Thursday, July 24, 2008

Preaching materials for August 3rd, 2008

R U M O R S #512
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

July 27, 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 – a re-thinking
Revised Common Lectionary – there’s enough for all
Rumors – imaginative play
Soft Edges – liberals and conservatives
Bloopers – daily feud
Mirabile Dictu! – another study
Bottom of the Barrel – poetic justice
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 Don Sandin: A very spiritual, devout and holy priest dies and is immediately swept up to heaven. St. Peter greets him at the Pearly Gates, and says,
"Hello, Father, we've been waiting for you for a long time. Welcome to Heaven! You are very well known here, and as a special reward, because you are such a spiritual and holy man, we're going to grant you anything you wish even before you enter Heaven. What can I grant you?"
"Well," the priest says, "I've always been a great admirer of the Virgin Mother. I've always wanted to talk to her."
St. Peter nods his head to one side, and lo and behold who should approach the priest but the Virgin Mary!
The priest is beside is himself, and he manages to say,
"Mother, I have always been a great admirer of yours, and have studied everything I could about you and followed your life as best I could. I have studied every painting and portrait ever made of you, and I've noticed that you are always portrayed with a slightly sad look on your face. I have always, always wondered what it was that made you sad. Would you please tell me?"
"Honestly?" she asked, with a little pained grimace on her face. "Well.... I was really hoping for a girl."


Story Lectionary – The Story Lectionary concept, as it is presently structured, isn’t working very well. Lots of people agree it’s a good idea. Very few actually use it. So like Fagan in “Oliver” “we are reviewing the situation.”
Stay tuned.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, August 3, which is the 12th Sunday after Pentecost.

Genesis 32:22-31 –This is the key episode in the continuing drama of Jacob. For Jewish people, this is when they are named.
Jacob becomes Israel. Israel means, “one who wrestles with God.” At the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition is this unique notion. Faith is a struggle. A wrestling match. God is not some autocratic big daddy up in the sky to whom we say, “Yes sir! How high sir?”
We wrestle with God, and in the process learn to know ourselves. This story gives us a good opportunity to think about the wrestling matches we’ve been avoiding – the truth about ourselves we’ve been running away from.
The great thing about this wrestling match: there is no loser. If God wins, we win. But always, if we have wrestled honestly and hard, we find ourselves, like Jacob, limping into our future.

Psalm 17:1-7, 15 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
I plead not guilty, Lord. Let me present my case.
Listen to what I have to say.
I tell the truth; my lips do not lie.
When you hear my story, you will know I am in the right;
You have the wisdom to see through any pretence.
Check up on me at any time, at any hour of the day or night.
Test me, and you will find me pure.
My words and my actions will prove my integrity.
As for what others do, well, do what you will with them!
But I have avoided their ways; I have walked the straight and narrow path.
I have not wandered away from the route you defined;
My feet have not strayed.
That's why I trust you to treat me justly, God.
Show me that I am right to depend on you.
You have a reputation for helping those who turn to you, who seek sanctuary from their enemies.
I rest my case.
I am satisfied that you will be fair.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 9:1-5 – When the first Christians began to move beyond the Jewish community and some Gentiles were converted, they had to do some re-thinking. If God’s covenant was with the people of Israel, then what’s with all the “goyim” who suddenly claim they too are children of the promise?
This passage is Paul’s run at trying to understand this. It doesn’t seem much of a problem for us now, but in Paul’s day, it was a big issue. Perhaps the question for us is whether there are people for whom we have “sorrow and unceasing anguish” in our hearts.

Matthew 14:13-21 – Don’t try to explain this passage. Any speculation about whether or how this happened misses the point. This isn’t a report of an incident as much as it is a parable, and it makes three points.
It’s a parallel to the Lord’s Supper – reinforcing the metaphor of Jesus as “the bread of life.” Secondly, it parallels Moses’ manna in the wilderness, implying that Jesus is the new Moses. Third, there are 12 baskets of leftovers, enough for all the 12 tribes of Israel (or in Matthew and Mark, seven baskets for the seven Gentile nations).
We might add a fourth point. God’s gifts are abundant. There is enough in the world for everyone, all the media noise about a world food shortage notwithstanding. Everyone will eat, but only if nobody takes more than they need.

I’m still away from home. Sitting under a tree beside Okanagan Lake, if you must know. So I don’t have my handy bookshelf beside me, which means you are just going to have to find the appropriate pages in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” all by yourself.
If you don’t own that resource, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – In the summer I tend to browse around in the “barrel” for old stuff I can regurgitate. I am having an extreme case of laziness, lethargy, indolence, languor, sluggishness and slothfulness.
I found this piece from way back in another century. July of 1999 to be exact. It may or may not have any connection with this week’s lections. In fact I would strongly recommend that you not read any of this and go for a swim. Or a nap. Or whatever.

