Friday, March 27, 2009

Preaching Materials for April 5th, 2009

R U M O R S # 546
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 29, 2009


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

The Story – the passion story as told by Mark
Rumors – the call to be authentic
Soft Edges – when the lights go out
Bloopers – Easter on a Saturday
We Get Letters – late for her own funeral
Mirabile Dictu! – scoop the litterbox
Bottom of the Barrel – the tree planter was sick
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 14:1-15:47
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The young preacher was talking to the wise old preacher. “Can you give me any advice on preaching?” the young one asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You need a beginning, a middle and an end.”
“But every sermon has a beginning and a middle and an end,” objected the young preacher.
“True. The trick is to make the middle as small as possible, so the beginning and the end are really close together.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 5th, which is the sixth Sunday in Lent usually observed as Palm/Passion Sunday.

Isaiah 50:4-9a – Most Rumors readers, both lay and clergy, are leaders in the church. Which means that the very first sentence of this passage is directed at us. “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher.”
The leadership instincts and skills we have are a gift, which we have received so that we “may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” But the most essential skill of the leader is to listen. God who “wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

Psalm 31:9-16 – – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
9 Be kind to me, God. I'm really in trouble this time.
I'm blinded by misery, I've got the shakes all over.
10 I spend my days hating myself, my nights despising others.
I have turned into a spineless blob, with bones made of jelly.
11 No one talks to me or visits me;
I huddle in my gloom like the dust balls under my dresser.
12 No one even thinks of me any more;
I am pushed aside like yesterday's newspaper.
14 I have no one to turn to but you.
You are my only friend, the only one I can count on.
16 Do not turn away from me too.
Wrap me in the warmth of your arms, and comfort me now.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Philippians 2:5-11 – Mike Schwartzentruber writes (Aha!!!, April 16, 2000): “There is a tale about a king who decided that he couldn’t be a good king without getting ‘down and dirty’ with his people.” This had to be for real. No special treatment of any kind. “After living life as a peasant and experiencing their hunger, poverty and degradation, he just couldn’t be the same kind of king anymore.
The passage reads like a poem or a song. It’s about a God who identifies with humanity – radically and completely, and is ready to bear the consequences this involves.

Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39, (40-47) – A Reader’s Theatre version of this passage was sent out to all of you last Tuesday, to give you a bit of lead time. I am delighted at the response, with many letters coming in saying that the Reader’s Theatre in general and this bit of lead time in particular, were appreciated.
In case you missed it, that Reader’s Theatre rendition is below.
A children’s version of Mark’s passion narrative may be found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B” beginning on page 93. I know that in some congregations, worship leaders read these stories to the children while they are in church, knowing that the adults will be listening too, and therefore understand the passages better when they are read later in the service.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – the Passion story as told by Mark.
Jim says –
This may sound like a cop-out, but I don’t see any need to look for supplementary stories this Sunday. The whole story is there in the Mark reading (14:1-15:47) for Passion Sunday. And it is one of the most compelling, gripping, evocative stories ever told. There’s tragedy, conspiracy, courage, betrayal, loyalty, awe, the supernatural, the mundane...
So forget sermonizing. Tell the story. Sure it’s long, so get a few extra voices. Either alternate sections between two or more readers, or get enough people to read the parts of various characters in the drama.
Personally, I’d use a contemporary translation/paraphrase, such as Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.” But any modern translation – the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version – will suffice.
Of course, people have heard this story before. (One year, I attended the world-famous Passion Play at Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps. At lunch break, I overheard the couple seated behind me. “Haven’t I read this story somewhere?” one of them wondered.) But our liturgies typically fragment the biblical narrative into such small bits that many people probably have never heard the whole story in a single coherent sequence. Trust me, they’ll be riveted by it.

Ralph says –
Some years ago I was listening to a sermon on John 3:16 – “God so loved the world…etc.” The most well-known verse in the Bible. The minister kept mentioning John 3:16, but didn’t tell us what that verse said. I whispered to Elaine, a friend sitting next to me. “Do you know what John 3:16 says?”
“No,” she whispered. “I have no idea.”
Shortly after that whispered exchange, the minister did tell us what John 3:16 said, but that was five minutes into the sermon, and the content of that five minutes was totally lost on half the congregation because they had no idea what the minister was talking about.
Among the common mistakes writers (like me) and preachers (like me) make is assuming people know their Bible. There are a few who do. But mostly they don’t. So there isn’t a whole lot of point preaching about Jesus passion and death if they don’t know the story.
Which is why you are getting this harangue from both Jim and I.


