Thursday, May 29, 2008

Preaching Materials for June 8, 2008

R U M O R S # 504
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

June 1st, 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 – a mixed response
Revised Common Lectionary – how did we get here?
Rumors – an old fogy’s destiny.
Soft Edges – invasion of the peace snatchers
Bloopers – too much incontinence
We Get Letters – more about mother’s day
Mirabile Dictu! – play ball
Bottom of the Barrel – a moldy old potato
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Former Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, while speaking at a political meeting, was interrupted by a man who shouted: “I wouldn’t vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel!”
“If I were the Archangel Gabriel, sir,” replied Menzies, “you would scarcely be in my constituency.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, June 8th, which is the 4th Sunday after Pentecost.

Story Lectionary: Acts 9:1-29
This is the story of the conversion of Saul whom we know as Paul, the apostle. He is easily the most famous follower of Jesus. And also the most controversial.
I’ve just been reading Margaret Starbird’s strange little book, “Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile,” which reminded me that Paul says almost nothing about the life and teachings of Jesus. Starbird says that when Jesus did not return as Paul predicted, Christians began to wonder what it was about this man that had attracted so many followers. If the second coming wasn’t about to happen, maybe we ought to know something about the first one. And that’s why the gospels were written.
I have no way of proving this, but it is my hunch that more conservative evangelical preachers tend to take their texts from Paul’s letters, whereas many preachers in the more liberal traditions tend more to use the gospel stories and Hebrew sagas. As I work on writing volume three of the “Lectionary Story Bible” for children, I find it very difficult to generate a good story from any of the epistles.
My personal response to Paul is mixed. He can be dreadfully turgid and obscure as in much of Romans, then movingly poetic or delightfully human in other places, such as 1 & 2 Corinthians.
Walter Wangerin Jr., in his novel, “Paul” paints him as short, cranky, and frighteningly intelligent.
Please check out the various resources at the Story Lectionary web-site.


Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 12:1-9 – This is one of the foundation stories of our legacy. It is a foundation we share with our Jewish and Islamic neighbors. Could it be a foundation on which we build a relationship of trust and mutual support with them?
There are those who are trying. This summer, Bev and I will attend a week-long event at Naramata Centre, just south of us in the Okanagan Valley, in which an Islamic scholar, a Jewish rabbi and a Christian leader will engage in such a conversation. This sort of thing is happening in many places. And not a moment too soon.
This story of Abraham and Sarah and God’s promises to them, is not so much a prediction of the future as it is an explanation of the past. The story developed during the Davidic kingdom, in order to explain how it had happened that Israel became a great and powerful nation.
We often have that experience. We often wonder about where we are and the reality we find ourselves in, and ask, “How did we get here?” At what point in our lives were we set on the course we took?
In asking that question, we develop our mythology – our own story that responds to the question of where we came from.
And where was God in all this?

Psalm 33:1-12 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
If you're on the Lord's side, be glad!
If you live in the light, thank God!
Shout it, sing it, live it, look it;
Play your melody of praise
in every element of life.
Sing a new song to the Lord,
a song that calls forth all your skills!
For you can depend on God;
All that God does, God does openly.
God does not deceive anyone;
God loves justice; God loves the soul that has no shadows.
Look and see – the earth itself shows the nature of God!
For God created the skies that arch above us;
Everything that lives under those skies owes its life
to the elements of the air –
The breath of life, the gift of God.
Clouds form over the oceans,
rains shower the hills,
streams return to the sea –
the source and sustenance of earthly life.
All life on earth owes itself to the Lord;
What can we do but stand in awe?
However it was done, God did it;
According to God's will, all was done,
and it was good...
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 4:13-25 – As is often the case, I find it hard to follow Paul’s reasoning. But one of the things he is saying is that God’s gift to Abraham was a gift of faith, and the legacy passed down to the early Christians he was addressing, was a matter of faith, not law.
Abraham’s faith that, in spite of the fact that Abraham was “as good as dead,” (diplomatic language wasn’t Paul’s forte), God made it possible for Sarah to conceive.
And that must have been some faith. I wonder what kind of revelation it would take to convince me that Bev and I, who are now in our 70’s, were going to have a child.

