Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Preaching Materials for March 1, 2008

R U M O R S #542
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

February 22, 2009



"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 – the gift of a rainbow
Rumors – very simple
Soft Edges – bothered by bikinis
Good Stuff – beatitudes for the elderly
Bloopers – singing under water
We Get Letters – pronouncing and spelling
Special – a cure for February blahs
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Noah and the rainbow
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The Immaculate Perception
A little girl asked her mother, “Mom, where’d I come from?”
“God sent you,” said mom.
“Where did you come from?”
“God sent me.”
“How about Grandpa and Grandma?”
“God sent them.”
“Gee,” said the little girl. “There hasn’t been a normal birth in this family for 150 years!”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 1, which is the first Sunday in Lent.

Genesis 9:8-17 – The story this Sunday is in the Hebrew Scriptures – the last scene in the Noah story. The largest part of the Noah story happens in Year A, but I think this part of it is the most significant because it speaks of God’s covenant with us.

Ralph says:
I’m almost (but not quite) glad the lectionary folks hived this part of the story off the main body of the legend. Once you get past the cute part – the animals two by two trotting obediently into the ark – the story really becomes quite horrifying. Take a look at what’s floating in the water beside the ark. The legend reflects a very primitive concept of a God willing to commit genocide as punishment for sins.
And after the rainbow covenant, Noah gets pickled and winds up cursing Canaan, thus providing a proof text that was used for years to justify racism and slavery. Not just in the American south but all over the Christian world.
So I would simply summarize the rest of the story of Noah, then describe this beautiful scene of God’s promise of covenant love, not just with Noah & Co., but with all creation. “Every living creature.” (One way of doing this is to use the Reader’s Theatre version of the story below.)
That covenant and that rainbow are under threat. The rainbow happens when sunlight is refracted through droplets of water. But this, I am told, doesn’t happen when the air is polluted. In other words, if we don’t exercise our stewardship of the earth, the rainbow may disappear and another kind of global destruction will occur.
If there’s an ark under construction somewhere, we’ll be on the outside pleading to get in.

Jim says –
The story of Noah may be fact, or it may be legend. When we treat it as fact (along with creation in 4004 BC) we do a disservice to science. When we write it off as legend, when we dismiss it as an imaginary story based on ignorance, we do ourselves a disservice.
Because sometimes the ancients got it right!
As I look through this passage, I see eight references to “every living creature,” “all flesh,” and “the earth.” Eight times, God says that the covenant is not just with humans, or with a particular group of humans, least of all with a particular individual.
Given this emphasis, how could we distort that universal message into a “God ’n’ me” theology?
So I would tell the story of creation. Not the biblical version. But how everything started as an immeasurable point. How every atom of the universe emerged from that one instant. The simple first atoms combined into more complex elements, into organic molecules, into life – but we still carry within us the stuff of that first instant, however it happened. So does every other creature, every plant, every planet, every galaxy. In every atom of our bodies, we are all related. We are all kin.
The other wisdom of the ancients that we frequently overlook is that God is not locked into the past. God can and does change. In the Flood, God tried something and decided it didn’t work. But God does not undo something that has been done. God builds on the past, to shape a new future.
And so I would ask: are we trying to bring back the past? Or build a new future?

Psalm 25:1-10 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Abraham bargained with God to try to save the people of Sodom. Moses talked God out of destroying the Israelites, by persuading God that the Egyptians would consider God a failure if the Israelites died in the desert. Obviously, it's okay to argue with God. Like a skilled negotiator or a lawyer, we must be ready to use all the tactics available to us.
1 To you, Lord, I plead my case.
2 I trust you, God; don't let me down.
You won't let me make a fool of myself.
Lord, don't let others lord it over me.
3 You wouldn't humiliate your loyal helpers, would you?
Save your heavy hand for those who don't care about you.
4 I want to be your friend, Lord.
I want to do things your way.
5 So take my hand, and lead me through life's potholes and pitfalls.
You are the only one who can save me;
You are what I have been looking for, all my life.
6 Don't do it just for my sake.
Do it for your own reputation as a loving God.
7 Don't count my past mistakes against me.
Be true to yourself – you are a loving God,
So show me love, O Lord.
8 Lord, because you are perfect, you can take pity on less perfect people;
9 You can train the fumble-footed to follow your footsteps.
10 Your ways all lead to love and faithfulness,
And those who keep faith with you will not forget it.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Peter 3:18-22 – Verse 21 is the key. The writer of this passage (probably not Peter) says that the Noah story “prefigures” baptism, which wasn’t practiced in main stream Judaism. Which is a bit hard to understand because the eight who escaped in the ark never got their feet wet and everybody else drowned.
I’ve never quite grasped the thinking of passages like this that tell me somehow my sins were paid for in advance by Jesus’ suffering and death. But rather than argue that one again – we’ve danced around that mulberry bush too many times here in Rumors – I’ll just leave it be and move on to the next reading.
Mark 1:9-15
1 Peter 3:21 also explains why the Mark passage about Jesus’ baptism is in this same pot, even though I have trouble getting my mind around the “prefigure” thing.
I like Mark’s gospel. He doesn’t mess around. He rattles off the story quickly and succinctly. Mark assumes that we know the story – that we’ve heard and loved and believed the truth inside the story – so that all he needs to do is remind us.
I wish that were still true. Those of us who struggle to communicate the story of God’s good news make that mistake over and over again – assuming the folks know the story. A few do, of course, and they tend to be the folks who comment on our writing or preaching or whatever.
The rest of the folks slide out of church or put down the book, and quietly move away, ashamed to admit they have no idea what the whole thing is about. The most frequent reason given for not attending Bible study is, “I don’t know anything about the Bible.” Go figure.
So while I like Mark’s gospel, it presents us with a problem when we use it communicating with contemporary adults. If we read passages like this to them, and don’t fill in the blanks of the story for them, they go away confused.
And when people go away confused, the often stay away.