Rumors – A few days ago, I was just getting ready to step into the shower when the phone rang. Bev answered, then brought the cordless phone to me in the bathroom. So there I was, folds and bulges and blotches all hanging out, talking to a woman I knew only slightly. It seemed downright indecent. Or embarrassing anyway. She, of course, had no idea why I kept trying to end the conversation.
Some years ago I stayed in a hotel that had a telephone in the bathroom. What I do in the bathroom is no secret. But it is private. And it seems an invasion of privacy to have a phone ring when you are on the throne meditating on the infinite. Or whatever.
But far worse than that. It’s happened to all of us. You are right in the middle of a really good conversation with friends when the phone rings. It’s a telemarketer telling you your mortgage is overdue or your credit card has some terrible thing wrong with it.
My son Mark has a much healthier attitude toward telephones. He lets it ring four times, then his answering machine kicks in. If he hears the voice of somebody he wants to talk to, he picks up the phone.
Not me. I scramble to find the phone and I almost always regret it. Some day I’ll break my neck because our phone is one of those cordless things and we keep losing it.
Even if I come home dead tired and the phone rings, I answer it. Why has this machine such power over us? Who can possibly understand why somebody would bring a cell phone on a picnic or to the beach? I hope it’s not a true story but I heard of a guy who answered his cell phone while making love.
In a waiting room somewhere, I read an absolutely authoritative article on witchcraft. It said: “If you know the name of the charm or the curse, it can’t have any effect on you.”
Jim Taylor and I were talking about this over lunch last Wednesday. Should we bring Rumors “up-to-date” by tarting it up with formatting and pictures and little Google ads up and down the right side of the page?
I told Jim about the depressed thoughts that ran through my head during my little sojourn in the hospital two weeks ago. I was wondering what life would be like as an invalid, unable to do much of anything. Then I got the results of the angiogram saying my heart was just fine and I could go back to denying the reality of my age.
On a TV set in the restaurant, a group of young people were doing a song of some sort. Mercifully, the sound was off, but we watched one of those fast-paced things with zooms and flips and frenetic visual effects.
“That’s not us,” we agreed. Whatever it is we are called to be at this point in our lives, it has to be authentic. So Rumors will come in the plain vanilla text format it’s always come in.
Whatever else may be in our call to ministry, as a bare minimum, we are certainly called to be authentic.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
When the Lights Go Out
In a world where everything seems too big and too complex for any one person to affect – even if that person is the president of the United States – it’s tempting to assume that there’s nothing any of us can do. So we might as well forget about trying to build a better world, and just enjoy our friends and/or families.
As Peggy Lee sang, long ago, “If that’s all there is... then let’s break out the booze, and have a ball.”
But there is something each of us can do. There always is.
For example, we had such an opportunity yesterday evening, when Earth Hour rolled around the world.
Earth Hour started just two years ago, in Sydney, Australia. Some two million homes and businesses turned out their lights for one hour.
Last year, Earth Hour went global. Over 50 million people turned out their lights for an hour. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Coliseum, Sydney’s Opera House, even the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square went dark.
This year, the organizers expected to have a billion people switch off. Nearly 2000 cities signed on, in over 80 different countries.
Each of the earth’s 24 time zones is about 1000 miles wide. If everyone took part, astronauts in the space station would watch a 1000-mile swath of darkness sweeping around the planet as all the lights winked out.
That probably didn’t quite happen. Not yet, anyway. But a billion participants would significantly dim the blaze that radiates into space from Western Europe and North America. Utility companies would see a sudden dramatic drop in power usage.
Sure, cynics will say, the lights went on again at 9:30. But perhaps not all of them. Perhaps a few people enjoyed seeing the stars again. A few may have relished the cozy glow of candles, or of a fireplace, in a darkened room.
A few might even have discovered that darkness is not a demon to be driven back by glaring lights. It is, after all, in the darkness of the earth that seeds germinate. In the darkness of the night we draw close to each other. In the darkness of sleep our bodies regenerate for a new dawn.
Switching off lights for just one hour won’t stop global warming. Nor will it end poverty, or cure corruption in high places.
But it might demonstrate to the corporate elites who manipulate countries and financial systems for their own advantage that people are not simply pawns to be manipulated.
Likewise, it might remind us that we are more than puppets dancing on invisible strings. We can act together, when we want to.
Earth Hour is a symbolic act. And as every world religion knows, symbols have enormous power – whether or not they produce measurable results.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Pat Hughes of Millet, Alberta writes about a blooper she typed into the bulletin. "Remember your baptism and be good," is what she typed. “It was supposed to be 'glad', but we thought being good was fine too.”
Pat also noted a report about a list of members of a women’s group. It went on to say that those on the list “ate the seven members who are unable to participate.”
Pat wonders if they tasted good, but I doubt it. Us seniors tend to be a bit stringy and tough.

Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado, says she’s been asked by long-time church members "what day of the week is Maundy Thursday going to be?" and "is Easter on Sunday this year?"
Sharyl is seriously considering having “Maundy Thursday on a Wednesday and Easter on a Saturday.

Karl Olsen of Freeland, Washington, writes that recently a lector read one of the Ten Commandments as " shall not cover your neighbor's wife..."
You must agree Karl, that new revised commandment is easier to manage than the old one.

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 – Don’t sweat the petty things. Don’t pet the sweaty things.
source unknown, via Dave Towers

The basis of happiness is the love of something outside self.
William George Jordan via Sandra Friesen

God, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my big mouth!
source unknown, via Norah Kerr

You are constantly becoming. Honor all that you have been, all that you are, all that you will be.
Lisa Engelhardt via Mary in Oman

We Get Letters – David Shearman of Owen Sound, Ontario, called my attention to an error I should have caught before it went out. It was the fun lines around the name of the artist van Gough. Specifically, this line.
* His Italian uncle...................................Day Gogh
It is, of course, an ethnic slur against people of Italian origin, and I apologize. I knew that, and I should have noticed it. I’m sorry!

A very different reaction came from Janet Cawley of Vancouver, BC. She says, “You forgot the crooner cousin, ‘Bing Gogh.’ (Sorry, couldn't resist!)”

Mark Brantley-Gearhart of Snyder, Texas sends this story.
Suzanne's funeral procession came to a stop in the cemetery. The family had opted to bury her remains at 10:00 a.m. and to hold the memorial service at 10:30 at the church.
That close schedule was thrown into chaos when the funeral director opened the back door of the hearse to find that it was empty! Red faced, he made a call on his cell phone and confirmed that the casket had been left behind at the funeral home. Not sure how the family would take the news, I broke it as gently as possible.
Her nephew quipped, "Now, isn't that the epitome of being late to your own funeral?"
The family was still laughing when the hearse returned with the casket.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “scoop the litterbox!”)
This from Laura Baum – The Creation Story (as told by the Cat)
On the first day of creation, God created the cat.
On the second day, God created a human to serve the cat.
On the third, God created all the animals of the earth to serve as potential food for the cat.
On the fourth day, God created honest toil so that humans could labor for the good of the cat.
On the fifth day, God created the sparkle ball so that the cat might or might not play with it.
On the sixth day, God created veterinary science to keep the cat healthy and the human broke.
On the seventh day, God tried to rest, but still had to scoop the litterbox!


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Wendy W-K, who didn’t provide anymore name than that.
Two employees of the public works department in (your town) worked hard all day. One would dig a hole and the other would follow behind and fill the hole in.
They worked up one side of the street, then down the other, then moved on to the next street, working furiously all day without rest, one digging a hole, the other filling it in again.
An onlooker was curious, and asked them why they were doing this.
The hole digger wiped his brow and sighed, 'Well, I suppose it probably looks odd because we're normally a three-person team. But today the tree planter called in sick.'


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 14:1-15:47
Note: Because this passage is so central to our Christian story, and because it is much longer than the lections on most Sundays, there are four readers. Like all reader’s theatre presentations, each reader should rehearse her/his part several times out loud, and the entire presentation should be rehearsed together a number of times. Readers should work hard to make their role interesting and lively, without hamming it up. And reader’s should “pick up their cues,” i.e. ensure that there is no pause at all between one speaker and the next. This helps quicken the pace of the presentation and makes it more lively and interesting.

