Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Preaching Materials for March 30, 2008

R U M O R S # 494
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 23, 2008


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

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The Story Lectionary – liberty and release
Revised Common Lectionary – a dramatic change
Rumors – inside the skin of Thomas
Soft Edges – making a fresh start
Bloopers – the longest list in captivity
Mirabile Dictu! – arrow shooting angels
Bottom of the Barrel – golf your way into heaven
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 April Dailey in southwestern Pennsylvania who says the cold, wet weather has drowned all her crocuses. It’s dedicated to all the folks up and down the eastern half of our continent who have had a most memorable winter.

St. Peter was taking people into heaven; the devil was taking others into hell. St. Peter noticed that the devil threw some of the folk straight into the pit, while others were tossed aside like cordwood.
“Why do you toss some of the people aside like that?” St. Peter asked.
“Oh,” said the devil. Those are the folks from Pennsylvania.* They're too cold and wet to burn."
* Change “Pennsylvania” to whatever suits you.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 30th, which is the 2nd Sunday of Easter, and is celebrated as “Holy Humor Sunday” in many churches.
Some material for Holy Humor Sunday can be found on the Story Lectionary web site. Click on:

Story Lectionary – Matthew 28:16-20
This is a short little story, but it is the final chapter in the resurrection account as given to us by the writer of Matthew.
If you go to the Story Lectionary website, you’ll find that I’ve offered a “reader’s theatre” version of this story, bringing in some of the background from other parts of Matthew’s gospel. Click on:
While you are there, if you click on “Jim Taylor” and “Linnea Good” you’ll find some other useful ideas and material for this Sunday.
Those first disciples, hearing Jesus’ great commission, would have heard it much differently than we hear it today. In fact, I’ve heard people say that this commission is “arrogant” and “imperialistic,” and that we have no business claiming our religious insights are greater than those of other faith traditions.
Those early Christians would have thought it was selfish not to share their good news with others. They believed that the gospel offered them liberty and equality in a heavy-handed hierarchical world dominated by Roman military muscle.
They even believed that humans had been created in the “image of God” and so had the ability to govern themselves and live moral lives. It was several hundred years later, after Constantine’s conversion, that they discovered Christian rulers could be as brutal and hierarchical as the Romans. That’s the climate that gave rise to the thinking of Augustine who convinced us that original sin was passed on to us through the semen of our fathers.
This ties in nicely if you are doing Holy Humor Sunday. Canadian artist Willis Wheatly painted a now famous “laughing Jesus.” Jesus has his head back, his mouth wide open, in a full belly laugh. Wheatly called that picture, “Jesus Christ – Liberator.”
Genuine good and wholesome laughter is a mark of liberation. And freedom.
Those who are genuinely free know how to laugh. All of their laughter.
And to weep. All of their tears.


Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 – This is a snippet out of the Pentecost story. Here’s Peter making his grand speech to the folks from all those places that the lectors find so hard to pronounce on Pentecost Sundays.
The preaching agenda of the early church changed somewhat as the first glow of the resurrection wore off. Not so much preaching of the resurrection but a whole lot of talk about the Holy Spirit.
One of the gifts of this Spirit sometimes brings is the ability to do things you never thought possible. Peter had a bad case of foot-in-mouth syndrome when he was running around the Galilee trying to keep up with Jesus. Here he is, the silver-tongued orator who can quote scripture with confidence to a big gathering of Jews from all over.
I’d find that incredible, if I hadn’t seen it happen. I have a friend who couldn’t express herself or her faith at all. Then she became involved in the social justice work of the church, and in the course of that grew to the point of being able to spontaneously and eloquently speak to several thousand people.

Psalm 16 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Experiencing Jesus – two deaths occurred among our relatives in a week.
1 Life is short, Lord.
Like a breath in the night, it disappears into silence.
2 Human relationships all pass away;
we cannot depend on them for comfort in old age.
Only you, God, are forever.
Why should I put anything else first in my life?
3 Some people hold you as their closest companion.
They are the saints.
I would like to be like them.
4 Many people claim to put you first,
but they chase riches and popularity, privilege and power.
5 I say that there is nothing in life but God.
God is all anyone needs.
7 In the silence of the night, I listen for the breath of God:
In the bedlam of a business day, I watch for a whisper of wisdom.
8 I keep my mind on God.
God surrounds me like the air I breathe;
God buoys me up like water.
9 Even in a time of loss, I raise my arms to God's embrace;
My heart rests easy.
10 For you are a loving God.
Though our lives end, we do not vanish into the lifeless void.
11 No, you gather us into your warmth;
there we will enjoy the endless sunshine of your smile.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Peter 1:3-9 – Peter is wonderfully perceptive – and sometimes terribly wrong. Because almost anything you can say about the human experience is true of some, and not true of others.
Peter talks of gold being refined by fire. It is the heat of persecution and terror that builds the spiritual muscles. Those who have endured the persecution of the Roman military come out on the other side empowered by the spirit.
Yes, but . . . It doesn’t always work that way.
We know people who have suffered terribly and that pain has made them strong. It has built their spiritual muscle.
But we also know people who have been utterly destroyed – strong people who have been turned into a quivering mass of insecurity and fear.
All generalizations are wrong. Including that one.

