Friday, September 12, 2008

Preaching materials for September 21, 2008

R U M O R S # 519
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

September 14, 2008



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

Here in Canada, we are into the run-up for the busiest season in the church year.
If you have friends who indulge in preachificationalism each Sunday (I love polysyllabics, even when I have to invent them myself.) and are struggling to find enough preparation time for their sermonificationalistic habits, why not subscribe them to Rumors?
Please tell said friends what you’ve done, or they might think Rumors is some kind of religious spam. (It is, of course, but let them find that out for themselves.)
Also tell them there are instructions at the end of every issue telling them how to get their name off the list when they get sick of it.


The Story Lectionary – bread in the desert
Rumors – is the Bible supposed to “make sense?”
Soft Edges – making wrong choices
Mirabile Dictu! – all were right and wrong
Bottom of the Barrel – a profitable disability
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 at the Vacation Bible School. They were acting out “Jesus Calms the Storm.” The children, dressed as "disciples," were getting into the fishing boat. Suddenly “Peter” discovered that one of the disciples was a girl. "You can't be a disciple,” he proclaimed. “You are a girl."
Without missing a beat, Jessica said, "Well it’s like this Frazer. In the beginning God made men. But then God had a better idea!"

Next Week’s Readings – If your church uses the Revised Common Lectionary, these are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, September 21st, which is Proper 20 [25].

Exodus 16:2-15 – The Story: Bread in the Desert

Canada and the U.S. are both in the middle of election campaigns. Typically, the campaigns have degenerated into attacks, on the party or the person. “They” – that is, the other guy(s) – are leading you in the wrong direction.
Opinion polls suggest that people want to go back to what they remember as a better time, when they felt confident, a time with less stress, less uncertainty.
La plus ca change, la plus c’est le meme chose – the more things change, the more things stay the same! Two refrains recur through Exodus:
– first, the people complain;
– then Moses pulls off another miracle to prove that the Lord cares for them.
On the shores of the Red Sea, at the rocks of Massa and Meribah, here in the wilderness, the people whine, “We would have been better off staying in slavery in Egypt.”
The Bible is more than history. The Bible is a story about us. Some parts ring true at one time, some parts at another time. At this particular time, I think we are the Israelites, constantly crabbing about our leaders.
Moses wasn’t always popular. But he always had a vision. Do our leaders have a vision? If so, what is it? And do we share it? Or would we rather return to slavery?
Jim Taylor

The delightful and infuriating tendency of the Hebrews was to answer a question with a story. The question is, “How do we know that God is really with us?” To which the answer is the story of the Exodus.
If you don’t believe a story can answer such a question, well that’s too bad. But it’s the only answer possible. Scientific or objectively historical answers are interesting but not relevant.
The entire Exodus saga is about God’s involvement with the people. These old stories assume a tribal God who is interested only in the tribe called the Hebrews. Gradually the biblical stories begin to tell of God’s concern for other tribes – other nations – other peoples.
And in the two millennia since those Bible stories were written down, we’ve become aware of stories that point to God’s love for people of various colors, different creeds, different sexual orientations.
And now, God’s love and concern for all creation. What kinds of stories can we tell about that?
Ralph Milton

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
God is with us
A kindergarten class trailed down the sidewalk after their teacher on an outing.
1 God shows us the way.
Like chicks clustering behind their mother, God's children follow.
2 Laughing, dancing, singing, skipping, the joyful throng proceeds.
3 As God's children, we have nothing to fear;
our spirits can soar like the sparrows.
4 When traffic threatens or big dogs bark,
when the road forks or stragglers wander off,
our leader draws us together for safety.
5 Through the perils, God moves unperturbed.
6 How lucky we are to be God's chosen children.

Once upon a time, I was a Scout and Cub leader. Going camping was always a highlight.

37 It was quite a hike.
Roots reached out to trip us; thorn bushes clutched at our clothes.
But we didn't lose anyone.
38 We rejoiced to reach our destination;
night was near; we began to fear we were lost.
39 Tents from our leader covered us from the chill;
a campfire kept us warm.
40 We barbecued chicken on its coals.
41 A spring spouted from the hillside;
its clear water filled our cups and overflowed down the valley.
42 Through the darkness, our leader watched over us;
through the night, he patrolled the campsite to ward off our fears.
43 In a new day, we bounced from our tents with bright eyes and deep breaths,
inhaling the glory of the morning.
44 The woods and meadows were made for us;
we played hide and seek among the tree trunks.
45 Glory to God who gave us such an experience.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Philippians 1:21-30 – This is a letter from Paul to the first church he established in Europe. He is writing to friends, and the whole letter is more friendly and lucid than his letter to the Romans. Paul is not thinking suicide here, as some have implied. He’s simply saying that the job given him by God is a tough one, and sometimes it feels as if it would be easier to chuck the whole business.
We all have such feelings sometimes – about our church, our family, our job. Paul found strength in his faith.

Matthew 20:1-16 – When we hear of labor disputes, it is often the workers demanding “parity.” “Equal pay for equal work.” It seems reasonable enough.
The actions of the vineyard owner in this parable are unfair. They would be fought tooth and nail by any union grievance committee.
But this parable is not about labor relations. It’s not about fairness. It is about the gift of grace.
All we need to do is say “Yes,” and God gives us the whole bundle.
Love, whether this is the love of one person for another, or God’s love of us – is not divisible. Nobody gets more of God’s love than anyone else.
Each one of us gets it all.

For a children’s version of the Exodus story, “I’m So Hungry” see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 206, and of the Matthew reading, “The Kind Farmer,” page 207.
If you do not already own “The Lectionary Story Bible,” go to 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 B are both available. Year C will be published next spring.


Rumors – I had mega computer problems a couple of weeks ago. Rumors came out late because the big computer in the bowels of a building somewhere in downtown Kelowna had indigestion.
Then my laptop, which I use to do Rumors, blew its disc drive. No sooner had I switched to my desktop, than it blew its power supply thingee.
As I wandered around the house at loose ends, I realized how dependant I had become on these electronic beasts. I don’t understand them. I don’t really like them. But I can’t do without them.
When Ross, the technical person arrived with my recovered desk top, he chatted amiably about what had been repaired, and about computers in general. While he fiddled with wires and switches, I sat there with a fixed, uncomprehending smile. I had no idea, for the most part, what he was talking about.
It wasn’t just that he had information and learning that I didn’t have. It was also because he thinks differently than I do. We live in different worlds. He will probably never understand my world and I will never understand his. And no, I am not saying one is superior to the other. They are simply different and mutually unintelligible.
(Jim Taylor is a weird exception to all this. He seems to operate comfortably in both worlds. Does that make him bilingual?)
These different ways of thinking have caused us gobs of grief in the church. Especially as we read the scriptures. Especially those Hebrew sagas.
The Bible comes out of a non-technical, creative, story-telling tradition and our many attempts to explain and rationalize those stories have simply gotten us into a bunch of futile arguments.
The Bible doesn’t “make sense.” The story of the workers in the vineyard (see above) is a case in point. What the vineyard owner did was not fair. It was not logical. The workers were perfectly right.
It takes a different way of thinking to understand that the story in Matthew isn’t about hours of work. And the story in Exodus isn’t about how manna is formed in the desert or where those quail came from.
As I read what I have just written, I realize how arrogant it sounds. It says, “I can think the way the Hebrews thought, therefore I know how to interpret those Bible stories and you don’t.”
For that I apologize.
The best response may be one of trust. I like Ross, and I trust him to do what needs to be done on my computer. And he’s never violated that trust. Ross is like my son Mark who understands things like quantum physics.
I don’t even know what the word “quantum” means, and if I looked it up I probably wouldn’t understand the definition.
I need Ross to understand computers and I need my son to understand quantum physics. I trust them, even though I can’t think their thoughts after them.
My plea is that they will trust me, even though they can’t think my thoughts after me. Only mutual trust can lead all of us to a deeper appreciation of the world God gave us.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Making Wrong Choices
Anglican priest Doug Hodgkinson attended a Reuel Howe lab in Berkeley in the 1960s.
Reuel Howe had a reputation for doing what might be called “people experiments.” He set people in specially created situations, to see how they would respond. Their response became their learning.
A professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, Howe conducted workshops (or “labs”) all across the United States. At this particular lab, the group was given a piece of wood, and told to reach some agreement about its length, without measuring it in any way – purely an eyeball estimate. Then they were to gather as many others as possible who agreed.
One person had been told beforehand the exact length, but he was not allowed to reveal the source of his knowledge. As far as the rest were concerned, he was guessing just as much as they were.
The estimates varied widely.
The only agreement was that no one agreed with the one person who had the correct answer. He tried to gather several groups but couldn't get other people to agree with him.
So eventually, he joined a group who advocated the wrong answer.
When he was asked, at the end of the exercise, why he would throw his lot in with a wrong answer, when he knew the right one, he replied, “I’d rather be wrong than alone.”
His comment illuminates much of the Old Testament for me. The Hebrew people lived in a unique situation. They believed that their God instructed to them directly.
And they still got off the track.
In perhaps the most striking example, Abraham felt that he had to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove how much he worshipped God.
Human sacrifice was not part of his religious tradition. There is no reference in the Bible to any previous human sacrifice – other than Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, an act that definitely displeased God.
But human sacrifice was part of the surrounding culture. If sacrificing a chicken or a lamb was supposed to incur God’s favour, surely the sacrifice of a human being would gain even more brownie points? Especially sacrificing one’s own child? Especially one’s sole heir...?
Fortunately for the survival of the Hebrew people, who all trace their ancestry to Abraham through Isaac, Abraham heard God’s “No” just in time to avoid a calamity.
But it’s a powerful story. It illustrates how easily even those upheld as examples of faith can be subverted by cultural pressures.
Abraham knew better. But as a follower of a God different from the gods of the surrounding culture, he felt alone, isolated. And he almost chose to be wrong, rather than alone.

