Saturday, March 1, 2008

Preaching Materials for March 9, 2008

R U M O R S # 491
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 2, 2008


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

A special “heads-up!” notice about “Holy Humor Sunday.” See below.

About the Story Lectionary. There is no budget for this thing, and it isn’t a project of any church body or organization. There’s no money for publicity, other than here in Rumors. So please tell your colleagues in ministry about this. It’s not a matter of selling them on the concept, but simply to let folks know it is there so they can make up their own minds about it.

The Story Lectionary – other reasons
Revised Common Lectionary – make those dry bones dance
Rumors – connect dem bones
Soft Edges – powers of good and evil
Holy Humor Sunday – don’t miss it
Bloopers – in the abstinence
We Get Letters – it was Niebuhr, not Tillich
Mirabile Dictu! – les miserable
Bottom of the Barrel – they’ll know we are Christians by our cars
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Unfortunately, this story is probably apocryphal.
One day, as the church parking lot filled up, people were surprised to find the doors to the church tightly locked. And there was a sign on the door.
It read: “I’ve been preaching here for three years about how we should live out the gospel in our daily lives. You must have heard the message. No go out and do something about it!”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 9, which is the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Story Lectionary – Matthew 26:1-16
Last Wednesday morning, Bev was reading the paper at the breakfast table. The front page was full of the federal budget which the government of Canada had tabled in parliament the day before. She kept muttering comments as she read. Usually, “Waste of money!” It wasn’t hard to guess that her financial priorities, and that of our government, were not exactly the same.
Here the disciples jump on the woman who came and poured perfume on Jesus’ head. In my view (and probably Bev’s) they were quite right to do so. When Bev read about increased funding to the police, she muttered, “If they’d spend that on low-cost housing, it would do more good.”
When we read this story, it’s good to remember that the disciples at this point only had a dim idea of who Jesus was. Most of our ideas on who he was, developed after the crucifixion and resurrection. We read that back into the story. But the rest of the folks who were part of that event had no idea. Only now, in hindsight, do we know that Jesus was giving us another way to decide things. Not instead of clear-eyed careful thinking, but to know that sometimes a whole ‘nother way is called for.
The story in Matthew raises memories of my own experience when people have done something impulsive, impractical, wasteful and wonderful – like a child picking a dandelion and giving it with a kiss to a loved one. Or a bouquet of flowers.
Or Bev, a few years ago, deciding to take her step-mother, whose health was beginning to fail, on a cruise to Alaska.
Or two aging writers starting up a whole new way of doing lectionary.
Some of the best decisions are made with the heart.

Revised Common Lectionary
Ezekiel 37:1-14 – Ezekiel’s story is featured in the “Story Lectionary” as the reading for April 6th. I promise to look the other way if you go to the web ( and purloin some material from that resource.
If you take the trouble to dig through this book you discover that old Zeke is a delightful old dog. Like most prophets, he’s a little bit weird, but he is also touchingly human.
And his vision of the valley of the dry bones is more than relevant. The question, “can these bones live?” was the big question facing the Jews living in a fairly comfortable exile in Babylon. And it is the big question for our main-line churches, living as we do in the very comfortable exile of a consumer economy.
It’s interesting that the practice of the Sabbath, which became the central pillar of Jewish faithfulness, saw its full development during this exile. And is that something we might recover to make our dry bones dance?

Psalm 130 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
A Gift of New Life
2 God, hear me! Please listen to my pleas.
1 I am a helpless blob of misery.
I have dissolved in self-pity.
3 If you're keeping score, I'm a loser.
4 I'm counting on your mercy.
You have the power to punish me or to pardon me.
5 My life depends on your decision;
Not daring to say a word in my own defense,
I wait for your verdict.
6 Like a hungry child waiting for dinner,
like a job applicant waiting for a phone call,
like a grandmother waiting for the birth of a grandchild,
I wait.
7 If God's overflowing love cannot forgive me,
I have no hope.
No one else can free me from my guilt,
from the prison of my repeated failures.
8 Only God can save me from myself.
God is my only hope.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 8:6-11 – I’m always bothered by Paul’s polarities – light and dark, flesh and spirit, death and life.
Here Paul is talking about those who live in the flesh as opposed to those who live in the Spirit. All of us live in the flesh. We have no choice. These terms may be a kind of short-hand Paul uses to describe those who have not yet accepted the Gospel.
It’s a matter of allegiance. Where do you find your directions for your life? From the ads that offer prosperity, popularly and sexual power? Of do you take your cues from the powerful stories in the Bible and from the community of faith – the church?

