Friday, February 27, 2009

Preaching Materials for March 8th, 2009

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

March 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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The Story – the cost of the covenant
Rumors – ashamed of Jesus
Soft Edges – room for rebels
Bloopers – a rose bowel
We Get Letters – hough nough brown cough?
Mirabile Dictu! – the power of termites
Bottom of the Barrel – terminal coolness
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 8:31-38
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 Fred Braileyof Orangeville, Ontario.
When my daughter, Kelli, said her bedtime prayers, she would bless every family member, every friend, and every animal (current and past).
For several weeks, after we had finished the nightly prayer, Kelli would say, 'All girls.'
This soon became part of her nightly routine. My curiosity got the best of me. “Kelli, why do you always add the part about ‘all girls?'”
“Because the minister always finishes his prayers by saying 'All Men!’”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday,

The Story – Mark 8:31-38 (Mark 9:2-9) (from the Revised Common Lectionary)

Jim says:
I’m torn. The Abraham/Sarah story matters, because there’s a “covenant”
theme that runs through all the readings for this Lent. And the Peter and Jesus story matters, because it sets up the events of Passion Week and Easter. (But if you didn’t read the preamble last week, verses 27-30, then I would certainly add them to the reading this week.)
I think I want to deal with both stories, to illustrate the notion that signing on to a covenant can have unexpected and unpredictable consequences. Abraham almost ended up sacrificing his son Isaac, terminating the line of descendants before it started. Peter did eventually end up on his own cross – crucified, according to legend, upside down.
Did any of us have any idea what we were getting into, when we said our marriage vows? When we had children? When we grew older? Once you commit yourself –- imagine sky-diving, say, or whitewater rafting –- you can’t back out. Like Peter and Abraham, once we accept the covenant with God, we cannot stop the world and ask to get off.
So my third text might be an excerpt from the traditional marriage ceremony: “for better or for worse... till death do us part...”

