Thursday, March 13, 2008

Preaching Materials for March 16, 2008

R U M O R S # 493
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 16th, 2008


"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)


Please put this “blog” address on your “favorites” list.
I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there.


The Story Lectionary – God never runs out
Revised Common Lectionary – Mary’s tears
Rumors – a package deal
Soft Edges – motors and muscles
Bloopers – a mighty fortune
We Get Letters – a very special Easter
Mirabile Dictu! – royal flush
Bottom of the Barrel – dying forbidden
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler –A teacher assigned her class the topic, “What I’ll be doing during the Easter holiday.”
All the students began writing, little Johnny in an especially animated and excited way. Soon, he raised his hand. “Teacher, how do you spell ‘gun’?”
Puzzled, the teacher said, “G. U. N.” Johnny continued to write even more furiously. Soon, he raised his hand again. “Teacher, how do you spell ‘die’?”
Alarmed, the teacher said, “D. I. E ... Johnny, just what are you intending to do this Easter?”
“Why, teacher, we gun die Easter eggs.”
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, which is Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian calendar.

Story Lectionary – Matthew 27:62 – 28:15a
Check out Jim Taylor’s preaching ideas and Linnea Good’s liturgy and music ideas by going to the Story Lectionary. Just click on this address.
This is Part II of the story that began last week, as Jesus coughed out his life on a bloody, cruel Roman cross. To get a bit of context, and to read it in story form, click on:
There’s also a fictional Easter dialogue about the resurrection, which you can read if you click on:
I wasn’t raised in the church, and didn’t start going to church until Bev got me there. That was about half a century ago, and I have not missed an Easter service since. So I’ve heard the resurrection story at least 50 times, and I find it deeply moving every year.
In fact, before I met Bev, I remember hearing that Easter story somewhere. At that time, I didn’t believe any of it, but I recall that the story moved me. It got under my atheistic skin and touched something I didn’t know was there. Of course, I shrugged off those feelings and got on with life in the “real” world.
During that half century, I married, birthed two children and adopted two more, become a grandfather, lived in three countries, traveled half the world, and lived through experiences of sheer heaven and utter hell.
I’ve heard many Easter sermons about how Jesus “paid the price for my sin,” and other atonement theologies. They don’t do much for me because they imply a somewhat petty God keeping track of how much we mortals owe.
An Easter experience that has become a metaphor for me, is a sunrise service led by Bev where she read the resurrection story as which we watched the cold mist roll back down the mountainsides and along the valley, while a scarlet finch sang in a tree nearby.
Or listening to a performance of Handel’s “The Messiah,” especially a contralto and a soprano singing, “Come Unto Me, All Ye that Labor.” followed by “And He Shall Feed His Flock.”
Or hearing my daughter Grace talk of a dream she had, where her twin brother came to her in love, after his soul-shattering suicide.
Or reading the words of my 14th century friend Julian of Norwich who talks of her “mother Jesus” feeding her at his breast like a mother nursing a child.
The crocuses are blooming in our front yard. God is never out of sunrises, or out of songs, or visions, or insight.
God never runs out of Easters.


Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 10:34-43 (or Jeremiah 31:1-6)
The Christian faith moved from being a sect of Judaism to being a gospel for the whole world, and it was speeches like this one by Peter, that made it happen.
You may argue that it was the early church putting words into Peter’s mouth, but it doesn’t matter. It was thinking like this that made the movement possible. “God shows no partiality.” Those who “fear God and do what is right,” are acceptable. I don’t think “fear” connotes being scared. I think it infers a kind of knee-wobbling sense of absolute awe.
Notice that it says nothing about the correctness of our theology. It doesn’t say a thing about what we specifically should believe. It seems that if we can feel that reassuring-terrifying presence of God in our lives, and if we live in an ethical, moral relationship with all of God’s creation, especially other humans, God’s face “is lifted to us,” as the original (in Greek) words imply.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Sharing the Good News
1 God, you give to life its goodness;
your love bursts the bounds of time.
2 You renew our confidence in you.
14 With you beside us, we can face anything.
15 We have no fears when you stand among us.
16 A whisper runs through the opponents' minds:
"God has chosen a cause; no one can conquer God."
17 But I am not obsessed with winning;
Winning or losing, living or dying,
I want to be with God;
I want to celebrate God's goodness to me.
18 God has tested me. God has put me through hell. (IS THIS OKAY???)
But God has never abandoned me.
19 Now I have the confidence to go anywhere, to try anything.
20 Whatever it takes, I know I'm worth it.
21 Once, I had no confidence in myself,
And I had no confidence in you, God.
I quivered with insecurities;
I was a raw wound, flinching from everything.
22 Now the ugly duckling has become the golden egg.
You hold me in your hands, and I shine.
23 Only you could do this.
24 A new day has dawned for me, a new life has begun.
Is it any wonder that I'm happy?
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Colossians 3:1-4 (or Acts 10:34-43)
This passage reflects a kind of up-in-heaven/down-here-on-earth kind of theology that was understandable from people 2,000 years ago who lived in a three-tiered world. And I don’t think the injunction to set our minds on “things that are above” means that we walk around with our eyes turned up in their sockets, ignoring everything that’s going on around us.
It does mean serious consideration to the care and feeding of our minds, the way we care and feed our bodies with nutritious food and healthy exercise.

