Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Preaching Materials for June 29, 2008

R U M O R S # 507
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

June 22, 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 – holy improbability
Revised Common Lectionary – testing one, two, three
Rumors – a theology of laziness
Soft Edges – grace before meals
Bloopers – easier than drawing a pig
Mirabile Dictu! – nacho cheese
Bottom of the Barrel – God is a civil engineer
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Winston Churchill was not noted for his piety, but he was noted for his wit.
One Sunday, he made a rare appearance at the parish church near his home at Chartwell. At the end of the service, the rector met Sir Winston at the door. “Well, Sir Winston. You are not quite a pillar of the church, are you?”
“No,” said Sir Winston. “I am a buttress. I support it from the outside.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, June 29th, which is the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.

Story Lectionary – Genesis 17 & 18
The intention is not that you read all of these two chapters in church next Sunday. I’d suggest you go to:
where you can see how we’ve done this in a Reader’s Theatre style.
I read a newspaper item not long ago about a Swedish woman (or maybe she was Danish) who had lived to the age of 115. She still had all her marbles, even at that age. When asked about the secret of her long life, she said, “Keep breathing.”
Which is good advice. There is a distressingly high mortality rate among people who stop breathing.
There’s also a distressingly high mortality rate among people who stop laughing. Being of the male gender, I have no personal experience of giving birth but I am told it can be very tough. Especially when you are almost as old as that woman in Sweden.
When geriatric Sarah heard that she was going to bear a child, she laughed. I wrote a poem about that, which you can find at:
Laughter was the only appropriate response to the glorious, ludicrous, holy improbability of it all. And my imagination has God laughing along with Sarah.
Laughter is serious business. Which is a problem.
Everyone agrees that humor is one of God’s great gifts of grace, but very few people give it any serious thought so they can use it effectively. It’s a bit like story telling. Most preacher people agree that stories communicate most powerfully with the folks in the pews but they go right on with their propositional preaching.
I submit that if Sarah had been the steel-jawed, thin-lipped type, she would never have gotten pregnant in the first place, much less seen baby Isaac to term.
People with a lively sense of humor – people who delight in all the wild stuff life throws at you – such people are much more likely to survive the tough, up-hill climb that life so often turns out to be.
So Sarah is a role model for me. I’ll look to her spirit when life throws another jab at my solar plexus.
Don’t forget to look for the resources at the story lectionary site.


Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 22:1-14 – We’re quite accustomed to seeing folks check the microphones before an event of some sort. “Testing, one, two, three.” Before the content of the event begins, we test the system to make sure the sound is getting through.
The first verse of this passage tells us this is a test. Let’s see if the systems are working. If they are, then the message can get through. God tests Abraham to see if his faith is strong enough to bear the message, “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven.”
I have often wondered if having children is a basic human right, or is it a privilege. I had to take a driver’s test before I was allowed to drive a car. But being parent to a child is far, far more difficult and dangerous than driving a car. So is Grandparenting.
Should parenting require medical, psychological and spiritual testing? I know. That’s not politically possible and probably not ethically defensible either. But I had a conversation a few years ago with a pediatrician who worked in one of the inner city hospitals in New York. Most of the mothers had substance abuse issues. She talked about the agony of delivering a baby and putting it in the arms of the mother, knowing that the child had an almost zero chance of growing up without huge social and emotional problems.

Psalm 13 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
A friend with cystic fibrosis had a double lung transplant. For six months, his body tried to reject the lungs that offered him new life.
How long, O Lord, must I lie here?
Will you ignore me forever?
How long must I struggle along on my own?
My body aches all over;
My own organs war against me.
Will you let them win?
How long can I keep up this battle?
How long can I keep on fighting?
Listen to me, God!
In the dead of night, answer me!
Or let me die.
Then my illness can rejoice,
for it has triumphed over me;
It has killed both of us.
Ah, but I trust you, Lord.
Whatever happens, I know
that I am safe in your love.
There is nothing more I could ask, living or dead.
So I will praise you, whatever happens.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 6:12-23 – Paul, I think, has been stung by criticism that his justification by faith opens the door to sinful living. So he asks the rhetorical question: If we live by grace, can we then sin with impunity? “By no means.”
Having felt God’s love flood our souls, we will do our level best to live in a way that offers growth and health to those around us, and to avoid sin that is inevitably hurtful to others and ourselves.
My concern is that Paul defines “sin” much too narrowly – mostly in sexual terms. “Member” is his euphemism for the phallus. Certainly we can be abusive to others and destructive to ourselves in our sexuality, but there lots of other sins that are every bit as destructive. Perhaps much more so.

