Thursday, April 10, 2008

Preaching Materials for April 20, 2008

R U M O R S # 497
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

April 13, 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 e-mails and phone calls have been coming in. People are “delighted,” “surprised,” “invigorated,” “motivated,” “deeply moved,” by what they find there.
Said Charles Asherban of Hackensack, New Jersey, “since we’ve been using the ‘readers’ theatre’ scripture from the Story Lectionary, people are actually leaning forward in their pews to hear the Bible read. And they’re talking about it afterwards. Not about the method, but about the scripture story itself.”
Check it out at:


The Story Lectionary – the two week together
Revised Common Lectionary – a parallel to the crucifixion
Rumors – school in the back seat of a Chrysler
Soft Edges – let bygones by bygones
Bloopers – breakfast fiends
We Get Letters – grave marker memories
Mirabile Dictu! – living down to their standards
Bottom of the Barrel – morbus sabbaticus
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The visiting minister was trying to have a conversation with a child, while its mother was in the kitchen preparing the tea and cookies that would add more pounds to the minister’s already portly posterior.
“What does your mother do for you when you’ve been a good girl?” the minister asked.
“I get to stay home from church,” said the child.


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 20th, which is the 5th Sunday in the Easter Season.

Story Lectionary – Micah 6:1-8
Jesus complains that the people of Israel “stoned the prophets,” but it really isn’t surprising. Micah had the temerity to tell the movers and shakers, “You’re doing it all wrong!”
Nobody likes to hear that. The prophets of Israel didn’t have political handlers who helped them appeal to the widest group of people possible.
Micah’s writing sounds a bit like a court record. And that got me imagining a court room scene with a judge interrogating the accused. (Yes, judges do that in some judicial systems.) The accusation is greed, selfishness, ambition, etc. Says the judge: “You try to make it right with high-profile donations to charity, and prominent church work.” Bit by bit the judge wears down the defenses. The accused breaks down in tears.
And so does the judge. The judge leaves the bench, comes down and embraces the accused.
The two weep together, and then the judge whispers with an almost heart-breaking intensity. “All I need from you, my child, is that you do justice, and you love kindness, and walk humbly with me as we live out our love in this world.”
The judge, it turns out, is parent to the accused.

You can find more helpful materials at the story-lectionary website. Go to:


Revised Common Lectionary – Acts 7:55-60
This story really begins at the beginning of Chapter 7. It gets clipped right out of its context with the word “But” if you start at verse 55. At the very least, begin at verse 54, though that phrase about grinding teeth might send the cold clipopeters* running up and down your back.
Nor, for that matter does the story end with verse sixty. It clearly includes the first verse of Chapter 8.
It’s interesting how the story of Stephen’s stoning parallels the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and how it makes Saul (aka Paul) a party to the crime. It could be that Stephen was so filled with the Spirit that he remembered Jesus’ crucifixion and used the words of Jesus in his own death.
None of us can really imagine our own death, especially not if we face the kind of death Stephen met.
I remember, years ago, being urged by a biblical scholar to memorize the psalms. “You need those psalms,” he said. “You need to know them ‘by heart’ so that in the deep dark and painful moments of your life, you can use those words. You can use the words of the psalm when you have no words of your own.”
Perhaps that’s what Stephen did. Perhaps that’s what Jesus did.

* Don’t try to find that word in a dictionary. I just made it up.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Preparing a place
1 The winds of fate buffet me, Lord.
I cling to you.
2 Gales of temptation try to tear me from my security.
I'm being blown away, Lord. I need shelter.
3 Give me something to hold onto;
don't let all the effort you put into me go to waste.
4 I went way out on a limb for you, Lord;
don't let your foes cut me off.
5 I can't hang on any longer;
I cast my fate to the winds. Don't abandon me now!
15 My life is in your hands.
I've lost control. Only you can save me.
16 Bring back the sunshine and the gentle breezes, Lord.
If you love me, save me!
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Peter 2:2-10 – “Like newborn infants long for the pure, spiritual milk.”
That passage sends me to my friend Julian of Norwich who wrote, “A mother will hold her child to her breast and feed the child with her milk. But our wonderful mother Jesus feeds us with himself, by giving us the food of life through the sacrament of communion.” (from “The Essence of Julian,” Northstone, 2002.)
That’s not 21st century revisionist theology. Julian wrote that 600 years ago. The metaphor of spiritual food, especially a basic, children’s food like milk, is powerful for me.
And that passage is full of images. Living stones, the stone rejected, royal priesthood, God’s people, etc. The writer of 1 Peter knew that the only way we fundamentally understand the gospel is through metaphors, through poems and stories.