John 20:1-18 (or Matthew 28:1-10)
Of all the resurrection passages, this is the one that digs right down inside me, and speaks to something so personal and so profound, I feel a bit shaky each time I read it.
What does it take to believe in the risen Christ? Is it an act of will? If someone says to me, “Believe in the risen Christ,” is there a switch I can throw that does that? In our urbane, educated culture, how can you convince anyone of the truth of the Jesus story? Especially the resurrection part. Certainly quoting the Bible won’t do it.
It’s the tears that do it for me. Mary’s tears.
She is there at the graveside sobbing her eyes out, and it is through the blur of her tears that she sees the risen Christ. That does it for me, because it has only been in times of tears – tears of sorrow mostly but also tears of joy – that I have experienced the absolute reality of the presence of Christ in my life.

For a children’s version of the story of Mary at the tomb, see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 98.
If you would like to order a copy of that book, click on:


Rumors – A package deal
No one wants to be poor. There's no money in it.
A corollary would be – no one wants to suffer. It hurts.
We laugh at that because it is obvious. But the thing gets sick when we suggest (and we do) that no one should ever suffer or be in pain. I was told by a medical doctor once that his only real function was “to remove pain.”
Maybe it can be argued that poverty can be eliminated. But pain? If some great savior could remove all pain from the world, would that be a good thing? If some medical genius invented the universal narcotic without side effects – the ultimate Prozac with which we would always feel good about everything – would that be a good thing?
"I think, therefore I am." Descartes wrote.
Better still might be, "I feel, therefore I am." Or, "I hurt, therefore I am."
You've heard the story about the guy who got into his cups a bit much one night, and in a drunken stupor, wandered into a funeral home and passed out in a coffin. When he woke up the next morning, he looked around and thought, "I am in a coffin, therefore I must be dead. But if I am dead, why do I have a pounding headache and why do I have to go to the bathroom?"
I feel; I hurt, therefore I am.
Here’s another one. I love, therefore I hurt. Sadly, the reverse (I hurt, therefore I love) doesn't follow.
“They shall laugh, but not all of their laughter. They shall cry, but not all of their tears,” wrote the poet Kahlil Gibran in “The Prophet.” If you want to really live, he said, jump into the deep end of the pool. Love people. Love them passionately and deeply. You will laugh and you will cry, and your laughter and tears will come from the same place in your soul.
Bev, my partner of 50 years, is clergy and has performed many weddings. In her address to the bridal couple I’ve heard her say, “You have promised to love each other ‘for better or for worse.’ Well, I can’t promise that it’ll get better than this. But it will get worse.”
Bev knows from personal experience, living with me and our children these five decades, that the joy of loving anyone involves deep pain, disappointment, frustration and anger. The romantic love most couples feel during the wedding ceremony lasts a year or two. Then it changes into a different, deeper, more profound love or the marriage is over. It is the kind of love that knows both the tears and the laughter. It’s the kind of love that demands a conscious choice.
That’s true of parenting as well. It’s easy to love a cuddly new baby, but that baby will become a nine-year-old, then a teenager, and will reject your love while needing it desperately. Loving that teenager sometimes takes a hard, very conscious decision. “I will love that kid of mine whether he/she wants me to or not.”
It’s true of friendship. Jim Taylor and I have been friends and colleagues for years. We’ve had to work at it. We meet once a week for lunch whenever we are both in town. Sometimes we argue and sometimes we’re working through hard, personal stuff, and sometimes we tell the worst jokes you ever heard and sometimes we annoy the hell out of each other. We’re both opinionated workaholics, and our friendship would never last if we didn’t make it a choice. We’ve chosen friendship, not because it’s easy, but because without it we are only half alive.
In the cartoon Hi and Lois, the eldest son is wailing away with his guitar, and the kid brother asks, “How can I become a singer like you.” “You can only become a singer,” says the older brother, “if you’ve really suffered.” In the last frame, the kid brother is walking around looking desperately miserable. Lois is saying to Hi, “I don’t know. He was quite cheerful this morning.”
That cartoon is funny, because the humor touches a fundamental truth. You sing the song out of the pain. The joy of life is part of the pain of life. You cry for the loss of a loved one because you loved that person. We do not weep for those we have not loved.
If you want to live the full, abundant, meaningful life that sages and saints throughout the ages have promised, you must love passionately and work for the good of those you love, even, especially, when they have you climbing the walls. Unless we love passionately, we live only half a life.
But if we love deeply, we will get hurt.
No exceptions.
Sorry about that. But the abundant life and suffering servanthood go together.
It's a package deal.

