Saturday, April 5, 2008

Preaching Materials for April 6, 2008

Somehow, I got myself confused on dates, and this issue didn't get posted.
Ralph Milton

R U M O R S # 495
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 30, 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 – them dry bones
Revised Common Lectionary – a touch of hyperbole
Rumors – Emmaus happens
Soft Edges – feeling left out
Bloopers – shredded families
We Get Letters – free range Easter eggs
Mirabile Dictu! – trespassers will be violated
Bottom of the Barrel – who is the father?
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 Fran Ota of Toronto who got it from Janice Henck in Atlanta, Georgia.
A passenger in a taxi leaned over to ask the driver a question and tapped him on the shoulder. The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the curb, and stopped just inches from a large plate glass window.
For a few moments everything was silent in the cab, and then the still shaking driver said, “I'm sorry, but you scared the daylights out of me.”
The frightened passenger apologized to the driver and said he didn't realize a mere tap on the shoulder could frighten him so much.
“No, no, I'm sorry,” said the driver. “It's entirely my fault. Today is my first day driving a cab. I've been driving a hearse for the last 25 years.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 6th, which is the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Story Lectionary – Ezekiel 37:1-14
African American musicians understood the powerful metaphor of this passage when they sang, “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.” And they had fun with it, which is entirely appropriate.
Next time you have a few free minutes, read the whole book of Ezekiel. He’s a delightfully complex person and his various oracles show it. He’s a prophet to a people in exile – a prophet who lets his personality shine through his rants. Like most really good prophets, he sits right on the fuzzy line between genius and insanity. Among other things, he eats a scroll (without even the benefit of a bit of ketchup) and he refuses to mourn for his dead wife. But his central message was always – God is here in exile with us.
The concept of “Sabbath,” one of Judaism’s great gifts, was developed during the exile. Christians have, for the most part, lost that gift and we are much poorer for it.
Zeek’s dry bones metaphor works for us right now. I can see the preacher shouting, “Can these bones live?” with a broad, sweeping gesture that makes it absolutely clear those dry bones are sitting right there in the pews.
In fact, if you are a bit of an actor, or you have a competent actor in your congregation – someone who knows how to yell and foam at the mouth – work this up as a dramatic monologue. It needs no re-writing at all.
Alternately, you can find an “aggada” based on the story of old Zeek, along with lots of other good stuff to make this passage really sing, at the story lectionary website.
Click on:


Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 – This is probably the world’s most successful sermon. And that in the days before PA systems that actually made it possible to address a crowd of 3,000. Me thinks there may be a touch of hyperbole involved here.
Doesn’t matter. The real problem is that this story is divided into two parts. Last week we heard Peter’s sermon. This week we hear the results. The Lectionary assumption is that you’re preaching to the same gang both days. Ain’t so.
The sentence that leaps out at me is in verse 37. “Brothers, what should we do?” Us comfortable pew-warmers are exhorted and encouraged and informed week after week, but that obvious question doesn’t seem to occur to us. What should we do?
We’ve heard the scripture. We’ve heard the word preached. But nothing happens until those of us who polish the pews with our posteriors ask that question. Until we do, what we have is not a message, but a massage.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Invite a Stranger to Supper
1 God knows how to listen.
2 Others hear only to their own voices;
they recognize only the echoes of their own empty desires.
But God heard me when I cried out.
I will never forget that.
3 I had given up hope.
4 As a last resort, I called to God.
"Save me," I cried, "Rescue me from this mess!"
12 How can I thank God?
13 Since I owe God every breath of my new life,
I dedicate every breath to God–
every glass of water, every bite of bread.
14 I will not be silenced.
I shall pry open the shells of privacy that people build around themselves;
In crowded elevators and on wind-blown street corners
I will whisper my message into ears stopped up with self-interest.
15 I will say, "God loves each and every one of us.
Every person who believes in God is precious."
16, 17 I have nothing to lose.
All that I am, I owe to God.
18 I don't care what my convictions cost me;
19 From the edges of civilization to the centre of the universe,
I will glorify this God who saves.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Peter 1:17-23 – Peter uses the phrase “born anew” in verse 23, which connects us to the idea of being “born again,” or “born from above,” (NRSV) in John 3:3. Many of us get a bit queasy with the “blood of the lamb” metaphor in this passage, but it had deep meaning – deep connections into Jewish spirituality – for the people who read this letter originally.
In the understanding of the folks to whom this letter was addressed, sacrifice and sacrificer were bonded together. The sacrifice of one is the sacrifice of the other. Both benefited.
I must admit I don’t really understand – at least not in a deep spiritual sense – how that works. And I would not really want to read this passage to a group of folks unless there really was a means of unpacking those ideas. Reading it from the pulpit on Sunday morning might well be counter-productive.

