Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Preaching Materials for May 4th, 2008

R U M O R S # 499

Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

April 27, 2008


"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

The Story Lectionary & Revised Common Lectionary – the power of a story
Rumors – too much God can ruin you
Soft Edges –
Bloopers – our hearts untied
We Get Letters – time expired
Mirabile Dictu! – who was Jesus anyway?
Bottom of the Barrel – the blind pilot
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – While driving in Pennsylvania, a family caught up to an Amish carriage. The owner of the carriage obviously had a sense of humor, because attached to the back of the carriage was a hand printed sign: “Energy-efficient vehicle. Runs on oats and grass. Caution: Do not step on exhaust.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, May 4th, which the 7th Sunday in the Easter cycle, and the last Sunday before Pentecost. It is also known as Ascension Sunday.
NOTE: The reading proposed for The Story Lectionary covers the same material as the first reading of the Revised Common Lectionary.

Story Lectionary: Acts 1:1-11 (see
Revised Common Lectionary (Acts 1:6-14).
Some years ago, Charles Templeton (a one-time evangelist turned atheist) wrote a book that had someone finding a skeleton in Jerusalem that turned out to be Jesus. In the book, the church was desperately concerned that such a discovery would destroy Christianity, because it would prove that Christ’s bodily resurrection was fiction.
I remember thinking at the time – what’s the big deal? Such a discovery wouldn’t damage my faith at all. And as I now read this passage from the Book of Acts and remember that book, I find my thoughts haven’t changed.
Like so much biblical truth, the message is contained in the story. Jesus’ earthly ministry is done. Now it is the Christ that works in us through the Spirit.
No, I’m not calling Luke a liar. The “men of Galilee” were Jewish and expressed their convictions in stories rather than propositions. If anything, this truth is more powerful and persuasive because it comes to us as a story rather than as a set of objectively provable (or disprovable) facts.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 In the wilderness, wolves circle around for the kill.
Dispatch them, God!
Scatter them back into the darkness they came from!
2 Disperse them through the forest
like smoke from a campfire;
dissolve them like morning mists burned off by the sun.
3 Then those who do not fear the light can rejoice.
Like bright flowers, we can turn our faces toward God.
4 As butterflies bounce across an alpine meadow,
so we can celebrate the goodness of God.
5 In God's generous creation,
no one needs to be an orphan or an outcast.
6 Every thing has its proper place;
our lives are linked in endless ways.
Only those who think themselves equal with God
will find themselves alone on their own.
7 But we are not alone.
Not in the pounding fear of race riots,
not in the humiliation of soup kitchens,
not in the panic of emergency wards.
God has been with us.
8 We still got wet when it rained;
we still got muddy when we fell –
God didn't protect us from pain.
9 But the rain brought out the flowers;
the mud enriched the earth;
10 And God turned our wintry wilderness
into a meadow of milk and honey.
32 As flowers in God's garden,
we lift our bright and varied faces to the Lord.
33 Our colors reflect the rainbow,
the colors that God flings across the heavens.
34 Who among humans can make a seed sprout,
a flower form, a tree bear fruit?
35 God hovers over the earth,
giving life and strength to all creation.
Give the glory to God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 – This passage is often used by those in sectarian religions, such as the Jehovah’s Witness.’ It helps them tolerate what they perceive as persecution from mainline Christianity and society in general.
The writer of 1 Peter uses the metaphor of a “roaring lion,” (5:8) that those early Christians had to face. A better metaphor for our day might be a nice, thick, non-allergenic duvet or blanket we wrap ourselves in to be nice and warm and safe from any contact with anything that might hurt us. Or upset us.
Or perhaps one of those children’s play areas where they have a huge container full of ping-pong balls in which the kids can wallow without ever being hurt.
Modern Christians don’t face persecution (at least here in Canada) as much as they face sedation.
We saw that in spades during the recent celebration of “Earth Day.” We turned out our lights for an hour, we car-pooled for one day, we took one very short shower to save water.
Was it an exercise in tokenism? Did we think that by doing these things once we were actually making a difference? Did it raise awareness or lull us into complacency?

John 17:1-11 – I find it hard to believe that the writer of John memorized these words from Jesus and was able to write them down 70 years later. But I do believe that the writer put those words down, convinced that this was Jesus’ intent.
The core message in this somewhat legalistic language is the call to unity. Or at least, that’s the message that speaks to me. And such unity does not mean that we all think or speak or act in the same way.
One of the joys of doing Rumors is that I get gentle, kind letters from folks who disagree with what I have said here. And that is exactly as it should be. If we ever find someone agreeing with everything we say, we know that person wasn’t really paying attention.
One of the reasons I believe so strongly that stories communicate the Gospel more faithfully than theological statements, is that a story does not demand we all hear it the same way or that we express the faith it communicates in a specific kind of language.

