Monday, August 18, 2008

Preaching Materials for August 24th

R U M O R S # 515
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

August 17, 2008


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

Please put this “blog” address on your “favorites” list.
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.


Revised Common Lectionary – The story version
Rumors – Pharaoh’s daughter
Soft Edges –
Good Stuff – a beautiful explanation of death
Bloopers – please be pleasant
We Get Letters – hard forgiveness
Mirabile Dictu! – is the minister a monkey?
Bottom of the Barrel – Hugh and only Hugh
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – A ten-year-old, under the tutelage of her grandmother, was becoming quite knowledgeable about the Bible. Then one day she floored her grandmother by asking, "Which Virgin was the mother of Jesus – the Virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?"
Which reminds me of the minister who wondered a bride in a white dress (originally a symbol of virginity) being married in church, might be known as “The Revised Standard Virgin?”
Story Lectionary – There are times in every life when we need to admit we were wrong.
The Story Lectionary, dreamed and designed by the two of us, has not had the impact we had hoped. Most people like the idea. But only a few enthusiastic souls are using it. Very few.
Mainly, we underestimated the momentum of the Revised Common Lectionary and the huge corpus of supportive material that has developed around it. Clergy simply do not have the extra time it takes to develop good story sermons apart from those resources.
We also underestimated the time and energy it takes the two of us to maintain such a resource. And there are personal and family health issues. We are both getting older.
But we are still committed to story-telling as the most effective way of reaching people with God’s good news. So we will continue the story-lectionary project, but it will be based on the Revised Common Lectionary. The material will all be in Rumors. The web site will be gone as will the on-line discussion group.
In the future, each issue of Rumors will focus on the story values that are there in the RCL, with both of us contributing thoughts that we hope will be helpful to preachers. We may suggest broadening the lection to include more of the story. Occasionally when there simply is no story value in all four readings, we will suggest an alternate – perhaps a story that is not in the lectionary at all.
Many of you had your hopes raised by the Story Lectionary concept. To you we apologize. It is our hope that focusing on the story values in the RCL will make the material more practically useful to more of you.
And thanks to all for your patience and encouragement.
Jim Taylor and Ralph Milton


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary that you may hear in church this coming Sunday, August 24th, which is the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16 [21].

Exodus 1:8-2:10 – The story
Don’t get hung up on technical questions such as whether there were only three midwives in all of Egypt, and did they really report directly to Pharaoh. This is a legend, and legends seldom pay much attention to such details.
This legend has things to say to us, if we allow ourselves to get inside the story. I find some powerful ideas stirring inside me about the courageous work of women who are normally powerless.
Moses would not have survived without five strong women: the two midwives, his mother, his sister and Pharaoh’s daughter.
And we often find ourselves with a “new king who did not know Joseph.” A new boss is hired, a new political party is in power, a good friend moves or gets married. Being retired from many church involvements, I often find myself standing on the sidelines realizing that the people running things now have no idea who I am. Which is the way it needs to be, even though my mind needs to talk to my ego about this quite often.
There are a number of stories within this story that could be used. There’s the brave midwives, without whom Moses and others would not have been. There’s the fierce, inventive love of his mother and his sister Miriam.
The character in this legend that I find most interesting is Pharaoh’s daughter. To get my head around who she was, I wrote an “aggada,” which you will find below and which you are free to use in your worship.
The entire Moses saga, as indeed much of Bible, is about the powerless working with faith and courage, confronting the domination systems in their world. Psalm 124 below, either in Jim’s paraphrase or in the original, is on that theme. Indeed the gospel reading resonates with a deep, quiet humor, as it tells of an illiterate fisherman being appointed, in the view of the Roman church at least, to be the head of the church.
Ralph Milton