Ralph says:
I was tempted to go for the Genesis story of Abe and Sarah, but the story of Jesus’ confrontation with Peter it seems to me is more relevant to the Lenten season. It really confronts the common notion that to be a Christian all you need to do is be nice and go to church once in awhile when there’s nothing better to do on a Sunday morning.
There’s a “back story” behind the Jesus story in the Gospels. It’s the story of Peter who has a bad case of “foot-in-mouth” disease. But I think he’s a person we can identify with more easily just for that reason.
All of us shoot ourselves in the foot over and over, and sometimes we even take aim. Like Peter.
But I think Jesus would have felt a more profound love for Peter whose heart was in the right place, even when his head wasn’t.
Peter may have messed up all over the place and repeatedly, but I think he was never “ashamed” of Jesus and his teachings. Peter didn’t have all the right moves, but there was no doubt whose side he was on.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – the covenant theme runs all through this Lenten season. Maybe Jim was right – this is the story we should be focusing on. But the covenant theme runs through the gospel reading as well, so perhaps it’s both stories.
The thing about the covenant with Abraham – he and Sarah had to wear it for their whole lives. Because one of the problems with covenants is there’s high emotion and lively spirituality when we make that covenant, but it’s hard to live it, day by day by day. That’s why so many marriages don’t last beyond the first year or two.
I have a friend who is a caregiver. In her career as a nurse she cared deeply about all the people she looked after. When she retired, she looked after her aging parents day after month after year. It’s the kind of unglamorous living out of the covenant that is far harder and far more heroic than the kind of brave acts we honor.
God says to Abraham, “Walk before me and be blameless.” To do that over a lifetime is probably the toughest assignment in the world.
Psalm 22:23-31 – – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
A friend walked with not one but three AIDS victims down, as Shakespeare put it, "to dusty death."
23 Behold a saint!
Few could do what she does:
she goes down to the hospice, every day,
24 where people waste away with AIDS.
She does not hide her face behind a mask, nor her hands inside rubber gloves.
When they cry in misery, she cradles them in her arms.
25 We shake our heads in awe at such selfless service.
26 She feeds them, spoonful by spoonful.
They watch with sunken burning eyes;
they turn their skin-tight skulls and kiss her cheek.
27 Their own families turn away from them;
long after their sons and brothers, their daughters and sisters, have died, those families will remember her devotion.
28 In her they see God's kind of love;
love that has no limits and sets no conditions.
29 God's love does not distinguish between the froth on the top and the dregs on the bottom;
it makes no distinctions between the lords and the lepers of our society.
30 Years from now, people will speak of her visits in hushed voices;
they will hold her high as an example to follow.
31 Because of her, they will know God better.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 4:13-25 – This is Paul’s convoluted assurance that in the end, faithfulness – not lock-step observance of all the rules – but faithfulness to the covenant of love and hope will have it’s reward.
But I wonder if that’s relevant. Because, of the people I know who have been most faithfully living the gospel, reward is the last thing on their minds.
Certainly that’s my experience. In those assorted and infrequent moments when I’ve been faithful to the gospel of love, I realize I have also been enjoying myself quite thoroughly. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. There have also been some moments of faithfulness that have been pure hell.
But in the moments themselves, we’re not thinking about any of that stuff. In those moments when we are living faithfully, we are totally focused on whatever it is we are doing or experiencing.
Faithfulness is its own reward. In those moments of faithfulness, the last thing on our minds is some celestial bookkeeper who will reckon this to us as righteousness.
In other words, Paul was right but irrelevant.
Suggestion. If children are part of your worship during the first part of the service, read them “A Very Hard Thing to Do” (based on Mark 8:31-34) from “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 82. Then later in the service, use the “Reader’s Theatre” version of the same story. By the time the sermon comes along, the adults who have heard both, might have some idea of what the homily is about.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday of the lectionary cycle 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 – “Once in the dear, dead days beyond recall,” (if you are 70+ you may recognize those words) when I worked for money, I used to spend a lot of my life sitting in airplanes.
“You must meet interesting people on your travels,” my friends often said to me.
“Well, I do,” was my reply. “But not on airplanes. I hardly ever talk to people on airplanes.”
“Why?” they want to know. They’ve experienced “some neat conversations on airplanes.”
“Because inevitably the conversation gets around to ‘what do you do for a living?’ And I tell them I’m a writer, and they ask, ‘what do you write?’ and I tell them. Then I have to deal with their embarrassment because they don’t know what to say or do with ‘religious’ people. Or they turn out to be one of those ‘born again’ types.”
I remember a conversation with Rhonda (not her real name), a friend in our church who works in a bank. She talked about inadvertently mentioning that she went to church. “Everybody looked at me as if I had some weird tropical disease,” Rhonda whined.
“Are you ashamed of going to church?” I asked piously.
“No, but I don’t know how to explain why I go.”
I don’t know how to explain to people on airplanes why I believe what I believe. I can talk about my faith quite easily at church events. I have no problem using “God language,” the liberal Christian version of “Jesus talk.” In sermons or Bible study groups or writing here in Rumors, it comes quite naturally and easily.
So why can’t I do it on airplanes? Why can’t Rhonda do it at the bank? Is Jesus talking about us when he says, “those who are ashamed of me and my words.”
There are, I think, two problems here.
There’s a linguistic problem. There is a dialect we use in the pulpit and study groups and other “religious” occasions that we don’t use in ordinary conversations, even with other churchy types. Many of my friends are clergy and they speak to each other quite differently than they speak in the pulpit. It’s a different dialect.
Bev and I went to the Philippines as missionaries way back, when we were still in our 20’s. We spent huge hunks of time learning Cebuano, the local language. Now I’m wondering if learning a “God language” appropriate to banks and airplanes may take as much effort.
Until we can do that, let’s be honest. Jesus is right. Rhonda and I are ashamed of him.
God help us!


