Thursday, July 3, 2008

Preaching Materials for July 13, 2008

R U M O R S # 509
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

July 6, 2008


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

For all those folks here in the northern hemisphere suffering from the Protestant Workaholic Syndrome, you have my permission – yea and verily I encourage you to do the utterly unthinkable, even though the thought of it may make you tremble in fear for your eternal soul. Read no further. There is nothing below important enough to disturb your summer somnolence. You are tired and you need a rest. Yes you are and you do! I am older than you and therefore know better.
Go to “Edit” then down to “Select all: then hit the “delete” button followed by the “Y” for “Yes,” you actually do want to commit this electronic ejaculation to computer purgatory.
The same process works on other stuff that comes down the tube.
Yes it does!
This offer expires on September 1, 2008.


The Story Lectionary – designer God
Revised Common Lectionary – double standards
Rumors – the story of Esau
Soft Edges – mental house cleaning
Good Stuff – ask the right question
Bloopers – the gift of what?
We Get Letters – atheists believe in God
Mirabile Dictu! – stamp out stewardship
Bottom of the Barrel – world’s worst/best puns
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – It was a week into the voyage of the Ark. Noah and his wife Noee were touring the ark, clipboard in hand, checking on the animals.
Noah: “Two elephants.”
Noee: “Check.”
Noah: “Two horses.”
Noee: “Check.”
Noah: “Two goats.”
Noee: “Check.”
Noah: “A hundred and sixty-three rabbits.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, July 13th, which is the 8th Sunday after Pentecost.

Story Lectionary – Genesis 22:1-19: The Sacrifice of Isaac
This is a key story in the Islamic tradition. The word “Islam” means “submission,” and this is the story of Abraham’s submission to God.
It’s good to reflect on that as we tell this story. A “Bizarro” cartoon recently showed God looking at a billboard with a cutaway picture of a human head showing the brain. A little arrow pointed to the brain and it said, “You are here.”
Because in every religious tradition I can think of, there is a strong tendency to shape our image of God in terms of our personal fears and hopes and dreams. Make our own designer God.
I don’t really know how you get around that, given human nature and the way we think and shape our own perceptions. I suspect every one of us does that – at least to some extent. How would we know what is genuine logic or real revelation and what is shaped in the millions of folds within the fecund human brain?
Probably the best we can do is hear the story over and over, and try to listen to what the story is saying to that part of our psyche where we form our images of God. Perhaps if we put ourselves in Isaac’s sandals. Or Abraham’s. Or Sarah. Did she know about this? “What was she thinking or feeling there in the tent, knowing that her husband had left with her son to kill him on a mountain somewhere. “Your son, your only son” the story keeps repeating.
What does it mean to give to God the very thing we treasure most?
To find a “reader’s theatre” version of this story, and to discover other resources by Jim Taylor and Linnea Good, go to:


Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 25:19-34 – “I remember when. . .”
Like normal grandparents, Bev and I enjoy telling stories about our grandchildren. The hard part is finding someone who’s willing to listen. Many of our friends are also grandparents, and they have the annoying habit of jumping in with stories of their grandchildren whenever we take a breath. So we wait till they take a breath and then top them with a better story about our grandkids. The competition is fierce out there!
But in this legend of Jacob and Esau, there’s way more at stake than simply grandparental bragging rights. It is a legend told to show why it is that the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites, are so much superior to the descendants of Esau, the Edomites. There’s no doubt that the Edomites had their own legends that told a very different story, but the Bible isn’t written from their perspective.
I like Esau more than I like Jacob. Esau’s an easy-going kind-hearted guy. Jacob is a shyster. A trickster who likes nothing more than getting the best of someone else.
Theirs was a tribal culture. In many tribal cultures a sense of what is right and wrong depends on who is doing what to whom. If you can diddle someone from anther tribe, that’s just fine. In fact, it’s your responsibility to do that if you can. The Israelites told with relish, how their Jacob hornswoggled those slow, stupid Edomites. We think it reprehensible of Jacob to cheat Esau, but the Israelites would have considered it downright traitorous not to rip off another tribe, provided you could get away with it.

