Friday, November 28, 2008

Preaching Materials for December 7th, 2008

R U M O R S # 530
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 30, 2008


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

During this time in a slip-sliding economy we offer the only really, really real bargain in Christmas gifts. It’s a gift that will annoy people all year long, not just for a few minutes at Christmas.
Give a subscription to Rumors for Christmas. It won’t cost any money. Zip. All you will lose is your dignity, integrity and self-respect but you probably didn’t have much of that to start with anyway, so you might as well clear it all away and start with a clean (?) slate.
Then your prayer might be like the child who said, “And forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”
Serious note: Don’t spring Rumors on people unannounced. They’ll probably think it’s spam, or worse, their spam filter will think it’s spam. So they need to add Rumors to their “approved” list.


The Story – a wonderfully weird prophet
Rumors – God has not lost patience
Soft Edges – conflicting stories
Bloopers – Draft Dinner
We Get Letters – why not?
Mirabile Dictu! – questions to bring enlightenment
Bottom of the Barrel – talking to a wall
Reader’s Theatre – John 1:6-18 and Luke 3:3-16
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The teacher was reading the story of Jesus’ birth to her daycare children one morning. As usual, she stopped to see if they understood.
“What do we call the three wise men?” she asked.
“The three maggots,” replied a bright 5-year-old.
“What gift did the Magi bring baby Jesus?” she corrected.
“Gold, Frankensteins and Smurfs!” the same 5-year-old replied.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 7th, which is the second Sunday of Advent.

If you are using the Revised Common Lectionary:
Isaiah 40:1-11
II Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Howard Zurbrigg got AIDS from a blood transfusion for hepatitis while serving the Canadian Bible Society.
1 Pious voices utter platitudes: "Trust in the Lord. It's God's will. God knows best."
2 People say with certainty: "The Lord gives, and the Lord taketh away."
"With faith, all things are possible."
8 "Silence!" I want to cry.
"Take your frozen formulas and leave me alone!
Let me listen for what God has to say.
9 For God will not let a broken heart bleed by itself in the night.
10 When wounds cut to the bone, only God can sew together the torn edges of a shattered life.
Only God can soothe such throbbing pain."
11 Surely goodness and mercy will grow again, and sunshine return to the sky.
12 Sorrow is holy ground;
walk on it only with feet bared to the pain of every pebble.
13 Through the darkness, the Lord comes walking on the salt sea of tears.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

An alternate reading:
Our suggestion for the second Sunday of Advent is John 1:6-18 and Luke 3:3-16. You will find these readings below arranged for Reader’s Theatre.
Some of you have asked to know the rest of the Advent readings in advance. We should have thought of that, and it’s a bit late now. But here they are anyway.
Advent 3: Luke 1:26-56
Advent 4: John 1:1-5, Luke 2:1-19.

Jim says:
Because I’ve spent my adult life constructing and de-constructing prose, I’ve developed an acute sensitivity to spin doctors massaging a text for their own purposes. And I can’t help feeling that John the Baptist has become a victim of Jesus’ spin doctors.
All four gospels make the point that John was not the promised Messiah. In various ways, they quote John himself to disabuse people of that notion. Why bother?
I suspect it was because John originally had more followers than Jesus did. After all, when Paul got to Ephesus (Acts 19) he found that John’s missionaries had already been there. The new Christian church didn’t want just to convert Jews; it wanted to gather in Jews who had already converted to John’s banner. The Mandeans, a sect in Iraq, still claim to be followers of John the Baptist.
John’s doctrine of “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” must have been startling news. It’s like erasing your karma, removing viruses from your computer, curing athlete’s foot, shedding an unwanted 40 pounds... Several authoritative sources assure me it was unprecedented. Although John sounds like an angry finger-pointer, the crowds suggest they welcomed his message.
And perhaps Jesus’ own message could not have fallen on fertile ground without John loosening the soil.
To dramatize the relief of forgiveness, I would preach the first half of my sermon wearing a loaded backpack. I’d let people see how it burdens my movement. At the right time, I’d slip the pack off – and let them see the difference in my posture and action.
Once relieved of the burden of guilt, new life is possible.

