Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Preaching Materials for April 26th, 2009

R U M O R S # 549
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

April 19, 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 – cowering behind locked doors
Rumors – memories of death
Soft Edges – worshipping power
Bloopers – plagues in the narthex
We Get Letters – the best response
Mirabile Dictu! – a little salt
Bottom of the Barrel – climbing the ladder
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 24:36b-48
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The new bishop had just been enthroned, and the media were hoping for a juicy quote.
“What does it feel like to be a bishop in this diocese?” one reporter asked.
“I feel like a mosquito in a nudist camp,” said the bishop. “I know what to do, but I don’t know where to start.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 26th, which is the Third Sunday of Easter. (Yes, I know I said that last week. Sorry!).

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) Luke 24:36b-48

Ralph says –
It was perfectly clear. The facts were there staring them in the face.
The disciples had seen the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion. They had seen his corpse. They understood the finality of the stone rolled across the gaping, black mouth of the tomb.
There was nothing left to do but face up to reality and get on with life. One step at a time. One day at a time. Nothing but raw, bloody-minded, cold-as-steel determination to keep you going. If you can’t find that strength within yourself, you’re toast.
I am not prepared to argue with anyone about whether those disciples saw Jesus that day. Did he really eat that piece of fish? Did they really converse with him? Isn’t it true that in the depth of grief the human imagination soars, and we see and experience all sorts of weird and wonderful things?
I do know this. The story of a resurrected Christ – the cosmic Christ – the real presence of God among us – this fable, legend, myth or whatever you choose to call it – this graceful presence has rescued me from the depths of grief when there was nothing inside myself to help me stand and walk again.
In the ordinary times of life, in the day-by-day living, that presence offers a comfortable sense of purpose – a gentle, firm nudge toward a life of love in action. With forgiveness, over and over again when I fall short of my own standards, and firm, parental pushes to get me back in there and do better.
And the moments of high joy. Many of them. At many points in my life. The last one being in the combined choir of two congregations singing an Easter Cantata – it was one of those moments when everything came together and we sang with one voice! Shouting! Celebrating! Praising!
So I will live inside that story. I’m just not tough enough to handle the alternative.

Jim says –
Forgive me another rant about the lectionary, please. Here we are with five weeks to go until Pentecost, but the Acts passage is from Peter’s speech _after_ Pentecost! No wonder casual attenders get confused!
Obviously, I would skip the Acts reading, and concentrate on Luke.
Here’s another resurrection appearance, probably again in the Upper Room, probably again behind locked doors. And again Jesus offers them physical evidence that he is who he says he is. He shows them his wounded hands and feet. Luke adds a further corroborating detail – Jesus eats some fish.
A congregation I belonged to for 25 years traditionally held a post-Easter communion of bread and fish. The centre of the communion table was occupied by a large, whole, baked fish, from which worshippers broke off pieces to eat.
So I would talk about how we ritualize events, in the hope of capturing and containing their holiness. Earlier generations did the same by building churches on top of every conceivable holy site. When I visited the "Holy Land" back in the 1970s, I got really tired of having every place where I could "walk where Jesus walked" covered over with some kind of church. But future generations may be as scornful of our liturgical rituals as we are of our predecessors’ edifice complex.
And I would ask how we truly maintain the spirit of Jesus. Is it by memorializing his presence in a ritual? Or erecting a building in his honor? Or by living his presence in our lives?

Acts 3:12-19 – Don’t begin at verse 12. It says, “When Peter saw it. . .” Saw what?
Start at the beginning of the chapter to get the story. And then note Peter’s speech. He’s really saying the same thing I was saying above.
You have the facts. Those who limit themselves to facts are emotional super-heroes. Or they are emotionally dead. For the rest of us mortals, there’s the power in the story – the story of a Christ that lives and moves among us.
Psalm 4 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Meeting Jesus Again and Again
Hotel rooms are cold and impersonal, compared to staying in the home of a friend.
1 In the middle of the night, Lord, I wake.
This room is strange; I can't find the light; I can't find the door.
The hall is long and dark.
2 I am afraid.
4 But this is your house, God.
I was a stranger, and you took me in.
I was alone, and you made me welcome.
4 In your house, I have nothing to fear.
I can sink back into my bed and set my mind at rest.
5 I put myself in your hands. I trust you.
6 Am I crazy? Am I a fool?
Some would say so. They doubt you.
7 But I know the peace I felt when you opened your door
and the warmth when you invited me to share your table.
8 I can let my eyes close.
In your home, I am at home.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

