Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Preaching Materials for September 28th, 2008

R U M O R S # 520
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

September 21, 2008



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

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Next Week’s Readings – bread in the desert
Rumors – the wish book
Soft Edges – repeating patterns
Mirabile Dictu! – born to be wild
Bottom of the Barrel – pass me the juice, Bruce
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The village pastor was known for his weakness for trout. He loved trout and he loved to fish. “But not on Sunday!” he preached in the sermon.
The next day one of his members presented him with a fine string of fish. "I guess I ought to tell you, parson, that those trout were caught on Sunday."
The minister hesitated, gazed appreciatively at the speckled trout. And he accepted the gift.
"The fish aren't to blame for that," he said piously.

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 28th which is Proper 21 [26].

September 28, 2008
Exodus 17:1-7 – water from a rock
Matthew 21:23-32 – parable of the two sons
I’m really tempted to preach on Matthew’s Parable of the Two Sons. We had two children – a son and a daughter, not two sons – who fitted the pattern perfectly. One typically promised to help, and disappeared. The other had other things to do, but came out and helped rake the yard anyway.
I suspect everyone else has family members, or friends, who fit the pattern too. They can fill in their own blanks.
But I think I need to keep on telling the Moses story – he is such a dominant figure in the Bible. In the past weeks, Moses saves the Hebrew people’s firstborn from death; he provides quail and manna to banish starvation; he makes the Red Sea split apart; now he produces water out of a solid rock.
Explanations are irrelevant – these are miracles; they need to be treated as miracles, not as events that need explanation. If your child runs out on the street after a ball, and a car slams to a stop just in time, you don’t ask for explanations about antilock brake systems or sticky tires. You thank God and call it a miracle.
When we demand explanations – be they scientific, social, or psychological – we miss the point. Miracles are signs of God’s grace, things that ought not to happen, but they do. Don’t try to understand them; accept them; be grateful.
Jim Taylor

The Story: Expectations vs. reality – Exodus 17:1-7
The Israelites wanted out of Egypt. So God, working through Moses, helped them get out. But once they were out, they began bellyaching. Expectations turned sour in the face of reality.
Each of us can tell similar stories, about when the reality didn’t live up to the advertising. Or how the relationship went sour once the “honeymoon” was over. Both Canada and the US are in the middle of national election campaigns. The safest prediction I can make is that after the elections are over, the reality will not live up to the promises.
Which is true of almost all advertising. The product seldom lives up to the hype. Like herb tea – the smell is better than the taste.
Years ago at a wedding Bev said to the couple, “You have promised each other that your commitment is ‘for better and for worse.’ I can’t promise you that it will get any better than this. But it will get worse.”
Jim Taylor sometimes asks aspiring authors, “Do you want to write a book or do you want to have written a book?” In other words, is it the glory and honor you are looking for, or are you interested in doing the hard, sometimes exhausting job of writing that a book requires?
If you’ve ever been in a leadership role, or followed a leader, you’ll know how initial dreams and expectations tend to dry up in the desert of reality. Most often, God’s call is not to be a triumphant warrior riding into spiritual battle. The call is to keep on, living faith bit by bit and day by day. Hanging in there, through 40 years in the wilderness.
Crossing the Red Sea, finding manna and water – those are the easy parts.
The toughest call to answer is God’s call to faithfulness.
Ralph Milton

Psalm 78:1-4, 15-16 – We all need family histories. No one is so poor as the person with no roots.
1 If I say, "Once upon a time," everyone knows a story is starting.
2 I do not know the meanings of my stories;
I merely pass them on as they were passed to me.
3 Only you can decide what they mean to you.
4 This is our story. This is where we came from.
When you hear this story, you must also tell it,
so that others may also know where they came from.
5 Our story is not limited to our own lives.
We belong to a long line of travelers, snaking in single file through history;
We bear with us the beliefs, the convictions, the experiences
bequeathed to us by those who passed this way before.
From Abraham and Sarah, from Rachel and Jacob, from David and Bathsheba, from Mary and Jesus, we learn our family story.
6 Only by knowing where we have come from can we know where we are going.
7 Only by knowing who we are can we know that God is with us.

12 Once upon a time, we were slaves.
We were exploited for economic growth, and held captive by capital.
13 But God freed us from the prisons of our past.
God flung open our minds, and let us see new possibilities.
14 By signs and symbols, God led us to new life.
15 In arid canyons of crisis, God showed us how to drink deeply of life.
16 In barren wastelands of despair, God gave us joy.