Reader I is the narrator and may be either male or female. It is the key part, and should be given to the most capable actor in the group.
Reader II speaks the various women’s parts.
Reader III is Jesus.
Reader IV: speaks the various men’s parts.

I: THIS is our story.
II: This IS our story.
III: This is OUR story.
IV: This is our STORY.
I: This is our story – the final chapter in the life of Jesus. Without this story, and the story that follows this on Easter Sunday morning, nothing else in the Christian story makes sense. It is a painful story. But without this painful story, the resurrection story which we will hear next Sunday, the joy of resurrection simply isn’t there. So listen. Listen carefully, and weep.
The story of Jesus’ final hours, as it is told in the gospel of Mark.
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
IV "But not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."
I: While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.
IV: "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? This ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor."
III: "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."
I: Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to Jesus:
II: "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?"
IV: Yes, where should we eat our Passover meal?
III: "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there."
I: So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus spoke to them.
III: "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me."
I: The disciples began to be distressed.
IV: "Surely, not I?"
II: Surely, not I?
III: "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."
I: While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them.
III: "Take; this is my body."
I: Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.
III: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
I: When they had sung the hymn, Jesus and the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. Again, Jesus spoke to them.
III: "You will all become deserters; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."
I: Peter was horrified.
IV: "Even though all become deserters, I will not."
III: "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times."
IV: "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you."
II: Same here. I will never deny you.
I: They went to a place called Gethsemane.
III: "Sit here while I pray."
I: Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated.
III: "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake."
I: And going a little farther, Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
III: "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."
I: Jesus came and found the three disciples sleeping.
III: "Simon Peter, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
I: Again Jesus went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. Jesus came to the disciples a third time.
III: "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."
I: Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now Judas had given them a sign.
IV: "The one I will kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard."
I: So when Judas came, he went up to Jesus at once.
IV: "Rabbi!"
I: Then Judas kissed Jesus. Then priests and scribes laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
III: "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled."
I: They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire.
Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against Jesus.
IV: "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'"
I: But their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up.
IV: "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?"
I: But Jesus was silent and did not answer.
IV: "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?"
III: "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'"
IV: "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?"
I: All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some spit on him, they blindfolded him, and struck him.
II: "Prophesy!"
IV: Yeah. Prophesy. Who just hit you?I: While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him.
II: "You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth."
IV: "I don’t know what you are talking about."
I: And Peter went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, spoke again to the bystanders.
II: "This man is one of them."
IV: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I: Then after a little while another one of the bystanders pointed at Jesus.
II: "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean."
I: But Peter began to curse.
IV: "I do not know this man you are talking about."
I: At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him.
III: "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times."
I: And Peter broke down and wept.
I: As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, who was the Roman Governor.
IV: "Are you the King of the Jews?"
III: "YOU say so."
I: Then the chief priests accused him of many things.
IV: "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you."
I: But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. Now at the festival Pilate used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.
IV: "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?"
I: Pilate realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.
IV: "Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?"
II "Crucify him!"
IV: "Why, what evil has he done?"
II: "Crucify him!"
I: So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace. They clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him.
II: & IV: "Hail, King of the Jews!"
I: They struck his head with a stick, spit on him, and knelt down in mock homage to him. They stripped Jesus of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
The soldiers compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross. It was Simon of Cyrene. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha – the place of a skull. The soldiers offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription on the top of the cross said: "The King of the Jews."
And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed shouted insults at him.
II: Hey you! You said you would destroy the temple and build it in three days. If you could do that, save yourself, and come down from the cross!"
IV: Yeah! If you’re the King of the Jews, jump down from that cross.
II: "Isn’t it amazing. He saved others. He can’t save himself.
IV: If you’re the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe."
I: When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice!
III: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
II: "Listen, he is calling for Elijah."
I: Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and started to gave it to him to drink.
II: "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down."
I: Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Then the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way Jesus breathed his last.
IV: "Truly this man was God's Son!"
I: There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These women used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee. There were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Then Pilate summoned the centurion, and asked him whether Jesus was dead. Finding that he was indeed dead, Pilate granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock.
He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.


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