Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Preaching Materials for May 18, 2008

R U M O R S # 501
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

May 11, 2008



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

The “Share-the-Wealth” on-line discussion group is just getting organized. It’s a place where we can share insights, ideas, comments, etc., etc., related to the Story Lectionary. A creative batch of folks signed on after my announcement last week, but we’d still like a few more.
So if you find yourself interested in the Story Lectionary, and if you’d like to swap ideas and suggestions with others, just send me a note.
We’d love to have you.


The Story Lectionary – not bad for a bumbler
Revised Common Lectionary – the universe begins
Rumors – what was before the beginning?
Soft Edges – observing the observer
Bloopers – pray for the embers
We Get Letters – it’s wonderful to be appreciated
Mirabile Dictu! – the book of Revolution
Bottom of the Barrel – under the circumstances
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 John, who didn’t give us his last name.
A Sunday school teacher asked her pupils, "Now, children, do you all say your prayers at night?"
"My mommy says my prayers," said little Jason.
"I see," said the teacher. "And what does your mother say?"
“Thank God he’s in bed.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, May 18th, which is Trinity Sunday.

Story Lectionary – Acts 2:14-42
The most surprising thing about this passage is that it’s Peter up there – standing on his hind legs and preaching a fine and powerful sermon.
In his preaching suggestions ( on this story, Jim Taylor lists Peter’s assorted “foot-in-mouth” incidents when Peter was following Jesus around the Galilee and in Jerusalem. How could such a bumbler suddenly become such a powerful preacher and leader?
I’ve read at least one commentary suggesting they were two different people. But I don’t think so. Because I know a number of people who have had that experience – from being a person who found it hard to order a sandwich at the deli, to someone who could stand up and talk to a thousand people.
As I think about those people, two factors come to mind. The first one (and I think they would need to come in this order) was the experience of being embraced by a caring spiritual community. The second is a real sense of the presence and empowerment of the Spirit.
I’m being careful not to use traditional Christian language here, because I think the phenomenon happens in many faith groups, It certainly happens in the Christian community right across the theological spectrum.
In fact, to a greater or lesser extent, this is the story of almost everyone who has taken the step of moving into a Christian vocation.
Myself included.
You can find the rest of the resources around this story at:


Revised Common Lectionary – Genesis 1:1-2:4a
OK, so I’m an old fashioned old coot, but there are times when want to revert to the good old King James version.
Years ago – way back in the 60s, I think, I heard a group called “The Speak-Four Trio,” (or something like that) out of Redlands University in California. They did this passage as “Reader’s Theatre.” And the passage fairly crackled with life.
Like any fine poetry – whether King James Bible or Shakespeare or Dylan Thomas or whatever – when it is spoken by a human voice with understanding and care and preparation – it comes alive with vitality and power.
And I find myself harping on the same topic over and over, because we miss so much of the meaning and intensity by the way the scriptures are droned and mumbled on Sunday mornings.
The opening phrase, “In the beginning, God . . .” came to mind as I was reading Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” He’s writing about the instant that creation happened.
“There is no space, no darkness. The singularity has no ‘around’ around it. There is no space for it to occupy, no place for it to be. We can’t even ask how long it has been there – whether it just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it has been there forever, quietly awaiting the right moment. Time doesn’t exist. There is no past for it to emerge from.
“And so from nothing, our universe begins.
“In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception.”
Or, as the words in Genesis put it, “In the beginning, God created …”

Psalm 8 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
This psalm is so familiar it seems sacrilegious to attempt a paraphrase. What modern metaphor could capture the sense of awe and adulation of this paean of praise?

My God, my God,
how wonderful you are!
There is nothing like you in the whole earth.
I look up to the skies, and I see you there;
Babies and infants open their mouths, and I hear them cry your name.
You have an aura that silences your enemies,
it keeps your opponents disarmed.
I look out into the universe, the infinite distances of creation,
sparkling with scattered diamonds,
and I feel so insignificant.
Why should you even notice me?
Why should you care about a mere mortal?
Yet you chose me to be your partner;
you have shared the secrets of the universe with me.
You have made me responsible for everything I see;
the whole world is mine–
the rocks and trees,
the birds and bees,
everything that exists in this wonderful world.
My God, my God, how wonderful you are!
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 – This passage is chosen for Trinity Sunday because of Paul’s three-fold blessing in verse 13. There isn’t very much in the Bible about the concept of the Trinity. Like so many of our metaphors, the idea of the Trinity is useful when it leads us to a broader understanding of God.
The Trinity metaphor has been a problem when communicating with people in other faith groups. To them, it often sounds as if we are worshipping three Gods. And I wonder how it reads to people outside the churches – or even to folks who find their way into church once or twice a year.
Is it a metaphor that has outlived its usefulness?

Matthew 28:16-20 – When Bev and I left for the Philippines way back in 1961 this passage was used in our commissioning service. Looking back, I can see a fair bit of arrogance in our attitudes, though of course we didn’t know it at the time. As they say, “hindsight is 20-20 vision.”
Among the slogans going around in those days was, “Christ for the world in our generation.” In other words, we were going to make Christians of everybody in the whole world. How’s that for “realistic goals?”
But this is Trinity Sunday, and the trinitarian idea is to be able to see God from three different angles – in three different manifestations. However, I think we’ve learned that people of other faith traditions have ways of seeing God that are wholesome and life-giving.
And that some of us blinkered Christians need to pay attention.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 121 for a re-telling of Genesis 1 titled, “God Makes a Universe.” I particularly like this story, and am tempted to use it on the 18th when I get to preachify at our church. There’s also a paraphrase of Psalm 8 on page 123.
If you don’t have a copy of 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.”
The second volume, “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B” will be out in a few weeks. You could order it at the same time.
For those of you in the Okanagan Valley, the book will be launched at the “Worship Matters” conference in Vernon, June 6-8.


Rumors – Absolute darkness. I’ve only experienced it a few times. Most recently in the Kartchner Caverns in Arizona. At one point along the tour through those magnificent caves, the guides turns off all the lights. And the group just stands there. In total darkness. Your eyes strain for any scrap of light.
And it’s scary. Because we almost never experience total darkness and when it happens it touches some deep and unexplored anxiety.
The same is true of absolute silence. I’ve only experienced that in specialized recording studios designed to deaden all sound. If you stay there in the studio all by yourself it also becomes frightening. Your ears strain for a sound, to the point where you can hear your own heart beating.
Total darkness – total silence – is alien to most of us. I asked a totally blind friend once, what it was like to have total darkness and he began to talk about his hands and his ears doing the seeing for him. Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, talked about the moment she made a connection between her sense of touch and a world out there.
So when we read, “In the beginning . . .” we find ourselves asking what was there before the beginning. Which is a dumb question because if it was the beginning there was nothing there before that. Not even time. Not even place. But it’s almost impossible to imagine that.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a God who exists outside the boundaries of space and time and place. In fact, I think it’s impossible, because as soon as we try to imagine God, we immediately use categories that are part of our human experience – a something – a being that exists somehow.
It’s not just that we run out of words. We run out of imagination.
Scientists talk about the big bang – an expansion into time and space that began with – what? Well, nothing.
Scientists can no more talk about or imagine what was there before there was anything, than we can. We move from science into mystery.
So those opening words of the Bible come to our rescue. “In the beginning, God . . .”
And it would be good not to add anything to those words for awhile, because as soon as we do, we put God into categories and concepts of our own making.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Observing the Observer
I am not an original writer, which is probably why I have never written a novel. I borrow ideas, massage them a little, and pass them on.
Today, I’m borrowing from two friends, both retired United Church ministers.
John McTavish, of Huntsville, Ontario, wrote a newspaper review on the musical Grease put on by the local high school. “I couldn't believe how good it was,” John told me. “Sadly, mine was the only review the kids received.”
Then he added, “It makes one realize the importance of the Bible. No good having God do something special unless there's somebody around to appreciate the miracle and [attempt to] explain to others what happened.”
It’s like the old question: If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?
The second friend, Bob Thompson of Vernon, mused in a sermon about the welfare of the planet.
If all humans were to disappear – Bob didn’t explain how, but I’m fairly sure he wasn’t expecting them to be “raptured” away – the planet would probably survive just fine.
But if all the insects, or all the field mice, or all the algae vanished, the web of life would be catastrophically affected.
As quite a few ecologists have argued, we humans behave a lot like cancer cells, destroying the host we live off.
As an aside, Bob wondered how God might feel about not having any humans any more. “Would a sunset still be beautiful, if there were no one to appreciate it?” he asked.
See the connection, now?
We used to have a dog who raced outside every morning and then froze on the top step, inhaling the new day. Perhaps he was just checking the overnight news. I like to imagine he was absorbing the glory of nature, with the same awe I feel in the stained-glass glory of a gothic cathedral.
Cats preen in the sun. Whales and otters frolic in water. Crows wheel and dive, tossing a stick around in the air.
Animals can certainly enjoy what we call God’s creation. But that doesn’t prove they appreciate beauty.
Modern physics and anthropology both affirm that the observer influences the observed facts. Simply by being there, the anthropologist affects the patterns of life he or she is studying. Likewise the technique used for observing sub-atomic entities determines whether they will act as particles or as waveforms.
It begins to look, uncomfortably, as if much of what we believe to be reality really does depend on someone observing it. Which would mean that a falling tree does not make a sound, unless someone can hear it.
I don’t like that notion much – it seems too subjective, too much like the esoteric theories that nothing exists outside my own mind. I believe that there is a reality independent of my perceptions.
Still, would we even be aware of a God, if no one had paid attention to God’s interactions with us, and recorded them?


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Marg Smith of Stratford, Ontario noticed that last Sunday the Postlude was “Crown Me With Many Crowns.”
Sounds good to me, Marg. All of us could do with a few crowns now and then.

Hugh Pett of Kelowna, BC, saw it on one of the slides he was projecting in church. It was prayer in which the congregation was urged to “think God. . .” rather than “thank God.”
Which, as Hugh observed, is not a bad idea at all.

Mary Beer of Burlington, Ontario, wrote a liturgy “to bless Bev Buckingham, who was heading off for a three month sabbatical.” Mary noticed she had typed, “"Bev, will you pray for the embers and ministry of this congregation?"
Mary ! You should be so fortune! You have embers! At least, when the Spirit blows, they glow and just might burst into flame.

Dee Smith saw it in a newsletter. It was about saying goodbye to their minister, who was described as having “brought a positive, hipful and energetic attitude to our congregation."
Dee wonders if being ‘hipful,’ as in ‘with it,’ aware, up-to-date, etc., might bring some useful change to our church.

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 riddles of God are more satisfying than [human] solutions. It is so easy to be solemn; it is so hard to be frivolous.
G.K. Chesterton via Jim Taylor

The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not.
George Bernard Shaw via Sandra Friesen

The refusal to love is the only unbearable thing. Love is what makes persons know who they are.
Madeleine L'Engle via Dee Smith


We Get Letters – I didn’t realize that admitting to 500 issues of Rumors, and my wondering about when I should quit, would generate a batch of very kind letters from many gracious people. Thank you all! It is wonderful to be appreciated.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “The Book of Revolution!”) This from Fred Brailey. It’s alleged to be a child’s book report on the Bible, which it clearly isn’t. But it’s fun anyway.

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. God said, 'Give me a light!' and someone did. Then God made the world.
God split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars.
Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.
One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.
After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat. Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Light out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti.
Then God gave them the Top Ten Commandments. These include don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's stuff. Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.
One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Gristle and the fence fell over on the town. After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me.
After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.
After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of the New Testament. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. I wish I had been born in a barn, too, because my mom is always saying to me, 'Close the door! Were you born in a barn?' It would be nice to say yes.
During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Republicans. Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.
Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount. But the Republicans and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.
Any way's, Jesus died for our sins then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminium. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.


Bottom of the Barrel – Vinny Rickeman of Bethel, Maine writes: “the dog in the suitcase story reminded me of another one.”
An old man lived alone in the country. He wanted to dig his tomato garden, but it was difficult for him as the ground was hard and rocky. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament: A few days later he received a letter from his son:Dear Dad,Don't dig up that garden. That's where I buried the bodies. At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son:Dear Dad,Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.

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