A children’s story based on Acts 1 may be found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 114.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. The marvellous illustrations are by Margaret Kyle. There’s at least one story for each Sunday in the RCL cycle. Usually two, and occasionally three. Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – Andy, a longtime friend of mine (so I am obviously not using his real name) had a life-transforming experience when he was in his early thirties. His life had been a mess of drugs and depression and petty crime. He got talked into going to a Cursillo, a type of retreat meant to inspire and renew. There he “met God face to face.”
It turned his life around. Probably, in the long run, it’s made a better person out of him, but his wife walked out when she could no longer stand his insistence that she also have his experience. He moves from one church to another, looking for a “spiritual home” but never seems to find it.
Maybe God knew that Moses could only stand so much of God. Too much God can ruin you. When I think of Andy, I’m glad it hasn’t happened to me, because I could very easily turn into a religious pain-in-the-patusche.
Andy has a problem with idol worship. He has turned his experience, or at least his perception of it, into an idol.
But that’s not the problem with most of the folk I meet in church. They are running scared of overdosing on religion, so they don’t want to encounter God at all, except perhaps in safe, controlled, one-hour doses on Sunday morning. They go to the other extreme and have nothing at all to give their lives meaning.
They can’t go all the way and believe in a literal, physical resurrection of Jesus, so they don’t think about resurrection at all.
Between those two extremes, I know many folks who have been to Cursillo and similar events, and come out of them as lively, fun, active, invigorated Christians who enjoy life and live the presence of God.
“Life is a banquet,” said Auntie Mame, and she might have been talking about the life of faith. But surely we can find a way to enjoy the meal and let it nourish us, without falling into the trap of either anorexia or gluttony.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
What Are Humans For?
When I was a university student, I worked one summer for a company of forestry consultants. I loved the work. I admired my boss. I almost switched my courses to forestry, to follow his example.
But I didn’t.
Many years later, our paths crossed again. We discovered that we agreed on many things. But not about logging. “What good is all that timber if it’s not being used?” he demanded.
I suggested that trees might have value in themselves – as the lungs of the planet, as shelter for animals and other plants, as erosion control – and not just as raw materials for human use.
We haven’t had a discussion since. And I’m sorry about that, because he raises a really important question. What ARE forests for?
For that matter, what are whales for? What are dogs for? What is land for?
The planner for our municipality, Mike Reiley, spoke to the local Rotary Club a few months ago. People from the big cities see our community as a desirable destination, he said, because of its recreational potential. It’s close to wild forests, to rugged mountains, to uncrowded lakes. People are buying and building homes at a record rate.
In ten years, at present rates of growth, all the land currently zoned for housing is likely to be used up. Then we will have to expand. Clearing the forests. Paving farmland. Blasting roads up the mountains. Building marinas on the lakes.
But with the forests gone, the mountains conquered, the lakes congested, what attractions will our community have left?
Does land have value only if you can plant a building on it? Or does wild land have its own value?
A few people are at least asking those questions. And a growing number seem willing to consider them.
But I don’t hear anybody asking what people are for. And yet that’s the most basic question of all.
Is our sole purpose to create more and more of ourselves?
That’s the unstated assumption behind theories of endless growth. We need more people to keep our economies growing, in a kind of global pyramid scheme.
Economists don’t say that, of course. They say that a decline in population will damage our standard of living. We won’t be able to sustain our pension and medical plans. Jobs will go unfilled.
Is our purpose to manage the planet?
If so, we’re doing a lousy job of it. Mostly, we assume that the planet’s resources exist only to serve our own needs. The planet is currently experiencing the highest rate of extinctions of species since the demise of the dinosaurs.
Is our purpose to generate good will and mutual understanding?
We haven’t done a good job of that, either. Even our religions don’t do it. As some militant atheists claim, we’ve been more likely to use religion to create divisions than unity.
Personally, I have no confidence that an absence of religion would incline us to be any more peaceable.
So what ARE we here for?


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Judith Johnson-Siebold of Waterford, New York, noticed in an old church meeting agenda where “the hymn following Ordination” was “Over My Head.” As an ordained pastor of many years I must confess how prophetic that song sometimes feels.”