Philippians 2:1-13 – Whenever a passage really bothers me, I know (from long experience) that I should pay particular attention. Here, it’s the 5th verse that gets me. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
What is this? Some kind of brain transplant? I’m told I need to see things the way Jesus saw them, but how can I do that?
I’m Ralph, not Jesus!
And that’s the cop-out. If I work at it, I can learn to see things the way Jesus did, or at least I can if I can get my mind and heart into Jesus’ values. Never fully. It’s always a struggle.
This passage is about faithfulness in the struggle. I may be on my hands and knees but I need to make sure my nose is pointed in the right direction.

Matthew 21:23-32 – The group confronting Jesus in the passage was basically saying, “Who the heck do you think you are? What right have you got to talk like this?”
Which is not an unreasonable question, or it would not have been unreasonable if they had genuinely wanted an answer. They were mostly trying to put Jesus on the spot, so he put them on the spot. Not a very productive exchange.
Their question is valid. Where do we get our authority? For instance, what gives me the right to impose this electronic rag on 7,500 people every week?
What gives a preacher the right to stand in the pulpit every Sunday?
The answer seems weak, but there it is.
We are called. God help us, we are called.

For a children’s version of the Exodus story see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 209, “We Want a Drink. The Matthew passage called, “The Sister and the Brother” is on page 211. If you don’t already own 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.” Both Year A and Year B are now available.


Rumors – Yes, I know. It is only September. It is too early to be doing Christmas stuff. Except that it isn’t.
There’s only 138,240.397 shopping minutes left! I’ll bet you didn’t know that!
Christmassy stuff is already appearing in the stores. And the biggest symbol of all arrived more than a month ago. The Wish Book.
It is possible that some of you living in the underdeveloped part of the world, beyond the pale of higher civilization, may not know the Wish Book. It’s a catalogue. A Christmas catalogue. And it arrives while we are still sitting on the beach sipping cold sodas!
It brings back memories of my grandkids, when they were small, flipping through the huge toy section and absolutely, desperately wanting every single thing they saw.
It works. The Wish Book does exactly what it is intended to do. Sell to the kids, but in such a way that they can poke the parents’ guilt buttons. Mom and dad must know that they will not be “good parents” unless they buy everything the child asks for. Advertisers will tell you they are simply offering information so that the customer can make up his/her mind. Piffle!! Hogwash.
Advertising is about manipulating the emotions so that the customer feels a desperate need to acquire the items in question. They work on our fear. They sell fear, in the form of guilt. The message of the advertising is clear. We will not be acceptable, responsible, or loved, unless we buy. We will not make the grade as parents (or grandparents) in the eyes of our children, in the eyes of our friends, in our own eyes. Not even God’s eyes unless we buy.
And like all addictions, the consumerist addiction constantly needs a bigger and bigger fix, because it never fully satisfies. Advertising can never deliver the acceptance, the fulfillment, the joy it promises. The solution of course, is to buy even more.
It’s a bit like the politicos out there on the hustings saying in effect, “We didn’t deliver on our promises last time, but we will this time. We promise. Just vote for us again.”
It’s not surprising that Christianity has such an uphill battle to gain credibility. The Christian faith has a central concept called Grace, which says you are acceptable, responsible and loved, just as you are. It’s a gift. Free. No charge. You don’t have to buy anything or vote for anyone. Grace is there for you, whether you want it or not. Whether you believe it or not.
Christmas isn’t coming. It is here. It’s not too early to start working on it. There is water in the wilderness of Christmas hype. It is possible to put on the mind of Christ in a way that helps us receive the real gift of Christmas.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Repeating Patterns
We human beings are perverse creatures.
In summer, we long for cooler temperatures; when autumn comes, we bundle up and recall summer with nostalgia.
As an introvert, I find crowds exhausting. An uninterrupted string of meetings leaves me edgy, almost angry. But give me a few days of twiddling my thumbs or fussing with Sudoku puzzles and I get restless, bored, fretting for something useful to do.
And then there’s e-mail...
For years, I’ve ranted about unsolicited e-mail, commonly called spam. Because I post my columns to web pages on the Internet, I invite readers to contact me with their comments. That means providing an e-mail address. Nasty things called “web crawlers” scour those web pages for combinations of letters that look like e-mail addresses. They find mine; they add it to their databases; I get spam.
Lots of spam. Several hundred pieces a day, in fact.
And I hated it.
Then my friend Ralph Milton told me about a program called Cloudmark. It costs about $40 a year. And it works spectacularly well! It checks incoming mail against its own vast database, somewhere. If I flag something as unwanted, it adds that sender and subject to its database.
In the beginning, it missed occasionally – it let through perhaps one spam message a day. More recently, it has only failed me once.
So of course, the volume of mail reaching my inbox has decreased dramatically.
And now I’m feeling neglected.
I open my e-mail program, and I’m disappointed that I have no messages waiting for me. I keep going back to the program, hoping something new has come in.
Strange, isn’t it?
But not unusual. At various times of crisis in my life – losing a job, the death of our son or a parent, tense times in our marriage – I’ve wondered if I can stand one more shattering experience. And yet those have been the times when I have become most conscious of God’s presence in my life. Unhappy circumstances have forced me to re-assess my values, re-think my standards, re-evaluate my relationships...
At such times, I have felt what former United Church moderator Dr. Bob McClure referred to as a hand in the small of my back, pushing me where I didn’t necessarily want to go.
Then the crises pass. I coast along comfortably. Life is good.
And one day, I wonder why I haven’t heard from God for some time.
According to the biblical book of Deuteronomy, Moses warned the Hebrew slaves out in the desert that this cycle would repeat through history, over and over. “Because you believe in me,” God told them (if I may paraphrase a much longer speech in chapter 8), “you will prosper. When you prosper, you will forget about me; you will think you succeeded because of your own efforts. Then misfortune will fall upon you, and you will turn to me again.”
In a perverse sort of way, I find that comforting. I’m not the only one who’s had this experience.

