Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Preaching Materials for April 13, 2008

R U M O R S # 496
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

April 6, 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 – totally insane in the best sense of the word
Revised Common Lectionary – the voice of my shepherd
Rumors – thinking habits
Soft Edges – what makes music religious?
Bloopers – too funny not to pass on
We Get Letters – proof that God is male
Mirabile Dictu! – we planted him raw
Bottom of the Barrel – John the Baptist’s skull
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 Bob Scott of Port Rowan, Ontario.
Leroy goes to the revival and listens to the preacher. After awhile, the preacher asks anyone with needs to be prayed over to come forward. Leroy goes up and the preacher asks, "Leroy, what do you want me to pray about for you?"
"Preacher,” says Leroy, “I need you to pray for my hearing."
The preacher puts one finger in Leroy's ear and he places the other hand on top of Leroy's head and prays and prays and prays. After a few minutes, the preacher removes his hands and stands back.
"Leroy, how is your hearing now?"
"I don't know, Reverend,” says Leroy. “My hearing’s not until next Wednesday."

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 13th, which is the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Story Lectionary – Jeremiah 31:31-34
Jim Taylor once described a mutual friend as “totally insane, in the best sense of the word.” I think that would apply to Jeremiah. Like most prophets, Jeremiah was on that fuzzy line between insanity and genius.
Many of our great artists are there. They have a vision and a passion that is hard for us “ordinary” people to understand. They find small talk difficult and frustrating and casual relationships almost impossible. Which may be why so many of them resort to substance abuse.
Jeremiah would be the terror of coffee time at our church. “How can you do this?” he would bellow. “You sing those songs and you pray those prayers and you listen to that sermon,” but then you come out here and you talk about everything else except the mind-bending, life-changing stuff you’ve just been hearing about. Didn’t any of it filter down below your earlobes? Didn’t any of it tie your stomach in a knot?”
But we are good and kind people, and we would put a hand gently on Jeremiah’s shoulder and tell him, “Hey, it’s going to be OK, fella. Can I get you a sandwich? A cup of coffee?”
“The time is coming,” Jeremiah would shout. “The time is coming when God will write the Holy Word on your hearts. On your hearts! You won’t be able to ignore it any more. You ill either accept God’s love, or reject it. But you’ll never again be able to pretend that nothing has happened.”
Check out the resources for this Sunday at:
Lots of folks are checking into the Story Lectionary website. If you haven’t done so, give it a look. If you have, then please also tell your colleagues in ministry about it.


Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 2:42-47 – That first verse gives us a handy five-point program. Teaching, Community, Sacraments, Prayer, Sharing wealth unstintingly.
We do the first four. Maybe not as well as we should, but we do them.
But in that first Christian community, they “held all things in common,” which most of us think is a nice idea but it simply doesn’t work. It’s been tried in a few places, mostly without success. But there are communal societies, such as in the Hutterite communities.
Our money, the stuff we own, are far more important to us than we are prepared to admit. In my circle of friends, we discuss all kinds of things, some of it very personal, but we never, ever ask, “How much do you make?” Or, “How much do you give away?” Clergy are not supposed to know how much we cough up each Sunday. But we put stuff in the offering plates and parade it up front and pray over it, admitting, by our actions, that our money is the measure of who we are.
One of the things I enjoy about retirement is that the things I do are no longer connected to my income. What if that were true for everyone? What kind of a society would we have if Bill Gates had the same income as my daughter who waits on tables in Vancouver?

Psalm 23 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
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 the way 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

1 Peter 2:19-25 – The lectionary conveniently ignores verse 18, which tells slaves to accept their lot, be good boys and girls, and do what they are told. Actually, the whole passage is directed at slaves who are told to endure pain and suffering. And since there are no slaves (at least in that classical sense) in our churches, why are we reading this?
The reality is that slavery in the Bible is a given. It simply was a fact of life, and it didn’t occur to the folks that there was something inherently evil in the system. That didn’t really penetrate our consciousness until the 17th century. The Danes were the first country to outlaw slavery in 1792. It was in the churches that the first questions about slavery began to surface.
But of course, there’s more than one kind of slavery. Some of those are still with us.