Kip Smith heard this from Jim McFarland. The bulletin read: “Anthem: The Lord’s Prayer. Music: Albert Malotte. Text: unknown.

Lauren Moore of Lake Village, Arkansas says she caught this before it got to the congregation. “Hymn: Come Sin, O Church, in Joy!”
Lauren, you should have left that in! Martin Luther may have had that in mind when he wrote, “Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still.” In the letter from which that quote was taken, Luther also wrote: "God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world."

Beth Hawley of Tofield, Alberta writes: “Our benediction, printed in the bulletin for April 6, read like this: ‘May our eyes be open, our hearts untied, our minds unlocked. . .’
One member of the congregation thought that sometimes a misprint teaches us a greater lesson than the original wording.

Doug Mitchell of Peterborough, Ontario writes: “This line appeared in our Prayer of Confession: ‘. . .call us into new places and challenge us to lie in ways that show that ours is a daring and risky faith’.”

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! – I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do." Edward Everett Hale via Sandra Friesen
I find it helps to organize chores into categories: Things I won't do now; Things I won't do later; Things I'll never do.
Erma Bombeck via Evelyn McLauchlin

It is safe to say that everyone fell ill because they had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers and none of them really healed who did not regain this religious outlook.
Carl Jung


We Get Letters – A number of you wrote pointing out that my comments on Paul preaching to the Athenians were not the only interpretation of that story. I called Paul’s sermon a failure. You offered some very useful thoughts pointing out that there was another way of reading that story.
Point taken. My perspective is in need of updating, and I’m heading back to Acts 17:22-31 with a new set of glasses on my nose. It shows that more than one perspective is always useful when we are reading scripture.
Thanks to those who responded!

Evelyn McLachlan of Missisiiisisiaughuaa, Ontario (never did know how to spell that!) has a bit of “useful” trivia. The Chicago Tribune, she says, reports that we spend six months of our lives sitting at stoplights, and 24 months returning phone calls.
Evelyn, I got out the calculator and discovered that I spent 1,300 hours of my life listening to sermons. Which of course, begs the question – did that do me any good?
Well, yes, because I also figure I’ve eaten more than 52 thousand pounds of food in my life. Without that food, I would be dead. Without those sermons, I would also be dead.

John Shearman of Oakville, Ontario wondered how correct Evelyn M.'s "Margarita!!!" was as the Greek for "pearly gates." “The pedant in me checked my Greek and Hebrew lexicon/concordance just to make sure. Well, just maybe there is some confusion between Greek, Latin and Spanish, no doubt caused by so many Margaritas. In Greek and Latin, "margaritĂ©s" is the adjective from the noun "margaros" which means "oyster" or "pearl." In Spanish, a "margarita" is a daisy. And as you likely know, the drink is a tequila-based cocktail with orange, lemon or lime liqueur.
How the daisy got mixed in remains to be discovered.

Evelyn seems to have taken possession of this “Letters” section this week. Which is great. She sends good interesting and brief letters.
One of them contained a photo of the grave site of a Barbara Sue Mainire who had asked for a parking meter reading “expired” as a grave marker. She got what she asked for, in addition to a more conventional granite marker. The meter reads “expired,” and “64 year time limit.”
She must have been a wonderful person.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Who was Jesus anyway!?!”)
Jane Ho has some “politically incorrect” ideas to share. We ran these in Rumors some years ago, but I think they’re enough fun to run them again. I’m sure Jesus would enjoy one huge belly laugh over these.

* How do we know that Jesus was Jewish:*
1. He went into His Father's business
2) He lived at home till he was 33.
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin, and His Mother was sure He was God.

* On the other hand, there are three good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone brother
2. He liked Gospel
3. He didn't get a fair trial

* But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with His hands
2. He had wine with His meals
3. He used olive oil

* But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion

* But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was a First Nations person:
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit

* But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.

* But the most compelling evidence of all. Actual proof that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moments notice when there was virtually no food.
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it.
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do.


Bottom of the Barrel – This really isn’t a religious joke, but I’ll bet it gets to be a sermon illustration somewhere.
It was a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. The plane made a stop in Sacramento and many of the passengers got off to stretch their legs.
Everybody got off the plane except one gentleman who was blind. His Seeing Eye dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of him. The man was obviously a regular on the flight because the pilot addressed him by name. “Keith, we’re in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?”
“No thanks, but maybe the dog would like to stretch his legs.”
So now picture this, and picture the reaction of the passengers. The pilot was wearing sun glasses. He came off the airplane, through the boarding lounge, led by a Seeing Eye dog.
The hymn might be, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me.”

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