Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Preaching Materials for April 27, 2008

R U M O R S # 498
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

April 20, 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 – how can I forget you?
Revised Common Lectionary – even Paul sometimes bombed
Rumors – mother’s strong arms
Soft Edges – ruthless pruning required
Bloopers – a new mating
We Get Letters – the pearly gates
Mirabile Dictu! – heart attack
Bottom of the Barrel – you gave birth to it
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The Rev. Fox was driving down the highway at a considerable clip. In fact, he was doing about double the speed limit.
Soon he heard the wail of a police siren, and pulled over to the curb. The officer demanded to see his license, and began to write out the ticket. “I guess you don’t know me,” said the priest. “I’m Father Fox.”
“I don’t care if you’re Mother Goose,” said the officer. “You still get a ticket.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 27th, which is the 6th Sunday of Easter.

Story Lectionary – "How Can I Forget You?" Hosea 11:1-9
Those of you who are, or who have been the parents of teenagers will know this story.
It is late at night. It is long past the time when your teenager had promised to be home. You are lying in bed, staring at the dark ceiling, worrying, wondering, fearing, imagining. You look at the clock every minute or two.
Then you hear the key in the lock. You are out of bed like a shot. You confront the teenager. “Do you know what time it is? Where have you been? Etc., etc.”
The thing is, all your worrying – all the terrible scenarios you imagined – your flare up of anger when the teenager appeared inside the door – all of these are an expression of your love. We could talk about how useful those responses are, but there is no doubt about where they came from.
This passage from Hosea sounds a lot like me confronting my own children – children who are now all middle-aged. For that matter, the words in Hosea sound a lot like my father confronting me when I was that age.
Relationships are hardest with those we love the most. There are few things that need more careful, intentional, sensitive responses, than the love relationships we have within a family – of whatever size, age or shape.
Hosea’s story gives us a glimpse into the heart of God who yearns for our loving response with a depth and passion we find hard to imagine. And when we mess up – and we always do manage to mess up in one way or another – a weeping, loving God is there to embrace us when we open the door to our home.
On the Story Lectionary website ( you can find preaching suggestions from Jim Taylor plus a sung response from Linnea Good.
There’s a children’s version of the Hosea story. It’s called, “When God’s Children Ran Away.” It’s in “The Family Story Bible,” page 138. If you don’t already have it, you can order your copy from the Wood Lake Publications web site which is:


Revised Common Lectionary – Acts 17:22-31 – I don’t know about you, but I find it just a tiny bit gratifying that even the great Paul of Tarsus preached some sermons that bombed.
Well, not totally. There were two converts – Dionysius and Demaris. But you never hear from them again and there is no record of a church being founded in Athens.
Maybe that’s because Paul doesn’t follow his own convictions. Maybe he’s a bit spooked by all those Greek intellectuals, so he doesn’t preach only “Christ crucified” as he proclaimed in 2 Corinthians 2:2.
In other words, Paul doesn’t tell the story. He tried to use Greek logic. He tried to reason them into the faith. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Analysis and logic are important and necessary for Christian growth, but don’t work that well as evangelism. And in the congregation where I worship, most of us still need evangelizing. Most of us have not really made a deep, life-changing commitment.
The gospel never was a matter of reasoned argument. It is the passion, the commitment, the desire that is carried in a story (the more personal the better) that does the work of the Spirit.

