Saturday, March 7, 2009

Preaching Materials for March 15, 2009

R U M O R S # 543
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 8th, 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 – even if we cower in the corner
Rumors – we didn’t go up the mountain
Soft Edges – thinking like a duck
Bloopers – message inside
We Get Letters – a slough (slow) slough (slew)
Mirabile Dictu! – a sign of bad memory
Bottom of the Barrel – too cold and wet
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – the ten thing-a-mes
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The pastor was talking to the children during their time in the worship service. “Where can we find the Ten Commandments?” the pastor asked.
There was a pause. Then a nine-year-old responded. “In the Yellow Pages!”
“Well, yes,” said the quick-thinking pastor. “I wonder if those pages in the Bible turned yellow because nobody’s used them for such a long time.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 15th, which is the Third Sunday in Lent.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) Exodus 20:1-17

Jim says –
If I got started on the Ten Commandments, it’s likely to turn into a rant about fundamentalists who believe that engraving the Ten Commandments on everything from coffee cups to court houses will somehow straighten out drug dealers, pedophiles, gays, serial killers, porno flicks, and embezzlers. So I would rather go with John’s story of Jesus in the Temple. The clearing of the Temple is a great story – provided we don’t turn it into an allegory about the Resurrection. That interpretation obviously came later.
What we need to imagine is the disciples’ reaction when they see their leader lose his temper. They’ve gone to the Temple, expecting an act of piety. And Jesus blows his cool. Everything they’ve taken for granted – the money changers, the sacrifice pushers, the innocent victims – he treats as desecration of a holy place. Jesus starts kicking over tables, smashing cages, yelling, screaming...
Bluntly put, Jesus has a temper tantrum.
I know how my congregation would react if I started smashing chalices, breaking candelabra, dumping the font, overturning the communion table, and hurling synthetic flowers at their heads. They’d be in shock.
So, I’m sure, were the disciples. First they’d try to calm Jesus. Then they’d try to restrain him. Finally, as cattle and merchants stampede for the exit, they'd cower in the corners, expecting an Air Force attack helicopter to start firing missiles.
The chaos probably resembled Wall Street after the Dow-Jones takes another 500-point beating. That's probably another place that would have infuriated Jesus.
And I would say that as followers of Jesus, we are not called to defend the status quo. It is not enough to comfort the afflicted. We’re also called to afflict the comfortable – to kick tables and butts, to free doves and prisoners, to dump ill-gotten gains and outdated dogmas...
Even if it makes some people cower in the corners.

Ralph says –
It must be a variation of Murphy’s Law. When we have a good story-telling lection in the Hebrew Scriptures, we also have one in the Christian Scriptures. When we have nothing much in the way of a story in one, we find the same thing in the other.
I tend to go with the Hebrew Scriptures because they have a kind of earthy power to them. And because people know about the Ten Commandments.
They may have no idea what those commandments say. But they’ve heard there is such a thing and that they are important.
I remember being told by a young man that he obeyed the Ten Commandments. But he couldn’t name one. Many people would summarize them as, “Be nice and don’t get into trouble with the law.”
Many church members know the ones about adultery and murder. But they don’t know that at the top of the list is the core commandment. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
So here’s a story we could work on. The year is 3,500. 15 hundred years into the future. Archeologists are digging down through the dust of a volcano that erupted very suddenly and buried our area in dust. The archeologists discover our church, right here, and all of us sitting in neat rows just as we are now. Nicely petrified.
Archeologists know that the things we keep on or near our bodies are the ones most important to us. In fact, it’s those things which will tell people, 15 hundred years from now, what we really believe.
So what do the archeologists find?
I’d go through my wallet, while inviting them to go through theirs. Or at least think about what’s in their wallets and purses.
Credit cards. Health care cards. Driver’s License. Money.
Then I would read them the précis of the academic paper the archeologists would publish, titled, “Religious Beliefs and Practices of Early Canadians.”

