Friday, December 5, 2008

Preaching Materials for December 14th

R U M O R S # 531
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 7, 2008


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

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The Story – a celebration of new life
Rumors – it’s about the incarnation
Soft Edges – uncomfortable eternity
Bloopers – sleepers awake
We Get Letters – a conversation starter
Mirabile Dictu! – living in Canada
Bottom of the Barrel – a choice
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The church school children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade them each to buy a copy of the group picture.
"Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grown up and say, 'There's Jennifer, she's a lawyer,' or 'That's Michael. He's a doctor.' Then a small voice room rang out, "And there's the teacher, she's dead."

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 14th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55 I Thess. 5:16-24 John 1:6-8, 19-28

The Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) paraphrased by Jim Taylor
My body grows round with wonder;
my soul swells with thanksgiving.
For God has been so good to me;
God did not say, "She's just a girl."
Once I was a slip of a girl,
but now I am woman,
one who can bring forth new life.
In all generations, I am blessed.
How could anyone miss it –
this new life in me is divine.
It is holy.
God grants new life to all who have not lost a child's wonder;
they will be born again, and again, and again.
God watches over them;
God's fierce love fills predators with sudden fear.
The miracle of birth levels our human differences:
tough men become tenderly gentle,
learned professors blurt out baby talk,
even politicians fall silent in awe.
But the small and helpless are wrapped warmly in soft blankets;
they are held lovingly in caring arms;
they drink their fill with eyes closed.
The rich, for all their wealth and status, can go suck lemons.
That is how God deals with all faithful people,
all who do not put their faith in themselves.
So God has always done,
so God will always do,
from Sarah's miracle, to mine.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

The Alternate Story Lectionary
Our suggested reading for Advent 3 is Luke 1:26-56, the story of the annunciation and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. It is arranged as Reader’s Theatre near the end of Rumors. The reading for next Sunday, Advent 4, will be John 1:1-5, Luke 2:1-19.

Jim says:
So what do we have? In baldest terms, a young girl, betrothed but not yet married, pregnant, who flees from her home village to spend time with an aunt or great-aunt. Shades of the days when unmarried mothers-to-be were sent to relatives, or to a group home, to have their babies where they wouldn’t disgrace the family!
In Mary’s case, perhaps also to avoid being stoned for adultery.
Remember that not much more than a month ago, a 13-year-old Somali girl was stoned to death for adultery, although she had actually been viciously raped. If that can still happen after 2,000 years of supposed progress, imagine the likelihood of Mary getting a sympathetic hearing from her village patriarchs.
However it happened, the Magnificat records an incredible change of attitude. Instead of cowering in fear, Mary celebrates the new life forming within her. “All generations will call me blessed!” she exults.
Forget about exegeting the little details. The miracle is the change in Mary.
Although she said “Yes” at the Annunciation, that could be read as resignation to fate: “Well, if that’s the way you want it, okay...” But the Magnificat is anything but resigned. It’s an exuberant, joyful, celebration of a new life.
Mary has grown up. She’s not a little girl any more. And she ain’t never gonna be nobody’s patsy again.
So how do we rejoice? How do we celebrate significant rites of passage?
Probably not with Old-Testament-ish poetry. But whenever we genuinely celebrate our growth, we proclaim our own Magnificat. Hallelujah!

Ralph says:
We waste a lot of time and energy, and we miss the point, if we let ourselves get hung up on gynecological details. This is a story designed to hold a truth – that this Jesus wasn’t just a bright kid from the boonies who turned out to be a really popular preacher. And the Hebrew way of doing theology was to tell a story.
It’s true that miraculous birth stories were common in the Mediterranean culture of that era. That’s interesting, but not really relevant. The better question is – what was it about Jesus that made it necessary for people in the early church to tell this story? Was it simply their way of saying that Jesus was both human and divine?
Mary’s song has its roots in Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1) and in singing it, Mary connects the birth of Jesus to the great line of Hebrew prophets. Whenever I hear the Magnificat, I remember an incident some 50 years ago where a Christian minister somewhere in Latin America, was arrested for reading this on the radio. The dictator of the country found this passage threatening, as well he might, especially the part about bringing down “the powerful from their thrones.”
But before we feel self-righteous over that, we might well wonder about verse 53 – how God has “filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Most of us in the middle-class main-line churches would, by world standards, be classified as the rich, who get sent away empty.