Psalm 66:8-20 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Companion on the Way
8 We owe our survival to God.
We had run out of our own resources.
9 God kept us alive and struggling;
God shielded us when no one else cared.
10 We have been rejected and despised,
persecuted and punished.
But we have come out of our ordeal stronger.
11 Once, we were simply a flood of frightened individuals.
We had nothing in common but fear.
Now we have become a people with a purpose;
our trials have unified us.
12 We were the eternal victims;
we were captives and oppressed.
Yet God brought us through to this new world.
13 We will repay God for keeping watch over us.
From now on, the best of everything we have belongs to God.
14 We made that promise when we were desperate;
we will keep our promise when we are well off.
15 For without God, we would have nothing.
16 We will tell our children,
and they will tell their children,
what God has done for us.
17 We were lost and lonely,
a wandering people, unsure of our future.
And God responded to our plight.
18 God was not like diplomats and immigration officials;
God did not judge us by our appearance.
20 Even during the toughest of our trials,
we never ever felt that God had abandoned us.
Thanks be to God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Peter 3:13-22 – We probably have to say it over and over again. God doesn’t send suffering because of our sins. Nor is good health a reward for faithfulness.
Which is not to say that our sins don’t cause suffering. A medical friend once told me that 60% of all deaths are self-inflicted. Not in the usual sense of a suicide but because of our life-style choices – smoking, obesity, over-work, careless driving, negative attitudes, etc., etc.
So the writer of Peter is not preaching one of those silly (and sometimes very destructive) homilies that say, “Believe in Jesus, and you will be healthy, wealthy and wise.” The Christian faith is not a magic charm you wear around your neck. Nor do you earn religious merit points for doing good things or being on a bunch of committees.
Nevertheless, it is true that active church people tend to be healthier. That’s because we have a better way of dealing with the arrows life throws at us and we have a community that helps us in our life-style choices. More than that, we have a sense of the Spirit of God in our hearts and that offers a sense of strength and power.
This is no Pollyanna religiosity that expects everything to go well. But if you have done wrong and you suffer from some affliction, you have two burdens to bear. Your guilt and your affliction.
If you have tried to live the Gospel, then your conscience is clear and you can focus your energies on dealing with your malady.

John 14:15-21 – We’ve usually read this as a reference to Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit into the community of the church.
Perhaps we need to work on our language a little. If we say the Spirit came at that first Pentecost, do we imply that the Spirit was not there before that?
Of course not.
When we invoke the Spirit during the course of worship, do we mean that the Spirit was absent before that?
Years ago, in the Philippines, there was a big, evangelical crusade called, “Bringing Christ to the Philippines.” But of course we all knew that Christ had always been there.
Perhaps what we are really asking is that God fine-tune our awareness of the Spirit. God’s Spirit is a little like the cell phone network. The signal is always there, but unless we charge the battery and turn the thing on, we receive nothing.

There’s a children’s version of the Acts reading titled, “The God With No Name,” in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 112. Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – This is a piece I wrote when my mother died a number of years ago. I’m offering it here, because my mother – unconsciously but very powerfully – taught me about the presence of God. And about prayer.

Mother's Strong Arms
Mother had aged ten years in 12 months. It's not that there was anything wrong, it's just that everything was wrong.
The fingers that could crochet a pair of slippers in half an hour simply wouldn't move anymore.
The heart that had laughed and cried with all the many people she loved, had developed a malfunction. That never stopped her heart from loving, but last Saturday it stopped her heart from beating.
Mother knew death was near. But she wasn't afraid of death. It was the dying that was so painful, so frightening.
Mother and I had a long talk in the hospital a few months ago. She held my hand very tightly and asked, "You won't abandon me just because I 'm so useless?"
"Of course not, Mom. How could I abandon you?"
"But I'm so useless. I can't do anything anymore. I'm not good for anything."
"Mom, I love you. Of course I won't abandon you. Neither will the rest of your family."
"But what good am I? I can't do anything except just sit here and stare at the walls." At first I thought Mother's fear was of being abandoned by her children. But that wasn't it. She knew us better than that.
Her pain was far deeper. It was the pain our whole society inflicts on us – that teaches us we are valued for what we can produce, by how well we can perform, by what we can achieve. It was a pain we all share.
Of course, deep down Mother knew the greater truth. Earlier we had been talking about the latest great-grandchild. He had been born on Valentine's Day, and we laughed over a photograph showing a heart-shaped birthmark on his bottom.
"I guess babies can't do anything either," she said.
I knew what she meant. Babies are useless, but they are precious. Old people are useless, but they are precious.
In fact all of us, when you come right down to it, are pretty useless. But we are precious. Precious I hope, to other people. Precious at least to God, who sees the sparrow fall and numbers the hairs on our head.
"Mom," I said. "Do you remember how often you told me about the time when I was just a kid, and I'd be playing out in the back yard, and every once in a while I would run into the house and I would leap up into your arms and get a quick hug, and then run right back out again?"
She held my hand a little tighter. She remembered.
"Mom, you had strong arms, and even though I'd take a flying leap at you, you'd always catch me and give me a hug."
She smiled. "I couldn't catch you in my arms anymore, Ralph."
"l know Mom. But I still come running in for a hug. Only now, you catch me with your heart."


