Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Preaching Materials for February 8th, 2009

R U M O R S #539
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

February 1, 2009


"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 perils of popularity
Rumors – to ignore God
Soft Edges – open doors
Good Stuff – the Bible in 50 words
Bloopers – did Jesus resign?
Mirabile Dictu! – try our Sundays
Bottom of the Barrel – into the hole he goes
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – cut to the chase
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This from Evelyn McLachlan.
One day the zookeeper noticed that the monkey was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin's "The Origin of Species."
In surprise, he asked the monkey, "Why are you reading both those books?"
"Well," said the monkey, "I just wanted to know if I was my brother's keeper or my keeper's brother."


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, February 8th, which is the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – This is one of those ringing passages from Isaiah that deserves to be declaimed as the great poetry it is. Especially that last verse. “. . . those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Except that any great truth carried to us in glorious metaphor almost always has a “yes, but” attached. Living the Sabbath of my life, as are my closest friends and many of the family I love, I find those words painful sometimes. Of course I understand that they are referring to spiritual strength, but even that wavers more than most of us admit. I often think of Tom Brown, a man of great conviction and spiritual strength, who said to me a few weeks before he died, “Why does God make dying so difficult?”
The older we get, the more often we have those times of great fragility and weakness. Two weeks ago when I smacked my face on the sidewalk, I felt that visceral insecurity in the waiting room at the hospital. I was blessed with Bev by my side.
But far too many people have no one of strength and faith to believe for them, when their own faith seems to seep away.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Sometimes we think of God as the "sugardaddy," the one who can solve all our problems for us.
2 We are the refugees.
Our homes and our spirits have been destroyed.
Across the earth we have fled seeking asylum.
God gathered us together, and gave us a second chance.
3 We are the sick, the infirm, the elderly.
God gave us nurses, and medicines,
and medicare to cover the costs that would have crushed us.
4 We are the students, the scientists, the scholars.
The more we explore our universe,
the more the mysteries we encounter fill us with awe.
6 We are the poor, the oppressed,
the people at the bottom of the pile.
We see the powerful and mighty come tumbling down,
betrayed by their own corruption.
5 When we see all this, we do not doubt the power of God.
8 Why should we doubt?
If God can make the rain fall, the grass grow,
the rivers run, and the sun shine,
9 if God can balance the needs of nature
so that both lion and lamb can live,
then surely God can also affect human affairs.
10 God does not judge by appearances.
God is not impressed by titles and positions,
nor influenced by body-building and cosmetic beauty.
In the eyes of God, a pauper matters as much as a priest,
a person on welfare as much as a president.
11 What matters is how well we hear God,
and how much we care for each other.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 – "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Shakespeare has Hamlet's mother Gertrude say that. This passage and others have me thinking Paul doth protest too much sometimes.
Of course, I can only guess at what kind of sniping Paul endured. People in a high profile ministry are often the target of undeserved pot shots from folks who aim at anything that moves slightly above their limited horizons.
Ralph the idealist, says that ministry is its own reward, but Ralph the realist, knows that those in ministry, especially those in professional ministry, are often highly vulnerable and need any support they can find. I know how much I appreciate the letters of support I receive from Rumors, even though my ministry is pretty well insulated from criticism.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Mark 1:29-39
Jim says
Since I started this story from Mark last week, I feel obligated to continue. (Corinthians offers lots to preach about, but any story as such has to be inferred behind Paul’s impassioned arguments.)
Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law – clear evidence, by the way, that the disciples were not bachelors free to take off at a moment’s notice on a new adventure. The word spreads. Crowds gather. They bring their own sick for healing. Jesus escapes, getting away by himself for prayer. Instead of going back to where he’s become a local celebrity, he moves on to new communities.
I might call this service, “The Perils of Popularity.” Because one of the greatest temptations for performers is to preach to the converted. Like a Frank Sinatra concert, we know the songs they came to hear, and we give them what they paid for.
It takes guts to break new ground, to venture into unfamiliar territory, to explore those possibly unpopular thoughts that come so insistently in the wee small hours of the morning.
What parts of my faith am I re-assessing? Do I have enough faith in my congregation to share those thoughts with them? Or will I retreat into the safe and comfortable concepts they’re accustomed to hearing?
Yes, I might offend some listeners. They might consider me to have “an unclean spirit.” That’s a risk I must take, to be faithful to Jesus.