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Room for Rebels
A few more reflections after our trip to Honduras.
Outside our room, a colony of ants marched endlessly up and down a tree trunk. As long as there was daylight, one column marched up the tree to the upper branches, and carefully cut little circles out of the tenderest leaves, and carried those circles back down the tree and across the grounds to their ant hill.
“They have their own compost piles down there,” another tourist assured me. “Ants are smart. They figured out the benefits of organic waste recycling long before we did.”
I realized I don’t know much about ants.
I’ve heard about them in moral fables, of course. Who hasn’t been told about the Ant and the Grasshopper. The grasshopper lazed away the summer days, and perished when winter came. The ant stored supplies for winter, and survived.
The moral always said something like, “Look to the Ant, thou Sluggard...”
But I remember another maxim too: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
I suspect that describes ant life quite well.
Ant hills and termite mounds are marvels of engineering. But as far as I know, ants have never painted a wall in bright colors, just for the sake of doing something beautiful, never composed an ant symphony, never prepared a gourmet meal...
When the leaf-cutting and transporting is done for the day, do they get together in the afternoon for tea parties, or for potluck suppers? Do they go bowling, or watch a sunset in awe?
Somehow, I doubt if they have much of a social life. They rarely pause as they pass each other on the tree trunk to exchange gossip. They certainly never stage a walkout or strike – even though they are probably the ultimate model for labor unions.
People who study these things sometimes suggest that there’s no such thing as an individual ant. The living entity is the colony itself.
But perhaps even in ant colony, some free will is permissible. I was pleased to see that even ants have occasional “wrong-way Corrigans.” Once in a while, I’d see a few ants heading back down the tree without a leaf. I suppose they could have been supervisors or union stewards, but I like to think that ant colonies may have slackers, just like human societies.
And I saw one ant carrying a piece of leaf back up the tree, against the stream. Others bumped into him – or her – and almost got him turned around, but then he would turn and stubbornly continue taking that piece of leaf back up to the top of the tree.
I have no idea what he hoped to do when he got it up there. I doubt if ant technology includes Crazy Glue capable of sticking the piece back into the damaged leaf.
Was he the first lonely proponent of an environmental movement?
Whatever, I was glad to see that even an ant colony has room for an occasional rebel.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – April Dailey of Ford City, Pennsylvania wants to know, “Does studying the Bible cause indigestion?”
She writes: “As our youth group prepared to compete in our Synod's Bible Bowl, I asked parents if their teens were meeting at our church or at the site of the local competition in which we were to have a team.
“One parent's response: ‘My daughter will be meeting you at the Bible Bowel on Sunday’.”
April – this reminds me of a newspaper misspelling a few years ago. It referred to a football contest as the “Rose Bowel.”

Francois Theron of Willow Park, South Africa, writes: “In a town nearby I spotted a sign next to a scrap yard. "Body Parts Sold Here."

Jim Taylor writes: “The hymn announced in the bulletin was Daniel Shutte's ‘Here I am Lord’ but it got typed as ‘Here, I'm Lord’."

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 essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.
Jane Addams via Jim Taylor

God loves everyone, but probably prefers "fruits of the spirit" over "religious nuts!"
source unknown"No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an unchartered land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit." Helen Keller

We Get Letters – Andy Loveman of Los Angeles writes: “Did you know that ‘Rumors’ makes an instant, fun, weekly Bible Study? No preparation. Just add people.
“I print out several copies of Rumors and chop them up. As we begin, I have four individuals each read the Rib Tickler, Mirabile Dictu, Bottom of the Barrel and Bloopers. Laughter is a good way to start a Bible Study. It relaxes people and sets an open and inclusive mood for the more serious discussion.
“Then I have two or more people read us the scripture from Reader’s Theatre. I follow this by reading the version in “The Lectionary Story Bible.” I usually read this myself because I often interject a phrase or two.
“Finally, I have two others read Jim’s and Ralph’s comments. Then I let ‘er rip. I’ve been doing this for about four months now, and have yet to have a dull or boring session. We close with someone reading Jim’s Psalm paraphrase.
I go away from each gathering feeling pumped and full of ideas for Sunday’s sermon.”

The little poem about the pronunciation of “ough” from David Gilchrist last week got a world-wide response. And a lot of it. Whew! Hang on. This could take awhile.

Melanie from Woonona Australia writes: the other one (the sixth way to pronounce “ough”) is as in trough But Ann Raith in Scotland says: “Your sixth “ough” word is sough (sow, as in pig) meaning to make a sighing sound, as with the wind. Mike Glover of Yorkshire, England writes: “The sixth pronunciation of 'ough' is as in 'thought'.”
Mike adds: “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.
(This sentence contains every pronunciation of "ough", which can be pronounced in nine different ways.)
Jim Taylor, who’s maternal ancestry is from the old sod, wonders: “Maybe ‘lough’ the Irish form of the Scottish ‘loch’ as in Lomond.
Jim adds: “There's also an English city called Slough, which I think they pronounce as "slow" (seems appropriate, since Vauxhall cars were made there). But prairie types should also remember "slough" pronounced "slew".
Susan Fiore AOJN wonders: “Would it be “sough”? (Pronounced "suh" or "suhf".) And how about adding these two lines to the poem:
And when the boy said he was through
He heaved a heavy, heavy sough.