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Ruthless Pruning Required
Along the lakeshore, the first leaves burst out of their buds last weekend. I headed home at once to prune my hedge. Because I knew that hedge would soon also burst into leaf and mask the tangled branches of my shrubs.
We planted a mixed hedge, you see. It alternates a bush that has golden-green leaves with a bush that has deep maroon leaves. Don’t ask me their names – I don’t know.
But I do know that these two bushes have totally different personalities.
The golden-green one is aggressive. Wherever its bottom branches touch the soil, they promptly root themselves. Its roots burrow like a mole just below the surface, to pop up with new shoots in the middle of the maroon bush. Its higher branches reach out like a groper at a dance – nothing is safe.
Especially not the maroon bush. By comparison, it’s a shrinking violet. When its golden-green neighbour invades its territory, it shrinks back, like a pin-striped banker recoiling from a particularly smelly drunk.
I do not prune scientifically. I simply act as traffic cop, as referee in an unequal contest.
When I first started pruning, I tried to be gentle. I kept thinking that perhaps plants had feelings. They might not appreciate having their limbs amputated. So I did as little trimming and snipping as I could.
I assumed that with a little positive encouragement, the errant plant would see the error of its ways, and would choose to behave in future.
It didn’t work. The aggressive bush took advantage of my weakness to crowd its more retiring neighbour almost into extinction.
I’ve had to become ruthless. Now, when I see a branch heading for forbidden territory, I don’t just stop it at the boundary – I trace it back to its origins. I saw straying branches off at the trunk. I yank sucker shoots up by their roots.
Maybe there’s a message for us humans here. Anti-social behavior may call for more than gentle re-direction.
Is it fair to extrapolate from plant experience to humans? Why not? Jesus did it, when he told his disciples he was the vine, they were the branches, and God would prune those who failed to bear fruit.
The analogy certainly applies to personal issues. You can’t just scale back gently on addictions to anything from French fries to alcohol, from hard drugs to child porn. You have to excise that branch completely.
The analogy is harder to apply to societal problems. Gang wars. Drug pushers. Fraud artists. Pyramid sales schemes. Domestic violence. Crime syndicates...
It’s not enough to trim twigs here, either. Harassing a few sex-trade workers won’t make our streets safe. Nor will jailing a few homeless transients or a few low-level con artists.
We probably need to get ruthless with the roots of poverty, the main stems of crime, the spreading networks of greed and corruption.
I just wish I knew how. It’s not as easy to visualize as applying pruning shears to a misbehaving branch.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Nancy McClure-Long of Ghent, New York saw this announcement in news letter. “When I know that lay of the land, I will schedule a new mating."

Susan Matticks was checking out the Story Lectionary site. She wonders, “are you going to ‘clean’ the story of Mary of Magdala from many places, or ‘glean’ it?”

Gordon Allaby saw a sign outside a church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan that said: “Gods We Truly Love #6. Bacchus: Gods of Consumption. Noon Thnksgiving Ptluck.


Wish I’d Said That! – Wherever we are, Jesus is in the boat with us.
source unknown via Nancy Prieb

The older I get, the more insanity I can handle.
Rob Brown

The rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.
Mark Russell via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Evelyn McLachlan writes: This afternoon on Midrash [lectionary discussion group] someone sent a note about what the “pearly gates” mean in Greek, or at least “pearly.” Margarita!!! Not too sure how correct that is, but I'm planning on going to a lot of pearly gates!!! Just might go to one tonight!
No, No Evelyn. Margarita is the name of a girl I was in love with for two or three days in high school. And Pearly Gates is Bill’s sister.
Evelyn says that in “that same email, the writer was referring to something Jesus said in the "read-letter edition" of the Bible.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Heart Attack!”)
An archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural-history museum.
“I’ve just discovered a 3,000 year-old mummy of a man who died of heart failure!” the excited scientist exclaimed.
To which the curator replied, “Bring him in. We’ll check it out.”
A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. “You were right about the mummy’s age and cause of death. How in the world did you know?”
“Easy. There was a piece of paper in his hand that said, ‘10,000 Shekels on Goliath.’”


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Wayne Seybert of Longmont, Colorado..
If you love something...set it free
If it comes back...It will always be yours
If it doesn't come back...It was never yours to begin with
But if it just set in your living room
Messes up your stuff, watches your TV
Eats your food, uses your telephone
Takes your money and does not appear to realize that you set it free....
Then you either married it or gave birth to it.

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