Ralph says –
I have to keep reminding myself that Mark offers us a very condensed version of the Jesus story. Otherwise I might wonder about Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law and having her come and serve them, all in one sentence. Otherwise it sounds like, “you are healed now go make coffee and sandwiches.”
Of course, that’s not what the story is about. It’s about Jesus’ healing ministry. And let’s face it, we in the main-line Protestant church often have trouble with the whole idea of Jesus (or anyone else) healing people. Healing of the spirit, fine. But that pile of crutches in the corner gives us the willies.
I find I have no problem with the healing stories in the Bible. The folks who wrote down those stories believed they happened in just that way. And so I accept the story as told and ask myself what the story means to me. In this story, it’s demons they are casting out. I don’t know what the writer of Mark’s gospel meant by “demons,” but it doesn’t matter. I need to know the demons in my life and in my culture, and how I am called to deal with them.
We tend to think the modern equivalent of the demon possessed are the desperately insane – frothing at the mouth, running around naked – that sort of thing. But the New Revised Standard 2009 demons are much more subtle, sophisticated and devious than that. They go by names such as “popularity,” “acceptance,” “low self-esteem,” “ambition,” and many more.
And for such demons their exorcism demands a gospel of radical inclusion – unqualified love – humor and grace. And here, the gospel imperative is loud and clear.

For a “Reader’s Theatre” version of the gospel see below. By the way, an interesting note from Janice Watcom of Toronto, tells me that her group, which uses Rumors each week as the basis of a Bible Study, now does the “Reader’s Theatre” version each week to kick-start the discussion. They also read the children’s version of “The Lectionary Story Bible.” Says Janice, “After that kind of input, the discussion is always lively.”

Check out “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” for a children’s version of each week’s lection.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. 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.”


Rumors –Ogden Nash penned this forgettable bit of doggerel back in the olden days when I was a teenager.
“Children aren’t happy
With nothing to ignore.
That’s what parents
Were created for.”
Ogden Nash had a point. Parents and grandparents are created so that children have someone to take for granted. We should be taken for granted by our kids.
It seems like only a year or so ago when I occasionally got to take Zoë to her Kindergarten class. (It was actually almost a decade ago!) I opened the door for her and she trotted off to play with her friends. She didn’t look back. Zoë hadn’t the slightest doubt that I or someone else in the family, would be there to pick her up and bring her home. There was none of the fear that child psychologists call “separation anxiety.” Most children go through a bit of that at some point, and Zoë did too. But mostly she and her brother Jake took their parents and grandparents for granted.
Which is exactly the way it should be. And so often isn’t.
Zoë and Jake are at Sunday School every week, but they will learn more about God by the way their parents and grandparents behave, than they ever will in church.
That’s why the “parent” and “grandparent” metaphors for God are so powerful. And so dangerous.
There is nothing as important as that confidence that the loving parents will be there. Always. You can count on them. You can take them for granted. You can even ignore them. It’s on that experience that their concept of God will grow.
I know that’s a heavy trip to lay on parents, but it’s true. A child’s concept of God begins with what that child experiences in love and dependability from their primary caregiver. Scary, isn’t it?
And yes, there are many, sometimes heroic tales of people who have overcome that parental deficit and found themselves in the presence of a loving, caring, accepting God.
I like to read stuff by folks we call mystics. Julian of Norwich (surprise!) is my favorite. She talks about keeping God constantly in your mind and heart.
I don’t think she means that God wants to be constantly jabbered at, much less flattered constantly. I think God is quite content when the kids (us) are playing contentedly.
Yes, there need to be those tender together times. Children need laps to sit on and adults to snuggle up to. And they certainly need someone to hold them and love them when they have fallen or are ill. Or in trouble. But there’s also lots of times to take God for granted. To ignore God.
Not that God is absent. But God is the air we breathe and the food we eat and the life we live. As a fish is not conscious of the water in which it swims, we are mostly unconscious of the holy love that surrounds us.
And I think that’s just the way God wants it to be.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Open Doors
Our cat Joey has an obsession with doors. If a door opens, he has to dive through it.
When we got Joey, we were told he was an indoor cat. For the first few weeks, he was. Moving to a new home at the age of five traumatized him, I suppose. He slunk around under the furniture. He hid himself among the pillows on our bed.
Then one day during the summer, when our doors were open to the sunshine, he ventured outside.
Of course, the outside was a strange new world. He froze in panic. He didn’t know what to do with all this space around him, which made it fairly easy to capture him and pop him back into the house.
But that’s when his obsession started. As soon as we opened a door to go outside, a blur of orange fur flashed to freedom through our legs.
Once he was out, he was gone – until he decided that he doesn’t like the rain, the snow, the cold, the wind, or the cawing crows. Then he clawed at the door, demanding his right to return to his comfortable bed warmth indoors.
Not even a bitter winter persuaded him to change his habits. When the temperature outside hovered around -25 Celsius, when snow pelted against the house, when ice coated the deck, Joey still beat everyone else through the opening.
Except that now he shot back through the open door as fast as he had shot out of it seconds before.
I think that doors have become a kind of addiction for him. He zips through them even when he knows they go nowhere.
If we go to a storage room, in the basement, he hovers around our ankles until we put a hand on the doorknob. The door will barely be open a few inches before he’s gone through into the darkness.
I went to the garden shed the other day. An orange furball bounced off my legs in his desperate rush to get to somewhere that went nowhere. (Hmmm... he reminds me of some politicians...)
Had I changed my mind about needing that stepladder, Joey could have been trapped in the shed for days. But that doesn’t occur to him.
A friend liked to quote the old saying, “When one door closes, another one opens.” After she suffered a health setback. She went through months of unemployment.
Finally, a door opened. She got a job offer. To work in social welfare in a community in far northern Labrador where, she said later, “The adults drank booze all day and the kids sniffed gasoline.”
She lasted six months. I don’t think she ever recovered from that experience.
Rev. Bob Thompson talked about a time in his life when he found himself between pastorates. He had half a dozen offers. Some seemed promising. But none of them felt right.
“Just because a door opens,” Bob commented, “you don’t have to go through it.”

