Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Preaching Materials for June 1, 2008

R U M O R S # 503
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

May 25, 2008


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

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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 Story Lectionary – specialization
Revised Common Lectionary – educating God
Rumors – there is still hope
Soft Edges – keepers of the sacred
Bloopers – when it turns into froth
We Get Letters – worrying about your kids
Mirabile Dictu! – mom said so
Bottom of the Barrel – the admiral and the bishop
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The young minister was visiting a sick church member.
After a longish struggle at making what he felt was the right sort of conversation in the circumstances, he asked cautiously, “Would you like me to pray with you?”
“By all means,” said the patient, “if you think it will help you!”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, June 1st, which is the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.

Story Lectionary Acts 6:7 – 8:1 (Selected verses. Go to the “reader’s theatre” script at the story-lectionary site to see the selected verses and how we handled them.)
This is a story from the early church when it was still very much a sect within Judaism. That includes those called “Hellenists.” Every one of the people in this story would have seen this as a struggle within the Jewish community.
It’s a bit comforting to see that even in those very first days, there were people who complained about being left out and not getting their share, and arguments over correct belief.
Stephen has always seemed to me to be bit of the heroic stereotype. Maybe it’s his echoing of Jesus’ dying words that does it. I know there are many who quite disagree with that impression, some (not all) who think we should never say anything negative about anyone who is described positively in the Bible.
The first part of chapter 6 recounts the beginning of specialization within the church – those who relate to the “word of God” and those who wait on tables. The solution to one problem always creates some other problem, because with specialization comes status – my calling is higher than your calling.
Virtually every church in which I’ve worshipped speaks of our “mutual ministry.” Some announce in their bulletins: “Ministers: everyone in the congregation.” But I’d bet you a good Canadian looney that if you asked members of the congregation, “Who is your minister,” 9 out of 10 would point to their clergy.
So. Is the story of Stephen the story of status and conflict in our congregations? Our communities? Are levels of status necessarily wrong? What about conflict?
(One of the nice things about writing Rumors is that I get to ask all the difficult questions, but I don’t have to deal with them in a congregation.)
So check out Jim’s preaching ideas, Linnea’s creativity, and my “Reader’s Theatre” scripture presentation at:


Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19 – In “The Family Story Bible” and in “The Lectionary Story Bible” I wrote the story of Noah for children. The only criticism I’ve heard of that story was from one poor soul who was upset because he could see the bare buttocks of a child in the first book – something he considered “highly inappropriate” for a book of Bible stories.
Both of those books are for children, so I suppose it’s forgivable, but I don’t like that version of Noah story. It turns a painful legend into a happy little yarn about animals two-by-two and rainbows and all that nice stuff.
The legend of Noah is not a happy story. It is a horrifying story. God decides to kill every living thing on earth, except for the few in the ark. Genocide! When Noah looked out over the water, he would have seen bloated corpses – human and animal – floating by.
And later in the story Noah drinks himself blotto and winds up cursing his son Ham who saw his drunken daddy in his birthday suit – a story that was used for centuries to justify the slavery of African people.
In the “Genesis” series that Bill Moyers did on US public television, one of the participants spoke of that book as “the education of God.” Or perhaps the growing awareness of ancient people who told these legends and developed a mythology to understand what God is like.
So. Is our modern story about God substantially different?

Psalm 46 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 Wars and rumors of wars swirl around us;
corporate strife and struggle engulf us.
Only God stands firm in these shifting sands.
God is our shelter from them;
God gives us strength to go out into the stresses of each day.
2 We have nothing to fear.
Though the social order is shaken,
though our leaders come crashing down,
3 Though long-honored standards fly at half-mast
and the values we inherited are scorned –
even then, we have nothing to fear.
4 The comforting presence of God pours over us
like cool water on a burning beach;
it makes us glad.
5 God is with us;
God is an oasis of peace upon a darkened plain
6 where ignorant armies clash by night.
The ambitious leap over each other;
The emperor stands naked in the cold clear light of innocence.
They are frozen in their folly.
7 But God is with us;
God is our sanctuary.
8 See how wonderfully the Lord works!
Those who would beat others have beaten themselves;
9 Those obsessed with winning wind up as losers;
Those who think only of themselves find that no one thinks of them at all.
All their struggles add up to nothing.
10 This is God's word to the warring: "Be still!
Be still, and know that I – and only I – am God!"
11 In the tumult of the nations,
in the torment of the earth,
God is with us.
God is our sanctuary.
Thanks be to God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 1:16-17 – This is the central thesis of all Paul’s writings. “The one who is righteous will live by faith,” and my copy has a footnote that an alternate translation would be “the one who is righteous through faith will live.”
Either way, it’s the “faith” that is operative, though the “righteousness” is a necessary component. Which I guess means that if you are an illegal arms dealer and you rob hungry old folks on the street, all the faith in the world isn’t going to work for you.
But the other extreme doesn’t work either. If we claim that we need to be morally perfect, there isn’t one of us who could qualify.
We can’t earn our salvation, but I think we’ll only recognize and accept the gift in the context of our daily struggle to live the gospel. If we are not on that quest – as much as it is given to us to understand that quest – the faith we proclaim is empty.