Psalm 19 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Feeling Anger
1 Quarks and electrons, crystals and cells;
stems and trunks and limbs and bodies –
2 on the land, in the water, in the air –
the elements of the universe wait to expand our understanding.
3 Rocks have no words, nor do cells have syllables,
4 yet their message can be read anywhere.
Even the fiery stars,
5 racing at unimaginable speeds through space,
6 yield their secrets to those willing to probe the limits of God's universe.
7 And what do they find?
An underlying harmony, a delicate equilibrium
built on the value of every thing,
living or inanimate, past, present, and future.
8 There are no exceptions.
No one is above the law of interdependence.
9 Life dies and becomes new life;
spirit and flesh are one.
My fate is inextricably linked to yours,
and our fate to the trees and insects.
10 This is the beginning of wisdom.
It is better than wealth, more valuable than possessions.
11 Awareness of it will change you forever.
12 But we are too often blind;
we close our ears to the voices of the winds and the waves,
to the insights of the rocks and the plants.
13 God, keep us from thinking we know it all;
human minds cannot encompass eternity;
an assembly of facts does not equal truth.
14 Keep us always open to wonder, to beauty, to mystery,
O greatest of mysteries.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – We’ve got to watch how we use words. I love this passage, because it speaks to me of another way of knowing. Not better than the way of logic – of science. Different. And it is a truth that comes to us – not instead of or as a replacement for – but in addition to the truth we find through disciplined investigation.
It’s easy to read this passage as a broadside against academia, but I don’t think that was the intention. Paul was no academic slouch himself. But he realized that the truths which give our lives meaning, purpose, joy, fulfillment, are those that come to us through story, song, poetry, beauty.
“Worship God in the beauty of holiness,” says the psalmist. And in this passage Paul adds, “Worship God in the holiness of beauty.”

John 2:13-22 – The writer of John puts the story right at the beginning of the Jesus saga. That doesn’t tell us much about the chronology of events in Jesus’ life. It tells us instead that the confrontation in the temple defined the relationship between Jesus and the authorities. Now we know who’s on which side.
The temple cleansing story shows what happens when a business model infects the church. The people who come are thought of as customers from whom you gain as much wealth as the traffic will bear. Prices and practices are based on how much people will pay. Church policy is based on what will bring in the largest number of people and generate the highest givings.
In that kind of practice, those who make the policy and those who give in to it are both complicit.

“The Ten Commandments” story, in a children’s version, is in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 84. Within that story is a simplified version of the commandments that might be helpful to an adult audience as well.
There’s also a cleansing of the temple story based on John’s telling. It’s on page 86.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – We Didn't Go Up the Mountain.
There were three of us, all with the same ailment. Knees that hurt, and could not have handled the hike up to the top of Mt. Sinai. The rest of our study group went with our instructor to the top, where they would talk about Moses, live themselves into that theophany, and take the time to pray and thank God for the gift of law.
This was a graduate course on biblical archaeology through an American university.
The three of us waited down below, a Lutheran professor, a Roman Catholic nun and me. And we felt a bit of anger at our knees for failing us, when we wanted so much to go up that mountain to remember Moses and the Ten Commandments.
The ugly bulk of St. Catherine's Monastery hunkered down just below us. Just above, the caves of countless generations of monks who came to pray their lives out in this desolation. "Why?" I wondered. "Why would anyone want to do such a thing? I couldn't imagine spending a night in such a place, much less half a lifetime."
"There must have been a call," said the nun.
"Tell me about 'call'," I asked. "Protestants don't know much about that."
I was wrong. The Lutheran professor did. He had a deep, powerful sense that God called him to a vocation of teaching, of drawing creativity into the lives of students. And the nun too, but her call was to be a really good administrator at her convent.
"If you really stop and listen," said the nun, "God tells you. Go. Do. It's not very complicated."
"I can just imagine Moses, sitting right here on this rock," said the professor. "Somewhere over there is the noisy Hebrew camp. Probably just a few dozen folk, if truth were known. Like that family of Bedouins we saw just down the road. But Moses has had it with their bellyaching and pettiness, and comes out here to think. This would be a great place to think."
We stopped talking for a while and listened to the sound of silence.
I looked up toward the mountain where our group by now would be, and I went there with them in my imagination. And there, I heard the holy voice of God speaking deeply to the human heart of Moses. "There really is only one source of love and power in this world, Moses. That's the hardest thing there is to learn. I am your God. I will lead you out of slavery to the gods of war and wealth. I will lead you into life in all its fullness."
The shadows gathered round the Moses mountain and our group came straggling down the slopes. They walked in silence.
Clyde, a youthful seminarian came to me and placed a small red rock into my hand. "I brought this down for you," he said. "I'm sorry you couldn't come."
"Thanks," I said. "How was it?"
His eyes filled with tears. "It's just another mountain," he said. "But you know, the stones up top are worn smooth by the knees of people praying there. And I really could hear God talk to me up there. I didn't hear words. But I knew, with everything I was, that God was the source of power and love, and that I was being called into that ministry."
"I know," I said. "I could hear it all the way down here. I'll keep this stone to remind me."