Ralph says:
I’ve always like that man – the one we call John the Baptist or John the Baptizer. He was wildly eccentric and possibly a little nuts. There is a very thin, fuzzy line between passionate genius and insanity. People like John work from a very different view of the world – a very different reality than those of us who are burdened with too much sanity and common sense.
Every cause has its extremists. These are the ones who are so far out in left field that when another, less virulent prophet comes by, he or she seems sensible by comparison. Martin Luther King Jr. had Malcom X.
Jesus had John. I can hear the folks standing on the banks of the Jordan River saying, “That John is a nut-case. He’ll get us all into trouble. Come listen to Jesus. He at least makes sense.”
And John of course did get himself into trouble. He preached about the immorality of King Herod – not a sensible thing to do. It got him jailed and beheaded.
So John is a necessary part of the story. He puts words to the deep visceral yearning of the people of the first century and all of us in the 21st century – for another way of being. A better way of living. A higher sense of justice.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A & B” for a number of Advent stories based on the readings for this season.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. 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, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
If you order these from the web, you get a 20% discount! How about that!


Rumors – I always get sentimental and blubbery as Christmas comes closer. I am a romantic. A dreamer.
Our choir is rehearsing for the annual Cantata, and I’m loving every minute of it. The words in the various numbers we sing are not the most inspiring. Some are trite and full of clichés. Those who write words for anthems generally are not noted for their poetic excellence.
Another church in our town always does a traditional service of carols and lessons and I drag Bev to it every year. I want to sing those old carols and hear those stories from the Bible – I want to hear them read even though I know them almost by heart.
It’s not old age. Well, it’s not all old age. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. In my teenage years and early twenties, I went to hear that service of carols and lessons even though I considered myself an atheist.
And it’s not that I think of those Christmas stories as history. Whether they are or not really doesn’t matter to me. Whether or not those events happened in a real time and place – they did happen in dreams and longings of real people. They are what some sociologists might call a “foundational myth.”
Every morning Bev goes and gets the daily newspaper while I make the porridge. Then she reads the paper and feeds me snippets from the various stories. And of course, it is mostly bad news.
“No news is good news,” is the old saying, but you could almost turn that around and say, “good news is no news.” Most of the people of the world go about their lives day by day. They may be lives of hope and joy, or lives of quiet desperation, but they don’t make the news.
Most nations get along with other nations without too much “angst.” It’s only when they go to war that Bev reads about them in the morning paper. We don’t hear about Mumbai, India until there is a tragic terrorist attack.
The vast majority of articles have as their basic text, “something is wrong.” I don’t blame the newspapers for that. It’s also true of family gossip. When everyone is well and getting along there’s nothing much to talk about.
But it gets me down. Day after day, week after week we hear the news that there is conflict all around us. Parents and children, neighbors across the street, nations and other nations. Conflict and struggle. That’s about such a tiny percentage of the planet. The vast, vast majority are getting along quietly.
I am an optimist by nature, and there is something in me that desperately wants to defend that optimism. Maybe that’s why I want to hear that powerful Christian mythology – the stories I grew up with – the basis of my faith that there is a God of hope and love who has not lost patience with the world – a God who sends the Messiah to show us a better way.
A Messiah who has come, is coming, and will come again.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Conflicting Stories
Another year has almost finished. This Sunday, the Christian season of Advent starts again, the four weeks leading up to another Christmas. Already, tinsel and decorations festoon houses and stores.
Christmas was originally about the coming of a long-awaited Messiah. But I suspect that for many more people today, it’s about the coming of Santa Claus.
Although we tend to think of Santa as having been around forever, he hasn’t. There were hints of him in the Dutch St. Nicholas, slurred in dialect to “Sint ‘klas,” who gave gifts to good children, but left lumps of coal for bad ones. He in turn may derive from a Turkish bishop, the original St. Nicholas, who travelled around his diocese scattering coins.
But the Santa Claus we know best got started with Clement Moore in 1823, in his poem “’Twas the night before Christmas...”
Then Coca Cola borrowed the image of a “jolly old elf... with a belly that shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly...” and marketed it.
And presto, more legends attached themselves to Santa than toys in his sack. He has the world’s only airborne sleigh. His lead reindeer has a glow-in-the-dark nose. Santa has elves who make toys. He lives in a house on the ice at the North Pole...
Which presents a problem. Because if Santa’s house is on the ice, he’s soon going to need life-jackets.
Orbiting satellites show 40 per cent more open water in the Arctic than scientists had expected. And the remaining sea ice is 40 per cent thinner than it was.
By 2050, scientists say, the North Pole will be open water. Already, it has patches of open water in summer.
Suddenly, two knowledge systems come into conflict.
On one side is the world of myth and legend, which claims that Santa lives at the North Pole.
On the other is the world of common knowledge, which offers empirical evidence of open water at the North Pole.
Will we amend our stories to match reality, I wonder? Will we tell our grandchildren that Santa lives on a ship, a kind of Noah’s Ark filled with reindeer and elves?
Or will we continue to propound two conflicting stories, one of which becomes suspect?
When our son was 14, he told us he didn’t think he could go through with Confirmation. “I can’t state that I believe the stuff in the Bible, about God making the earth in seven days,” he explained, “when I know from school that it’s been around for about 500 million years.”
Remember, this is a 14-year-old adolescent speaking, not me!
He was struggling with a conflict of two knowledge systems – one based on legend, the other on science.
This conflict has been growing for several centuries, as we’ve learned more about ourselves, our world, and our solar system. It leads some people to reject religion, and others to reject science.
What we do with Santa will reflect what we do – or don’t do – with other traditional understandings.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta says this was a sign in a church somewhere. “For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a day care on the first floor.”

