Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Preaching Materials for November 16th, 2008

R U M O R S # 527
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 9th, 2008


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

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I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there.


The Story – the talents
Rumors – an opportunity
Soft Edges – eating disorder
Good Stuff – you thought I wasn’t looking
Bloopers – scared preachers
We Get Letters – those sad ducees
Mirabile Dictu! – if you can do all that
Bottom of the Barrel – a christened haddock
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Chris Duxbury of Australia sent this along just in time for Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the US.
One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Randy standing in the foyer of the church staring up at a large plaque. It was covered with names and small flags mounted on either side of it.
The six-year old had been staring at the plaque for some time so the pastor walked up and stood beside the boy.
“Pastor, what is this?” asked little Randy.
'Well son, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.'
There was a long silence. Finally, little Randy's voice, barely audible and trembling with fear asked, 'Which service, the 8:30 or the 10:45?'

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary)
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, November 16th, Proper 28 [33].

The Story. Matthew 25:14-30 – The Parable of the Talents.
If you’re going to preach from Judges, at least don’t quit at verse 7.
Keep going, and tell how Jael, wife of Heber, murdered the enemy general Sisera by driving a tent peg through his skull.
I’m going to have to go with Matthew, much as I dislike him. Because Matthew 25 contains two of Jesus’ most powerful parables.
Several times, in my life, I have longed to hear those words: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant...” Despite more modern translations, that’s what’s imprinted on my brain. But it couldn’t happen, because the voice I wanted to hear belonged to a dead man.
So how do we know we’re carrying out “the master’s will”? Is it simply making money? (The parable speaks only of money, which leads some to propound the gospel of prosperity.) Is it exercising political power?
Achieving someone else’s goals?
What makes a servant “faithful”?
And when do yesterday’s goals become a straitjacket that restricts our faithfulness today?
Jim Taylor

What a story to come along at this point in our international financial history! Whole countries and major banks going phhhheeet! If we do this story about investments right, it’ll have all the folks sitting there bug-eyed on Sunday morning listening to the sermon.
Last week, Bev and I had a visit from our financial advisor. He’s a good advisor and spoke frankly to us about our financial health. The small nest-egg we have is invested so conservatively is as safe as it gets. We’re definitely the one-talent servant in this story.
Jesus has the master, and by extension, God, saying, “To those who have, more will be given, and to those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.” Doesn’t sound much like the loving, sin-forgiving God we read about elsewhere.
But maybe it’s real life. I could tell you the story of how Bev and I dumped one financial advisor who had all our money going south in favor of another recommended by a friend.
The harshest judgment is for the poor one-talent person who gets sent to a gruesome death for fiscal mismanagement. Conrad Black, a Canadian high-roller, only got a few years in a minimum security jail. Was Jesus too harsh or are we going soft?
So I think this is the story I’d go with, and unless I come up with an utterly brilliant brain-wave about Barak and Jael and that lot, I’d lay the Judges lection quietly to one side. At most, I’d go with the sanitized version in “The Lectionary Story Bible.”
Ralph Milton

Judges 4:1-7 – If ever there was a literary equivalent to “coitus interruptus,” this is it. King Jabin of Canaan is doing it to the Israelites, so they go see a Judge named Deborah. Right away, you can feel the story coming. A woman judge? She sends for someone named Barak (Where have we heard that name before?) and tells him to gather up some of the guys and go beat up on Jabin. And God will make it happen.
The story stops dead in its tracks if we go what the lectionary folk suggest. But there’s got to be more, and there is. Barak says he’ll go if Deborah comes along. Why?
Deborah tells Barak she’ll go, but that means he won’t get credit for beating Jabin’s army. If fact, it’s going to be another woman, sweet little blood-thirsty Jael, who gets the glory. (God says to Sisera, “Go to Jael, go directly to Jael, do not pass Go. . .”)
The plot thickens. (Or sickens!) You have battles raging, and major league generals running flat out terrified and women driving tent pegs through skulls. (Okay, only one woman and one tent peg and one skull. I got carried away.)
You can’t say there isn’t a story. I vaguely remember seeing a wonderfully awful movie about it years ago. (There may be a modern story about why the lection was cut off at verse seven instead of going at least through verse eight where Barak tells Deb he’s scared to go it alone. Never mind the rest of the story about a woman killing a general. Killing is men’s work after all.)
So read the whole chapter. I’m sure there must be more of a point to it than, “Our God can beat your god!” Or “Women are tougher than men.” Or “The solution to your problem is, go to war!”