John 20:19-31 – A cynical friend once commented that this passage proved that Jesus did not have halitosis. Piffle!
In Genesis 2:7 we read that “God breathed into the human the breath of life, and the human became a living soul.” The NRSV translates that as “a living being,” which may well be more accurate but takes most of the juice out of the passage.
Jesus is echoing back to that creation story – giving the gift of breath, spirit, wind to his followers. “Ruach” in Hebrew and “pneuma” in Greek, the languages used in those writings, mean all three.
Bev is doing Pilates, an exercise regimen that she is finding very helpful for her chronic, complicated illnesses. Most of the exercises involve breath – using the breath to build inner strength. The breath of the Spirit is the breath of life.
When I’m about to over-react to something, Bev will whisper in my ear, “Take a deep breathe.” When we totally stop breathing, it usually means we’re dead. We’ve given up the ghost. The Holy Ghost, presumably.
So breath and wind as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit is useful and powerful. I remember hearing a sermon once in which the preacher had us deep breathing at several points – to release the powers of darkness and to bring in the gift of the spirit.

For children, the story of Thomas, based on John 20, is in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 100.
If you don’t already own the book, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – The way I get at the biblical stories is to put myself into the skin of the folks in the story. And in this case, I imagine myself to be Thomas. It’s the only way these stories speak to me.
When I imagine myself as Thomas, I remember the poster that says, “Now that I’ve got it all together, I’ve forgotten where I put it.”
I’ve never been bothered by the idea that there is something wrong with my doubts. What bothers me is that the things I firmly believe one moment, I don’t believe at all the next, and vice-versa.
My problem is that I seem to be living on several levels at once. At one level, I am at least an agnostic and possibly an atheist. The whole “god thing” has no basis in fact or logic.
But at another level, I find myself deeply, profoundly committed to the basic Christian idea, which is (I think), that there is a God of love and justice who is involved with the world as a whole and with me in particular.
At a third level, I am a profoundly lazy couch potato who would like the whole problem to go away so I can get on with my life in front of the TV developing my Molson Muscle. (Non-Canadians note: Molson’s is a brand of beer.)
If my tripartite personality was in conversation with its various components, I might eventually figure out who I am and what I believe. But at any given moment, one sits on top and effectively squelches any protests from the other two.
And sometimes, out of nowhere, comes a whack in the solar plexus that sends me reeling, and mixes all three of those together into a mass of jumbled confusion.
Such as right now. As I sat down to write this, I received word that a person very close to me – someone I love and admire – has been hit by a serious stroke. So now the same God, to whom I am praying for his recovery, is the God I don’t believe in anymore. Meanwhile, in the background, lurks that escapist self that would like nothing more than to grab a large glass of wine and spend the rest of the day watching something totally mindless on TV.
The whole thing threatens to go whirling into emotional and intellectual and spiritual chaos.
But the breath of the Spirit, with each breath of my body, keeps insisting that God does not run out of Easters. That the living Christ keeps walking through locked doors and locked minds until everything else recedes into the background and I blurt out the confession, “My Lord and my God!”


