Thursday, January 22, 2009

Preaching Materials for Februay 1, 2009

R U M O R S # 538
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

January 24, 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 gods who rule our lives
Rumors – the only one who knew
Soft Edges – confessions of a has-been
Good Stuff – the sermon in the fire
Bloopers – Christian plumbing
We Get Letters – with whom can you negotiate
Mirabile Dictu! – the future starts tomorrow
Bottom of the Barrel – lose weight eating pizza
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 1:21-28
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. I first heard this joke from a rabbi the first time around. It’s a play on the slightly racist old clichĂ©, “Some of my best friends are Jews.”

Rabbi 1: We've got to do something. Many of the young people in our synagogue are converting to the Quaker faith.
Rabbi 2: I've noticed that too. In fact, some of my best Jews are Friends!

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, February 1st, which is the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – This little passage is plucked out from the middle of a series of instructions about the Levites, and what they shall be given, and how to be able to tell the difference between false prophets and false. So it’s a bit out of context.
You can tell whether a prophet is of God by whether the things warned of actually happen. The writer doesn’t tell us how long you wait. A week? A year? A lifetime?
Christians have often read this as foretelling the coming of Jesus, though it’s unlikely the writer had that in mind.
It’s the phrase “speaks in the name of other gods,” (v.20) that got my attention. Because those gods are all around us. My definition of a god in this context is any thing or idea or value that you hold higher than any other. You could call them “unclean spirits” as the writer of Mark did. Or a mania, or fixation or compulsion.
The trick here is to realize that the god who rules us is not usually the god we name, but the god we honor with our actions. A good, analytical look at our charge card statement might offer some clues.
Psalm 111 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 The bright blue planet spins in the vast darkness of space;
let all who live on the earth rejoice.
2 Only on this one tiny orb do we know life exists;
let all who live on the earth give thanks.
3 The vision takes our breath away;
let all who live on the earth open their eyes.
4 This fragile ball bursting with life is a work of art;
let all who live on earth recognize God's goodness.
5 Foxes and field mice, humans and whales, eagles and ants –
all are woven together in a tapestry of relationships;
let all who live on the earth recognize this reality.
6 And God has delegated responsibility to us;
let all who live on the earth be mindful.
7 We must exercise care not to upset the delicate equilibrium of shared life;
let all who live on the earth understand their responsibility.
8 A tapestry cannot be reduced to a single thread;
let all who live on the earth accept their responsibility.
9 This egg floating in the dark womb of the universe is like God's own embryo;
let all who live on earth treat it as holy.
10 We share an awesome and terrible responsibility;
may God live forever.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – This passage is, it seems to me, is primarily directed at those of us who are in positions of leadership in the church. It’s tempting, as our understanding of our faith grows, to change our way of acting and to expect others in our community to follow us.
This has been particularly true in our changing understanding of human sexuality. Leaders in the church find themselves with a new and more open understanding, and then feel a sense of anger or confusion when others don’t quickly follow their lead or actively oppose them. But they may not have the educational background or the intellectual tools to follow our thinking.
This passage warns me that when my convictions lead to changes in the way I act or speak, I need to be very aware of how my ideas and actions are heard and seen by others in my church community. I especially need to be careful not to respond in anger or defiance or confusion.
The Story – Mark 1:21-28

Jim says
I would choose to preach on Mark this Sunday. Not because of the story – there’s very little story content in any of the RCL lections for today, and today’s reading from Mark is really just the opening movement of a symphony that reaches its finale next Sunday – but because of the paradox it contains.
The first person to recognize Jesus for who he really is turns out to be “a man with an unclean spirit.” Following Jesus’ baptism, Jesus calls the first disciples – at his initiative, though, not theirs. But in the synagogue in Capernaum, a disturbed man interrupts him: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
I would want to explore what it means to have “an unclean spirit.” We tend to equate such a description with child pornographers, mass murderers, and torturers. But could it also apply to those we characterize as boat-rockers or “shit-disturbers?” People who insistently tell us the news we don’t want to hear?
Do we discount the message, if we don’t like the person it comes from?
I think I would dramatize the theme by washing my hands. Up front, in public. Just like Pilate. And I would ask whether I’m washing my hands of those I consider unclean – people with different political or theological views, perhaps – or whether I’m trying to wash away the prejudices and preconceptions that may keep me from recognizing the Holy One of God among us today.