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 – from the file
* The Advent Retreat will be held in the lover level of St. Mary's Cathedral.
* The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours!"
* The choir will disrobe for the summer months and join us in the pews.

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! – Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders and says, 'Oh shoot! She's awake!!'
from somewhere on the internet, via Jim Spinks

Uncontrolled anger lashes out; controlled anger is a powerful force for change.
Jim Taylor via Cliff Bolt

After all is said and done, there's a lot more said than done.
source unknown, via Evelyn McLachlan


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “born to be wild!”) These biblical theme songs via Evelyn McLachlan.
* Noah: "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"
* Adam and Eve: "Strangers in Paradise"
* Lazarus: "The Second Time Around"
* Esther: "I Feel Pretty"
* Job: "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues"
* Moses: "The Wanderer"
* Jezebel: "The Lady is a Tramp"
* Samson: "Hair"
* Salome: "I Could Have Danced All Night"
* Daniel: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
* Esau: "Born To Be Wild"
* Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: "Great Balls of Fire!"
* The Three Kings: "When You Wish Upon a Star"
* Jonah: "Got a Whale of a Tale"
* Elijah: "Up, Up, and Away"
* Methuselah: "Stayin' Alive"
* Nebuchadnezzar: "Crazy"


Bottom of the Barrel – John Severson should be hiding under the bed after sending this one.
Two elderly Jewish men, Sid and Al, are sitting in an Oslo restaurant one day. Sid asks Al, 'Do you know of any people of our faith born and raised in Norway?'
“I don't know,” says Al. “Let's ask our waiter.”
When the waiter arrives, Al asks, 'Say Ole, are there any Norwegian Jews in Oslo?'
'I don't know sir,’ says Ole. ‘I ask the cooks.'
He returns from the kitchen after a few minutes and says, 'No sir, the cooks say there is no Norwegian Jews.'
Al isn't satisfied and asks, 'Are you absolutely sure?' Ole's waiter, realizing he is dealing with foreigners replies, 'I check once again, sir!' and goes back into the kitchen.
While the waiter is away, Sid says, 'I find it hard to believe that there are no Jews in Norway. Our people are scattered everywhere.'
Ole returns and says, 'Sir, the head cook Thor say there is no Norwegian Jews.'
'Are you certain?' Al asks again. 'I just can't believe there are no Norwegian Jews!'
'Sir, I ask everyone,' replies the exasperated Ole, 'All we have is Orange Jews, Grape Jews, Prune Jews, Grapefruit Jews and Tomato Jews.

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