As the proverbial guy who can’t walk and chew gum, I find it a challenge sitting on the porch on a summer afternoon involved in Jake and Zoë’s imaginative play.
It’s hard enough when Jake is completely immersed in Star Wars, and asks me to be Darth Mall (or is that Maul?) whom I have never heard of. Nor do I know the technology of light sabers. Zoë meanwhile informs me with great seriousness that the two tall pine trees in her yard are her “modder” and “fodder,” which I eventually realize are not the same personages as her real live mom and dad. These are kings and queens and she is a “pincess” and she and I are about to get married.
So far I am managing. Just.
Then a long grass straw which had been a light saber in Jake’s hands suddenly winds up in his mouth and he becomes a farmer. Zoë’s mythical parents have become castles, and a fierce monster, a.k.a. Jake, is attacking us. Realizing that I am now in well over my head, I try to concentrate on Jake the farmer. I don’t know much about farming, but I know a lot more about that than about Star Wars. Jake tells me he is a farmer delivering milk.
“Where does the milk come from?” I ask, hoping to keep things in familiar territory.
“The store,” says Jake.
“Doesn’t the farmer get it from cows?” I ask.
Jake looks incredulous. “Grandpa, don’t be ridiculous!”
It’s nice to know there are some things about which I know more than Jake and Zoë. (Remind me to enjoy that while I can.) I’ve had six decades more of living, so I hope there’s something in my experience – my reality – that I can share with them. But there’s quite a gap sometimes between 5 and 65.
Jake and Zoë wander off and I’m left sitting there thinking about this “generation gap,” the 60 years of life that separate us. I delight in their imaginative play – I’m warmed by their wild leaps of fantasy. A healthy child’s imagination is surely one of the wonders of the world. Then, as so often happens when I’m with my grandkids, I wonder if being granddad is a little like being God.
Don’t get excited. What I’m saying is that being a granddad sometimes offers small, flashing insights into what God might be like. However, and this is a big “however,” if 60 human years separate my reality from that of Jake and Zoë, then a gap of 60 light years separate my pious imaginings from the reality of God.
And if I have trouble keeping track of the ever-changing imaginative flights of my grandchildren, does God have trouble keeping track of 22,000 constantly evolving Christian denominations, to say nothing of the ever-changing variations of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, animists, New Age groups, etc., etc.?
Probably not. In fact, it just might be that God delights in our wild human imaginings much as I delight in the imaginary worlds of my grandchildren. It also might be that the gap between my grandchildren’s fantasies and my studied theology is minuscule compared to the gap between my theology and the mind of God.
That’s probably true and it probably doesn’t matter. The older I get (and the less I worry about being “right”) the more I hunch that all the extravagant plurality of our human religious expressions delight an infinitely loving and laughing (yes, and often crying too) creator God. So I am going to go back and watch Jake and Zoë a bit more to see if I can learn to hang loose with my pious and dreadfully orthodox religious imagination, and yet live my central convictions with the kind of intensity and delight I see in those two children.
Professors Zoë and Jake have a lot to teach their old grandpa.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Liberals and Conservatives
I have joked, in the past, that there are two kinds of Christians.
Liberals believe the Bible when they find it corroborated by science, academic research, or experience. Conservatives believe science, academic research, or their own experience only if they find it confirmed by the Bible.
Sometimes I think I came closer to reality than I intended.
So much depends on one’s definition of the terms liberal and conservative.
Unfortunately, the terms liberal and conservative also get tangled into politics, especially in the U.S.
As I understand it, the conservative right in the U.S. believes in church attendance every Sunday, capitalism, free markets, restrictive immigration, big corporations, the American way of life, tax cuts, personal wealth, and God.
The liberal left believes exactly the same things, but slightly less noisily.
Which makes the distinction between them perfectly clear. Doesn’t it?
To me, a liberal is open to new understandings – wherever they come from. Sometimes those new understandings will confirm the validity of a traditional doctrine or practice; sometimes they force a reassessment.
That does not mean throwing out the old concept – a presumption commonly made by conservatives. It merely requires viewing it through new lenses.
My definition of a conservative is one whose mind is made up, who doesn’t want to be confused by new facts. Faith is not a negotiable item.
But the former Anglican bishop of Kootenay Diocese, David Crawley, tossed off a definition that made me think again.
A liberal, said David, believes that all humans are basically good. Therefore humans will always choose the right path, if they just have the right education.
A conservative, he continued, believes that all humans are basically bad. They are born “fallen,” with a natural predilection towards evil. Therefore they need rules, to keep them on the right path.
I would normally consider myself a liberal. I honor and respect the Bible. I certainly don’t want to trash it, simply because I can find occasional contradictions or inconsistencies that reflect the culture of the times when it was written.
I believe that the traditions and doctrines of the Christian church are always open to re-interpretation – as we learn from science, psychology, experience, and other faiths.
As a self-professed liberal, I take my creed from the words of Jesus, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
By David Crawley’s definition, though, I think I’m becoming a conservative.
The Internet offered a glorious opportunity for free communication. Instead, it seems to have been taken over by spammers and pornographers.
Big corporations hire platoons of lawyers and accountants to show them how to short-circuit the law. Corporate CEOs inflate their incomes as the firm nosedives.
Governments refuse to act on climate change; trawlers ravage depleted oceans; forest industries cut trees as if there was an endless supply...
All of these could do otherwise. They have the education, and the intelligence, to make other choices. But they don’t. They choose to pursue their own short-term goals. Just the way criminals do.
They lead me to despair.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff –
Zoë McNair (yes, my granddaughter) at the lunch table: “For health and strength and daily feud, we give you thanks O God.”