1 John 3:1-7 – The passage begins with an incredulous cry. Who could believe this? “God’s love for us is so great that we are called God’s children – and so in fact we are!”
The secular world gives a token nod to God’s existence, but then goes on with its actions to show that it sees this kind of a “maybe god” to be pretty much disinterested in what’s going on.
But the Jesus story reminds us that we are God’s children. The story of Jesus shows us a God who loves us like the very best parent we can imagine.
For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 105. There you’ll see a story based on the passage from Luke.
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 – Stories about the disciples after the judicial murder of Jesus often find me back, reliving the moments when someone I loved had died. This time, it took me back to the death of my nephew Jay.
Years of working in the church – years of Bible study groups – years of reading all kinds of helpful books – none of that did a bit of good.
I was standing with my sister at the bedside of her son as he died from cancer. Such a short time before, he had been playing basketball. A tall, cheerful, bright young man. And here, a skeleton covered in skin and sores was dying. It made no sense and I could feel only one emotion. Anger.
My nephew had sung for years in the boy’s choir at his church. And so to his deathbed, we had called his priest, his friend and pastor. And as the priest came to his bed, I thought, "Please, don't try to be helpful. Don't try to make it right. Because, by God, it is wrong! Please don't say anything helpful."
The man was priest but also friend. He was mourning too. Perhaps angry. And he did exactly what should be done at such times of anger and pain – he took his little book and in it found the words we needed. Not little saccharin pieties, but the huge, soul-shaking lamentations of the Psalms. With passion and anger in his voice that reflected the passion and anger in our hearts, he cried to God those vast, eternal, unanswerable questions. He threw at God the anger of our souls. He brought to God the terror in our hearts.
And the words he spoke brought peace. Not resolution. Not answers. But peace. A sense that we were part of a community that had known these things before. We were not alone. We were not the first to shout our anger and despair to God.
For that moment, it was enough. It took many quiet, sometimes tearful conversations, many prayers, many caring friends and time – time to heal the wounds and make life possible again.
The "why" was never really answered. Nor could it be.
But God came into my pain to offer hope and healing.
It was enough.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Worshipping Power
The Sunday before Easter, the first day that really felt like spring after a very long winter, I took the dog for a walk in the woods. I wanted to enjoy nature, coming back to life again.
I almost expected to hear echoes of Julie Andrews, warbling, “The hills are alive...”
The hills were alive, all right. But not with music. Unless the unmuffled cacophony of knobbly-tired motorcycles expressing their contempt for the natural world sounds like music to your ears. It doesn’t to mine.
To be fair to the riders, they slowed down near pedestrians – me.
The guys who ride these things tell me that they like them because they can get away from urban congestion and enjoy nature.
If they’re enjoying anything, it’s not nature. It’s power.
Power to zigzag on the thin edge of disaster through forests at speeds that would make a snowboarder blanche. Power to storm up steep slopes while squirting showers of dirt and gravel out behind. Power on tap at the twist of a throttle.
They worship power. But they may be more honest about what they worship than those who attended church that morning.
“Power,” Henry Kissinger once said, “is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
High school history classes were all about power. History consisted of an endless succession of wars. Of coups and invasions. Of palace intrigues and betrayals. It was all about seizing power, holding power, or gaining more power.
The institutional church was no exception. In her book “With or Without God,” Gretta Vospers makes a repeated point – the history of the church is about power. Some people, determining that they had the power to control what other people could think, or believe, or do.
So the Marcionites, the Gnostics, the Arians all came out losers in ecclesiastical power politics. St. Augustine (of Hippo, not of Canterbury) ruthlessly purged his Donatist opponents.
Even in the Bible itself, most of the Old Testament celebrates the growing power of a group of migrants who settled along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. With God’s help, they claimed, they dislodged the existing inhabitants.
God’s on our side, the scriptures exult. If we can’t overpower you ourselves, God’ll get you instead.
That mindset didn’t change until the Exile. When God didn’t get the Babylonians.
Jesus changed the equation. If he was who he said he was, if he was who his disciples claimed he was, he need not have died on a cross. He could have saved himself. He could have driven out the Romans. He could have rained fire on his opponents. He didn’t.
Instead, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a humble beast that epitomizes poverty and helplessness everywhere. He let himself be executed.
I wish I could promise to renounce power too. I can’t. Even if I refused to use physical power – pretty easy for a 72-year-old to promise – I would still want to use my mind, my words, to influence others. That’s a form of power.
Power is very hard to renounce.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Katharine Edmonstone writes: “We have been using your Readers Theatre with great success.
“Easter Sunday, everything was going very well with the three articulate speakers, good projection, dramatic emphasis and Mary Magdalene is speaking to the man she thought was the gardener. He calls ‘Mary’ and she, very dramatically, responds ‘Rabbit!!!!’”

David Shearman ran across this in an annual report of a church. "Thanks was given to George Smith for obtaining plagues and having them placed in the narthex.”

Margaret Gillikin of Salida, Colorado writes: “Apparently, the preacher for our ecumenical Good Friday service discovered some extra scrolls at Qumran or somewhere! Our Gospel reading was from John 23.”
Yes, I had to look it up too. There are only 21 chapters in John.

April Dailey, who is with (I love this name) Crooked Creek Cooperative Lutheran Ministries in Ford City, Pennsylvania apparently almost wished people “Happy Eater” last week.
April, you should never let proof-readers get their hands on bulletins and newsletters. They clean out all the best stuff.

