Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Preaching materials for September 14, 2008

R U M O R S # 518
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

September 7, 2008


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

Do you know someone who should be receiving Rumors? There’s a blurb at the bottom of this e-mail that you can simply copy and mail to said friend. Along with your glowing reports of the sheer and utter brilliance of what they will receive.


The Story Lectionary – new insights on an old story
Rumors – forgiveness and being forgiven
Soft Edges – the way the wind blows
We Get Letters – a new way of taking up the offering
Mirabile Dictu! – I told you I was sick
Bottom of the Barrel – how’s your humoousiosis?
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – “A guy goes to a psychiatrist. ‘Doc, I keep having these alternating recurring dreams. First I'm a teepee; then I'm a wigwam; then I'm a teepee; then I'm a wigwam. It's driving me crazy. What's wrong with me?’
‘It's very simple,’ the doctors says. “Just relax, you're two tents.’”

Next Week’s Readings – If your church uses the Revised Common Lectionary, here are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, September 14th, which is Proper 19 (24).

Exodus 14:19-31 – The story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea
Do you remember the movie? Charlton Heston was Moses. And I have this image in my mind of Heston, his long, grey beard blowing in the wind, raising his hand and the waters piling up on either side. Those were pretty impressive special effects in those days.
I also remember lots of well-intentioned people trying to “logically” and “scientifically” explain the parting of the sea. But scientifically explaining miracles misses the point of the story.
In such legends, impossible things happen, and the whole point is their impossibility. This is a foundational story for the Hebrews. It is a way the Hebrews have been able to say to themselves, “God is with us. We are a chosen people. The fact that we are here is a miracle. It’s God’s doing.”
In other words, this is a theological statement told in the language of a story.
A part of the Red Sea legend, as told in the Hebrew Midrash, is that God wept as the Hebrews celebrated because, “the Egyptians are my children too!” Sometimes the story needs to be enlarged to accommodate such new insights.
In the last half-century or so, we’ve become aware of the way women are marginalized in the scripture, and a case in point is the story of Miriam, Moses’ sister. Exodus 15:20-21 describers her as a “prophet” and tell us about what may be the earliest description of a worship celebration – depending, of course, on what you mean by the word “worship.”
Ralph Milton

Exodus 14:19-31 or Matthew 18:21-35
I don’t like either of the two passages for this Sunday. Exodus should be the better one – Moses parts the waters of the Red Sea so that the Hebrew fugitives can pass through the waters to freedom. But a major emphasis is that God does this, not for the sake of the people, but “so I will gain glory for myself...” (14:17-18).
Characteristically, Matthew turns what could have been a story about forgiveness into a story about vengeance: “in anger, his lord handed him over to be tortured...” Matthew does the same with the parable of the wedding feast.
I don’t like Matthew.
So what I’m going to do for this Sunday is preach about anger management. I shall carry Moses’ staff, and pound it on the floor – the way he flung it on the ground in the desert, the way he whacked the rock until water came out of it, the way he probably belted the Red Sea to drive the waters apart. I hope I’ll have people ducking for safety!
I shall point out that anger is not necessarily a bad thing. Without anger, there would have been no civil rights movement, no anti-war parades, no organizations like Amnesty International... Despite Pope Gregory’s Seven Deadly Sins, a vice is usually a virtue taken to an extreme.
Uncontrolled anger lashes out; controlled anger is a powerful force for change.
Jim Taylor

Psalm 114 – 1-8 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Covenanting Together
1 This morning, the skies were grey;
the north wind blew bleak and cold.
2 Then I met you.
3 And the sun came out;
the roses burst into bloom;
the birds began singing;
4 the storm clouds retreated across the horizon.
5 What made the difference?
6 You changed my life;
just by being here, you transformed my world.
7 Before you came, I could not see the sun, nor hear the birds.
Now the feet that dragged their way through dreary days have learned to dance;
stumbling blocks have turned into cornerstones.
8 The ice that held my heart in a wintry grip has melted;
joy pours out of me like a fountain.
Because of you.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com

Romans 14:1-12 –This is not a “let’s be nice to each other” passage. It does not say, “You can believe anything you want as long as you are sincere.”
It may sound like that on the surface, but if you read it a few times, you’ll see that it is a call for each of us to “live to the Lord” with everything we are and all that we’ve got. Concentrate on that, rather than on getting upset because others do it differently or use different language.
The Christian life does not include sitting in judgment on others. It’s a waste of time and, in any case, that’s God’s job.
But there’s more to this than simple avoidance of conflict. “How do we relate to people who express their faith differently? That’s a complicated issue, but I’m convinced that before anything else, it involves listening and listening hard.

Matthew 18:21-35 – The story of the unforgiving servant gets at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It is about forgiveness. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” said Jesus. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Both statements by Jesus come from the Hebrew scriptures, and describe the heart of the Christian faith which is the knowledge that we are both loved and forgiven by God, which is easier to believe than that we have been forgiven by family, colleagues, friends, etc., for the collection of small and large injuries that go with life.
Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness means letting the love we have for someone overcome the pain and hurt – we transcend the injury – so that there can be healing.

For a children’s version of the Genesis story, “A Long, Long Journey,” see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 203. A story based on the Matthew reading. “Over and Over and Over and Over,” may be found on page 205.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. The marvellous illustrations are by Margaret Kyle. There’s at least one story for each Sunday, usually two, and occasionally three.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at www.woodlakebooks.com, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible,” which is now available for both Year A and Year B.


Rumors – I vividly recall a regional meeting of my denomination some years ago. One of the topics of discussion was the need to have criminal record checks done for volunteers who may be working with children or other vulnerable people within the church.
“The schools, the Scouts, every other organization that deals with people must do this too!” was the rationale.
The greatest fear is pedophiles, of course. There have been too many instances of leaders who have sexually abused young children. The abuse can leave a terrible wound. But that criminal check was for any offence, not just pedophilia.
A number of years ago I got to know a man who was very active in all areas of church life. He managed an apartment block, but volunteered all kinds of time, especially to the John Howard Society, one of the groups that helps men coming out of jail return to a normal and productive life. Their counterpart organization is the Elizabeth Fry Society.
This man told me his story. He had been an accountant with a large firm, and had embezzled a substantial sum of money. He was caught, convicted, and jailed.
On his release, a friend took him to church and introduced him to some of the people there. He made no secret of the fact that he had just come out of jail, but he really wanted to put his life together again. He volunteered to help out with anything that needed doing, thinking they would ask him to mow the lawn or some such thing.
They asked him to be treasurer of the church!
“That was the turning point in my life,” he said. “Their act of trust showed me the heart of God.”
His story reminded me of Karl. I was the program director at a radio station. Karl applied for an announcing job. He had a fine voice and he read well. But there was a big gap in his employment record. I asked about it.
“Well, so much for that job,” he said and stood up to leave.
“Not so fast!” I said. “Tell me what this is about.”
“I was in jail for stealing cars.”
We talked for a long time and I ended up hiring him, much to my own boss’ displeasure. He was a fine, hard-working announcer. And for many years after I left that radio station, I got Christmas cards from Karl, and they always had a note that said, “Thank you for believing in me.”
Pedophilia is different. A psychiatrist friend tells me it is basically incurable, although many sufferers learn to control it.
But in our concern for the safety of our children and other vulnerable people, we must forgive as we have been forgiven. And forgiveness means nothing if the person is then marginalized and excluded.
We had to face up to that in our own congregation not too many years ago. And elderly gentleman came back to our congregation after he had served a jail term for pedophilia. The word went around in the church that we would treat him as any other person, except that he would never be in a room by himself.
We speak of ourselves as a “forgiven” people, worshipping a loving God of second chances. Christian churches are communities of forgiven people, and therefore when we do those criminal checks, we must also go the second step if it turns out there is a criminal record involved.
We must find ways to creatively and redemptively include everyone.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
The Way the Wind Blows
At times, the lake out in front of our house lies as still and calm as a plate glass mirror. And then, inevitably, a wind will start blowing, funneling along the long valley between the hills.
First, the clear reflections break up.
Then wavelets appear. Just little ripples, cats paws, pushed along by the wind. If the wind is fitful, the wavelets will go every which way – falling over each other, catching up, falling behind...
But as the wind steadies, those little wavelets pile on top of each other. They move in the same direction; the waves get bigger. They develop some uniformity. A long line of waves begins to march up the lake in a regular rhythm.
On a lake, these waves rarely get more than a metre or so, trough to crest. That’s big enough, when you’re out in a small boat, and the wave crests come at you in quick succession.
In my younger days, in the Gulf of Georgia, waves had more time to gather momentum. I recall going boating when the crest of an oncoming wave would completely block the mountains of Vancouver Island rising above the horizon.
On the open ocean, waves can get even bigger. But not necessarily more dangerous. A groundswell, sweeping across the Pacific, may have a ten-metre rise and fall. But the crests may be so far apart that you might never know a wave had just passed by.
I find that a valuable analogy, when people tell me that they’re being buffeted by too many changes. Changes in tax and policies. Changes in the price of gasoline. Changes in church liturgies and beliefs. Changes in medical care.
Especially changes in family life... “I never even had sex with my wife until after we were married,” one man lamented recently. “Having a child outside of wedlock was disgraceful. Now my teenage granddaughter is pregnant. And everyone seems to think it’s normal...”
Most of these changes, to my mind, are superficial, like the surface wavelets. Which doesn’t mean they’re unimportant – they do splash and slop and get people wet. But they’re not necessarily threatening – yet. They don’t force individuals to change their faith, to become refugees, or to join a jihad against Wal-Mart.
But in our concern about surface wavelets, we often fail to perceive the underlying groundswell. As changes develop a consistent pattern, they generate their own momentum. They start turning into an irresistible force.
And then one day we realize that our ocean no longer feels familiar. While we were watching the wavelets, a new weather system has set in. The big waves come at us from a different direction. We’re confused. We’ve lost our bearings.
A recent news item referred to “The structural inability of government and industry to deal with potentially catastrophic problems, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.”
But we ordinary people find ourselves just as incapable of adapting easily to new circumstances.
It’s important to distinguish between ripples and groundswells.