Adam Kegel of East New Market, Maryland says the sermon title announced in last week’s bulletin was, “You Shall Commit Adultery.”

from the file.
* We are grateful for the help of those who cleaned up the grounds around the church building and the rector.
* We are pleased to announce the installation of a second font in the back of the church, so that now babies can be baptized at both ends."
* We pray that our people will jumble themselves.

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! – Remember, if you suppress laughter, you'll end up with a hardening of the attitudes.
Michael Kerr via Velia Watts

Religious ritual is a way of putting jumper cables on people’s souls.
Rabbi Hillel Goelman

Kissing don’t last: cookery do!
George Meredith


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “another study!”)
The panicky world learns that a giant meteor will crash on earth's surface in 10 days and end it all.
* Roman Catholics: converge on Rome for solemn papal prayers.
* Episcopalians: stage one last cocktail party before the end.
* Lutherans: “ein deutsches Bierfest” for the same reason.
* Baptists: hold biggest revival in history for one last attempt to turn the whole world Baptist before the end, whether the world wants to or not.
* Methodists: organize small groups for heart-burning prayer and testimony.
* Quakers: sit quietly and await the end.
* Mormons: plunge into the Great Salt Lake in earth's biggest baptism-by-proxy ceremony.
* Presbyterians: appoint a committee to make a thorough study of the entire situation.
* United Church: commission a study booklet so all the congregations can discuss the issue. They are to report back in two years.

Bottom of the Barrel – This is from Robert "Bob" Bates (MD Doctor of mirth) who lives in Florence, Massachusetts.

Alice Grayson was to bake a cake for the Baptist Church Ladies' Group in Tuscaloosa , but forgot to do it until the last minute. She remembered the morning of the bake sale and after rummaging through cabinets, found an angel food cake mix and quickly made it while drying her hair, dressing, and helping her son pack for Scout Camp.
When Alice took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured.
“Oh dear,” she muttered to herself. “here is not time to bake another cake.”
This cake was important to Alice because she did so want to fit in at her new church and in her new community of friends. So being inventive, she looked around the house for something to build up the center of the cake. Alice found it in the bathroom – a roll of toilet paper. She plunked it in and covered it with icing. Not only did the finished product look beautiful, it looked perfect.
Before she left the house to drop the cake by the church and head for work, Alice woke her daughter Amanda and gave her some money and specific instructions to be at the bake sale the moment it opened at 9:30 and to buy the cake and bring it home.
When Amanda arrived at the sale, she found the attractive, perfect cake had already been sold. She grabbed her cell phone and called her mom. Alice was horrified – she was beside herself. Everyone would know! What would they think? She would be ostracized, talked about, and ridiculed! All night, Alice lay awake in bed thinking about people pointing fingers at her and talking about her behind her back.
The next day, Alice promised herself she would try not to think about the cake and would attend the fancy luncheon/bridal shower at the home of a fellow church member and try to have a good time. Alice did not want to attend because the hostess was a snob who more than once had looked down her nose at Alice because she was a single parent and not from the founding families of Birmingham.
But, having already RSVP'd, she couldn't think of a believable excuse to stay home. The meal was elegant, the company was definitely upper crust old South but to Alice's horror, the cake in question was presented for dessert! Alice felt the blood drain from her body when she saw the cake!
She started out of her chair to tell the hostess all about it, but before she could get to her feet, the Mayor's wife said, 'What a beautiful cake!'
Alice still stunned, sat back in her chair when she heard the hostess say, “Thank you! I baked it myself!”
Alice sat back in her chair and smiled. “God is good.”

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