Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Preaching Materials for March 29th, 2009

R U M O R S # 545
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 22, 2009



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

Please put this “blog” address on your “favorites” list.
I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there.

The Story – Jeremiah’s gift
Rumors – inundated and overwhelmed
Soft Edges – gifts received and given
Bloopers – preparing hell
We Get Letters – folk literature
Mirabile Dictu! – Winnie Bay Gogh
Bottom of the Barrel – owning hell
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – a little bit nuts
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The old timer didn’t know he had just won a million in the lottery. His friends asked his minister to break the news to him gently. “We’re afraid old Zeke might have a heart attack,” they explained.
“Ever won anything Zeke?” the minister asked cheerfully. She thought a bit of small talk about winning things might be a good opener.
“What would you do if you won a million in a lottery, Zeke?”
“Don’t know, exactly,” said Zeke. “But for sure, I’d give at least half of it to the church.”
And the minister had a heart attack.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 29th, which is the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Jeremiah 31:31-34
For a Reader’s Theatre version of this passage, scroll down to near the bottom, just after “Bottom of the Barrel.”

Jim says –
I’m afraid that I have passed my “best before...” date. I’m not sure when it happened – just that it has happened. I don’t have the energy I had in my twenties, the commitment I had in my forties, and I don’t even seem to have all the memory cells I had in my sixties.
I’m on the downhill side of life. I might be here for another two years, or another twenty, but I certainly will not be starting a whole new professional career. My time, as the song says, is running low.
And when the flame finally burns down, I shall want someone with me. Someone to hold my hand, to stay near me as I take life’s final step into death. I will not want information or theory about companionship, or community, or caring. I will not want doctrinal assurances or dogmas I must swallow to be saved. I will want the real thing.
That, it seems to me, is also Jeremiah’s message. All the doctrine and dogma in the world cannot replace a real relationship. When it really matters, I won’t care a whit about Virgin Births and Immaculate Conceptions, about whether Jesus is the same as God or merely of the same substance as God, about whether wafers can become flesh and drops of water can vaccinate against hellfire...
All I’ll want is to feel God there with me, holding my hand.

Ralph says:
Context. This dramatic passage makes more sense if you know that it was an oracle addressed to the Hebrew people while they were in Babylon. The prologue to this prophecy has God telling Jeremiah to write a book with all of God’s words, which include the promise “that I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors.” (30:3).
Jeremiah is speaking to Hebrews who are an enslaved minority – who are wondering “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
It’s a question that is being asked by every mainline denomination that I know anything about.
Because for years we’ve been struggling to be “in the world but not of the world.” We’ve managed the first part but generally flunked out on the second. That was also the story for the Hebrews in Babylon. They were seduced by the dominant culture. When they were finally allowed to go back to Israel, a lot of the Hebrews stayed on in Babylon, because the living was good.
When Bev was still in parish ministry, we’d do a little drama around Jeremiah. I’d dress up in my Jeremiah suit (a generic gown that worked for almost anything biblical) and interrupt her sermon, yelling and screaming about people who had sold out to the dominant consumer culture. Jeremiah would smash a pot at the foot of the chancel (use an unfired pot which doesn’t generate sharp edges) and catalogue their apostasy. But the Jeremiah skit would end quietly and intimately with verses 33 and 34 of this passage.
And Bev’s sermon would conclude with a few passionate and pleading words about what it might mean to have God’s word written on our hearts.

Psalm 51:1-12 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
(Psalm119:9-16 is listed as an alternate)
In spring, when the frost came out the ground and turned our back yard into gooey mud, our children came in filthy and half frozen. We popped them into a tub full of hot water, and washed them pink and clean again.

1 Scrub me clean, Lord.
Rub me down gently;
By your touch, show how much you love me;
Flush away my failures;
2 Sponge away the stains of constant compromise;
Help me clean up my act.
3 You don't have to tell me –
I know too well what I have been doing.
4 I know I have let you down;
I have betrayed your trust in me.
You warned me; you have every right to be angry.
Don't blame yourself because I blew it;
5 I was born this way.
How can I help it; I'm only human.
6 So wash out my mouth, and rinse out my heart.
New life starts on the inside, with knowing myself.
7 Scrub my spirit clean,
and swirl my soiled nature down the drain;
Let me step out fresh and sparkling.
Mend my fractured spirits;
Turn a blind eye to my faults
and cherish the scars where I have fallen down.
10 A fresh start begins with a pure heart, O God,
So let me share your spirit.
11 I do not want to be cut off from you;
I do not want to live without you.
12 Take me back into your good graces.
Help me, Lord, for I really want to please you.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Hebrews 5:5-10 – This is a hard passage for us to relate to, unless we take the time to understand the theology and the imagery behind it. It was a theological treatise written to Jewish Christians who had suffered more than a little persecution, and must have been wondering if this prophet Jesus was worth all the hassle.
But the writer tells them that yes, Jesus understands what they are going through, and digs into the Hebrew Scriptures for the story of Melchizedek. Jewish Christians would have known about him and what being a high priest was all about.
We don’t have that background. We can’t even pronounce his name. (A couple of years ago I heard a lector pronounce it “Mezzz-mezz-milk duk) If we read this to the congregation without unpacking it, we’ll only get them more confused.
Or, more likely, bored.
John 12:20-33 – John presents us with a very different kind of Jesus than we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In those biographies, Jesus speaks in simple language and down-to-earth parables. John has him sounding like and over-educated theologian.
Nobody likes to hear bad news, and so the followers of Jesus didn’t want to hear about him dying. In this passage, Jesus uses the visits of Jews from Greece as an opportunity to tell them again about what lay ahead. Like Jeremiah, Jesus gives them a word of hope by using the imagery of a seed that falls to the ground and dies in order that it can burst up through the ground when the cold of winter is past.