John 11:1-45 – Martha tends to get the short end of the stick in this story and the one that follows in chapter 12. But in this story, she plays Peter’s role. In the three synoptics, it’s Peter who blurts out the truth about Jesus. Here it is Martha (v.27).
In Jewish tradition, the soul and the body separate after three days. So Lazarus was good and properly dead. If he had been in some sort of a coma, four days without water or food in the tomb would have finished the job.
In John’s gospel, this is the pivotal story. From this point on, Jesus is effectively condemned to death. The question was only when and how.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 89, the raising of Lazarus.
Click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – A number of years ago I found myself at a big “cathedral” church in downtown Vancouver. St. Andrew’s-Wesley. It is known affectionately as “St. A&W.” I was preaching a series of sermons for the evenings of Holy Week.
I come at sermons from a different angle than most preachers. My background is communications – radio, TV and the printed word.
And theatre. Especially theatre. I’ve never taken a homiletics course. So you can decide for yourself whether this different approach has value for you.
The sanctuary at St. Andrews-Wesley could probably hold 2,000 people. About 200 came on the Monday – not bad for an evening service in a downtown church.
Except that the people were scattered all over the sanctuary. My amplified voice reverberated back at me, and I had a sense of talking to no one.
Déjà vu! I remembered my days in TV talking to a piece of convex glass, trying to pretend it was a real live person.
I felt like Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones. There seemed to be nothing alive out there. “Could we move the event into the chapel?” I pleaded.
About the same number of people came on Tuesday, but in the chapel it was a totally different event. I could see faces. Eyes. I was talking to people and the people fed me with their smiles, frowns, furrowed brows and sometimes open-mouthed surprise.
A researcher in California recently discovered what we’ve known all along – that more people go to church on Sunday than attend all the sports events across the country.
But here’s what puzzled the researcher. People said they had not experienced a sense of God being present while they were in church. “They don’t get what they came for,” said the researcher. “Why do they keep going back?”
A very good question. But how come they don’t get what they came for? Perhaps a small part of it is that too many preachers give lectures rather than sermons. The use of PowerPoint just makes it worse.
Those preachers are far away from the folks in the pews, both physically and intellectually, and the words of the sermon simply float over their heads and dissolve somewhere in the back of the church. Those words may catch a few minds on the way, but they don’t catch the hearts.
Jim Taylor and I launched the Story Lectionary in the hope that it would help a few preachers catch people’s hearts when they preach. Not that it’s the whole answer to everything, but we are convinced it is at least part of the answer. Because stories, at least when they are well told, connect with people where they live. There is a connection with their lives.
“Can these bones live?” God asks Ezekiel? Well, yes, if we deliver flesh and blood and not another load of homiletical bones.
“Prophesy to these bones,” God tells Ezekiel. Not a nice talk. Not a lecture. Not an analysis. Prophecy.
Prophecy is what God calls for. I’m not sure what “prophecy” might mean to the modern preacher in a main-line church. But I’m darn sure it is something that engages those dry bones in the pews at both the emotional and the rational level. The rational doesn’t much happen without the emotional, and the emotional isn’t very useful without the rational.
You have both, or you have nothing.

Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Powers of Good and Evil
Out of the blue, the woman said, “When I look around the world, I have trouble believing in a power of good. But I have no difficulty believing in a power of evil.”
I was a bit startled.
Partly because it’s sort of a taboo thing to say.
And partly because it expressed a thought I had been trying hard not to think.
I convinced myself long ago that the legendary figure of Satan, dressed in red flame-proof tights and wielding a trident – presumably used to skewer poor souls so that they could barbecue over the fires of hell like a pot roast on a rotisserie – had no more reality than the tooth fairy.
I had no sympathy for excuses like, “The devil made me do it.” I saw them as a tacit admission of failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.
Besides, belief in a devil seemed very like dualism. Zoroastrianism has two gods, one good, one evil. But Christianity proclaims one God only. I called myself Christian. Therefore, I believed, God cannot have an evil counterpart.
But as regular readers may have noticed, I too have been having trouble lately believing in a traditional God.
In the United Church’s national magazine, The Observer, Sara Jewell wrote about a disillusioned friend of hers. “What’s the point of praying before a meeting about making good decisions?” Sara’s friend demanded. “At the same time, someone’s praying that someone will stop raping them. If there is a Being who has the personal authority to help us have a better meeting, why isn’t that Being helping people in real distress?”
Precisely. About 13 million people will die of AIDS this year, leaving perhaps three times that many children orphaned... Floods drown thousands in Bangladesh... Rising ocean levels threaten island nations in the Pacific... Suicide bombers disrupt a Baghdad funeral...
Earthquakes, fires, wars and civil wars, tribal massacres, corruption, crime, drug dealing, child pornography – they make it hard to believe in an omnipotent God who could stop these things but won’t.
But it’s increasing easy to believe in a power of evil that subverts our best intentions. Such a power doesn’t have to cause earthquakes or tsunamis. It doesn’t have to trigger volcanoes or landslides. It doesn’t have to manipulate nature at all.
It merely has to affect our responses. It weasels into human hearts and minds. Like a parasite or a cancer cell, it takes over our normal reactions and uses them against us. It turns generosity into selfishness, respect into envy, ambition into greed.
Then it occurs to me. If I can believe in a power of evil that doesn’t have to be all-powerful to achieve its ends, why do I need the power of good to be omnipotent?
Maybe a power of good doesn’t have to be omnipotent either. Maybe it can work the same way, by infiltrating our hearts and minds, by turning selfish emotions into altruism, and apathy into energy.