One way to make sure the adults hear the story is to tell it to the kids. The rainbow covenant story is in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 76. But if you want to tell the whole Noah story, it’s in Year A, page 124.
There’s a children’s version of the baptism story, based on Mark, in Year B, page 78.
For more info about these books, 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’ve just completed the last bit of work on ‘The Lectionary Story Bible.” It was the comprehensive index that will be in Year C, telling you where to find any passage in the three-volume set. Margaret Kyle is finishing the last bits of art work and the folks at Wood Lake are doing all the million and one technical things to get the material to the printer in time for release this summer.
It’s been quite a journey. It’s easily the biggest and toughest writing project I have undertaken and probably the largest collection of children’s Bible stories in captivity. Certainly it’s the only comprehensive collection that reflects an open, inclusive theology, an unconditionally loving God, and the joyful power of the gospel. I had to work really hard sometimes, to squeeze that bit of juice out of the text.
In the process I’ve really grown to love the stories – especially the grand legends of Genesis and Exodus, and especially the parables of Jesus. One of my favorites is the Noah story.
When that story first appeared in “The Family Story Bible,” the work that gave rise to “The Lectionary Story Bible,” it drew some interesting feedback. Some people thought I wasn’t explicit enough in holding up “Bible truths.” One fellow labeled the book “pornographic” because the picture Margaret did for the rainbow scene showed a child doing a summersault that showed a bit of buttock.
My response? Piffle.
I’ve had many letters and other responses to the “Family Story Bible” and the “The Lectionary Story Bible,” which was developed along the same model. Almost all have been enthusiastic and positive.
But among the most gratifying responses have been a those relating to the Noah story, and specifically to the fact that I held up the rainbow covenant as the key and the point to the whole story. Many felt that element of the story had been short-changed by all the romantic emphasis of the animals being loaded into the ark.
The Noah legend speaks strongly to the ecological crisis facing the world. Sin has its own built-in punishment and our sin of abuse against our pale blue planet has within it the punishment of human pain and ecological destruction on a scale we can hardly imagine.
And the ark we are commissioned to build is not made of acacia wood and not designed to save the good and destroy the bad. The ark we are called to build will be designed around a way of being that is good, wholesome and simple.
Very simple.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Bothered by Bikinis
Spending a week on a beach in the tropics is hard on the eyeballs – at least for a male.
Most of the women wore bikinis, even if they shouldn’t. Some of them had much more flesh than a bikini should cover.
A few women didn’t bother wearing the whole bikini. That was even harder on the eyeballs.
The men with them, however, wore mostly baggy shorts that hung down to their knees. Most of the men had rather unappealing beer bellies spilling over the waistband of their shorts.
I found myself wondering who determines these fashions.
Initially, I thought that this difference in treatment of bodies reflected a patriarchal bias. Certainly, Honduras remains a strongly patriarchal culture. But the people wearing the beachwear at this resort were not Hondurans. Most came from Canada, some from the U.S.
The few European men typically wore Speedo briefs. The European women were more likely to sunbathe topless.
I don’t think there’s a fashion police who dictate what men and women should wear on the beach. Certainly no one issued instructions that the women must wear skimpy bikinis and men must wear baggy shorts. But any culture develops unconscious concepts of what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Clearly, the North American collective unconscious believes that women’s bodies should be displayed, and men’s should not. Women play beach volleyball in bikinis; men don’t. At formal occasions, like the Oscars, women’s bodies are exposed as much as possible; men’s bodies are covered from necktie to socks.
That might imply that fashion choices are determined by males.
Many men will immediately protest that women have the upper hand. They get into the lifeboats first when a ship sinks. They have doors opened for them. They generally receive lighter sentences from juries.
Indeed, there are organizations that insist that men consistently get shafted in divorce settlements, custody battles, spousal abuse cases, etc.
I don’t buy that rationale. I think it’s more likely that the special privileges accorded to women – mostly a leftover from Victorian times – were intended to reinforce the notion of women as helpless creatures who needed male help to open doors and balance cheque books.
If women were in charge, would they design an economic system that pays them roughly two-thirds as much as men for the same job? (In macho Honduras, women get paid about one-third as much as men.)
In a world run by women, would nations pay out $18 billion in holiday bonuses to Wall Street bankers, while slashing $5 billion from funding for prevention of AIDS, TB, and malaria?
Or spend a trillion dollars a year on arms, when one per cent of that could provide clean water and sanitation for every family on earth?
For sure, no woman would have invented mammography. If men had their testicles examined by clamping them in a vice...
Even beaches might be different. I’m guessing, of course, but if women ran things, I suspect they might prefer segregated beaches, where women would wear nothing at all.
But I also suspect that even on segregated beaches, many men would hesitate to expose their shortcomings to public scrutiny.