The first two volumes of “The Lectionary Story Bible” have children’s versions of a number of the stories we tell in the Advent Season. Those using our alternate lectionary reading will find a story of the annunciation on page 26, Year B, and the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth on page 28. Another story of the annunciation, based more on Matthew’s version, may be found on page 35 of Year A.
If you don’t already own this valuable resource, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – In the congregation where Bev and I worship, this third Sunday in Advent will be the children’s Christmas pageant. And I will be there, right in the front row, camera in hand, like several other grandparents. Except that my grandkids worship with their parents in another church about an hours drive away.
I don’t know what the kids are going to be doing, but whatever it is, it’ll be wonderful. Not because they are great actors and singers, but because they are children in our church family, and we love them.
I’ll be taking pictures (with a good digital camera you can take photos without a flash) because each Sunday I put pictures with each verse of every hymn we sing, as well as with many of the service elements.
Ours is an old church building not easily given to screens and projectors, but the creative people on our building committee put screens on either side of the chancel and projectors hung down from the ceiling. It fits right in. And the singing is much improved because folks raise their heads to sing rather than having their nose point at their toes and thereby constrict their vocal chords.
I believe in putting pictures with the words because it does some important things in our worship. Yes, it adds beauty and color. That’s important, but it’s not the main reason.
Whenever possible, and that’s most of the time, the images beside the projected words have a real connection with the words. It encourages people to actually think about the song they are singing – to connect the words to a reality they know.
So next year, when we sing “Angels We Have Heard on High,” the angels they see will not be the angels of stained glass windows, but children they recognize. Some will think, “Well, now, isn’t that cute!” But some will ponder more deeply about what we mean when we sing about angels.
Thirteen years ago, when my granddaughter Zoë was an infant, she was the baby Jesus in the crèche at their church. Over coffee after the service, a friend in that congregation wondered out loud whether that implied that every child is, in some sense, the Christ child. He wasn’t sure he liked that idea. I just smiled.
It’s all about incarnation. The Word becomes Flesh. The Word becomes alive – enfleshed (Is there such a word? My spell-checker doesn’t think so.) – or it remains an abstract, theological concept. Or a vague, warm fuzzie nostalgia bath.
I really don’t think God is desperately concerned that we get our theology right. I certainly don’t believe that if you get it wrong you will be deep-fried in perdition. But I believe that God wants us to fully sense – to connect in a profound and powerful way – the deep and life-fulfilling love which we act-out in the chancel each Christmas and which I try to visualize with my slides.
And then God calls us to live that love as faithfully as possible in every moment of our lives.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Uncomfortable Eternity
Perhaps it’s the steady shortening of daylight here in the northern hemisphere. Perhaps it’s the pall of cloud that squats on the valley during November. Perhaps it’s the steady barrage of bad news – unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; massacres in Africa; imploding stock markets in Toronto; exploding terrorism in Mumbai...
Whatever the cause, I find myself thinking that the dominant characteristic of humans is not that we have big brains or opposable thumbs, nor that we use tools and language, but that we can damage our world on a grander scale than any other species.
And I realize I’m not looking forward to eternity.
The Family Circus comic strip offered a conventional image of eternal life the other day – a benign grandfather, wearing a long nightshirt, gazing down from a cloud at his descendants.
It struck me that this reflected a very limited view of life – a family utterly insulated from events in the world around them.
Sure, I would love to watch as my grandchildren grow up, graduate, have their own families, make their mark on the world.
But why would I want to spend eternity watching the human species mess up again and again?
Because, after all, we who had become immortal would know how things should be done. We could look ahead to the consequences of greed and stupidity.
Of course, we’d also see countless daily acts of love and compassion, of thoughtfulness and generosity. But it takes only one contractor cutting corners on a school, one pulp mill poisoning a river system, one over-eager finger on the nuclear button, to render those kindly acts null and void.
I think I’d be just as relieved to say goodbye, to quit fretting, to have awareness end with death. I’d rather exit hoping my grandchildren’s generation would do better than my own, than watch helplessly while they made mistakes I can’t even imagine yet.
“In classical Judaism, this life is all there is,” rabbi Reuben Slonim used to lecture me. Mainstream Buddhism would agree.
The Indian poet Kabir – who, like Kahlil Gibran, refused to be captive to any one religion – wrote these lines 600 years ago:
Jump into experience while you are alive!
What you call “salvation”
belongs to the time before death….
E-mail correspondent Jim Henderschedt mused, “Our western Christian philosophy has us looking to the salvation that awaits us eventually. This mystic poet boldly suggests that salvation belongs to us before we die, to be enjoyed and claimed now.”
“This is dangerous thinking,” Jim continued. “It takes the wind out of the sails of that school of thought that claims we must be constantly reminded of our sinfulness...”
Whatever happens on the other side of death will happen – que sera sera. But here and now is where we can make a difference, for good or ill. Whatever we do, whatever we neglect to do, will send ripples far into the future. Even if we’re not there to see it.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Mark Nicol writes: “Today in church our beloved minister announced to us in all seriousness that the hymn after the sermon would be ‘Sleepers' Awake’.”