John 10:1-10 – This passage, along with next weeks (John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father except by me.) have been used to justify the insistence that only the Christian faith can bring us to God. And most often, it’s only a particular interpretation of that faith that makes the connection for us.
I really rebel at that idea, but I also have to admit that probably, the writers of those texts meant exactly that. There’s only one way, and that’s via Jesus. Period.
It simply means, that as in the Peter passage above, there are some assumptions in the Bible that we simply have to set gently aside. Twisting and poking to find another, more acceptable reading may be satisfying, but I would rather simply admit that there are some things said in the Bible that I can’t accept.
However, there is an insight in this passage that I think has a positive message. It’s the idea that the sheep recognize and respond to the shepherd’s voice. Like a newborn baby will respond to its mother’s voice.
My parents were not church-going people, but I was still raised in the Christian tradition. I grew up in a culture that has that tradition woven into it.
I was not raised in a Muslim or Sikh or Buddhist or First Nations tradition. It is not that they are inferior. They are not mine. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the path that leads me to God.
When I hear the stories, songs, poems of the Bible, I hear the voice of my shepherd. And I respond.

A children’s version of the 23rd Psalm and a story based on the Acts and John passages, is in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” pages 105 & 106
To order that 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 – Many of my friends, when they go to the UK, will rent a car. I don’t, because I don’t feel safe driving on the left hand side of the road.
No, I don’t for a moment claim that driving on the right hand side is better or safer. It’s about reflexes.
Everything would be fine most of the time. I can easily see the intersection ahead and decide where I need to go. When there’s time to think, there’s no problem. But if suddenly a loaded lorry came lumbering down the center of the road, my reflex action would be to swerve to the right. And the result would be a most unceremonious meeting.
A recall an analogy from somewhere. A way of understanding our habits.
Imagine a large hill. When it rains, the water runs down the little rivulets and gullies. With each rain, the water erodes them just a little more. But sometimes one of those rivulets is blocked, and the water has to go somewhere else. The water will erode a new path, making it deeper with each rain. Or someone might build a few dams to force the water down a new path. But the water will always follow the most direct path with the least resistance.
Our thoughts slide down through familiar gullies, so that our conclusions are increasingly predictable, even though we don’t realize it. Even though we think we’re being carefully rational. A major crisis – a death, a birth – can result in a major change of thinking. So can slow, careful, self-education.
Unfortunately, it’s also possible that what we say we believe – even what we think we believe – is not consistent with the way we live. That happens far, far more than most of us are aware.
When Jeremiah talks about the Word of God being written on our hearts, he’s talking about starting right at the top of that hill and redirecting those streams so that where they go and what they do is consistent with our understanding of the Christian gospel.
And that is no small project.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
What Makes Music Religious?
A friend handed me a CD – 20 songs by top Christian artists. I was quite eager to hear what kind of music appealed to people these days.
And I have to say, I was disappointed. It sounded like turning on almost any top-40 pop-rock radio station. The music consisted mostly of three chords, and not many more notes, endlessly recycled at high volume.
The words weren’t much better. None of the songs actually mentioned God or Jesus. Most addressed themselves to a generic “you” – who could, just as easily, be tonight’s lover in a secular song.
It raises a question for me. What makes music religious?
Another friend attended two worship services while vacationing in Hawaii. One was like the Christian CD – amplified instruments and vocals, pounding rhythms... The other was a small local congregation, where a line of teenagers interpreted the hymns in gentle hula dance.
Which one was more religious?
Martin Luther salvaged bar tunes and put Christian words to them. Is that enough to transform the melodies into religious music?
Why is almost anything written by Bach considered suitable for playing in church, but hardly anything by Ravel or Tchaikovsky? Granted, Bach wrote many of his pieces specifically for church use – and gave them religious titles – but why is “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” religious, and “Air on the G-String” is not?
If Metallica named one of their imitations of a demolition derby after Jesus, would that make it religious?
Probably not. Both “Ave Maria” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” are about someone named Mary, but they’re hardly comparable.
I’ve been to jazz-based worship services. The connection is usually through the words, not the music. The preacher or speaker refers to rain bringing new life to the desert; the players swing into “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.” Or perhaps “Singin’ in the Rain.” If you didn’t know the song’s title, or some of the words, you’d see no connection.
If you excised all the words, religious or secular, would the music itself move you to worship God? To praise the creator? To feel compassion for the oppressed, the impoverished, the marginalized?
Some pieces do that for me, just by their melodies and harmonies. Faure’s “Requiem.” Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.” Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thais.
Even without words, “The Rose” makes me yearn for, well, for something worth yearning for.
But without words, “Onward Christian Soldiers” would sound like any other militaristic march.
The songs on the CD, I would guess, got onto the Christian hit parade because the performers/composers had declared themselves to be Christians. Does the artist’s religious affiliation become the criterion?
If so, is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” a Jewish song?
Truly great music transcends its origins. Chopin’s Etudes are more than Polish, Sibelius is more than Finnish.
I remain baffled. If it’s not the composer, the performer, the title, the words, then what does cause some music to transcend time and culture to touch our imaginations and draw our attention to ultimate realities?


