Friday, June 13, 2008

Preaching Materials for June 22nd, 2008

R U M O R S # 506
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

June 15, 2008


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

The Story Lectionary – tea with Osama
Revised Common Lectionary – the painful, urgent story about Hagar
Rumors – Hagar’s story
Soft Edges – the dislocated life
Bloopers – a good laugh is a holy moment
We Get Letters – hold my coffee
Mirabile Dictu! – Zen sarcasm
Bottom of the Barrel – just like a woman
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The whole diocese was in an uproar. It was a layperson who saw him first, then a priest, and then the bishop. The bishop decided he simply had to phone the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“We’ve seen Jesus,” he stammered. “He’s sitting in one of the pews of the cathedral right this very minute. What should we do?”
There was a pause, and then the answer. “Look busy.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, June 22nd, which is the 6th Sunday after Pentecost.

Story Lectionary – Acts 10:1-48 is the selected reading. It’s longer than what we normally have in the church. But the intention is that it would be the only reading, and that it would done as Reader’s Theatre (which you’ll find on the website) to make the story more interesting and relevant.
It’s a story about how Christianity moved from being a sect of Judaism to a religion of the Gentiles. We don’t know much at all about the early Christian church between the first Easter and the evangelizing work of Paul. If you have the stomach for it, John Dominic Crossan has written the definitive tome on the subject – “The Birth of Christianity.”
Crossan tells us more than most of us want to know about Jewish Christianity – which did not separate soul from body – and how it got to be based on the Platonic dualism of body (bad) and spirit (good).
In our era, when people tend to hang fairly loose with their religion, we need to use our imagination to understand just how important Peter’s ritual cleanliness was to him. I’ve been scratching my head to come up with a contemporary example, and the best I can think of is Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. (Obama’s former pastor) going to visit the Grand Whatever of the Ku Klux Klan. Which is not really a good parallel at all, but maybe it will stimulate you to think of something better.
Or maybe Peter’s visit to the Centurion’s house might be a bit like George Bush going to a mosque for tea with Osama bin Laden. Or the other way around.
Please check out the Story Lectionary web site. There’s some good stuff there.


Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 21:8-21 – This story has particular importance in a world where we seem to be doing a re-play of the medieval struggle between Islam and Christianity. Again the world seems to be dividing itself into armed camps, which are really political but they are divided along religious lines. The most recent worry is the dangerous saber-rattling going on between Iran and Israel.
Hagar is kicked out into the wilderness with a bit of water and bread. Like any mother, she cannot bear to watch her son die. According to the Genesis chronicler, God responds to the cries of the boy, not Hagar’s wailing. Which is a bit hard to swallow.
What Hagar and Ishmael receive from God is definitely a consolation prize, while Sarah and Isaac win the jackpot – immortality through God’s chosen people – their offspring.
This is legend, of course, but it’s a legend on which most of us were raised. It is a founding legend that reflects the assumption of superiority on the part of the Judeo/Christian west.

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
God provides
1 Please, God, listen to me.
I am a single mother on welfare.
I am a native boy on the reserve.
I am a refugee.
2 I have tried to follow your ways, God.
I have attempted to hear your will.
So save me.
3 You are my last hope.
4 I offer you myself.
5 You are forgiving, you are gracious,
you pour out love for everyone who claims you as a friend.
6 I really need you, God.
7 I'm at my wit's end.
The doors keep closing on me;
Who else will hear me?
8 You can still rescue me.
You are God. You alone are God.
9 Eventually, all earthly powers must acknowledge you.
10 You are great.
16 So take pity on me.
I'm a child prostitute in the Philippines.
I'm a forgotten military mistress in Vietnam.
I'm a starving bag of bones in Somalia,
I'm a bloodied victim in Sarajevo.
17 Give me a sign.
Show me that you haven't forgotten me.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 6:1b-11 – Here is Paul describing for us what happens in baptism. The immersion under water is a symbolic burying of the old self and then rising into a new life – Jesus’ death and resurrection re-enacted.
I like that symbolism. I’ve never been totally comfortable with infant baptism even though we had all of our four baptized as babies. And I’ve never really liked the sprinkling method, even though that’s how I was baptized. My Anabaptist roots, combined with my melodramatic inclinations want the whole immersion thing, preferably in a natural body of water.
People in the liberal main-line churches wear their faith commitments much too loosely. I’ve often wondered what it would be like if membership in the church involved significant study, commitment and a dramatic walk down to the riverside.

