Friday, July 18, 2008

Preaching Materials for July 27, 2008

R U M O R S # 511
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

July 20th, 2008



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

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I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there.


The Story Lectionary – getting a laugh
Revised Common Lectionary – the ugly older sister
Rumors – I talk to God alot
Soft Edges – grieving and celebrating
Good Stuff – no more excuses
Bloopers – gracious hostility
We Get Letters – Noah and the adders
Mirabile Dictu! – Fresh Fruit Fortunes
Bottom of the Barrel – the football season
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler –The following note (or slight variations) usually turns up in someone’s
Sunday Bulletin in the warm days of summer.

Now it came to pass that, as the time of vacation drew near, a certain member of the church bethought him of cool streams, sandy beaches, and mountains, and this Christian’s wife spoke and said: “Thou must dig into thy purse and give to the Lord’s work in order that the cause of Christ may go forward, that the heart of the treasurer be made glad, and that it may be well with thee. For verily I say unto thee, thou hast more money now than thou wilt have when thou dost return.”
And the husband replied “Verily, thou art noble and wise among women.” And he did make his contribution for the summer, and the treasurer rejoiced greatly, saying “Of a truth, there are yet those among us concerned for the cause of Christ.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday,

Story Lectionary
Genesis 25:19-34 – This story appeared in the regular lectionary last Sunday (I know. That makes no sense. We’re working on it. Stay tuned.). And for the first time in years, I heard a lay lector actually get a good rolling laugh out of a line of scripture.
It was Eunice Easton, an educator who knows how stories work. She worked hard and rehearsed to make this reading an interesting and dramatic piece. Eunice got exactly the right intonation on verse 22. “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” And the congregation got it.
I celebrated and I ached, because so often, maybe even most of the time, the scripture sort of dribbles over the top of the pulpit or lectern and dies on the floor with only a string of words reaching the congregation. No meaning. No power. No story. Just words.
“Why is it,” I asked Eunice, “that when we invite someone to sing a solo in church, we ask someone who has a) some singing ability and/or b) is willing to take the work seriously enough to do some solid rehearsing?”
It is not true that a person who can read with reasonable fluency is capable of communicating scripture. It is nice to have a variety of people involved in the service, but we too often lose the scripture in the process.


Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 29:15-18 – The saga of Jacob continues. This is the classic story of the ugly older sister who had to be married off before the younger, more beautiful sister could wed. There are many variations of this theme in other folk stories.
Don’t spend time analyzing the story. Just accept the story as it is and ask yourself who you identify with in that legend. For me the answer is easy. Leah. I always felt I was somewhat ugly as a child and a teenager. Especially in the years between 15 and 20, I was all arms, legs, and nose. So I had a bit of a sense of what Leah felt like. On the other hand, maybe you feel like Jacob.
Jacob had cheated Esau, now he gets to know what that feels like. And mostly he feels sorry for himself.

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b (or Psalm 128) – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Flying across the country overnight, you can sometimes see the light of dawn from the east spreading across the darkened lands below.
1 The still earth stirs to the touch of God;
Give thanks, give thanks to God.
Fresh light spills across the resting lands.
2 Waken the sleepers to share in the wonder;
Sing praises to the creator, all you people.
3 The glory of dawn rises over the horizon;
Our hearts rise in response.
4 Look, see how the wonders extend to the edge of the world;
Everywhere, the glory of God bursts into being.
5 Years may come, years may go,
But each new day is a miracle.
God watches over the world, from the east to the west,
And banishes the fears of darkness.
6 Yet this same God chooses to watch over us;
God has chosen us to watch over.
7 This is the wonder of the Lord our God:
The creator of the universe –
the ruler of earth, the life of the lands –
8 This God cares about us,
And about our children, and our children's children.
9 This God cared about our ancestors,
And our ancestors' ancestors,
Long before we ever existed.
Before we were aware of existence,
10 God made promises to us.
God will keep those promises.
11 God said, "I will give you this land.
Pass it on to your children,
And to your children's children."
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 8:26-39 – If you’ve been to any funerals lately, you probably heard this passage read in the liturgy, especially: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” The passage is full of strong, ringing affirmations. Paul pulls out all the stops in the last few verses. This is not a passage that speaks to our reason. It speaks to our need and our faith. It speaks to our pain and fear. It can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up straight.
Or the whole passage can shrivel up and die if it’s droned out by a dull lector.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 – A batch of parables. And mercifully, the folks who devised the lectionary don’t ask us to read the explanation. Parables and metaphors should never be explained.
I used the two little parables in verses 44 & 45 in the toast to the bride at my sisters wedding. The kind of courageous betting-the-whole-bundle is what they did in their marriage vows, and of course what we are all called to do in our own faith commitment.

About “The Lectionary Story Bible.” There are stories for children based on these lections but I can’t give you the title or the page number because I am doing this while on vacation and I didn’t bring a copy with me. But you can find them without any trouble. It’s all in order and indexed. If you don’t own a copy, click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.” “Year B” is now out, so you can order that at the same time.