Sandra Cable saw an announcement in the bulletin about the food bank and Kraft Dinner. Except that it was listed as “Draft Dinner.”

From the file:
The bulletin announced a “causal choir to sing for Christmas.”

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! – We are guided on this journey by a Power greater than ourselves, but the steps we take must be our own.
From “Courage to Change,” via Candi Vernon

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.
Mohandas Gandhi via Velia Watts

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
Douglas Adams via Velia Watts


We Get Letters – Don Doerfer responds to the blooper about “loins” rather than “lions”. “This grumpy o'l grandpa gives thanks daily for 'the fruit of his loins' as his son trips across the drive every evening to 'tuck the ol' man in for the night.'”

Candi Vernon of Montgomery, Alabama, noted the story last week about the philosophy professor who gave a test in which there was only one question. “Why?”
The one student who got an “A” responded with, “Because.”
Carol writes: “My professor told us the same story except he said the answer "Why not?"


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “ham disease!”)
Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado is obviously a deep thinker and a phine filosopher. She would be a wealthy woman if philosophers (or theologians) got paid a bit more than grave diggers.
Having spent quality time analyzing her existential angst, Sharyl offers these questions for your pondering – so that you too may reach enlightenment.
* Can you cry under water?
* How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?
* Why do you have to 'put your two cents in,’ but it's only a 'penny for your thoughts'?
* Where's that extra penny going to?
* Once you're in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?
* Why does a round pizza come in a square box?
* What disease did cured ham actually have?
* How is it that we put a person on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?
* Why is it that people say they 'slept like a baby' when babies wake up every two hours?
* Why do people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground?
* Why do doctors leave the room while you change? They're going to see you naked anyway.
* Why is 'bra' singular and 'panties' plural?
* If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a stupid song about him?
* Can a hearse carrying a corpse drive in the carpool lane?
* If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that ACME crap, why didn't he just buy dinner?
* If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?
* Do the Alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star have the same tune?
* Why did you just try singing the two songs above?
* Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Marie Zettler. As you have probably guessed, I don’t keep records of what I have run here in Rumors, so there may be the occasional re-runs. I know I’ve heard the gag below, but I can’t tell whether it was told to me by one of my weird friends or whether it has occupied this space before.

A journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time.
So she went to check it out. And there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.
“Pardon me, sir,” she said. “I’m Rebecca Smith. I’m a journalist. How long have you been coming to the Western Wall to pray?”
“For about 60 years.”
“60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow humans.”
“How does it feel after doing this for 60 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a wall.”


Reader’s Theatre
An alternate reading for the second Sunday in Advent, based on John 1:6-18 and Luke 3:3-16 arranged as Reader’s Theatre.
Please remember that for Reader’s Theatre to succeed, the readers must rehearse together and work hard to make the presentation fluid and dramatic. Not melodramatic but strong.

Reader one: The Bible tells us a story of a man named John – an eccentric, strange man who wore animal skins for clothes and feasted on insects. His eyes had that penetrating glare that seemed to show a mind on the edge of madness.
And John had a fire in his belly. This is how the gospel of John tells the story.

Reader two: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

Reader one: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human will, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

Reader two: John testified to him and cried out:

Reader one: This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Reader two: Then, the gospel of Luke picks up the story.

Reader one: John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Reader two: The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'

Reader one: John spoke to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him:

Reader two: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Reader one: What then should we do?

Rader two: Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.

Reader one: Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, Teacher, what should we do?

Reader two: Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.

Reader one: Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?

Reader two: Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.

Reader one: The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.

Reader two: I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Reader one: And that is the story the Bible tells us, of the strange prophet whom we now call John the Baptist, who put into words the yearning of his people. John gave voice to their longing – their deep and aching hope. God would intervene. God would send the Messiah, the Chosen one to lead the people from despair to hope – from depression and slavery into joy and freedom.
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