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Making a Fresh Start
Our daughter Sharon has left for Ethiopia, to pick up her second adopted child from that country, a one-year-old boy.
Three years ago, she adopted Katherine Rediet (“rediet” -- pronounced “ready-yet” -- means “blessing,” in the Amharic language of Ethiopia). Like any grandparents, we think she’s the most beautiful and most talented child in the world.
But Sharon wanted a second child. She asked for a boy this time. She told us she would name him Stephen, after her older brother, who died of cystic fibrosis shortly before his 22nd birthday.
Last October, she got word that a boy had been found for her. His Ethiopian name is Tekalegn (pronounced “teck-uh-lin”). Sharon asked an Ethiopian woman in her Edmonton congregation what Tekalegn meant.
The woman paused, and thought, and then said, “It’s hard to translate. But it means something like ‘Replacing something precious that was lost’.”
The revelation took our breath away. It still does.
So our grandson will be Stephen Douglas Tekalegn Taylor.
Over the last six months, Joan and Sharon have happily chattered about preparing for “Stephen’s” arrival. They’ve repainted “Stephen’s room.” Joan has knitted sweaters for him. Katherine is setting aside toys for her little brother.
But I haven’t been able to speak of him as “Stephen” yet. Something stops me. And that disturbs me.
I thought that I was over my sense of loss after our son died. Joan still has trouble talking about it, 25 years later, but me, I talked about it openly, perhaps too much. I incorporated insights from his life and death into magazine articles. Ten years later, I even wrote a book about it: “Surviving Death,” later republished as “Letters to Stephen: A Father’s Journey of Grief and Recovery.”
I thought of all these as catharsis, clearing the decks, getting on with life.
Obviously, I haven’t coped as well as I thought. There’s still something irrational inside me that wants to believe that there was only one Stephen, that there will never be another Stephen, that no one else will ever be good enough to be another Stephen.
Giving his name to a stranger feels like taking Wayne Gretzky’s number 99 down from the Hall of Fame and giving it to some upstart from the minor leagues.
I know, I know -- it’s silly. And it’s not fair to Tekalegn. It’s not fair to resent his assuming our son’s name; nor is it fair to place that burden of expectations on his tiny shoulders.
He’s my grandson, not my son.
He arrives in Edmonton this coming weekend, God and Air Canada willing… At that point, I have to give up nursing old wounds. I cannot penalize the one who lives, to preserve the memory of the one who died.
I cannot call him Tekalegn, when everyone else calls him Stephen. What’s past must be past -- he is the present and the future.
So I must, I shall, I will, love him just for who he is.
Welcome home, young Stephen.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Peter Gunning saw this note posted in a crematorium. “For sale: Niche on boundary wall. Price negotiable. Current occupier moved to be near family. Also available, granite slab to fit niche. Will have to be skimmed before inscribing.”

Heather Rodgers of Sherwood Park, Alberta writes: “We sang the beautifully contemplative anthem "Come Unto Me" by Larry Nickel. Our church secretary typed the title in the bulletin as "Come On To Me"

If you are looking for bloopers to use during Holy Humor Sunday, go to the Story Lectionary website and follow your nose. Or click directly onto the largest collection of bloopers in captivity:


Wish I’d Said That! – Remembering that Jesus sits on the right hand of God, if you are looking for God, go find Jesus and keep moving to the left!
John Dominick Crossan via Shadra Suzanne Shoffner

All speakers make their audiences happy – some when they start, some when they stop.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan

Wise people, even when they hold their tongues, say more than fools when they speak. Yiddish proverb via Jim Taylor

Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “arrow-shooting angels!”) This from Irene Carter of Calgary. The list has been around before, but there are some new ones. Anyway, some of you might find it useful if you are celebrating Holy Humor Sunday on the 30th.
Angels – as described by children
* Everybody's got it all wrong. Angels don't wear halos anymore. I forget why, but scientists are working on it. – Olive, 9
* It's not easy to become an angel! First, you die. Then you go to heaven, and then there's still the flight training to go through. And then you got to agree to wear those angel clothes. – Matthew, 9
* Angels work for God and watch over kids when God has to go do something else. – Mitchell, 7
* I only know the names of two angels. Hark and Harold. – Gregory, 5
* My guardian angel helps me with math, but he's not much good for science. – Henry, 8
* Angels don't eat, but they drink milk from holy cows. – Jack, 6
* Angels talk all the way while they're flying you up to heaven. The main subject is where you went wrong before you got dead. – Daniel, 9
* When an angel gets mad, he takes a deep breath and counts to ten. And when he lets out his breath, somewhere there's a tornado. – Reagan, 10
* Angels have a lot to do and they keep very busy. If you lose a tooth, an angel comes in through your window and leaves money under your pillow. Then when it gets cold, angels go north for the winter. – Sara, 6
* Angels live in cloud houses made by God and his son, who's a very good carpenter – Jared, 8
* All angels are girls because they gotta wear dresses and boys didn't go for it. – Antonio, 9
* My angel is my grandma who died last year. She got a big head start on helping me while she was still down here on earth. – Katelynn, 9
* Some of the angels are in charge of helping heal sick animals and pets. And if they don't make the animals get better, they help the child get over it. – Vicki, 8
* What I don't get about angels is why, when someone is in love, they shoot arrows at them. – Sarah, 7


Bottom of the Barrel – A golfer set up his first ball on the first tee, took a mighty swing and hit his ball into a clump of trees. He found his ball and saw an opening between two trees he thought he could hit through.
Taking out his three-wood, he took another mighty swing, the ball hit a tree, bounced back, hit him in the forehead, and killed him.
As he approached the gates of Heaven, St. Peter saw him coming, and asked, “Are you a good golfer?”
The man smirked. “Got here in two, didn’t I?”

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