Psalm 123 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Nurturing the Gift
Anyone who feels excluded, shut out, treated as inferior, might sympathize with this psalm.
1 I wish I were like you.
You have so much more than we have;
you are so much more than we are.
2 You are the norm, the model, the image everyone expects of us.
We discern you at a distance, as through the wrong end of a telescope.
You are far out of reach, untouchable.
3 Don't brush us off, please.
We have had more than our share of contempt dumped on us.
4 For too long, we have been the rejects, the people nobody cares about.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

I Thessalonians 5:1-11 – I don’t think this passage is about timing. Yes, Paul thought Christ would return in his lifetime, but this is about getting your spiritual act together. In other words, if your soul is as dry as a desert, it doesn’t really much matter what happens in your life, you are not going to be ready for it.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 238, for a less violent children’s version of the Deborah story, “A Mother for Israel” which picks up on the “Song of Deborah” from chapter five. The story based on the Matthew reading is “An Upside Down Story,” on page 240. It’s not the usual take on this story.
Check your favourite religious bookstore, or click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – I’m writing this Wednesday morning.
Last night, Bev and I sat in awe and joy in front of the TV set. I have no doubt that most of you, whether you are American or not, were doing the same. This wasn’t about one country. This was about the world.
The long line-ups to vote – some people standing as long as four hours. Like that first election in South Africa.
The huge majority for Obama. Political boundaries dissolving.
Obama’s amazing speech. And the cameras picking out expressive faces in that huge crowd – tears in the eyes of Jessie Jackson and Oprah.
I remembered another huge crowd listening to a similar speech. “I have a dream. . .”
That’s what yesterday was all about. A dream.
A dream, and the cry of a nation. The future of America and the future of the world must be built on the ideals of justice and freedom, not on guns and dollars.
The dream, which Martin Luther King Jr. put into words, didn’t die when he was killed. That same dream, now given words by Barack Obama, will not die, even if he turns out to be less than we hope.
And he will be less than we hope. He is human.
When future historians look back at this moment, they will point to three world-wide events that offer us unprecedented opportunity.
1) The citizens of the American super power have voted with their hearts. They’ve chosen a dreamer to be the most powerful person on the planet. They have said to the world, “We have a dream. At our best we are not about guns and money and power. We are about justice and freedom. And we can live that dream. Yes, we can.”
2) Within a world-wide financial meltdown, an opportunity. Maclean’s Magazine writes: “This financial crisis may be the equivalent of Buckley’s cold medicine – awful tasting but good for what ails us financially and spiritually. In fact, a simpler, pared-down and debt-free lifestyle might make us happier and healthier than we’ve been in years.”
3) The fruitless carnage in Iraq and Afganistan is showing us once again that there are no winners in a war. Violence, as a means of achieving anything, never works in the long run. There are better ways – far better ways – for the United States and other western powers to be leaders in the world community.
Those historians will look back to the year 2008 and point to this time when the reality of the small, blue planet finally began to sink in. We are a world community! Differences of economies, politics, education, language, history, culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion – are gifts of uniqueness and identity. They simply do not work when they become instruments of oppression and greed.
The world economic crises is an opportunity.
Those fruitless wars are an opportunity.
The choice of a dreamer to be the world’s most powerful leader is an opportunity.
We have a dream.
One world under God.
Yes, we can.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Eating Disorder
Last spring, Joan planted a bed of carrots. During the summer, young carrots came up thick and lush. In September, the carrots fattened up, pushing orange crowns out of the rich garden loam.
But did we get a good harvest in October? Not a chance! Our dog Phoebe ate most of the carrots.
We watched her. She trotted into the garden, carefully clamped her jaws around the carrot greens, wiggled a plump and crunchy carrot out of the ground, and carried it out onto the lawn to eat.
Until then, we had wondered why we found carrot greens littered around the yard.
She also slurped all the blueberries off our bushes. And as many raspberries as she could reach off our vines. We even caught her standing on her hind legs to pluck apples off the lower branches of a neighbor’s tree.
But that’s not all. An acquaintance has walnut trees. She dropped off a big bag of walnuts for us. We spread them on the laundry room counter to dry before we cracked them open.
We came back from an evening out to find the floor littered with fragments of walnut shell. The nuts were already processing their way through Phoebe’s digestive system.
Our vet says Phoebe is gaining too much weight. He wants us to cut down on the amount of kibble we feed her.
I suspect that Phoebe would still gain weight if we fed her nothing at all.
As one of those people who needs to understand things, I’d like to know whether Phoebe’s eating compulsion is a personal choice, or if she’s a victim of genetic programming.
In human genetics, for example, women carry the X chromosome; men have a Y chromosome. A few men have two Y chromosomes; early research suggested they tended to be macho to the extreme.
I wonder if our dog inherited a double dose of some obscure eating gene when the original Labrador mated with a Newfoundland to launch the Chesapeake Retriever line.
The question matters, because it relates to human behavior.
Christian theology teaches two things. On the one hand, God gave humans free-will, to choose between right and wrong. On the other hand, St. Augustine of Hippo maintained that a propensity to sin was genetically passed along from Adam and Eve’s original act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden.
Augustine lived long before biologists discovered DNA. We now know there is no “sin gene.” We can’t simply blame flaws and failings on legendary ancestors.
But we also know that we have no choice about some attributes. Eye and hair color, right- or left-handedness, cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s chorea – these do get handed down through the generations.
But are verbal skills inherited? Shyness? Sexual orientation? Intelligence? Musical ability? Empathy?
It would help me to know whether Phoebe’s compulsive eating results from genetic inheritance or the exercise of free will. Because then I might better understand why we humans act the way we do.