Matthew 10:24-38 – Each Sunday there is evidence in our congregation that some of us guys are doing our best to make God’s job a bit easier. There are fewer and fewer hairs to be numbered.
Seriously, this is heavy-duty stuff. I hadn’t checked out this passage when I wrote the above blurb on Romans, and it was almost as if I’d been told, “OK Ralph, you want serious Christian commitment, this is what it’s about.”
And if I am really honest, I’d have to turn and walk away like the rich young ruler, knowing that I can’t accept that commitment. Or maybe it really isn’t an either-or situation at all.
When I think of it, my fragile faith has been enriched and strengthened by my love for family. And my love for my family has enriched and strengthened my faith. And the cross that’s given me to bear is made possible by the love I receive from them.

A children’s version of the Hagar story in Genesis may be found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 139, and a story based on the Matthew passage on page 141.
It was with considerable relief that earlier this week, I finished the first draft of Year C in this series. Year B has just arrived Wood Lake.
This has been the largest and most difficult writing project of my life. And I know Margaret Kyle would say something similar about the marvellous full-colour illustrations she has done.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – I can’t do better by way of commentary than offering an Aggada I wrote about Hagar and Ishmael, based on Genesis 21:8-21. It is in the book “Is This Your Idea of a Good Time, God?” (Wood Lake Books, 1995) That somewhat awkward title was taken from this story.