Good Stuff – Jim Spinks sends this poem. The author is unknown, unfortunately, but the poet had a deep sense of what it’s like being elderly.
Blessed are they who understand
My faltering steps and shaking hands.
Blessed, who know my ears today
Must strain to catch the words they say.
Blessed are they who look away
When tea is spilled on the cloth that day.
Blessed are they with a cheery smile
Who stopped to chat for a little while.
Blessed are they who never say:
‘You've told that story twice today.’
Blessed are they who make it known
That I'm loved, respected and not alone.
And blessed are they who ease the days
Of my journey home, in loving ways.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Jim Taylor forwarded this from Alan Yoshioka. It was on the Archdiocese of Toronto website announcing a St Patrick's Day Mass. "Liturgical music by the Irish Coral Society."
Maybe the service was to be held under water. (Is it possible to sing under water?)

Kenneth Smith tells us that he saw an announcement from a church in Lubbock, Texas announcing a "Fiends and Me Tea."
Says Ken, “I was just excited thinking maybe I could attend after all.”

David Gilchrist read a report about a church camp. “It says that the windows need putty because they are losing their pains.”
Says David: “The more pain we lose the better!”

Ellen Lee of Calgary, Alberta saw this quotation from Proverbs 3:13-14 on the front of a bulletin.
“Happy are those who find Wisdom, and those who get understanding; for her income is better than silver and her revenue is better than god.”
Ellen, I doubt God is much interested in revenue anyway.

Darlene Emery of Nanaimo, BC, “laughed at some of the menu bloopers in last weeks Rumours, and was reminded of a cafeteria whiteboard that announced the soup of the day as ‘Cream of Vegetarian’. At least I hope it was a blooper!”

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! – Jesus Christ – the one who couldn't live without you.
sign in front of a church via Margaret Wood

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
Dale Carnegie via Jim Taylor

Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it. source unknown


We Get Letters – Jim Taylor writes: “The words attributed to DeGeneres are almost a direct quote from Brian Gee's ‘Unlock Your Bible’.”
“Nothing. There was absolutely nothing. Nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to feel.
“Then God brought some light into the situation, and at least you could see that there was nothing.”

David Gilchrist writes: “Harking back to Jan/ 4/09, I just ran across this lovely bit from a New Zealand lady:
Underneath the mistletoe bough
Stands a boy with a hacking cough
His mother gives him lumps of dough
Until he says he's had enough
David, that “ough” can be pronounced six ways in English, “through” being one of them, though for the life of me, I can’t think of what the sixth one is. English being a dialect of Frisian (that should raise a few hackles!), my ancestral language, those words would all have been pronounced with a fricative –“ach” in German or more likely, “och” in Scotts. The pronunciation changed but the spelling didn’t.


Special – a prescription for the February Blahs
February, even though it has the fewest number of days, is the longest month of the year. At least in my neck of the woods. (What does a “neck” look like in the woods?)
So on pure impulse, I decided to run this piece instead of “Mirabile Dictu” and “Bottom of the Barrel.” It’s an antidote for the February funk.
Instructions for the use of what follows go like this: Gather a group of friends. The more the merrier. Share some good food. And maybe a glass of something. Then give them the little quiz that follows.
After that, spend no more than half an hour bellyaching about the economy or the government or “people these days” then move on to saying something good and kind about each person in the room.
After that, do whatever comes naturally.
But do it quickly. Lent begins on March 1, and you are not allowed to laugh during Lent.