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Thinking Like a Duck
A vicious north wind came howling down the valley the other day. First it created a froth of whitecaps out on the lake. Then the waves evened out into long swells racing southwards until they smashed onto the shore in a welter of foam.
But I noticed, as I strolled onto the shore trying to keep just out of range of the flying spray, that spring must be just around the corner. The ducks had gathered in big flocks, 40 or 50 at a time, starting the annual pairing ritual that eventually produces a lot of little ducks.
They bobbed up and down in the water, just beyond the point where incoming waves crested and crashed.
And I wondered why ducks don’t get seasick.
I would, if I went up and down like that.
Of course, I don’t cope well with rough seas. Back in the days when steamships shuttled across the Atlantic, I’ve spent most of a voyage draped over the ship’s lee rail. I don’t know why people commonly describe this affliction as not having a “strong stomach” – I can hurl breakfast as far as anyone!
But I realize, even as I ponder ducks’ imperviousness to mal de mer, that I’m guilty of “anthropomorphism” – attributing human characteristics to animals, plants, objects, natural forces, symbols, or abstract ideas. "Anthropomorphism" comes from two Greek words: anthropos, meaning human, and morphe, meaning shape or form.
Anthropomorphism probably reaches its extreme in films like Bambi and The Lion King, where wild creatures think, feel, and act as if they were humans.
Which doesn’t imply, by the way, that animals can’t really think or feel. I’m sure they do. Dogs feel abandoned when their owners leave them behind. Cows certainly feel fear when they’re herded towards a slaughterhouse.
But we shouldn’t expect animals to reflect our reasoning processes. A macaw may have the intelligence of a five- or six-year-old child – a macaw can learn to spell words, for example – but it can never share human experience, any more than we can share a parrot’s experience.
Very few humans – aside from airplane pilots – think intuitively in three dimensions. We are earth-bound creatures. We deal with length and width, but not with up and down. Even in our tallest buildings, the floors we walk on are flat. Our horizons are always level.
But every bird thinks in three dimensions. Even penguins, although their vertical dimension is in water, not air.
Perhaps that’s why ducks don’t get seasick. Up and down is as natural for them as it is unnatural for us.
So anthropomorphizing will always be flawed. And yet we have no choice. We have nothing but our own experience with which to imagine another creature’s experience.
Perhaps the important thing is not that we can ever understand how a duck or a deer feels, but that we make the attempt. It may be the ultimate effort to follow Jesus’ injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself” – even if the neighbour isn’t another human.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Larry Knutson saw an announcement about an event to welcome a new pastor. Among the things requested was “non-perishable food items to fill the pastor’s panty.”

Carle Boyke didn’t see this in a church bulletin. But he laughed anyway. “Dinner Special – Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25; Children $2.00.”

Dave Towers reports that “My neighbours at Messiah Lutheran church have the following on their sign: ‘Sign Broken. Message Inside.’”

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! – If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy.
source unknown via Kausie White

In just two days, tomorrow will be yesterday.
source unknown via Jim Spinks

God's true name is unpronounceable because God is Welsh.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Kathleen James-Cavan of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has a friend, Alison West who hails from Slough, UK, and she “most assuredly will tell you the "ough" rhymes with "ow" as "cow" not the "o" in "slow," Vauxhall drivers notwithstanding.
“She likes to say that indeed we have a ‘slough of Despond’ (as in Pilgrim’s Progress) (rhymes with cow) at the bottom of our hill here in Saskatchewan – not a ‘slough’ (as in "oo") the way I like to say it!”
Rona Orme of Bedford Road, Northampton, UK writes: “I am sure lots of other folks from this side of the pond will have told you by now that the town ‘Slough’ is pronounced to rhyme with ‘Ow – that hurts!’”
Well, Kathleen, Alison and Rona, here I need to take a stand on high moral principle, ethical standards, and the fine, noble democratic principles on which my country was founded, and maintain that the muddy hole I used to swim in as a boy was a “slough” as in “slew” and I would have been laughed out of the metropolis of Horndean, Manitoba, if I had pronounced it “slough” as in “cow.”
There comes a time when you just have to take a stand!

Bob Warrick of Brisbane, Australia writes: “When I read, ‘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,’ it reminded me of the time in Singapore airport when I heard an announcement so very clearly about someone's 'lost body parts'. It intrigued me as to what some folk did in airports, till I realized it was a lost 'boarding pass'.”

Jim Spinks in Kingsville sends this little story, but doesn’t indicate whether this is something that happened in his family, or whether it’s a yarn he’s just passing on to us.
“My dad told me that he knew as early as their wedding what marriage to my mom would be like.
“It seems the minister asked my mom, "Do you take this man to be your husband?" "’I do,’ she said. “Then the minister asked my dad, ‘Do you take this woman to be your wife?’ “And my mom said, ‘He does.’”

Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “raise my hand!”)
Somehow or other, I’ve managed to lose the name of the person who sent this. My apologies and thanks.
The sender said he or she got it from Steven Wright, who once said: “I woke up one morning, and all of my stuff had been stolen and replaced by exact duplicates.” His mind sees things differently than most of us do, to our amazement and amusement.
Here are some of his gems:
* I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.
* Borrow money from pessimists – they don’t expect it back.
* Half the people you know are below average.
* 82.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
* A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.
* A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
* If you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.
* All those who believe in psycho kinesis, raise my hand.
* The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
* I almost had a psychic girlfriend, but she left me before we met.
* If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
* Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
* When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.
* Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy.
* Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.
* Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
* If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.
* A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.
* Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.
* The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread.
* To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
* The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.
* The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up.
* The colder the x-ray table, the more of your body is required to be on it.
* Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don’t have film.
* If your car could travel at the speed of light, would your headlights work?


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Jim Spinks. You can substitute your favorite cold and/or wet spot for “Ontario” below.

A curious fellow died one day and found himself waiting in the long line of judgment.
As he stood there he noticed that some souls were allowed to march right through the pearly gates into Heaven. Others though, were led over to Satan who threw them into the burning pit.
But every so often, instead of hurling a poor soul into the fire, Satan would toss a soul off to one side into a small pile. After watching Satan do this several times, the fellow's curiosity got the best of him.
"Excuse me, Prince of Darkness," he asked. "I couldn't help wondering, why you are tossing those people aside instead of flinging them into the Fires of Hell with the others?"
"Oh those" Satan groaned: "They're all from Ontario. They're still too cold and wet to burn."


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Exodus 20:1-17
* Note: The paraphrase of the commandments contained in the text below are adapted from “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B.”

Reader I: Do you believe in the Ten Commandments?
Reader II: Of course. Doesn’t everybody?
I: No. Do you?
II: I just told you. Of course, I believe in the Ten, ah, thing-a-mes. Commanders, or whatever.
I: OK. Name them?
II: Well, Ah….Um…..I can’t list them off, just like that.
I: OK. Then name one of them.
II: Ahhhhh…..Oh, I know. “Don’t steal stuff.”
I: Very good!
II: (STAGE WHISPER) Would you stop embarrassing me in front of all these people. Please!
I: Alright. Here’s what we’ll do. You read the passage about the Ten Commandments. And after each one, I’ll put it into simple words for you.
II: Fair enough. So. We are reading Exodus 20:1-17.
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
I: “Don’t live your life as if there are any other gods. I am the only one. Remember, whatever is most important to you, that is your god.”
II: You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
I: No substitutes. Don’t act as if anything else is God. Like money, or position, or fame. Even happiness.
II: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
I: Be careful how you use my name. When you speak my name, you must mean what you are saying.
II: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
I: Work the other six days of the week. Rest on the seventh day and use it to recharge your spiritual batteries.
II: Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
I: Treat your mother and your father with respect. Be good to them.
II: You shall not murder.
I: Don’t kill anyone. Ever.
II: You shall not commit adultery.
I: Only have sex with someone with whom you have made a spiritual commitment.
II: You shall not steal.
I: Don’t steal.
II: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
I: Don’t tell lies about anyone.
II: You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
I: Don’t wish you had things that belong to other people.
II: You know, those make sense.
I: And those Ten Commandments were written several thousand years ago.
II: So don’t let anyone ever tell you the Bible is outdated.

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1 comment:

Allen said...

When I was a kid for travelling on family vacations was this. NO ASKING "HOW MUCH LONGER TILL WE GET THERE" until we were out of sight of the house.

I think something similar needs to apply for those of us who are in ministry. It is so easy to preach the John story of Jesus turning over the tables. What preacher has not wanted to begin overturning tables when they enter a new church assignment?

I have noticed in my own spirit journey that it is alot easier to criticize the areas that are most precious to my own penance. I can really get santimonious about things that others are doing when they are things that I also struggle with. So this is my rule. No "dising" on people or issues that I haven't first considered my own struggles with.

In terms of idolatry (Exodus 20) I think that it is so easy to idolize ideals that I yern for and fail to work with my own inner confusion and difficulty around them. I realize the parallel process at work here, that as I talk about this I struggle with it.
So, I try to fall on my knees before each passage I preach and ask what is it addressing in my own private journey, BEFORE I storm into the temple and overturn tables. But when I do storm, and I do, I remember that I am equally guilty of sitting behind usery tables selling sacrifices to the Gods.