Ralph says –
I think there’s a lot of story here. It’s a story about how people focus on the trivial sensation and miss the world-shattering news.
The thing to do is to bring the story home. To our context and our time. I’ve done that below in the Rumors essay and (I hope) in the “Reader’s Theatre” below.
Because people often miss the most important thing the preacher says. Most preachers can tell story after sad story of how people picked up on something relatively trivial in the service, and miss the most important revelation.
That is why, as the old preacher once said, “You gotta tell ‘em you’re gonna tell ‘em, then you gotta tell ‘em, then you gotta tell ‘em you told ‘em.”
The story here, as Jim points out, is that the most unlikely person recognizes who Jesus really is. So in the sermon you use the story (the one below or a better one you write yourself) and then make the same point in the argument of your sermon.

I’m not at home in my wee office, so I can’t give you the page numbers, but there are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. Often two and occasionally three. The marvellous illustrations are by Margaret Kyle. Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – a story based on Mark 1:21-28
It is summer and the young preacher is taking the service while the regular minister is on vacation. And folks are impressed. He speaks clearly and well and sprinkles his sermon with bits of humor. They like that. And they nod knowingly, thinking that the young preacher will soon be in one of the prestigious pulpits in the large cities.
But they quickly forget about all that because a dirty, old, disheveled fellow in the back row starts yelling and screaming and causing a ruckus. "You can’t fool us!” he yells, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are! You are the Holy One of God."
A few of the stronger men move toward the noisy stranger. They will do the appropriate thing. They will escort him gently into the hall, out of sight and sound so that the church service can go on. They will give him a sandwich and a cup of coffee while they decide which of the social agencies in town could meet his needs.
Except that the young preacher doesn’t let that happen. He strides down the aisle to the back of the church and crouches down in front of the man from the streets. The man’s hands are trembling. He is breathing deeply and hard. There is firmness, gentleness and passionate intensity in the way the young preacher holds the old man’s hands and the way he looks into the confused and tired eyes.
The preacher has been well-educated in one of the best theological schools. His training included a lot of psychology. So he knows what is going on and could easily use professional language to impress the bystanders. But instead, the preacher uses language the man will understand. “Shhhhh!” the preacher whispered. Then he leans over, his face almost touching the face of the man from the streets – “It’s going to be OK. You’ve got something bad down in your craw and it needs to come out.” Then in a huge voice preacher shouts, “Evil spirit! Stop hurting this man! Come out!”
The man breathes deeply. You could hear a pin drop in the church. “We’re going to sing a song now,” the young preacher said to the old man very quietly. “Then we’ll get you some lunch. After that we can sit down together over a coffee and find out what else you need.”
As they stand around with their coffee cups after the service, the folks talk about only one thing – the way the preacher had handled a potentially embarrassing situation. None of them remembered a thing he had said in the sermon.
The young preacher stood off to one side. He shook his head in sadness and wonder. What the people had missed most of all, was that this dirty, disturbed, disheaveled man from the streets was the only one who knew anything about the call – the urging of a lovingly impatient who once had said, “Go. You are the Holy One of God.”


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Confessions of a Has-Been
The U.S. has a new president. I haven’t seen such a flood of hero-worship since the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, 48 years ago, when the nation seemed convinced that Camelot had returned.
I remember that. I also remember the Cuban missile crisis, and my utter disbelief at Kennedy’s assassination...
Obama cannot possibly remember them. He was not born in 1960.
CBC Radio Two organized a campaign to identify songs that define Canada. They called it “Obama’s playlist.”
I scanned the top 100 choices, from which a final 49 would be selected. I recognized only 20 of the artists. I looked at the rest and said, “Who?”
Given the difference in our ages, I suspect that Barrack Obama would be more familiar with the names I didn’t know than the ones I did. Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilles Vigneault, Moe Koffman, Stan Rogers –- all belong to an earlier era. Obama might look at them and say, “Who?”
Obama’s inauguration makes me realize how old I am becoming.
A minister told me about his father, who had been a senior official in the Canadian National Railway. He even had his own railway car.
He went into a bank in northern Ontario to cash a cheque. The young teller asked him for identification.
“Here’s my card,” he said sadly. “I used to be somebody once.”
I have that feeling too, sometimes.
To paraphrase poet William Wordsworth, “The past is too much with me.” I prefer reruns of MASH to the latest episode of Survivor. I’d rather play CDs where I can hear the singer’s words than listen to a top-40 station. I watch video of Afghanistan or Iraq, and my mind superimposes scenes from the quagmire of Vietnam.
Wordsworth wrote his poem as a lament for the materialism of 18th century, 200 years ago: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers... We have given our hearts away...For this, for everything, we are out of tune.”
I wonder how he might describe our century!
Professor Reg Bibby of the University of Lethbridge called me a couple of years ago, to ask if I could name some movers and shakers in the United Church of Canada.
All I could think of were people who used to be movers and shakers. Most have retired. They’re shaking more than they did, but not moving as much.
An increasing number aren’t moving at all.
I know, I know, it’s an inevitable progression. Older folks must pass the baton to younger ones. Many a thriving enterprise has been run into the ground by an aging boss who refuses to release the reins.
In the stampede of technological change, simply hanging onto old ways becomes a formula for failure.
But letting go doesn’t have to mean abandoning ship. Elders still have wisdom.
And what is that wisdom? Certainly not that we’re smarter than the next generation.
Perhaps it is nothing more than recognizing that we live in more than just the present.