If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at jimt@quixotic.ca. Jim also does another weekly column called “Sharp Edges” which is published in our daily newspaper. It has a stronger political-social justice content. If you’d like to receive Sharp Edges, send Jim a note at the address above. Or go to Jim’s web page at: http://edges.canadahomepage.net/index.php . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Richard Glover of Waitakere, New Zealand overheard this. "We don't need you to lead worship on that date. We'll call you next time we are desperate." Followed by gales of laughter.

From the file:
* Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
* The Pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast.
If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. ralphmilton@woodlake.com


Wish I’d Said That! – Ecology is rather like sex – every new generation likes to think they were the first to discover it.
Michael Allaby

Guns have metamorphosed into cameras in this earnest comedy, the ecology safari, because nature has ceased to be what it always had been – what people needed protection from. Now nature tamed, endangered, mortal – needs to be protected from people.
Susan Sontag

The kind of humor I like is the thing that makes me laugh for five seconds and think for ten minutes.
William Davis via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Our intrepid reporter in Calgary, Irene Carter, sends a report of a whole new way of taking up the offering in broad-minded churches.
“This may come as a surprise to you,” says Irene, “But in Las Vegas, there are more churches than casinos.
“Not surprisingly, some worshippers will give casino chips rather than cash when the basket is passed. Since they get chips from many different casinos, the churches have devised a method of doing this efficiently. They send them all to a nearby monastery, where they are sorted and redeemed for cash.
“This work is done, of course, by chip monks!”
(You didn’t even see that coming, did you?)

Grace Jones Moore of Claremont, California has a concern for an elderly friend who was given a prescription for a medication. “The doctor told me I had to take this for the rest of my life. But it’s marked, ‘No Refills’!”

Charles Shawnwise of Hackensack, New Jersey writes: “The world must be making progress. Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today, it's called golf.
“And it was a white man’s game. Then they let women play. Now the two best golfers in the world are, racially speaking, Asian and African.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “I told you I was sick!”)
Some epitaphs via my old standbys, Eric McLuhan and Jim Taylor. They claim all these are real. In a Ruidoso, New MexicoHere liesJohnny YeastPardon meFor not rising.In Uniontown, PennsylvaniaHere lies the bodyof Jonathan BlakeStepped on the gasInstead of the brake.In Silver City, NevadaHere lays Butch,We planted him raw.He was quick on the trigger,But slow on the draw.In Georgia"I told you I was sick!"In Hartscombe, EnglandOn the 22nd of JuneJonathan FiddleWent out of tune.In Enosburg Falls, Vermont Here lies the body of our AnnaDone to death by a bananaIt wasn't the fruit that laid her lowBut the skin of the thing that made her go.In Nantucket, MassachusettsUnder the sod and under the treesLies the body of Jonathan Pease.He is not here, there's only the pod.Pease shelled out and went to God.In Girard, PennsylvaniaEllen Shannon
Who was fatally burnedMarch 21, 1870by the explosion of a lampfilled with "R.E. Danforth'sNon-Explosive Burning Fluid"In Thurmont, MarylandHere lies an AtheistAll dressed upAnd no place to go.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Bottom of the Barrel – This is very confusing, but bear (bare?) with me. Several months ago, I asked if anyone knew the word “humoousiosis.” I can’t even remember where I came across it, but it wasn’t in my dictionary.
Well, the whole thing floated around the Internet, and came back again as a ditty written to go with the tune of “Supercalafragalisticexpialadocius.” But first you need to know that humoousiosis means “of like substance” and was used in one of the old creeds to say that Jesus was similar to God but not identical.
Here’s part of the ditty written by Dan ldzikowski who must be a whiz at church history, because I sure don’t get most of the references. Do you?
The only one I recognized was St. Nicholas.

Chorus: Um diddle diddle um diddle ayUm diddle diddle urn diddle ay*Superchristological and HomoousiosisEven thought the sound of them is something quite atrociousYou can always count on them to anathemize your GnosisSuperchristological and HomoousiosisNow Origen and Arius were quite a clever pair.Immutable divinity made Logos out of air.But then one day Saint Nicholas gave Arius a slap,and told them if they can't recant, they ought to shut their trap!One Prosopon, two Ousia are in one Hypostasis.At Chalcedon this formula gave our faith its basis.You can argue that you don't know what this really means,But don't you go and try to say there's a "Physis' in between!Now freedom and autonomy are something to be praised,But when it comes to human sin, these words must be rephrased,For Pelagius was too confident that we could work it out–And Augustine said “massa damnata” is what it's all about.Heresies are arguments that you might find attractive,But just remember in this case the Church is quite reactive.So play it safe and memorize these words we sing together,'Cause in the end you'll find, my friend, that we may live forever.

*This chorus is written in an ancient Ugaritic dialect and it translates:
“Singin’ so long, it’s been good to know you!
But I gotta be driftin’ along.”
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