When I read the story of Moses floating down the river, to be adopted into a different racial and cultural family, my mind can’t help seeing parallels. My own two grandchildren are both interracial adoptions, for example. I’d want to make a connection to Ephesians 1:5, “He destined us for adoption...” and 2:19, “So you are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens, members of the household...”
The river is also a powerful symbol. I think of Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim” in which the hero begins a new life crawling out of a river onto the bank. I remember that early Christians came out of the water to begin their new lives. I wonder if we all recognize, at some cellular level, that we too came out of the water – the ocean, the womb...
Perhaps this story should be told on a riverbank, standing waist-deep in the water!
But since that’s impossible in most of our sterile sanctuaries, I would focus on the theme of new life, new beginnings, new possibilities. A baptism would be wonderful. But lacking that, I might hand out eggs. Uncooked. To pass around. A kind of egg-and-spoon relay, in church, that physically reminds people of the fragility and responsibility of new life. And I would ask whose fragile soul YOU are adopting. Who gets a better chance, because of you?
……………………………………………..Jim Taylor

Psalm 124 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 The odds were stacked against us from the beginning.
2 The great corporations strung us a good line
about caring for us, about bringing prosperity.
But they really meant prosperity for themselves.
When the profits looked better somewhere else,
they abandoned us. They always do.
3 The powerful nations promised us freedom;
they loaned us millions for a fresh start.
now we are enslaved by our debt.
They will not free us.
4 The arms makers sold us weapons
to protect ourselves against our neighbors.
They sold weapons to our neighbors,
to protect themselves against us.
5 Now our former friends are a threat.
We need more, and more, and more.
6 The only one not in this for private gain is God.
7 If we have retained any faith in human nature,
in justice, in our own identity,
8 it is because of God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 12:1-8 – I don’t always understand what Paul is writing about, but this time I think he comes through loud and clear. This is an inspired metaphor of the church as the body of Christ. And he shines that metaphor in various ways. We present our bodies “as a living sacrifice,” something that is beautiful and good and holy which we can return to God.
But the metaphor works in another direction as well. Each of us have different gifts, but every gift is needed as part of God’s work, just as all four women in that Moses story offered their gifts – without which there would have been no story. It would be good to use this passage to reflect on our own gifts and how we can use them as part of God’s universal church.

Matthew 16:13-20 – This passage is one of the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church and other apostolic churches which teach that Jesus invested the leadership of the church in Peter who became the first bishop, and that this line of succession follows down through to present-day bishops.
Other denominations see this as Jesus investing leadership of the church in Peter, yes, but others as well. Peter was a very ordinary person and often not very bright or courageous. He had his shortcomings, as did Moses, who apparently had trouble speaking in public. But God’s call to Peter and Moses is like the call to all of us ordinary people struggling to live God’s way in a complicated world.
All of us are called to ‘bind and to loose?’ Each one of us holds the keys to the kingdom.