Holy Humor Sunday
This is a “heads up” notice!
Many churches will be celebrating the Sunday after Easter as Holy Humor Sunday. Others celebrate on the Sunday closest to April 1st, April Fool’s Day. This year, they are the same day, March 30th. I know that’s still a few weeks down the pike, but you may want to prepare something ahead of time. There are some preachers who actually do that.
“Holy Humor Sunday” or “Bright Sunday” was drawn to national attention by Harvey Cox in his book, “The Feast of Fools,” and popularized by Cal Samra through his newsletter, the “Joyful Noiseletter.” Rob Thomas sent me this note last year. “For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including "Bright Sunday" (the Sunday after Easter), was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. “Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. “The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the “Easter laugh," the early theologians called it. “Many churches from different traditions responded enthusiastically. Holy Humor Sunday services are bringing back large crowds to churches on a Sunday when church attendance typically drops dramatically.”
Holy Humor Sunday has the wonderful distinction of not being authorized or even recommended by any church structure anywhere. At least as far as I know.
Nevertheless, and not withstanding (or with sitting for that matter) with the help of people like Sharon Poirier of Greenfield Park, Quebec who reminded me that this Sunday was coming up, I make the following proclamation.
“By the total lack of any authority vested in me or anyone else, I hereby declare the Sunday after Easter to be Holy Humor Sunday! So there too and also!”
What’s more, I’ve put Holy Humor into the Story Lectionary. Click on this address: and it’ll take you to the main page. Click “Readings” then find “Easter 2 (March 30)” and click on “story.” You’ll find the normal, straight-laced lectionary, followed by stuff you can use on Holy Humor Sunday.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – April Dailey of Ford City, Pennsylvania saw this in a set of minutes: “The Vice President conducted the meeting in the abstinence of the President . . .”

from the file:
* The audience is asked to remain seated until the end of the recession. * The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
If you read the blurb just above this, about Holy Humor Sunday, and do what it tells you (like nice little boys and girls) you will also discover the longest list of bulletin bloopers in captivity.

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! – If you are playing for 18,000 people, play as if for one – with 17,999 eavesdroppers.
Mstislav Rostropovich (cellist) via Randy Hall

The future of any church is not with former pastors, but forward moving members.
Bill Salyers via Carl Chamberlain

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. attributed to Albert Einstein, via Jim Taylor

We Get Letters – John H Neufeld of Winnipeg, Manitoba writes: “When I read the take-off on the serenity prayer this morning I recalled that we often fail to get the whole text of the original serenity prayer as penned by Reinhold Niebuhr” (I wrongly attributed it to Paul Tillich).Here it is:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right,
if I surrender to His will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.

Carl Boyke found this on BeliefNet. “While I was preaching in a church in Mississippi, the pastor announced that their prison quartet would be singing the following evening. The next evening, I was puzzled when four members of the church approached the stage. "This is our prison quartet," said the pastor. "Behind a few bars and always looking for the key."
from "All In a Day's Work" by Raymond McAlister


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Les Miserable!”)
Fifteen Ways to Stay Miserable:
1. Wait for others to make you happy.
2. Blame everyone else for your unhappiness.
3. Use “if only” whenever you can, regarding time, money or friends.
4. Compare what you have with what others have.
5. Always be serious.
6. Take responsibility for everything all the time.
7. Try to please everybody all the time (never say “no”).
8. Help others, but don’t let anyone help you.
9. Consider your own wants unimportant.
10. If anyone compliments you, discount it.
11. If anyone says anything bad about you, exaggerate it.
12. Always stay calm and cool.
13. Resist change to the death.
14. Strive for absolute perfection.
15. Always live in the past or in the future.


Bottom of the Barrel – A challenge. Have your congregation sing this as their opening hymn. Or you could save it for Holy Humor Sunday. The tune is “They will know we are Christians ...”

There’s a fish on my Honda, there’s a fish on my Ford,
There’s a fish on my Honda, there’s a fish on my Ford,
With my fish I can tell the world I’m driving for the Lord,
And they’ll see how God’s blessed me by the car I can afford.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by the fish on our cars,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our cars.

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: