Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Preaching Materials for April 12, 2009

R U M O R S # 547
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

April 5, 2009



“Humor isn’t the opposite of seriousness. Humor is the opposite of despair.”
Conrad Hyers


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. Or back-issues if you need them.


The Story – real-life experience
Rumors – going to church out need and pain
Soft Edges – pruning time
Bloopers – a feast of funnies
Mirabile Dictu! – to much pi
Bottom of the Barrel – the light goes on
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – the resurrection story as told by John
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 Jim Spinks –
A little boy wanted $100.00 very badly and prayed for weeks, but nothing happened. So he decided to write God a letter.
The postal authorities didn’t know what to do with it until someone suggested they send it to the Prime Minister in Ottawa.
The Prime Minister was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $ 5.00 bill. “The kid will think that’s a lot of money,” he said.
The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 bill and sat down to write a thank-you note.
“Dear God:
“Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you sent it through Ottawa, and those donkeys took $95.00 in taxes.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 12th, which is Easter Sunday

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – The central story in the Christian tradition is, of course, the resurrection story. And we are given the choice of John’s rendition (20:1-18) or Mark’s (16:1-8).

Jim says –
The choice of story this week is simply no contest. If I had to talk about someone else’s speech – be it Peter, Paul, or Isaiah – or Mary’s real-life experience, I’ll go with life every time!
And this is life. Because death is part of life. And we have all grieved someone. Whether or not Mary was Jesus’ lover (or wife, as John Spong occasionally argues) or just a good friend, she was grieving too deeply to be satisfied with platitudes about being “risen.” In truth, she was probably also angry. She went to the grave hoping to anoint Jesus’ body with the ointments and spices she had been unable to use on the Sabbath evening. But when they got there, the body was gone – probably taken by grave-robbers, who had no more sense of the sanctity of human life than a cluster bomb.
“Where did you take him?” she begs through her tears.
And she hears her name. Spoken by a familiar voice.
When our son died, if I could have heard his voice again, felt his hug, seen him striding down the sidewalk again...
I no longer know how much of the Bible is literal truth, and how much was created later to lend authenticity to the early church’s beliefs. But I know that this story rings true to our ultimate yearnings.
Pardon the grammar, but Mary is us.

Ralph says:
Mark’s version of the resurrection story is much closer to the event than John’s, and therefore more historically accurate. But by comparison to John’s account, it is passionless and reads more like a report than a story.
While Mark’s story may be closer to the facts of the event, John’s version has the benefit of many tellings and re-tellings. The Spirit works in those re-tellings, and may have lead the people of the early church closer to the meaning – the internal essence – the beauty and the power of the story.
By the same process, our call is to tell and retell those ancient tales, and in that process open our own hearts and the hearts of others to the work of the Spirit.
I find John’s story deeply moving, because I’ve heard so many people tell me that it was through tragedy, grief, pain – through tears – that they felt the power of the Spirit. Certainly that has been true in my own life.
Easter’s gift of life renewed speaks to me most powerfully in the context of struggle and pain.
Natalie Sleeth says it beautifully in her hymn, “In the Bulb There Is a Flower.”
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season
something God alone can see.

The other readings recommended in the RCL for this Sunday are:
Acts 10:34-43
Isaiah 25:6-91 Corinthians 15:1-11

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Sometimes life is a bowl of cherries. Sometimes, it's a ride to the emergency ward.
1 As we ride the ambulance of life, Lord,
we sense your presence beside us.
2 Your constant love and care comforts us;
Our fears fade away.
19 Where faceless figures repair our shattered souls,
you hold my hand.
21 In a time of terror, you hover over me;
you are the very breath of life for me.
22 Vulnerability leaves me isolated and alone;
yet I am buoyed up by compassion.
The moment I most feared has become the moment to remember!
23 This can only be the Lord's doing.
24 Awareness washes over me like returning consciousness.
I am alive! I am not alone!
25 Thank you, God. Thank you.
26 Thank you for those who serve in your name.
My tears overflow with gratitude.
27 God lives in the hearts and hands of healers.
Wherever there are people of goodwill,
wherever kindness and compassion exist,
God finds a home.
28 You are my God; I will thank you with every thought.
You are my God; I will honor you with all I do.
29 I will never feel alone again;
even in the halls of death, your love will hold me up.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

A children’s version of John’s resurrection story may be found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” on page 98. A story based on Mark’s account may be found in Year B,” page 100.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, 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 – I will go to church on Easter Sunday out of deep hunger. Need. Pain.
I know that pain every Sunday, but I feel it more at Easter.
I talk to my closest friend, Jim Taylor, who also feels that pain. Stephen, his son, died in 1983 from cystic fibrosis. Jim shares the journey through that grief in his powerful book, “Surviving Death.”
I go to church on Easter Sunday morning and find I am still grieving the death of our son Lloyd – a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome from his birth mother that crippled his emotions and made it impossible for him to recognize love – to feel it or to express it.
I stand in awe of the mystery. I stand in awe knowing that those who have known deep, visceral pain have lived and learned to love. I stand in awe knowing I will find the loving heart of God in the depths of that soul-destroying agony.
And so I go to church on Easter Sunday needing to be fed. Needing to be fed from the mystery of life on the other side of death. Needing to hear the stories of the Mary Magdalenes, the Jim Taylors, my own story, and so many others.
I need to be fed. I don’t need the recipe for the food or a description of its origin or its nutritional content. Please don’t explain anything to me. Don’t give me an intellectual stone.
Tell me stories. Tell me your story. Tell me at least the story of a broken woman who came weeping in the dark to hear her name spoken in the first light of dawn.
Then perhaps I’ll let myself hear my own story again – the story of pain, fear, frustration, guilt, helplessness – struggling to be father to a child who could not see or feel the love I had for him.
Then too, perhaps I’ll know that darkness leads to light, that despair leads to hope, that death promises resurrection.
Then perhaps I’ll hear the risen Christ speak the name my mother gave me. And the music of that word will sing its way into my soul and heal my broken heart.
And then again, I shall be whole.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Pruning Time
Time zones do not like me. When I was younger, I bounced back fairly quickly from jet lag. At my more advanced age, I’ve become increasingly aware of the ways that zipping around the globe knocks me off my equilibrium.
The last trip wasn’t major – just three time zones. I got up at 5:00 a.m. Ottawa time, 2:00 a.m. B.C. time, to get to the airport in time for a 7:00 a.m. flight that reached Kelowna at 11:10 a.m. – which was 2:10 p.m. in the time zone I had just left. Had I been up for 12 hours already and hadn’t even had lunch yet?
I get too befuddled to do the math correctly...
By that evening I’m on B.C. time so I go to bed as usual at 11:00 p.m., which would be 2:00 a.m. where I got up, so had I really been up for 24 hours? Or did it just feel like that way?
If my mind gets confused by time zone changes, so does my body. I go to bed on B.C. time, but my body still wakes up the next morning on Ottawa time. It’s 8:00 a.m. there, but it’s only 5:00 a.m. here. Arrgh!
It affects my senses, too. I feel disconnected for a day or two. People’s voices seem to have a faint echo. Food tastes as if it had been boiled in yesterday’s socks. The world seems slightly tilted. I feel as if I’m watching myself from a distance. Or maybe as if I’m observing everything with a slight delay through a video camera strapped to my forehead...
The feeling passes, fortunately. But the experience makes me realize how vulnerable I would be to the simplest interrogation techniques practiced at “rendition” centres such as Guantanamo Bay – sleep deprivation. Break up my sleep patterns, keep me awake for extended periods, and I’d quickly run out of the mental acuity to remember my own name, let alone defend myself against unjust accusations.
I’d probably confess to almost anything, eventually, just to get a good night’s sleep again.
I am, of course, appalled that humans can deliberately inflict suffering on other humans to extort confessions. But I’m also appalled at the suffering we inflict on ourselves, voluntarily. To save a few hours of travel time. To cram an extra meeting into an already busy schedule. To weasel out of an uncomfortable situation. To earn a few extra dollars...
Why? What benefit do we derive from irrational behaviour?
It’s pruning time in our gardens here. We thin the crowded stems of the lilacs, open apple trees up to sunlight, cut the roses and the pampas grasses back almost to their roots...
So that we can encourage more growth, more fruit, more flowers.
We humans are supposed to be intelligent. Why do we find it valuable to prune our plants, but so rarely to prune our schedules?
Over-busy plants look untidy. So, I fear, does an over-busy life.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Pat Bush saw it in an ad for a church garage sale. “In amongst the list of things to be had, bake table, plants, etc., was this gem ‘Garage Sale Treasurers’.”
Pat, next time they put treasurers on sale, would you buy me one. I don’t have much in the way of treasure, but it would really help to have someone to keep track of the bit I do have.

This from Fran Ota who got it from a friend who prefers to remain anonymous.
Fran’s friend was helping the pastor prepare the Eucharist. All goes well until they are well into the service, and the congregation is singing the Lord’s Prayer. The Pastor picks up the chalice and spots a fly floating in it. He whispers, “Go into the sacristy and fish the fly out.”
Here’s how Fran’s friend tells the story.
“The choir is coming down the aisle for communion, and the acolyte and communion assistants are at the rail. Pastor takes communion himself, then gives me the wafer, then picks up the chalice: ‘Blood of Christ, shed for you.’
“And he then whispers, in a tone of voice similar to commercials, ‘Now! Fly-free!’”

Gayle Teasdale of Victoria, Australia has another take on the Ten Commandments. She writes: “Yesterday, at a Family Service, a young member read The Ten Commandments, including: ‘You shall not convert your neighbour's wife’.”

Stephani Keer has a batch of ‘em. She heard this from a former pastor.
“A woman marched up to him shortly after the contemporary service had been introduced and complained bitterly about the modern language. ‘If our Lord could hear what you've done to his prayer, he'd turn over in his grave!’
Stephani, could that be the same person who said, “If the St. James Bible was good enough for Saint Paul, it’s good enough for me!”
Those may be apocryphal, but I did actually see it on a national newscast at a time when some televangelists were very much in the news. The TV set showed and angry face and a finger waving at the camera. “Just remember what Jesus did to Sodom and Gomorrah!”
Stephani also found a headline in a Pennsylvania newspaper: “Most people think aliens more smarter than us.”
The best one was a headline in a British newspaper, discussing female clergy: “Church of England weighing female bishops.”
Says Stephani very wisely, “That should keep the applicants down!”

Anita Thies saw this in a church newsletter.
“From the Church Library: Many library books are missing, including most of the ‘Left Behind’ series.”
Anita, is it true there is going to be a sequel called the “Right Behind” series?

This from “Ruth” who doesn’t give her last name, but she lives in Grove City, Ohio. It was a thank you note in the church newsletter. “We would like to thank you all for your loving involvement in our uncle’s passing.”

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! – How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. Anne Frank via Pam Fahrner

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.
seen at the bottom of several e-mails

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
George Bernard Shaw via John Severson


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “too much pi!”) Jim Spinks sent us a list of creative puns. Some of them were in a list we ran a few weeks ago. I think the following are different, but then again, maybe they’re not.
Doesn’t matter. As someone wisely said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.

* The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
* I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
* No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
* A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
* A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
* Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
* I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
* A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, 'No change yet.'
* A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
* The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
* A backward poet writes inverse.
* In democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.


Bottom of the Barrel – John Willems of Medicine Hat, Alberta sends a story that could be about me.
An elderly man goes to the doc for a physical. All his tests come back with normal results.
"George, everything looks great,” says the doctor. “How are you doing mentally and emotionally? Are you at peace with God?"
"God and I are tight,” old George smiles. “God knows I have poor eyesight, and has fixed it so when I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, poof, the light goes on. When I'm done, poof, the light goes off."
"Wow, that's incredible," says the doctor. But something tells him to check further. So he phones Elsie, George’s wife. He tells Elsie what George told him about the light going on.
“Oh, the old poop,” says Elsie. “He’s peeing in the refrigerator again!”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 20:1-18
Three voices are needed for this Easter Sunday Reader’s Theatre: a strong voice with a sense of drama to be the narrator (Reader I), Mary of Magdala (Reader II) and the Risen Christ (Reader III).

Reader I: This is my absolute favorite Bible story.
Reader II: You mean about Jesus rising from the dead.
Reader I: Well, yes. But the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the Resurrection, but none of them have this part from John’s gospel, about Mary of Magdala who sees the risen Christ through her tears.
Reader III: You mean there’s something significant about Mary’s tears.
Reader I: Yes. Very significant. People who have never had deep pain in their lives – people who have never cried over a deep and terrible loss – they have a hard time with the resurrection story. They try to analyze it and argue about it. But people who have know tragedy and pain in their lives – these are people who understand the resurrection story in a way that is much deeper than any logical analysis can ever go. Like Mary, they can see the risen Christ through their tears.
Reader III: So let’s tell the story. It’s from the gospel of John, chapter 20.