(updated and adapted from “Angels in Red Suspenders,” Northstone, 1997)


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Motors and Muscles
On one of the last days of the cross-country skiing season, I headed up a favorite hill, a winding trail that climbs to the top of a ridge, then plunges down the far side.
Pristine snow clumped on the dark branches of spruce trees. The sky overhead was cloudless bright blue; the sun sparkled on perfectly groomed snow.
Then the cross-country trail crossed a snowmobile route.
At least two, perhaps more, snowmobilers had left their own trail to romp up ours instead. They crushed the carefully groomed grooves. They chewed up the smoothed centre. They rollicked off into the surrounding forest, and blasted back across the ski trail...
I was furious. I’m normally not prone to violence, but I would have had few compunctions about lashing certain parts of those riders’ anatomy to a tree before inviting them to ride their infernal machines off into the sunset...
When I got back to the ski lodge, later in the day, I dropped a note in the Suggestion Box, recommending that snowmobiles be totally banned from that provincial park.
Why not? The provincial government has banned all motors from the Bowron Lakes chain, reserving the chain of lakes for canoes and kayaks. The same principle could be applied to other sites as well.
I recognize that not all snowmobilers are undisciplined, thoughtless, inconsiderate, arrogant, self-centered, loud-mouthed, beer-swilling yahoos. But it only takes one or two of those to ruin the reputation of the rest.
The basic problem, I suspect, is that motors and muscles are incompatible. Most pedestrian accidents occur while crossing roads. When cyclists share space with cars, bicycles always come off second best. Jetskis don’t even see swimmers in the water as they scream past.
And we all know what happens when young men with too much testosterone push their souped-up Honda Civics and Mazda 3s to the limit, street racing.
Tragically, we humans seem incapable of not using power when we have it. When power is available at the twist of a throttle or push of an accelerator, we feel we have to use it.
Even if it results in chewing the hell out of a hillside or a ski trail. Hey, that’s what it’s there for, isn’t it?
Tragically, we tend to do the same with other forms of power. Operatic tenors feel impelled to blast our ears with maximum decibels. Petty bureaucrats make sure clients know who’s boss. Prime ministers gag their back benchers.
We like to call ourselves a Christian nation, but we pay little attention to the example set by the founder of that faith.
Whatever power Jesus had, he used only for the benefit of others. Presumably, he could have used it to save himself from an agonizing death. But he didn’t.
If Jesus was God embodied among us, that means God also chooses not to use all the power available.
That should tell us something. Power isn’t everything. And even when we have power, we can choose not to exercise it.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Loretta Romankewicz says she recently got an e-mail addressed to "My Fiend." She edits the church newsletter in which she wrote: “two long-time members of the church council are stepping down and we thank them for that."
Loretta, I know the feeling, but in our church we don’t have the courage to come right out and say it. (Yes, of course I know you didn’t mean it.)