Psalm 119:105-122 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
All of us have had mentors, people who took us under their wing in many ways.
105 For years, you have been like a parent to me;
I have followed your advice faithfully.
106 I listen to your word.
I try to do your will.
107 But right now, my life is a mess.
I need your help.
108 Who else could I turn to?
Who else can I trust?
109 Like a billiard ball, I bounce from crisis to confrontation,
But still I try to measure up.
110 The world tests me with temptations.
They attract me, I cannot deny it;
But I do not give in.
111 I have learned well your precepts and principles;
they matter more to me than passing pleasures;
they are the foundation of my life.
112 I only yield to one temptation,
the temptation to do your will.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 8:1-11 – Paul seems almost obsessed by the “sins of the flesh,” which makes me wonder sometimes what was going on in his mind. But it’s probably not useful to focus on that. Paul’s central theme seems to be, that what we could not do for ourselves, Jesus Christ has done for us.
Paul seems to be saying two things. We can’t do it by ourselves. That’s a significant reminder to those that believe that by acts of purification (in first century culture) or by harder work or further study (in our culture) we can achieve our own salvation.
Secondly, God has already done it. Through Jesus. Never mind how! Just accept that God has done it for you. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, God can also raise us from the deadness of our lives.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – Any story-teller worth his/her salt knows that if a story needs to be interpreted, it has failed as a story. I would leave that second section out entirely because I don’t think that’s Jesus. He was too good a story-teller for that. It’s the writer of Matthew giving an interpretation.
We have a Linden tree in our yard. It produces gazillions of seeds every year. Some of them germinate in the lawn below, but they don’t survive the repeated decapitations of the lawn mower. But the tree keeps producing seeds, year after year, which is for me a metaphor of God’s profligate love.
I spend a lot of time each spring sitting on our back porch trying to think noble and worthy thoughts. If I strain too hard, I get a cerebral hernia, so I mostly watch the birds in their spring-time frenzy of mating and feeding and eating.
They tell me a story of creation – of the urge to life – to sustain life – to bring forth new life. The song they sing sounds a bit like the Jewish toast – “L’chaim.” To life!
Not just for their own species. The seeds that scatter from the trees behind our house feed many birds, who digest most of them. The rest of the seeds are deposited in new places, each with its little packet of moisture and fertilizer.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 152 for a story called “Rebekah and her Babies,” based on the Genesis lection. On page 154 you’ll find “Stories that Help Us Grow,” based primarily on the Matthew passage.
If you are planning to be at Naramata Centre (a church camp not far from where I live) this summer, Margaret Kyle, (the artist who did the illustrations) and I will be signing books there on Tuesday, July 15th and Tuesday the 22nd. It’s the launch of the second volume, Year B of The Lectionary Story Bible. Of course, Year A and other books I’ve penned, will also be available in the Mustard Seed bookstore.
In the meantime, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – It’s 37C on our back porch. My body and my brain are both sluggish. So instead of an inspired diatribe, I’m offering an old, somewhat shopworn Aggada, the story of Jacob’s theft of the birthright, told from Esau’s point of view. It’s from “Is This Your Idea of a Good Time, God,” which you can find on the Wood Lake website.
As always, you are welcome to use this in any congregational context.