Matthew 7:21-29 – Everything in the above blurb about Romans applies to this passage as well. Maybe that’s why the whole discussion about “works” and “faith” is a bit of a “straw man” we set up to argue over, when it seems to me the life we lead and the faith we hold are all threads in the same fabric.
People honestly struggling to do God’s work will find faith. People of faith will find themselves struggling to do God’s work. As the song goes, “Ye can’t have one without the other.”

For children, you’ll find the Noah Story on page 124 of “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A.” Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”

For those of you living in the Okanagan Valley, the second volume in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” will be launched at the June 6-8 “Worship Matters” event in Vernon, BC. Margaret Kyle (who did the fabulous art work) and I will be there to sign and smile at noon on the Saturday.
The featured speaker is Dr. Jana Childers, Dean of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Check it out at:


Rumors – After my somewhat negative outburst in my comments on the Noah story (above), I need to add that it is also an immensely positive story. The idea that God despairs, but doesn’t give up on humanity, and that the rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise and God’s hope.
I remember being startled and surprised when son Mark – many years ago when he was a teenager – told me that the presence of particle matter in the air, i.e. pollution, makes rainbows disappear. You only get rainbows when the air is clean. I can’t remember exactly how that works, but that’s the way it works.
Being “green” is so “in” these days, I’m concerned that it will pass just like every other fad, and we’ll be back to the few constant, faithful folk who have been working for years to keep our planet healthy. They will be there years from now when the “go-green” passion will again be seen as slightly kooky and marginal. I’m not convinced the current massive media attention is a good thing. Grass fires burn out quickly.
For those of us in the Judeo Christian tradition, the Noah legend reminds us that God’s rainbow covenant has two parties to it. God and us.
So fad or no, we’ll keep on living and proclaiming our convictions as best we can, knowing that while that rainbow still appears, at least occasionally, there is still hope.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Keepers of the Sacred
Here’s a provocative statement about the church: “Society has fired us as keepers of the sacred.”
That doesn’t come from vociferous atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have had books riding high in bestseller lists. It comes from Bruce Sanguin, minister of Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver.
Once upon a time, “keepers of the sacred” described the Christian church fairly well. The church – more accurately, its clergy – dispensed history, tradition, education, healing... Often, it was the last resort for justice, when people sought sanctuary within its walls.
But times have changed. The church has handed over history to universities, education to public schools, justice to the courts, healing to governments and professional associations. The church still upholds its own traditions, but fewer and fewer people seem to care.
In Canada, the fastest growing religion is “none.” Fifty years ago, less than two per cent of census returns indicated “no religion.” Today, 17 per cent do nationally; in B.C., 35 per cent.
A quotation often attributed to British author G. K. Chesterton says “When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing – they’ll believe in anything.”
So other things become “sacred.”
Lottery sales suggest that many transfer their faith to the almighty dollar. The volume and content of my spam e-mail suggests that vast numbers now worship at the altar of sex. A significant number have raised nature to the status of god.
Meanwhile, church membership has plunged. The United Church of Canada now has fewer adult members than it used to have children in Sunday schools. Conservative churches – even the mega churches that everyone wanted to imitate – are feeling the squeeze too, but about 20 years behind the mainline churches.
If the church has become just another service club, then I’d have to say that service clubs do a better job. Rotary has almost eliminated polio worldwide. Kinsmen raise millions every year to support cystic fibrosis research and treatment.
I admire Rotary’s motto of “Service above self.” I support their adherence to four principles: truth, fairness, goodwill and friendship, beneficial to all. But with no disrespect, I rarely hear much examination of “Why?” Why give so generously? Why serve? Why care?
It’s just taken for granted that we should. I guess if you don’t, you would never join Rotary.
The churches I know are the only places that regularly ask, “Why?”
Every week, in church, someone makes the effort to explore why we take certain principles and values for granted.
Contrary to some assumptions, our system of ethics did not spring fully formed from The Enlightenment in the 18th century. It was shaped over centuries by what people considered encounters with God. With the holy. With the sacred.
Some people wrote those encounters down. Christians call that record their Bible. Others reflected on the implications of those encounters. We call that theology.
As long as churches continue to explore the significance of those encounters, churches will continue to be “keepers of the sacred.”
Whether or not society cares.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Carl Boyke says this was lifted from “Reader's Digest.” My appointment as pastor coincided with the church's appeal for aid for victims of a hurricane. Unfortunately, on my first Sunday in the parish, the center page of the church bulletin was accidentally omitted. So members of the congregation read from the bottom of the second page to the top of the last page: "Welcome to the Rev. Andrew Jensen and his family ... the worst disaster to hit the area in this century. The full extent of the tragedy is not yet known."

Jayne Whyte of Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan found a “wonderful typo from this week's bulletin: ‘God's word goes froth.’ Is that an effervescent overflowing, a windblown wave against the shore, or just empty air?
Jane, it’s true. I’ve had lots of experiences of trying to hear God’s Word and to put that into words, only have it “go froth” on me.

* From the file: The minister announced one of his favorite hymns at the evening service: "Savior, like a shepherd lead us." "Joyce and I had it sung 29 years ago at our funeral,"

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! – The Law of the Conservation of Filth: for something to get clean something else must get dirty.
Erma Bombeck via Evelyn McLachlan

God brings people into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them.
source unknown

Reason is always a kind of brute force. Those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily people of violence. We speak of 'touching' a person’s heart. But we can do nothing to a person’s head but hit it. G.K. Chesterton via Jim Taylor


We Get Letters – Elizabeth Wall writes: “On a computerized list of book titles, a couple of them jumped out at me: “Who's Pushing Your Butt? and “We Cannot Keep from Sin”.
The limited space meant that the ends of the original titles were cut off. They are: “Who's Pushing Your Buttons?” and “We Cannot Keep from Singing.”
Elizabeth, I liked the shorter titles better.

Warwick Hambleton of Huntly, New Zealand writes: “I've heard on the news lately that in this or that disaster X-number of people were confirmed dead. This makes it a bit hard when you are in the church that practices confirmation.”
True, Warwick. It also helps explain what happens to some of those folks we confirm.

Stephani Keer stays up much too late at night. She should hit the sack at 8:30 like a good little girl, but instead she stays up late at night watching Jay Leno (whatever or whoever that is) and then inflicting on me e-mails such as following:
“Wanted to pass on a few things I noted from the Jay Leno headlines segment at some ridiculous hour this morning.
* Lakeview Memorial Estates. For references, you may contact directly those buried there.
* An ad for dog food: "Classic ground puppy/with lamb and rice."
There were a couple of other comments I liked from Leno last night: "75,000 people attended a Barack Obama rally and he fed them all with five loaves and two fishes."
“Now, aren't you glad I stay up at night?”

Dorothy Harrowing of Madeira Park, British Columbia writes: “In last Sunday's Rumors you asked the question ‘Do you ever stop worrying about your kids?’” Dorothy says he heard a minister tell this on the radio.
“A 96 year old mother was being interviewed about her long life and how she felt about being a Mother all those years.
‘I feel just wonderful,’ was her reply. ‘For the first time since I became a Mother, I no longer have to worry about my children.’
‘How is that?’
‘They’re both in nursing homes’."


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Mom said so!”) Peggy Neufeldt of Ponoka, Alberta, writes: “I'm certain you must have seen this before, as I had, but it still gave me a chuckle or two.”
You’re right, Peggy. On both counts. But for no reasons I can think of, it seems a good thing to run again, as we move into summer. Or winter, if you’re south of the equator.
* My mother taught me religion. 'You better pray that spot will come out of the carpet.'
* My mother taught me about time travel. 'If you don't straighten up, I'm going to knock you into the middle of next week!'
* My mother taught me about logic. 'If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you're not going to the store with me.'
* My mother taught me foresight. 'Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident.'
* My mother taught me about the science of osmosis.
'Shut your mouth and eat your supper.'
* My mother taught me about contortionism. 'Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck?'
* My mother taught me about behavior modification. 'Stop acting like your father!'
* My mother taught me about envy. 'There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don't have wonderful parents like you do.'
* My mother taught me ESP. 'Put your sweater on! Don't you think I know when you are cold?'
* My mother taught me humor. 'When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me.'
* My mother taught me how to become an adult. 'If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up.'
* My mother taught me genetics. 'You're just like your father.'
* My mother taught me wisdom. 'When you get to be my age, you'll understand.'
* My mother taught me about justice. 'One day you'll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!


Bottom of the Barrel – There was a British admiral and an Anglican bishop. The two had gone to school together, always competing with each other, never really liking the other.
When they left school, both had succeeded well in their chosen field. One day, they met each other in London’s Liverpool Street Station. The Bishop pretended not to recognize the Admiral, and set out to put him in his place.
“I say. Conductor! Which is the next train to Birmingham?”
“Madam,” said the Admiral. “In your condition, should you be traveling?”

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