If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at 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: . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff
* Good Christians all, rejoice, with heat and soul and voice!
* The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.
* The person who typed the stencil for the church bulletin couldn't quite get all the word "Father" on one line, so decided to put the whole word on the next one, forgetting to erase the "Fat" already typed on the previous line. (Does that make sense?)
So the Lord's Prayer read, "Our Fat Father..."

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! – Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.
Daniel Boorstin

In the ad biz, sincerity is a commodity bought and paid for like everything else.

A guilty conscience is the mother of invention.
Carolyn Wells


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “All were right and wrong!”)
Here’s a great old poem. It is a bit dated, of course, and it’s not really great poetry (inspired doggerel?), but it makes a really good and useful point. Maybe it should be read at all church meetings where there are going to be differences of opinion.

The Blind Men and the Elephantby John Godfrey SaxeIt was six men of IndostanTo learning much inclined,Who went to see the Elephant(Though all of them were blind)That each by observationMight satisfy his mind.The First approached the Elephant,And happening to fall,Against his broad and sturdy side,At once began to bawl;“God bless me! But the ElephantIs very like a wall!”The Second, feeling of the tusk,Cried, “Ho! what have we hereSo very round and smooth and sharp?To me ’tis mighty clearThis wonder of an ElephantIs very like a spear!”The Third approached the animal,And happening to takeThe squirming trunk within his hands,Thus boldly up and spake:“I see,” quoth he, “the ElephantIs very like a snake!”The Fourth reached out an eager hand,And felt about the knee.“What most this wondrous beast is likeIs mighty plain,” quoth he;“‘Tis clear enough the ElephantIs very like a tree!”The Fifth who chance to touch the ear,Said: “E’en the blindest manCan tell what this resembles most;Deny the fact who can,This marvel of an ElephantIs very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begunAbout the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tailThat fell within his scope,“I see,” quoth he, “the ElephantIs very like a rope!”And so these men of IndostanDisputed loud and long,Each in his own opinionExceeding stiff and strong,Though each was partly in the right,And all were in the wrong!

Bottom of the Barrel – Four friends are fishing on a lake one day when one of them, a minister, confesses that he seems to have the power to heal others.
His three friends are astonished, but they finally regain their composure. One man says, “I’ve suffered from back pain ever since I took shrapnel in the Vietnam War. Could you help me?”
“I’ll try,” the minister says, and when he touches the man’s back, the fellow feels relief for the first time in years.
The second man wears very thick glasses, and he tells the minister he has a hard time reading and driving. “Can you do anything about my eyesight?” he asks.
The minister smiles, removes the man’s glasses and tosses them in the lake. When they hit the water, the man’s eyes clear, and he can see everything distinctly.
Then the minister turns to the third man, a government employee. The guy puts his hands up defensively and cries, “Don’t touch me. I’m on long-term disability!”

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