Luke24:13-35 – This is such a strangely moving story. And scholars don’t really know where Emmaus was, of if such a town actually existed. Perhaps it moves us because, like those two disciples, we have the information but we don’t know how to process it. It hangs there, in our consciousness, but doesn’t seem to connect with our perceptions and experiences. It’s like a piece of software buried in the computer. The ikon is there on the screen, but when we click on it, we get some wild graphics but nothing we can immediately pin down and use.
We can empathize with those two disciples. So this Jesus who meant so much to us – in whom we had placed all our hopes – has been killed. Something weird happened to his body, and some say he is still alive. What are we supposed to do with all this? How do we use this information? Or as those folks on that Pentecost Sunday said, “What should we do?”
Preachers keep trying, week after week, to respond to that yearning. They have the toughest communication job in the world.
And I am feeling frustrated because I feel I should have a helpful little formula to offer that would make it all work.
There is no formula. There is only faithfulness.

A children’s version of the Emmaus story is in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 102 which you can find by clicking on:


Rumors – Emmaus happens! That would make a good secret code word for Christians, because only they would know what it meant.
Emmaus has happened to me many times, but the incident that comes to mind happened in the sixties. I was one of a group enrolled in a clowning workshop at Naramata Centre, a church con-ed place not far from here. Our clowning week was to conclude with a communion service, with the several hundred people of all ages who were there for a summer week. The communion had been carefully planned by our leader, a Roman Catholic priest.
But just before the communion service, he came down with a bad case of the flue. He had all the logistics in his head, but couldn’t participate at all. I was the only one who had actually seen a clown communion before. The rest had only heard it described. So full of faith, foolishness and bravado, we decided to go ahead.
We did everything wrong. A music tape was to provide the clues for the various parts of the service, but we got the wrong tape on the machine. There wasn’t enough bread or wine. We forgot our cues. The children started running around. It turned into complete chaos. Nobody knew what was going on and eventually we just gave up and let go.
Somehow, that group of worshippers took it over. Or was it the Spirit? It certainly wasn’t me or my classmates.
We didn’t know what we were doing, but some power within that group of assembled worshippers made it happen. It was totally out of control, but in a funny kind of way, it wasn’t out of control at all.
People offered each other bread and wine, and others danced to that wrong music on the tape. There were hugs, laughter, singing, and everyone was fed.
When we stopped trying to direct our inner clown whose mask and costume we were wearing, the clown became the Christ, who was made known to us in the breakup of our plans and in the breaking of the bread.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Feeling Left Out
Having just spent three weeks in Edmonton, I have returned home with a new appreciation for the difficulties of adult education.
We arrived in Edmonton in early March. Massive piles of snow flanked every driveway, and fresh snow every morning added to them.
Spring seemed far away indeed.
But then the weather finally warmed up. The piles of snow started melting. Flattened brown lawns began to appear again.
And so did a lot of things that had been covered up by layer upon layer of snow. Half-eaten slices of pizza. Soggy cardboard containers of French fries. Tim Horton's coffee cups with the rrrrrrims rrrrrolled up. Plastic water bottles. Drink boxes. Beer cans. Styrofoam doggy-packs of unfinished Chinese dinners.
Our dog thought she had died and gone to heaven. She’s supposed to be a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, but she is as a cross between a hyena and a vacuum cleaner. She snarfed up everything remotely edible. And if it was too disgusting for even her taste buds, she rolled in it.
All this debris was less attractive to adult humans. It reminded us of our failings. The cleanups we hadn’t done. The stuff we had forgotten. The things we hadn’t even realized were there.
Which is – finally I get to the point! – exactly what happens when most adults venture into education programs.
Some people gobble study programs right into their later years. They love learning almost anything, for its own sake.
But most people take courses only when they discover that they no longer know how to cope. High school typing doesn’t help them handle the so-called intuitive commands of computers. Amateur mechanics find cars don’t have carburetors any more. A tattered exercise book no longer qualifies for keeping a community organization’s financial records.
So people attend a class already feeling inadequate.
Then they quickly discover how much more they have forgotten. Or never learned at all.
In high school, they learned that cause and effect were predictable. Now there's something called Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Not to mention Chaos Theory. And the decay of radioactive atoms somehow determines whether a cat owned by Mr. Schrödinger will live or die.
So sub-atomic particles called quarks can spin six different ways at the same time until someone observes them? Any two-year-old can do that…
This sudden discovery of incompetence particularly afflicts adults who tackle religious studies.
Most adults grew up believing that the gospels were written by Jesus' disciples. Now scholars say that none of them were. Matthew and Luke – whoever they were –plagiarized Mark and some German named Quelle. Paul didn’t write all his letters. The early church had more infighting than a political convention. And a lot of what Jesus said, he probably didn’t – later believers added what they thought he ought to have said…
Bewildered, these adults ask, “When did all this happen? Why didn’t anyone tell me before?”
Little wonder that only about ten per cent of churchgoers, and even fewer non-church-goers, ever bother upgrading their religious knowledge.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado saw a newsletter announcement about a “New Ministry: Family Shred Time.”
Sharyl was sure they must have meant “Family Shared Time,” but then on page two she read, “Activities and games – we’ll divide families and teach them to interact in new ways.”
Now she isn’t sure.