There are children’s versions of the Jeremiah passage and the gospel in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B” which clarify the two key metaphors in these passages. On page 89 you’ll find a story called “Written on Your Hearts” and on page 90 a story called “A Seed Planted in the Ground.”
If you don’t already have the first two volumes of “The Lectionary Story Bible,” click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
The last volume, Year C, will be published in a few months.


Rumors – He was scurrying around the choir area and the organ a few moments before church was to begin. Finally, he picked up a batch of papers and a look of relief came over his face. It was the sermon.
This was David Martyn number of years ago, when he was the pastor in our church. And I’m pleased to report that he had the grace to laugh at himself, and we laughed with him, because we’d all been there.
Years ago, when I was a news reporter at a Calgary radio station, I was relaxing with my head back on the chair for a few minutes before I was to go on the air with the major evening newscast. In those days, that was 15 minutes of solid reportage. 30 seconds before air time, I went to pick up my copy and it was gone. I scurried around frantically. Finally, I rushed into the studio to make some kind of apology – “Due to circumstances beyond our control, etc.,” – and there was my news copy, on the desk in front of the mike, exactly where I had put it.
Another time, I was recording a series of commentaries for the CBC, Canada’s major radio network. The producer came into the studio. “Ralph,” he said. “You are reading that stuff far too smoothly. Make a little mistake now and again. Let people know you are human. People admire you if you do things perfectly. They’ll love you if you make a little goof now and again.”
I almost always have problems with John’s Gospel. The Jesus that John presents to us seems to be so high and lifted up and cerebral that I find it hard to make contact. And that statement will no doubt get me some e-mails from people who tell me I shouldn’t feel like that. I’ve tried not to. But every time I read a passage like this one, it feels to me as if Jesus is way up there and out of reach.
This is true, if you must know, even though I spent a major hunk of time studying the Gospel of John. In Israel no less. And wrote several dreadfully boring and irrelevant papers about it. That experience only made it worse.
The Jesus I find in John is quite different from the Jesus I find in the other three Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
When I read John, I feel like the child, who on a dark night with lots of thunder, kept running from her room to climb into bed with her mom. “It’s alright dear,” her mother would say. “God is there in your room with you. You don’t need to be afraid.” But the child came running in to mom anyway.
“I need someone with skin on,” she said.
The older I get, the more times I misplace things the way David did that morning. More and more I am like the proverbial grandfather who scurries around looking for the spectacles that are perched on top of his head. I need a God with skin on, one who knows about major suffering and pain yes, but also one who locks the keys in the car, who can’t remember the name of a friend of 30 years, who makes tea biscuits without baking powder that turn out like golden brown hockey pucks. In other words, the big stuff and the small stuff.
It’s all there in those four gospels – yes, including the gospel of John – the big stuff and the small stuff. I might not be able to see that reality, if it were not for friends who, without knowing they are doing it, show me something of what Christ was like.
They were doing it all this last week. I was inundated and somewhat overwhelmed by the responses to last Sunday’s Rumors where I wrote about my little heart attack the week before. E-mails by the bushel. All of them expressing kindness, gentleness, love, understanding.
God with skin on.
My deepest thanks to all of you.