Hagar sat on a small rock in the blazing sun, rocking back and forth, back and forth, clutching her arms about herself, trying not to hear the distant wail of her son, her dying son.
A body-wracking sob escaped, and then a cry, and then a scream of terror and anger directed at anything, everything, directed at God, though Hagar knew that God was nowhere near.
The wail of her child stopped. He would die soon, then she would die, and it would be all over. Then out from nowhere that she knew, from somewhere deep inside her, came another scream, a screech, a cry of anger, of defiance, perhaps hate. Hate at God? Why not? What had God done for her except lead her into hope, then throw her out into the unforgiving desert with her son to die.
They say your whole life plays before you, just before you die. You see it all in panorama, all the good and bad of it, all the hope and hate of it.
And Hagar saw the child she was, taken from a home she later learned was Egypt, sold as slave to Sarah on whom she waited hand and foot for years and years. Old Sarah. Barren Sarah. Sarah without child, who argued and cajoled at God to give her children.
Just fourteen years ago – it seemed like yesterday – Sarah grabbed her slave girls arm, pushed her roughly into her tent and said to husband Abraham. "Here. Take this slave girl. Make her pregnant. If I can't bear a child for you, she can. But it will be my child. Do you hear that, slave?" Hagar nodded. Hagar had no choice.
Hagar was a slave, and so she bore the child as she was told. She nursed the boy. She loved the boy. But Sarah made it clear. "That's not your child."
And Hagar should have known. Slaves don't taunt their owners. But her contempt of Sarah grew faster than the child within her belly. "You're right," she snarled at Sarah. "He's your child, O barren one."
And Sarah lashed right back in anger. Abused and battered, Hagar fled into the desert. It didn't seem as bad that time. Hagar felt the love of God inside her then, and when she prayed, she seemed to feel an answer. "Give Sarah a bit of time to cool down, and then go back," God said. "You will bear your child. Give him the name of Ishmael, which means, God hears. God will hear you, Hagar. Your child shall grow up strong, and you shall hold his children on your knee. You and Ishamel will be forebears of a kind and gentle people."
Hagar tried to stay as far away from Sarah as she could, tried not to show the young son Ishmael to the angry matriarch. And for awhile it worked.
Then one day the rumors flew around the tents of Abraham and Sarah's tribe – rumors of angels visiting – rumors of Sarah and of Abraham laughing loud and long at the ludicrous good news that Sarah would bear a son.
"Great news," thought Hagar. "Great news for everyone, but not for me and not for my son Ishmael," now grown into his early teens. While joy and promise sang from every tent as Sarah birthed a son named Isaac, a son named Laughter, Hagar did not laugh. A sense of deep foreboding filled her soul.
The toddler Isaac wandered happily from tent to tent, and Ishmael was a kind and gentle lad who saw the baby fall, and hurt his knee a little, and picked him up to comfort him. When Sarah walked around the tent, she saw Ishmael with her Isaac, and screamed and cried and once again told Hagar to "Get out! I don't want to ever set eyes on you again. Get out!"
"But Sarah," Abraham tried to say, "It was you who brought Hagar to me. It was you who said that we should have a child through her. And now you want to throw them out? It isn't right!"
"That bastard boy of yours is old enough to take your place, old man," Sarah hissed. "If you die, he could inherit everything, and your son Isaac, the child God sent to us, would be out on his ear. So get rid of her and the boy now. Right now."
Abraham talked to God. "If I send Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert they will die," he said. "What should I do?"
"Send them," God replied. "I'll work it out."
"Sure, God, you'll work it out!" Hagar screamed at the blazing, copper sky. "Can you see my son over there? He's quiet now. Maybe he's dead already. I put him over there by that bush because I couldn't bear to watch him die. The child I bore so Abraham could have a son. Abraham sent us out here, with one lousy skin of water. Hardly any food. Well, we always do as we're told God. You want us to come out here and die, we come out here and die. Is this your idea of a good time, God?"
"Go and hold the boy," a voice within her seemed to say. "Go and put your arms around the boy."
Hagar stumbled over rocks and thorns to take the long thin body of her son into her arms. She could not tell if Ishmael was still alive. She poured her mother love into the boy, and cried her tears, and through them saw not far from where she sat, a well.
Through the water of her tears she saw a well. Water.
She almost dropped the boy in her hurry to fill the skin with water, then to press it to the thin cracked lips of Ishmael, who at first responded not at all. But then there was some movement, and slowly bit by bit he drank, and Hagar's hopes renewed.
Hagar’s hopes renewed, then crashed once more as she remembered who she was, a slave, and where she was. Nowhere.
Again she cried, she looked toward the well, and from the deepest well within her soul she heard a voice. "From you and Ishmael shall come a people," said the voice of God within her. "You will survive. Your son will grow. And he will have a wife and you shall then be grandmother to a fine and gentle race of people; a race of people who will know the pain that you have known; a race of people who will stand weeping outside the tents of wealthy men."
"You shall live, my son," she whispered to the child she held so close to her. "You shall live, my Ishmael, and you shall grow, and you and I shall be the forebears of a fine and gentle race of people." And then she added in a firm and hopeful voice: "A race of people who will suffer and survive."
Then Hagar drank some water for herself. She drank it deep, and knew that even though it would not be through Abraham and Sarah and their race, Hagar and her son Ishmael were loved of God, and children of the promise.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
The Dislocated Life
I’m what’s known as a “Third Culture Kid,” a term devised by author David Pollock for children who spent their formative years overseas.
My parents were missionaries in India. Other parents worked for the British colonial services, or managed manufacturing plants, or had military careers.
Obviously, we didn’t belong to our parents’ culture back home, wherever that was. Likewise, we could never fully belong to the culture of India or Africa; if nothing else, skin color and standard of living marked us as outsiders.
Our common characteristic, in fact, is that we don’t feel that we belong anywhere.
Deirdre Straughan, a much younger schoolmate of mine, put it this way: “Like many third culture kids, I felt out of place (though not unhappy) in the exotic countries I'd lived in, where I was obviously foreign even after living there for years. I dreamed of returning to a country where I would feel wholly at ease and be accepted as a natural part of the scenery.”
But when she returned to America, she found herself just as much a foreigner. “I didn't realize at the time what was going on; I only knew that I found it easier to form friendships with non-Americans, or with Americans who had lived abroad as I had.”
After attending one of David Pollock’s workshops on Third Culture Kids, Deirdre wrote, “I learned that in fact I'm not quite American. Neither am I Thai, or Indian, or Bangladeshi, or Indonesian, though some aspects of those cultures (particularly Indian) inform my attitudes and behavior.”
Because of our early experiences, we Third Culture Kids tend to go through life seeking a place, a cause, an organization, to which we can belong unconditionally.
But paradoxically, our conditioning also means that even when we find such a group, or place, or organization, we don’t believe we can truly belong to it.
And so we bounce from yin to yang, from wanting to be included, to needing to maintain our separateness.
As I grow older, and become more aware of the world beyond myself, I realize that this description applies to more than just missionary children. Vast numbers of people have been dislocated from their home cultures – by economics, by natural disasters, and by unnatural disasters such as wars, civil wars, and genocide.
Time also plays a role.
When I talk with other adults about the desire to belong, coupled with the sense of not belonging, people nod agreement. Many people in their 60s and 70s feel quite out of joint. They don’t belong in a world of rock music, instant messaging, and throwaway products, a world where loyalty lasts only as long as an unpaid debt and tomorrow is already too late.
They can’t go back. And they’re too old to feel comfortable starting over in a new and unfamiliar world.
In an increasingly pluralistic world, maybe we Third Culture kids are just a step or two ahead of the rest of you.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – John Willems of Medicine Hat, Alberta says they were singing about the “throne of God,” but up on the screen came the words, “the thong of God.” Says John, “The image now in my mind, completely distracted me and the sanctity of the moment was lost.”
John, no, the sanctity wasn’t loss. A good laugh is a holy moment, and one we should enjoy, knowing that God is laughing with us.