April Daley saw this one in the order for the Seder meal on Maundy Thursday.
It was supposed to read "for all the years we were in bondage." Instead, it read:
"for all the years we were in bandages".
Says April, “Must have been quite a fight!”

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! – Always remember, you are a blessing, and then try to be gracious as you live like it.
Jodi Haier

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
source unknown, via Harvie Barker

Every day the suffering of the world look to the secure of the world to save them from even more disaster. It is not our job to work for miracles, but it is our task to try.
source unknown


We Get Letters – Wayne Sawyer of Thomaston, Maine writes: “The quote about speakers making their audiences happy reminded me of a wise, old pastor friend who told me he had managed, in his ministry, to make everyone in his churches happy. Some were happy when he came, some were happy while he was there, and the rest were happy when he left.”

Warwick Hambleton of Huntly, New Zealand says he knows of a “politically correct person who went to the supermarket wanting to buy ‘free range’ Easter eggs!”

Ron Shaw of Riverview, New Brunswick writes: “We heard some leading edge theology this Easter Sunday. One of our ministers was asking questions about the resurrection of the small group gathered at the front. He had explained that some of the followers of Jesus had gone to his tomb, found the stone rolled away, and the tomb was empty.
“‘What do you think happened to Jesus?’ he asked.
“One small voice replied enthusiastically, ‘He became a zombie!’"

Rachel Prichard of Sudbury, Ontario, writes about “a man who was visiting a cemetery and tried to strike up a conversation with the local gravedigger.
"Do people die often around here?"
"Just the once," came the reply.
"Have you lived here all your life?"
"Not yet," said the grave digger.
"Can you tell me which road I should take to Toronto?"
"I shouldn't take any" came the reply. They have enough already."

Mary Almey of Milton, Ontario writes: “Yesterday, during the Easter service, as the offering was being gathered, I could see a visiting couple trying to wrestle something from their youngster's hands. Mom won the battle just as the offering plate passed and into it she dropped a crumpled envelope. Immediately their child started to cry and howled out "I want my money back! I want my money back!"


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “trespassers will be violated!”) This from Carl Boyke
Did They Mean to Say That?
* On a New York loft building: "Wanted: Woman to sew buttons on the fourth floor."
* In a New Hampshire medical building: "Martin Diabetes Professional Ass."
* In the office of a loan company: "Ask about our plans for owning your home."
* In a New York medical building: "Mental health prevention center."
* In a toy department: "Five Santa Clauses – no waiting."
* On a New York convalescent home: "For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church."
* On a Maine shop: "Our motto is to give our customers the lowest possible prices and workmanship.
* At a number of military bases: "Restricted to unauthorized personnel."
* In a parking lot: "Violators will be enforced and trespassers will be violated."
* On a display of "I Love You Only" Valentine cards: "Now available in multi-packs."
* In the window of an appliance store: "Don't kill your wife. Let our washing machines do the dirty work."
* In a funeral parlor: "Ask about our layaway plan.
* On a window of a New Hampshire hamburger restaurant: "Yes, we are open. Sorry for the inconvenience."

Bottom of the Barrel – Mike Skibinski heard this story told by the pilot of an airplane while coming in for a landing at Vancouver.
A couple of sailors docked in a Swedish harbor, decided to tour the town. For awhile they walked the streets but because they knew no Swedish, they soon became bored.
Along one street, they spied a church and decided to investigate. A service was being conducted, but unfortunately it was all in Swedish. They saw a well dressed man and decided their best bet was to imitate his actions.
At this point, the minister said a few words and the man stood up. The two sailors promptly followed his actions. The entire congregation roared with laughter.
After the service the two approached the minister and said that since they knew no Swedish, they wondered what was so funny?
“Well”, said the minister, “This was a baptismal service and I had just asked, ‘Who is the father of this child?’”

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