Matthew 10:40-42 – This is a kind of wrap-up summary of the teachings in the previous chapters. The language is a bit confusing, so it’s good to take your time reading through it.
Jesus’ grounding in the Hebrew tradition shows through. His hearers would have understood exactly what he meant by a “prophet’s reward,” or the “reward of the righteous.” Not being steeped in the Jewish tradition, this can be a bit of a puzzler. But we have no trouble understanding what he means about giving “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones.”

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 142 for a story based on Genesis 22, and a story based on the Matthew passage on page 145. A children’s story based on the Genesis 17 passage may be found on page 133.
Good news! Year B is ready! I have held a copy in my trembling little hand.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – We’ve had a very cool spring in this neck of the woods. The crops are 10 days to two weeks behind. Last Monday was the first day that began to feel a little bit like summer. Not hot, but sun all day long and we ate lunch on the back porch.
Most of the people who subscribe to Rumors are worker bees who tend to do 70 hours weeks and find it had to take a rest. So this time of year I usually do my little sermon on creative laziness.
In an on-line discussion group some years back I was trying to generate some action. Most of the people in that group were clergy. “It’s summertime,” I said to the folks, “an’ the living is easy. Fish a jumpin’ and the cotton is high.” (I tried to claim that as original poetry, but they wouldn’t let me.) “What about a theology of laziness so we can use it to get all those workaholic clergy to take decent a summer vacation?
One of those clergy, Deborah Laing (at that time from Rock Island, Quebec) did some "biblical research." This is what she sent me.
· Luke 12:24 “Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin...”
· Job 2:11-13 “Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place . . . And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him . . .”
· Isaiah 40:30-31 “Even youths shall faint, and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength . . .”
· Lamentation 3:25-26 “The Lord is good to those who wait . . . to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
· Deuteronomy 5:14 “The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.”
· 1 Samuel 19:24 “And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel, and lay naked all that day and all that night.”
"I could go on," Deborah wrote, "but it seems rather self-defeating to put a lot of work into a treatise on laziness."
Well no. Kids, I think, can teach us a whole lot about creative laziness.
Some friends of ours own a hot tub. At the end of the day, the whole family spends 15 minutes together soaking. The kids simply enjoy it. The adults feel guilty because, well, “most people don't own hot-tubs and isn’t this a bit of a self-indulgent luxury? Besides, there are so many important things we should be doing.”
I think that's where the theology of laziness comes in. Kids understand it’s important to know how to be lazy. There are times to just lie on your back in the sunshine and soak up God's warmth. There are times to simply luxuriate in the long and loving hug of a good friend. The old preacher in Ecclesiastes was right. There is a "time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance."
There’s also a time to goof off.
There are two kinds of insufferable people in the world – those who can’t see the pain of the world and refuse to do anything about it, and those who can see nothing else. Balance is the key. There’s a time to work your ever-lovin’ butt off and a time to play dead. If you don’t get the two in the right proportions, you will end up either a burned-out workaholic or a socially irresponsible slob.
When I see a rose, it is my job – no, my holy calling – to stop and enjoy its beauty and to smell its fragrance. Nothing else. For the few seconds when I am smelling the rose I must be totally absorbed in it. But if all I do is smell roses, I would be a very sick social parasite.
In a couple of weeks the summer months – July and August in Canada – will be here. I am going to spend quality time on my back porch watching the birds and the bugs and the flowers and the leaves.
I hope the rest of you, if you live north of the equator, will have the self discipline to take significant time to refresh and renew. It’s not a right or a privilege. It is a responsibility.
And if this little diatribe sounds a bit repetitive, it’s because I lifted most of it out of “Angels in Red Suspenders.” I don’t need permission to steal my own stuff, especially in summer, and in that spirit you may find yourself reading a few Rumors re-runs as well.
Summer blessings all!