PS: I’m feeling just fine, and stronger and healthier than before that little incident.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Gifts Received and Given
All artists struggle to express the inexpressible.
I wince every time someone says, at a funeral or memorial service, “Words cannot express my grief...” I know they will spend the next half hour failing to express it.
To get away from vague abstractions, storytellers resort to stories, and poets to poetry. Composers play with melody and harmony, choreographers with movement.
Artists and sculptors try to turn that inexpressible idea or emotion into concrete images. We see reality with our eyes; we touch it with our hands. But painters and sculptors subtly alter that reality, to help us perceive hidden dimensions that we would otherwise have missed.
Jim Hayes first fell in love with painting when he was still a kid mowing a neighbour’s lawn. But he didn’t take it seriously until 22 years ago, when his wife Jan enrolled him in art classes. “Tonight,” she said, pushing him out the door.
For years, he painted for only himself, and his friends. Then he got talked into entering a public exhibition.
“It’s intimidating to have strangers view your work,” Hayes admitted. “You realize how insignificant you are.”
But at the same time, he says, “It’s a beautiful feeling to be anonymous – just to watch a person’s face as they enter their own journey into that painting.”
You have to see a progression of an artist’s paintings, over the years, to get a sense of what he’s trying to express – “allowing the spirit to emerge,” Hayes says. He started, as many do, looking at landscapes. Then he looked into them. And then almost through them.
His color palette shifted – from conventional, to greens, to reds, to...
His focus shifted. Early paintings detailed everything; later ones resemble natural vision – some elements precise and clear, others misty, implied, peripheral...
“Movement,” he says. “We’re always moving on. We’re on a journey.”
For him, it’s also a journey of faith, a constantly unfolding exploration of awe. He describes a desire “to paint the majesty of Creation” – even his tone conveys the capital C.
Hayes is a loyal Roman Catholic; he credits church and art for getting him through the death of his daughter Tiffany in a car accident.
“Don’t allow me to be angry,” he recalls praying. “I can’t be that kind of person.”
So he turned to art as therapy. And as salvation.
“I stared at the canvas for over two hours,” he says of his first painting after Tiffany’s death, “before I could make that first brush stroke.” What emerged, eventually, was a visual testament to an unquenchable free spirit rising out of darkness.
Hayes and eight other prominent artists have donated paintings to the Lake Country Rotary Club, to be auctioned off at their Gala Night Out, Friday March 28. Hayes painted morning mists on Kalamalka Lake.
I wondered why he would just give $1900 away. “Rotary does great things,” he explained. But that wasn’t quite enough. So he added, referring to his talent, “It was a gift. Gifts must be passed on.”


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – This from either Nathan or Rachelle Luitjens. The e-mail didn’t say which.
Seems pastor Frank Smith decided to tackle the subject of hell in a sermon. When it came out in the bulletin it said, "Next week's sermon: Hell, A Place Prepared by Frank Smith"

from the file:
* The Ascension turns our thoughts to the supreme joy of everlasting immorality in Heaven.
* This being Easter Sunday, we will ask George Jackson to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

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! – A special week. Dennis Languay in Saint-Lambert, Quebec sent this batch of “Christian One Liners.” Rather than “fritter them away” (a favorite expression of my dad’s) one at a time over several weeks, I decided to give you the “whole meal deal.” Some are not new, but they are all good.

* Don't let your worries get the best of you. Remember, Moses started out as a basket case.
* Some people are kind, polite, and sweet-spirited until you try to sit in their pews.
* Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisers.
* It is easier to preach ten sermons than to live one.
* God didn't create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.
* When you get to your wit's end, you'll find God lives there.
* People are funny; they want the front of the bus, middle of the road, and back of the church.
* Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on the front door forever.
* Quit griping about your church. If it was perfect, you couldn't belong.
* We're called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges.


We Get Letters – Rumors regular April Dailey works hard to “bring home the bacon,” but on her way home recently, she came within inches of running over a stray pig. Perhaps the metaphor was becoming a bit too literal.

This hoary chuckle came from Jim Spinks. It brought back memories of a man named S.J. Wiley, a fine Irish preacher of the old school, who told this story (with a number of added flourishes) as if it had happened to him personally. That was more than 30 years ago.
“The graveside service just barely finished. Newly interred was a woman noted for her sharp tongue. As the preacher pronounced the final blessing, there was a massive clap of thunder, followed by a tremendous bolt of lightning, accompanied by even more thunder rumbling in the distance. “An old man, the woman’s husband, looked at the pastor and said, “She has arrived.”
So I wrote back to Jim wondering if this had really happened to my friend S.J., or whether it was part of that folk literature that develops out of stories circulating on the internet.
Jim writes, “A quick Google search of the first 13 words showed 601 references to the same line. Whatever the origin, it seems to be approaching the calibre of legend. Or is it Apocrypha?”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Winnie Bay Gogh!”) This from Jim Taylor who says, “These aren't religious, but then not everything you publish is.”
Wrong! I have a highly scientific, objective and error-free litmus test for whether or not something is religious. If I read it and mutter or yell or groan something that involves a reference to a deity, then it’s religious.
This is so religious, it should be made part of our creed.
Or something!