The three greatest literary influences on the English language were probably the King James Bible (1611), Shakespeare’s plays (1564-1616), and The Book of Common Prayer (1549). Hundreds of phrases and expressions from those sources are part of our current language. Here are just a few of them.
Have you and your friends and see if you can figure out which expression came from which of those three sources. The right answers are below.
* with bated breath
* my brother’s keeper
* a good old age
* an eye for an eye
* the apple of his eye
* a man after his own heart
* read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest
* a still, small voice
* earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
* all our yesterdays
* the root of the matter
* what the dickens
* the skin of my teeth
* wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?
* out of the mouth of babes
* beggars all description
* at their wit’s end
* can the leopard change his spots?
* a tower of strength
* as good luck would have it
* eat sour grapes
* the salt of the earth
* a foregone conclusion
* the straight and narrow
* cold comfort
* in sheep’s clothing
* if the blind lead the blind
* the signs of the times
* to kick against the pricks
* renounce the devil and all his works
* salad days
* all things to all men
* to the manner born
* it’s Greek to me
* in the twinkling of an eye
* hoist with his own petard
* at one fell swoop
* suffer fools gladly
* make a virtue of necessity
* thorn in the flesh
* money is the root of all evil
* play fast and loose
* brevity is the soul of wit
* fight the good fight
* love is blind
* the patience of Job

The Answers
The Bible:
my brother’s keeper (Gen. 4)
a good old age (Gen. 15)
an eye for an eye (Exod. 21)
the apple of his eye (Deut. 32)
a man after his own heart (1 Sam. 13)
a still, small voice (2 Kgs. 19)
the root of the matter (Job 19)
the skin of my teeth (Job 19)
out of the mouth of babes (Ps. 8)
at their wit’s end (Ps. 107)
can the leopard change his spots? (Jer. 13)
eat sour grapes (Ezek. 24)
the salt of the earth (Matt. 5)
the straight and narrow (Matt. 7)
in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7)
if the blind lead the blind (Matt. 15)
the signs of the times (Matt. 16)
to kick against the pricks (Acts 9)
all things to all men (1 Cor. 9)
in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15)
suffer fools gladly (2 Cor. 11)
thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12)
money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6)
fight the good fight (1 Tim. 6)
the patience of Job (James 5)

The Book of Common Prayer:
read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest (Collect, 2nd Sunday in Advent)
renounce the devil and all his works (Public Baptism)
wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife? (Solemnization of Matrimony)
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust (The Burial of the Dead)

Shakespeare’s plays:
play fast and loose (Antony and Cleopatra, IV.xii)
a tower of strength (Richard III, V.iii)
make a virtue of necessity (Pericles, I.iii)
cold comfort (King John, V.vii)
at one fell swoop (Macbeth, IV.iii)
what the dickens (The Merry Wives of Windsor, III.ii)
to the manner born (Hamlet, I.iv)
brevity is the soul of wit (Hamlet, II.ii)
beggars all description (Antony and Cleopatra, II.ii)
a foregone conclusion (Othello, III.iii)
hoist with his own petard (Hamlet, III.iv)
all our yesterdays (Macbeth, V.v)
with bated breath (Merchant of Venice, I.iii)
love is blind (Merchant of Venice,
it’s Greek to me (Julius Caesar, I.ii)
as good luck would have it (The Merry Wives of Windsor, III.v)
salad days (Antony and Cleopatra, I.v)


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – based on Genesis 9:8-1

Reader I: Oh, goody! Today we get to do the story of Noah and the ark. (SINGS) “Noah, Noah, brother Noah built the ark!” (OR ANY OTHER NOAH SONG YOU KNOW)
Reader II: Yeah! But I often wondered why Noah didn’t just bring one mosquito on board. And one housefly.
I: Well, it’s a legend after all. It’s not history. It’s just a grand old fun story.
II: Whoops!
I: What’s the matter?
II: This passage starts at chapter nine. The part about the ark is all over. Noah and his family are back on dry land.
I: Do we miss all the fun part of the story?
II: Yeah, we also miss the yucky part. The part where God wipes out everybody and everything else.
I: OO, yeah. Can you imagine what must have been floating on the water beside that ark? Yeeech!
II: So this is the part about the rainbow. How the rainbow becomes a symbol.
I: God makes a covenant.
II: What’s a covenant?
I: It’s kind of like a bargain. Like and agreement. Except more. More like when two people get married and they promise to love and honor and protect. That’s a covenant.
I: OK. So let’s read the story.
II: Then God spoke to Noah and to his children with him.
I: "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.”
II: And God said:
I: I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."
II: And God said:
I: "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations. I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."
II: And God said to Noah:
I: "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

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