Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Preaching Materials for October 12, 2008

R U M O R S # 522
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

October 5, 2008


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

The Story – golden calves
Rumors – Will Shakespeare’s world astage
Soft Edges –
Bloopers – prayer and medication
Mirabile Dictu! – more or less specific
Bottom of the Barrel – courage
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – A boy was watching his father, a pastor, write a sermon. "How do you know what to say?" the boy asked.
"God tells me," said Rev. dad.
The boy looked thoughtful. "Then why do you keep crossing things out?"

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, October 12th, which is Proper 23 [28].

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary)
Golden Calves – Exodus 32:1-14


I can’t imagine it myself, but I saw a movie once about a man who had an affair with another woman on his wedding night.
Maybe that’s what God feels like. God has just made a covenant with these people, and what do they do? They make themselves a golden calf. Well, as Yogi Bera apparently said, “A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
What is most interesting is that Moses argues with God. “This is not good PR,” Moses tells God. “What will the neighbors think?” And God pays attention.
The Hebrew people have always had a marvelous, open relationship with God. They still do. They argue with God, and God listens! God can have a change of mind and heart. Astounding!
It’s tempting to land with both feet on the Hebrew people for making that golden calf. But God is rumbling away up on top of that mountain, and they need something close by they can devote themselves to.
So do we. Often it’s a church building. God is way off in the distance – in the past – in the mind of the preacher – in the faith of our grandparents – so we need something we can touch and manipulate.
Or to get even more personal – a nice house in which we can invest our energy – or a car. Or a career. Or perfect kids.
In the end, it turns out we don’t have a shortage of golden calves. What we have is leaders on their theological and ecclesiological mountaintops in touch with an abstract and distant God while the rest of us muddle along making such golden calves as we can manage, to give our lives some sense of meaning.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Making Choices in Harmony with God's Plan – A collection of character sketches.

A fawning lackey grovels for favor.
1 Congratulations, Lord. You have achieved your goals magnificently.
2 But who am I to brag about your achievements?
I'm only a small cog in your mighty machinery.
4 Still, don't forget me.
I may be small, but I played a part in your success.
5 If it's all right with you, I'd like to share in some of your glory.
3 You should reward those who didn't rock your boat,
those who didn't break down under pressure,
those who didn't foul up the process.
4 When you hand out the bonuses, please remember me.

The confession of a corporate sinner
6 We have made bad decisions;
we have pursued harmful policies.
We sold our country and our culture to curry favor with our competitors;
we traded our birthright for a mess of promises.
It seemed expedient at the time.
19 Our companies making war equipment profited from the misery of helpless people.
20 We have written God into our constitution
and written God out of our culture.
21 We have no room for God in economics and politics.
22 We have forgotten what God has done in the past;
we have assumed that God will not act against us in the future.

23 Now God is angry.
Please God, do not destroy us.
I am no Moses, but I can plead with you too.
Remember that we are your children, and you love us.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Philippians 4:1-9 – This is Paul writing to the Philippian church, where some of the folks were disagreeing with each other. Nothing like that ever happens in our churches today, right?
Reflecting on this passage could help us think and pray our way out of those kinds of situations. Paul’s guidelines might help us work through our conflicts.

Matthew 22:1-14 – This parable is a real head-scratcher. On first reading, it makes the king, and by extension, God, into some kind of a monster.
It’s an analogy. Every one of the characters stands for something else, which I don’t have the space to get into. The “wedding robe” in verses 11-14, I think is the “robe of righteousness,” i.e. faith in Jesus as the Christ, that true Christians were to put on.
You could spend all day reading commentaries on this passage. Or we could do some creative wondering whether we’re in or out of the banquet, and what kind of a spiritual robe we’re wearing.

A children’s story based on the Exodus passage, “The People Do a Bad Thing,” may be found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 216. A story based on the Mathew passage, “The Best Bar Mitzvah Party,” is on page 220.
If you don’t already own a copy of this book, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.” Year A and Year B are now available. Year C will be published next spring.


Rumors – As my good friend Willie used to say:
All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances,
and [each one in their] time plays many parts.

I’m thinking about Willies wise words, because while you are reading this, Bev and I are on a cruise to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. And a few weeks ago we took a tour of the bright new hospice that just opened in our community.
Such events tend to focus the mind. In Willie’s chronology, I think I am at the stage of the “justice.” I have the “fair round belly,” which my doctor says I need to loose, and I’m working on the “eyes severe.” I had my beard, as well as my thinning hair trimmed, but I’m not sure it has the “formal cut” Willie had in mind. But, without a doubt, I am “full of wise saws and modern instances.”
Family and friends have heard all my “wise saws and modern instances” ad nauseum, and are doing their part to keep this graying curmudgeon from getting totally out of hand. So do various friends, and folks I have never met, specifically you folks who read RUMORS.
Often, when I take off on rhetorical balloon flights, someone comes along to let some of the tepid air out.
My sweeping generalizations last week about the mistake folks on “the far right and on the far left” make when reading biblical stories are a case in point. Said one reader: “Moderates never miss the point? Only the far right and left? I think you took a silk purse from a sow's ear and construed hogwash.”
It’s true. People in the middle and all the way along the spectrum make all kinds of mistakes. I would have been much more correct if I had said something like, “I am a storyteller. Reading the Bible with that set of spectacles, it seems to me the folks on the far right and the far left are missing the point because the point is inside the story.”
But I could be wrong. It’s happened before, believe me. More likely, there is truth and error in all positions – the far right, the far left, the middle, and all points in-between.
My family and my friends have been urging me to put my mind in gear before my mouth starts running. And my bride of 50 years has learned how to intervene when I become utterly insufferable. I may still be proud and overbearing and a pain in the patushe, but Bev will take me to see my grandkids, Jake and Zoë, and they’ll haul me back to earth.
Then, from our little spot here on this fragile, blue planet, my grandchildren and I will look up at the sky, to read the stories in the clouds and listen to the twinkle of the stars.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – From the file:
* Thursday night – Potluck Supper. Prayer and medication to follow.
* Title of a hymn book section: "Hymns suitable for burial.
* Today's Sermon: “How much can a person drink? with hymns from a full choir.'

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! – Whenever someone does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest of motives.
Oscar Wilde

I never know how much of what I say is true.
Bettle Midler

Memory is what makes you wonder what you forgot to do.
source unknown, via Evelyn McLachlan.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “more or less specific!”)
Here are several very important but often forgotten rules of English which should be scrupulously observed when writing sermons, newsletter articles, shopping lists, or whatever.
This little list has been around Rumors at least once before, but I found it in the barrel and thought it deserved another go-round.
* Avoid alliteration. Always. * Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. * Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
* Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc. * Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary. * It is wrong to ever split an infinitive. * Contractions aren’t necessary. * Foreign words and phrases are not apropos. * One should never generalize. * Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous. * Be more or less specific. * Understatement is always best. * Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement. * Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake. * The passive voice is to be avoided. * Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms. * Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
* Don’t never use no double negatives.


Bottom of the Barrel – Seems the Oxford philosophy exam “normally requires an eight page essay answer, studded with source material, quotes and analytical reasoning.
But one student handed the following back and aced the exam :
Oxford Examination Board 1987 Essay Question:
1.1a What is courage? (50Marks)
Answer: This is courage.

If you don’t get it, go lie down for awhile and it’ll come to you.

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