Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Preaching Materials for June 15, 2008

R U M O R S # 505
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
2008-06-08

June 8th, 2008

THE TIMES THEY ARE A’CHANGIN’
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Motto:
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
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Thanks for all the good stuff you send me. Rumors would be pretty thin gruel without your contributions. Please put your name and where you are from in the body of the e-mail. Do that even if you’ve sent me dozens of contributions over the years. My forgetter and my appetite are the only things that work as well as they used to.

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The Story Lectionary – turning the church upside down
Revised Common Lectionary – old dogs learn new tricks
Rumors – change is good and change is bad
Soft Edges – body and soul
Bloopers – farmers on committees
We Get Letters – good news or bad news
Mirabile Dictu! – five bowels
Bottom of the Barrel – lessons learned
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)

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Rib Tickler – The church treasurer was ecstatic.
“Look at this,” she yelled. “We just got a cheque here for $200 thousand.”
“Who is it from?” asked the minister.
“Whoops. Wait a minute,” said the treasurer, taking another look at the cheque. “It says, ‘You will notice that I have not signed the cheque, since I wish to remain anonymous.’”

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Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, June 15th, which is the 5th Sunday after Pentecost.

Story Lectionary – This week we have another story about the early church. Peter’s Dream, based on Acts 10:1-48.
Be sure to check out the Reader’s Theatre piece on the Story Lectionary web site. Especially if you are pushed for time, because the thing runs about 8 minutes, and would only need a very short reflection added to make it a complete sermon.
The story has to do with change. Church people often don’t like change in the church. It’s the one stable place in an ocean of change around us. And the rate of change is accelerating. At a recent reception after a memorial service, I found myself in conversation with two young people I’ve known for years. One was undergoing a sex change and the other was planning to get married to a person of the same gender.
Such things were totally unheard of until just a few years ago. Whether you agree or disagree with such things isn’t the point here. Such changes are very unsettling to people because they are asking for a fundamental shift in the values we learned as children. If we didn’t find such issues both intellectually and emotionally unsettling, our values, our sense of morality, would be shallow and facile.
Yes, of course we need to think through the issues and get in touch with the pain and the joy being experienced by people who are struggling to be authentic to their deep spiritual sense of who they are. But at the same time we must be gentle and understanding with people for whom this represents a deep, sea-change of moral values.
Most of us don’t have a big tarp come down out of the sky and voices telling us that fundamental changes are needed. When Peter told some of his Jewish friends about his vision, he would have been most na├»ve if he expected them to say, “Well, yes. Of course. No problem.”
The more fundamental the value, the more difficult it is to change.
Check out the additional resources for the Story Lectionary at:
http://www.story-lectionary.com
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Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) – This is a delightful and powerful story. Three strangers arrive. Abraham does his obsequious host thing while Sarah eavesdrops and giggles.
I know there are many stories of miraculous births in the legends of many peoples, but next to the story of Jesus’ birth, this is the most famous one in our tradition.
The older I get, the more I love this story. A couple of old fogies too wrinkled and dried up to do much of anything, find they are pregnant. And this before high-tech gynecologists learned how get post menopausal women pregnant. (That sentence is a bit misleading, but I decided to leave it as is.)
Medical technology has discovered something else that is equally amazing and delightful. It’s not true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Healthy old brains don’t lose their ability to be creative and innovative. Various forms of dementia can do this, but medical science is zeroing in on that too. Most old brains don’t lose their elasticity. Brains and bodies need exercise and nutrition and if they get that, they can keep on being creative for a good long time.
Sarah’s pregnancy is a great metaphor for us seniors. At least, I’m finding it personally very helpful as I work on the last of the three-volume set of the Lectionary Story Bible. It’s been one of the toughest writing jobs I’ve undertaken. Let’s face it – doing a children’s story around some of Paul’s theologizing – or the prophets – isn’t easy. But the first volume has been published. Volume two is on its way from the printer to Wood Lake right now. And the first draft of the third volume is almost done. It’s easily the most extensive set of children’s Bible stories ever developed.
Sarah and Abe’s story has helped put the gas in my tank. And I’ve needed every bit of it.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
God Keeps a Promise
The little girl's eyes suddenly lit up. "Nana!" she said, pointing, "Nana!" And she climbed down from her chair and ran to her grandmother, who had just come in.
1 Granny listens to me.
I tell her my stories, and she believes me.
2 When others blame me, Granny doesn't jump to conclusions.
She doesn't get upset;
she doesn't always support someone else.
She really listens to me.
12 How do I thank her?
13 By running to her with my arms stretched out
whenever I see her.
14 No matter who is there, I run to her.
15 Granny says I'm precious.
16 Everyone else expects me to do things their way.
But Granny doesn't expect me to be anyone but myself.
I would do anything to make my granny happy.
17 I help her set the table, without being asked.
I help her crack eggs for the pan;
I like making beds with her.
18 Even when she has company visiting,
I fling my arms around her neck and hug her.
19 I love going to Granny's house.
I hope God is like Granny.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com

Romans 5:1-8 – This seems to be Paul’s central thesis, and I have no doubt Paul believed it absolutely. I have problems with it.
I confess, without hesitation, that Jesus is my Savior and is my window to God. His life and the way in which he died show me more faithfully than anything else I can think of, what a merciful, just, and loving God is like.
But I don’t understand how Christ’s death on the cross reconciles me to God. My sins, my guilt are real and they stand in the way of my relationship to God. My best metaphor for God is that of “loving parent,” so I believe God wants me to deal with my sin and guilt because they keep me from being who I really am called to be, and because they are a barrier between myself and my parent God. But God doesn’t need any payment – any third party intervention.
God simply wants our relationship to be healed and whole.

Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23) – If Matthew took this story directly from Mark, he seems to have added two significant elements to Jesus’ commission. The disciples are to stay in a house that is “worthy,” though it doesn’t say what that implies. And Matthew limits the mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
It could be that this was Matthew’s way of protesting against the evangelism among the Gentiles that was already in full swing. This was written after Paul’s letters.
There’s always been a difference between theory and practice in our churches. I’ve never known a congregation that didn’t endorse the theory of welcoming all kinds of people into the faith community. But rather than have them enrich our community, we often do our best to change them into copies of ourselves, so that they look and talk and act the way we do.

An idea!
If you have a child lector, why not use a reading from “The Lectionary Story Bible.” Even if you don’t have a child lector, but the first reading is done while the children are present, it would work well. Then the children present will understand the readings. Perhaps a few adults too.
You can find a story for children based on the Genesis reading in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 133, and on the Matthew reading on page 135.
If you don’t already own a copy of “The Lectionary Story Bible” click the main Wood Lake Publications website at www.woodlakebooks.com, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
http://tinyurl.com/2lonod
News! Year B is now available! You can also order it from the website.

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Rumors – Sometime ago I heard a song at a church event called “Embracing Change.” It didn’t say what change to embrace. Just change.
There’s a line in that old hymn, “Abide With Me,” that goes, “Change and decay in all around I see.”
Change is good. Change is bad. Both true. Both false.
The thing is, you never know where change is going to lead. Or where not changing will take you.
Not to change is to change because if you keep doing the same thing in a changing context, it will be different. If you read the same scripture, from the same translation to an eight-year-old and to an 80-year-old, they will hear it differently.
The advent of the automobile and the rumble seat changed the chaperonage system and the development of the birth control pill made recreational sex safe. (Well, not entirely, but that’s what it seemed like a first.) Together they brought about the sexual revolution.
Change for the sake of change isn’t necessarily useful either, but if you drag your feet and insist that the change be examined, you’re soon labeled a stick-in-the-mud. And it’s true that often we do drag our feet (it’s called referring to committee) simply because we don’t want to go through the inconvenience – sometimes the pain – of change.
Changing your brand of toothpaste isn’t going to rearrange your psyche, but some changes are so fundamental, they demand exactly that. You have to dig way down below consciousness to tear out attitudes that are so fundamental to who you are, you wind up bleeding and helpless.
Peter, asking Jews to admit Gentiles into the Jewish sect called Christianity, was as big and fundamental an issue for that tiny church as the issue of same sex marriage is in our day. The stuff that has been “drummed in our dear little ears” since childhood is very hard to change. It hurts, even when that change is absolutely necessary. I wonder if the Jewish-Christian church disappeared because it simply couldn’t go there.
Even when you know all the reasons, and you agree that a change is essential and necessary and just, it can still be painful. Your head can tell you that the fundamental values you learned in childhood are no longer valid or workable, but your belly may have a hard time catching up.
My appeal, in this time of rapid change in the church, is for care and kindness and gentleness and understanding all around. From everybody. From all sides of every issue.