Good Stuff – This from Larry Claus. It’s intended for parents and children’s caregivers, but the principle applies to everyone.

When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking.
When you thought I wasn't looking I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn't looking I saw you feed a stray cat, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn't looking I saw you make my favorite cake for me, and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.
When you thought I wasn't looking I heard you say a prayer, and I knew that there is a God I could always talk to, and trust.
When you thought I wasn't looking I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.
When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing, and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don't.
When you thought I wasn't looking I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn't feel good, and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn't looking I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it's all right to cry.
When you thought I wasn't looking I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
When you thought I wasn't looking I looked at you and wanted to say,’ Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn't looking.'


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – A batch of folks spotted my “potted” blooper last week. But you understand, of course, that it was absolutely intentional. Bloopers, like other lively things, grow and expand and bloom when properly attended. (How’s that for a rationalization?)

Sue Abold of Victoria, Texas almost didn’t make it through the prayer. "Help us Jesus, to understand and to accept your way of discipleship in our liver."
And a good prayer it was, Sue. Ask anyone with diabetes.
Carol North reports that “this morning in worship we ended up waling with God instead of walking with God.”
Carol, waling (or wailing) for God is good too. There are times in our lives when that is exactly what we need to do. Wailing beats pious rhetoric every time.

Vern Ratzlaff recalls a couple of mis-heard hymn titles. “Lead On, O Kinky Turtle” (Lean On, O King Eternal) and “Jesus, Save Your Pie For Me” (Jesus Savior, Pilot Me).
Laura Baum of Alamogordo, New Mexico, reminds us the technical word for that is “mondegreen,” and contributes one of her own. “Gladly the Cross-eyed Bear” (Gladly the Cross I’d Bear).

O. K. Neal recently saw an ad in a newsletter for a “Master of Scared Music” program. He wondered if they had a parallel program for scared preachers.
Someone who asked to be anonymous was listening to a sermon on the parable of the weeds in Matthew. On the screen was a picture of the notorious “weed.”

Not all bloopers are unintentional. April Dailey writes: “At a joint service for Reformation Day the liturgy listed the Offertoy {aka Offertory} Prayer – most appropriate since the sanctuary was jammed with stuffed animals destined for the Lutheran Children's Home!