* On a church bulletin during the minister's illness: "God is good. Dr. Hargreaves is better." * Next Friday we will be serving hot gods for lunch.* Prince of Peach 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! – A father’s chief role is to delight in his child.
Sam Keen

Father’s day is like mother’s day, except you don’t spend as much on the present.
an anonymous but perceptive child

I don’t want to live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever,'
Miss Alabama.1994 via Peggy Neufeldt.

To err is human. To blame it on someone else is politics.
Unknown, via Velia Watts

Good Stuff – This morality tale from John Severson. John says, quite rightly, that it has appeared before but that was a long time ago. And it’s worth a re-run.
One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.
He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.
A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey would shake it off and take a step up.
As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up.
Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!
When life shovels dirt on your back, shake it off and step up.


We Get Letters – Linda Holstine sends this remarkable statistic. 98% of North Americans scream before going into the ditch on an icy road. The other 2% are Canadians who say, “Hold my coffee and watch this.”

Not a letter but a delightful bit of wisdom from Doug Hodgkinson of Kelowna during a recent conversation. He was referring to a person who shall remain nameless. “Deep down, he’s really shallow,” said Doug. Which was exactly true.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “sky diving is not for you!”) This from Patricia Magdamo, who got it from William Jarvis who got it from Craig Jarvis, who got it from . . .

Zen sarcasm
* Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone.
* The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tire.
* It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbors' newspaper, that's the time to do it.
* Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.
* Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.
* Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
* If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.
* Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.
* If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.
* Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
* If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
* If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
* Some days you're the bug; some days you're the windshield.
* Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.
* A closed mouth gathers no foot.
* Duct tape is like 'The Force'. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.
* Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.
* Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.
* Never miss a good chance to shut up.
* Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.


Bottom of the Barrel – Since we are now in the time of year when clergy and congregations begin to play musical pulpits, I thought this hoary old clunker might be useful.

The all-male pick-a-preacher committee had the job of deciding if the latest applicant had what it takes to be their minister. They didn’t quite know how to proceed, because this candidate was a woman.
“Let’s take her fishing,” suggested one of the committee members.
Out they went, early in the morning, the five men and the minister. Soon they were busy casting for trout, when the line of one of the men got snagged on a floating log. His tugging wouldn’t dislodge it.
So the lady minister stepped out of the boat, walked across the surface of the water, unhooked the snag, and walked back into the boat.
“Hmmmph” muttered one of the men. “Just like a woman. Can’t swim!”

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