A children’s story, “Miriam Saves Her Brother,” based on Exodus 1 & 2, can be found in the “Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 186. A story called “Simon Becomes Peter,” based on the Matthew passage, may be found on page 189.
“The Lectionary Story Bible,” in three volumes, is probably the largest collection of children’s Bible stories ever undertaken. Certainly it’s the largest collection of such stories based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Volumes “Year A” and “Year B” are published and available. “Year C” will be published next spring.
If you don’t already own these books, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – Pharaoh's Daughter
"...I wish I could hear my father sing again."
An Aggada based on Exodus 2:1-10
ÓRalph Milton
from Is This Your Idea of a Good Time, God?
Wood Lake Books
I don't think my father wanted to be a Pharaoh. Not if he'd had a choice. He might have been a musician. Sometimes, when he would give a banquet, father would bring the best musicians in all Egypt to entertain. And I could tell that father loved the music while he disliked the stuffed shirts he invited to the banquet. I remember father singing in the hallways sometimes, years ago when I was just a child, before he was a Pharaoh. Once, he even sang to me, a strong and tender song.
I haven't heard him sing for years. They say the head that wears a crown can never sleep too well, and those who cannot sleep will never sing. Father feels such pressure. I know he does. I can see the tiny muscles just below his ears that move when he's afraid.
Those stuffed shirts who run my father's government are feeling pressure from the hordes of Hebrews. I overheard my father and some other men discuss the problem once. "Kick the whole bunch out," one man said.
"No," said another. "Who would make our bricks? Who would tend our fields? We need the Hebrews. We just don't need so many. What we need is population control."
Because my father is the Pharaoh, he hardly ever takes his meals with us. He's much too busy. Except every month or two we have a "family time" and we eat a hurried meal together. Father talks to us. We don't talk to father and he hardly looks at us.
"Do you know how strong those Hebrew women are?" he asked us once, not wanting or expecting any answer. "Why, I ordered all the midwives to destroy the male babies just as soon as they are born, but they tell me those Hebrew women just take an hour away from their work, pop out the babies, and go back to work. They just pop them out, and the midwives aren't even needed." Father laughed dryly at his own humor. "They just pop them out."
I glanced up at my mother then, and she was laughing too, but I could tell it wasn't at my father's humor. "He knows nothing," she said later. "He's never seen a baby born."
"But why would father want those babies killed? Is my own father really such a beast?"
"He is a Pharaoh first and always, and a father only sometimes."
Two weeks latter, I was bathing in the Nile, enjoying the cool, fresh water on my body, when Lita, one of my servants pointed to a basket in the reeds nearby.
"Bring it to me!"
"It's a baby!" said Lita as she pushed the basket to me. "It's a beautiful Hebrew baby. My mother is a midwife. She told me soldiers throw the Hebrew baby boys into the river now."
"So this is a child my brave father fears." I picked the baby up into my arms and held him close. "My father will not hurt you," I said.
The baby cried a little. Then it smiled and tried to suck my finger.
"You will start a rumor," I said to Lita. It was a sudden inspiration, and if I'd stopped to think I would not have said it. "You will whisper in the corridors of the palace that I have been seduced by Scrakum, yes Scrakum, the Prime Minister's son. He's such a stuffed shirt. And this is our child."
Lita grinned. "This is against the Pharaoh's law! But I will help you save the child."
"My father's law, to have these babies killed, is wrong, Lita. Women cannot fight the law, but we can resist."
It took a month to get an audience with my own father. "Five minutes. No more," said his secretary, smirking at the child in my arms.
"Yes?" said father in his official Pharaoh voice.
"This baby," I said quietly. "You have heard perhaps that it belongs to Scrakum."
"I have heard, Bithia.* I am making arrangements for you to be part of Scrakum's harem. He doesn't want you for a wife. In fact, he claims the child is not his but he is willing to acknowledge it for my sake. All the palace women say the baby looks like Scrakum."
I looked my father in the eye. "The child is Hebrew," I said firmly.
I could see the fear that ran across my father's face. He sensed immediately the derisive laughter in the corridors if it were know that his own daughter had a baby by a Hebrew slave. The tiny muscles near his ears twitched. He took a long, deep drink of wine.
I had been afraid when I came in the room. Now my fear was gone. "I will tell no one, father. I will go join Scrakum's harem, even though he is a pompous ass. But this is one Hebrew child that I will guard with my whole life, and you will not touch him with your wickedness."
"Get out of here!" He meant it to sound hard and firm, but halfway through his Pharaoh's voice croaked in fear.
And then I pitied him. I pitied him and loved him. And how I wish that I could hear my father sing again.

* In ancient Jewish Midrash, Pharoah’s daughter was named Bithia.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor


Good Stuff – This from Bob Bates of Florence, Massachusetts.
A Beautiful Explanation of Death
A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room. "Doctor,” he said. “I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."
"I don't know," said the doctor, very quietly.
"You don't know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?"
The doctor was holding the handle of the door. From the other side came a sound of scratching and whining. As he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.
Turning to the patient, the doctor said, "Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that I was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing. I know my loving God is there and that is enough."


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff –
* A hymn: There is a Bomb in Gilead
* There was an organist, who (according to the bulletin) began the service in an "Introit" and concluded with a "Detroit."
* There will be a meeting of the men’s group next Tuesday. We hope the men will try to be pleasant.

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! – What a [person] needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.
Charles Dudley Warner

In some churches there is more commotion and emotion than devotion.
source unknown

God can do wonders with a broken heart, if you give God all the pieces.
source unknown


We Get Letters – This from Peggy Neufeldt in Ponoka, Alberta. It would make a great sermon illustration about how it is really hard to forgive people sometimes.
Bill, Jim and Scott were at a convention together and were sharing a large suite on the top of a 75-story skyscraper.
After a long day of meetings, they were shocked to hear that the elevators in their hotel were broken and they would have to climb 75 flights of stairs to get to their room.
Bill said to Jim and Scott, "Let's break the monotony of this unpleasant task by concentrating on something interesting. I'll tell jokes for 25 flights, Jim can sing songs for the next 25 flights and Scott can tell sad stories for the rest of the way."
At the 26th floor, Bill stopped telling jokes and Jim began to sing. At the 51st floor Jim stopped singing and Scott began to tell sad stories.
"I will tell my saddest story first," he said. "I left the room key in the car!"