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 – One of the continuing problems we have, reading the stories from the Bible, is that they were told and written for an audience that was intimately familiar with the laws and customs involved. And I have problems with that, because it fosters the idea that only those who have extensive education in biblical stuff can really understand what these stories mean. My reformation forebears gave their lives, literally, to the idea that everyone should be able to read the Bible.
These passages involve a bunch of purity laws and Jesus’ attitude to them. Matthew, a tax collector was “unclean.” So were the bunch that Jesus ate with. Being touched by a menstruating woman rendered Jesus ritually unclean, as was taking the hand of a dead girl.
Jesus was plowing right upstream against a complex of Jewish law and customs. But it’s not just knowing about those customs, it’s also knowing how important they were to the Jewish people. The essence of faith was not a matter of what you believed, but of what you did. How you observed the laws and practices.
Jesus’ attitude and actions seemed cavalier and insulting. And let’s not assume that the Pharisees where a bunch of beady-eyed bigots. As in our own churches today, there were some of those. But most of them were sincere people struggling to live the way they thought God wanted them to live.
What Jesus did felt like a karate chop to the solar plexus.

Stories for children, based on these readings, may be found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A.” The Genesis story on page 128, and two stories based on the gospel reading, are on pages 130 and 131.
If you don’t already own this book, 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 living in the Okanagan Valley, the launch of “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B” will take place at the Worship Matters event, at Trinity United Church in Vernon, at noon on Saturday, June 7th. Margaret Kyle, who did the fabulous illustrations, and I will be there to smile and sign copies of the book.


Rumors – Do we need to be polite about someone who’s been dead for several thousand years? Well, I wish Paul had been a little more judicious in his choice of words when he said that Abraham was as “good as dead” and Sarah’s womb was barren, which is to say that she was useless. Never having had a baby, she’d missed her whole reason for being. Yes, unfortunately, that’s exactly what Paul was saying.
I don’t mind being called “old,” because I am, and because “old” is not a disease. It is an accomplishment. And the wrinkles and lines on an old person’s face are a noble record of life’s joys and tragedies.
According to Paul, Abe and Sarah made a baby, and thus fulfilled their destiny. But for the rest of us old people who will hear that lection read next Sunday, having a baby to fulfill our destiny doesn’t sound like a viable option, especially if (like Bev and myself) we’ve “bin there, done that, got the t-shirt.”
So if it’s not making babies, what is the value, the calling, the point of living for an old person? The younger old people can still do lots of stuff, and are in fact making huge contributions to their churches and communities. But that ability slowly disappears, and all too soon, simply staying alive is about all that can be managed.
Is there still a destiny, a calling, a point of living for such old people? I’d like to know, because I’ve had a few intimations that I’ll be at that stage far sooner than I want to be. And if you take a look around at the faces in the pews of most churches, I’m not the only one with that question.
I was with Bev on the last visit she made to her step-mom just before she died. Madeline’s eyes were dull. There was not a flicker of recognition. And yet as Bev held her hand and talked to her, it was easy to see that she was treasured, valued, loved.
Maybe that’s the point of life to those of us who are “as good as dead.” We are loved. If not by another person, than at least by God.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Invasion of the Peace Snatchers
I live in two distinct communities.
Not because I move. But because the community’s mood changes with the seasons.
For nine months of the year, Okanagan Centre is a quiet rural retreat. The main street, running along the lakeshore, has so few vehicles on it that people stroll down the middle, with trees arching overhead, walking their dogs. They stop to chat with neighbours. Some will even pull an occasional weed from someone else’s garden as they pass by.
During the summer months, though, the world descends upon us, with speeding cars, rumbling trucks, and noisy boats. The only public boat launch between Kelowna and Vernon – approximately 50 km apart – is packed with people trying to get ever-larger and more powerful boats into or out of the water.
People park their boat trailers anywhere they can find room – along the roadside, in front of driveways, even on private lawns.
The roads get so congested, at times, that a fire truck couldn’t get through if someone’s house caught fire.
And yet some drivers still slalom through the constricted spaces at well over the speed limit.
Nine months of the year, there’s no litter lying around. Three months of the year, I pick up enough discarded beer cans on my morning walks to pay for my purchases.
Nine months of the year, we don’t need – and don’t want – curbs and sidewalks. Three months of the year, they’re vital to protect pedestrians.
Nine months of the year, weather permitting, I keep my windows open. I can hear birds singing, leaves rustling, and deer high-stepping along our gravel lane. Three months of the year, I keep doors and windows closed to reduce the barrage of noise coming up from the waterfront.
If psychiatric definitions could apply to a whole community, rather than to individuals, we would probably be diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health (U.S.) offers this definition: “Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness... causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function.”
That’s us in a nutshell. The community oscillates between a slow, relaxed pace of living that residents of downtown New York or Toronto would probably consider almost comatose, and something resembling manic.
And like any individual suffering from bipolar disorder, we’re bewildered by what seems to be happening to us. It seems to be out of our control. It’s not something we’re doing – it’s something being done to us, by outsiders, who come, do their damage like an infectious virus, and then go, leaving us exhausted.
We react to the annual invasion with either anger or depression. Some simply feel helpless. Others call meetings and brainstorm improbable solutions. Some dream of limiting access to the whole community, putting gates across the only three access roads. A few seriously consider sabotaging those who thoughtlessly disrupt our privileged lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the situation gets worse, every summer.
The National Institute of Mental Health has good news for individuals: “Bipolar disorder can be treated.”
But how do you treat a whole community?


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Stephani Keer noticed a “funny split in a headline on CNN Headline News.
Gas will pass
$4 this weekend

Ray Reese on the Gold Coast in Australia enjoyed a giggle at a change of plans announcement that ended, " We trust this won’t cause too much of an incontinence."
At a photo club gathering the other night, a member asked me for my e-mail address, so I gave him my card. “What’s that DD after your name?” he wondered. “Designated Driver?”
For those in leadership roles in the church, “Designated Driver” – someone who keeps a hand on the wheel and tries not to be intoxicated by wealth, power, popularity – is not a bad title.

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 mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit.
Plutarch via Lisa Heckman

Two things are infinite. The universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the former.
attributed to Albert Einstein

My idea of a Super Bowl is a toilet that cleans itself.
Erma Bombeck via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Shirley Hutchins writes: “I believe your information on Mother's Day is not quite right.
“Anna Jarvis of Grafton, WV is considered ‘the mother's day’ person. She did this to honor all mothers. She began her emphasis, crusade, devotion, whatever you want to call it, in her own home town with a special church service on the anniversary of her mother's death, May 14, 1905. A letter writing campaign followed. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday of May as Mother's Day and urged citizens to fly the American flag "as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

Jim Spinks found an interesting word on the web recently. “If you've got a long list of complaints you might want to characterize them, somewhat literarily, as a jeremiad. The word, an 18th-century entry into English, is inspired by Jeremiah, the Old Testament fellow who found much not to his liking in Lamentations.”
Jim, Jeremiah is easily my favorite prophet, I think because he was just a little bit nuts (in the best sense of the word).

Lauren Moore of Lake Village, Arkansas writes: You brought me up with a start this morning when I read “keepers of the sacred Bloopers,” in Rumors.
In a sense that’s what we preacher/pastor folks are. Part of being human is getting things all mixed up and arse-backwards. Bloopers happen, to paraphrase a well-known saying. But as I habitually remind my congregations, as Christmas comes near and everyone is in a pure frenzy about making it come out “perfect,” somehow it’s the stories of the imperfect ones that get remembered and handed down through the family. So the bloopers are sacred, because they are part of what we pass on to remind each other and the generations yet to come of who we are and who God is.

George Brigham of Shipley, West Yorkshire, says our story about the dead dog in the suitcase reminds him of another dead dog story.
Two policemen, in England, were keeping watch on a site near a pond, in a wood. They were part of a surveillance operation that had been going on for months at the site of an IRA arms cache. It was boring. Nothing ever happened and they didn't expect anything to be different that night.
Then it happened. A car drove up. The driver got out. He opened the boot (which is, being interpreted, the trunk) and threw something quite heavy into the pond. Was it more weapons, or what?
They noted the registration of the car and when it drove off they dragged the heavy object out of the pond – a dead dog. Having checked the address of the car owner – an address about 10 miles away – one of the policemen noted that it was on his way home.
So it was that, about 6 am, a dead dog was placed on the doorstep of a house in a suburban street and, next morning, the owner was left to wonder how the dog had found his way home.

Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado writes that they have “just fixed some cracks in our roof with four Eterna-Bond patches. Given its theological name, I was wondering whether this is a material made just for churches.
Last week, we were in a church that was having its slate-roof replaced – by a company called Grace. Each large slate had "Grace" written prominently across its center – leading one of our facilitators to remind us that we were all now covered by Grace.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Play ball!”) All sport has many elements of a religion mixed in with it. Years ago I managed to ruffle more than a few feathers by doing a piece on the CBC claiming that the Grey Cup (football) Game was Canada’s greatest religious festival.
This, from John Severson and Evelyn McLachlin.
Religion as Baseball
* Calvinists believe the game is fixed.
* Lutherans believe they can't win, but trust the Scorekeeper.
* Quakers won't swing.
* Unitarians can catch anything.
* Amish walk a lot.
* Pagans sacrifice.
* Jehovah's Witnesses are thrown out often.
* Televangelists get caught stealing.
* Episcopalians pass the plate.
* Evangelicals make effective pitches.
* Fundamentalists balk.
* Adventists have a seventh-inning stretch.
* Atheists refuse to have an Umpire.
* Baptists want to play hardball.
* Premillenialists expect the game to be called soon on account of darkness.
* The Pope claims never to have committed an error.

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Bottom of the Barrel – This from Stephani Keer, who should hang her head in shame. What is the world coming to!? Titch! Titch!
A Girl Potato and Boy Potato had eyes for each other, and finally they got married, and had a little sweet potato, which they called 'Yam.'
Of course, they wanted the best for Yam.
When it was time, they told her about the facts of life.
They warned her about going out and getting half-baked, so she wouldn't get accidentally mashed, and get a bad name for herself like 'Hot Potato' and end up with a bunch of Tater Tots.
Yam said not to worry, no Spud would get her into the sack and make a rotten potato out of her but on the other hand she wouldn't stay home and become a Couch Potato either.
She would get plenty of exercise so as not to be skinny like her Shoestring cousins.
When she went off to Europe, Mr. and Mrs. Potato told Yam to watch out for the hard-boiled guys from Ireland and the greasy guys from France. When she went out west, they told her to watch out for the Indians so she wouldn't get scalloped.
Yam said she would stay on the straight and narrow and wouldn't associate with those high class Yukon Golds, or the ones from the other side of the tracks who advertise their trade on all the trucks that say 'Frito Lay.'
Mr. and Mrs. Potato sent Yam to Idaho P.U. (that's Potato University) so that when she graduated she'd really be in the Chips.
But in spite of all they did for her, one day Yam came home and announced she was going to marry Tom Brokaw.
Tom Brokaw!
Mr. and Mrs. Potato were very upset.
They told Yam she couldn't possibly marry Tom Brokaw.
Why? Because he is just a common tater.

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