Nancy Thorne of Bristol, England was “interested to read the bit you put in this week’s ‘magazine’ re some of the daft pronunciation we have in the English language. I actually put the following in this month’s church magazine.”

Hough Nough?
English spelling seems illogical at times. Here are a few oddities, courtesy of a “Readers Digest” book dated 1967 which someone gave me many years ago.
I wonder what would help my cough;
A cup of coughey should,
At least it wouldn't bump me ough,
And it might do me gould.

Today, away from me you fly,
Though, yesterday, to me you flew,
So now I am disposed to cry,
Though heretofore I never crew.

If you say 'Boot,'
Then why not foot?
And on your feet,
You should wear beet.
Margaret Fishback

The wind was rough
And cold and blough;
She kept her hands inside her mough.
It chilled her through,
Her nose turned blough,
And still the squall the faster flough.
And yet although,
There was no snough,
The weather was a cruel fough.
It made her cough,
(Please do not scough);
She coughed until her hat blew ough.
Bennett Cerf

An eccentric chap named Turner took to signing his name Phtholognyrrh. This was his explanation:
Phth, as in phthisic, is pronounced T
olo, as in colonel, is pronounced UR
gn, as in gnat is pronounced N
yrrh, as in myrrh, is pronounced ER


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “the power of termites!”) This from Margaret Wood.
The putative origin of these revised aphorisms is from primary school children. While some of them may have originated there, this is a list that’s been around the internet for years and growing each time it comes around.
It’s good fun. There area few new ones (to me at least). And some interesting insights. So here it is again.
* Don't change horses – until they stop running.
* Strike while the – wasp is close.
* Never underestimate the power of – termites.
* Don't bite the hand that – looks dirty.
* No news is – impossible
* A miss is as good as a – Mr.
* If you lie down with dogs, you'll – stink in the morning..
* The pen is mightier than the – pigs.
* An idle mind is – the best way to relax
* Where there's smoke there's – pollution.
* Happy the bride who – gets all the presents.
* A penny saved is – not much.
* Two's company, three's – the Musketeers.
* Don't put off till tomorrow what – you put on to go to bed.
* Laugh and the whole world laughs with you. Cry and – you have toblow your nose.
* If at first you don't succeed – get new batteries.
* You get out of something only what you – see in the picture on the box
* When the blind lead the blind – get out of the way.
* A bird in the hand – is going to poop on you.
* Better late than – pregnant

Bottom of the Barrel – Glenn Witmer sends this item from “The Washington Post's Style Invitational which asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.”
Some of these have been around before, but most are new. Or perhaps I’ve forgotten. Doesn’t matter. One of the blessings of age is that you can enjoy items like this over and over.
* Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
* Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
*. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
* Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
* Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
* Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
* Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
* Karmageddon (n): it’s like, when everybody is sending off all these, like, really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
* Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
* Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
* Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
* Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.* Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
* Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

Note: Please send a “get well” card to my spell-checker. I had to send it in for treatment of an anxiety attack and hernia repair, after the last two items.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 8:31-38

Reader I: Wow! The writer of Mark’s Gospel doesn’t mess around.
Reader II: Neither did Jesus, from the sound of the passage we’re supposed to read today.
I: I feel sorry for poor Peter. He tries so hard, and he get’s stomped on.
II: Wasn’t it last week, when we were reading the story about the transfiguration? Jesus and Peter and a couple of others are up there on the mountain. It’s all fog and mist and Jesus in white garments, and they see Moses and Elijah. It just blows Peters mind, and so he blabs the first thing he can think of about building some huts or houses up there on the mountain.
I: And Jesus stomps on him.
II: Jesus stomps on him, right. And in the passage we have to read this week, he tries to save Jesus’ life – and guess what. Jesus yells at him. It’s a wonder Peter stuck with it. If it had been me, I’d have gone back home to see if I could get my old job back.
I: So let’s read it. This is from Mark’s gospel. The 8th chapter.
II: Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed. And after three days rise again.
II Jesus said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
I: But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter.
II: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
I: Then Jesus called to the crowd that was with his disciples.
II: "If any of you want to become my followers, you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. For those of you who want to save your life will lose it, and those of you who lose your life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. After all, what will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life? Indeed, what can you give in return for your life?
I: Then Jesus looked at his disciples and the crowd that gathered. He spoke sadly and softly.
II: “Those of you who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of you the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

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