John 14:1-14 – This is one of the most familiar, most inspiring, most troubling passages in scripture. We hear it read at funerals, especially the first four verses.
Henri Nouwen cited these verses as his spiritual manifesto. Jesus expected his disciples to do everything he had done because they are one with him and with God.
We’ve also heard these verses used to justify a narrow-minded exclusiveness that is hard to reconcile with the gospel of love that Jesus taught and lived. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” has been used as a bludgeon to beat people into thinking exactly the way the user does, and using exactly the same words and ideas.
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” seems to be the centre of this passage. Or at least, that’s what speaks to me most fully. Knowing Jesus is as close as the human mind can get to knowing what God is like.
But the problem (or perhaps the delight and possibility) with all that, is that there are almost as many ways in which people understand Jesus as there are people who have bothered to find out who he was and what he said and what he did.
But if I listen very carefully to what you see in the man Jesus, and you listen very carefully to what I see, perhaps we will both be closer to understanding the heart of God.

There’s a children’s story based on 1 Peter 2:2-10, and one based on the John passage, in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” pages 108 and 110.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – I went to school in the back seat of a Chrysler sedan for five years. I was working in New York at the Interchurch Centre – a place known affectionately as “the God Box,” or “Heaven on the Hudson.” I was a church bureaucrat.
Working in New York, living in New Jersey, I was part of a car pool going back and forth across the George Washington Bridge each day. Route 4 was a slow-moving parking lot sometimes, so we had lots of time to talk.
Bev and I and the four kids lived in an African American neighborhood. I was the only “honky” in the car. The others were, to a person, involved in the black liberation movement which was at its height, with Martin Luther King preaching the gospel of liberation, loudly and clearly.
That was in the 60s. Like most Caucasian Canadians, I lived with the pleasant fiction that Canada did not have a race problem. Often I would think it, and occasionally I would say it. “Look! I am Canadian. What’s happening here is not my fault. Why are you dumping on me?”
The way the car pool pickup schedule worked, I usually found myself in the middle of the back seat between two highly articulate, feminist, African American woman. Let’s just say that there were a number of consciousness raising events in the course of those trips back and forth across the Hudson.
Back in Canada, I was involved in the men’s movement a fair bit. One of the discussions that happened over and over in the various groups was men saying, “Look! I treat women as equals. Why are they mad at me?”
Sometimes we gave ourselves away with phrases like, “I’ve always given the little woman everything she asked for.”
One of the hardest things for the men to realize was that all of us had an investment in the hierarchical assumptions and the structures that gave rise to incidents like the Mark Lepine massacre. Our culture provides the seeds and the soil where such monsters, and many lesser monsters, can grow.
I can understand Paul standing there looking after people’s coats, saying to himself, “Well, I’m not throwing stones. It’s none of my business.”
But everything is connected. “I am a part of all that I have met,” said Tennyson in “Ulysses,” and we can never really distance ourselves from anything, good or bad, that happens in the world. Paul, Stephen, and even all the disciples were in some ways also responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.
As was the council. As was Pilate. As are you and I.
So what do we do with that besides grovel in guilt?
Three things. We pray for forgiveness. And then we believe that we actually are forgiven – not only forgiven but loved.
Perhaps most importantly, we develop a sense of humor about it. A sense of humor is a manifestation of a healthy, life-giving humility.
And then, with a little help from our friends (i.e. church) we might actually be able to live so that we are a bit more responsible for the solutions, than we are for the problem.
As Micah told us. It’s not rocket science. We lean our lives into God by the love of justice, kindness, and a life-affirming humility.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Let Bygones Be Bygones
A variety of elected politicians found themselves in hot water last week, as a result of comments they made 16 years ago.
On a private videotape uncovered by the Saskatchewan NDP, provincial premier Brad Wall and federal MP Tom Likiwski made prejudiced comments about Ukrainians and homosexuals. Both have apologized profusely.
I don’t want to defend their comments. But I do want to object to applying current standards to past events.
I grew my beard in the early 1970s as a protest against affirmative action programs that seemed to me to favour women unfairly. I’ve since changed my mind (although I still have the beard!).
I fought against inclusive language around 1980. I lamented the loss of terms like “craftsmanship” and “man-hours.” I have since become a total convert to gender-neutral language.
If a literary archaeologist found some of my writings from those old days, I would be embarrassed. But it would be wrong to assume that I still held those views.
There is, of course, always a risk that one’s prejudices have simply gone underground – that this person still hates gays, or women, or Jews, or, well, we don’t use words like niggers and gooks any more, do we? So there’s no way of knowing whether someone still thinks of black or brown neighbours in those terms.
But it seems to me that we need some kind of Behavioural Statute of Limitations. We need to acknowledge – indeed, to celebrate – that people can change. A Nazi prison guard may genuinely have a change of heart. A crook can go straight. The proof lies in present actions, not past mistakes.
This is, after all, the foundation of evangelism. A sinner can be saved. An adherent of one faith can convert to another faith. The notion presumes not just a new label, but a change of lifestyle, of values, of attitudes.
If we want to apply present-day morality to past actions, we would need to admit that the biblical King David was somewhat less than an ideal role model. He raped Bathsheba. He conspired to murder her husband. He was a terrorist who deliberately targeted women and children in wars against neighbouring tribes. He mutilated his victims.
Nevertheless, by the standards of his time, David re-wrote the rule book for rulers. He spared the lives of enemies; he respected his opponents; he upheld justice.
Applying present standards to past events also ignores the context in which those events occurred. When doctors or undertakers get together, they may release tensions with what’s called “black humour” – jokes at the expense of their customers. In no way does that negate their professional competence.
In private, I may satirize my own views. Ottawa politicians regularly skewered their own foibles at the annual Press Gallery Dinner – until someone violated the unwritten code of confidentiality.
When we judge, we need to judge in the context of the time and the setting. We need to consider how people may have changed.
Otherwise, every one of us will be irredeemably guilty.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Bruce Frame saw this announcement about a Fellowship Breakfast. “Join fiends from around the Cluster for a hearty breakfast . . .”
Bruce, maybe that wasn’t a typo. Have you ever been to one of those breakfasts?