Jean Dirk prepares the slides for projection at worship in her church in Medicine Hat, Alberta. She typed in the name of the anthem, “Jubilate, Sing Joyfully, except the “g” at the end of “sing” fell off the end of the screen.
Says Jean, “if we are determined to sin, it really ought to be a joyful experience.”

Vern Ratzlaff giggled at this in a bulletin. "The service will proceed unannounced. Please stand, sit, when indicted in your service leaflet."
Vern wonders, “Is this an example of spiritual conviction?”

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! – If you give me an egg and I give you an egg, we each have one egg. If you give me an idea and I give you an idea, we each have two ideas.
West African proverb via Mark Nicol

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
Graham Green

Let us endeavor so to live so that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry.
Mark Twain


We Get Letters – Susan Price noted the stories about the philosophy prof assigning the question “Why” as the entire exam.
Susan remembers her high school years when she and some friends wore buttons that read, “Why?” “Why not?” and “Because!”
A great conversation starter.
Susan also remembers a button that read, “Herman Melville eats blubber.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Living in Canada!”)
This from Jim Spinks. He writes: “A Little Canadian Humor. Forget Rednecks. Here is what Jeff Foxworthy has to say about Canucks.
* If your local Dairy Queen is closed from September through May, you may live in Canada.
* If someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don't work there, you may live in Canada.
* If you've worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you may live in Canada.
* If you've had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you may live in Canada.
* If 'vacation' means going anywhere south of Detroit for the weekend, you may live in Canada.
* If you measure distance in hours, you may live in Canada.
* If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you may live in Canada.
* If you have switched from 'heat' to 'A/C' in the same day and back again, you may live in Canada.
* If you can drive 90 km/hr through two feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching, you may live in Canada.
* If you install security lights on your house and garage, but leave both unlocked, you may live in Canada.
* If you carry jumpers in your car and both husband and wife how to use them, you may live in Canada.
* If you design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit, you may live in Canada.
* If the speed limit on the highway is 80 km, – you're going 90 and everybody is passing you, you may live in Canada.
* If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you may live in Canada.
* If you know all four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction, you may live in Canada.
* If you have more miles on your snow blower than your car, you may live in Canada.
* If you find two degrees 'a little chilly', you may live in Canada.
* If you actually understand these jokes, and forward them to all your Canadian friends you definitely live in Canada.


Bottom of the Barrel – (Change the denominations in this one to suit yourself.)
A Baptist pastor and a Presbyterian minister were flying back from an ecumenical conference. “Would you like a drink, sir?” the flight-attendant asked the Presbyterian.
“Yes, thanks. I’ll have a scotch on the rocks.”
“Would you like a drink sir?” she asked the Baptist.
“Madam, I’d rather commit adultery than drink your liquor!”
“Wait a minute,” says the Presbyterian. “I didn’t know we had a choice!”


Readers’ Theatre
For Advent 3: Luke 1:26-56

Reader one: How do you tell people that the leader you follow is someone extraordinary.
Reader two: Well, you hire a public relations firm, and they list all of your leader’s credentials – schools, awards, accomplishments.
Reader one: In the days of the Bible, there were no public relations firms. And the people of the early Christian Church wanted all the world to know the story of Jesus, and that he was the one God chose to come and live among us.
Reader two: You could get some big-name theologians or lawyers to put together a tightly reasoned case for why they think Jesus is the Messiah.
Reader one: True, but that’s also not way they did things in those days. You didn’t give folks a theological statement. You would tell a story. They didn’t care a whole lot whether this was history – whether things happened in exactly this way. They only cared if the story got across the point they were trying to make.
Reader two: So?
Reader one: So the people of the early church wanted to say something important about three people. They wanted us to know that Jesus really was sent by God. They wanted us to know that Mary was a courageous and faithful woman. And they wanted us to know that John the Baptist was the prophet God sent to announce the coming of the Messiah.
Reader two: So they concocted a story?
Reader one: No. They were not spin doctors. The story grew in the telling. These stories about Jesus were told and re-told for years before anybody wrote them down. And stories grow till they hold the precious meaning people want them to hold. The stories are true in the most profound way – they hold the meaning – the power. They hold a truth far deeper than mere history.
Reader two: So let’s hear the story.
Reader one: This is the story of the birth of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Luke.

Reader two: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. This is what the angel said.
Reader one: "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
Reader two: But Mary was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Reader one: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Reader two: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
Reader one: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
Reader two: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word."
Reader one: In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Reader two: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
Reader one: Then Mary raised her voice, and sang an ancient song.
Reader two: "My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has looked with favor
on my lowliness – a servant.
Surely, from now on all generations
will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
The Mighty One’s mercy is for those who stand in awe,
from generation to generation.
God has shown strength and power;
and scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly –
filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has remembered the servant Israel,
according to the promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever."
Reader one: And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

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