The story of Esau
“ least Dad is on my side."
Do you know what it's like when you've been out in the bush all week? And you've caught nothing. Not a thing?
Well, Jacob sure doesn't know about that. Fat, pampered mama's boy, that's what he is. Mom always liked him best. And she put him up to it. Mom is always figuring out ways to get things for Jacob.
I didn't sell my birthright. I was conned. I was cheated.
Do you know what it's like when you come home, and you've been out hiking around all week? There's hardly any game, and by the time you see any, you're so weak you can't shoot straight. Sure I found a few berries to eat, but all I got out of that was a case of diarrhea.
So I come home. I can hardly walk, I'm so hungry. And Jacob has been sitting around at home with Mom, stirring a pot full of some red stuff. I don't know what it is, but I know I need it and I need it fast.
But Jacob, he's being coy. "Hey, big brother. How much will you give me for some of my stew?" I try to grab it from him, but he jumps away. "Just give me something to eat, for cryin' out loud, Jacob, I've starving!"
"So how about the inheritance, Esau. Tell me that when Pop dies, I get everything. Say that, and I'll give you some of this delicious lentil stew."
"Whatever you want. Give me something to eat!"
That's what happened. I was cheated, right?
And Jacob's been rubbing my nose in that so called promise ever since. "A promise is a promise," he keeps saying.
"Look, you pampered brat," I grabbed him by the collar and yelled right into his fat little face. "The birthright is for father to give, and father will give it to me. So stop being such a smartass!" I would have punched him in the nose but that's when mother came along.
"Esau. You let go of your brother. Just because you're older, it doesn't mean you can lord it over him."
"Well, Mom, you tell him to stop going on with that crap about me selling him my inheritance for a bowl of that red garbage he calls food."
I might as well have been talking to the tent pegs. Mom was totally on Jacob's side. "A promise is a promise, Esau," she says to me. "Remember, your word is your bond."
I know I shouldn't have done it, but that's when I started to yell at her. "Mom, I know Jacob is your pet. OK, but Dad is still on my side, and when the time comes, he will give the inheritance to me, and then you and this pampered pip-squeak will be out on your ear. Just remember that, Mom."
Well, I guess I told 'em. They haven't said anything about it since. And poor Dad is getting old and blind, and pretty soon it'll be time for him to pass on the family blessing to me.
Then I'll show them. I'll really show them.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Mental House Cleaning
No one likes moving.
Joan and I moved five times in our first four years of marriage. The first time, we rented a one-ton truck, and had plenty of space left. By the third time, we were still doing it ourselves, but we needed a three-ton truck.
Since then, we’ve relied on moving companies.
The last time we moved, we resolved to sort our possessions before packing. We would get rid of the unnecessary stuff, and only move the stuff we really wanted.
Ha! Moving day arrived far too soon. “Just pack everything,” we said, in despair.
They did. And there are boxes downstairs that we still haven’t opened in 15 years here.
Susan and Jim Lindenberger lived in the same house in Vancouver for 34 years before moving. “I'm never moving again!” she wrote. “They'll have to carry me out of here [her new house, that is] feet first or kicking & screaming in a strait jacket.”
Ralph Milton recommends moving every five years, whether you need to or not. “A house move,” he suggests, “is to your physical environment what a 15-day silent retreat is to the soul, a laxative is to your bowels, or one of those hot mineral-spring spas is to your body. You purge the system of all the useless and unnecessary stuff, and hopefully some of the baggage that slows you down.”
He’s only half kidding.
Years ago, Peter Egan wrote a column in Road & Track magazine about a friend’s garage/workshop/sanctuary. Car fanatics, generally, hoard old auto parts the way a magnet gathers iron filings.
A few of the more systematic fanatics label their boxes: “Worn brake pads”; “Seized water pumps”; “Fried switches”; “Wires too short to use”...
But this garage, Peter noted, had boxes labelled only with dates.
“How do you know where to find things?” Peter asked.
“Easy,” replied his friend. “If I need an MGB master brake cylinder, I can remember when I last worked on it. I just go to that dated box.”
But, the friend added, if he hadn’t opened a box in five years, he threw it out. He didn’t even check what treasures it might contain. If its contents hadn’t proved valuable in that time, they were now so outdated they wouldn’t have any value in the next five years either.
When I read that story, I thought that it’s too bad we can’t do the same with our heads. If a concept, an idea, hasn’t been useful in shaping our lives and understanding for the last five years, why should we expect it to apply in the next five?
Why do we keep cluttering up our thought processes with it?
Perhaps we need a better mental filing system. Here’s a moral precept, not invoked since 1968. A radical principle, ignored since Vietnam. An understanding of God, placed on a shelf since kindergarten.
House moving pushes us to clear out our physical closets and storage rooms. Sometimes we need to clear our mental closets too.


Good Stuff – Bruce Fraser of Merlin, Ontario sends this useful chuckle.
Jack and Max are walking home from a religious service. Jack wonders whether it would be all right to smoke while praying. "Why don't you ask the priest?" asks Max. So Jack goes up to the priest. "Father, may I smoke while I pray?" "No, my son,” says the priest. “You may not. That's utter disrespect to our religion."
Jack tells Max what the priest said.
"I'm not surprised,” says Max. “You asked the wrong question."
So Max goes up to the priest. "Father, may I pray while I smoke?" "By all means, my son.” says the priest. “By all means. Pray anytime, anywhere! Pray without ceasing." Moral: The reply you get depends on the question you ask.

Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – This from Evelyn McLachlin. Sign on a parking lot: “Absolutely No Trespassing – Violators Will Be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law. Signed: The Sisters of Mercy."

Vern Ratzlaff of Saskatoon has had a busy week. First he was surprised to read in the local newspaper that “Ken Rasmussen is head of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Pubic Policy.”
Then in a “Pulpit Resource” entry: “The kingdom of heaven is the gift of immorality and perfection, which we cannot attain in our own strength.” Says Vern: I always thought I was doing ok in the former, although the latter caused some late night anxiety.”

From the file: The service will begin with a prayer of silent confusion.

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! – But, at the end, if we are brave enough to love, if we are strong enough to forgive, if we are generous enough to rejoice in another’s happiness, and if we are wise enough to know that there is enough love to go around for us all, then we can achieve a fulfillment that no other living creature will ever know. We can reenter Paradise.
Harold S. Kushner via Chris Duxbury

Joy is the feeling of grinning inside.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan

When the best leaders’ work is done, the people say: “We did it ourselves.”


We Get Letters – Jessica Taft writes: “This from an article titled "Pew Study: Religious beliefs in the US full of contradiction" by Matthai Kuruvila, in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"21 percent of self-defined atheists believe in God"

Alan Reynolds had his biblical brain tweaked by Deborah Laing’s proof-texts on laziness, further demonstrating that creative indolence is a Christian virtue.
His favourite is Psalm 127:2
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil,
for God gives to his beloved sleep
(or, God gives his gifts to his beloved while they sleep.)

Dan Doerfer writes about last week’s question on the disposal of holy water. Says Dan, “You freeze it into Popecycles!

Vern Ratzlaff adds another title the list of children’s hymns. “Lead On, O Kinky Turtle.”

Tim Wiebe-Neufeld of Edmonton, Alberta sends “an interesting announcement in a recent church bulletin. It’s effect may be missed by those who don’t immediately realize the implications of what “18+” means in movie circles.
“[Our Church Organization] is now on YouTube! Watch any or all of the 18+ titles at [website address], download your own high resolution copy from the YouTube page, or call and request a DVD.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Stamp Our Stewardship!”)
This from Jim Spinks.
No-excuse Sunday
To make it possible for everyone to attend church next Sunday, we are going to have a special 'No-Excuse Sunday'.
* Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, 'Sunday is my only day to sleep in.'
* There will be a special section with lounge chairs for those who feel that our pews are too hard.
* Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching T.V. late Saturday night.
* We will have steel helmets for those who say, 'The roof would cave in if I ever came to church.'
* Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold and fans for those who say it is too hot.
* Score cards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present.
* Relatives and friends will be in attendance for those who can't go to church and cook dinner, too.
* We will distribute 'Stamp Out Stewardship' buttons for those who feel that church is always asking for money.
* One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature.
* Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday.
* The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who never have seen the church without them.
* We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton for those who say he is too loud.
* And a shot of enthusiasm for those who are just plain apathetic


Bottom of the Barrel – Nancy McClure-Long of Ghent, New York sent this. It needs a warning label of some sort because to OD on puns can result in a permanent semi-pained/semi-amused expression on your face and you will spend the rest of your life responding to people who ask, “What’s wrong?”

The ability to make and understand puns is the highest level of language development.
The French, however, still consider the pun to be the very lowest form of humor (which, in itself, is considered to be a peculiarly Anglo attempt at scintillating discourse which too often fails to rise to the level of genuine wit.)
Here are the 10 first place winners in the International Pun Contest:1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant looks at him and says, 'I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says 'Dam!'3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. It immediately sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too!4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says 'I've lost my electron.' The other says 'Are you sure?' The first replies 'Yes, I'm positive.'5. Did you hear about the new-age space cadet who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: to transcend dental medication.6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. 'But why?' they asked as they moved off. 'Because,' he said, 'I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.'7. A woman has identical twins and is forced to give them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named 'Ahmal.' The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him 'Juan.' Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, 'They're identical twins! If you've seen Juan,you've seen Ahmal.'8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to 'persuade' them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent Florist friars.9. He was a mendicant mystic who walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.And finally...10. There was the person who sent ten different puns to friends with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

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