Good Stuff – This from Jim Spinks:
The Bible in 50 Words!

God made
Eve bit
Noah arked
Abraham split
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled
Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh plagued
People walked
Sea divided
Tablets guided
Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peeked
Prophets warned
Jesus born
God Walked
Love talked
Anger crucified
Hope died
Love rose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Vern Ratzlaff writes: Apropos (that's the only Latin word I know, so I use it quite a bit, sometimes correctly) of the 'Hell, Who's Calling?' sermon blooper, I heard of a Christmas pageant, where the little ones come onto the stage, each holding a letter to spell out a greeting. On this occasion, the 'HELLO' group got a little mixed up, and the last letter came onto the stage first.

Alice McDowell of Greenwood, Indiana writes: “My favorite, which didn’t happen to me but I read about it, was when the hymn ‘Jesus Shall Reign’ became, in one stroke, ‘Jesus Shall Resign.’ A sermon could be written on that impossibility.”
True, Alice, but I’m sure there were and are times when Jesus would like to do exactly that.

* The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.

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! – "The Bible is the story of God's peoples' struggle to be God's people." source unknown via Mary from Sunny Oman
A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for.
Grace Murray Hopper via Steve Giesbrecht

It's better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you're fighting for.
Paulo Coelho via Jim Taylor


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Try our Sundays!*”)
Dorothy Harrowing of Madeira Park, B.C. sends this collection of church signs.
* The best vitamin for a Christian is B1.
* Come in and have your faith lifted.
* This is a chu__ch. What is missing?
* You are not too bad to come in. You are not too good to stay out.
* Can’t sleep? Try counting your blessings.
* Aspire to inspire before you expire.
* Where will you be sitting in eternity? Smoking or non-smoking?
* Under same management for more than 2,000 years.
* Try our Sundays*. They are better than Baskin-Robbins.
(Yes, I know the ice-cream variety are spelled, “sundae.”

Bottom of the Barrel – Fred Brailey sent a collection of laughs about children. Fred says he wants the last line in this one used at his funeral.
While walking along the sidewalk in front of his church, our minister heard the intoning of a prayer that nearly made his collar wilt. Apparently, his five-year-old son and his playmates had found a dead robin.
Feeling that proper burial should be performed, they had secured a small box and cotton batting, then dug a hole and were ready to dispose of the deceased. The minister's son was chosen to say the appropriate prayers and with sonorous dignity intoned his version of what he thought his father always said.
“Glory be to the Faaather, and to the Sonnn, and into the hole he goooes.”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 1:29-39
Reader I: Whoever wrote the Gospel of Mark doesn’t mess around.
Reader II: What do you mean?
I: I mean he cuts right to the chase. He says nothing about Jesus’ birth. There’s nothing about Bethlehem or shepherds or wise men. Right away we’re into Jesus being baptized by John, then the temptation in the wilderness and the calling of the first disciples, and we’re still in the first chapter.
II: I guess you’re right. In the ten verses of today’s readings, we have several distinct incidents, and the writer of Mark doesn’t elaborate on any of them. It’s like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book version of the story of Jesus. In the first part of the reading, Jesus cures Simon’s mother-in-law who has a fever and it sounds as if she gets right out of bed and starts making coffee and sandwiches.
I: Like I said. He doesn’t mess around.
II: So let’s read it.
(slight pause)
I: As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
II: Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
I: That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. Jesus would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
II: In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you."
I: "Well then. Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do."
II: And Jesus went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

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