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! – You can't change the wind, but you can change your sail.
source unknown, via my niece, Shannon Austman

The secret of success is constancy to purpose.
Ben Franklin via Mary in Oman

The ultimate result of shielding people from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
Herbert Spencer via John Severson


We Get Letters – Here’s a good example of how laughter is the best response to the small blips of life.
Last week in Rumors, you read: “Bernice Whaley writes: ‘At five minutes and six seconds after 4 in the morning on the 8th of July this year, the time and date will be 04:05:06 07/08/09.
‘This will never happen again.’"
David Pickering of Roundhay, England writes: “Unless of course you live in England when at five minutes and six seconds after four in the morning on 7th August this year the time and date will be: 04:05:06 07/08/09.’
“And it will happen all over again next century!”
Richard Glover of Waitakere, New Zealand writes: “ occurs on 7th of August in our neck of the woods.”
Pat Jones of Smithers, BC writes: “Only in the States. For me, this will be on 7th of August.”
David Powers of Cape Cod, Massachusetts writes: “But it will happen again, and soon. In most countries the date is given as day-month-year. So the 7th of August will be 07/08/09. And it will happen – twice yearly – in 2109, 2209, etc.”
Barry Kreider writes: “I'm wondering if Bernice knows something the rest of us do not? I'm also wondering whether some were saying the same thing back in 1909.”
Stop! The above were followed by a virtual torrent. Well, at least a dozen. So enough, already.
Poor Bernice. You thought you were simply sharing an interesting observation, and it started a small landslide. Go pour yourself a cup of something, then sit down and enjoy a chuckle or two. You managed to rouse half the world!

Mary Louise Killam writes: “I am afraid I have to once again tell you how jarring I find your spelling of such words as rumour – particularly on this Holy Humour Sunday. I realize you are too stubborn to change but I wish to register my dissent with your choice.”
You’re quite right about my stubbornness, Mary Louise. Many (probably most) of my Canadian friends think my spelling of “Rumors” is a sell-out to American cultural dominance. You will notice, for instance, that Jim Taylor uses those British spellings in his essays. We disagree about many things, but we are still very close friends.
So if it’s not too much of a yawn, please allow me my annual explanation of why I do this.
Words like “colour” and “rumour” came into English with the Norman French in 1066. The idea of standardized spelling only took hold with the advent of the printing press after the 15th century, and by that time, most of the French import words ending with the “oor” sound were now pronounced “er” or “or”. So that’s how they were spelled. But there were a few that took on the French spelling that is now so dear to our hearts. Noah Webster decided to finish the job when he published the first American dictionary in 1828. I simply think he made a good, sensible choice, and so I follow his lead. I only wish he’d done a lot more of it.
I am intensely proud of my Canadian heritage and I struggle to defend that in many ways. Part of that heritage grew out of the struggles of settlement in the harsh climate of the Canadian west. It’s a kind of a flat-footed, do-whatever-makes-sense, approach to life.
So when people in other countries do things that make good sense, why not follow?

Richard Glover of Waitakere, New Zealand asks, “In the joke research did they list the shortest joke?”
I have no idea Richard. Do you know? Does anyone know?


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “a little salt!”)
If you are the artistic type, here’s some ideas for a few fine, spiritual pictures. Along with the captions.
* The Israelites are looking at Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments. One says to the other, “Our headaches are over – here comes Moses with the tablets!”
* The Israelites are looking at Moses with his arms raised and the Red Sea parted. One is saying to Moses, “But we’ll get our feet all muddy!”
* Sodom and Gomorrah are being destroyed in the background. A small group of people is walking away from the scene. The old man who appears to be the leader of the group is carrying a white statue of a woman on his shoulder. He says to the children, “Oh well, a man can always use a little salt!”

Bottom of the Barrel – A Catholic priest and a Rabbi were talking about the possibilities of promotion in the Roman Catholic Church.
“If a man works hard,” said the priest, “he can eventually become a bishop and maybe even a cardinal.”
“Is that as far as he can go?” asked the rabbi.
“No,” said the priest. “Who knows, he might become the pope.”
“And that’s the top?” asked the rabbi.
“Well, beyond the pope there is only Jesus Christ, and of course nobody can become Jesus.”
“Why not?” said the rabbi. “One of our boys made it.”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 24:36b-48

Reader I: I wish they wouldn’t do this?
Reader II: Who? Do what?
I: The people who pick out these Bible passages for us to read. They begin in the middle of a story.
II: I still don’t know what you’re annoyed about.
I: The first verse of this passage from the gospel of Luke. It begins, “While they were talking about this…” What was it they were talking about?
II: Gotcha.
The disciples were talking about that experience of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Two of them were walking along the road. They were feeling pretty down because Jesus had died. And suddenly there was a man walking with them who explained everything.
The disciples had no idea who he was. But when they got to Emmaus, they invited him in for a bit of lunch. When this mysterious stranger picked up a loaf of bread, and broke it, they all recognized him. It was Jesus. They remembered how Jesus had broken the bread for them at the last meal they had together, when they celebrated the Passover.
I: Now I get it. So let’s read the passage. The gospel of Luke. Chapter 24.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them.
II: "Peace be with you."
I: They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
II: "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. See that it is I myself. Touch me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."
I: When Jesus had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. But even in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.
II: "Have you anything here to eat?"
I: They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
II: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."
I: Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
II: "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in my name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
I: That was a reading from Luke’s Gospel.

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