I: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.
II: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
I: Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They asked her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
II: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."
I: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
III: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
I: Mary thought it must be the gardener.
II: "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
III: "Mary!"
II: "Rabbi!"
III: "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my friends and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
I: Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples.
II: "I have seen the Lord! I have seen the Lord!


A story meditation – Through Her Tears
Mary of Magdala Sees the Risen Christ

Note: An ancient and honored way to get inside a story – a way to open the dark recesses of our minds to a truth that goes beyond explanation – is to tell another story.
Here is my retelling of John’s story. You are welcome to use it – as everything else in Rumors – in worship or study groups. But a story badly told is worse than no story at all, so please ask the reader to rehearse the story a number of times so that it can be told well.
Reading something silently does not constitute a rehearsal. Rehearsal means reading it out loud, and listening to the pacing, the various emphases, paying attention to the drama to make sure the essence of the story is communicated.

Mary stumbled and fell in the dark. Her hand and elbow scraped against the ugly rocks and though she couldn't see it, she knew she was bleeding. No matter. She had bled before.
On she stumbled through the clutching darkness, along a half remembered path. She felt her way up to the garden tomb. Gradually, the cold gray light of early dawn outlined the naked rock that should have sealed the tomb, the place where they had buried her best friend.
The reality, the horror hit her instantly. Even in his death they could not give him peace. This kind and gentle friend had died the cruel death of criminals, and now to add to all the insult, someone had stolen Jesus' body.
Screaming, she crashed back down the path back to the house where she’d been mourning Jesus death since that horror filled Friday.
Screaming, she yelled for Peter. For the others. "They've taken him away. Damn them anyway. They couldn't let him rest. Peter, come, they've stolen Jesus' body. Oh my God! How can people be so brutal?"
Now again, with Peter, she scrabbled up the path toward the tomb. Her rage carried her now. Her unfocused anger at this outrage carried her through the bitter morning darkness up the broken path, rocks and bushes scratched and tore her skin until she stood, chest heaving, beside Peter at the open tomb. Then she and Peter forced themselves to believe the unbelievable.
"He's gone, Mary." There was stunned, deadness in his voice. "All they left us was a corpse. Now they've got that too." And Peter stumbled off, going nowhere but away from this revolting desecration.
Mary stayed. She had nowhere to go. She had nothing left. The power of her rage was spent. She was exhausted. She slumped her deadened body on a rock.
Head in hands she sat. Her mind shut down. She felt nothing. Not even the will to die.
Then memories. Memories of terror. Memories of despair. The pain of life in home-town Magdala came back--back in all its horrors. The darkness of that other life in that small town where she was beaten, starved and raped. Where people called her "slut" and "whore" though she was neither. Where she was called "possessed of seven demons." It wasn't till she remembered overhearing rumors of a healer, just down the lakeside at Capernaum, that a sense of feeling returned, and with the feeling, tears – tears that slowly washed her dry, red, angry eyes, tears that moved to moans, then into body heaving sobs – great gasping, screaming cries that found their way from the bottom of her wounded soul.
Through the prism of tears she saw the light of dawn slanting through the rocks into the garden. And there, in that golden light, a figure, a man, it could be any man, it must be the gardener, who else would it be here in this place so early. "Look, if you took his body, tell me where, please, just tell me where, so I can go and get him and give him a decent, human burial. Tell me, for God sake tell me."
"Mary." The voice was gentle. It seemed to come from another world. It took some moments to move its way through her sobs and into her consciousness. She heard it a second time. "Mary."
Through her tears – through her salted tears of pain and anger and rejection, Mary saw him. "Rabbi," she whispered, and then shouted, "Rabbi!" Springing to her feet to embrace him, the light of morning sparkling through her tears, Mary rushed toward her Jesus.
"Please don't touch me, Mary," he said. "There are reasons. Don’t be afraid, Mary. But go and tell our friends that death has been transformed to life and that despair has turned to hope."
This time the path unrolled beneath her dancing feet. This time the amber rocks and greening bushes sparkled in the morning light. This time she shouted hope to all her friends.
"I have seen him. He's alive. It's true. All that he said is true. All that he said about how much God loves us. All of us. And death and pain are not the end of life."

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