Rumors – The Jacob saga has so much stuff in it – so much of the reality of life.
In the tradition of the Aggada, rather than trying to explain a story (if a story, like a joke, needs explaining, it has failed) you tell another story. Here’s the story of Leah – the one with the bad eyes.
Yes, I know that newer translations tell us that the meaning is weak, and it might mean “weak eyes” or even “beautiful eyes,” but the story works best if Leah is the one with the bad eyes.

The story of...
"...I talk to God a lot."
from “Is This Your Idea of a Good Time, God?”
Wood Lake Books, 1990

I will never forget Jacob's eyes.
It had been a joyous night for me. Murmurs, gentle touch, contented sleep. His arm resting quietly under my head, his breath soft on my veiled cheek.
Just as the morning light brought its glow into our tent, Jacob woke, and looked at me. I saw tenderness and love in his dark eyes.
Then he lifted my veil and the look of love turned to disgust and anger.
"What the blazes?" Jacob yelled. "What are you doing here?"
I knew it would be like this. I told father and my brother Laban that it wouldn't work. Jacob would despise me. They wouldn't listen.
"It's your only chance," Laban said. "You're no spring chicken Leah, and you have those gawd-awful eyes, and if we don't get you married to Jacob you'll be an old maid. An old maid, Leah, who nobody wants and nobody cares about."
"No," I said. "It's not right."
"Leah," said Laban. "Your father and I have decided. You will wear a heavy veil, and we'll keep your sister Rachel hidden away, and we'll marry you off to Jacob. After a few glasses of wine, he won't know the difference. You have no say in the matter. Now shut up and do as you are told."
I did as I was told. A woman, especially an ugly woman, has no rights. But I couldn't help feeling like a piece of slightly tainted meat my brother and father were trying to sell some unsuspecting buyer.
But somehow, as father and Laban worked on the plan to trick Jacob, I began to fantasize that maybe Jacob might love me after all. Maybe, the wedding night would be a night of love, and he might at least not despise me. It was silly of course. But I don't have much to live on, except my fantasies.
Jacob stormed out of the tent that morning, as I guess I knew he would. And I could hear snippets of angry arguments from father's tent most of the next day. In the end, my father and Laban agreed that Jacob could marry Rachel too, but he'd have to work another seven years to pay for her, just as he had already worked seven years to pay for me, the ugly bride he didn't want.
I tried to be a good wife. When Jacob came into my tent to do his husband's duty, I tried so hard to be kind, to be gentle, to be loving. But I knew he never came to me in love.
I would have died, I think, except for God. I talked to God a lot. I cried a lot at night and in the tears I found some comfort. I complained about my eyes, grumbled about my lot in life and prayed that I could have the babies Jacob wanted. And they came, my little blessings. Beautiful boys. I thought that would make Jacob love me, but it didn't work. Maybe that's why I made those snooty remarks to my pretty younger sister. It was the only time in our whole lives when I had something and she didn't.
It took some years, some tears, and much prayer, before finally I told Rachel I was sorry. I'm glad were friends again. I was with her when she finally had a baby--little Joseph. But she was older now and older women have a hard time having babies. And when Benjamin was born--well Rachel gave her life to have that baby. It broke my heart to lose my sister, and it broke Jacob's heart to lose the woman he had loved so deeply and so long.
One night Jacob came to me to do his husband's duty. But instead we talked and talked and cried and laughed a little as we shared our grief. And for a little while at least, I knew that in a different kind of way, he loved me too.
And so I am content. I have my children. And Jacob has become, if not a husband then at least a friend. And I talk to God a lot.
I am content.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Grieving and Celebrating
Since I referred in passing to the death of my friend Carolynn Honor in last week’s column, I might as well continue.
Carolynn lived in Toronto. She died of cancer Sunday morning, July 6, one week short of her 72nd birthday. She was just six weeks older than me.
Joan and I flew to Toronto for her memorial service, last Wednesday. It was called “A Celebration for the Life of Carolynn Honor,” but there wasn’t one person there who felt like celebrating.
It’s often struck me that North American mainline Protestantism doesn’t trust emotions. At one extreme, we treat Pentecostal exuberance with suspicion. At the other extreme, we plan funerals to avoid any weeping, wailing, or gnashing of teeth.
Restrained sniffles are all right. Funeral chapels discreetly supply tissues to facilitate silent eye-dabbing. But whenever raw emotion breaks out, we hastily cover it with music, prayer, or well-intentioned words.
Other cultures are less repressed. They recognize that a death is painful. They provide for a public expression of grief. People gather to weep together for several days. They wear black for a week, a month, a year. They shave their heads, or lacerate their skin with knives.
And some places they just get drunk.
But we, unwilling to let go of our Calvinist-influenced obsession with remaining in rational control of ourselves, we call a time of mourning a “celebration.”
Every person at Carolynn’s service remembered her for something different. She was a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a mother-in-law... She was a patron, a friend, an employee, a colleague...
For me, I remember the unflinching honesty that she demanded of me -- and, I suspect, of everyone else. Perhaps it was her training as a psychiatric nurse, perhaps it was her personality, but nothing, literally nothing, was out of bounds. She would not tolerate vague half-answers, be it about one’s sex life, marital relationships, religious faith, finances, medical diagnoses...
She would accept an “I don’t know” only if she could see that I had first genuinely wrestled with her question, and truly could not explain why I like hiking, believe in God, or seem to prefer working alone.
Any attempts at equivocation, she carved up as if with a scalpel.
And therein lies the paradox. Because what I most celebrate about her life is exactly the same thing that I mourn my loss of. No one else puts me under the same ruthless microscope. No one else risks probing my soul, my psyche, as deeply as she did. Perhaps no one else trusts me enough to try it, trusts that our relationship will not be damaged if one of us has to squirm a little.
Maybe no one ever will again.
And so in that sense, a memorial service is indeed a “celebration of the life...” But the more we have to celebrate, the more painful the celebration becomes.
If we didn’t have anything to celebrate in a person’s life, we wouldn’t have anything to grieve, would we?