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Grace Before Meals
Last month, my wife Joan was asked to say grace at a banquet. She knew that most of the 200 or so women attending this event would be Christian, but she suspected that a few might be Buddhist, Hindu, Parsi, Baha’i...
In today’s pluralistic world, you can no longer guess someone’s faith tradition purely by skin color or facial shape.
So Joan decided that the grace should be non-denominational, and not even specifically Christian.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of table graces floating around. In books. In magazines. Joan and I chased through several dozen Internet collections.
But most of these graces are very specifically Christian. Which is fine, if you happen to be a Christian already.
Some terms that slip so flowingly off Christian tongues – Saviour, Father, Lord, Jesus – sound exclusive and even offensive to other ears.
Most of these graces also come out of an evangelical tradition which takes for granted that God is
(a) male, and
(b) has personally given His food to His people, whom He can count on to do His will in His world. (Capitalized pronouns are deliberate.)
We found very few graces that acknowledged what Alcoholics Anonymous calls “a higher power” without giving that “higher power” a particular name. And even fewer that expressed gratitude without presuming a supernatural being who meddles in worldly matters.
To put this bluntly, many graces sounded as if God belonged to us, rather than the other way around.
There were also lots of “camp graces,” suitable to the informal context of a summer camp.
Good food, good meat,
Good God, let’s eat!
Or, even less reverently,
Rub a dub dub
Thanks for the grub,
Yeaaaaaaay, God!
There are exceptions, of course. Joan and I both liked the Jewish format, “Blessed art thou, Creator of the Universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth...”
But we were not sure that it was right to borrow another religion’s wording, any more than we should attempt a native sweetgrass ceremony without belonging to that tradition.
Eventually, we came up with a compromise, a blending of themes from several sources:
Holy One, Universal Spirit, by whatever name we know you,
we thank you.
Bless to us this day our daily bread,
as we gather at this table, in the presence of our friends.
May the yeast of compassion,
of mutual understanding, of shared enthusiasm,
cause us too to rise like bread.
For some have food, and no friends.
And some have friends, and no food.
We thank you that on this night we have both. Amen.
My grandparents’ generation assumed that everyone belonged to our tradition. And if they didn’t, they should.
We can no longer make that assumption. A family dinner today could include Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Presbyterians, Mormons and Anglicans, or evangelicals and agnostics.
One alternative is not to say grace at all. I prefer, if possible, to find words that can respect the breadth, and wealth, of our various traditions, without forcing one tradition down another’s throat.

I’m sure there are other graces out there that fit Joan’s criteria. Some will come from more inclusive threads within Christianity. Some may come from other faiths, other ethnic traditions, other cultural expressions, even from supposedly non-religious sources.
If you know some of these, I’d appreciate receiving them. If enough come in, I promise to compile them and make the collection available on-line.
Send them to me at:


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – John Shaffer writes: “The hymn after the sermon today was supposed to be ‘Where Charity and Love Prevail.’ What we got was ‘Where Chastity and Love Prevail.’ Works for me.”
John, the deep, snarling cynic in me wants to say that these days both charity and chastity are in rather short supply.

Mary in Oman sent this along as a serious quotation from Joye Kanelakos. Or was the blooper in the original?
“Look into the depths of another’s soul and listen, not only with our ears, but with our heats, and imagination, and our silent love.”
Mary, I’m not exactly sure what “heats” would mean in this context, but if it means the places in our psyche where we get flaming mad – well that’s not a bad thing either.

Paul Woodhart asked a group of young teens who come from the 'huntin’ and shootin’ country in western New South Wales, “Why did the early Christians use a fish sign to identify themselves?”
The reply from a country boy: “Well, it is easier than drawing a pig.”

Vern Ratzlaff tells of the day “our pastor announced that the church would be going on its annual picnic to the Peace Arch Park. Only he announced that we would be going to the ‘Peach Arss Park.’”

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! – Oratory: the art of making deep noises from the chest that sound like important messages from the brain.
H. I. Phillips via Evelyn McLachlan

The only way you can get more out of life for yourself is to give part of yourself away.
Jim Stovall via Mary in Oman

One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows – the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, G.K. Chesterton via Jim Taylor


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Nacho cheese!”)
This from Don Propeck. I have no idea why most of the words are capitalized, but it was way too much work to change them all.
* How Do You Get Holy Water?
You Boil The Hell Out Of It
* What Do Fish Say When They Hit a Concrete Wall?
* What Do people up north Get From Sitting On The Ice Too Long?
* What Do You Call a Boomerang That Doesn't Work?
A Stick
* What Do You Call Cheese That Isn't Yours?
Nacho Cheese.
* What Do You Get When You Cross a Snowman With a Vampire?
* What Lies At The Bottom Of The Ocean And Twitches?
A Nervous Wreck.
* What's The Difference Between Roast Beef And Pea Soup?
Anyone Can Roast Beef.
* Why Did Pilgrims' Pants Always Fall Down?
Because They Wore Their Belt Buckle On Their Hat.
* What's the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut?
About 2 weeks


Bottom of the Barrel – This struck me as particularly funny because tomorrow I go see my MD for my annual physical, a highlight of which is when he takes the most indirect route possible to check my tonsils.
Three engineers, all male, were talking about God.
One was a mechanical engineer who claimed that God must be of his profession because, well, just look at the mechanical genius in the design of the body – all those joints and muscles moving in harmony.
“No, you’re wrong,” claimed the second who was an electrical engineer. “With the intricate nervous system of the body, God must have been an electrical engineer.”
“You’re both wrong,” said the third man. “God is a civil engineer. Who else would put a waste disposal line right through a great recreational area?”

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1 comment:

Yvonne said...

I have been recommending a book called "My Stroke of Insight - a Brain Scientist's Personal Journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor and also a TEDTalk Dr. Taylor gave on the TED dot com site. And you don't have to take my word for it - Dr. Taylor was named Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People, the New York Times wrote about her and her book is a NYTimes Bestseller), and Oprah did not 4 interviews with her.