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Bob Livingston of Belchertown, Massechusetts writes: “We have a call to worship just before the processional hymn. On Easter morning, about mid-way through, came the line for the congregation, ‘For God brings rainbows after storms, butterflies after cocoons.’ The choir member behind me misread the line and said rather loudly, ‘For God brings rainbows after storms, butterflies after cocoanuts.’

Stephani Keer wonders if this is appropriate for Rumors. It probably isn’t, but as Stephani says, “It’s far too funny not to pass on,” She saw it on Jay Leno. “He held up a bulletin from the Crystal Cathedral, which carried the title of Robert Schuller Jr.'s sermon. "Discovering God's Willy."

Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado heard a story about a grandson who told grandmother what they had done in vacation church school. It seems the children spent all morning talking about guppies. “You know, about guppies and love.”
Confused, grandma asked for clarification. With great impatience, the grandson said, “You know, the love of God.”
To which his “dumb” Grandma responded, “Oh! You mean agape!”

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! – Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'mnot so sure about the universe. Attributed to Albert Einstein (which I don’t believe) via Jim Taylor

For those who have tasted God, the thirst for justice burns the heart and will not be dampened, whatever the wait, however high the cost.
source unknown

The message of the Bible is . . .that into the confusion of our world, with its divisions and hatred, has come a message of transforming power, and those who believe it will experience within themselves the power that makes for reconciliation and peace on earth. Thomas Merton


We Get Letters – Stephani Keer writes: “You have discovered the final, incontrovertible proof for those who worry themselves sick fretting about the gender of God (which sentence would throw my fundamentalists friends into a frenzy). Definitely male. A female would have put restrictions on gravity!”

I’m herniating over those &%$#@ homonyms again. Lyle Phillips of Langley, BC saw my item about the clown communion and the ailing priest. He asks: “Did the priest actually come down with the flue or was he trying to be Santa Claus and come down inside the flue? Either way, it could be quite painful I would think.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “we planted him raw!”) These come around every year or two, usually with one or two differences. So here’s the latest update, courtesy of Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta.

Old Tombstones
* Harry Edsel Smith Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down.
It was.
* Here lies an Atheist, all dressed up and no place to go.
* Here lies Ezekial Aikle, Age 102.
Only The Good Die Young.
* The children of Israel wanted bread,
And the Lord sent them manna.
Clark Wallace wanted a wife,
And the Devil sent him Anna.
* Here lies Johnny Yeast.
Pardon me for not rising.
* Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake.Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.
* Here lays The Kid.We planted him raw.He was quick on the triggerBut slow on the draw.
* Sir John Strange.Here lies an honest lawyer,and that is Strange.
* Here lies Robert J. Penny.
Reader, if cash thou art in want of any,Dig six feet deep and thou wilt find a Penny.
* On the 22nd of June,
Jonathan Fiddle went out of tune.
* Here lies the body of our Anna,Done to death by a banana.It wasn't the fruit that laid her low,But the skin of the thing that made her go.
* Under the sod and under the trees,Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.He is not here, there's only the pod.Pease shelled out and went to God.
* Remember man, as you walk by,As you are now, so once was IAs I am now, so shall you be.Remember this and follow me. To which someone replied by writing on the tombstone:To follow you I'll not consent .Until I know which way you went.

Bottom of the Barrel – Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose) is writing about the religious relics so prized in medieval times. “The Treasury of Cologne Cathedral seemingly held the skull of John the Baptist at twelve years of age.”
Eco is quoted by Christopher Frayling (Strange Landscape) who says, “The story about John the Baptist’s skull was already something of a joke in the Middle Ages. According to various original accounts, a pilgrim visiting the shrines of France was shown the skull of John the Baptist two days running at two different places. The pilgrim asked how there could possibly be two skulls belonging to John.
“Ah,” said the quick-thinking keeper of the second shrine, “the skull you saw yesterday was obviously the skull of John as a young man.”

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