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Is the minister a monkey?!”
This is from years ago, probably 15 or 20, and it has been on Rumors at least once before. But it is too good not to share again.
Because it really happened. This letter was sent on the letterhead of the Anglican Church of Canada to the director of the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center. Dear Dr. Hearn:Thank you for your letter of December 4 addressed to Dr. George Cram of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund in which you seek information for your International Directory of Primatology.
I should perhaps inform you that the term 'primate' in our context refers to the senior archbishop and chief pastor of the Anglican Church of Canada. The Relief and Development Fund over which he presides is an agency for the alleviation of global poverty and hunger on behalf of Anglican Christians in this country.
I think the primates in your study are perhaps of a different species. While it is true that our primate occasionally enjoys bananas, I have never seen him walk with his knuckles on the ground or scratch himself publicly under the armpits. He does have three children, but this is a far cry from 'breeding colonies of primates” as your research project mentions.
Like you we do not import our primates from the wild, however. They are elected from among the bishops of our church. This is occasionally a cause of similar, though arcane, comment. The subject of primate biology might be of great importance in your field but, alas, not so in ours. There are a mere 28 Anglican primates in the whole world. They are all males, of course, but so far we have had no problems with reproduction. They include such distinguished persons as the Most Reverend and Right Honourable George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Capetown, South Africa. Have you sent letters to them? Most importantly, have they responded? They can, I believe, all read and write by themselves so perhaps this might distort your data.
Thank you for writing. I wonder if your extremely efficient database might need just a little refining? Kindest Regards, The Reverend Michael Ingham Principal Secretary to the Primate

Bottom of the Barrel – Did you hear about the Buddhist monk who refused Novocain during a root canal? He wanted to transcend dental medication.

Did you hear about the friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise the funds?
Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, the 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. He asked his mother to go and ask the friars to get out of business. They ignored her too.
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 . . . (Are you ready for this???? Wait for it!!!) . . .that Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.

Information and Stuff – (Read this section only if you want to know about subscribing, unsubscribing or quoting stuff from Rumors.) It would be nice if you could give Rumors a plug in your bulletin or newsletter. Please invite your friends (and even your enemies) to subscribe. There's no charge: RUMORS is free and it comes to your e-mail box every Sunday morning. Just send your friends the instructions to subscribe [below], and include an invitation to join the list ... perhaps something like this: “There’s a lively and fun newsletter called RUMORS which is available at no cost on the net. It’s for ‘Christians with a sense of humor’.” Please add the instructions to subscribe [below]. If you have a friend you think would enjoy Rumors, and you’d rather not give them the subscribing instructions below, send me an e-mail at and give me the e-mail address of your friend. If you are using something from Rumors in your sermon, give credit only as appropriate, without stopping the sermon dead in its tracks. I am delighted when Rumors is useful in the life and work of the church. As long as it is within your congregation or parish, you don’t need permission. You are welcome to use the stuff in church bulletins or newsletters. Please say where it came from, and please invite people to subscribe to RUMORS. An appropriate credit line would be; “From Ralph Milton's RUMORS, a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor." ... and please be sure to include these instructions to subscribe to RUMORS: To Subscribe:* Send an e-mail to:
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* Don’t put anything else in that e-mail* If you are changing e-mail addresses, and your old address will no longer be in service, you do not need to unsubscribe. The sending computer will try a few times, and then give up..~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*Please Write – If you respond, react, think about, freak-out, or otherwise have things happen in your head as a result of reading the above, please send a note to:
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Seth Pickens said...

Just discovered this resource. Thanks and keep up the good work!

Nolalu Eco Centre said...

Thank you for a wonderfully creative resource. It gets the creative juices flowing - and the funny bone happily tickled. Stories and humour are needed more than we often like to think.

Hubert Den Draak, worship leader Kakabeka Falls (Canada)