After much careful research it has been discovered that the artist Vincent Van Gogh had many relatives.
Among them were:
* His obnoxious brother...............................Please Gogh
* His dizzy aunt.....................................Verti Gogh
* The brother who ate prunes..........................Gotta Gogh
* The brother who worked at a convenience store.......Stop’n Gogh
* The grandfather from Yugoslavia.....................U Gogh
* The brother who bleached his clothes white..........Hue Gogh
* The cousin from Illinois............................Chica Gogh
* His magician uncle..............................Wherediddy Gogh
* His Mexican cousin..................................Amee Gogh
* The Mexican cousin's American half brother..........Grin Gogh
* The nephew who drove a stage coach ..............Wellsfar Gogh
* The constipated uncle ..............................Kant Gogh
* The ballroom dancing aunt...........................Tan Gogh
* The bird lover uncle................................Flamin Gogh
* His nephew psychoanalyst............................E. Gogh
* The fruit loving cousin.............................Man Gogh
* An aunt who taught positive thinking................Wayta Gogh
* The little bouncy nephew............................Poe Gogh
* A sister who loved disco............................Go Gogh
* His Italian uncle...................................Day Gogh
* And his niece who travels the country.......Winnie Bay Gogh


Bottom of the Barrel – A rancher’s son, a banker’s son, and a minister’s son were arguing about which of their dads was the wealthiest.
The rancher’s son said that his dad owned 1000 head of cattle.
The banker’s son said, “That is nothing. My dad loaned your dad the money to buy them.”
The minister’s son said, “That is nothing. My dad owns hell.”
“Nobody owns hell,” said the other two boys.
“Well, my dad does,” said the minister’s son. “The other night he came home and told my mother that the Church Board gave it to him.”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Jeremiah 31:31-34

Reader I: I love the prophet Jeremiah. He was a little bit nuts, but he cared so very deeply for his own people, and for the God who loved them.
Reader II: Jeremiah fumed and fussed. Smashed pots in front of people. Walked around naked sometimes. Got thrown into jail. He was willing to try anything to get people to pay attention to God’s call to faithfulness.
I: It didn’t work all that well. The Hebrew people were taken as prisoners to Babylon. And Jeremiah went with them.
II: The Hebrews were treated well in Babylon. In many ways, life was better there than it had been back in Israel. There was good food. Nice clothes. Good entertainment.
I: But Jeremiah could sense it. There was a rotten core inside of all that. And the more thoughtful Hebrews were wondering, “how can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”
II: Does that sound familiar? We’ve been enjoying the good life in this country. Most of us here in this church have seen our standard of living go up and up in our lifetime. Even with this economic recession, most of us are doing just fine.
I: But there are thoughtful Jeremiah’s among us too, who are asking, “Can we sing God’s song” in this midst of our affluent lifestyle? Do we need a whole new way of being faithful? Is the economic recession God’s way of calling this to our attention?
II: So this is our passage. It is Jeremiah struggling to speak God’s words to the Hebrews who are living very comfortably in Babylon.
I: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
II: It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.
I: But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
II: No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Information and Stuff – (Read this section only if you want to know about subscribing, unsubscribing or quoting stuff from Rumors.) It would be nice if you could give Rumors a plug in your bulletin or newsletter. Please invite your friends (and even your enemies) to subscribe. There's no charge: RUMORS is free and it comes to your e-mail box every Sunday morning. Just send your friends the instructions to subscribe [below], and include an invitation to join the list ... perhaps something like this: “There’s a lively and fun newsletter called RUMORS which is available at no cost on the net. It’s for ‘Christians with a sense of humor’.” Please add the instructions to subscribe [below]. If you have a friend you think would enjoy Rumors, and you’d rather not give them the subscribing instructions below, send me an e-mail at and give me the e-mail address of your friend. If you are using something from Rumors in your sermon, give credit only as appropriate, without stopping the sermon dead in its tracks. I am delighted when Rumors is useful in the life and work of the church. As long as it is within your congregation or parish, you don’t need permission. You are welcome to use the stuff in church bulletins or newsletters. Please say where it came from, and please invite people to subscribe to RUMORS. An appropriate credit line would be; “From Ralph Milton's RUMORS, a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor." ... and please be sure to include these instructions to subscribe to RUMORS: To Subscribe:* Send an e-mail to:
* Don't put anything else in that e-mail
To Unsubscribe:
* Send an e-mail to:
* Don’t put anything else in that e-mail* If you are changing e-mail addresses, and your old address will no longer be in service, you do not need to unsubscribe. The sending computer will try a few times, and then give up..~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*Please Write – If you respond, react, think about, freak-out, or otherwise have things happen in your head as a result of reading the above, please send a note to:
Who knows, I might quote you in a future issue of RUMORS.All material is copyright © Ralph Milton.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

No comments: