Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Preaching Materials for May 25, 2008

R U M O R S # 502
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

May 18, 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 – top-down control
Revised Common Lectionary – that aching, yearning love
Rumors – preaching around
Soft Edges – making sense of life
Bloopers – nice redemption
We Get Letters – completely experienced
Mirabile Dictu! – may cause drowsiness
Bottom of the Barrel – a bird named Moses
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The stewardship chairperson was giving a talk to the congregation.
“The Lord loves a cheerful giver,” she concluded. “But the Lord also accepts donations from a grouch.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, May 25th, which is the second Sunday after Pentecost.

Story Lectionary: Acts 2:43-47, 5:1-11
We chose this passage because it seemed logical to tell the story of how folks made out after the excitement of Pentecost. They decided that to live the kind of community the Spirit had called into being, meant that they needed to remove all economic disparities. But that all came down with a dull thud when human nature got into the mix. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to get credit for giving all their wealth to the community, while keeping some of it back for themselves.
Quite a number of years ago, while researching communal living for some magazine articles and TV shows, I came to the conclusion that the only communities that succeeded beyond their first charismatic leaders, were ones with a strong, top-down control.
Governments with a socialist inclination have managed a bit of it – such as the social safety net to pay for medical expenses and to provide care for those who are marginalized in the system. That’s at least a small slice of what the first Christian community attempted. Here in Canada, that small slice is under significant threat.
But honestly now. Are we really not quite relieved that Ananias and Sapphira brought some reality to the system? Bev and I put our 10% into the communal pot, but we clutch the rest of it pretty firmly.
Maybe the sermon coming out of this would be on the nature of community – and the role of money in that community.
The Reader’s Theatre version of this passage provides a basis for a reflection on this topic. Also check out Linnea Good’s and Jim Taylor’s contributions. Click on:
If you’d like to join the “Share-the-Wealth” on-line discussion group related to the Story Lectionary, just send me an e-mail at:


Revised Common Lectionary – Isaiah 49:8-16a
Things are a little weird with the lectionary because of Easter being so early this year. The RCL tells us to go back and use the readings for the 8th Sunday after the Epiphany.
Now that we’ve slithered past our allotted three-score and ten, and still chugging along, Bev and I have wondered – do you ever stop worrying about your kids? Well, no. You don’t. Even though they have made it quite clear they don’t want us worrying about them, which is like telling a stream to stop flowing downhill. And it’s made more interesting by the fact that at some point along the way, they start parenting you.
We imagine God using our own experience as metaphors. God as loving parent is still the strongest metaphor we have, even though it doesn’t work for some. But God, as the best parent we can imagine, works well for most people.
So those of us who are parents can feel the aching, yearning love in verse 5. “Can a woman forget her nursing child. . .? Even though said child is now middle-aged and a parent also?
It’s not perfect and certainly not complete. But as way of understanding God’s love for us, this is probably the best metaphor we have.

Psalm 131 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
For homemakers and secretaries and other important people.
1 I do not want to seem proud or ambitious. I keep my eyes on the ground; I don't push my own views; I don't meddle with business or politics.
2 But I take care of little things. I keep life running smoothly. I have learned to be content, not to be brazen or demanding; I accept whatever life brings me with humility.
3 Is there hope for people like me, too, Lord? Does glory go only to the great and the mighty?
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 – This passage has me scratching my bald spot. Did somebody accuse Paul of something? Is somebody complaining about his ministry?
It’s the reality of any community, gathered for whatever reasons, that somebody will find something about the leadership to complain about. Bev belongs to the Quilting Guild and I belong to a photo club, and as we compare notes from time to time, it is both amusing and distressing how they are so much like a church. Such as complaining about the leadership, though unwilling to assume that leadership themselves.

Matthew 6:24-34 – I remember the response of a single mother to this passage. “Yeah, right! It’s a week before payday and I’ve got just enough money to buy bread and peanut butter to eat for a week, but nothing left to buy a jacket for my kid, and it’s snowing outside. And I’m not supposed to worry? Get real!”
Probably not an exact quote, but that was the essence of it.
Would you read this passing to someone in Myanmar (formerly Burma), who’s home is obliterated, and who has no food and no drinkable water?
But the passage does speak positively to those of us who are living quite comfortably, with all the essentials of life, and pension cheques coming in regularly. Our physical needs are well met. And still we worry.
Is there a section of the human brain that is hard-wired to worry, and searches around until it finds something that isn’t 100% perfect to worry about? If there isn’t something really significant to worry about, we’ll pick something insignificant. But the worrying will happen. The only thing that changes is the subject matter.
Of course I don’t know if that’s true. But I’m inclined to think that among the most useless statements we can make is, “Don’t worry about it!”
But we can do something about it. Meditating on this passage is a really good place to start.

There’s a story based on the Isaiah passage on page 67 of “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” and one based on the Matthew passage on page 68.
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, 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 – One of the main things we do as a Christian community, is gather for worship. Ideally, the one who is pastor to the community should also be the preacher.
Of course, pastors need Sundays off for a variety of reasons and so around this neck of the woods, I often get invited to preach.
I call it “preaching around” which sounds vaguely promiscuous.” That’s because it is.
I’ve always understood preaching as an intimate act between pastor and the gathered community. Preaching at its best happens when the preaching springs out of the life, the hurting, the joy, the passion of the community. It’s almost in the category of pillow talk.
I don’t feel good about preaching except in my own home congregation. In other congregations, I go in, have my say and leave. That’s it. I don’t know who they are. They don’t know who I am. And I’m not there afterwards to pick up the pieces.
Do I enjoy it? Of course I do. And the feedback I get from the congregations where I preach is that they like it too. I can whomp out a pretty good speech.
But when they discreetly hand me an envelope with a cheque in it, I wonder if there’s a bit of a gigolo in me. I get my jollies. They get their strokes. I take my money and leave. Wham! Bam! Thank you Ma’am.
Of course that’s overstating the case. But every theology of preaching I’ve ever read says that preaching is not entertainment and it’s not education. Preaching is not a sacrament, but it is sacramental in that through it the Word may happen. When a sermon is faithfully preached and faithfully heard, there is the Gospel.
I’m not convinced that happens when I go into a strange church and do my thing. I’ve wondered about that when I find myself worshipping in another congregation. When I’m traveling, I visit lots of different churches and I’ve heard sermons that were mostly entertainment, or mostly education.
Some are almost caricatures. High profile preacher. Lots of pizzazz. Lots of jokes. Lively, entertaining sermon. “You gotta come and hear our Rev,” the folks are saying. “Really good!” So people come and “hear the Rev.” The best two-buck show in town. Those churches are full on Sundays. But the people in the pews are an audience, not a congregation.
The other extreme. Sermons are well-researched, reflecting the latest relevant social concerns. Every point is tightly argued. A few in the congregations find this very helpful. Most shut off their minds. The sermon dies on the steps of the chancel. It’s all good, worthwhile stuff but it gets nowhere.
On the other hand, I have worshiped in congregations where I felt like a guest in someone else’s home. That’s exactly as it should be. There were in-jokes and references and history and relationships I didn’t understand. The sermon was not designed to impress me. I was welcome to listen but the preacher was in conversation with the community. The sermon sprang out of a deep and caring relationship. On many of the faces I could see deep participation.
I recognize this and warm to it. I know it from my home congregation. A community confronting the Gospel together.
From “Sermon Seasonings,” Wood Lake Books, 1997


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Making Sense of Life
I listened to a woman interviewed on radio the other morning. She tried to explain how she had fallen victim to drug dealers, pimps, and con artists. And the difficulties she had dealing with social workers, police, employers, etc.
And etcetera...
What struck me most about her story was not her story, but how utterly incoherent she was. She couldn’t put one sentence together, let alone a logical sequence of sentences.
Hers was, perhaps, the most glaring example of this inadequacy. But it’s far from unique. When I think about it, I realize that I have rarely heard persons trapped in poverty and/or oppression express themselves clearly.
And I can’t help wondering if that’s part of the problem.
For four years, I had a boss who gave vocabulary tests to all his prospective employees. The tests may not have been legal – in far-off Prince Rupert, 40 years ago, few people cared.
He admitted that a vocabulary test couldn’t predict whether an employee would be honest, diligent, or skilled. But it did prove, to his mind, whether they had the mental tools for thinking.
He believed that we think in words. Therefore, the more words we have at our command, the more clearly we can articulate our thoughts. Conversely, the fewer words available, the more approximate thoughts must become.
While I no longer share his belief that we think only in words – we also think in images and analogies – I find some truth in his basic thesis.
Because when you cannot express yourself – even to yourself, to understand what’s going on in your life – you are forced back onto the two most basic emotions, fight or flight.
Fight means you constantly get into trouble with social authorities; flight means you constantly lose whatever progress you had been making.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like the denizens of Vancouver’s downtown Eastside?
It makes me wonder if our efforts to rescue some of these unfortunate people may be misdirected. Instead of offering them counseling, housing, or skills training – anything from basic money management to sheltered workshops to trades apprenticeships – maybe we should enroll them in an organization such as Toastmasters.
Granted, it’s an artificial situation. Speaking on a defined subject for two minutes, with criticism from your peers, hardly compares with talking your way out of getting beaten to a pulp by the Hell’s Angels.
But learning plumbing or hairdressing in a community college is an equally artificial situation.
Personally, I find that being able to talk (or write) about those things that cause me stress – from the death of a parent to returning a faulty computer – enables me to make sense of what might otherwise seem like senseless and even malicious fate.
The ability to organize thoughts and words won’t eliminate crime; fraud perpetrators tend to be remarkably persuasive. But it might reduce the number of victims, if only by helping them recognize recurring patterns of mistakes.
If I can’t make sense to someone else, I probably don’t make sense to myself either.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Stephani Keer writes “I recently ordered something using air miles I've accumulated and got a confirmation that says, ‘Congratulations on your redemption’."
Well, there you go, Stephani. And you thought the churches had a corner on that market.

From the file:
* There will be no home groan talent playing musical numbers during the banquet.
* This afternoon there will be a meeting in the south and north ends of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends.

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! – Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.'
source unknown, via Velia Watts
It is written (sort of): "In the beginning, there was nothing. God said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light. There was still nothing. But you could sure see it a whole lot better."
Ellen DeGeneris via Jayne Whyte

Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
Erma Bombeck via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Margaret Anderson sends a note about Mother’s Day. It didn’t start out as a Hallmark event designed to sell flowers and chocolates. It was instituted in Boston, in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe as a protest against the carnage of war and the use of force in the settling of international affairs.

Stephani Keer heard this story recently. A man was driving a buggy. With him was a much younger companion. The older man was talking about his faith, which was somewhat fundamentalist and brooked no argument.
"How did you know all this?" the younger man asked.
"Experience," the older replied.
Ten minutes later, the buggy got mired in a huge mud hole and the older man asked his friend to see what had happened. The younger man hopped out and surveyed the situation.
"I think," he said to the older man, "we're completely experienced."


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “May cause drowsiness!”)
Jim Taylor wonders about people’s inability to express themselves. Here’s some additional depressing evidence from actual label instructions on consumer goods.
* On a Sears hairdryer: “Do not use while sleeping.”
* On a bag of Fritos: “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.”
* On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding: “Product will be hot after heating.”
* On packaging for a Rowenta iron: “Do not iron clothes on body.”
* On Nytol Sleep Aid: “Warning: May cause drowsiness.”
* On Sainsbury’s peanuts: “Warning: Contains nuts.”
* On an American Airlines packet of nuts: “Instructions: Open packet. Eat nuts.”
* On a child’s Superman costume: “Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.”
* On a bottle of Palmolive Dishwashing liquid: “Do not use on food.”


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Larry Claus who writes: This seems new. New to me anyway. I would remember if it had been in Rumors in the last 8 years.

A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables. He picked up a CD player to place in his sack, when a strange, disembodied voice echoed from the dark saying, 'Jesus is watching you.'
He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight off, and froze.
When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head and continued. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard, 'Jesus is watching you.'
Freaked out, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot.
'Did you say that?' he hissed at the parrot.
'Yep,' the parrot confessed, then squawked, 'I'm just trying to warn you that Jesus is watching you'
The burglar relaxed. 'Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?'
'Moses,' replied the bird.
'Moses?' the burglar laughed. 'What kind of people would name a bird Moses?'
'The kind of people that would name a Rottweiler Jesus.'

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