Garth Caseley says he was “driving into Moncton, New Brunswick last week and saw one of those portable roadside signs that said ‘How would you feel if you get scared half to death, twice?’"

Tom Schneider writes: “In our service this morning, we got to sing some old favorites, including Martin Luther's ‘A Mighty Fortune Is Our God’."
Tom says “It doesn't necessarily contradict the original.”

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! – Long ago people cursed and beat the ground with sticks. It was called witchcraft. Today, it's called golf.
source unknown via Tom Spinks

People who say that something is impossible should not interrupt those who are managing to get it done.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan

Easter is hope on a rampage. The world comes alive with possibility.
source unknown


We Get Letters – We’ve all been hearing about the huge snow-falls they’ve been having along the north-eastern side of our continent. Rick Morrison writes that in Ottawa “we got roughly 50 centimeters of snow in about 30 hours, coming on top of 30 centimeters earlier in the week.
“Those close enough to the church walked, but many were too far away for this to be practical. Congregational and choir attendance were down to about a fifth of levels typical for this time of year. The opening hymn, chosen rather earlier, was announced somewhat sheepishly to be ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing’."

This is from an unidentified person at a “UMC” in Minneapolis.
I have a hunch I ran this a few weeks ago, but my slothful, indolent, procrastinating and hence thoroughly admirable personality does not allow me to go back and check. Then I also got the same info in an e-mail from Dave Towers.
The anonymous person in “Minnie” writes:
Easter is early this year.
Easter is always the first Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox (which is March 20). This year the full moon is on Good Friday, March 21st. This dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar that Hebrew people used to identify Passover, which is why it moves around on our Roman calendar.
Based on the above, Easter can be one day earlier (March 22) but that is rare. This year is the earliest Easter any of us will ever see. None of us have nor will we, see it a day earlier.
The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913. So if you're 95 or older, you are the only ones that were around for that.
The next time Easter will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 The last time it was on March 22 was 1818.
So that makes this a very special Easter! Like every other Easter.

Ann Hsu writes: “In our church this morning the children’s sermon was about how Jesus sees us. A mirror was brought out to demonstrate how we see ourselves.
The leader asked, "How can Jesus see inside us?" "By x-ray!" proudly announced a child’s voice.

Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Royal Flush!”) This also from Dave Towers:
Dolly Parton and Queen Elizabeth die on the same day and they both go before an Angel to find out if they'll be admitted to Heaven.
Unfortunately, there's only one space left that day, so the Angel must decide which of them gets in. The Angel asks Dolly if there's some particular reason why she should go to Heaven.
Dolly removes an article of clothing that reveals the maximal mammaries that made her famous.
“Thank you Dolly,” says the Angel. “They are most impressive.” Then the Angel asks Her Majesty the same question.
The Queen takes a bottle of Perrier out of her handbag, shakes it up, and gargles. Then she spits into a toilet and pulls the lever.
“OK,” says the angel. You may enter, Your Majesty.”
Dolly is outraged. “What was that all about? I show you two of God's own perfect creations and you turn me down. She spits into a commode and she gets in! Would you explain that to me?”
“Sorry, Dolly,” says the Angel, “but even in heaven, a royal flush beats a pair.”

Bottom of the Barrel – Russell Pastuch of Ottawa, Ontario reads the darndest things in the papers. Recently he spotted this item:

Cemetery full, mayor tells locals not to die
Reuters ORDEAUX, France – The mayor of a village in southwest France has threatened residents with severe punishment if they die, because there is no room left in the overcrowded cemetery to bury them.
In an ordinance posted in the council offices, Mayor Gerard Lalanne told the 260 residents of the village of Sarpourenx that "all persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish. Offenders will be severely punished."
The mayor said he was forced to take drastic action after an administrative court in the nearby town of Pau ruled in January that the acquisition of adjoining private land to extend the cemetery would not be justified.
Lalanne, who celebrated his 70th birthday on Wednesday and is standing for election to a seventh term in this month's local elections, said he was sorry that there had not been a positive outcome to the dilemma.
"It may be a laughing matter for some, but not for me," he said.

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: