Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Preaching Materials for March 9, 2008

R U M O R S #492
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor2008-03-09
THE CENTRAL STORY OF OUR FAITH ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Motto: "A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Just in case you missed it last week, here’s the connection to all the stuff about Holy Humor Sunday, to be celebrated on March 30th. Just click on this link. http://www.story-lectionary.com/ralph/Ralph-Holy-humour.html
Also, there’s now an on-line discussion related to the Story Lectionary – a place where you can share ideas and discuss things with your colleagues in ministry. Just click on: http://www.story-lectionary.com/forum/
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The Story Lectionary – when the story is deeply heardRevised Common Lectionary – a proper exegesesRumors – the struggle to make senseSoft Edges – crisis of imaginationHoly Humor Sunday – April Fool’s Day parableBloopers – parish the thoughtWe Get Letters – tauten those musclesMirabile Dictu! – the nerveBottom of the Barrel – they’ll know we are ChristiansStuff – (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 Mindy Ehrke. The graveside service had just ended, when there was a tremendous burst of thunder accompanied by a distant lightning bolt and more rumbling thunder. The newly widowed woman looked at the pastor and said very calmly,"Well, he's there." ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 16th, which is Palm/Passion Sunday. Even if you are not using the Story Lectionary, you may want to check out this link: http://www.story-lectionary.com/ralph/Ralph-passion.html There you’ll find a “readers’-theatre” presentation of the long scripture portion recommended for this Sunday. If you are not familiar with the “readers’ theatre” concept, please take a look. It’s not the paper-in-hand bathrobe drama so often associated with church attempts at theatre, and it certainly isn’t the blood-soaked Mel Gibson over-statement.
Note: You can also find useful ideas for Holy Thursday and Good Friday on the Story Lectionary site. Jim Taylor offers his preaching suggestions and I’ve posted a story I wrote about what happened with Mary of Magdala and Peter during the time between Friday and Sunday. Go to: http://www.story-lectionary.com/and explore.
Story Lectionary – Matthew 21:1-11, 26:17-27:61If you read that entire passage out loud in church, it will take about 15 minutes. But if you don’t read it out loud in church, how will folks ever know the central Christian story? You might argue that the Resurrection story is the central story. Of course it is. It is part two of this same story. One makes no sense without the other. There is pressure in some churches to skip the tough stuff, and jump right over into the daffodils and bunnies. The media certainly reinforce that kind of avoidance mentality. Perhaps nowhere is the Christian story more important than in this Passion-Easter narrative. It is this story which was central to the early church – central to the church through two millennia – and will continue to power the church of the future. Whatever that future might be. And yes, we must reflect in that story. We must connect the Passion/Resurrection story to our own story. But that can only happen when the biblical story has been heard – deeply and fully. I’m not talking about a discussion on how much is historical and how much mythological. I’m also not talking about commentary on the theology involved. We must engage the heart before we can engage the head. A few folks can reverse that sequence. But not most of us.
Revised Common Lectionary – Traditionally, this is Palm Sunday, but many (perhaps most) churches include the passion story on this Sunday because the majority of folks don’t come to church on Good Friday, and hence don’t hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. The Readings for the Liturgy of the Palms are:Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29Matthew 21:1-11
Comments on the Passion NarrativeIsaiah 50:4-9a – This passage feels a bit weak compared with Isaiah 53. Maybe because we hear Handel’s music when we read that one. Isaiah 50 seems to make a very simple statement – that the servant will be vindicated. In one of his reflections on this passage (Aha!!!, 1999) Jim Taylor asks: “Did Jesus have to act that way, because Isaiah prophesied it? Or did he chose to, having absorbed Isaiah’s vision so thoroughly that it became his own?”
Psalm 31:9-16 – paraphrased by Jim TaylorKids are cruel. Children who are unusually skinny or fat, who have poor hearing or thick glasses or speech impediments, often have to live with merciless teasing. Perhaps you can still hear echoes of that treatment in your life. 9 I feel lousy, Lord. My head aches, my heart aches, my whole body aches. 10 My life is a sea of suffering.Night after night, I toss in torment;I cannot sleep; I waste away with weariness.11 I have become a laughing stock.My enemies scorn me, my neighbors avoid me –even people who pass me in the street turn away from me.12 My mind has turned to jelly.I might as well be dead; I'm a fraction of my former self. 13 I can hear them whispering about me.They put their heads together;Behind my back, they plot to make me look foolish.14 But they won't grind me down, Lord, for I trust in you.I know that you are my God.15 Even when I can't help myself, you will guard me;My survival is safe in your hands. 16 Don't turn away from me too – If you love me, rescue me from my torment. From: Everyday Psalms Wood Lake Books. For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
Philippians 2:5-11 – This passage has given biblical scholars stress headaches for years. The Abingdon Study Bible says, “This passage is filled with interpretive difficulties,” which, when translated into English, means, “We have no idea.” Paul often sounds like an anal attorney but sometimes he simply breaks into song and reveals a warm and generous person underneath the bluster. So the proper exegeses of this passage is to break into a big smile and shout, “Wow!”
Matthew 26:14-27:66 – If I were to stand up and sing a quick little solo in church, people would listen indulgently, and all would be fine. If I were to stand up and sing a piece that went on for five minutes, I could count on the folks getting just a tad impatient – to put it mildly. An accomplished singer I am not. I should never be asked to sing a solo. Similarly with this passage. If you are going to have this read in its entirety (which I strongly recommend) then make sure you have the most capable reader in your church doing it. Otherwise it will simply reinforce some of the most negative impressions of church worship. It will do more harm than good. The Story Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary have almost the same readings for this Sunday. The difference is that in the former, it is arranged as Reader’s Theatre. Done well, this can be a powerful narrative of a central story of our Christian faith. Click on: http://www.story-lectionary.com/then go to “Readings” and find “Passion” where you will find both the “Reader’s Theatre” piece and some useful preaching suggestions from Jim Taylor.
A children’s version of the Passion story is found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 91. To order this book, click on this address. http://tinyurl.com/2lonod
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Rumors – Almost every year, as Lent leads us in to death and resurrection, I struggle to make sense of it. I want to understand. But understanding never comes. What comes is a memory. I was standing with my sister at the bedside of her son who was dying from cancer. Such a short time before, he had been playing basketball. A tall, cheerful, bright young man. And here, a skeleton covered with skin and sores, was dying. It made no sense. And I could feel only one emotion. Anger. Jay had sung for years in the boys’ choir at his church. And so, to his deathbed, we had called his priest. As the priest walked through the door of the hospital room, I thought, “Please don’t try to be helpful. Don’t try to make it right. Because, by God, it is wrong! Please don’t say anything helpful.” The man was my nephew’s priest, but also his friend. He was in mourning too. Perhaps also angry. And he did exactly what should be done at such times of anger and pain. He took his little book and in it found the words we needed. Not little saccharine pieties, but the huge soul-shaking lamentations of the Psalms. With passion and anger in his voice that reflected the passion and anger in our hearts, he cried to God those vast, eternal, unanswerable questions. He threw at God the anger of our souls. He brought to God the terror of our hearts. And the words he spoke brought peace. Not resolution. Not answers. But peace. A sense that we were part of a community that had known such pain before. We were not alone. We were not the first to shout our anger and despair to God. For that moment in our grief, that was enough. It took many quiet, sometimes tearful conversations, many prayers, many caring friends and time, to heal the wounds and make life possible again. The “why” was never answered. Nor could it be. But God came into my pain to offer hope and healing. It was enough.
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Soft Edges – by Jim TaylorCrisis of Imagination There’s been a spate of news items recently, speculating about security precautions for U.S. presidential hopeful Barrack Obama. The U.S. administration apparently provides more security for Obama than for any other candidate, including Hilary Clinton. It’s feared that Obama’s growing popularity could make him a target for assassination. Commentaries recall the shooting of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., forty years ago. Some go back further, to invoke the ghost of John F. Kennedy. But, you might notice, no one suggests that John McCain is in any danger of being assassinated. I’m amazed – and saddened – that no political analysts seem capable of connecting the dots of their own ruminations. Intelligence agencies, in both the U.S. and Canada, keep a close watch on labour leaders, academics, and politicians who question conventional wisdom. But it should be clear that the real risk is not from the radical left but from the rigid right. From Timothy McVeigh to the hijackers of 9/11, the people most likely to resort to violence come from the conservative side of the political spectrum. Many would qualify as religious fundamentalists. But that’s not a fair characterization. Because fundamentalism is not limited to religion. It also applies to politics, economics, and the right to carry guns. Isn’t it interesting that the people who most vigorously defend a constitutional right to bear arms are also the least likely to defend constitutional rights to free speech? Besides, not all fundamentalists are extremists. To be accurate, Christian fundamentalism is a commitment to five foundational principles – not one of which endorses violence. Both liberals and conservatives can be dangerous, but for very different reasons. Liberals are dangerous because they can imagine alternative scenarios. Conservatives are dangerous because they cannot. So when the only scenario they know, the only scenario they can imagine, comes under threat, they see everything they hold dear spiralling down into utter darkness, chaos, anarchy... So in desperation, some of them decide to eliminate the threat. It has always been so. Jesus was certainly not crucified because he was a right-wing bigot. He was a liberal who called for change. Who upset the establishment. Who challenged the status quo. He told his followers to “love your neighbour...” That requires enough imagination to see yourself in your neighbour’s situation. I’m not criticizing those who choose to be conservative, after learning about other cultures, other faiths, other ideologies. The risk comes from those who are incapable of visualizing anything other than what they have already known. When they encounter a different view, they either reject it, or denounce it. Any challenge makes them even more rigid in their views. And because in their minds there is only one possibility, anyone holding a different view must be wrong. There are no shades of grey – only black and white. Tragically, this mindset often shores up its prejudices with religious pretexts. If they were true to their founder, their faith should be constantly testing their mindset.
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April Fools’ Day Special – I know. This is only March 9th. But my research on Rumors readers tells me that you are all so well prepared, planning and thinking things through weeks, often months in advance. No Saturday-night scramblers in this crowd. That’s why I’m sending this item to you a couple of weeks early so you can work it into your March 30th Holy Humor Day liturgy. If you suffer from short-term memory problems (among my friends it’s an epidemic) and you’ve forgotten what Holy Humor Day is, click on this address: http://www.story-lectionary.com/ralph/Ralph-Holy-humour.html
Here’s the April Fools Day story, courtesy of Patrick Bresnahan. It’s one of those stories about something that probably didn’t actually happen, but it should have.
An atheist became incensed over the preparation of Easter and Passover holidays. He decided to contact his lawyer about the discrimination inflicted on atheists by the constant celebrations afforded to Christians and Jews with all their holidays while atheists had no holiday to celebrate. The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the long passionate presentation by the lawyer, the Judge banged his gavel and declared, 'Case dismissed!' The lawyer immediately stood and objected. “Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and many other observances. Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. Muslims, Buddhists, First Nations people all have special days. Yet my client and all other atheists have no such holiday!” “Your holiday comes every year on exactly the same date – April 1st! Since our calendar sets April 1st as 'April Fools Day,' consider that Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, in my opinion, if your client says there is no God, then by scripture, he is a fool, and April 1st is his holiday! Now have a good day and get out of my courtroom!!”
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Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Evelyn McLachlan saw this on a Burger King billboard in Florida. “Lent Special! Fish Combo $3.49"
Diane Mettam saw this in the newspaper. “A Lenten Soup Supper will be held in the church's Perish Hall.” Diane wonders “if there were many takers. Not a problem Diane. Parish the thought.
Mary Sue Evers writes: “In a small church in Oregon, the typist or maybe the copier left the final letter, a g, off the last hymn, leaving: "O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sin" Says Mary Sue: “Consider the possibilities!” True indeed. We probably do more sinning with our tongues than any other organ. And I do mean ANY other organ.
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 ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Wish I’d Said That! – I am old enough to know that a red carpet is just a rug. Al Gore Jr. via Velia Watts
Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change. Jim Wallis via Velia Watts
Heroes are people who can keep their mouths shut when they are right. Yiddish Proverb
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We Get Letters – George Brigham of Shipley, West Yorkshire, England, has a couple of useful definitions for us:Theologian: You are encouraged to tauten your facial muscles on account of the high probability that the Ground of your Being is well-disposed towards you.Evangelist: Smile – God loves you. Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta, sent along this anecdote attributed to Mark Twain. I heard a preacher who was powerful good. I decided to give him every cent I had with me. But he kept at it too long. Ten minutes later I decided to keep the bills and give him my loose change. Another ten minutes and I was darned if I’d give him anything at all. When he finally stopped and the offering plate came around, I was so exhausted, I stole two dollars from the plate in sheer spite."
Evelyn McLachlan offers this Holy Humor Sunday meditation. Christians should outlive, out-love, and out-laugh anyone in the community. We may disagree, but let's not be disagreeable. The test of good manners is being able to be pleasant while you put up with bad manners. Tact is thinking twice before saying nothing.
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Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “The nerve!”) This is from Margaret Wood. It’s been around for a long time, but it’s a good one to reflect on once in awhile. One of the toughest tasks a church faces is choosing a good minister. A member of an official board undergoing this painful process finally lost patience. He'd watched the pastoral relations committee reject applicant after applicant for some fault, alleged or otherwise. It was time for a bit of soul-searching on the part of the committee. So he stood up and read a letter purporting to be from another applicant. “Gentlemen: Understanding your pulpit is vacant, I should like to apply for the position. I have many qualifications. I've been a preacher with much success and also have had some success as a writer. Some say I'm a good organizer. I've been a leader most places I've been. “I'm over 50 years of age. I have never preached in one place for more than three years. In some places, I have left town after my work caused riots and disturbances. I must admit I have been in jail three or four times, but not because of any real wrongdoing. “My health is not too good, though I still get a great deal done. The churches I have preached in have been small, though located in several large cities. I've not gotten along well with religious leaders in towns where I have preached. In fact, some have threatened me and even attacked me physically. I am not too good at keeping records. I have been known to forget whom I baptized.” "However, if you can use me, I shall do my best for you." The board member looked over at the committee. "Well, what do you think? Shall we call him?" The good church folk were aghast. “Call an unhealthy, trouble-making, absentminded, elderly ex-jailbird?” “Are you crazy? Who signed the application? Who has such colossal nerve?” The board member eyed them all keenly. "It's signed, 'the Apostle Paul.'"
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Bottom of the Barrel – James Beinke writes: “I forwarded the “Bottom of the Barrel” (“they’ll know we are Christians by the cars we can afford”) to my daughter, Charlotte Ricker of New Berlin, Wisconsin. Here is her response. She has a Red VW Beetle.The tune is “They will know we are Christians ...”
There’s a fish on my VW, there's a fish on my red bug, There’s a fish on my "punch-buggy", on the back of my "slug bug",With my fish I'm accountable for words from my big mug, And I'll drive with a smile and not like a mean thug.Yes, they’ll know I'm a Christian by the smile on my mug, Yes, they’ll know I'm a Christian by my mug.
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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* Don't put anything else in that e-mailTo Unsubscribe:* Send an e-mail to: rumors-unsubscribe@joinhands.com* 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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