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Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Body and Soul
When you read this column, you don’t see me at all – you see only some squiggly marks on paper. Unlike voices, those squiggles don’t make sounds. Unlike art, they don’t represent anything. They carry meaning only because our culture has agreed to assign certain sounds to certain squiggles.
As far as readers are concerned, I don’t need to have a body at all. Only my thoughts matter.
I find I sometimes treat myself the same way. When I work on a column, an article, a story, I am not conscious of my body. I pay no attention to the solidity of the chair beneath me, the temperature of the air around me, the hunger or thirst inside me.
All that matters is the words I put out.
I thought I was alone in this perception of myself. Then, a gardener commented that she ignored her body while working with plants. A painter said the same about painting. And a musician about her music. Even when their bodies demanded food, water, or a bathroom break, they still wanted one more practice run through that difficult cadenza, one more brush stroke to get that shape just right, one more weed to pull or seedling to plant...
We ignore our bodies until they hurt enough to demand attention.
I started wondering: if I were my body, what would I be saying to me?
In one sense, it’s a ridiculous question. It arbitrarily assumes that I exist as two separate entities that can have discussions with each other. But the “I” that responds is the same “I” that asks the question.
And yet it reflects a common perception in our society. We talk about body and soul, as if they were separate things. We believe that something, whatever we call it – soul, spirit, essence – will survive the death of the physical body.
My religious tradition has long made a distinction between flesh and spirit – we are to desire things of the spirit, and to renounce things of the flesh.
The distinction appears mainly in St. Paul’s letters – which were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. According to Luke’s gospel, Jesus simply said, “Blessed are the poor.” Matthew’s later gospel amended that to a more socially acceptable, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Paul occasionally takes the distinction to an extreme: “For what I want to do I do not do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do... it is no longer I myself who do it...”
Some other religions probably could not even ask the question, “What might my body be saying to me?” For them, body and soul, flesh and spirit, are all one.
Perhaps there is a me, beyond my body. I can imagine such a state. But I can imagine it only because I have a body that sustains my imagining mind.
For the time being, at least, I am – and can only be – an embodied self.

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Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Beth Hoskins of Woodruff, South Carolina says this appeared in a bulletin last Christmas. “Hark! The Herald, Angels Sin”
Of course, Beth. Isn’t it orthodox theology that only Jesus was without sin?

Jeff Challoner of Red Deer, Alberta, says a local choir presented a “program of madrigals, classical, scared and folk music.”
Jeff, it sounds like some the choirs I’ve been in over the years. They had every reason to be scared.

April Dailey says it’s been a busy time for their secretary in Ford City, Pennsylvania. In one report it was noted that there will be “an award to Dale Swank in recognition of his achievements as a life-long farmer in our committee."
April says the word should have been “community,” but I like the idea of having farmers on our committees. They actually might grow something useful.

From the file –
* Ushers may eat the late arrivals.
* Volunteers are needed to spit up food.
* We are gathering to unite this man and this woman in holy macaroni.