Good Stuff – This is from Jim in Kingsville, Ontario. He didn’t give his last name but said he received this from Catherine in Blenheim Ontario. Perhaps, with the nose-diving economy, people in Ontario can longer afford last names.
This piece has been around in various, but is a good one to meditate on during the January/February doldrums.
A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the preacher decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The preacher found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.
Guessing the reason for his preachers visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited. The preacher made himself at home but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs.
After some minutes, the preacher took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone then he sat back in his chair, still silent.
As the one lone ember's flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and dead. Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.
The preacher glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow, with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.
As the preacher reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, 'Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.'


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Nancy Best of Orleans, Ontario .was typing in the sermon title which was to be, "Hello, Who's Calling?"
But her fingers typed, "Hell, Who's Calling?"
Says Nancy, “Wow, the possibilities for that one are even more intriguing than the sermon I will likely preach!”

Ken Schrag of Pine Cree (he didn’t say where that was) writes: “Last Sunday (Baptism of the Lord), I had the baptismal font out with a pitcher of water sitting on it to use as part of the children's time. Apparently one of the children noticed this and said, ‘It looks like someone is getting sacrificed this morning!’

Carol Asher of Center Harbor, New Hampshire writes: “One of our little girls is still singing her favorite Christmas carols, and was heard joyfully proclaiming:
‘Hark! the herald angels sing... 'glory to the new-born King;
‘Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and Santa reconciled!’”
Carol, pay attention to little girls. There’s a powerful lot of reconciliation or at least understanding needed, since we tend to confuse the two.

This from Garth Ewert Fisher: George Arthur Buttrick, a distinguished preacher and teacher of an earlier era, was at one time the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard. He sometimes told of being in a small rural church and introduced by a kindly, but not too well-informed old farmer as the Professor of Christian Plumbing at Harvard!

Stephani Keer did quite know what to make of an ad for a "five-piece monogamy bedroom set." Or the ad for a class-action suit which read, "If you were injured or killed, you could receive a large amount of money."

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 technique of creating emergency is the greatest achievement that demagoguery attains.
Herbert Hoover via Jim Taylor

Camel: A horse put together by a committee.
source unknown via Margaret Wood
Five Jewish thinkers who changed the course of history.
Moses said the law is everything.
Jesus said love is everything.
Marx said capital is everything.
Freud said sex is everything.
Einstein said everything is relative.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Bruce Fraser of Merlin, Ontario comments on the items about organists over the past two weeks. He writes: “Sandy Millar, rector of an Anglican church in England, was talking about classically trained organists who sniff at contemporary worship songs, considering them beneath their dignity to play. He quoted what apparently is an old joke in some circles, "What is the difference between a terrorist and an organist?" Answer: "You can negotiate with a terrorist."
Bruce adds, “That hasn't been my personal experience.”
Bruce, the original joke I think, was about liturgists and came from the Roman Catholic tradition where some parishes have liturgists on staff. I’m sure you could use it with almost any individual or group.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “the future starts tomorrow!”) This collection of wit and wisdom from Jean Gregson.