Katherine Roark of Lexington, Kentucky writes: “Yesterday, as the children's director was trying to explain who saints are to a group of young children during the worship service, she asked them if they knew the names of any saints. To "prime the pump" she mentioned "St. Nicholas." One youngster came up with "St. Patrick." Another offered "St. Valentine." One youngster blurted out with a voice to rival the most energetic evangelist: "St. Louis!"
The thing is, the child was right. Louis was a king of France in the 13th century, before he became a saint and has had a whole batch of things named after him. His feast day is August 25th.

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! – Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.
George Orwell via O.K. Neal

See the struggle as God giving you the chance to triumph over difficulty, to deepen, to grow, to forgive. Engage with the demons and with angels. Then release. Cross over the river and journey on.
Rabbi Karen Kedar via Sharyl Peterson

Do not fear to hope that the wicked rage and rise. Our God sees not as we see. Success is not the prize. Rory Cooney via Mary in Oman

Give credit where credit is due.
A big apology to my brother Jim Taylor. The wise observation that “Any virtue carried to an extreme becomes a vice.” was his, and is in his fine book “Sin – A New Understanding of Virtue and Vice” (Northstone, 1997) which I heartily recommend.
And while we’re on the topic of misattributed quotes, a batch of kind folks pointed out an error I’ve made before. The “Serenity Prayer” is by Reinhold Niebuhr.


We Get Letters – Marilyn MacDonald responded to the “Sad DUC cees” blooper in last week’s Rumors. “We were taught to remember the difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees by noting their theology: The Pharisees believed in life after death; the others were sad-you-see because they did not.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “If you can do all that!”)
This from son-in-law Don McNair of Vernon, British Columbia. Reminds me a little of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” which I have learned to thoroughly dislike.

If you can start your day without caffeine,If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,If you can overlook it when people take things out on you, when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,If you can face the world without lies and deceit,If you can eat the same food, day-after-day, and be grateful for it,If you can conquer tension without medical help,If you can relax without alcohol,If you can sleep without the aid of drugs........If you can do all that, then, you are probably the family dog.


Bottom of the Barrel – David Gilchrist found this in a box of stuff he was sorting through 13 years after it had been packed for a move. It’s a delightful variation on a story that’s been around longer than that.
Isaac opened a store in Scotland; but not many locals wanted to buy from a Jew. However, he became good friends with the parish priest, who offered to help him improve his business. He invited Isaac to come to the Church that Saturday afternoon. He sprinkled some holy water from the baptismal font onto Isaac's head, saying:
"Isaac, Isaac, I christen you MacIsaac."
Well, the new name went up on the store, and business boomed. Isaac wanted to repay the priest by having him to dinner on Friday night. There was the delicious smell of roast duck permeating the room as they sat down to eat; but suddenly the priest turned very pale.
"What's the matter, Father; are you alright?" asked Isaac.
“Yes, I am fine,” said the priest. “But this is Friday and I can eat only fish, not meat, on a Friday fast day.”
Isaac was quiet for a moment; then dipping his fingers into a glass of water, he sprinkled a bit on the duck. "Duck, Duck, I christen you Haddock".

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Unknown said...

I came accross your "Blog" and find it very interesting. I live in South Africa and cannot relate to all the humor because it is "American" but nevertheless I find it most appreciable. Thank you

mylittlemini said...

I could not resist a comment on the carrots and the Chesapeake Bay Eater. My Chessie ate half a wiffle ball today; yesterday he chomped down the front page of my church's renovation blueprints. His predecessor ate only cotton t-shirts. I could trace a similar pattern through generations of Chessies since my childhood, and I am in my sixties. It's intentional, not genetic--if you know the brown dogs!!!
On a more serious(!) note, thank you for the weekly ponderings and chuckles.

tempest said...

Now over two years out, we're crying because Barak has destroyed the country and has overturned carts all across Lybia, Egypt, Syria. What a tyrant. Someone get a tent peg.

tempest said...

Now over two years out, we're crying because Barak has destroyed the country and has overturned carts all across Lybia, Egypt, Syria. What a tyrant. Someone get a tent peg.