone or something else.
Perhaps three manages to be simultaneously reassuring and cautionary. It reassures us that this is not a one-shot wonder, a single unsupported opinion, a one-size-fits-all solution. At the same time, it warns us not to get sucked into a monolithic mentality; there are no absolute perspectives, no universal answers.
Even the one God, it says, can be known in at least three different ways.

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Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Marj Parton of Parksville, British Columbia warns us to watch where our line breaks happen in bulletins and newsletters. Last Sunday’s bulletin announced:
Register now for the early bird. The next Presbytery
wide women’s retreat will be held from . . . etc.
Marj, lively line breaks and happy hyphens can lead to lots of merriment. For instance, the announcement of “a gathering of cow-
orkers for. . . etc”
What is the difference between a cow orker and a bull orker? Which reminds me – is the opposite of a cowboy a bullgirl?

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. ralphmilton@woodlake.com

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Wish I’d Said That! – God puts a tear in your eye so you always can see a rainbow. Author Unknown, via Wayne Donnelly

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
William Shakespeare via Evelyn McLauchlan

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 that it’s me.
Paul Tillich and others, via Jane Millikan

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We Get Letters – Sharyl Peterson sends the first new “light bulb” joke in many moons. “How many choir directors does it take to change a light-bulb? Nobody knows. No-one ever watches the choir director.”
Sharyl, every choir director I’ve ever met will love that one.

Carl Chamberlain says I’ve “let the theological cat out of the bag by including the joke about the priest, minister and rabbi in a bar.” *Two nuns walked into a bar. You'd have thought one of them might have seen it. * Patrick stumbled from the tavern and made his way up the street. He staggered into the funeral home and fell to his knees in front of the grand piano. A crowd gathered around him. On rising to his feet Patrick turned to the widow, "I did not know your husband in life, but sure an' he had a fine set of teeth."
Mary Lautensleger of Albemarle, North Carolina wrote to say, “You forgot the date and number that are always at the top of Rumors.”
I wrote Mary, asking for forgiveness, and claiming a seniors’ moment. (Only persons who have served their biblical three-score and ten years can claim this singular grace.) Mary graciously forgave and granted absolution.
As far as I can tell, she was the only one who noticed.

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Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “awfully good!”)
This came from Annie Campbell of Epworth Grange, Bury, UK, via Denys Saunders of Birmingham, UK. It’s called, “I’m Very Well, Thankyou.”

There is nothing the matter with me
I’m as healthy as can be
I have arthritis in both knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze
My pulse is weak, and my blood is thin
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.
Arch supports I have for me feet
Or I wouldn’t be able to go out on the street
Sleep is denied me night after night
But every morning I find I’m all right
My memory is failing, my head’s in a spin
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.
The moral is this – as my tale I unfold
That for you and me who are getting old
It’s better to say "I’m fine" with a grin
Than to let folks know the shape we are in
How do I know that my youth is all spent
Well, my get up and go has got up and went.
But I really don’t mind when I think with a grin
Of all the grand places my “got up” has bin
Old age is golden I’ve heard it said
But sometimes I wonder and get into bed
With my ears in the drawer, my teeth in a cup
My specs on the table until I get up.
Ere sleep overtakes me I say to myself
Is there anything else I could lay on the shelf?
When I was young my slippers were red
I could kick my heels right over my head
When I was older my slippers were blue
But I still could dance the whole night through.
Now I am older my slippers are black
I walk to the shop and puff my way back
I get up each morning and dust off my wits
And pick up the paper to read the obits.
If my name is still missing I know I’m not dead
And so I have breakfast and go back to bed.

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Bottom of the Barrel – Peter McKellar sent a whole page of excruciatingly awful jokes for which I am sure he will do several billion millennia in purgatory. I’d heard all of them (I too, have sinned!) except this one.
A skeptical anthropologist was cataloging South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal brujo who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of constipation.
When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the brujo looked him in the eye and said, "Let me tell you, with fronds like these, who needs enemas?"

Peter also sent this one, which has been on Rumors before, but it is so deliciously egregious I had to run it again.
King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan.
"I'll give you 100,000 dinars for it," said Croesus.
“But. . .but. . . I paid a million dinars for it," the King protested. "Don't you know who I am? I am the king!"
Croesus smiled gently. "When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are."

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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 ralphmilton@woodlake.com 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: rumors-subscribe@joinhands.com
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* 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: ralphmilton@woodlake.com
Who knows, I might quote you in a future issue of RUMORS.All material is copyright © Ralph Milton.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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