* The nicest thing about the future is that it always starts tomorrow.
* Money will buy a fine dog but only kindness will make him wag his tail.
* If you don't have a sense of humor, you probably don't have any sense at all.
* Seat belts are not as confining as wheelchairs.
* Scratch a dog and you'll find a permanent job.
* No one has more driving ambition than the boy who anxiously awaits his 16th birthday.
* There are no new sins; the old ones just get more publicity.
* There are worse things than getting a call for a wrong number at 4 a.m. It could be a right number.
* No one ever says "It's only a game" when their team's winning.
* You know you’re getting older when your happy hour is a nap.
* Be careful reading the fine print. There's no way you're going to like it.
* The trouble with bucket seats is not everybody has the same size bucket.
* In about forty years we'll have millions of old ladies running around with tattoos. And rap music will be the Golden Oldies!
* Money can't buy happiness. But somehow it's more comfortable to cry in a Mercedes than in a Kia.
* After 70, if you don't wake up aching in every joint, you are probably dead.

Bottom of the Barrel – The spaces between items of good news are too long, but here finally is a revelation by Lane Denson III that is good news for all of us who tip the scales at slightly more than our doctors prescribe.

Dale writes:
As everybody knows, well, most everybody, there are three laws of thermodynamics, but the second law, the one that expresses the irreversibility of processes, is the only one that ever gets any press. It goes like this:
Entropy always increases in any closed system not in equilibrium and remains constant for a system which is in equilibrium. Unless, of course, you're God, and you just ignore them like at Moses' burning bush.
Now that that’s perfectly clear, remember in high school physics, we learned that it takes one calorie to heat one gram of water one degree centigrade. For example, if you eat a very cold dessert (which is largely water, anyhow), the digestive cycle takes its essential calories from the only available source – body fat.
A dessert served and eaten at near freezing will shortly be raised to our normal body temperature. For each gram of dessert eaten, that process takes approximately thirty-seven calories. The average dessert portion is about 168 grams.
The second law tells us that 6,216 calories are extracted from body fat as the dessert’s temperature is normalized. (To do the math takes more column inches than we’re normally allotted here.) Anyway, allowing for the 1,200 latent calories in the dessert, the net loss is approximately 5,000. Obviously, the more cold dessert you eat, the better off you are and the faster you will lose weight, if that is your goal, which it often is during the Epiphany season and the subsequent entropy of New Year’s resolutions.
Furthermore, this process works equally well when drinking very cold beer in frosted glasses. Each ounce of beer contains sixteen latent calories, but extracts 1,036 calories in the temperature normalizing process. Thus, the net calorie loss per ounce of beer is 1,020 calories. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to calculate that 12,240 calories are extracted from the body in the process of drinking a can of beer.
Ice cream is even more beneficial, since it takes eighty-three cal/gm to melt and an additional thirty-seven cal/gm to raise it to body temperature. The results here are really remarkable. The process beats running hands down.
Unfortunately, for those who eat pizza as an excuse to drink beer, pizza (loaded with latent calories and usually served above body temperature) induces an opposite effect. Thankfully, as the astute reader surely has already reasoned, the obvious solution is to drink a lot of beer with pizza and follow up immediately with large bowls of ice cream.
Maybe we’ll get around to the first and third laws of thermodynamics during Lent. In the meantime, try to get a little more out of the Epiphany letdown than usual.
Be my guest, and add this to your new year resolutions.

Dale, that’s a fine and noble revelation. I don’t understand a word of it but I believe it totally.
And if there are any left-brained folk out there who can pick holes in that logic, we’d as soon not hear from you.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 1:21-28
Reader I: We don’t have unclean spirits anymore.
Reader II: What?
I: This Bible passage. It’s about Jesus pulling an unclean spirit out of a man. How many people do you know have had unclean spirits removed? I mean, it’s not covered by any health plan I know of. Let’s stop talking about what happened two-thousand years ago! Let’s talk about what’s happening now.
II: OK. What is happening now?
I: People are struggling with the pressures to succeed. To make more money. Pressure to be the perfect mom or dad or boss or whatever. Pressure to buy more and more stuff. Pressure to wear the right clothes or drive the right car. To say the right things.
II: And what do all those pressures do to people?
I: Those pressures drive ‘em nuts, that’s what.
II: Just like unclean spirits.
I: (Confused) What?
II: Unclean spirits! It’s the pressures of life that drive you off the deep end. Read the scripture passage.
(slight pause)
I: Jesus and his friends went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
II: The people in the synagogue were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
I: Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out . . .
II: "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. The Holy One of God."
I: "Be silent, and come out of him!"
II: And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
I: The people in the synagogue were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another . . .
II: "What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
I: At once Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

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