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. ralphmilton@woodlake.com

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Wish I’d Said That! – Gray hairs are signs of wisdom if you hold your tongue, speak and they are but hairs, as in the young. Rabindranath Tagore via Karl Olson

Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.
Claud Cockburn

Every day people are straying away from the church and back to God.
Lenny Bruce

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We Get Letters – Rob Brown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan tells the story of “three spiritual leaders on a TV show. They're answering questions.
The Jewish leader began his comments by saying, "The Torah says . . . "
The Muslim, "The Koran teaches . . ."
The Christian, "It's my opinion . . ."
About the Christian response – is that good news or bad news?

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Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “five bowels!”) Peggy Neufeldt of Ponoka, Alberta sent these. They’ve been on Rumors before, but I think there’s been a decent interval since then. My rule of thumb about re-running such things is simply, do they make me laugh again.

Q: Name the four seasons. A: Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.
Q: Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink.
A: Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.
Q: How is dew formed?
A: The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.
Q: How can you delay milk turning sour?
A: Keep it in the cow.
Q: What causes the tides in the oceans?
A: The tides are a fight between the Earth and the Moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature hates a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight.
Q: What happens to your body as you age?
A: When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.
Q: What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A: He says good-bye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery.
Q: Name a major disease associated with cigarettes.
A: Premature death.
Q: How are the main parts of the body categorized?
A: The body is consisted into three parts -- the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain; the borax contains the heart and lungs, and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels A, E, I, O, and U.

Q: What is the fibula? A: A small lie.
Q: What does 'varicose' mean?
A: Nearby.
Q: Give the meaning of the term 'Caesarian Section.'
A: The Caesarian Section is a district in Rome
Q: What does the word 'benign' mean?'
A: Benign is what you will be after you be eight.

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Bottom of the Barrel – Neill McRae of Aggassiz, BC, has done some extensive research – it should be worth a PhD in something – which has profound implications for the ecumenical church. Either that, or he found this on the internet.

Year 19811. Prince Charles got married2. Liverpool crowned soccer Champion of Europe3. Australia lost the Ashes tournament.4. Pope DiedYear 20051. Prince Charles got married2. Liverpool crowned soccer Champion of Europe3. Australia lost the Ashes tournament4. Pope DiedLesson LearnedThe next time Charles gets married, someone warn the Pope!

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Information and Stuff – (Read this section only if you want to know about subscribing, unsubscribing or quoting stuff from Rumors.) It would be nice if you could give Rumors a plug in your bulletin or newsletter. Please invite your friends (and even your enemies) to subscribe. There's no charge: RUMORS is free and it comes to your e-mail box every Sunday morning. Just send your friends the instructions to subscribe [below], and include an invitation to join the list ... perhaps something like this: “There’s a lively and fun newsletter called RUMORS which is available at no cost on the net. It’s for ‘Christians with a sense of humor’.” Please add the instructions to subscribe [below]. If you have a friend you think would enjoy Rumors, and you’d rather not give them the subscribing instructions below, send me an e-mail at ralphmilton@woodlake.com and give me the e-mail address of your friend. If you are using something from Rumors in your sermon, give credit only as appropriate, without stopping the sermon dead in its tracks. I am delighted when Rumors is useful in the life and work of the church. As long as it is within your congregation or parish, you don’t need permission. You are welcome to use the stuff in church bulletins or newsletters. Please say where it came from, and please invite people to subscribe to RUMORS. An appropriate credit line would be; “From Ralph Milton's RUMORS, a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor." ... and please be sure to include these instructions to subscribe to RUMORS: To Subscribe:* Send an e-mail to: rumors-subscribe@joinhands.com
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* Don’t put anything else in that e-mail* If you are changing e-mail addresses, and your old address will no longer be in service, you do not need to unsubscribe. The sending computer will try a few times, and then give up..~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*Please Write – If you respond, react, think about, freak-out, or otherwise have things happen in your head as a result of reading the above, please send a note to: ralphmilton@woodlake.com
Who knows, I might quote you in a future issue of RUMORS.All material is copyright © Ralph Milton.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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