Good Stuff – This from Jim Spinks.
The next time you feel like God can't use you, just remember...
* Noah was a drunk
* Abraham was too old
* Isaac was a daydreamer
* Jacob was a liar
* Leah was ugly
* Joseph was abused
* Moses had a stuttering problem
* Gideon was afraid
* Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
* Rahab was a harlot
* Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
* David had an affair and was a murderer
* Elijah was suicidal
* Isaiah preached naked
* Jonah ran from God
* Naomi was a widow
* Job went bankrupt
* Peter denied Christ
* The Disciples fell asleep while praying
* Martha worried about everything
* The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
* Zaccheus was too small
* Paul had a “thorn in the flesh”
* Timothy had an ulcer
* Lazarus was dead
Now! No more excuses! God can use you to your full potential.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – It’s summer and people don’t make mistakes in bulletin typing, especially those who are filling in. So these are from the file.
* The church will host an evening of fine dining, superb entertainment, and gracious hostility.
* The Communications Committee will assist with the mailing of the newsletter and the stapling of the Annual Report to congregational members.
* The concert was a great success. Special thanks are due to the rector's daughter who labored the whole evening at the piano which as usual fell upon her.'

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! – “Amen” at the end of a prayer is like hitting the “send” button on your cell phone.
Rabbi Hillel Goldman

Unreasonable people are those who expect the world to adapt to their needs. Reasonable people adapt themselves to suit the world. Therefore all progress depends upon unreasonable people.
George Bernard Shaw

How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?
Oscar Wilde


We Get Letters – Brenda Grant of Okanogan, Washington, Ann Pollock who lives in Castlegar, British Columbia, and Ruth Dudley who lives somewhere else, came to the same remarkable conclusion after deep and scholarly study of the scriptures. They revealed that “Noah took the snakes to the kitchen and placed them on the big wooden kitchen table. Procreation begins promptly. “That’s because, as mathematicians and engineers (and all other logarithm enthusiasts) all over the world know, Adders can only multiply on a log table.”
Ruth added the comment that only those who are short of breath and long of tooth will understand what she and Brenda are talking about.
Dave Towers wonders “why Noah didn't slap those two mosquitoes when he had the chance. Probably could have saved many of us from breaking one of the ten commandments (taking God’s name in vain).”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Fresh Fruit Fortunes!”)
Boobalack (aka Lettie Fisher of Chickasha, Oklahoma) took the Ice-Cream Personality Test featured in last week’s Rumors. In a flash of blinding light and ethereal music – she would have fallen off her horse in the tradition of St. Paul, but she wasn’t on a horse so she couldn’t really fall off a horse she wasn’t on because you have to be on a horse to fall off a horse which is why she didn’t fall off a horse even though she was quite willing to fall off a horse if someone was willing to provide a horse she could fall off of – Boobalack had revealed to her that she is a person who likes Personality Tests.
So she offers an alternate to the Ice Cream test. This one claims 100% accuracy. Here’s how it goes.
In the middle of the table is a round food tray with five kinds of fruits on it.
They are:
a. Appleb. Bananac. Strawberryd. Peache. Orange

Which fruit will you choose? Please think very carefully and don't rush into it. This test reveals your innermost angst, your weltensmertz (sp?), your inner id, your anxious ego. To make sure you don’t glance down and spoil everything, I’ve put the answers at the very end of Rumors – down below all that boring technical stuff.


Bottom of the Barrel – It was the beginning of the football season in Canada – they start it in July so they get to play a few games before the country freezes over.
The worship service had moved on to the place where they normally took the offering.
The minister, being a strong sports enthusiast, dug deep into his pocket, pulled out a quarter and flipped it into the air. As it landed on the floor, in his best referee voice with great joy he shouted “The ushers ... will receive!”

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Here’s the response to the Personality Test.
If you have chosen:
a. Apple: That means you are a person who loves to eat apples.b. Banana: That means you are a person who loves to eat bananas.c. Strawberry: That means you are a person who loves to eat strawberries.d. Peach: That means you are a person who loves to eat peaches.e. Orange: That means you are a person who loves to eat oranges.
Your new self-knowledge should bring you peace, joy, love, happiness, health, wealth, freedom from zits on your backside, and a beatific look when you go through the produce section at the supermarket.


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