From the file:
* The lovers in the exhaust fan are not working.
* Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles, and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
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! – Imagine how happy life would be if we could just allow ourselves the moment we’re in – to learn from it – to taste and savor and lick its depths.
source unknown
A wise person hears one word and understands two. Yiddish Proverb
God is present in the force that makes us restless.
Paul Tillich


We Get Letters – The item about interesting grave markers triggered memories for a number of folks. Mary Lautensleger of Albemarle, North Carolina sends a note labeled:
“Tomb It May Concern.” Ouch!
These are a few of the inscriptions she uncovered while researching a sermon for “Decoration Day.”
He got a fish bone in his throat,
And then he sang an angel note.

She was not smart, she was not fair,
But hearts with grief for her are swellin,’
As empty stands her little chair,
She died of eating “watermelon.”

Here lies, cut down like unripe fruit,
The wife of Deacon Amos Shute.
She died of drinking too much coffee,
“Anno Dominy” Eighteen-forty.

The grave markers got Stephani Keer thinking of “My mother's favourite gravestone from her youth in England.”
The bugles, they bugle;
The trumpets, they trum.
The Pearly Gates open
And in walks Mum.

Mary Almey of Milton (is that the one in Ontario?) responded to this epitaph.
Here lies Ezekial Aikle, Age 102.
Only the good die young.
“Where's the problem with this?” Mary wants to know. “Compared to Methuselah, Ezekial Aikle was a youngster!”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Living down to their standards!”)
Why I Don’t Go To the Movies
1) The manager of the theatre never called on me.
2) I went a few times, but nobody spoke to me. They’re not friendly at the movies.
3) Every time I go to the movies, they ask for money.
4) Not all the people at the movies live down to the ethical standards in the movies.
5) I went so much as a kid – I don’t need the entertainment anymore.
6) The movies last too long. I can’t sit still for two hours!
7) I don’t care for some of the people I see at the theatre.
8) I don’t always agree with the things I see and hear at the movies.
9) The music isn’t all that good in the movies.
10) The shows are held in the evening, the only time I can be with my family.


Bottom of the Barrel – Morbus Sabbaticus: A disease that affects people on Sunday morning. The symptoms are a distinct lack of energy and motivation, which tend to last until it’s too late to get to church.
While the physical morbidity dissipates within an hour or two, the spiritual morbidity tends to increase exponentially with each Sunday morning occurrence.

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